Welfare for Golf, Performing Arts, and Developers

Thanks to a call from a fellow political dilettante today inquiring about next week’s City Council meeting, I remembered that I drafted an article on the previous meeting which I was distracted from finishing.

The March 19, 2013 Scottsdale City Council meeting covered quite a range. Among the more notable items approved:

  1. a $300k+ installment of a $15 million+ subsidy to the Scottsdale Tournament Players Club;
  2. a $4.3 million “phase two” renovation of the Scotts­dale Center for the Performing Arts; and
  3. a zoning subsidy to a developer to build a high-density housing project adjacent to single-family homes.

Golf Welfare

For the first item on my list, kudos go to Scottsdale citizen and financial guru Mark Stuart for amazingly detailed research that reveals the TPC Scottsdale to be the most expensive municipally-owned golf course in the nation, and apparently the only one for which municipal residents receive no discounts or priority reservations.

At an average cost to the Scottsdale taxpayers of over a million dollars per year of operation, the TPC is a huge drain on the General Fund. Yet, Mayor Jim Lane and a council majority voted recently to approve the sixth modification to the TPC lease in order to relieve the TPC of the burden of maintaining the course. It also relieved TPC of the cost of building a new clubhouse.

You can watch public comment on this issue via the recording of the city council meeting. Start at time index 00:33:00. There were technical difficulties with the slideshow, but if you can suffer through the first minute or so I think you’ll understand why I object so strongly to Scottsdale taxpayers subsidizing the Tournament Players Club.

Of course, no mention of “golf” and “welfare” can pass without reminding you of last years’ council-approved $2 million taxpayer gift to income tax rebel Phil Mickelson. However, I won’t beat that horse any further here.

Performing Arts Welfare

The second item in my list is the Scottsdale Cultural Council’s several million-dollar slice of the massive bond offering planned to go to the ballot in November. I pick out SCC’s line item because of all the fluff this is one of the most unnecessary. I don’t think it was even four years ago that the taxpayers shelled out $18 million or so to remodel the Scottsdale Center for Performing Arts (including national award-winning bathrooms).

Yet, SCPA parent, the Scottsdale Cultural Council–a private business–continues to hemorrhage more than $4 million of taxpayer subsidy money every year under a no-bid, 20-year “management services agreement.”

Like with many of the items in the proposed bond issue intended for the November ballot, there has been NO objective analysis of return on investment for the ADDITIONAL money to be borrowed and given to the Cultural Council.

You can see my comments on this issue and the bonds in general at about time index 1:27:00. Interestingly, you can also hear Cultural Council President Bill Banchs in his “update” to the city council at the beginning of the broadcast around 9 minutes from the start of the meeting.

Contrast those comments against an AZCentral article this week [Cultural Council Earns Little Fame] describing what some would describe as an identity crisis for the Cultural Council, due to lack of name recognition. Clearly, this doesn’t even rise to the level of “New Coke” vs. “Classic Coke.”

I’ve been pretty hard on Mike Miller, president of Scottsdale Insurance and chairman of the board of the trustees for the Cultural Council…which he has richly deserved if for no other reason than being a puppet of former board chair, now city councilwoman Linda Milhaven; and for continuing to tolerate possibly the world’s worst and most arrogant CEO, Bill Banchs.

However, even Miller sees how silly it would be for the Cultural Council to change its name. Quoting  Republic writer Sonja Haller:

The Scottsdale Cultural Council board of trustees discussed whether they have a problem worth fixing. Or, as Chairman Mike Miller said, is it more important that people know its products, just the way consumers might know Crest toothpaste, but do not know it’s made by Proctor & Gamble?

You’ve hit the nail on the head, Mr. Miller. The problem with SCC has nothing to do with NAME recognition. It’s about schlock programming (primarily at the Center for Performing Arts) that has no relevance to discerning patrons, nor does it appeal to a younger demographic that is the future of your audience mix. And of course, that’s a function of you continuing to tolerate the insufferable Banchs.

Real Estate Development Welfare

Welfare for real estate developers is a little more subtle (usually) in Scottsdale. Mostly it consists of the city council waiving our historically high development standards like low building heights, set-backs from the street, step-backs of upper floors, and retaining meaningful open space with low density (residences per acre).

Not that “subtle” is any better than just handing over cash. In the longer-term, lowering our standards like this seriously erodes our quality of life and financial strength in several ways.

  • It makes us less appealing as a community to residents who might otherwise be willing to pay a premium for what we are giving away.
  • It burdens infrastructure like streets, parking, the water system, and the wastewater system.
  • It strains public safety (police, fire) resources.
  • It also makes us less appealing to tourists who have far greater impact on our economy than residents.Of course, the less money we get from tourists, the more we have to pay in taxes ourselves.

However, one of the biggest and least considered impact is tilting the supply/demand equation so as to reduce property values for existing residents. The more cheap apartments we build, the less willing new residents will be to buy existing homes and condominiums.

All of these issues were at work when the City Council entertained discussion of, and approved the Alta Scottsdale housing project at Granite Reef and Indian School Road in the center that used to house the headquarters of Rural/Metro emergency services.

I won’t bore you with regurgitating the objections. However, if you want a prime example of government gone-wrong, watch the council meeting starting at about 3:25:00.

I will make one final comment however: Neighbors of Alta Scottsdale who believe they are going to be protected by deed restrictions volunteered by the developer either haven’t been paying attention or they are so naive as to defy belief.

The city council ROUTINELY ignores deed restrictions in approving various projects. It is, in fact, city policy to treat deed restrictions as contracts between private parties. I can recall three instances right off the top of my head where neighbors got utterly screwed by projects subject to deed restrictions that were absolutely ignored by the city.

 

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2 Comments

  1. “I don’t think it was even four years ago that the taxpayers shelled out $18 million or so to remodel the Scottsdale Center for Performing Arts (including national award-winning bathrooms).”

    They have no chance in the bathroom competition. The best bathrooms in town are right next door to the Center at AZ 88. It’s worth an evening of sitting at the bar there to watch people just try to find them. And, when they do, the dark, mystical atmosphere of them will be an experience they will never forget.

    By the way; since he is always getting mentions in the paper, how the hell does one pronounce “Banchs”? Anyone who spells a six letter word with five consonants, four of which are in a row, needs to re-think that decision.

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