Legerdemain

leg·er·de·main/ˌlejərdəˈmān/Noun:

  1. Skillful use of one’s hands when performing tricks.
  2. Deception; trickery.

The Scottsdale Republic’s Robert Leger ran an editorial yesterday bashing the critics of Jim Lane’s lofty Littering Ordinance. This editorial did not appear online as of the time I am writing this [UPDATE: now posted on AZC], so I’ve transcribed it here:

Real Bar Area Issue: Clash of Generations

This week’s Scottsdale City Council debate over a proposed littering ordinance made one thing clear:

No matter what the city does to maintain control of the downtown entertainment district, some critics will never consider it enough.

This conflict isn’t really about noise or trash. It’s a clash of generations, a story as old as Aristotle.

Peel back the rhetoric, and it becomes clear. Start with Tuesday night’s debate.

Mayor Lane proposed a littering ordinance to supplant a fairly weak state law. It includes a minimum fine of $75, with the ability to double the fine in designated areas, such as downtown. Forty percent of the littering tickets issued in Scottsdale under state law were downtown.

Lane compared it with the broken windows philosophy of law enforcement: If little nuisances are tolerated, crime takes root. If you make it clear that littering is unacceptable, other behavior should improve, Lane said.

His critics were not swayed. “The problems don’t stem from littering, but from a critical mass of entertainment that has not been policed,” said activist John Washington, who speaks more at council meetings than some council members.

Councilman Bob Littlefield, the only one to vote against the proposal, denounced it as a distraction.

“We’ve got the biggest concentration of bars in Maricopa (County)–and we don’t enforce our rules. We let them run amok,” he said. “We need to increase the number of cops or reduce the number of bars or do something about the bad-actor bars.”

Hear it? There are too many bars. Have you heard such critics complain there are too many stores at Fashion Square or too many gift shops in Old Town? Of course not, because they’re comfortable in those stores and with the people who shop there.

They’re less comfortable around young people with tattoos, piercings and alcohol fueled hormones–“riffraff” in the view of Councilman Ron McCullagh. Entertainment district critic Bill Crawford is as quick to criticize the way night-clubbers dress as he is to complain about overflow parking in residential neighborhoods.

But you know what? The money those young people have spends the same as the gray-haired couple’s. Scottsdale builds a stronger economic base by appealing to varied demographics.

You can find plenty of 20- and 30-somethings who want to live near the energy and activity emanating from downtown. They just have better things to do than spend a Tuesday night with the council.

That doesn’t mean there are no problems. Any bar district has challenges, which need to be addressed. Scottsdale leaders may have been slow to do this, but they deserve credit for more recent efforts.

Trash pickup has increased. Police discourage parking and pedicabs in the neighborhoods. Bar owners are pressed to turn down the bass rather than risk another city ordinance. Discussions are underway about building another parking garage.

“Working collaboratively, we’ll find solutions,” Lane said. “If you just denounce each effort, we’ll continue to have problems.”

He’s right. But if critics’ true desire is to drive away the bars and the young people they attract, there’s no reason for them to work collaboratively. The only path to their solution is to complain that nothing is being done.

It’s too bad. Leger has done some pretty good stuff lately, but it looks like he ran off the road on this one. I could spend an hour picking apart the logic (or lack thereof) behind this piece, starting with the most fundamental issue he’s overlooked: The 50+year-old vintage and historic neighborhoods that are most affected by these issues got the bar district rammed down their throats. The simple fact is, the neighborhoods were here first, and this was patently unfair. Lane should have recognized this.

Fortunately, I won’t have to editorialize much more because Councilman Bob Littlefield has already drafted a response and was kind enough to share it with me. He’s summed it up far better than I could have, so I’ll pass it along to you:

Recently an editorial appeared in [the Scottsdale Republic] which attempted to trivialize the real, serious problems caused by Scottsdale’s Downtown bar district by characterizing the issue as a “clash of Generations.” The editorial quotes a comment I made at a Council meeting where I pointed out the basic problem is the city has allowed too high a concentration of bars in an area surrounded by existing residences and businesses.  In response, the editorial asks “Have you ever heard such critics complain there are too many stores at Fashion Square or too many gift shops in Old Town?”

The answer to that question is simple: shoppers from Fashion Square and the gift shops in Old Town are not urinating, defecating, sleeping on or otherwise trashing our streets.  Nor are they spraying gang graffiti on local businesses and homes, fighting in our parking garages, or gracing our fine local jail with their presence.  On the other hand, too many of the customers of our Downtown bar district are doing all of these things, which makes comparing these bars with the stores in Fashion Square and Old Town simply ludicrous.

Painting this issue as geezers versus hipsters is just another in a long line of attempts by the defenders of the Downtown bar district to distract the public’s attention from the real and measurable negative impacts of the highest concentration of bars in Maricopa County.  The first shot in this PR war was to claim there is no problem. When local activists produced voluminous evidence of real problems, the next dodge was to claim the city was taking bold steps to fix them. That claim went down in flames when one of our senior staff members admitted at a City Council meeting that, six months after the City Council passed a noise ordinance, the city had yet to even order the noise meters to enforce that ordinance! Not to mention that, eight years after the city began requiring Conditional Use Permits (CUPs) for bars in Downtown, we have yet to even consider revoking a bar CUP.

The next dodge was to claim the proliferation of bars was good for the local economy.  This was given the lie when our City Treasurer reported the city receives about $400K/year in revenue from the Downtown bar district but spends about $1.2M in costs for public safety there.  And that number doesn’t even include the costs for cleanup, not to mention the harder to quantify but nonetheless real costs to the neighboring businesses and homes due to their diminished quality of life.

The cost/benefit numbers also highlight the fact that this is not just a problem for those residents who live near the Downtown bar district – all Scottsdale taxpayers suffer from the drain this problem puts on the city treasury.

Don’t be fooled — this isn’t about the morality of bars or partying. It’s about Scottsdale city government not using all the tools at our disposal to protect our residents from the real, measurable negative impacts of the Downtown bar district.  We can and should do better.

Bob Littlefield is a Scottsdale City Councilman.  He can be reached by email at bob@boblittlefield.com.

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3 Comments

  1. I wonder if Mr. Leger would agree that “too much of a good thing can become a bad thing?” Business and entertainment are good things. What comes with too much of it can be bad. Rather than mis characterize opposition, maybe looking a bit of the facts is in order. Mayor Lane’s proposal is certainly not a negative, but it’s seems to be a pretty small bandaid. If the opposition wants to keep the focus on the rowdiness, noise and safety issues then what is there to criticize?

  2. In my humble opinion, the problems of noise and the variety of other disturbances caused by clubs and rooftop venues undoubtedly originated in City Council to begin with…and what’s going on with the ‘entertainment issue’ in Old Town and downtown is kind of like the Republican Party sloughing off the economic turmoil this country is in on Obama. You put it into place, now own up to it.

    City Council approved a variety of invasive venues (and continues to do so) from hotel rooftop gardens to the licensing and permitting of too many bars and clubs. These have negatively impacted the lives of residents adjacent to the entertainment district. Now the Council looks to do anything but own up to its indescretions but points fingers at everyone but itself, and worse, they do little but argue about their own shortcomings and take little to no action to remedy the situation.

    It’s not the fault of police and heaven knows if you offer incentives by passing legislation and issuing permits that affords financial gain, hoteliers and club owners would be fools not to take advantage.

    It’s time for City Council to own up to their improprieties and hire more police (perhaps paid for by a tax surcharge placed upon those same bars and hotels) to patrol both the entertainment district and adjacent residential neighborhoods…and also to enforce stricter noise ordanances; effective ones that have yet to be passed. What’s on the books right now if a F*%king joke. Clubs need to have mandated noise controls placed upon them and they need to keep their doors closed at all times. There needs to be a sound barrier in place between the club entrance and the actual club interior. Rooftop gardens must stop playing music at ten. Some of us would like to get to sleep because we work. The boombox bass we hear from these venues with great regularity prevents this.

    Like you wrote, residents were part of this community long before these clubs and rooftop gardens came into being…courtesy of City Council. As for those club goers desecrating property and littering…lock their asses up. If that’s bad for business…that’s too bad.

    I’m personally offended by what City Council has constantly allowed to be perpetrated against its citizens in favor of business…big or small.

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