Alexander: New task force isn’t the answer for Scottsdale General Plan

Posted 1/18/21

Passing a new General Plan was widely supported during the past election. Our current plan is 20 years old, and in violation of state law, which requires a new General Plan every 10 years.

Last …

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Alexander: New task force isn’t the answer for Scottsdale General Plan


Passing a new General Plan was widely supported during the past election. Our current plan is 20 years old, and in violation of state law, which requires a new General Plan every 10 years.

Last year, the City Council convened a Citizens Review Committee tasked with drafting an update. They delivered their draft in December. Four councilors led by Councilor Littlefield disagree with several items in the draft. They proposed a new task force be created to address these concerns and better incorporate resident feedback.

More bureaucracy is the wrong solution.

The best way to ensure a General Plan proposal receives the greatest amount of resident feedback is to bring it to a vote in 2021. Make the General Plan discussion the sole focus of our election season, to be judged on its own merits; not compete for attention with congressional, state and city races in another partisan environment.

We learned from the bonds of 2019 that we can achieve wide consensus and the best results for Scottsdale in an off-year, and that a united council promoting a unanimous proposal — rather than their own reelection — is a key component to citizen support.

Mayor Ortega and City Manager Thompson both explained that the process for updating the General Plan is only at stage three of five.

There are many months remaining, where public input can be collected exhaustively and specifically around key concerns. Council has extensive opportunity to weave this input into the final proposal and satisfy all stakeholders.

Mr. Ortega and Mr. Thompson further shared how the current process was approved 7-0 by the past council including Littlefield, that upcoming steps in the General Plan process are public meetings and direct outreach, how the process is designed on historical precedent, and the current draft stands on the shoulders of 20 years of citizen efforts before it. The process is not the problem.

Different opinions are part of politics. That’s why the plan includes six more months to find common ground.

The reality is the proposed task force will require several months to be up and running from scratch. Littlefield’s sole criteria was “not those related to the city government; Commissions and boards are a part of our government structure.”

I wonder how much it can accomplish, with time remaining for public review of its report, and still make the 2021 ballot deadline in August. This is less citizen input, not more, coming from only seven people.

As Mayor Ortega said “My concern is when bureaucracy starts piling on bureaucracy.” I think council and staff should be focusing on overcoming the COVID pandemic, not bogged down forming a brand-new task force.

Councilor Littlefield said at the Jan. 12 City Council meeting that her new task force will build iteratively on existing work. However on her Facebook page, she says her changes would “take an hour to explain.”

She says the vision is weak, doesn’t reflect the voters, requires significant language changes, and includes nothing on the city’s economy. These sound like major rewrites. By rejecting the current process, Councilors are not solving the disagreement over issues, or taking the time to get it right. They are delaying, bloating, shifting, and ultimately abdicating their responsibility to lead.

The same disagreements will come right back to council in six months after the next task force. What will seven newcomers do better in a few months, that over 20 experienced volunteers from almost every City Commission didn’t do to Littlefield’s satisfaction in a year? The City Council IS the task force who must do the hard work of negotiation. In 2021. You have six months. Winners want the ball. Not another layer of bureaucracy.

The city — and the nation — need unity and commitment to collaborate on solutions. “Us vs. Them” should have stopped after the election. It projects past grievances onto the new council before they even had their swearing-in ceremony. Council should continue their investment in the current process, drill-down on citizen outreach in the areas where there is disagreement, collect targeted data, and make informed, fact-based compromises.

I hope councilors advocate for their positions, within the process designed to build consensus, led by our city manager. Allow pragmatism to be touched by ideology, but not blinded by it. Negotiate a General Plan that is a win for everyone, by doing it in 2021.

Editor’s Note: Jason Alexander is a long-time citizen advocate, and helped lead the Prop 420 initiative to protect the Preserve.