By Henry Twombly, Sedona Resident
(April 21, 2017)
City politics grows more murky and mucky on various fronts. The City Council voted to enter “a seven-year contract with automatic two-year renewals after the initial term” with the Chamber of Commerce. The SRRN article (4/14/17) further explains “beginning in 2018 a joint meeting would be held every January with the Council and the Chamber prior to development of the upcoming year’s program of work, budget and marketing plans…It’s also a way for the Council to decide on what projects would fall under the category of the Chamber’s product development, which will have its budget increased greatly in the upcoming years [italics mine]…And because product development has not been defined, funding can be used for a variety of sources that enhance the visitor experience (traffic and parking mitigation and trail maintenance) while benefiting the city.” This contract officially establishes the Chamber as an arm of city government or does it establish the Council as an arm of the city’s tourist industry? This fusion of government and business is downright wrong and possibly illegal in terms of conflicts of interest – the use of public funds for private profit, policy-making by unelected stakeholders, etc. Moreover “product development” is undefined, so money can be funneled through the Chamber for bizarre projects unrelated to city governance, like trail maintenance which is the responsibility of the U.S. Forest Service. Furthermore I was particularly flabbergasted but not totally surprised by the Council’s fiscal irresponsibility by not requiring an annual audit of the Chamber. I agree with Councilman Currivan. “The amount of money we’re talking about each year is approximately $8,000 out of a $2 million [chamber] budget…This is not a big number.” So why wouldn’t the Chamber agree to an audit? Does it have something to hide? Why did the Council not vote unanimously for some sort of accountability from the Chamber?
The Council also recently approved the plan for the Schnebly Community Focus Area (CFA). When the Community Plan was being promoted, the City stated that the Plan was just a blueprint with no commitment to spend any capital funds; and that there were no plans to rezone districts, even though they had proposed the establishment of 13 CFAs. Of the three CFAs that have been approved so far, they all have been rezoned for development or would be rezoned at the request of landowners/developers. >From the SRRN article (4/19/17) “There are currently 41 homes in the area but under current zoning it could allow for 260 additional homes.” To do this “the CFA proposes a new zoning district specific to this area – the Oak Creek Heritage District – which would…expand options available to a landowner that may be considering development or redevelopment of their property.” In short via these CFAs the Council, along with the Planning and Zoning Commission, is promoting the densification and overdevelopment of Sedona – all of which works against the Community Plan’s stated goal of reducing traffic.
Speaking of which, there was yet another SRRN article (4/19/17) about more traffic options for the Council to consider. My concern is that most of each of these options will save less than 10 minutes in travel time and cost millions of dollars. The obvious solution is to stop doing things that create more traffic. And yet that is exactly what the Council and the Chamber are doing via destination marketing, product development, rezoning CFAs to allow more hotel and housing development, etc. They are shooting themselves in the foot because by the time any of these traffic options are completed, traffic will have increased to the point of making this current $250,000 study obsolete. The Council has failed to address the conflicting goals of the Community Plan and thus has muddled through with its promotion of a pro-growth agenda without thinking through the consequences of its actions – all for the benefit/coffers of the Big Three industries – tourism, realty and development, and building and housing construction.
So we are getting more and more traffic and the quality of life for us residents is eroding. In terms of funding these traffic options the City Manager says, “The question we want to ask the community is ‘Are these things worth paying for?’…Our current position is that the city ought to be prepared to fund these things by itself.” – which it isn’t. The City cannot even balance its own budget. My concern is that we residents are being set up for a property tax. Just as the Sedona Fire District (SFD) has not prioritized renovating their stations and soon will be proposing a $15 million bond, I worry that the City, who has also misspent money on unnecessary projects, will propose a property tax to pay for any/all of these traffic options. Any of these improvement would make only a negligible difference in traffic congestion and thus be a waste of money. Moreover the Council would surely be emboldened to propose a property tax, if voters approve the upcoming SFD bond in November. Instead of a possible property tax, I suggest that the Council use all of the Chamber’s product development monies to pay for the traffic improvements, especially since the Chamber shares responsibility in creating the mess.
As a postscript I couldn’t help but notice the SRRN article “SFD discusses stations needs” (4/19/17). Another well-done publicity piece in their media campaign to convince voters of the exigent need for their $15 million bond. All those long bulleted lists to accent and connote imminent hazards to the stations if the bond doesn’t pass. But more intriguing is that not only has the SFD lowered the estimated cost to residents from $22 per $100,000 to $17 per $100,000 of assessed value; but the advisory committee hasn’t even considered creating alternative revenue sources that would not require a bond, like selling off one of their two $600,000 fire engines.
Lastly I would like to commend the Council for voting unanimously against all the proposed APS rate hikes, including the monthly $5 fee for refusing a smart meter. So I am heartened to know that the Council can truly act for the public good; and I look forward to the members doing so more often.