By Henry Twombly, Sedona Resident (November 18, 2017)
The Wizards of Sedona are at it once again, manipulating and pulling strings from behind the scenes. The Big 3 Powers That Be – the tourist, real estate/developer and the construction industries – along with the help the the Sedona Red Rock News (SRRN) are making a big deal about “affordable housing.” A recent SRRN headline proclaimed that “Sedona’s housing shortage is a growing crisis” (11/15/17). Most of the front page and the editorial of this issue were a big propaganda push to garner support for affordable housing, which is really a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Why? Because this cause celebre is being used to justify their zoning law changes and ultimately the overdevelopment of Sedona. Ironically this “growing crisis” is an unintended, misbegotten (karmic?) byproduct of this overdevelopment.
There are various aspects of their specious argument at play. Let me first say I would be all for affordable housing if I believed that housing in Sedona could actually be affordable for “critical care providers, resort workers, [those of] grocery and retail stores…nurses…vets who served our country, retirees,” etc. Even the CEO of the Chamber said, “But we’re trying not to use the term affordable housing. Because, what is really affordable?” (11/15/17). Yet she pitched one aspect of their argument – diversity. “Many of us feel we’d be a richer community if we had more diversity in terms of age, ethnicity, and types of people with different incomes.” Nice idea, a lofty gesture. But the prospective, targeted renters/residents can’t afford to live here because the cost of living in Sedona is 35% higher than the national average. Why is that? The recent hike in the sales tax notwithstanding…because the Chamber and the other Wizards are striving to turn Sedona into a ritzy resort town like Sante Fe, NM and Palm Springs, CA.
Not that diversity isn’t a noble aspiration, but more to the point is the employees aspect of their argument. Members of the Chamber as well as small business owners related to tourism are having a hard time finding and keeping enough workers. They cite a lack of affordable housing as the main reason. I’m sure it’s a factor. But what about the low minimum wages, the lack of professional jobs? Would those employers who are complaining be willing to pay higher wages of $10-15 an hour? Moreover, could the shortage of workers be due to the fact that the Council/City has rezoned and promoted the building and establishment of more hotels, so that there are now more hotels competing for the same (or smaller) pool of workers?
Another questionable aspect of their specious argument is traffic. They purport that there would be less traffic if workers lived in Sedona instead of commuting here from Cottonwood and other outlying communities. I don’t get it. It seems that more resident workers making multiple daily trips running errands would cause more traffic congestion than a single round-trip by commuters.
In the same SRRN issue (11/15/17) the editor wrote about the supposed benefits from “the city’s decision to eliminate maximum housing density…providing housing opportunities for young people and working families. Those families will enroll their kids in local schools, increasing per student education funding from the state. More residents also means more local spending in shops and restaurants, especially during the tourist off-season when many of these businesses are desperate for customers and thus more tax revenues collected for the city.” And more traffic. Thus he is also promoting affordable housing as a panacea for the City’s economic and demographic problems. But why would young families want to move to a community where the average is 57, the quality of the schools are rated average, there is a lack of professional jobs, and the cost of living is 35% higher than the national average?
Even our City Manager has the affordable housing bug. After embracing all the aspects of this specious argument, he said, “So in the end, a robust program that helps ensure housing choices is really a program about preserving our community.” He seems to imply that affordable housing is the glue that will keep our community together; without it our community would dissolve. Moreover I question his awareness when I read…”The citizen group meeting to take on this issue is not a city-organized one, Clifton said. Rather it’s a grassroots group of thoughtful residents who came to the city to ask for help” (11/15/17). Yes and No. In the beginning of this front-page article…”Linda Martinez, a local business owner and former chairwoman of the defunct Sedona Affordable Housing Commission, recently spearheaded a citizen committee to look into the ever-increasing problem.” So obviously Linda was a part of a City-affiliated (if not -sponsored) commission. When that commission was unsuccessful, she founded a “grassroots” “citizen” committee to lobby for affordable housing. The intent and agenda of this committee is suspect, since her husband, Ron, owns a local construction company. A conflict of interest? Moreover she and he were 2 of the 13 who spoke in favor of eliminating high density restrictions at a Council meeting.
This brings us to how the SRRN is serving as a mouthpiece for the Wizards, the Three Powers That Be. In the SRRN article “Public Favors High Density” (11/1/17), the headline is sheer hyperbole whose intent seems to be to mislead and misinform. “More than a dozen [actually 13] spoke in favor of the city increasing the density of the number of multifamily units per acre.” Most of these speakers were vested interests, like Linda and Ron. Some were likely not even residents of Sedona, since the Council allows non-residents to speak/influence/interfere in City matters. Thirteen pales in comparison to the hundreds that showed up at City Hall to protest smart phones. So I don’t think 13 out of 10,000 plus residents can be considered the “public.”
Now two weeks later SRRN’s front page is all about “Sedona’s housing shortage is a growing crisis” (11/15/17). It features a huge sidebar: “What type of impact has the lack of affordable or available housing had on your staff or business?” Coincidentally (?) Jennifer Chilton of SOCSD and representatives of Sedona Rouge were quoted in the sidebar, and they were part of the 13 who had also spoken as part of the “public” at the Council meeting. Fire Chief Kazian was also quoted in this sidebar in spite of having his credibility tarnished by his advocacy for Phoenix construction companies during the SFD bond campaign. This recent SRRN issue reminded me of their May (2017) issue that was all about the SFD and promoting its bond.
So here’s my take on our affordable housing issue. Though it’s a noble aspiration, here in Sedona it’s a sham, a scam to further increase housing density and enrich the real estate/developer and construction industries. Affordable housing has been tried before and failed. Nepenthe was originally supposed to be affordable housing. After a year or two the price/rents of the condos began to rise, and quickly they became unaffordable yet quite profitable for realtors and developers. So I believe that the same thing will happen with any “affordable” housing that is built…unless the City or some agency subsidizes rents to make and keep housing affordable. The City claims that it would do no such thing; but they have made many claims that they haven’t kept, e.g. no rezoning in the Community Plan. So the City could end up indirectly subsidizing rents via the Chamber’s “product development” fund. Thus it’s possible that we residents could end up subsidizing the affordable housing of the Chamber members’ employees.
What is a “growing crisis” is the inept, irresponsible leadership, riddled with conflicts of interest, by the City Council and City staff. Its biggest failure has been to give away its power of the purse to the Chamber of Commerce via its 7-year contract that allows the Chamber to spend City funds via its “product development” fund. But more disturbing and probably more irreversible is the City Council’s collusion with the Powers That Be to overdevelop the City and destroy Sedona’s “small-town character,” the preservation of which was one of the stated and promised goals of the Community Plan. Unfortunately they are reneging on that promise, as they continue to transform Sedona from a quaint small town with charm and character into a congested tourist trap of pomp and glitz.
I feel that the meaning of the word affordable will only end up being unaffordable to those who need it most. I remember this issue being brought up before with affordable
housing called “workers housing” and an idea of building $150K condos along 189.
As an LPN I still couldn’t afford it and my $750 rented condo was perfect. Now I am working retail uptown and just started my winter layoff-quite the norm due to low tourist season. You would have a huge group moving every year with the seasons as they would not be able to afford the rents here. As long as the primary source of income is seasonal the issue of housing needs a lot of thought as to affordable. Why not get input from the group you are targeting-not the people who would never think of living in
“affordable” housing. And a transport system to go along the new neighborhoods would
Points are well made in Mr. Twombly’s letter. The campaign for “affordable housing” will probably have same results as in the past — more rooftops built, more traffic, still no affordable housing.
And still our taxpayer money is given by the Council to the Chamber to attract more tourists, rather than helping to solve the real problems. It’s way past time to give the Chamber some time off, and instead spend that money to make traffic flow more safely and smoothly. We’ll always have plenty of tourists unless we bulldoze the red rocks and cut down the trees. But in 20+ years nothing has been done about the traffic problem except for more “studies” and more money given to consultants to make the same surveys again and again.
The City has a responsibility to do what it takes to improve the quality of life for residents. IT’S OUR TURN NOW!
Absolutely agree with Henry. This concept of affordable housing sounds great, just like Mom and apple pie. Who could possibly be against it? It is a bogus concept whose meaning is impossible to define. Affordable to whom? Who qualifies?
My entire working life I commuted 1 hour in each direction to my workplace. It was normal. In this country almost everyone commutes. Why? Because the “affordable” housing is usually somewhere else. I saw it as a normal part of being employed.
If given a choice, would you rather live in some small space in Sedona with no yard for your kids to play in or would you commute to Cottonwood where the housing is more affordable and you might even get a fenced yard?
If the employers in this town are so concerned about affordable housing for their workers, they should either provide it to their employees or raise their wages so they can afford more. Employers can’t continue to pay low wages and rely on others to provide housing for their workers. They need to step up.