An Architect, a Lawyer, and a Banker Walk Into a Church…

The three candidates for Scottsdale Mayor had no problem differentiating themselves at a June 12th Candidates forum held at the United Methodist Church on Miller Road sponsored by the Scottsdale Chamber of Commerce.

In opening remarks incumbent Mayor David Ortega, the architect, said Scottsdale has shaped him and he helped shape Scottsdale. Banker Linda Milhaven said we need to make sure Scottsdale moves forward. Conservative attorney Lisa Borowsky said it’s time to change leadership at City Hall.

The candidates were asked what they have done or will do to support small, family run businesses.

Ortega, who has always had an office in Old Town Scottsdale, noted his support for the arts community and funding local events because, “That’s where the flavor of Scottsdale lies.”

Milhaven said, “We can bring more people to the older parts of our community to live and work in our city to patronize those businesses.”

Borowsky said, “I would not propose new sales taxes.” She would also improve the infrastructure in Old Town.

The candidates were then asked what they would ensure Scottsdale does not lose businesses to rival communities offering incentives.

Milhaven notes the city charter prohibits incentives. She said access to talent is the key. “Creating housing will create more access to more talent.” She also said redevelopment around the Scottsdale Airpark would be helpful.

Borowsky said Scottsdale is the envy of the southwest and, “Urbanization is destructive to future business generation. We don’t want to become Phoenix or Tempe.”

Ortega is proud of the fact that Scottsdale neither offers subsidies nor undercuts the school district. He said, “We remain strong because of all our amenities, and we have water security.”

The candidates were asked about development around the Airpark and Old Town Scottsdale.

Borowsky said, “We have to be respectful and very aware of the impact on the Airpark, of the impact that residential, especially high-rise, or commercial has upon it. We can’t give out variances easily.” As for Old Town development she said Scottsdale cannot go tall; and to keep it high quality in terms of all residential and commercial.

Ortega said Old Town can’t be swept away by high rises and notes helped lead the opposition to the massive  Southbridge redevelopment in Old Town. Ortega said the Airpark is Scottsdale’s “economic driver.” He says vacant land along the 101 is ideal for business development. “You have to have visibility and access to parking.”

Milhaven said, “Mixed use development makes a lot of sense (at the Airpark).” As for Old Town she said, “We absolutely need to protect Old Town and that charm and that character.” She also said more offices and residential around the edges would bring more customers to the area and revitalize Old Town.

The candidates were then asked if more parking is necessary in Old Town.

Ortega noted the city built two garages when he was on the City Council 20 years ago. Ortega said there is a need for more parking the during peak tourism season, but he is not in favor of a parking garage in front of Scottsdale’s historic Mission Church in Old Town.

Milhaven had a pretty funny answer. She said some merchants say there is a parking problem in Old Town while others wish they had a parking problem. She said there is a need for more daytime parking in the northeast portion of Old Town.

Borowsky would form a task force and address this with business owners. She would also like to see a meaningful ‘circulatory system’ to move tourists throughout the area. She says the city trolley is not as effective as it could be.

The candidates were asked for their opinion of putting a percentage of workforce housing in each new development.

Milhaven said it’s a great idea, but the city does not have the legal authority to require workforce housing. She would encourage developers to voluntarily do so.

Borowsky is against the city imposing any sort of requirement for private property owners to set certain price points and she is not keen on ‘encouraging’ developers to do so with a “wink and a nod” implying that such arrangements lead the city to give developers concessions.

Ortega did not directly address the question. He said such a requirement is not in the city charter and he added height and density should not be handed out as subsidies nor should the city be selling mountain views (by approving excessive heights). Ortega said he has held the line on that.

When asked if the city tends to ignore the needs of South Scottsdale, Borowsky pointed to her plan to set up a district system for the Scottsdale City Council.

Ortega, who lives near Saguaro High, prefers to call south Scottsdale Original Scottsdale.  Ortega said he addressed Original Scottsdale issues such as anti-blight rules and restrictions on short term rentals.

Milhaven said she would ask more questions to get to the heart of specific concerns.

The panel wanted to know if the candidates support efforts to provide transitional housing for seniors and the homeless.

Ortega notes that he proposed $10 million for affordable housing. The idea passed 6 to 1. Milhaven voted no. Ortega also supports the bridges transitional housing project.

Milhaven supports the bridges transitional housing project but voted against Ortega’s $10 million proposal. She claims when Ortega proposed it, he had no plan.

Borowsky said homelessness requires regional solutions and is not for “Scottsdale getting its feet wet and trying to tray and teach itself to deal with the homeless crisis.”

Overall, Ortega came across as the optimistic architect looking for ways to shape, enhance, and preserve the city. He feels too many tall and dense projects were approved under his predecessor, Jim Lane.

Borowsky, the aggressive attorney who is endorsed by Jim Lane, seems determined to take Ortega’s slower growth philosophy and put it on steroids.

Milhaven, the thoughtful banker, is pitching herself as an experienced voice willing to bring more residents to the city to sustain economic growth.

The candidates have apparently decided to choose their paths and they show no signs of changing lanes.

A recent Data Orbital poll gives Ortega comfortable leads over his challengers. We covered the poll in late May. Here is a link.

There are some potential game changers. A major recession could send voters to the banker focused on Scottsdale’s economy. A GOP ‘red wave’ could sweep the conservative attorney into office. The likely outcome is a relatively content electorate will allow the architect to continue building his vision of Scottsdale.