Sedona Elections: The following is a Sedona.biz interview with Sedona City Council candidate Jennifer Strait. 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?
Why are you running?
Everywhere I go here, residents are upset about the current state of Sedona. They are clamoring to be heard, to have their concerns addressed, and changes made to the way the town is managed. I feel called to be a voice. I will work to create the Sedona that I want to be living in 20 years from now.
These are the primary issues:
- Illegal, excessive chamber funding
- Affordable Housing
- Corporate Airbnb
- Destruction of our land via ATV and unmanaged tourism
- Tourists being favored while locals are pushed out
- Lack of transparency and communications in City Hall
- Ending Home Rule
There are structural initiatives taking place that once enacted, will be difficult to undo. For too long, town administration has favored large corporate planning rather than community focused endeavors. This has created an untenable environment in Sedona. Even though the infrastructure and well-being of Sedona cannot support the number of tourists here how, Chamber funding was $2.5 M this year. Over the course of the past few years it has been up to $15M. This not only breaks the gift clause, it’s illegal. Residents don’t benefit, and not all businesses do either. It’s mostly larger corporate concerns like Enchantment, not even in Sedona proper, that receive funding. Smaller local businesses, which are the spirit of Sedona, are not supported by the Chamber in the same way. We should consider eliminating the 0.5% tax. Residents are also getting hit with this tax, not just tourists. A better solution would be to increase the bed tax.
With the new transportation system design, locals are denied access to their own mountain and trailheads and are being treated like interlopers by the current administration. This favoring of tourist over resident is pushing locals out, leading to a loss of community and the destruction of what made Sedona such a wonderful place to live. One easy solution would be to provide free parking passes to residents. Tourists can take the shuttle, which is currently free. Let’s charge them.
There is exorbitant, illegal Chamber funding. And no one knows where the money is going or why because the town administration doesn’t believe it owes residents transparency or honest communications. Sedona is spending and survey heavy. It’s time to audit town financials and examine the excessive town staff of over 140 people that are supporting under 9700 residents.
City Council outsources talent and contracts while ignoring the organic local experience and expertise in Sedona. We have an abundance of smart, accomplished business people and retired talent in this city to consult with first.
We don’t pay our first responders a livable wage. Our Police Chief left, and the under-staffing in fire and police has already resulted in a slow response to a recent gun threat that took 30 minutes to respond.
The Sedona town council is pitting business and community against each other, creating a division that hurts all involved.
How long have you lived in Sedona?
One year ago, I came here to make a life and have a family. Like many, I feel called here. Thus, I am invested in the health and longevity of Sedona’s community, and hope to serve Sedona for many years to come.
When did you decide to get involved politically?
Within a month of arriving in Sedona, I met my neighbors and we became friends. I was living in Uptown and heard about No Jordan Zoning’s high-density development fight and what it would do to these families, the community, and Sedona’s natural resources.
I immediately knew I wanted to support the voice of a community that increasingly had no voice within the current administration. I recognized that this plan to convert single-family zoning to multi-use zoning was both disrespectful to the community plan and unrealistic to place so much strain on Sedona’s natural resources and overwhelmed infrastructure.
At the time, there was also a huge wildfire raging close to Sedona and it was brought to my attention that the City Council had no real evacuation plan for anyone currently living in Uptown, let alone for any high-density project.
I joined a group of residents to take action. We went to City Hall and spoke at the public forum about the rezoning. In the end, we won. However, not because the City Council listened to the residents. Rather, it was because the developer didn’t want to engage with a resistant community.
I knew then I wanted to rally for Sedona, its residents and myself who love this town and strive to protect its sacred and beautiful lands.
What do you believe are your qualifications for office?
A majority of residents are unhappy with the current council and their actions, and demand a new council that will generate changes which include and support locals.
I have been deeply immersed in Sedona since I arrived, meeting and speaking with many residents about their fears, concerns and struggles with the declining quality of life here.
As a past news reporter covering town hall meetings, I am familiar with small town environments and politics and I am not intimidated by its challenges. I have educated myself to the many issues Sedona is navigating and hear from locals that my fresh take on an old broken system is greatly welcomed. I encourage people to meet with me every Sunday from 4-8PM at Vespa Italian restaurant to ask me any questions about my candidacy and plans. I’m also canvassing the town, businesses, and going door-to-door. So, we might cross paths organically, too.
One of the qualities that makes me distinct is my academic approach to problem-solving that involves intensive research. I am looking towards other towns and cities for their solutions and proven successes to see how they might be implemented here in Sedona to make them ours. Efficiency and results are foremost to me.
Currently, I’m earning a doctorate in Transformative Economics. I believe in the future of Sedona’s complex economic landscape and am able to contribute significant insights and knowledge to Sedona’s economic future.
What have you accomplished in serving the community?
- Participated in successful No Jordan Lofts rezoning defeat. Spoke at the public forum, signed petition, wrote the city protest emails.
- Organized a large event at the Performing Arts Center with eight other presenters, Voices of Our Community. The objective was to generate innovative ideas for all residents to build a town that reflected an evolving unity with people, business, tourism and land. This event included designs for a more efficient traffic system, 3D printed affordable homes, bonding residents through a cross-generational mentoring program, becoming a plastic-free zone, and creating a Tlaquepaque-style walkable greenhouse that would be a town hub and supplier for local restaurants. Since the event, four of our ideas fully launched. Rachel Dellinger started Sedona Solidarity; Sedona Plastic-Free was approved; Sarah Christiansen began the cross-generational mentorship program, hosting speed dating for elders and youth to engage; and Katy Love initiated Someday Sunday, gathering locals at Posse Grounds every Sunday. People who join include the homeless along 525, workers living out of their cars, and more established folks, eager to connect and assist.
- During my time here, I have engaged in many pockets of community with variant perspectives and needs. As I listen to these people, I have forged my campaign platform so that it represents the collective voice of the community. I am a strong believer in collaboration.
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?
There is no either/or. What is best for Sedona is the highest intention, integrity, knowledge and abilities of a candidate. It’s good to have people with experience. And it’s good to have less experienced people with vision and passion, unjaded by the past. What matters is if the candidate truly cares about the town, its residents and the land. At this juncture in Sedona’s history, we could use some of both, working together to elevate the quality of life here for locals who have been overlooked in recent years, and tourists, so they can experience Sedona for decades to come. We can no longer exist doing business as usual. We must work together for the betterment of our beloved town. An advantage of being a true Independent is that I am committed to uniting parties, issues, and people.
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.
Sedona is facing what many other tourist towns across this country are facing: An influx of unregulated growth that benefits corporate expansion and not local well-being.
Sedona’s primary challenge is generating healthy, balanced growth for the benefit of all constituents. We have been engaging in conventional models of expansion with no accountability. This has led to:
- Increased homelessness and panhandling
- Illegal, excessive chamber funding
- Destruction of our land via ATV and unmanaged tourism
- Tourists being favored while locals are pushed out
- Lack of transparency and communications in City Hall
- The need to end Home Rule and regain our individual authority
Homelessness and panhandling is a complex, national issue with myriad factors such as mental illness, drug addiction, family dynamics, etcetera. We should be creating a compassionate town discussion to address this particular challenge. I see this issue as more of a symptom of town council failures here in Sedona. We have a housing crisis, brought on by unregulated Airbnbs. There are currently approximately over 2000 Airbnbs in our small town, with a loss of over 1000 homes for long-term rentals. This housing crisis should also be addressed on a state level, as well, but we must recognize locally that it has contributed to massive homelessness and anxiety in Sedona. Homelessness and panhandling are symptoms of an unhealthy, out of balance community. Airbnb should be returned to its original tenets, where local homeowners could rent out a room or casita, instead of allowing and encouraging large corporate developers to buy up swaths of homes.
Like the rest of the world, Sedona’s residents are changing their minds about lot of things. We have lost faith in our governmental and corporate structures. I know we could do better at matching available job seekers with local positions by creating a community-based job support network. We will rebuild trust between employees and employer.
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?
I am in full support of local homeowners renting out rooms and casitas. This original plan for Airbnb is a beautiful way for locals to increase personal revenue and connect with tourists from around the world. But Airbnbs have become locally destructive, run by large, out-of-town property management companies that are purchasing groups of homes, destroying neighborhoods and increasing homelessness. They should be licensed, which allows for a limited and more discerning allotment. As a Council member, I will be going to the state to fight for change of Arizona’s blanket law and bring local jurisdiction of Airbnb back to the people of Sedona. I will also seek to charge a non-resident fee to these corporate entities.
Would you rather have less Airbnb’s and more hotels? Or vice-versa?
Again, we need to stop participating in an either/or scenario. The future of our community is participatory. What we need is a healthy dynamic between Airbnbs and hotels. It’s time for open, honest, transparent community discussion to find equitable solutions.
Do you support the city’s current SIM (Sedona in Motion) initiatives and plans for infrastructure improvements? Why or why not?
Absolutely not! It’s too expensive, too convoluted. There is no method to the madness of these projects. They simply seek unbridled corporate expansion. Adding a new parking structure into a highly dense area like Uptown, eliminating parking, charging locals at meters while not charging tourists to ride the shuttle, barricading residents from their own trail heads must not be the future of Sedona. These projects will overwhelm the most meaningful relationship we all have to Sedona, its natural resources. There are busses coming into town that are too big for roundabouts, resourcing of local business is not being engaged in favor of external companies. This expansion is inefficient, with no benefit to the town, only to a handful of residents. The transportation hub will be next to a school and children. We must accept that bigger is not always better.
What should the city do to address the issue of affordable housing, especially for people working in businesses in Sedona?
First and foremost, stop the current insanity of the corporate takeover of Sedona’s housing market. I believe there should be a moratorium on new development until Sedona catches up with the reality of what this takeover will mean to Sedona long-term.
In the future, any development must clearly address and answer housing issues before approval. We should research and implement the successful policies of Aspen and other tourist destinations. Aspen now compels developers to build affordable housing for their workers as part of any development plan. In doing so, a balance in growth is always maintained between local housing needs and corporate development planning.
What is the role of the Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau in the community?
We currently do not require a Chamber of Commerce or Tourism Board. At least not the way they currently exist. The Chamber is a regional, private, for-profit entity and should be defunded immediately. Staff salaries are over $600K, money that the city could apply to resident and small business programs and services. Chamber money goes towards promoting other towns in the region, while it supports larger, economically powerful Sedona companies and not the small local businesses that make up the backbone of this town.
Sedona is now so globally well known that it promotes itself, and the town benefits from free advertising through social media. We don’t need to attract more tourists. We need to attract the right tourists, ones that stay longer, spend more on all Sedona has to offer, and respect the land. Right now, we should be focused on the healthy management and economic balance of residents, truly local businesses, and tourism. The town council is reaching for every dollar it can make, regardless of how it affects the people who live here or the tourist experience.
Sedona’s economy is primarily based on tourism. How should it be managed to benefit both residents and visitors?
Let’s address the elephant in the room. Tourism is not being managed at all. It particularly is not being managed for the benefit of residents. Instead, tourism is being allowed to run rampant without caps, oversight, education or transparency.
First and foremost, the quality of life for residents should be the priority. Give us back access to trailheads and free parking, reconsider Airbnb and the destruction of long-term housing, cap the number of tourists allowed on our hallowed ground until a rational development plan can be created. And target higher quality tourists over quantity. We want to increase the spending of tourists when they visit, not increase tourism of people who spend less and destroy our town. Developing strategies that protect and nurture the land should be every citizen’s responsibility.
Let’s learn what works from other countries and towns. Hot spot tourism countries like Australia are promoting eco-tourism, don’t allow trash, and educate tourists about their environment and initiatives to bring back the coral reefs. With the cooperation of the new council, hotels, Airbnb, and residents, we will develop similar tourist education programs to influence the way tourists experience Sedona.
An idea! What would it look like if Sedona had a diversified portfolio and was not reliant on a single industry, tourism? How about engaging with other towns in the Verde Valley to create a regenerative farming initiative? This will bring much fresh food into town for residents and restaurants, and we can become an exporter of food regionally. If we are looking for ways to secure financial stability and balance so Sedona is not dependent on tourism alone, one way is to introduce a second industry.
What approach can the city take in mitigating the impact of ATV’s and OHV’s on city streets and forest roads?
Personally, I believe ATVs and OHVs should be eliminated, restricted from town roads, like many other towns have done across the country. These vehicles are ravaging the land, destroying 1000-year old trees, along with the top soil that will require at least 100 years to rebuild. This has produced unhealthy dust and fire hazards. Because these machines have extinguished plant life and water sources, animals are being displaced and coming into town, being killed by traffic and killing pets.
Currently, I am approaching Arizona Games and Fish to pass a law requiring a 3-hour health and education video program for ATV use. Parachute Recreation currently enforces this program before someone can be approved to jump. The video would educate tourists on health risks, how to drive ATVs, and explain the destruction to the land if it is not followed.
Do you support the city’s Sustainable Tourism Plan? Why or why not?
No. There is nothing sustainable about the Sustainable Tourism Plan. Putting the word sustainable on something does not make it so. The current plan is merely to allow high-density development to continue unchecked in our low-density town. There is no real critical thinking in this plan about how it will affect Sedona long-term.
You can’t sustain what is no longer there. We already have a drastically lower water table with no real water management. The plan to use electric vehicles for micro-transit is not sustainable because its hub will consume even more land. Instead, we could have a park or a community garden. There is no way to create a sustainable plan with the size and scope of unbridled development that this plan encourages.
Do you support the city’s Climate Action Plan? Why or why not?
The city is spending millions of dollars to comply with a federal rollout. A better solution is to impart regenerative practices onto our local climate issues.
The Climate Action Plan will cost millions of dollars towards our transportation system. The focus is on electric vehicles when they only make up about 15% contribution to climate change. They are not addressing lack of solar panels which would provide us with 50% of climate change reduction. Solar panels are self-generating and provide residents sovereignty and independence from the system. I believe all regenerative practices hold the key to Sedona and towns beyond.
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?
I definitely oppose the approval of the Alternative Limitation Expenditure, otherwise known as Home Rule. Sedona is in the mess it is in because the City Council has been able to lock in certain rules which advocate for tourists, not locals. I am in favor of Permanent Base Adjustment (PBA). This provides for more in real-time decision making and local involvement. Locals have been shut out of discussions and kept in the dark about most of the development occurring.
The current Council is spreading fear that if Home Rule is eliminated, it would defund the police, library, fire department, non-profits, etcetera. This is not true. In reality, the library is funded separately, and we will continue to enjoy our well-funded community library. Firefighters and police will also get paid. In fact, the benefit of implementing PBA is that we would have the option to increase their salaries. As mentioned, our police are so underpaid and understaffed that our Police Chief left.
Additional consequences of continuing Home Rule:
- Entering into public-private partnerships and ceding to them local government power. For instance, the Chamber of Commerce is a private business, which exacerbates the problem because there is no accountability or transparency.
- Paying for studies on the same issues over and over. Each study approximates $30,000-50,000. Residents are tired of this redundant spending. Also, if we do need to hire, then hire local talent. City Council does not consider residents in either decision-making, problem solving, or hiring.
- Wasting money and city assets.
- No real-time units of performance and measure on project quality.
- Home Rule permits city vendors to limit resident opportunity with a no bid contract policy.
- Town staff, salaries and pensions will continue to increase with no oversight. With over 140 city staff members, this breaks down to 1 for every 50 residents. Compared to other towns/cities of 5,000-15,000 residents, there are 95 staff per 1 resident. And where is the benefit to residents?
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.?
I believe we need to slow development down for now, take a collective look at what is happening in Sedona and work together for everyone’s interest who actually lives here. I’m sure the millions of tourists who visit each year would agree that if it was their hometown, they’d demand the same thing.
Additional resorts can be built, but with limitations, and on a case by case basis. Like the rest of the world, Sedona will always face the challenges of growth. What we need is a more thoughtful, measured and inclusive response to that growth.
One consideration to discuss is the possibility for Sedona to purchase the Cultural Park. Until the current deal is finalized, Sedona has the opportunity to make a plea for the Cultural Park’s purchase.
Where do you see Sedona and the Verde Valley ten years from now?
The intention of my platform as I seek election for City Council is to stimulate questions so that we pursue the answers that elevate our collective future:
- What are our community values?
- Which principles will guide us forward?
- What is our town culture in this emerging world?
- What is our shared vision for the land we love?
Ten years from now we won’t recognize Sedona. It will either stay on the path of corporate ownership with no community voice, its lands destroyed for profit. Or, the critical questions we are asking here today will lead Sedona back to vibrant life, a model for an enduring, cultural community.
I envision Sedona uniting the valley in sustainable, revenue-producing crop growth like hemp or food; in full control of our water rights and water management. A peaceful town where we have increased the quality of our tourism, not the quantity. This means re-directing tourism from consumer-focused materialism to practical, higher consciousness eco-tourism. I see not just Sedona, but most of America turning to self-reliant food practices, regenerative principals, and community resiliency. I see bustling, healthy public parks where tourists and locals of all ages meet. And I see bid contracts going to locals, and solutions rising from the voices of our community. This future will require holistic bottom-up cooperation instead of traditional top-down control.
Our election on August 2nd is an opportunity to bring Sedona back to its roots with a newfound spirit that reflects the realities of today, and advances the quality of life for residents and tourists alike. Please vote! Your voice matters.
Looking to learn more and connect further? Visit my website and click the Contact tab. www.JenniferForSedona.com