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By Scottsdale City Councilman David Smith

Dear Friends...

During the recent Council work study session on the Desert EDGE project, I summarized the history of events that has led to locating a Discovery Center in the preserve, at the Gateway on Thompson Peak Parkway. A few listeners asked me to share that chronology. It's a long history, so hold your seats!

In 1994 - before there was a preserve tax or a preserve! - the McDowell Sonoran Preserve Commission (MSPC) retained a local research firm, Nelson, Robb, Duval and DeMenna to conduct a statistically reliable telephone survey of Scottsdale registered voters to determine whether they supported land preservation.

The poll questions made it clear the City's goals were broader than just acquiring land. Each poll participant was also told, "The following are a list of features that are under study for inclusion in the preserve" and asked to rank the importance of each feature. For "Desert museums and education centers", 69.5% answered "very important" or "somewhat important;" 30.5% answered "not very important" or "don't know."

The poll results guided City Council in structuring the May 23, 1995 Ballot Proposition 400 seeking voter approval of a 0.20% temporary and dedicated preserve sales tax. That proposition was approved almost 2 to 1.

Following the 1995, the MSPC began studying where preserve assets should be built to enhance public entry to and enjoyment of the preserve. By March 1999, they had published their McDowell Sonoran Preserve Access Areas Report identifying several access points.

There should be a single Gateway, they said, as the focal point for educational facilities as well as a a broad array of public amenities - a visitor center, interpretative or educational centers, museum facilities, displays, an amphitheater, concessions and areas to accommodate large user groups. Many of those visions of 20 years ago survive today as features of the proposed Desert EDGE at the Gateway.

About this same time, 1998, homes were being constructed on Bell Road in the McDowell Mountain Ranch community, across from the southern boundary of the proposed Gateway.

In 2004, voters were asked to increase the preserve tax again (this time by 0.15%) and allow the revenues to be used for land "...and improvements thereto."

That vote prompted Council to begin defining potential improvements. City Council's first action was to authorize a "Municipal Use Master Site Plan" (MUMSP, for short) for the Gateway - the city equivalent of a developer's site plan.

In February 2006, staff held an open house to explain Council's future plans for the Gateway. Staff shared a site plan map identifying Phase I as the Gateway Access and Phase II as a Desert Discovery Center, including an interpretive center, support offices, café with outdoor dining terrace and a 400-seat outdoor amphitheater.

On September 18, 2007, based on the 2006 public outreach, Council approved the MUMSP for the Gateway with the site plan unchanged. The accompanying Council Report described a Desert Discovery Center "...that will serve as the primary educational facility [including] a small café in conjunction with the Center...[as well as]...an outdoor amphitheater as part of the Desert Discovery Center...used in conjunction with educational and support activities for the Center." The description even anticipated "...there will be limited evening activity at the Desert Discovery Center." Mayor Mary Manross and Councilmembers Betty Drake, Wayne Ecton, Jim Lane, Bob Littlefield and Ron McCullagh all voted for the Gateway site plan.

Starting in 2007, homes began to be constructed on the west side of Thompson Peak Parkway, across from the proposed Gateway and Desert Discovery Center.

On October 11, 2011, Council approved the McDowell Sonoran Preserve Areas Report. The 1999 Report had been updated in 2010, but still provided there would only be one Gateway and that its location would be the focal point for educational facilities and programs and include a broad array of public amenities such as a visitor center, interpretative or educational centers, museum facilities, displays, an amphitheater, concessions and areas to accommodate corporate picnics and other large user groups. The Report was adopted unanimously by Mayor Jim Lane and councilmembers Milhaven, Borowsky, Klapp, Bob Littlefield, McCullagh and Robbins.

Before and after 2011, several versions of a Discovery Center were developed, leading to a Council decision in early 2016 to contract for a definitive study of what a Discovery Center should be. For more than twenty years, Scottsdale's elected and appointed representatives had been guided by the wishes of Scottsdale citizens; respecting this history, Council stipulated the design be sited at the already approved site north of the Gateway trailhead.

Still, the contractor, Desert Discovery Center Scottsdale (DDCS), was given latitude to consider alternative sites. They could have recommended another site - at the Gateway, elsewhere in the preserve or out of the preserve altogether - provided an alternative showed promise as a superior location, insuring greater success for the Discovery Center. In fact, an alternative, superior site was identified, just south of the Gateway trailhead. That is the site council is now considering for the Desert EDGE.

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Phoenix Rising is the name of the Valley’s dynamic new soccer team with major league ambitions.  But there’s another rising of note, taking place in Glendale.

Just a few short years ago the city was lying prone, left for dead, on the verge of declaring bankruptcy.  Fast forward to just the past few months.

IKEA is coming.  So is Top Golf and Drive Shack.  Then there’s the city’s biggest master-planned community since Arrowhead Ranch about to become a reality nearby.  Approved in June by Mayor Jerry Weiers and a majority of the city council Stonehaven by Pulte Homes and the John F. Long Company promises more bodies for the businesses.

Finally, there was a noteworthy Glendale Star story last month describing how AEG, Gila River Arena’s new operator, has nearly tripled revenues since taking over the from Arizona Coyotes and the dreary days of the LeBlanc regime.

These indeed are better times for the city that sets the pace in the West Valley.  The Camelback Ranch spring training complex remains and albatross but these days Glendale is moving once again to that best possible future former Mayor Elaine Scruggs used to wax so eloquent about.

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*After the Troon North HOA’s shellacking of a Motel 6 looking, timeshare-like development at its entrance along comes a nursing home proposal for the old Sassi restaurant site near Pinnacle Peak.  Good luck with that.  Apparently the initial community meeting was a blood bath.

*Keep an eye on Scottsdale Planning Commissioner Christian Serena as a potential city council candidate in 2018, or more likely 2020

*The Scottsdale Firefighter’s Association dinner has become an “it” political event.  Sunday night proved no exception as honored guests included Mountainside Fitness CEO Tom Hatten, Arizona Coyotes’ legend (and Scottsdale resident) Shane Doan and Linda Pauling, the mother that sparked Make-A-Wish.  But the best sightof all? A row of 5 seats at the Scottsdale Charros table.  Scottsdale Area Chamber CEO Mark Hiegel sat in the middle separating Councilwoman Linda Milhaven and former Scottsdale Councilman Dennis Robbins from Councilwoman Kathy Littlefield and former Councilman Bob Littlefield who lost huge to Mayor Jim Lane in 2016.  Must have been awkward, but not quite as much as the congregation of NODDC crusader Jason Alexander, Councilwoman Virginia Korte and Barrett-Jackson CEO Craig Jackson at a recent Scottsdale Tourism Development Commission meeting.

*If you haven’t yet read today’s Arizona Republic editorial supporting a public vote on the Desert Discovery Center On Razor’s Edge check it out.

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In advance of the Iraq War and facing profound domestic opposition, UK Prime Minister Tony Blair shied away from no one, including his fiercest critic in the media.  He stood his ground and defended his position.  Whether one agreed with it at the time it showed confidence, command and leadership.

We feel the same way about Scottsdale City Councilwoman Linda Milhaven.  While we may disagree with her on support for the Desert Discovery Center, she is Tony Blair on a local level.

Milhaven is pro-business, pro-arts, pro-downtown and pro-preservation.  Responsive to all, she seems to relish engagement on the toughest issues.  In many ways she is the constitution of what makes Scottsdale great, and where the majority of citizens are, as reflected in the 2016 mayoral election.  And Milhaven has a resume to match.  Banker.  Former head of the Scottsdale Cultural Council.  Public service.

A recent Scottsdale Republic article revealed her as the only certain incumbent or potential challenger to run.  That’s great news for Scottsdale.  Our jury is still out when it comes to the others (Councilman David Smith, Counwilwoman Kathy Littlefield and NO DDC chieftain Jason Alexander). It’s not if Mayor Jim Lane ally Bill Crawford decides to run in 2018, or 2020.

But for now it’s not too early to celebrate, and endorse a class, impressive act named Linda Milhaven.

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During the 2006 election season many city officials throughout Arizona, including Phoenix, campaigned against Proposition 207.  They warned many things why the “Private Property Rights Protection Act” should be defeated.  Chief among them were that providing too much individual protection for homeowners and commercial property owners would hamstring municipal redevelopment and historic preservation efforts.  Voters rejected such arguments and Proposition 207 passed with a sizable 65% of the vote.

This is an important history lesson as some want to suspend the law and dictate what the new owner of the twenty-year old Chinese Cultural Center near 44th and Van Buren can do with their property.

But not all.

As a mob rained down on Phoenix City Hall and demanded Mayor Greg Stanton and his fellow politicians lay fetal rather than display fidelity to state law, the city’s Planning Director Alan Stephenson took a more courageous tact, no matter how uncomfortable and inconvenient.

Having laid out in his staff report why Phoenix could not and should not circumvent clear private property rights embedded in Proposition 207, Stephenson’s knees did not get weak even when confronted by a full house of angry Chinese Americans.  He didn’t win an award for being the most popular that day but his sobriety on the subject was necessary to avoid groupthink.

Stephenson understood that it would be a nice thing to keep a Chinese Cultural Center even if the Chinese owner and developer of the property abandoned it, and sold it, in 2016.  But he also understood that someone needed to be the big boy in the room as politicians kowtowed.

After all, Phoenix has never designated a site for historic preservation against the property owner’s wishes, not even for the David Wright House in Arcadia.  It’s never designated a site as such that’s only twenty years old either.  And when it comes to Proposition 207’s clear mandate on such things you can work to change it, but you can’t ignore it until then.

This leads us to a few other principles and principals.

When Rawhide left, and left a hole in Scottsdale’s western heritage after a duration similar to the Chinese Cultural Center, residents understood it to be unfortunate but not worthy of upending the rule of law to harm the property owner.

When Monti’s La Casa Vieja in Tempe said that’s a wrap the 100-year old home of Carl Hayden was left untouched, but not even the 50-year old stuff that surrounded it.

When dissidents started this quixotic quest they asked for the garden along 44th Street to be “saved,” which it is now being, along with the preservation of a number of other items both on and off-site, even though the new property owner doesn’t have to.  Now that’s not enough.

When people say that other elements besides the garden are irreplaceable are they sure some, if not all of them can’t be procured today on Alibaba.com?

When the Phoenix City Council votes to “study” the matter, a precursor to a Proposition 207 violation, and then accepts private funds from a special interest that is driving the outcome of the study how is that showing integrity the new owner purportedly lacks?

When opposition is being led by a person whose last claim to fame was having her office raided by the FBI for purported development fraud we ask ourselves if the real motivation here is not preservation of a Cultural Center but to use politics to bully an acquisition in order to collect more fees as was controversially done for the Phoenix Mart project in Casa Grande?

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Whether you like or dislike Scottsdale Mayor Jim Lane, and judging from his landslide re-election win in 2016 a lot of people do, it’s hard not to admire the way he leads the city with decency, integrity and class.

The same can’t always be said of the respective camps vying over the fate of the Desert Discovery Center (DDC) in Scottsdale.

We are no fans of the project as we have explained repeatedly.  But we are also no fans of some of the stooges like Mark Stuart who lead the effort.  While we admire the passion of opponents, among the best grassroots opposition groups anywhere in recent memory, they can certainly go too far.  We have written about such times in the past but it bears repeating now as some in the movement attack terrific Scottsdale businesses like the Fairmont Princess because they happen to be supporters of the Desert Discovery Center.  The property is one of the city’s finest hotels, adding to cache and coffers. We do not like their position on the DDC but we readily spend money there anyways.  Long after the DDC is dead and gone the Fairmont Princess will still be doing good for Scottsdale, as it was doing before the debate started.  DDC opponents need not snatch defeat from the jaws of victory with such obnoxious tactics.  

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They are two of the biggest names in the Arizona legal world.  Former Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods and Arizona Supreme Court Justice Clint Bolick.  Earlier this week Father Bolick likely would have been proud as his son, Evan Bolick, sparred with Woods.  It was in Pinal County Superior Court over a profoundly dishonest effort by Woods to undercut the Apex Motor Club in Maricopa on behalf of his legal patron, Dan Erickson of the Attesa project near Casa Grande.  Erickson’s feels his project so inadequate as to oppose another that he feels is too similarly situated.

We have written about the matter numerous times.
Lost In The Maricopa Woods April 17, 2017
The Worst Public Affairs Campaign Ever April 24, 2017
Smell & Wilmer. The Plot Thickens May 4, 2017
Horsepower Hypocrisy: The Endless Episodes May 18, 2017

In the courtroom exchange highlighted by inMaricopa.com. Bolick justifiably accused Woods’ bogus plaintiff of being paid.  Woods denied the assertion.  We don’t know how he could.  Is Woods seriously contesting that his plaintiff, a paid petition circulator named Bonita Burks, wasn’t paid by Erickson’s effort to gather signatures against the project in Maricopa?  It’s a matter of public record.

We don’t know if Woods watched Pinocchio cartoons as a kid but he has become a cartoon himself during this caper.  He also continues to emulate the character’s worst tendencies.  Kudos to Bolick for having the guts to call Woods out on it.

 

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*Bone-headed Branding:  With the “Desert Discovery Center” becoming such a pungent name in Scottsdale over the past year plus, proponents sought to rebrand it during their reintroduction in late July with a new name of “Desert Edge.”  Apparently the project’s pied piper didn’t get the memo.  She still lists the Desert Discovery Center in her signature line.  #Communicate

*Showing they can say no to developers, the City of Scottsdale largely sided with the residents of Troon North in their dispute with a real estate speculator to triple density for a timeshare-esque project near the community’s entrance.  It was the right decision and the council appeared near unanimous, if not entirely so, standing up for Troon North. Kudos to Planning Director Randy Grant for wading through an issue that while complex was quite simple at its core.

*The Scottsdale Firefighter’s Association Annual Dinner at Dominick’s Steakhouse has become one of the “it” community and political dinners in Scottsdale.  And this year might be the best one yet with honorees like Mountainside Fitness CEO Tom Hatten, the mother that sparked the Make-A-Wish Foundation and Arizona Coyotes’ legend and Scottsdale resident Shane Doan.  Doan is likely to be introduced by Jerry Colangelo which should make for quite a night indeed.

 

*The climate for Arizona Republicans in 2018 is going to be very difficult.  And that’s no exception as the GOP races to take on Democratic Congressman Tom O’Halleran.  If there’s anyone who can defy the odds it may be the frontrunner for the Republican nomination, Arizona State Senator Steve Smith.  As Bruce Springsteen might say he was born to run.  Engaging, intelligent, determined.  If not this time for Smith he’s a talent that certainly has more political life to live.

*Look for Governor Ducey to more robustly kick-off re-election activities next month.

*If anyone thinks Arizona Secretary of State Michele Reagan isn’t steely heading into her 2018 re-election campaign think again.  Despite some early challenges she is resolved and ready to roll.

*What a difference a few years makes.  Phoenix City Councilman Daniel Valenzuela is now the frontrunner to replace Greg Stanton as Mayor of Phoenix.  After kicking the tires of a term-limits loophole former Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon will not be running again.  But in Paradise Valley former Mayor Scott Lemarr has no such problems and is still more likely than not to make another run, making him the prohibitive favorite.  

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PHOENIX – State Treasurer Jeff DeWit presented Arizona State Senate Majority Leader Kimberly Yee the 2017 Hero of the Arizona State Treasurer’s Office award for her sponsorship of SB 1448 this past session.

“The changes made in this legislation will lead to many millions more in earnings from the investments in our office,’’ Treasurer DeWit said.

“Majority Leader Yee’s knowledge of the Treasurer’s office from here prior employment here was critical in getting this legislation unanimously approved this year,” DeWit said. “She truly understands the role the State Treasurer of Arizona serves in protecting taxpayers.”

The wording of the award is as follows:

Whereas, SB 1448 was sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Kimberly Yee during the first regular session of the 53rd Arizona Legislature;

Whereas, SB 1448 was unanimously approved by the Arizona State Senate and the Arizona House of Representatives;

Whereas, SB 1448, was enacted as Chapter 277, Laws 2017, and became law on August 9, 2017;

Whereas, Majority Leader Yee worked tirelessly for the successful passage of this legislation;

Whereas, SB 1448 changes Arizona Law that will benefit the investing of taxpayer funds by the State Treasurer of Arizona;

Whereas, Majority Leader Yee’s knowledge of the Treasurer’s office from her prior employment in the office was critical in the passage of this legislation leading to increased earnings for taxpayers;

Whereas, Majority Leader Yee truly understands the role that the State Treasurer of Arizona serves in protecting taxpayers;

Whereas, those changes will lead to many millions more in earnings from investments by the Treasurer’s Investment Management Division, while maintaining our conservative investing approach;

I hereby declare, in the capacity of Treasurer for the State of Arizona, Senate Majority Leader Kimberly Yee as the 2017 Hero of the State Treasurer’s Office.

 

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PHOENIX – A brand new tool for monitoring the number of Arizona voters in real-time has been released by Secretary of State Michele Reagan.  The Voter Stats Dashboard displays registration data allowing users to observe trends by party and county from 2007 to the most recent report.

The innovative tool aggregates statistical and demographic data of Arizona’s registered voters by county and forecasts future registration levels of partisan affiliation.  The forecast is made to January 2021 and the time series is adjusted to consider yearly seasonality effects.

“No longer do people have to wait for each quarterly report to better understand the number of voters in Arizona,” said Secretary Reagan.  “The number of active voters changes each day with people registering, moving or when our counties perform routine list maintenance.  With this innovative dashboard people can better see what’s happening with the state’s electorate each day.”

The party forecasting function uses a basic time series algorithm called ARIMA.  Widely available to the public, it is a moving average from quarter to quarter.  Seasonality is a way for the algorithm to take into account patterns that may be found in the data based on outside events. In this case, the forecast takes into account the quarters of an election year which historically see an increase in registrations.

The Voter Stats Dashboard was developed by the Secretary of State’s Election Information Systems team and is hosted on her dedicated elections portal www.Arizona.Vote.

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