By Henry Twombly, Sedona Resident
(February 15, 2015)
Nearly every time I volunteer at the library lately, some headline piques my interest. After I scrutinize the article, I feel compelled to write a response. This time it was “City plans economic development.” The article acknowledges that Sedona is “a tourist-based community” and that past efforts to diversify the economy has met “with little success.” One reason is that the City has “just 78 acres of vacant commercial land.” The Council suggested options for this land use were “creek access, better use of Sedona Cultural Park, a museum, a recreation center, a high-end art district, housing diversity, small indoor entertainment venues and better walkability.” ( “City plans economic development” from the Sedona Red Rock News story by Assistant Managing Editor Ron Eland published in the Feb. 4 edition. “)These seem to be odd suggestions because not much economic growth would come from creek access, walkability, a museum, a recreation center, central gathering areas and housing diversity. But all this would be an incredible boon to the construction industry, second only to tourism as the most vested sector of the economy. High-end art district and small indoor entertainment venues are just more of the same that would complement and enhance the tourist industry. So all this doesn’t sound much like economic diversification. But oddly enough this fulfills one of the bullet points in the Community Plan’s chapter on economic diversification: “Preserve and enhance Sedona’s tourist-based economic sector.” I found this a strange goal for economic diversification. But then again I found the Community Plan a misbegotten mish-mash of conflicting special interest priorities.
The only feasible possibility for economic diversification is to attract and/or promote small high-tech computer-related companies, whether they are based in homes or vacant store fronts, which have often resulted from the overbearing, strict city codes. So another bullet point that should be the main focus of any economic plan is to “Support locally owned businesses.” Instead of trying to suck extra revenue out of these enterprises, the city codes should be written to make it easier to operate a business in Sedona.
What to do? So the Council hired a consultant to ask them a lot of questions. “When they asked what they liked least, the answers came just as easily. Those included too many retirees, sense of entitlement, residents who don’t want change, cost of living, lack of affordable housing, no central gathering areas, no issue too small to argue and a high percentage of second homes.” When I began to read in between the lines, I was stunned. “Too many retirees.” Well, that means they don’t like most of us residents, since the average age of the City is 57. And yet they want us to finance the Council’s wish list that serves vested interests and tourists. “Sense of entitlement.” About what? That the Council should act with integrity to serve the residents instead of special interests? “Residents who don’t want change”…because they want to preserve the small-town character of Sedona, which was one of the purported goals of the Community Plan. “Cost of living”…is way too high because businesses are striving to fleece the tourists; as a result residents suffer high prices and congested traffic. Moreover the high cost of living makes housing in Sedona unaffordable. “No central gathering areas.” What about Posse Grounds park? The Sedona Performing Arts Center? Or is this a ploy for a convention center? “No issue too small to argue.” So we all should agree with the pro-growth agenda of the vested interests? What about freedom of expression and the exercise of democracy? “A high percentage of second homes.” Why does that upset them? Because people aren’t here year-round to spend their money in Sedona; hence, less sales taxes for the City. Needless to say, their concerns don’t reflect a positive attitude towards us residents. No wonder why they don’t listen to the voice and will of the people, as they often claim they do.
In sum I think it’s a waste of time and money to “diversify” our local economy, when the Council should be supporting the businesses that are already here. Moreover, there is not enough commercial land available to bring in big box stores or some industrial factory that the community doesn’t want anyway. Thus economic development is a pipe dream, as is traffic reduction (another goal of the Community Plan) because there is no room to put new businesses or new roads. (Only way to reduce traffic is to reduce the number of tourists unless we residents don’t drive and walk instead. That won’t happen, so “walkability” is another unrealistic, harebrained idea.) Thus the Council should forego this notion of economic diversification and focus on the completion of storm drainage repairs.