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Yesterday was Scottsdale Mayor Jim Lane’s birthday.  It was also his annual State of the City address, attended by a record 460 people.

That’s a testament to his leadership, and the landslide election victory he had in November.  lane portrait

But the most surprising part of his speech wasn’t his dedicatory remarks about the “best city in America,” it was in the way he concluded his speech.  He did so with two forceful pronouncements that he intends to pursue a public vote on the controversial Desert Discovery Center as well as one to create a hybrid district system.  Under this proposal Scottsdale would see its six at-large council seats shrink to three with others being elected from a specific southern, central and northern district.  The three other councilmembers would continue to be elected at large, as would the Mayor.

On the heels of presiding over the best candidate campaign in Scottsdale since Robert Pettycrew’s in 1994, and after smashing nemesis Bob Littlefield, it would be easy for Lane to forget some of these key planks of his re-election campaign.  After all, it’s his last term, leaving him unencumbered.  But that’s not the kind of person he is.  

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Partnership between ASU, Scottsdale's Desert Discovery Center to produce research, exhibits about local environment

There's nothing new about Arizona residents looking for sustainable ways to live in the desert, but a recent United Nations report has made the matter a worldwide concern.

Because of climate change, the UN says that by 2030 almost half of the global population will be living in "areas of high water stress," and that without intervention as many as 700 million people could find themselves displaced.

Enter ASU and its partnership with Scottsdale's future Desert Discovery Center, aimed at creating an expansive research center to teach "a global audience to value, thrive in and conserve desert environments."

"When people think of research they think of a classroom," said Sam Campana, executive director of the center and former Scottsdale mayor. "It's our goal not to have a classroom, but a living laboratory where people are out doing work that is important to those who live here and to anyone in an arid environment."

Aside from research, the center will have a public face, and ASU has been working with design firm Thinc to create a series of exhibits to address "what I can see, what I can't see and what does all of it mean?" Campana said. In total, it will create an experience that shows how we can be more in tune with our environment.

Thinc, according to its website, has become known for a "holistic approach" that "combines great design and execution with broad insight into the organizational, cultural and physical contexts surrounding a project." The firm has worked with museums, science centers, zoosand aquariums.

The center's research will come as the global population grows "mainly in regions that are already experiencing water stress and in areas with limited access to safe drinking water," according to the UN in a 2014 study.

Research collaborations could include water quality, use and supply, as well as climate-change adaptation and urbanization.

Other areas of focus will include soil-crust research, desert species, the intersection of open-space preserves and people.

"There are things going on in the desert that are in the deep in the crust, and they're teeming with life," said Duke Reiter, executive director of University City Exchange. "But without this research and a sophisticated guide, at both at a macro and micro scale, it would be impossible to see. Only the university could bring this component."

Researchers, brought in by ASU, will study desert-life sustainability, "an important step in preserving and understanding this land," said Duke Reiter, whose exchange tracks university's academic and research assets to apply them "for the greater good."

Desert Discovery Center leaders are clearing hurdles as they await approval from the city of Scottsdale.

"If you look at ASU's design's aspirations, this university takes its commitment to their community, applied research and sustainability very seriously," Reiter said, "which is what makes this is a great venue and leaves no reason for us to not be involved in this."

 

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There are gadflies at City Halls.  Every town or city has one, two or more. And then there are gadflies.  Like big gad, horse flies.  They don’t come any uglier or smellier than Mark Stuart in Scottsdale.

It’s not that he’s anti-establishment.  Nothing much wrong with that.   It’s that he’s in La La Land.  But his music isn’t pretty.  And typically lands in the dark, conspiratorial realm of the Art Bell coin.

And it’s not that he’s anti-Desert Discovery Center.  So are we.

But as he approached the podium during a Scottsdale City Council meeting on Tuesday night his intentions were clear, and in violation of the law.

One cannot use government resources to proselytize about a political campaign.  And that’s exactly what Stuart was attempting to do at a government run meeting, broadcast on public television.

He was warned not once, not twice but multiple times not to proceed by Mayor Jim Lane on the advice of the City Attorney.  Stuart ignored all polite requests by Lane.  Indeed, the mayor went to extraordinary lengths to explain that this law applies not just to those that wish to electioneer to oppose the Desert Discovery Center but to those that support it too.  To coin a Fox News phrase, Lane’s approach was fair and balanced.

But Stuart didn’t want to adhere to the law.  When given every chance to adhere he chose to disrupt.  The Scottsdale Police Department could not have been more courteous and conscientious in escorting him out of the Kiva.

For anyone to suggest that Stuart is a martyr or this was Lane again being disrespectful to the anti-DDC position is preposterous.  We either have laws, or we don’t.

The rhetorical thugs behind their DDC opposition, so thoroughly discredited by the city’s recent election results as well as insight such as this , don’t understand this.  But the responsible, reasonable majority of Scottsdalians do.  But don’t take our word for it, take Councilmembers Guy Phillips and Kathy Littlefield. Usual Stuart sympathizers on matters, they didn’t raise a finger or word to aid Stuart.  Because even they knew no martyr was in their presence, just a goofy gadfly.

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One of the great Scottsdale stories of 2016 was the undeniable vibe that southern Scottsdale and her neighborhoods were an area on the move.

Its strengths have long been known – proximity to Scottsdale’s thriving downtown and nearby freeways, a surging SkySong, new breweries – and the marketplace in the form of new families and residents started to respond.

Mayor Jim Lane put a profound emphasis during his 2016 re-election on this turnaround.  Here again the marketplace responded, voting to re-elect him in the southern city by wider margins than 2012.

But to continue the resurgence a critical part of the area must be addressed:  public schools.  It’s a fair question to ask if improvements aren’t made can southern Scottsdale continue its revitalization?  Yes, charter schools can step in to address some voids.  But ultimately it’s up to the backbone of the public education system to deliver, or not.  A case in point is central Phoenix and the Madison school district.  There, good schools equated to more families which in turn has created a mecca of cool and culinary where that didn’t exist previously.

That’s why it’s so gratifying to see south Scottsdale’s high school, Coronado, asking for help.  CORONADO SUCCESS A COMMUNITY PRODUCT.  And that ASU and the Scottsdale Charros have stepped up to the challenge should be applauded.

The Scottsdale Unified School District, of which Coronado is a part, has a relatively new leader, Denise Birdwell.  The essence of leadership isn’t just to find a way through or around walls when necessary.  It’s also being able to recognize that outside voices and resources may be necessary to scaling them and solving problems.  This isn’t a matter of not being too proud to beg.  It’s one of Birdwell being prideful and mindful of her position, seeking new ways of wisdom to students are successful not squandered.

We wish them all good luck.

If and when these capable leaders turn Coronado’s challenges into opportunities it won’t only be good news for the young minds there, it will be a catalyst to continue SoSco’s upward trajectory.

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Plans are underway to tap the further potential of the Scottsdale Civic Center Mall.  Click here for more info. This is smart planning by city staff and Mayor Jim Lane and the City Council.

But these plans should not languish.  They should be funded as soon as they’re completed.

Home to the Scottsdale Culinary Festival, arts festivals, Sunday concerts and souls that are enhanced every time they walk one of the city’s great municipal creations, the area can and should be more to help downtown.

With downtown Phoenix, Salt River Fields, a resurgent WestWorld, Tempe Town Lake and even Glendale seizing more festivals and special events Old Town needs an enhanced events venue.  

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Michael Collins is the Mayor of Paradise Valley.  He likes to get things done.  He’s about the destination, not the journey.  So are most of the rest of the people serving on the Paradise Valley Town Council.  It’s a town of the accomplished.  It’s also a town started by the likes of O’Connor, Rehnquist and Goldwater.

With historic names like that it might seem odd to argue the tony town’s end of history.  But it may be at hand.

Consider that Mountain Shadows is rising again.  Indeed, the hotel at its heart will re-open March 7th thanks to the enterprise of locals Scott Lyon and Bill Nassikas, and a very wise Town Council that paved the way for it all, unanimously, just several years ago.

Then there is the large swath of land at Lincoln and Scottsdale Road that’s been the home to dozens of acres of creosote for ages, but soon it will be an economic and luxury engine that is the Ritz-Carlton and associated residences.

Not too far away is a property that used to be a struggling stepchild of Paradise Valley resorts:  The Cottonwoods.  But just a few months ago it was reborn as the Andaz, an emerging hotel brand the world over.  What they did to transform the tired property rivals that taking place at Mountain Shadows.  IMG_4155

Even the town’s Bermuda Triangle, a bedeviling 4 acre parcel along Scottsdale Road north of Cheney Estates, appears ripe for resolution thanks to local residents Geoffrey Edmunds, Rod Cullum and a thoughtful approach by all including the Town of Paradise Valley and the Marriott Corporation.  Underappreciated flood control problems may be resolved as part of the proposal too.

And mobile phone service is getting better as well!

So what’s left to do in Paradise Valley?

Well, it would be nice if the Smoke Tree Resort could smoke the peace pipe with someone, anyone to finally redevelop its chunk of land near AJ’s.  Besides that however the police department has more resources to do a better job (except when it might be favoring certain councilmembers) and the town’s finances are in very good shape.  

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By Virginia Korte

Last week I was officially sworn in to begin my second term on the City Council.  I am looking forward to 2017 – especially working with our new City Manager, Jim Thompson.

In my inaugural remarks, I said, “My one promise to our citizens is not only to work hard, but continue to use my moral compass to put Scottsdale first in any decision I make moving forward.”

My number one priority this year will be to evaluate and advocate addressing some of the city’s deteriorating infrastructure.

During the coming months I will single out what I believe are some of our most necessary needs in order to continue enhancing our quality of life that attracts visitors and new businesses.virginiakorte_bio

Transportation is one of our ‘most necessary needs’ and the city is obligated to tackle transportation issues, including increasing traffic that impacts our ability to travel throughout the city safely and efficiently.   In 2015 voters rejected a bond question that would have improved the intersection of Hayden and Chaparral Roads and the intersections of Highland Avenue at Scottsdale Road and Goldwater Boulevard.  The sidewalks in the downtown area also need to be repaired and some parking issues need to be solved to make downtown shopper-friendly for both our visitors and residents.  

Those are just a few of the many transportation improvements that need to be addressed. But they are good places to start.

I hope you will join me in supporting our need to focus on the city’s infrastructure.  I invite you to give me your thoughts by writing me at Korte@KorteScottsdale.com

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A lot of cities like to talk a lot about “regional cooperation.”  The notion goes that if we all just get a long we’ll all be better for it.

Well, in the case of Scottsdale and the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community let’s take a closer look.

A couple of decades back it’s fair to say relations between the two governments weren’t terribly good.  Pima Road would get shut down by the tribe.  Scottsdale under Herb Drinkwater refused the proposed Loop 101.  Indian gaming was an uncertain challenge to Scottsdale resorts.  Scottsdale-Sign-547x198

So there was this notion that a better relationship would be good for both parties.  Well, it certainly has been for Salt River. But has it been for Scottsdale?

This year the Chapman auto dealerships will leave McDowell Road for a new auto complex on the reservation.  This will cost Scottsdale millions annually in lost city sales tax revenue.  Another tribal development just took the Galleria Corporate Center’s largest tenant, McKesson.  And as this editorial is being written tribal lands are being touted as better alternatives to Scottsdale for giant corporate campuses.  Then there’s the case of Salt River Fields, which has become a direct competitor to WestWorld.  It recently became the new home of Russo & Steele, a pilot fish and pariah to Barrett-Jackson.  Salt River Fields even took the azcentral Food & Wine Festival from Scottsdale Fashion Square.  And what was the city’s response?  To subsidize the relocating event with over $80,000 in tourism tax dollars.

Cooperation, regionally or otherwise, must be a two-way street.  Scottsdale needs to learn this before it’s denuded further.

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How do you know you’re in Scottsdale?

The beautiful view of the McDowell Mountains?  Indian Bend Wash?  A vibrant downtown?  Terrific public art?

They all play a role.

But then there is a little thing.  Like bus stops.  Nowhere else in the Valley is such thought given to their aesthetic.  In Scottsdale they are interesting, even noteworthy.  But in other cities they are simply rudimentary.

That’s why we applaud an interesting “little thing” idea from Paradise Valley Councilwoman Julie Pace, tonight sworn into her first term after an impressive campaign for the office.

In a recent Paradise Valley Independent interview about her upcoming goals and priorities Pace spoke of an idea to shield utility boxes and the like with more ornamental coverings, as was done during the Town’s impressive redevelopment of 56th Street, between McDonald and Lincoln.

Maybe you notice it.  Maybe you don’t.  But what Pace speaks to is the limited urban acne Paradise Valley offers.

Sometimes politicians get caught up planning for the next great thing.  They search for unicorns and elixirs.  But sometimes little things can add up to a very big difference. We hope Pace succeeds in convincing the rest of the Town Council that this is a worthy effort and expenditure.  It is.

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*On January 8th new Scottsdale City Manager Jim Thompson takes over from interim one Brian Biesemeyer.  It’s the best municipal trade since the Phoenix Suns absconded Charles Barkley from the Philadelphia 76ers.  Biesemeyer found bureaucracy to be bucolic.  That Scottsdale continued to succeed despite his management speaks to just how special a place it is.  Thompson has an energy, expertise and appreciation for the position that will surely inject needed oxygen into Scottsdale’s lungs after Biesemeyer depleted it via employee exasperation and his own languishing leadership.

*With talk increasing of Congressman David Schweikert running for Arizona Governor in 2022 successors are already circling.  That will be a year of redistricting so who knows what the safe, Scottsdale-based district looks like then but early, strong contenders include Maricopa County Supervisor Steve Chucri and Phoenix City Councilman Jim Waring.  And never count out the Dirty Bird, Ben Quayle.  He once represented portions of the district before losing to Schweikert when their districts merged.

*With Maria Syms resigning her Paradise Valley Town Council seat now that she has been elected to the Arizona House of Representatives look for recently departed Councilman David Sherf to gain the appointment.  Planning Commissioner Daran Wastchak also deserves consideration as a candidate for the post in 2016.  

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