Sedona Elections: The following is a Sedona.biz interview with Sedona City Council candidate Sandy Moriarty. 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?
Mayor of Sedona
• Why are you running?
Serving as the Mayor of Sedona has been the honor and privilege of a lifetime, and after nearly eight years, I believe there is still more to be accomplished on projects for the good of the community. Implementing the Master Transportation Plan, the Climate Action Plan, and making progress on affordable, diverse housing while protecting the unique natural beauty and ensuring public safety and financial stability are all critical to maintain a thriving and vibrant community. I’m asking for a final 2-year term to continue to achieve some success on these critical issues.
• How long have you lived in Sedona?
I have lived in Sedona for 50 years, so I know both Sedona and the Verde Valley well.
• When did you decide to get involved politically?
I got involved in Sedona politically when I first moved here in January 1972 and discovered that having the community in two counties made no sense. When the League of Arizona Cities and Towns offered a class in Clarkdale on getting communities incorporated, I decided to take it. I then worked on three different committees over a fifteen-year period to get Sedona incorporated so we could make decisions locally rather than traveling to Flagstaff or Prescott, depending on your county of residence. In December of 1988, an election resulted in the incorporation of Sedona across county lines after successfully passing legislation at the state level to allow it. I served on the first appointed City Council from January to May of 1988.
• What do you believe are your qualifications for office?
In the time I have served as mayor, I have learned a great deal about how government works to serve the residents and visitors alike. Serving during a once in a lifetime pandemic was a special challenge and proved that I was willing to make difficult decisions in a critical time. I have built the relationships needed to work with regional, state and national partners to solve the many problems we face today and into the future. Having lived in Sedona for 50 years, I understand the community well and I have been involved with several non-profits as well as serving on the Housing Commission for 6 years and Mayor for 8 years. I am on the Executive Committee of the League of Arizona Cities and Towns and Chair one of their 5 Policy Committees. Regionally, I serve on the Verde Front and Sustainable Flows collaboratives and convene a bi-weekly meeting of Verde Valley mayors, managers, supervisors, and other community leaders. Please visit for more information.
• What have you accomplished in serving the community?
I play a leadership role as mayor, but only have one vote and no veto power, so anything I have accomplished as mayor has been done by the Council as a whole, since the mayor has very little authority to act alone. The one exception was the Emergency Proclamation which I declared in mid-March of 2020 and amended in June of that year to implement the mask mandate with the express authority to do so given by the Governor. The council has made many important policy decisions since I became mayor in November 2014, including but not limited to allowing alcohol on city property for special events, installing parking meters in Uptown, adopting a Human Rights ordinance, completing the acceleration of multi-year drainage projects, approving the design and construction of the Posse Grounds Pavilion, increasing annual funding for the Affordable Housing Fund, approving the hiring of economic development and sustainability directors, approving a Climate Action Plan, approving a major Transportation Master Plan and overseeing its implementation, funding an annual hazardous materials collection, and completing an update and complete overhaul of the Land Development Code.
• 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?
Experience in serving as an elected or appointed official and bringing new ideas to the table are not mutually exclusive. Both are needed and can exist in the same person, but experience in government or at least a good understanding of how government works is very important. I bring to the table good working relationships I have developed as the mayor at the local, regional, state and national levels that are critical and unique. I am well recognized as a high-functioning leader. I am a problem-solver, a good negotiator and a life-long learner, always on the lookout for new ideas.
• 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.
Traffic, transportation and parking issues always seem to rise to the top of the list and are being addressed over the long term by the SIM initiatives including a full transit program using all electric vehicles when they become available. Climate change is critical and is being addressed with our adoption of a Climate Action Plan, and diverse and affordable housing is also being addressed with the implementation of several action items resulting from the completion of our Housing Study and the hiring of a Housing Manager. The city is currently working with a developer to complete an all-affordable 46-unit apartment complex, Sunset Lofts. Decreasing residential population due to the proliferation of vacation rentals is very concerning and is addressed in the next question. Managing and maintaining our water supply, including sustaining perpetual flows of the Verde River and its tributaries is vital. The city has also undertaken its first project to address homelessness by awarding its CDBG grant funds to Hope House, a facility for homeless families with children, and we continue to partner with them to ensure success. Our police department works with panhandlers to ensure public safety, but we cannot prevent it entirely due to First Amendment rights.
• 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?
While some short-term or vacation rentals can be a benefit to the community, their extreme proliferation without meaningful regulation has been detrimental to the community overall. Sedona banned vacation rentals until the Governor and the legislature made such bans illegal in the 2016 legislative session. I believe they need to be licensed and managed with some sort of regulation and with local rather than statewide control, as one size does not fit all. The growth in the industry in Sedona is not sustainable but increasing steadily, with vacation rental room growth over the last 5 years exceeding the growth in hotel rooms in the last 50+ years, entirely without city oversight. Even with vigorous annual lobbying by the League of Arizona Cities and Towns and my personal testimony every year, the legislators and the Governor refuse to acknowledge the need for local control, including this year, when we added our own lobbyist to the mix. My record on this issue is clear, and I will continue to advocate strongly for local control of vacation rentals. Any existing properties will be grandfathered in by state law, but unlimited growth of new properties is simply not sustainable. Sedona’s population has decreased as a result of their growth. For more on vacation rentals, please watch my video on this topic.
• Do you support the city’s current SIM (Sedona in Motion) initiatives and plans for infrastructure improvements? Why or why not?
I support the city’s SIM initiatives as our strategic plan for traffic mitigation and multi-modal transportation planning, including transit and parking. Because it is a long-range plan, it is to be expected that it will be modified over the long term as conditions change, but the basic structure is sound. Because the plan requires partnerships with other governmental and private entities, we do not have full authority as to how it is implemented, but we will continue to work closely with all partners involved to best serve the entire city. Our main partner is ADOT, since the state owns both major highways which provide access to Sedona and the city is always in close contact with them.
• What should the city do to address the issue of affordable housing, especially for people working in businesses in Sedona?
Sedona has hired a Housing Manager to ensure that we are doing what we can to increase our stock of apartments and other multiple family housing types, and we are continuing to work with Northern Arizona Housing Solutions to offer first-time home buyers assistance and housing counseling to workers with jobs in Sedona, even if they live outside Sedona. State law imposes several stumbling blocks along the way which many may not realize exist, as they are unique to Arizona. I have already described our lack of ability to have local control over vacation rentals in my previous answers. In addition, there is the “gift clause”, a legal complication which does not allow the city to provide city-owned land for an affordable housing project without getting just compensation, in other words, not for free, and it must be for a public purpose, which is quite narrowly defined. And then there is SB 1487, which does not allow us to have any city ordinance in place that is against state law. State law says that short-term (vacation) rentals and long-term rentals on residential property must be treated the same, even though they are quite obviously not the same, so any regulation would have to apply to both.
• What is the role of the Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau in the community?
Because Sedona’s economy is primarily based on tourism, it is appropriate to partner with the Chamber and Tourism Bureau to manage and market tourism to ensure that we attract responsible tourists who understand the importance of protecting the unique natural beauty of red rock country. If we don’t manage tourism, we will be abandoning that function to others, including the vast world of social media. We also partner with the Chamber to run the visitor center and encourage economic diversification. Overtourism has only been exacerbated by the pandemic, coupled with a demand for infrastructure to accommodate remote workers, and underscoring the need for a partnership with the Chamber to meet the demands of our changing world. We are a small city with limited resources, and we must leverage what we have by working together with all our regional partners.
• Sedona’s economy is primarily based on tourism. How should it be managed to benefit both residents and visitors?
The Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau has the training and expertise to manage tourism, as their staff is trained for it. Attracting the right kind of visitor is critical, not just in managing the volume of visitors but also who they are. The Chamber has access to market trends and the tools needed to do the management job best, using the Sustainable Tourism Plan as a guide. We want those who will stay more than one night, and preferably longer, to take advantage of the wide range of activities offered throughout the region. We want those who are aware of the importance of respecting and protecting our irreplaceable environment. Voluntourism, guided hikes and tours and group meetings can all provide opportunities to educate visitors about this special place. We want quality over quantity, and we need to educate them both before they arrive and once they are here, and we need them to use transit as much as possible once our system is built out.
• What approach can the city take in mitigating the impact of ATV’s and OHV’s on city streets and forest roads?
The city has very limited authority concerning OHV’s, as state law makes them street legal, and only the Forest Service has authority on Forest roads. This is another instance of the lack of local control. There is a small number of motorized trails available, and that number is not in the control of the city. The rental of OHV’s is a legal business in Arizona, so the city can’t simply refuse to give them a business license. The city has asked the Forest Service to consider limiting the number of users at the Broken Arrow trailhead, and they are doing that. OHV’s are owned by private owners as well as rental companies, and their use in and around Sedona has proliferated significantly in the last few years. As the vehicles convert to electric, the noise problem will lessen, but the environmental degradation will continue, primarily outside the city’s jurisdiction. We will continue to work with the counties and the Forest Service to mitigate these issues.
• Do you support the city’s Sustainable Tourism Plan? Why or why not?
I strongly support the Sustainable Tourism Plan, which is a joint venture of the city and the Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau. It works hand in hand with our Climate Action Plan to achieve our overall sustainability goals. It involves many of our hard-working non-profits, such as the Sustainability Alliance, Keep Sedona Beautiful and Sedona Recycles. The Plan includes measurable outcomes which are assigned to an appropriate entity for implementation and accountability. All progress is tracked and monitored as action items are carried out. Implementation was started in July of 2019 and the pandemic hit in March 2020, which slowed things down, but the plan is now moving forward and will continue to be reassessed as to priorities.
You can find a 2-page summary of the Plan on the city website:
And you can find a link to the entire Sustainable Tourism Plan
• Do you support the city’s Climate Action Plan? Why or why not?
Yes, I strongly support the Climate Action Plan. Climate change is real and poses the most existential threat to life as we know it on our planet, Mother Earth. In this place of such spectacular natural beauty that we call home, we must do all we can to mitigate climate change, reduce our waste, and keep our air and water clean. Our Climate Action Plan outlines steps to reduce community-wide emissions by 50% by the year 2030. We are providing charging stations for electric vehicles both in Uptown and West Sedona, and our trailhead shuttles offer residents and visitors alike a low-carbon way to visit favorite hiking destinations without worrying about traffic or parking. In February we launched our Home Energy Retrofit Project which offers residential energy efficiency funding to low- and moderate-income residents which will reduce emissions and lower utility bills. You can find the entire plan on the city website:
• 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 fully support the Home Rule option, which basically allows the city to spend the funds we have available to benefit the city. It is one of the few instances we have of deciding for ourselves to keep local control, in this case, of our budget. Following the 2018 election, the city manager convened a task force to investigate the diverse options available under state law and make a recommendation. Putting Home Rule to a vote every four years was the option recommended, and we are following that recommendation. Home Rule does not raise taxes or change the way we vote. Unless we choose an alternative, state spending limitations mandate a 2% growth rate regardless of how much our revenues increase and how much we have in the bank, and they do not consider the growth that naturally occurs over time and varies greatly from city to city, or even within one city over the years. One size does not fit all. The city has a history of balanced budgets, higher than average reserves and financial stability under Home Rule, let’s keep it that way.
• 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.?
Property owners have a right to make proposals to request a use of their property beyond what is currently allowed as of right. To deny them the right to request some sort of change is not legal. The city is not required to grant that request, but there must be legal reasons for denial. When and if such a request comes before council, I will weigh all available information and make an informed decision. The Land Development Code prescribes the process to be followed and factors to be considered.
• Where do you see Sedona and the Verde Valley ten years from now?
We are living in a time of considerable uncertainty. Covid-19 has changed our world, and though in recent times the effects of the virus have receded, it is still with us, so predictions of the future are anything but clear. In ten years, I sincerely hope we will have worked together to reach a new normal, and Sedona will be an active, healthy city which is far less dependent on fossil-fuels, where vehicles are mostly electric, and we are more dependent on a well-managed transit system which transports both residents and visitors to their desired destination. Our community is welcoming and respectful to all, our economy remains stable, sustainable and vibrant, our housing has become more diverse, our water supplies are reliable and clean, as are Oak Creek and the Verde River and Sedona is still the most beautiful place on earth and the best place to live, work, play and visit. We remain the stewards of one of the earth’s great treasures.