Candidates discuss economy, water, rentals

The seven candidates running for three open City Council seats got what may be their last chance July 20 to differentiate themselves before the Primary Election during a 90-minute debate at DC Ranch.

Approximately 100 people turned out for the event sponsored by DC Ranch, the Scottsdale Area Chamber of Commerce, Scottsdale Vibes and the Scottsdale Progress. The forum can be viewed at scottsdalechamber.com.

All seven candidates – Pamela Carter, Barry Graham, Daniel Ishac, Kathy Littlefield, Tim Stratton, Solange Whitehead and Raoul Zubia participated in the forum.

Littlefield and Whitehead are running for re-election while there is also an open seat being vacated by Councilwoman Linda Milhaven, who is termed-out.

Here are some highlights from the forum.

If elected to city council, what would you do to attract and retain new businesses?

Stratton favored targeting corporate headquarters’ relocation here while Zubia warning the city’s inability to provide for attainable housing could be a major stumbling block.

Littlefield said promoting tourism is essential because visitors “come and they say, ‘This is where I want to plant my business. This is where I want to grow.’”

Whitehead added, “Continuing to invest in that is what attracts high technology companies in particular.”

Carter said that as the former owner of “the largest sports medicine and weight training facility in the nation…I do know it’s possible to attract businesses here and have them thrive.”

Ishac stressed the importance of “making sure we’re the city that attracted all of us to be here.”

When his company considered locating in Scottsdale, they looked at three broad categories: Ease of doing business – regulation and the infrastructure; an adequate school system, both secondary and universities; livability – are there things like open space and activities, is there attainable housing?

Graham said the city Economic Development Department and Experience Scottsdale do a great job but added, “I don’t think we should rush with over eagerness to accommodate business to want to move here by sacrificing a lot of the things that make our character, that make us who we are.”

Would you support changes to the public art ordinance to expand the geographic locations where private developers are required to fund public art as part of their project?

While Zubia favored making it a requirement and Littlefield said she supports the arts and would consider expanding the requirement, Whitehead said the city also should ask developers “for public open space that is protected in perpetuity,” pedestrian-friendly development and greener building standards.

“I don’t know about funding, using development as a way of funding art,” Carter said.

Ishac said he believes public art could be an option on a menu for developers that also would include things like open space and setbacks.

“Public art is a quality-of-life component of Scottsdale,” Graham said while Stratton said public art “should be part of the discussion process” with a developer “but I don’t think we should require it.”

A question noted recent state legislation giving municipalities some control over short-term rentals and candidates were asked what they think needs to be done.

Overall, the candidates felt the legislation does not go far enough, though they were grateful the Legislature has taken some steps toward giving communities more local control – which it took away in 2016.

Whitehead said “The short-term rentals have been unregulated and the playing field has very much tilted to out-of-state and out-of-country owners that really don’t care about Scottsdale” and wants municipalities to have the ability to revoke operators’ licenses.

Ishac said that Scottsdale must work with other cities to push back on the short-term rental industry and lobby for tougher regulations.

“They are hollowing out neighborhoods,” Graham said. “They are replacing homes with un-staffed mini hotels. …The problem with the legislation is that it doesn’t tie complaints to a house, it ties them to a person. Therefore, bad actors can form a limited liability corporation, transfer the deed to the LLC and escape penalties.”

Stratton noted that legislators who think cities are being too tough can take away a community’s sales tax revenue. “We need to have a registry where three strikes and you’re out,” he said.

Zubia called the recent legislation “a band aid” and agreed with Stratton on a three-strikes-and-you’re-out policy.

Carter said she was the first candidate to mention the law in previous forums and thanked lawmakers for it.

Asked if they supported extending the Preserve Tax, which expires in 2025, to include quality-of-life things like bike paths, parks and arts and culture, candidates had varying views.

Virtually all the candidates said this is an issue for the voters to decide.

Ishac and Zubia generally felt a range of city services should be included on the ballot so the voters have a choice of how the money is spent.

Graham and Stratton felt the unspent money from the tax, about $30 million, should be devoted to parks, Preserve and greenbelt maintenance while Littlefield stressed the need to target that money solely on the Preserve since the city has no other money for that purpose.

Littlefield also would like to use the money from the existing tax to buy land near the Preserve’s “goose neck” area near Dynamite Road to expand it for animal migration.

If you are elected to the city council, what would be your top two priorities?

Carter: “My top two priorities would be to protect, preserve and promote business, tourism, as well as preserving our way of life here.

Ishac: “If we don’t maintain our economic strength, we can’t do anything else for our city.”

Graham: “I think the top issue is managing the kind of out-of-control development that a lot of us are seeing” and “paired with that is restoring public trust in the city council and improving public outreach.”

Stratton: “The two most pressing issues that I feel are facing the city of Scottsdale are maintaining our economic position through economic development and the pending water crisis.”

Zubia: “We must sustain our vibrant economy. … We have to find ways to create housing, we have to find ways to attract better businesses here.”

Littlefield: My number one priority is water…The second thing would be controlling our development and making sure it does make sense in the context of our water shortage.”

Whitehead: “Water is my top issue.”

Give an example of an existing project that… is an example of good development and one that is an example of poor development.

Ishac: “An example of a development I supported and I spoke at the council meeting was actually the Greenbelt 88. The proposed development was actually going to create nice apartments, commercial space and improve what was an aging and 25% vacant strip mall.”

Graham: “An example I would say, that is probably good quality is the Optima at Highland and Scottsdale road. …I would say the Greenbelt 88 was an example of poor development.”

Stratton: Greenbelt 88 was a perfect example of an aging strip mall that was repurposed for the modern era.

Zubia: Supported Greenbelt 88. “One development I don’t think is worthy is just north of Palm on Scottsdale Road on the west side – very ugly.”

Littlefield: “I would say the Greenbelt 88 was extremely poor.”

Whitehead: “I’m going to dive right into the Kimsey,” which was radically modified by the developer because of Whitehead’s insistence.

Carter: City a project at 92nd Street and Shea Boulevard. If a developer builds 300 homes on an 8-acre site, that’s 600 cars and 1,200 people living there, she said. “Just think about the traffic and all that entails with building these high rises.”

What specific area of economic development would you like to see the city focus on?

Stratton: “I think we as a city need to do a better job recruiting and retaining corporate headquarters. The city needs a renewed push for medical offices located in town and it needs to do a better job recruiting educational institutions.”

He also noted the city needs to make sure “we keep our tourism fresh.”

Zubia: Would like to see high tech companies coming to Scottsdale as well as medical offices and corporate headquarters.

Littlefield: The city should increase the number of medical schools in the area as well as high tech and high-tech educational facilities.

Whitehead: High tech is perfect for Scottsdale as well as tourism like sports and medical tourism and by hosting more events that bring people to town.

Carter: “I love the airport. I love the Airpark. I do believe technology is increasing.” Protecting tourism is also crucial.

Ishac: “It’s important to note that in order to be attracting employers, we must have a labor pool for them. Our secondary and higher education has to be turning out the people these employers want.”

On top of that, the city needs to be safe and have enough housing for everybody, with low taxes and reasonable regulations, he said.

Graham: “I’m a big fan and big supporter of the health corridor, the cure corridor, the health economy and industry. We have a senior population and it just makes sense.”

He added that the city has to protect its tourism by not overbuilding and being careful with its water supply.

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