Robbins, Icon of Economics

No sooner than I finished reading Grant Martin’s editorial criticism of Guy Phillips this morning, my gaze dropped down the page and I almost choked on my orange juice.

In a classic case of proving me right, Martin gave more-favored Councilman Dennis Robbins a half-page to expound on local manifestations of economic theory. Robbins rambles from property rights and consumer demand to healthcare choices.

I wonder how much is post facto rationalization, how much is foreshadowing of future misdeeds, and how much is toe-in-the-water work for another campaign…Robbins’s term is up in less than two years.

Normally, my style is to pick out that bad parts of these missives in the Republic and ignore the fluff. However, a) this one is all bad, and b) as oft observed, I couldn’t find it online so I can’t give you a link. Therefore, I’ve reproduced the whole, bad thing below, and inserted my comments.

Dennis Robbins: Scottsdale can’t fall into trap of believing it has ‘too much’

I am responding to Councilman Guy Phillips’ My Turn regarding multi­family housing, which was pub­lished in the Scottsdale Republic March 7. Although I respect his opinion, I dis­agree with his asser­tions. I agree that cap­italism should be al­lowed to work as we continue to recover from the Great Reces­sion. A market-based recovery is the best medicine for our econ­omy to rebound from the devastating results of the past several years.

“Market-based” city planning is an oxymoron. If our approach to development was purely market-based, we’d have no zoning, no zoning code (thus no code-enforcement), no city planning department, no economic vitality department, etc. I think you could make a good market-based case for slashing city government to two departments: public works and public safety.

Why would we want government to stall our economic recovery through a subjective, non-market-based economic policy? The arguments made today against multifamily housing were the same arguments made 15 years ago against gas stations and grocery stores. Years ago, some on the Council thought it was a good idea to limit a property owner’s ability to build gas stations and grocery stores. Now, we don’t have enough gas stations and the failed gro­cery stores have been turned into other businesses.

If we don’t have enough grocery stores, why do we have failed grocery stores? Wouldn’t a market-based approach deliver exactly as many grocery stores as the market demands?

Where Robbins gets his wires crossed here is that the city never dictated the number of gas stations or grocery stores, only their location. I don’t have any trouble finding either of them, or muffler shops. In his previous column, Guy never advocated regulating the supply of apartments. He merely pointed out that we are creating an oversupply of them and subsiding them in the process.

It is shortsighted to think that gov­ernment knows better than the buying public what they do and do not want to buy. Look at what is happening to our health-care system with new govern­ment regulations. Premiums have in­creased, access is limited and Scotts­dale was mandated to add a new 2 per­cent federal tax to pay for the new regulations.

This paragraph is so nonsensical and non-pertinent, I’m not sure how Robbins came up with it. Regulation of land use through zoning is the reason for Scottsdale’s success (more on that momentarily). Zoning has nothing to do with dictating what “the buying public” wants.

I disagree with the assertion that council members “have already made up their minds” when a new devel­opment case comes before the Council. If that were true, then the proposed apartments at the old Cardinale Way auto dealership would have been ap­proved instead of defeated by a Council majority last year.

Choking on the OJ again, I observe that Robbins found ONE example from his two years on Council where a development project was BARELY rejected…and he fails to note that the proposal was in clear violation of Federal Aviation Administration grant assurances related to Scottsdale Airport. Otherwise, Robbins has voted 100% in favor of development projects that have come before the council.

So, how much is too much? When do we have enough gas stations, grocery stores or housing units? Nobody has the correct answer.

It is our duty as your elected repre­sentatives to uphold our community values. Our city has very high stan­dards — which in turn have resulted in a very high quality of life. To broadly state that we have “too much” of some­thing is to not give our citizens the thoughtful, reasonable representation that they deserve. I will continue to give every issue that comes before our Council the thoughtful hearing it de­serves, while at the same time preserv­ing and protecting our high quality of life in Scottsdale.

The first two sentences of his second paragraph are absolutely dead-on. Where he falls apart–again–is the self-contradictory notion that we can have high standards with no regulation; and of course that regulating location equates to regulating supply.

I attended a meeting of the City Council’s “Economic Development Subcommittee” (Lane, Milhaven, and–yes–Robbins) almost a year ago when market expert Ellliot Pollack told the members emphatically that the development Robbins and the Council have been approving are anything BUT market-driven, they are FINANCE-driven:

A developer would build a high-rise in the middle of the Gobi Desert if he could get the financing. Real estate is 100% finance driven. Money is available for apartments so you’ve seen a lot of apartments…What your job is, is to determine whether there’s real demand, which is difficult, and what you want your city to look like down the road because quite frankly otherwise you’d have apartments right now EVERYWHERE. Is that what you want to look like?”

As I have said before, city government has a responsibility to avoid OVERSUPPLY, and the instability that it brings to our community. We also have to recognize that whether we own a single-family home, a condo, a gas station, a grocery store, or a muffler shop, subsidizing any of these uses through zoning concessions not only reduces quality of life for existing residents, it also erodes our property values. Simple supply-and-demand.

High development standards–including zoning to insulate residential uses from higher-intensity uses–are the reason for Scottsdale’s success. You can’t have one without the other.

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  1. I am still confused about Council Robbins message. Zoning is a reflection of the tastes and preferences of residents. Hence, zoning regulations embody community demand, or lack of demand, which is the market for a desirable neighborhood.
    I hope Mr. Robbins give thoughtful reflection on the upcoming TPC Scottsdale slideshow on Tuesday.

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