John Little on the Bonds: More False Equivalence

In John Little’s pro-borrowing column in the Scottsdale Republic today, he spends much of his space talking about the slow, painful death of Los Arcos Mall. What he fails to note is that city government has no direct control over neglect of private property other than code enforcement.

Little also fails to acknowledge the Los Arcos Redevelopment District which covers much of the length of McDowell Road. Redevelopment districts are a tool by which city governments seek to control blight, a term which never applied to McDowell Road until—ironically—the implementation of the LARD was the first step in a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Many commercial property owners on McDowell have held off on improvements because of uncertainty about what the LARD would bring…and whether it was going to include some windfall incentives from city government. Steve Ellman’s long-range plans for the Los Arcos site definitely included such handouts.

Ellman tried several times to get taxpayer subsidies. These included an arena for the Coyotes and a sales tax “sharing” arrangement with Wal-Mart.

Ultimately Ellman got his bailout, days before lien-holders foreclosed on him. The city paid double the appraised value for the property, and Ellman took his taxpayer money to Glendale. He then leveraged it to steal from a different bunch of taxpayers. How did that work out for them?

The self-inflicted demise of a shopping mall due to intentional negligence by its owner is not the same thing as, “ignoring our city’s essential infrastructure.”

However, roadways, public buildings, water and waste-water treatment facilities that are neglected because we are busy giving away taxpayer dollars to professional golfers, polo matches, and other subsidies to private businesses are the real “essential infrastructure” we are neglecting.

I’ve never heard John Little criticize infrastructure neglect due to wasteful spending.

Here’s Little’s column in it’s entirety:

Supporting the Nov. 5 ballot is like caring for your car, home

Scottsdale voters should support all four questions on the Nov. 5 ballot. There! I got that out of the way. Now let’s talk about the reasons why.

Imagine our city is your car, that beautiful little buggy you always dreamed of driving. What do you do to keep it the envy of your neighbors? You keep it clean, rotate the tires, change the oil, take it in for “scheduled” main­tenance — and repair it if it gets dam­aged (heaven forbid!). In other words, you routinely invest in it to keep it oper­ating at its optimal level.

Now, let’s imagine our city is Los Arcos Mall in the 1970s. We can also pretend we are its owners. We own a very successful retail shopping center at one of the city’s most desirable in­tersections, McDowell and Scottsdale roads. Then, Mesa opens 1 million square feet of shopping in 1979 at Fies­ta Mall.

What do we do? Nothing. We just sit and continue to cash our lease pay­ments from tenants. A short time later, in the early 1980s, Scottsdale Fashion Square expands, im­proves and adds anoth­er 1 million square feet of retail three miles north of us. To facili­tate their expansion they recruit many of our best and long-time employees. Fashion Square declares they are Scottsdale’s biggest and best regional mall, and who can argue?

Then, some of our best tenants leave our mall and open new locations at Fashion Square — including Express, Structure and Sam Goody. But, hey, we still have Red Robin, don’t we?

Lastly, and with great finality, Sears moves those three short miles north in 1999. Through it all, we choose not to compete and not to re-invent ourselves. Our customers leave us with boarded up windows and weeds in the parking lot. We cling to visions of a hockey are­na that has been on thin ice from the start.

Now let’s imagine our city is our home. It’s our most coveted possession, that little piece of the world that we make uniquely ours. We take special pride in ensuring our home is a reflec­tion of us. We make it appear welcom­ing with a well-maintained yard and those little touches that make it unique to us. We make sure the roof is sound, the plumbing works and the home is safe and secure.

To keep our home in good repair, we must pay for it. And if we don’t main­tain our property, guess what? We pay for it sooner or later.

Many years ago while studying Ur­ban Studies at the University of Minne­sota, we studied the symptoms and eventual causes of urban decay. First among the symptoms is when a city neglects to maintain its important in­frastructure. We can’t afford to ignore our city’s essential infrastructure.

To not support this bond is tanta­mount to accepting the inevitability your car will break down on the free­way, your home will fall into disre­pair … or believing Los Arcos Mall is still open and you’re just waiting for your customers to come back.

John C. Little Jr. is a former Scottsdale city manager.

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2 Comments

  1. John,

    Thanks for the rebuttal to Little’s piece. When I read it this morning over my Air Force black coffee, the first thing I thought of was “Little is throwing fresh meat to John!”

    As usual, you didn’t disappoint. With Little’s outlook I’m surprised he wasn’t fired from the city manger job sooner.

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