What is your vision for Flagstaff’s future in regard to issues of growth and development? What changes to codes and plans would you like to see, if any, to enact your vision?
My vision for Flagstaff’s future is one where growth and development reflect the values of the majority of Flagstaff’s residents. The Flagstaff Regional Plan, which was ratified by the Flagstaff voters in May 2014, has goals and policies that guide city decisions about priorities and investment. The Regional Plan is supposed to be updated every ten years. I think one of the deficiencies in the current Regional Plan is that it tries to be all things to all people. Equal priority is placed on the competing values, which has led people to feel upset at the way Flagstaff has grown. I would like to see the community have a thorough and meaningful discussion about what principles/values are the MOST important so that the next update to the Plan is more in-tune with the priorities of the community.
Are there any development projects built or approved over the last 10 years that you would have preferred the City not move forward with and why?
I would not have voted yes for the rezoning of Milltown, a student housing project nearly twice the size of the Hub on Milton across from Target. Milltown has 80% more beds than the largest dorm on NAU campus, Sechrist Hall, which is also the tallest residential building in Flagstaff. Because it was a rezoning, the Council could have required the developer to address some of the real downsides to the project including, but not limited to, the lack of open space and the monolithic nature of the building. Five members of Council lacked courage and a backbone. I don’t think Milltown is what most people envision when they think of Flagstaff neighborhoods, or what people want to see at the main entrance to town blocking the view of the San Francisco Peaks.
Now that the City has updated the 2018 Building Code, what further changes do you think need to be made in our codes to achieve the goals of our Climate Action and Adaptation Plan?
I think the city should change its commercial water rate structure so that commercial users have the same incentive to conserve water as residential users. Today residential water users have a tiered rate system, whereby the more water you use, the higher per gallon rate you pay. Commercial users face a flat rate. Because of this commercial users do not have as much incentive to conserve, which should be changed.
What are some of your strategies for promoting Flagstaff’s economic recovery from the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic?
The City should do everything it can to help our businesses and workers survives. It should keep the parking meter holiday in effect until the City has fully recovered from the pandemic. The city should prioritize support to small businesses and employees over large corporations and the rich. So far, big corporations have been the beneficiaries of City Council’s response with $620,000 in free rent provided to airlines, rental car companies, and rich private plane owners at the airport. Ensuring ‘Main Street’ survives is critical.
What are your spending priorities for the General Fund? What changes would you like to see to the existing allocation of resources?
We were not prepared for the current recession because the City has not put aside any money to help our residents and small business owners get through these troubled times. I would like the City Council to set up an emergency, unrestricted savings account that can be used only when the city is in a declared emergency. If we had spent the last 10 years building up such a fund, we could have had a better response and provided more support for small businesses and workers to get through the pandemic. The City should have a true rainy day fund so the City Council can be proactive rather than reactive in responding to the next recession.
What is your preferred method for increasing City revenue?
I think it’s best if the City has different ways of increasing revenue. I don’t think one method is necessarily better than another as they all have different impacts on taxpayers However, I prefer not to increase city revenue through a sales tax, as it is a regressive tax that disproportionately burdens the poor. I would like to see us convert more of our regressive taxes into progressive taxes. A good example of this would be replacing part of our property tax with a land value tax, whereby property owners are taxed on the value of their land, not the development on that land. There are several benefits to a land value tax including creating a more progressive tax system and reducing incentives for land speculation.
What government strategies and policies do you believe can address Flagstaff’s high cost of living and unaffordability?
Rental prices in Flagstaff have increased 9-10% per year for the last three years. The current council set the record for highest inflation in the rental market in Flagstaff’s history. The City has a ten-year old Incentive Policy for Affordable Housing, which was adopted to incentivize private developers to build affordable housing. What we know is that this policy is not working, and that it should be overhauled. For some reason, the Council has not addressed this problem. We also need to attain and maintain good, strong relationships with the state legislature and federal government to secure outside funding and change restrictive laws that override local control. One state law that really negatively impacts how cities can address the shortage of affordable housing is the law that prohibits cities and towns from passing ordinances that require developers to include affordable housing new developments (inclusionary zoning). Repealing this law would make a huge difference in our efforts to address the affordable housing problem.
As Flagstaff grows and its reclaimed water capacity increases, for what uses, outside of landscape irrigating, do you think this water should be allocated to replace potable water?
Flagstaff’s reclaimed water is rated as an “A+” but this does not mean we should jump into using it as potable water without a better understanding of potentially overlooked and dangerous contaminants. The grading system was established in 1996, and a recent National Research Council committee concluded that reclaimed wastewater should only be used to supplement drinking-water sources as a last resort. We are not at the point of last resort, and without a better understanding how contaminants such as medications affect our health, I do not think we should convert our reclaimed water into potable water. If the city had tens of millions of dollars, it could build an advanced treatment facility, but we don’t have that kind of money.
State preemption laws have tied the hands of City Council on several issues. What is your approach for dealing with these restrictions when they conflict with the City Council’s decisions and the will of the Flagstaff community?
The City Council should figure out a way to work collaboratively with the state legislature on issues of importance to the city. If and when these efforts fail, we can do better by coordinating efforts with other cities to create a much more united front in lobbying our state representatives. I’m not sure why the Council hasn’t tried to better coordinate with other cities when lobbying the state legislature on issues of mutual importance.
Flagstaff voters twice approved an increase in the local minimum wage, including the elimination of the sub-minimum wage for servers. What can the city do to ensure that this initiative is successfully implemented? What strategies do you have for addressing some of the concerns related to this initiative?
Certain Councilmembers should accept the fact that the local minimum wage voted on by the voters twice is here to stay. Yet again in mid-June Councilmembers Jamie Whelan and Regina Salas attempted to place on the agenda a discussion to prevent the minimum wage from going to $15 on January 1st, 2020 but they did not get the support of a third councilmember so their effort failed. I do not think it is good for our city elected leaders to continue to try and undermine the voter approved minimum wage law. My biggest concern about the law is the impact it will have on the ability of providers of services to the developmentally disabled. Many of these organizations rely heavily on Medicaid vouchers, and these vouchers do not increase with the local minimum wage. Coordinating efforts with other cities to lobby the state legislature to employ a cost-of-living adjustment for the vouchers could go a long way in retaining these services in the Flagstaff community.
Do you believe the City of Flagstaff has an obligation to support and protect our undocumented residents?
Yes, I do. As the old adage goes “No taxation without representation.” We have a moral obligation to take care of the most vulnerable in our community. Undocumented residents face many obstacles and struggles, from a high risk of wage theft to the inability to access most government services. Everyone should be treated in a fair and just manner.
In light of the recent national protests against racism and police violence, many people are calling for reimagining the role of policing in our communities. How do you envision applying this to Flagstaff especially in relation to our Native American residents and other people of color.
The City Council should have a formal discussion about these issues, which, even after daily protests since the end of May, Council has yet to do, and it is about to take a six-week vacation. Without leadership on Council willing to discuss the issue, or even return emails to heads of the black and Indigenous community, the City won’t make progress towards meaningful change. We need a Council willing to communicate with the public, and while in continued conversations, direct staff to draft alternative models of enforcement such as the Eugene, Oregon or Camden, NJ models and determine budgetary outlooks for different proposals. These alternative models could help inform conversations about what is best for Flagstaff, and navigate the situation to create meaningful policy changes that respond to the concerns being raised about the status quo.
Are you satisfied with the role local elected officials have played protecting and educating the public about the Coronavirus? What more would you like to see done on the local level?
The Mayor took the lead role in making policy decisions in response to the Coronavirus, but in between these decisions there was little communication about developing events and responses. Councilmembers were, and remain, largely silent. I’ve heard several reasons for this silence such as the County health department is ‘taking the lead’ on the pandemic and it’s complicated and lengthy to formulate a council response. I think that those reasons do not relieve our city elected officials of their individual responsibility to explain to the people what’s going on. Many in Flagstaff have been frustrated with, and disappointed in, the lack of effective communication, and when information is not provided, misinformation fills the vacuum. The City could have done several things such as having people sign up on the city website for a weekly Coronavirus update from the Mayor and Council. The county has an Emergency Management system with contact information that could be used. There definitely are other strategies that the Mayor and Council could have used to more effectively communicate with the public. As Mayor, communicating more effectively will be one of my top priorities.