Setting The Record Straight 10/06

October 6, 2020
06 Oct 2020

Statement: Scottsdale City Council members are elected by district.
Fact: Scottsdale elects City Council members at-large; each serves the entire city.

  • Cities elect their local representatives either at-large, by geographical district or a mixture of both.
  • Most cities of Scottsdale’s size use a district or a mixture of district and at-large to elect their local representatives.
  • After two inconclusive studies in the 80s and 90s, a district advisory task force was appointed in 2003 to complete an analysis and recommend a course of action.
  • Factors considered included Scottsdale’s growing population, diverse geography, costs of campaigning and new challenges facing the city.
  • Twelve of the 14 members recommended six district representatives plus the mayor at large that was approved by council but failed at the ballot box, with 39 percent of voters for it and 61 percent against.
  • Re-looking at districting is a part of each 2020 mayoral candidate’s platform.

Scottsdale Needs More Thinkers and Doers

October 2, 2020
02 Oct 2020

by Don Henninger

What do Scottsdale residents want from their future leaders?

Do they expect them to sustain the city’s high property values and low tax rates?

To continue to provide unparalleled city services?

Create a thriving, active year-round downtown?

To ensure its McDowell Sonoran Preserve will be protected in perpetuity? 

Maintain lots of open spaces?

The current roster of candidates for mayor and City Council agree those are worthy pursuits.

That’s why we live and do business here. Because the city does well on most of them, polls show the majority of residents think things are heading in the right direction.

But how do you foot the bill for all those desired attributes moving forward? The simple answer – perhaps the only one – is to encourage business investment in the city.

That’s the economic reality and that’s where the candidates start to separate. Any pro-business stance brings out the slow- or no-growth advocates who will be quick to complain but then come up short on ideas for how they see the city financing its prosperity.

The economic reality is this: Continued private sector investment in the city – paired with a healthy tourism industry – is how to maintain – to pay for – the quality of life that residents now expect and often take for granted.

The McDowell Sonoran Preserve encompasses one-quarter of the city’s land mass. And the open spaces so treasured in the north mean that economic activity must be robust in other select areas of the city.

The city has identified three major hubs for economic activity: the McDowell Road corridor, the area that surrounds the Airpark and downtown.

Much of the attention has been downtown, which is underused as a place to work, live and generate year-round activity. It’s often confused with Historic Old Town, a six-acre span that can easily be preserved while the rest of downtown’s two square miles is modernized.

City leaders should not be shy in recruiting businesses to invest in redevelopment projects downtown, while ensuring that they follow the zoning regulations and character area ordinances. Projects that propose height and density, carefully planned and located where they make sense – in literally 1 percent of the city’s area and far from the open spaces in the north – will not erode the city’s heritage. It will enable the city to build on its past and preserve its quality of life attributes as it continues to evolve into the future.

Scottsdale does not need decision makers who lead with “no.” The city is establishing a reputation that discourages quality investors from proposing projects here, redirecting them to neighboring cities. That’s fine for some projects. But Scottsdale should be getting the cream of the crop and those opportunities will evaporate if city leaders don’t view them with open minds.

Scottsdale is not a bedroom community – 150,000 non-residents come to the city daily to work. Scottsdale is a “real” city and its downtown, Airpark and McDowell Road areas should reflect it. Leaders can protect “Historic Old Town” and be visionary about the rest of the city.

In the near term, city leaders will need a plan to recover from the COVID pandemic – in particular, how to revive the tourism and hospitality industries so they can continue to generate the sales tax revenue that pays for more than half of the city’s budget. That’s a no-brainer.

The longer term is a tough call, too, and it will take leaders who understand and embrace the financial realities of what it will take to keep the city prosperous. The city needs more thinkers and doers and fewer naysayers.

Don Henninger, executive director of SCOTT, can be reached at

The STEP Forward Program – Foundation of Scottsdale’s Future

September 30, 2020
30 Sep 2020

By Don Hadder

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, public improvements, particularly streets, were made through the use of improvement districts. A project scope would be identified and then it would be shopped to engineering firms. The firms would be responsible for designing the project, securing property owner support for it and providing construction financing. This kept the management and capital costs minimal to the city. 

Although this was effective, it began to stir animosity across the community. The engineering firms in some cases used high pressure sales techniques to secure the signatures required to form a district and costs often escalated above the projected figures. Many owners felt “strong armed” and in some cases multiple districts applied to their property, making their property tax bills higher and hard to understand.

By 1964, the City Council had decided to try another way to build public infrastructure. Growth in Scottsdale was exploding and the county did not require development to build infrastructure of any significance. Public facilities were falling behind as the community almost overnight changed from a farming town to a major suburban city. 

There was a good deal of public unease at the time, having only recently been the recipient of freeway plans that would split the city into pieces, a Corps of Engineers plan that would create a massive concrete-lined channel down the middle of the city, explosive growth of schools and a lack of many key facilities such as parks, libraries or even a City Hall.

A new approach to build public facilities and infrastructure was chosen: the issuance of municipal bonds. This approach would require the fledgling community to take an active role in the design, financing and management of the construction process. It also required that a majority of the voters in an election support the issuance of the bonds, which are financed primarily through property taxes. 

Given the rumblings in the community, the council wisely chose to create citizen committees to help determine what improvements were to be included in the bond proposal and then to recruit support of voters across the community. The collection of committees appointed for this effort were placed under the overall title of the “Scottsdale Town Enrichment Program,” later commonly referred to as the STEP Forums.

These committees worked over several months to identify and prioritize public improvements to be included in the upcoming bond election. Since this became the basis of the council’s call for an election, the STEP committee members became a strong force of support across the community. Ultimately, the bond election was successful, and the new City Hall and Civic Center Library, Eldorado Park, street improvements, the extension of sewer lines and many other projects were able to move forward. 

Most notably, the selection of Bennie Gonzales as the architect/planner for the new Civic Center was in large part due to the recommendations of the STEP participants. He was not a traditional and well-established architect, but he brought a sense of vision and of the Southwest that appealed to citizens.

In April 1966, the city in conjunction with Arizona Town Hall held a series of meetings to establish goals for the community. This was one of the earliest Town Hall programs in Arizona and laid a strong foundation for the future of the city. The goals as presented were approved by the City Council in June of 1966. 

These were not per se a “General Plan,” but would shortly become incorporated into a new General Plan. Adopted by resolution, they established formal and defined directions for the future of Scottsdale. Underlying this effort was a strong affinity to the desert Southwest, its special natural setting and its particular native traditions and cultures.

The recommendations were grouped under the categories of physical development, residential, commercial, parks, streets and highways, economic and social-cultural.  Many of them would significantly change the appearance and function of the growth of Scottsdale, including landscaping in parking areas, a range of park types and sizes, an economic emphasis on tourism, a comprehensive Civic Center, medians in major streets, the Indian Bend Wash Greenbelt, an emphasis on open spaces and no more “strip” commercial.

Once these goals were approved, the city retained the services of Simon Eisner and Associates to prepare a General Plan for Scottsdale. This firm had completed a number of plans for communities in California and brought a sense of planning beyond just land uses and streets.

 Approved in July 1968, this “General Plan” was likely the earliest “comprehensive” General Plan for any community in Arizona. It embodied elements that, although modified over time, are still a part of the community, such as an “Airpark” business center, major detention basins as part of the Indian Bend Wash greenbelt flood control system and the “resort corridor.”

What is interesting about this plan is that it was more of a tutorial of ideas to think about, pursue and consider, and less about regulatory limitations. Unfortunately, this became its Achilles’ heel in that it was not specific enough to make decision making easy or predictable in hotly contested development cases.

Through 1967, 1968 and 1969 the STEP Forum effort was directed toward neighborhoods and how local areas could be made better with residents, business owners and visitors working together in harmony.  Also during this time, STEP committees assisted in the recruitment and concept for a junior college (Scottsdale Community College), enhanced design review (a Beautification Committee was established), the initiation of a city arts program and special studies into youth and senior services.

In the fall of 1969, the STEP committees were reconvened to plan for the next decade of growth and enhancement of Scottsdale. The final report of this effort was titled “Scottsdale Town Enrichment Program – Long Range Goals & Plans.” The committee reports were included under the headings of community development, community affairs, economic development, community services and community improvements. 

Some of the ideas from this process includes historical and art museums, manpower development, two redevelopment areas (Civic Center and Vista del Camino), a major roadway connection along 64th Street, municipal golf courses, creation of a municipal water system, expansion of fire service facilities, a new police headquarters, fire and police training facilities and “brokered” community services.

This did not finish the STEP committee work. The planning firm of Wilsey Ham and the Brookings Institute were retained to develop an updated General Plan. In the process, the Brookings Institute conducted community surveys and organized a number of forums. The initial report from this process was titled “Alternate Futures for the City of Scottsdale.” It was organized under topics that included growth, population and land use, economy and human resources, environment, design of the city, housing, transportation, education, health and public safety, recreation, cultural and entertainment activities, government and city financing.

This was a summary of 10 seminars in which experts from across the nation spoke. Of note is that in the community survey, the most universally accepted idea was protection of the McDowell Mountains.

In September 1973, about a year after the previous report, a report of the STEP committee focused on sign regulations, undergrounding power lines (up to 12kV), requiring developments to dedicate school and park sites, requiring development to provide municipal infrastructure facilities, and providing bike paths and flood control systems.

The final major report of the STEP committees was released in June of 1974 and focused exclusively on transportation. It addressed all forms of transportation and covered local and regional issues and coordination. This would be the last major result of the original STEP Forum process. 

In 1974, the city approved updates to the land use transportation plans of the General Plan.  Unfortunately, these were later discarded.  From what little evidence that has been detected, they were more detailed and regulatory than those included in the 1967 General Plan, and they appear to have had relatively little impact.

In 1981, the STEP committee process was brought back for a report card and re-evaluation process.  The report at the end of this effort included subcommittee headings such as city buildings, cultural affairs, economic development, issues of the elderly, housing, long-range financing, neighborhood revitalization, parks and open space, public safety, resource conservation, transportation and issues of youth.  For the most part, this process substantiated the recommendations of the earlier committees.

Of general note about these processes was an emphasis on the Southwestern culture (particularly Native American), environment and lifestyles. The sense was that Scottsdale was a leader in appreciating the unique setting of the Southwest.

In summary, citizen participation and collaboration with city leadership through the STEP program brought about significant changes and advancements for Scottsdale, including:

  • Comprehensive general planning
  • The Indian Bend Wash greenbelt
  • A city-wide parks system
  • A municipal water system
  • Significant control of outdoor signage
  • Underground utilities
  • Design review
  • The Senior Centers
  • Museums and the Center for the Performing Arts
  • The “Resort Corridor”
  • Bikeways
  • Emphasis on open space
  • And many more attributes that make Scottsdale a better place to live, work and play.

The ingredients necessary for this to add lasting value to the community were:

  • A group of citizens willing to commit time, energy and perspective; and who were prepared to reach consensus and develop collaborations. They also were prepared to learn about the past and the present as well as consider a wide range of possible futures. They had heated discussions at times and differed on how to achieve the goals, but they were willing to abide by the consensus reached by the group.
  • City leadership willing to take risks and make decisions. The risks were not rash but well informed and taken after a wide range of options had been considered. They were also willing to accept failures but were prepared to learn from them and continue to press forward.
  • The citizens and leadership were focused on vision and values, with the horizon being a long range ahead. Some of the goals and ideas brought up through the STEP program were not reached or achieved for 20 and even 40 years.  There often were differences on how to achieve the consensus vision, but the vision was held in common.
  • The greatest failure of the STEP process became a lack of passing the baton on to the next group of newcomers to Scottsdale as the community grew. Within 10 years of the program ending, very few people were aware of the program and most no longer understood or accepted the visions, values and priorities so many had worked to achieve. The forward thinking, “can do” attitudes and willingness to compromise and build consensus that characterized the STEP process became lost. Instead of a focus on community, control shifted to local interests, short-term thinking, fear of making decisions and the unwillingness to support actions that achieved city-wide benefit.

Don Hadder is a retired city planner, long-time resident of Scottsdale and a local historical resource.

Setting The Record Straight 10/01

September 30, 2020
30 Sep 2020

Statement: The General Plan includes zoning guidelines.
Fact: There are no such things as zoning guidelines in the General Plan.

·       The terms “zoning” and “guidelines” have no direct relationship to a General Plan.  A General Plan includes goals, policies and plans that are based on the values and aspirations of a community.

·       Zoning refers to state regulations that provide limits on the use of land and the physical character of the improvements on the land. 

·       The state requires consistency between the General Plan and zoning, but the General Plan includes elements, such as transportation and public services, that go well beyond the zoning ordinance in scope and function.

·       Guidelines refers to a quasi-regulatory set of processes and limits that provide substantial detail about the design of a broad range of infrastructure, including transportation, water, sewer and drainage systems.

·       The key point is that these terms have specific meanings and functions and that loosely combining them indicates a lack of understanding in how city development guidance and processes work. Too often these terms are merged together in an indistinct manner that renders their meaning ambiguous at best.

Setting The Record Straight 9/24

September 22, 2020
22 Sep 2020

Statement: If you want to preserve our environment, lower-density development is better than higher-density development.
Fact: Higher-density development offers the best solution protecting clean air and clean water.

  • According to the Urban Land Institute, lower-density development increases air and water pollution and destroys natural areas by paving and urbanizing larger areas of land. For more: Urban Land Institute
  • Placing new development into already urbanized areas that are equipped with basic infrastructure like utility lines, police and fire protection, schools, and shops eliminates the financial and environmental costs of stretching those services farther out from the core community.
  • Compact urban design reduces driving, preserves natural areas that are assets of the community including watersheds, preserve lands, open space and wildlife corridors.
  • A “Future of Density” panel on May 8, 2020 engaged experts who spoke about how to leverage the COVID-19 crisis as an opportunity to transform our urban spaces for the better.
  • “We are coming from a place where density is part of the solution,” said an executive director of Community Planning and Development.”
  • “Focus on placemaking, health and equity, not density,” Sara Jensen Carr, an architect and assistant professor at Northeastern University. She said the reputation of density as a health risk suffers because it is often confused with crowding, which is not measured by typical real estate/planning metrics as floor-area ratios or dwelling units per acre.

Setting The Record Straight 9/22

September 22, 2020
22 Sep 2020

Statement: The voter-approved Bond 2019 multi-use sports fields project in the Bell Road area has not started.

Fact: The multi-use sports fields project began in April 2020 and is underway.

  • This multi-phase, multi-phased project started in April 2020 when the City Council hired a design consultant to begin evaluating the field locations and provide options for each site for the first phase.
  • Although design work is underway, land acquisition is needed to complete the full project.
  • Up to 13 full-sized multi-use sports fields will be built along the Bell Road Corridor to meet the increased demand for lighted sports fields in the community, create the ability for Scottsdale to host larger tournaments and increase revenue.
  • These sports fields will be used as parking for special events for a few weeks each year to replace temporary parking lots on Arizona state land that will become unavailable as the land is sold.
  • In the initial phase, design work is 30 percent complete for both seven of the multi-use fields and the creation of a lake at the city-owned community park at DC ranch which will use reclaimed water to provide irrigation for this complex.
  • Solicitations for construction have been published; one for field construction and one for construction of the offsite irrigation system.
  • For more: City of Scottsdale

Setting The Record Straight 9/17

September 16, 2020
16 Sep 2020

Statement: Volunteers are unable to apply for a seat on Scottsdale’s boards and commissions.

Fact:  Though the Citywide Volunteer Program is currently suspended for health and welfare reasons due to the pandemic, the application process is active and openings are available.

  • There are 20 boards and commission and seven other ad hoc committees that are sourced through the city’s application process.
  • The process starts with completing an application that will be forwarded to City Council.
  • The City Council nominates candidates from the resident applications submitted; at a subsequent Council meeting, candidate answers to three questions are reviewed and those who get the most votes are appointed.
  • By the end of October there will be new appointments to over 15 boards and commissions; some may be appointed to a second term. .
  • There are additional vacancies; applications must be received by Oct. 30.
  • Ethics training is required for all new appointees and annually for each appointed commissioner.

Setting The Record Straight 9/15

September 14, 2020
14 Sep 2020

Statement: Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts season has been suspended.

Fact: Although the facility is closed temporarily to stop the spread of COVID-19, it will be open for in-person events starting in late September.

  • The Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts installed strong HVAC filters-Ionic air purifiers and  UV air scrubbers, and follows safety protocols, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and reduced seating.
  • The Center is part of Scottsdale Art, which includes the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (SMOCA) as well as public art, learning and innovation programs, the Scottsdale Arts Festival and Canal Convergence.
  • Many of Scottsdale Art’s offering and experiences have been available throughout the six-month facilities closure; others are transitioning to safe openings.
  • SMOCA has new artwork on view outside its building.
  • Scottsdale Arts Learning and Innovation continues to offer exhibitions, programs and events virtually via platforms including Zoom and Facebook Live.
  • Outdoor Permanent Public Art continued to be available and new virtual exhibitions were added for remote viewing.
  • Scottsdale Public Art Canal Convergence Water + Art + Light will return Nov. 6–15 with changes due to the pandemic, while still bringing the enchanting, light-based artworks from around the world

Scottsdale, it’s time to show more leadership

September 10, 2020
10 Sep 2020

The challenge for the new City Council will be to understand what has happened in the past, what is truly happening in the economy now, and what the real assets and inadequacies of the community are so that it can boldly develop ways to re-invent the Scottsdale of the future.

By Don Henninger.

Those thoughts from Don Hadder, a SCOTT contributor, should be the central theme of this year’s campaign for Scottsdale mayor and City Council.

Learn and respect the city’s past, recognize the city is at a critical economic crossroads that will determine its financial fate long into the future, and create a vision and new ideas for ways the city can progress and sustain the high standards we have come to expect, including great amenities and low property taxes.

Our past:

The heritage and charm of the six-acre “Historic Old Town,” the creativity and will power to build the Indian Bend Wash, the willingness of residents to invest $1 billion to create the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, which protects more than 45 square miles of the city.

Those are among the achievements and qualities of the past that benefit us today. There are others. The widening of Hayden Road, the development of the “Cure Corridor,” the airport and the creation of economic power centers in the broader downtown and Airpark areas.

What’s next? What are we going to do to enhance that legacy?

Our fiscal condition:

COVID 19 has muddied the city’s financial future. Tourism and its revenue dominoes are tumbling. The city is facing an economic downturn deeper than the Great Recession of 2008.

At that time, Jim Lane was just beginning his first term as mayor. Among the strengths he brought to the office was his financial acumen, based on years of finance work in the private sector.

Turns out the timing was good from a financial perspective. As his third term comes to an end, he gets credit for helping the city recover quickly from the recession and stay healthy over his 12-year reign. If it weren’t for COVID, the city would be in solid financial shape for his successor.

With Lane leaving in a few months – coupled with the retirement next month of city treasurer Jeff Nichols – our new leaders, mayor and council members alike, will need a thorough understanding of the financial issues they’ll face through this fiscal turbulence

Our vision:

This may be the city’s weak spot.

A group of private- and public-sector leaders along with the Morrison Institute at ASU issued a groundbreaking report at the beginning of the century that challenged everyone to come up with a vision for the city. Twenty years later, the issues largely are the same but there still is no consensus on where the city should be headed as it nears buildout and enters a stage of redevelopment in key areas.

What is the next big idea for the city? What is the vision?

It takes creativity, courage and perseverance to rally people around a vision; it’s much easier to find fault than it is to lead. It’s time to show more leadership. It’s time to develop a path for Scottsdale to recover its financial moxie, to build out it final 15,000 acres and to make downtown, McDowell Road, the Airpark and Bell Road corridor economic engines that will support our quality of life and low tax structure.

The current work to finally update the city’s General Plan is not the vision. It’s a tactical exercise, though it could offer suggestions to prompt our leaders to start thinking big with an understanding of what might satisfy and unite residents.

And that’s where residents step in. Challenge the candidates to respect our past, to understand the fiscal challenges of today and to create a vision for tomorrow.

We all can get started on that by voting in the general election for mayor and council candidates who espouse the vision and values to move Scottsdale forward.

Don Henninger, executive director of SCOTT, can be reached at

Setting The Record Straight 9/10

September 10, 2020
10 Sep 2020

Statement: The 2035 Draft General Plan Citizen Review Task Force has not met in months.

Fact: Meetings resumed after a summer recess Sept. 8, which was the first meeting planned after June 29, 2020.

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