As many hopefully know, I am quite active on social media and work hard at engaging the public through civil discussion and educational moments as one of your elected representatives and as a constituent. One thing I want to preface this entire article on is the often-forgotten notion that your elected representatives are constituents as well. We are your neighbors, co-workers/friends; we are the same people in line at the grocery store or the line to pick up our kids from school. We have a title because you have entrusted us to make decisions on your behalf. This is how a representative democracy works.
The city of Apache Junction has sought since incorporation to be a place where all are welcome, a place where you can live, work and play in the same community. For that to happen, we must constantly be evolving, as we have the past few months and will continue to do. Recently, the city council completed what has been a 20-plus-year journey of annexing the land to the south into the city limits. This preserves our city boundary and prevents Mesa or Queen Creek from moving further east. In other words, we as a community are now in managing control of our own destiny down south. To those outraged at the growth, I ask, where are you? Where are you at city council meetings? Our council chambers on a typical bi-weekly meeting have the same six to 10 folks in attendance. Very rarely is the chamber packed with people and it’s even more rare that I hear outrage on a project until after it is approved or discussed. Believe it or not, we are following the orders that you gave us.
Residents have direct control over how the city council and staff operate. You overwhelmingly voted for a General Plan that tells us how to act in accordance with your wishes. For those who don’t know, a General Plan is mandated by state law every 10 years, and has passed with flying colors since the first one back in 1990. The most recent one, in August 2020, was approved by 74% of the voters. That is a 3:1 margin. This 119-page document clearly lays out a path of growth and a city of tomorrow for all residents of Apache Junction. It was widely discussed and distributed throughout the community and online. No one can say that they weren’t given an opportunity to provide input.
Along these lines, we constantly hear from residents that we need more police officers, better roads, new places to eat and shop.
Guess what folks, then we need more people. Our economic development staff is continually told by businesses that they will not consider us because we do not have a large enough year-around population. How many of our local businesses struggle in the summer months because of lack of support? If things do not change, we will never not be reliant on the winter visitors to survive.
Did you know that in today’s market Costco needs 150,000 people minimum in a “zone of influence” to even start thinking about a location? Lowes and Home Depot want around 100,000.
The “request” I love the most deals with restaurants! I can’t tell you how many times I hear, “We want a nice sit-down restaurant!” When I follow that up with, “What does that mean?” I often get in response, “An Olive Garden, an Outback steakhouse, a Cheesecake Factory.” Well, first, these chain eateries require more population and higher average income in the market area. But, more importantly, doesn’t this community constantly talk about supporting local businesses? There are plenty of “sit-down” places to eat in town. Who can tell me how many sit-down corporate/franchise restaurants (non-fast food) we have inside the city limits? Who has ever stepped foot inside our local mom and pop places and support them regularly? Places like Dino’s Deli, Handlebar, La Casita, Toast, the Sandwich Shoppe, the Meat Slicer, Fatman’s Pizza, etc? All of those places have a decent size following but for a city of 40,000 it could certainly be better. But hey, let’s drive to Power Road and eat at (insert corporate chain restaurant here) because it’s a “nice place.” I’m guilty of it too, I eat west of the city limits all the time. But I also support our locally owned businesses as much as I can. Heck, one of them even named pancakes after me.
If we supported our local Apache Junction businesses more, they wouldn’t have to reduce hours in the summer months or close all together. Those businesses need a market to survive. Did you know that for every 180,000 square feet of retail needs, there needs to be at least 4,500-7,500 in population in relative proximity to support them?
By the way, the answer to how many corporate/franchise restaurants we have in town is two… Pizza Hut and Waffle House. Even I was recently corrected on this one as I inadvertently left out Waffle House.
Stop and think about that for a second. We are a haven for small and local businesses. We have a variety of food choices; why don’t most people choose a local option? Our two hardware stores are locally owned despite their big corporate names. How many even realize that our Little Caesars Pizza is locally owned as well? All these business owners are the very people who support your kids’ little league team, donate to your events, feed your families, etc… We can and must do more to support them.
As voters/constituents you decide what you want, but you cannot have more amenities, jobs, industry, roads, schools, police officers — and keep it small. That’s how it is paid for. And, remember, it’s a free market. Businesses build where they think they will be most successful. The Arizona Constitution allows people to build what they want on their land.
We do have zoning laws to keep a strip club from going next to a preschool but that business can still develop elsewhere. Despite popular belief or hope, state law does not allow cities to stop development of private land. We can simply guide it through smart and managed growth as we have in the central city and will with the master planned community down south.
I’m not being callous or rude here, this is my town too. I grew up here, graduated from Apache Junction High School, have owned two homes and a business here. Soon I will own my third home all in this community.
We pour our hearts and souls into our jobs, spending countless hours reading through all the material presented to us so that we can make the most informed decisions possible. We sit in meetings that most wouldn’t even want to be aware of, and we manage to not fall asleep. Well, most of the time. We get more angry phone calls and emails than we do nice ones and the job never ends and we do it all for less than $10,000 a year. But every one of us knew what we were signing up for and I bet you we would all do it again and again.
You elected the seven of us to make these decisions on your behalf. If you’re not happy with the decisions we are making, show up and voice your opinion, join a board/commission, run for office, be an active part of your community and help be a part of the change that you want to see. I am a firm believer in decisions are made by those who show up.
I hope that helps explain some things and I’m always here to answer questions as you have them to the best of my ability.
Editor’s note: Apache Junction City Councilman Braden Biggs can be reached at 480-594-2987. He is on Facebook @AJCMBradenBiggs and Twitter @ajcmbradenbiggs.
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