Scottsdale Republic Is All Hat, No Cattle

Last week, I gave Grant Martin, new opinions page editor for the Scottsdale Republic, a pass for his first major editorial gaff. I also gave him some much needed advice to better understand the history of the community in which he has been given (not earned, mind you) a major platform to broadcast his opinions.

With a western-themed opinion column this morning that’s long on cleverness and short on substance, Mr. Martin has proven he is unworthy of my advice and the exalted editorial position into which he has stumbled.

Martin’s column led with the headline:

“Debate over development took focus off more pressing issues

It is interesting how in the body of the column Martin manages to blame concerned residents for hyperbole, and yet the Republic’s role as Chamber of Commerce newsletter is not mentioned.

Martin missed the larger point with his statement,

“…building height became perhaps the defining issue of November’s City Council election.”

Height is an issue. However, it certainly isn’t the only one or even the main one. The real issue is whether or not to enforce “the rules” as laid out by the citizen-ratified Scottsdale General Plan (the 2001 version which is still in effect after the voters rightly rejected the 2011 pretender).

Height and attendant density, traffic, noise, and erosion of resident quality of life are symptoms of that issue, and the very things Scottsdale’s General Plan (as well as city planning in general) are supposed to prevent.

Martin goes on:

Of course, it was all overblown in the first place — a city with Scottsdale’s concentration of upscale retirees will never have Las Vegas’ level of glitz and glamor.

That’s not a bad thing. A self-ascrib­ed cowpoke town like this one needs to reject that kind of flash; it should al­ways be more Cormac McCarthy than Jenny McCarthy.

Again, the point has been missed. Hyperbolic rhetoric is used to illustrate problems that some folks are a little too slow to get on their own. Martin is obviously one of them.

But this week’s reporting by the Scottsdale Republic’s Edward Gately exposes how delusional many of us were.

“Delusional?” Speak for yourself, Grant.

Since the City Council approved an infill-incentive district and plan in sum­mer 2010, a grand total of one project has commenced construction. Another is scheduled to break ground early next year, with less grandiose plans than first pitched, in part because one of its key investors backed out. Other propos­als have stalled while seeking the requi­site funding and approvals to advance. Still others have dropped out of the process entirely.

Obviously, Grant, you don’t understand that these zoning changes and their entitlements to height and density are PERMANENT (is my use of ALL CAPS too hyperbolic for you?). The entitlements survive the economy, the current ownership of the parcels…and the editorial staff of the Republic.

The construction may not break ground tomorrow or six months from now, but you can rest assured that the developers WILL build.

The plan enables developers to re­quest amended building standards, such as height and density, in exchange for public benefits such as investment in public art and amenities. It’s easy to point to a dire economy as a scapegoat for the plan’s failure to generate scarcely any construction in the past 30 months.

“The plan?” Not the General Plan. You are talking about the Downtown Infill Incentive District (again, do your homework), which was a little gift from our STATE legislators to the developers. It was not a mandate, yet the eager-to-please Mayor Jim Lane and his city council voted to implement it even though it is fundamentally contradictory to the General Plan.

Another big part of the problem is how our council defines “public benefit.” In many cases, there’s virtually no public benefit at all. And with regard to “public art,” if the rooster-on-acid that graces the front of Optima Camelview or the Tinker Toy Soleri Bridge are “public art,” we could do with less, not more.

It’s more difficult to predict when we might see the plan’s intended ef­fects — not just tall buildings, but the jobs, new residents and overall eco­nomic boost that might accompany them.

Timing is difficult to predict but many of the economically-challenged developments will be BACK in front of the sold-out city council in a matter of months requesting ADDITIONAL entitlements, using the economy as an excuse. The one example you cite, Optima Sonoran Village, did exactly that. If you’d been here for any length of time, you’d have seen this pattern before shooting your mouth off.

Whether the supposed new jobs and new residents will have an “economic boost,” is not. Density never pays for itself, especially in a community that is based on tourism…which is driven by low-scale community character. It’s a fact of life.

What’s certain, however, is that too much ink and emotion were invested on the issue of downtown development this year.

We would have been better served as a community by debating ways to im­prove a local school district gutted by cuts made by the Legislature, or shar­ing constructive commentary on what kind of projects might best serve a decaying McDowell Road corridor.

Again, if you’d been around or bothered to consult anyone other than the Chamber of Commerce before writing your column, you’d know that the Scottsdale Unified School District is a distinct political subdivision of the State of Arizona. As such, it is not subject to the will of the Scottsdale City Council. SUSD answers to its school board, and to a lesser extent the county superintendent and the state education department.

That’s not to say that the City of Scottsdale can’t help, and we do. We could do more, especially in the area of workforce development. But the heavy lifting of isn’t up to those involved in city government issues.

McDowell Road? Do your homework, Grant. The problem with McDowell Road is the Los Arcos Redevelopment District that overlays it like a wet woolen Army blanket on a cold day; and of course, twenty years of government meddling in the area. Things won’t fundamentally change on McDowell Road until those two constraints are cast off.

The debate over how to retain our city’s character while modernizing its downtown area is a good one, and one we look forward to engaging as an im­proving economy facilitates more growth in the years to come.

“Debate is good?” I guess it’s good if you have the bully pulpit from which you can call the other side crazy. I’d say “modernizing” is good, except that I know that it is your euphemism (sort of the opposite of hyperbole, huh?) for radical change, at least by Scottsdale standards which you have yet to understand.


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  1. As usual a terrific breakdown of a weakly written opinion piece. I think he either was writing someone else’s agenda or (and I think this is commonplace at the Republic) he is piecing together information from other POORLY written articles to come up with “psuedo new” content. You can see the elements of a number of other pieces.

    Another lazy journalist.

    Great writeup John!

  2. The decline of quality…especially in the Scottsdale Republic is indicative of what’s going on in the newspaper business and once again, especially in the already poorly composed and poorly written, Arizona Republic. I spent more than 35 years in that business and feel sadened by what I witness.

    There is a lack of funding for local coverage and more and more newspapers are reliant upon the likes of the sad faces we perpetually see heading up columns in what audaciously states is the Scottsdale Republic. What’s written there often makes me want to shove fingers down my throat in order to barf.

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