By Sherry Twamley, Verde Village Resident
(April 4, 2018)
Clearly the City of Sedona is walking a tightrope between its traditional mission of representing business interests and by disregarding citizens’ best interests. To manage this balancing act, the city should focus on a triple bottom line: stewarding the effort to improve the area’s quality of life, diversify and maintain the city’s vibrant economy, and help the city’s less privileged residents working in services benefit from the city’s newfound prosperity.
The City of Sedona did such a great job of promoting Sedona to tourists that now millions flock to the city. It is time for Sedona’s city leaders to chart a course to relevance with a pragmatic, sensible budget and balance the city’s business interests with residents’ interests. What this city desperately needs is additional housing that’s affordable to a greater range of family incomes and a transportation system that effectively and efficiently gets people where they need to go.
Tackling congestion is a key priority, whether it’s hammering out details for a multi-modal transportation hub to offer park and ride options, to expand public transportation and shuttle services, or to build support for regional and state transportation bills that could fund new connector roads. The fact is, staggering growth in tourism has disrupted city residents’ and businesses’ transportation sector so thoroughly they are outraged.
Another critical issue is the Sedona Chamber of Commerce has become a weak sister that has become too dependent on city subsidies and is draining revenues from city government. So much so, that City subsidies to the Chamber of Commerce have been growing at an alarming and unsustainable rate — government subsidies have nearly doubled in two years. For example in fiscal year 2018, the City of Sedona signed a contract to subsidize the Chamber of Commerce in the amount of $2,386,700, which is 190 percent higher than its $1,258,500 subsidy to the Chamber in 2015, which equates to $121.00 for every city resident (Census 2016 population estimate of 10,397).
City of Sedona’s Subsidies Paid to the Chamber of Commerce Since 2013 Are Growing Rapidly:
2013 $ 727,500.00
2014 $ 534,000.00
2015 $ 1,258,500.00
2016 $ 1,641,609.00
2017 $ 1,959,734.00
2018 $ 2,502,865.00
TOTAL: $ 8,624,208.00
The truth is, if the Chamber was a company, it would be forced to be self supporting and be more efficient with its spending. It would be ludicrous to think the Sedona Chamber’s costs would double over a two-year period if it was a for-profit company.
Prosperity is fleeting. The local economy is in a boom now and it’s hard to realize that it isn’t always going to be that way. Sedona needs to be careful not to overspend and over commit in these good times to avoid raising taxes, and to save money for downturns in the economy, because greater taxes harm businesses and residents.
The money allocated to the Chamber of Commerce should be reallocated to encourage private sector investment and support the relatively low-paid service workers, teachers, police officers and fire workers. The Chamber could help narrow that gap by training more workers to fill more living-wage jobs and create programs to attract companies to establish operations here, not just tourists. By diversifying into programs that attract or incubate local businesses that primarily sell products and services over the Internet, the City could increase sales tax revenue without increasing traffic congestion.
Sedona: you made your bed, now sleep in it! A few years ago the city made the conscious decision to put all the eggs in one basket and not diversify by encouraging the tourist market. Go for the money! Well, they got exactly that. And the Chamber has done a great job of selling Sedona. Not a very far sighted decision. Now they invited the world to visit Sedona and the other side of that decision has come home to roost. Great hospitality was being touted when they arrived. And what awaited them was not hospitality but traffic jams, long lines, no parking, and crowds. Time to stop promoting Sedona and get down to the business of running a town for the people who live here.
Spot on, Steve. Just as there must be separation of church and state, there must be separation of business and state. No corporatism!
Joan Shannon (315 Smith Rd) says:
It has become useless to appeal to City Hall to think about the welfare of Sedona residents. The City Manager recently told me that “Sedona is no longer a residential town, it is now a tourist/resort town and we have to prepare for future growth of ‘tourists”. Millions of dollars to the Chamber each year and growing every year is not necessarily the driving force of bringing tourists to Sedona. This town is well known all around the world and there is no need to spend many millions in advertising which brings in a huge number of day trippers. Where I live I have many tourists walking by my house every day and often when I am out front we engage in “hellos” etc. and often a short chat. I ask how they heard about Sedona and not one has ever said from an advertisement, but from word of mouth of a person on tv or radio mentioning they had gone to Sedona for a vacation. WHY WHY WHY is it necessary to want more and more tourists. Is the reason to bring in more money for City Hall to spend, After all, it might not be much fun serving on City Council or being City Manager without a lot of money to spend. To spend on what? To advertise for even more tourists and hold events they might like. Even our Historic Preservation Commission is trying to find buildings they can nominate as “historic” that might be of interest to “tourists’,
The idea of ‘just what can we do to encourage more tourists” is entrenched in every department. There is no need to give the Chamber millions a year increasing it each year to advertise for more tourists when there is no where to park and the burden of how to change traffic patterns is becoming the burden of the residents. Why can they not see that enough is enough. Residents have to pay for all the tourists who climb our red rocks and can’t get back down or just get lost and this number is increasing.
Our Council and ones before it and City Staff are on the wrong road and have no idea they are, they are blinded to the future. Also not saving more for another big turn down in the economy or terrorist attack that will stop tourist travel for some time. Yes dear fellow residents, we are not a residential town anymore according to our City Manager so we do not matter just like we did not when it came to the trash collection controversy. Jean Jenks showed us recently how residents are paying the highest percentage rates for the wastewater treatment and according to Tim Ernster, former City Manager it will go to $100 per month. Forget that we were promised when we incorporated that if we voted for it the rate would always be around $25 and sales taxes from tourists would subsidize it. Now it is the reverse and not one Council Member has addressed this matter. When will one or even more Council Members speak up for residents and even talk about the high burden of wastewater treatment on the residents. I am one person and pay just over $61. An outrage. Sedona started in the wrong direction and now is pulled that way by the Chamber of Commerce who should live off their members’ fees as it did many years ago. Sedona is turning into chaos.
“There is no need to give the Chamber millions a year increasing it each year to advertise for more tourists when there is no where to park and the burden of how to change traffic patterns is becoming the burden of the residents.”
Here in west Sedona, they want to kick us off 89A to make room for tourists then tell us they are “accommodating” us by burdening our neighborhoods via a “connector road” with the traffic they created. People’s peace, safety and property values along the route, especially where connections will be paved, will be ruined.
Classic swallowing the spider to catch the fly when what’s needed is the Heimlich Maneuver, which in this case is No on Home Rule and No to the election of any Council candidate who wants to continue funding the CoC or any sort of tourist promotion.
The main reasons I moved to Sedona were because of the small town atmosphere, the beauty and the great opportunity to venture out into nature to experience solitude and beauty. I also saw the opportunity for a beautiful, easy drive going to Flagstaff and beyond.
Now there are traffic jams that changes the experience of a small town atmosphere. It is unusual to hike a trail when there isn’t one to six fly overs of helicopters carrying tourist, which definitely takes away the solitude. And I avoid particular trails, because of the crowds or the crowded roads getting to them. And driving through Oak Creek Canyon can be a very stop and go drive, not the easy drive it used to be.
And we are promoting and paying for this to happen ? Why are we negatively impacting the quality of experiences that brought most of us here to live, and actually paying and promoting for this to happen ?
“And we are promoting and paying for this to happen? Why are we negatively impacting the quality of experiences that brought most of us here to live, and actually paying and promoting for this to happen?”
Jenny, the answer is so that some select businesses can make money. Another answer is so that Council can feel good about themselves for “stimulating the economy.”
Long ago I suggested that this was unfair to the businesses not promoted. For example, we have two tire stores here that are not promoted. Discrimination! We need to make Sedona the Tire Capitol of the West. Gigantic tires painted turquoise could line the entrances to the City and another one could be placed on Coffee Pot rock. SEDONA – A GREAT PLACE TO RE-TIRE!
PS – In case anyone missed the point, if government promotion of tire sales is absurd, then why isn’t promoting tourism?
So what can we, as Sedona residents, do about this?
Everyone knows the traffic, tourism, housing prices, etc are way out of hand. How to reverse this so it’s our town again?
Peggy, for starters: NO on Home Rule ballot question. NO to election of ANY Council candidate who wants to continue funding of the Chamber of Commerce or any City tourist promotion whatsoever. August ballot. Register and vote.
FYI, our “fire workers” are not underpaid. Quite the opposite is true. Just check the Sedona Fire District financials and reports and then remember that many of them do not live here so their salaries are spent elsewhere. An ongoing discussion in other channels but I wanted to make the correction here.
An example of how City Hall does not care about residents only tourists. When they devised a new City Sign Ordinance they put residents on a par with large corporations and businesses in Sedona. They all have to pay $25 to the City for a permit to have one sign to advertise one event. If an elderly couple wants to have a yard or moving sale for one day they must pay the same amount $25. Often those sales could take two days. If the weather turns cold and it rains and the turnout is very low then the homeowners must pay $25 again for another day. So residents are put on a par with Tlaquepaque. An elderly couple holding a yard sale to try and make a few dollars to make ends meet is forced to pay tribute to the Great City of Sedona for permission to do so and if the event is rained out…too bad…they have to pay homage again. I brought this up to a Council Member and Community development about how mean this was, but was brushed off.
The meanness of this did not seem to reach through to the City since residents are not important let alone elderly ones trying to make ends meet.
Joan Shannon 315 Smith Rd
Welcome to Zoodona
Why is the Chamber of Commerce being given over a million dollars a year to advertise? Hasn’t anyone noticed? We have been discovered. We don’t need people to come up here and clog up our roads for a two hour visit.
If you live in West Sedona what used to be a visit to the Village of Oak Creek now requires at minimum double the amount of time that used to be allotted. And coming home we have to use Beaverhead Flat. Now the trails are so packed and overcrowded that there will be soon be a fatality on Dry Creek Road as drivers mindlessly cross the road staring at their cellphones.
The local merchants are not going to suffer without advertising. Just the opposite will happen. The people won’t come anymore. It’s not worth it.
Why not use that one million plus dollars and do something worthwhile. Traffic study after traffic study shows options. Why not use one. We can’t afford to pave Schnebley Hill Road? Works for me. Just throw down some dirt and grade it. Work with the county. Build a bridge over Red Rock Crossing. Restrict it to the school busses so you can close an underutilized school. Think outside the box. Vote out the council and put fresh blood in there that can take our city back.
Laurie and Dick Dawe
My congratulations to Laurie and Dick Dawe for saying, so eloquently, what the rest of us are feeling. As frustrating as the traffic is for all of us to deal with on a daily basis – what happens when someone needs to get to the hospital quickly; or a home is on fire? If closing a school is eminent, then I also feel sorry for the children exposed to this drive twice every day.
So many of the people coming to Sedona from Phoenix are only daytrippers that don’t appear to be doing much shopping. They fill our trailheads and dangerously park along our streets (even blocking home owner’s views and driveways). I agree that this situation is just an accident waiting to happen.
When we moved here twenty years ago we were hopeful that our elected officials would follow through with plans to rebuild the crossing of Oak Creek at Verde Valley School Road – opening up a faster and safer way to get between West Sedona and the Village. This is the best alternative and just needs to be done. In the meantime, the City could start banking all the money being paid to the Chamber and use it for the bridge.
Yes, traffic is bad. Yes, it’s inconvenient. But the answer is NEVER more roads or bridges. If you build them, they will come and fill them up. There has never been a new road built in the USA since the 1960s that resulted in less traffic. A bridge over Oak Creek at Red Rock Crossing will spoil one of the few remaining iconic sites in the area. It will not only block views of Cathedral Rock that grace many calendars and the walls of many homes, but the pollution and noise will drive residents away from a very special place in Sedona. The only way to reduce traffic is to develop and require the use of public transit options. When we came to Sedona as visitors many years ago, we attended a town meeting on public transportation. There were wonderful and hopeful plans about a Sedona Shuttle service to all of the trailheads and shopping areas. Once we finally begin that process, we need to shut down parking at the trailheads to eliminate a lot of vehicle traffic. Also, we residents have to do our part and get out of our cars. It will be good for our community, good for the climate, and good for us, too. Meanwhile, I agree that we could also try a pilot program that eliminates or significantly reduces advertising for visitors. Other communities are doing it. Let’s see how it works for us.
Many Sedona residents have noticed a considerable increase in traffic on our roads over the past several months. While Sedona always contends with a high volume of traffic during peak tourist seasons, congestion has been particularly problematic since early 2017. This may seem surprising considering that hotel occupancy rates have remained the same in the past few years, and no new hotels have been constructed since the recently opened Courtyard by Marriott. However, an examination of the possible causes of Sedona’s surge in traffic reveals that one of the main culprits is SB 1350. This detrimental law went into effect at the end of 2016 and prohibits Arizona’s cities and towns from banning the short-term rental of private homes through services like Airbnb.
By overriding local zoning regulations and seizing the power of cities to control property use within their boundaries, SB 1350 has unleashed a plethora of problems. Since this law was enacted, approximately 900 short-term rentals have been added in the Greater Sedona area—and at least as many additional cars now travel our crowded roads. Unfortunately, most of these rentals are located in residential neighborhoods, creating disruptions and potential safety hazards for residents who seek peace, privacy, and security within their communities.
A worrisome trend that has been on the rise since the enactment of SB 1350 involves investors buying large homes and essentially transforming them into mini-hotels, which they rent as “party houses” for events like weddings and family reunions. This trend distorts the local real estate market, exacerbates traffic problems, and creates additional disruptions in residential neighborhoods. Even though these properties bring in numerous visitors, they are not regulated to nearly the same extent as hotels. For example, most owners do not pay sales or bed taxes and are not subject to oversight by the county health department.
Another consequence of SB 1350 is the loss of much-needed affordable housing. Sedona has always faced a shortage of apartments and rental homes for our city’s hard-working employees in the hospitality or restaurant industries. However, SB 1350 has escalated the problem by turning many available units into short-term rentals for out-of-town visitors—thereby forcing out lower-income locals.
Over the years, the Sedona City Council has strived to balance the needs of residents and visitors. In the past, Sedona had strict regulations on commercial development and the locations of hotels or bed-and-breakfasts—but the city’s control over these matters ended when Governor Ducey signed SB 1350 into law. With Sedona’s well-considered planning processes now cast aside, our city is paying the price for the state usurping local governments. We have lost affordable housing as apartments are turned into nightly rentals, large homes are being transformed into unofficial hotels or event venues that are not taxed or regulated, residential neighborhoods are being disrupted by visitors constantly coming and going, and Sedona’s traffic problem has been amplified by the influx of short-term visitors.
The City of Sedona is currently working with transportation experts to develop a long-term, comprehensive plan to address the traffic crisis, and the Chamber of Commerce now spends 20 percent of its annual budget on efforts to improve traffic management and disperse visitors from high-use areas. However, as a concerned Sedona resident and business owner, I believe that Governor Ducey and our elected officials must also take action by considering measures to mitigate the harmful consequences of SB 1350.
As a resident who now has enjoyed several months as an Airbnb host, it seems to me that Steve Segner’s biggest complaint is that Airbnb has given him stiff competition. My daughter is no longer living at home, so her car is no longer on the street — the car that my guests arrive with does not add any more to the traffic than what was here before.
My neighbor down the street also does Airbnb. She is a 60-something cancer survivor who, before Airbnb, struggled to make ends meet and worked two jobs. She was worried that medical bills would force her into foreclosure. Airbnb was a Godsend for her as she now is able to rent out the two spare bedrooms, quit one of her jobs and work part-time and keep her medical insurance with the other.
Airbnb has added rooms to the Sedona community which means we do not need any additional hotels. I was surprised to see the Marriott expand, since it is across the street from the high school, has taken over a popular hiking trail, and stolen the iconic view of Cathedral Rock at the “western gateway.”
The problem with the high cost of real estate isn’t the fault of Airbnb – it is the fault of the big banks who allowed “liar loans” which sent the price of real estate skyrocketing. The pushback from this failed idea has dried up affordable loans. The only ones buying property in Sedona these days are developers and investors. The city should step in and instead of giving the Chamber millions of dollars – set up affordable loans for locals.
I have also been made aware of people who rent out homes just to turn them into Airbnb home hotels. Property management and absentee homeowners should be made aware of the tenants who take out a lease only to turn the home over to tourists. One woman in town rents out 6 homes in West Sedona and turned them into home hotels as a business for herself. This does not seem it follows the spirit of SB1350 and perhaps only owner-occupied property should be eligible for Airbnb.
The Marriott should not be allowed to expand. The P&Z in Sedona needs to be replaced as well as every incumbent on City Council. Voting NO on Home Rule will reign in the City and Chamber in it tax and spend frenzy.
OK, now we know why the P&Z changed their minds and is allowing the Marriott to expand! They are going into the Airbnb-type business! Can’t beat em? JOIN EM! ahahaha! Good luck small mom & pop hotels! You’re toast!