Hidden Letters to the Editor: Meaningfulness of the General Plan

You won’t find it on AZCentral, but Mike Kelly’s “My Turn” column in the Scottsdale Republic this morning brilliantly lays out several of the intertwined issues that have led us to our current state of confusion and angst about updating our General Plan. Please set aside what you are doing for a moment and read it.

City, residents must decide if General Plan will be meaningful

With Scottsdale creating a 2014 General Plan to possibly re­place our 2001 plan, one issue deserves clarification. Will the forth­coming 2014 General Plan be a mean­ingful document, one that our governance structure — elected leaders, professional staff and citizens ap­pointed to our boards, commissions and task forces — will support and implement? Or will it be a meaning­less document, amend­ed excessively and shown little respect?

Scottsdale citizens are divided over how much faithfulness is owed to our 2001 plan, and, by extension, to any successor General Plan. Arizona’s man­datory voter ratification of general plans fostered this division.

A January Scottsdale Republic edito­rial, “Lack of a few words for plan could be embarrassing,” described the General Plan as “an ultimately tooth­less and hifalutin document.”

A related editorial published in Feb­ruary, “Accord on Scottsdale’s vision for itself may take some magic,” the Scottsdale Republic commented “The city can’t afford to have its state-man­dated General Plan update be held up over a paragraph-long Visioning State­ment.” Oddly, the Scottsdale Republic failed to comprehend that dissatisfac­tion with Scottsdale’s proposed 2011 General Plan extended far beyond the Visioning Statement.

Those editorials put the newspaper at odds with citizens who consider Scottsdale’s currently operative 2001 General Plan to be a serious and impor­tant work. Those citizens are dismayed that Scottsdale’s voter-ratified General Plan is now ridiculed as a “toothless” document. Those citizens believe that Arizona’s general-plan voter-ratifica­tion requirement implies that the pol­icies, standards and objectives of the General Plan would be faithfully imple­mented following voter approval.

In a Feb. 12, 2009 letter, I asked our mayor and City Council what “deliver­ables, benefits, or outcomes” were citizens here entitled to receive from their ratification of Scottsdale’s Gener­al Plan 2001? I also asked to what extent could citizens count on receiving in­tended land-development “outcomes” from their ratification of Scottsdale’s 2001 General Plan.

In a March 15, 2010 reply, a city offi­cial wrote that “Each succeeding City Council has the discretion to reconsider previous long-range policy decisions and may choose to modify them, sub­ject of course, to community discus­sions in public hearings.” The letter also stated that voter-ratification of a General Plan did not establish a con­tract with citizens, as I had suggested.

I was informed that a General Plan is a flexible, amendable policy docu­ment. Arizona law includes procedures for amending general plans.

Some elected officials believe that voter-ratification of a community’s General Plan, while a legal require­ment, places no constraints upon them. Those officials believe that their office affords them discretion in guiding growth and redevelopment, while fol­lowing Arizona law. They claim they can override the General Plan as they deem appropriate.

But citizens who believe voter-rat­ification imparts increased significance to the General Plan perceive officials’ deviations from the plan as breaches of public trust. Voters extended that trust in ratifying the General Plan. Those citizens consider the General Plan more binding than advisory, and more directive than suggestive.

So, what should we expect? Will Scottsdale’s forthcoming 2014 General Plan be a meaningful document — or a meaningless one?

Michael S. Kelly of Scottsdale is a retired Marine Corps lieutenant colonel and a former chairman of Scottsdale’s Transportation Commission.

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  1. When a proposition is put before the voting public, there is an expectation that the will of the majority will be honored and followed. Otherwise, of what value is their vote? Of what value is the voice of the people? Votes put politicians in office, but special interest money and self-serving agendas appear to govern many of their future decisions, not the will of the people. Some members of City Council cast a condescending eye on the residents’ values and opinions, and until the community stands up for its beliefs, the Council majority will continue to kowtow to the big money interests. Mike Kelly is spot on: do we allow meaningless or ensure meaningful? The choice is really ours-we can decide at the polls!

  2. General Plan p. 149
    “Implementation is one of the most important steps in the planning process. Scottsdale’s General Plan sets forth a vision that will come alive as city government, residents, businesses, organizations, and other work together to fulfill the plan’s goals and policies. This will be effective only if the plan is properly administrated and implemented”…
    Not only can every newly elected council review and revise but I think I heard that when the task force is through the Planning Commission can intervene and make changes too. Did I hear that right at the last meeting?
    I liked Sonnie Kirtley’s request for all the amended proposals to review.

    1. Love the quote, Patty!

      Yes, just like last time, Planning Commission gets to overrule or modify any of the work of the Task Force, before PC sends it on to the Council.

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