Sedona Elections: The following is a Sedona.biz interview with Sedona City Council candidate Brian Fultz. All candidates have been invited to share their platforms with Sedona.biz by answering election-specific questions. The following are the questions and responses:
• What office are you running for?
Sedona City Council
• Why are you running?
It’s a pivotal time in Sedona, and we need some new additions to the City Council. I’m excited to challenge the status quo and bring some fresh ideas to tackle our challenges now but also to be looking five to ten years down the road to ensure we’re anticipating and planning for the future. As a business owner and working professional, I believe I bring some diversity to City Council.
• How long have you lived in Sedona?
I’ve owned my home in Sedona since 2004 and became a full-time resident in 2021. Over these years I’ve seen a great deal of change as Sedona has truly become “discovered” and how that has impacted the quality of life for residents here in Red Rock Country. I believe I bring a fresh set of eyes and fresh perspective to the City Council that is grounded in this long-term relationship with Sedona.
• When did you decide to get involved politically?
I decided I would run for city council about 18 months ago although I wasn’t certain if I would run this year or in the next election cycle two years from now. As I gathered more information about the issues facing Sedona through news sources, social media, and talking to residents, it became apparent that it is time for change right now and that I should run this year.
• What do you believe are your qualifications for office?
I want to bring my strong analytical and creative problem solving skills to address major issues we face. I’m a good listener and facilitator and believe I can be persuasive on the City Council. As a small business owner, I am a calculated risk taker, which translates into a willingness to fight for our residents even if a Council decision is subsequently challenged. And while I’ve experienced many successes as a small business owner, I’ve also learned to adapt to challenging times such as the Great Recession and the emergence of COVID-19. As such I’ve learned a great deal about fiscal responsibility that will benefit the City Council. You can learn more about me from my website, BrianForSedona.com or via my LinkedIn page, linkedin.com/in/brianfultz/
• What have you accomplished in serving the community?
I have been appointed to the Sedona Community Plan Update Working Group where a key part of our mission is to ensure that Sedona residents have their voices heard when formulating the vision for our city for the next 10 years. I have worked with local activists to plan and execute strategies to address the negative effects of STRs and ATVs in our community and to protect Oak Creek from development exploitation. I am active at Aletheia Church where I lead an adult small group and volunteer with the church primarily at Sedona Parks and Recreation community events (the Easter Egg Hunt was amazing!).
• What do you think is better? Electing people who have served for years in office, committees, etc.? Or electing a candidate that may be politically inexperienced but brings new ideas to the table?
I believe effective government results from a blend of experienced and newer elected officials. Experienced leaders provide a certain continuity that is beneficial in terms of knowing the basis for prior decisions, what is legally permissible, and having relationships with other government bodies and agencies from the county, state, or federal government. I represent the newer end of the spectrum for sure, and as such, I’m more likely to ask “Why?” and be willing to challenge the status quo. I’m an ideas person and love to innovate, which is why I named my consulting company, Peak Innovation. I think the city will benefit from my creative and analytical approach.
• What are the main challenges you see Sedona facing and how would you address them? Please include the issue of homelessness and panhandling at shopping centers, etc.
The biggest issue we have is whole-house Short Term Rentals (STRs) that have severely impacted the long term rental housing market, fostered over tourism, contributed to worsening traffic and damage to the natural environment. In subsequent questions, I specifically dig further into the issues of STRs, housing, traffic, and ATVs, which I believe to be among our main challenges.
While traffic is addressed in part in the later Sedona In Motion (SIM) question, I think it’s worth pointing out that traffic solutions often require the greatest willingness to think out of the box. Are we willing to look, or re-look, at providing safe alternatives to pedestrian crossings from the Schnebly roundabout all the way through Uptown because those “on-demand” instances of people crossing 179 and 89A create frequent traffic disruption? And what about enhanced signage? The visitors to our community are frequently unsure of where they are heading but 89A signage on Cook’s Hill leading to the Y and approaching the Forest Rd intersection are seemingly undersized and easily missed resulting in drivers stopping traffic in order to change lanes. These are examples of a fresh perspective and a willingness to ask tough questions that may improve our resident quality of life.
Protecting our environment is also a key issue, and while I touch on it in subsequent questions involving our Climate Action Plan, Tourism, ATVs, and the Chamber, I will mention now that conserving water, utilizing renewable energy sources, and being prepared for wildfires are all steps we should take as a community, and the City Council should take action in support of these needs, which can include requirements for planting only native species or extremely drought tolerant alternatives, creating incentives for roof-top solar, and conducting wildfire evacuation studies of all vulnerable parts of our community.
Concerning homelessness, I’ve learned that it is a very complex issue everywhere, and I won’t profess to be an expert. I believe the city should support and utilize the non-profits and available government agencies that aim to address the causes and outcomes from homelessness as opposed to hiring more staff and trying to provide services directly. Ultimately, I’d like to see every homeless person realize self-sufficiency and transition to a more safe and stable living environment.
• Are Short Term Rentals (Airbnb type rentals) beneficial or detrimental to the community? Should they be licensed, limited or eliminated? As a member of the city council how would you address the issue?
Short Term Rentals, when they represent an entire house being rented as a mini-hotel, have become highly detrimental to Sedona. They have decimated our already minimal long term rental market causing long time residents, from retirees to workers, to be displaced often outside the Verde Valley altogether. They are the leading contributor to our census population decline in this regard, and we have lost a sense of community as a result. STRs have driven up home sales and rental prices to the point that fewer families are able to live in Sedona, and the school system has subsequently suffered significant losses in enrollment. Because STRs have created a more than doubling of the available lodging rooms in Sedona, we have more tourists staying longer which has worsened traffic and created greater quality of life challenges for residents when it comes to restaurants and grocery stores. And importantly, because we have more tourists staying longer, there is more pressure on our trails and natural environment, so clearly, STRs are detrimental.
As most of us know, the state government has removed local control over STRs preventing us from meaningful regulation at this time. We also have a state law that creates an effective grandfathering of those that now exist. That said, I believe they should be licensed, and their numbers should be limited. As a member of City Council, I will advocate for measures that will see the state return authority to the cities so we can at least put a cap on the number of STRs, require licensing, and enact other ordinances that hold these properties to the same types of regulation as traditional lodging. Consequently, I support the continued use of a lobbyist to work on our behalf to influence potential legislation for STR reform. Additionally, I believe we have to talk with those who oppose our desire for reform. But rather than talk with them in Phoenix, I would invite our opposition to Sedona for a civil forum to discuss the impacts of STRs and to tour them around and see streets and neighborhoods that have become 50% or more STRs, and I would show them the shuttered Big Park Elementary School in VOC as another sign of negative impact. Finally, I would be open to further ordinances that increase accountability on the owners of STRs even if those ordinances were subsequently challenged by the Attorney General or in court.
• Do you support the city’s current SIM (Sedona in Motion) initiatives and plans for infrastructure improvements? Why or why not?
I believe the city has some useful projects planned to help mitigate traffic, increase walkability and bike use, and increase transit options in order to reduce the number of cars on our streets. In that respect, I do support SIM. And in the spirit of our current Community Plan, I think the objective of having tourists park once and then walk or use transit, so residents can get where they need to be, is a worthy goal to pursue. However, what I’d like to ensure that SIM doesn’t result in is a perceived, or real, increase in capacity for more tourists to visit.
• What should the city do to address the issue of affordable housing, especially for people working in businesses in Sedona?
There is little in the way of silver bullets to address this challenge when our housing study says we need 1,500 new rental units and that was before we lost several hundred to STRs. What I would like to see is a “Play Book” in which the city housing manager has taken input from residents, builders/developers, and other stakeholders and put together examples of higher density housing projects that are aesthetically pleasing and acceptable to the community and for which a builder/developer will know that if they choose one of these concepts, they’ll be able to get approval and it will work for them financially. Another possibility is making legal again Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), which would essentially be a rental casita added to a property and be restricted to long term rental only. Creation of a non-profit land trust/housing trust could also yield other opportunities for creativity such as incentives to “rent to a local” or bring partnerships together that encourage affordable developments.
• What is the role of the Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau in the community?
With our economy being dominated by tourism, it seems that an overarching Sedona brand management function should exist. The city staff does not have that skill set nor should it be expected to. In that case, the city having a contract with the Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau (“Chamber”) for Destination Management services makes sense. This model is how the Sustainable Tourism Plan came about, for instance. The change that I would like to see is for the city and Chamber contract to become a “fee for services” model in which the city knows exactly what it is paying for and that there is accountability for results, particularly as it relates to sustainable tourism messaging and initiatives that are desperately needed. Given our current state of over tourism, I do not believe the city should be funding outbound destination marketing via the Chamber.
• Sedona’s economy is primarily based on tourism. How should it be managed to benefit both residents and visitors?
I think that managing tourism to benefit both residents and visitors starts with ensuring we’re not doing anything intentionally that encourages even more tourism! After that, the Community Plan vision of driving to Sedona, parking your car, and then walking or using transit would become convenient for tourists (and even residents ideally) and take cars off the roads so residents can get where they need to be without planning in an extra 30 minutes. As I mentioned previously in the “main challenges” question, a key to success for transit, and thus taking cars off the roads, is getting cooperation from the US Forest Service and Yavapai County (Coconino to a lesser extent) in order to eliminate roadside parking on Dry Creek Rd and Boynton Pass Rd so transit becomes the only option.
Additionally, I’d like to see the lodging and restaurant businesses engage more directly with our community than they do now. Increased sponsorship and participation in community events would be a good step. Finally, the city receives substantial income from the bed tax. I suggest gathering community input on some priorities that our residents would like to see investment from the city and then fund them from the bed tax. That would create a direct connection from tourist activity to benefits for our residents.
• What approach can the city take in mitigating the impact of ATV’s and OHV’s on city streets and forest roads?
I’ve been working on this issue a good bit. We have two challenges with local control with this problem. First, the state made ATVs street legal statewide, and second, the US Forest Service is proving to be unwilling to take decisive action to address ATV issues. There are many actions we need to take at this point. We need to support the state committee that has just been created in the current legislative session to study the impact of ATVs. We can support it with data and testimony. Similarly, the US Forest Service is indicating that it will study ATV impact locally, and we need residents to provide input to that study group once it is up and running. I’ve helped plan and have participated in protests over ATVs at the ranger station and in town. We need to let the rental operators know that we do not approve of their lax oversight of renters. I’ve personally begun contacting Polaris, the largest supplier of ATVs to Sedona, and am letting them know that they are a driving force in the destruction of our environment here. I need more residents to join me in this effort! Similarly, we need to pressure the US Forest Service at a regional level and express our disapproval of the less-than-urgent pace at which the issue is being addressed here. Finally, while the city cannot deny a business license for a business it doesn’t particularly like or want, the city can update its code such that any new operator would be subject to more stringent conditions particularly around the number of ATVs they can place on their property.
• Do you support the city’s Sustainable Tourism Plan? Why or why not?
I think it’s a good thing that we have a Sustainable Tourism Plan. That said, I don’t believe its current implementation goes far enough or takes a strong enough stand in addressing obvious problems. In particular, I believe our messaging to tourists needs to be increasingly blunt that Sedona is an “Ecologically Fragile Environment” on par with how people think of a place such as the Galapagos Islands. Tourists need to truly understand the expectation of Leave No Trace and that this is not a place to come and “rip it up” in your ATV. While not wishing to come across as hostile, we need visitors to understand we’re serious and we’re prepared to enforce our expectations.
• Do you support the city’s Climate Action Plan? Why or why not?
The city’s Climate Action Plan is ambitious, and I support it in general. Ultimately, I believe that the city should take reasonable action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which is the primary objective of the Climate Action Plan.
• Do you oppose or support voter approval of the Alternative Limitation Expenditure (Home Rule) which is also on the ballot for renewal August 2nd. Why or why not?
It is critical that we vote to re-authorize prudent, local city budgeting according to Home Rule. Without Home Rule, city budgets are determined by state formula and would result in a dramatically lower budget with reduced essential services to our city and severe restrictions on our planned traffic, transit, and park projects.
• There are a few parcels of land remaining in Sedona suited for a high-end resorts and/or hotels. Do you believe the city should oppose any being built or permit them to be built with limitations on size, design, etc.?
If a parcel already has zoning for lodging, the city cannot legally prevent a lodging establishment from being built on that parcel as long as it adheres to city code. However, there are still development requirements, often documented via Community Focus Areas (CFAs), and it is critical that they are enforced at the highest possible standard. One such example is the proposed Oak Creek Heritage Hotel on lower Schnebly Hill Rd. That project as currently defined does not come close to living up to the spirit of the CFA.
Overall, I do not believe the city needs further hotel or resort development.
• Where do you see Sedona and the Verde Valley ten years from now?
In ten years, I see Sedona having realized its vision for park once and then walk or take transit, so residents are no longer frustrated with traffic. I see meaningful progress on housing, Verde Valley wide, including market rate and affordable rental options, which will help foster a more diverse community with successful schools. I see access controls to limit the number of ATVs at Broken Arrow and the forest west of our city limits. I see preservation and conservation of Oak Creek within the city limits and the city hitting its Climate Action Plan targets. In our biggest challenge, STRs, I see legislative reform even if it requires electing new state representatives and senators to do so. I see a passion for the arts that has grown. And finally, I see residents that view the City Council as having listened to them and worked on the right initiatives so that we all feel a unity and excitement for the future of Sedona.