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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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In salon terms Scottsdale City Councilman Guy Phillips has spent most of his tenure serving as a make-up artist.  What do we mean?  That Scottsdale’s looks are being degraded by too many apartments, too much height and too much stuff, he has argued.   He is typically joined in such observations by Councilwoman Kathy Littlefield and more recently by Councilman David Smith.

Such opinons can often lead to electoral support for one, two or three councilmembers serving at a time but they have not resulted in a majority for decades.  The city’s well regardedness for its pro-business majority was on full display in 2016 when Mayor Jim Lane throttled former Councilman Bob Littlefield, husband to Kathy.

Scottsdale voters are smart with a majority realizing that though they may not be thrilled with an apartment project here or there, a pro-business, pro-tourism, pro-arts approach in Scottsdale is what leads to the revenues that pay for parks, police and preservation.  It’s hard to do that if too many so no to everything.

This leads us back to Councilman Phillips.

Scottsdale Fashion Square recently asked for new approvals, including height, to solidify its future.  At a time when malls everywhere are struggling the request was understandable, even necessary.  And with the staggering amount of sales tax revenue Scottsdale Fashion Square provides city coffers, the mall’s success is a quite necessary proposition indeed.  

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668 North, LLC recently purchased the mostly vacant former Chinese Cultural Center on 44th Street south of the 202 Freeway in order to establish a new headquarters and campus for approximately 350 of its 12,500 employees and team members. The new corporate headquarters is the latest investment near Phoenix’s light rail line, expected to have a notable economic impact for the city according to Valley economist Jim Rounds, who is currently compiling a detailed report on the move. 

Despite strong Arizona laws governing private property rights, some have objected to the company’s plans in spite of a commitment to revitalize the 170,000 square foot space, preserve major elements on site and relocate others. Many of the state’s private property rights are enshrined in Proposition 207, a statewide, voter-approved measure that was passed by a nearly 2-1 margin over a decade ago. On behalf of 668 North, LLC the law firm of Gammage & Burnham recently communicated to the City of Phoenix the numerous problems with infringing on these and other rights.  668 North, LLC is not seeking any city entitlements or tax incentives as part of its redevelopment. 

The cultural center, built in 1997, has significantly struggled for many years with numerous failed businesses and very low occupancy. Today only six percent (6%) of tenants are Chinese-related and the center overall is only 26% occupied. Over the last 20 years, both historical anchor tenants, a grocery store and large restaurant, went into bankruptcy. They were reopened and run for many years by the landlord at a loss. Additionally, there hasn’t been a Chinese New Year festival held at the site since 2012. As community and financial support for the site continued to decline, the prior owner – a large Chinese company – decided to sell the property. That owner provided assurances that the site has been largely abandoned by the Chinese community and that no restrictions of any kind were being placed on the site which would impede redevelopment.  

While the new owner plans to renovate the building, in the spirit of working with the Chinese Community, it has offered several different options during talks with community leaders over the past few weeks. Despite offering numerous creative solutions, the people interested in preserving the site have been unable to reach any agreement amongst themselves, which has complicated a path forward.  

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Remember the nut jobs, even the streakers, who jump the fence at baseball games to run around the outfield to gain attention?  Years ago most responsible television networks stopped showing the romps so as not to reward the recklessness.

Apparently, the Scottsdale Independent didn’t get the memo.  While we applaud the publication for becoming the unquestionable leader in Northeast Valley news the recent decision to splash Scottsdale City Hall streaker Mark Stuart across its front page (here is a link) was like Fox showing a clothing optional resort during the World Series.

Stuart is a political cross somewhere between Gary Busey and Lindsay Lohan, always seeming like a nudist on the late shift (although that’s a visual about as appealing as one of Stuart’s incoherent screeds).  

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Now that President Trump has relieved Sheriff Joe Arpaio from legal concerns we thought it timely to relay anew a related post we made back on March 9, 2016. If not prescient it may be insightful.

Maybe It’s Trump With The Integrity, Not Romney

As Mitt Romney laid early plans for a 2008 presidential run he was spending a lot of time in Arizona.  To raise money.  And to pin rival John McCain down in his home state more than he would have liked.

Romney sought a key endorsement:  Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.  He got it.  Arizona.  Iowa.  Whatever the Romney campaign needed “America’s Toughest Sheriff” was there.  While Arpaio and McCain have hardly been close over the years going against your state’s U.S. Senator isn’t a political move without consequence.

Romney lost the primary to McCain in 2008, then became buddies with him. Nothing wrong with that.  But there was a few years later when Romney treated Arpaio during his 2012 efforts like a leper, so as not to upset McCain.

The 2012 GOP standard bearer showed little spine and a real lack of integrity (as did his campaign staff) towards someone that stuck their neck out for him previously.

Contrast this with Arizona Governor Doug Ducey whose 2014 primary campaign got a critical spark from Arpaio at one of his lowest tides.  The two maintain by all appearances a very friendly and respectful relationship.  Arpaio is also assisting Ducey’s biggest initiative to date:  Proposition 123.

Contrast Romney with Donald Trump too, who doesn’t just target the Sheriff’s endorsement, he shouts it from the rooftops.  Like last night during his victory speech. Alongside Palin, Christie, etc. there booms proudly The Donald about The Sheriff.  He’s even mentioned the octogenarian’s support during debates too.

Whether Trump wins or loses the ultimate prize one gets the sense he’ll always be grateful to Arpaio, no matter what new friends become him.

So next time Romney waxes and whines about Trump’s integrity ask him who went Bob Marley, and shot the sheriff first.

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But for the affability, tenacity, and standing of Sam Campana, a former Mayor of Scottsdale and early supporter of the city’s spectacular McDowell Sonoran Preserve, the Desert Discovery Center, Desert Edge, or whatever one wants to call it would still be known as the DDC but instead stand for Dead, Dead Center.

Despite the Preserve itself being established by public vote, and DDC advocates seeking to use a huge amount of preserve tax dollars, project proselytizers seem allergic to the notion that they too should be subject to a public vote.

We have commented before that winning a public vote is the best way to lance this community boil and ensure the project can actually gain momentum at some point in the future rather than continue to be a drag on the body politic and city coffers.  

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WestWorld is a funky show on HBO.  It challenges our thinking about the future.  And it’s time to challenge the thinking about another WestWorld, a weird property in Scottsdale.  We opine odd because the site serves as a flood detention basin and is owned by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, but operated by the City of Scottsdale.  Not a lot of constructs like that.

Since it first debuted decades ago as a private, commercial enterprise until today as a local governmental operation, managers have always struggled to make it pencil.

But what if it’s never meant to.  That may have to be the conclusion after many college tries.  And it should be.

Scottsdale City Councilman David Smith started to make private musings about the notion earlier this year, only to seemingly scuttle the thoughts.  He shouldn’t have.  As a former City Treasurer he has the standing to reintroduce and reinvent thinking about WestWorld.

Smith’s too abrupt argument kind of went like this:  WestWorld is effectively a park, a large one that serves special events as does Central Park in New York City but also recreationists from joggers to dog walkers to even a parking lot for the most attended golf tournament in the United States, and one that is losing more parking soon.  

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