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Gates: Takeaways from the recent ‘State of the City’ address at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess

photo of State of the City commentary
Mason Gates, above, is seeking a seat at Scottsdale City Council at the November 2024 general election. (File Photos/DigitalFreePress)
By Mason Gates | Point of View

Scottsdale Mayor David Ortega recently delivered his ‘State of the City’ address, which rightfully declares that “Every year, every day, each one of us can find more to love in Scottsdale!”

I share this sentiment, as our city is world-renowned and arguably the greatest place on Earth to live, work, and raise a family. Ever since its incorporation, Scottsdale has turned from a western ranch town into a bustling city full of vibrant attractions, bountiful job opportunities, amazing resorts and restaurants, and talented, friendly, and kindhearted residents.

Scottsdale’s success is entirely the result of the innovative spirit, creative nature, and entrepreneurial drive of the generations of Americans who have called it home.

Fortunately, the civic leaders who came before us recognized that building an attractive city requires the enabling of dynamism — namely, the enabling of residents to pursue the American dream free from burdensome government overreach.

Building a prosperous city meant attracting businesses, pursuing sustainable levels of housing development, securing our water future, protecting our streets, and investing properly in parks and recreational facilities.

Our forebears on the City Council fundamentally understood that Scottsdale would prosper if the city government stayed in its lane, pursued common sense policy agendas, and created the conditions necessary for Scottsdale to attract businesses, incentivize in-migration, and enhance residents’ quality of life.

In light of Mayor Ortega’s recent speech reflecting on Scottsdale’s fortunes after three years under his leadership, it is worth pondering how we can build on his accomplishments, reverse his misguided policy pursuits, and incorporate the needs and interests of all Scottsdale residents into a policy agenda that will build a brighter future for Scottsdale.

To begin, we should give Mayor Ortega credit where it is due and recognize his effective contributions to the city’s current and future situation.

Thanks to Mayor Ortega’s sustainment of the business-friendly policies that have long endeared Scottsdale to investors from across the globe, Scottsdale will see multiple new hotels and restaurants open in 2024, even as construction commences on new Ritz Carlton residences part of the Scottsdale and Town of Paradise Valley development project and the One Scottsdale development.

Moreover, within the last decade, Scottsdale has been recognized as one of the Phoenix region’s “best places to find a job.”

It is also no wonder that Scottsdale is one of the top-rated cities for women entrepreneurs, a testament to our amazing female business owners who work hard to provide goods and services that enhance all of our lives. This healthy economic news is in no small part thanks to Mayor Ortega upholding the free market-oriented policies that have long made Scottsdale a premier destination for all manner of investment.

However, Mayor Ortega is in danger of unnecessarily tarnishing his record by pursuing misguided policies that threaten to undermine the quality of life of every Scottsdale resident.

Take, for example, Mayor Ortega’s efforts to eliminate traffic lanes from some city roads to make way for bicyclists. In his recent speech, Mayor Ortega painted this misguided policy priority as an effort to promote “bicycle safety,” while deliberately refusing to acknowledge that so-called “road-diets” have made life enormously difficult for motorists trying to navigate cities like San Francisco and San Jose.

Mayor Ortega will have made a significant mistake if he continues to sacrifice the transportation needs of Scottsdale car drivers to the loud demands of the bicycle lobby.

Furthermore, Mayor Ortega continues to double down on his belief that a “housing first” policy will effectively support the region’s growing homeless population. Having ignored the counsel of people in his orbit who have recommended he pursue a “treatment first” policy, Mayor Ortega went ahead with an effort to house homeless individuals in a local hotel without considering the needs or interests of neighborhood stakeholders.

In response to Mayor Ortega’s brazen decision, Arizona State Rep. Matt Gress (LD-4) noted in a November Arizona Republic op-ed that “Housing First falls short. There’s no accountability. Participation in treatment is optional, and sobriety is voluntary. This is not true compassion; it’s enablement that fails to address the root causes of homelessness.”

Rep. Gress also described how “Regrettably, the Housing First playbook persists in Arizona. In May, Scottsdale sought (state) funding to continue a program renting out hotel rooms for a year, alongside paying guests, blurring the lines between shelter and accommodation.”

Mayor Ortega would be well-intentioned to avoid spending city tax dollars on homeless services without hosting stakeholder meetings with city constituents who would be affected by a rapid influx of homeless housing in their community.

In particular, Mayor Ortega should reconsider his propensity to green-light affordable housing projects that include space for the Bridge Housing Program — a homeless services program that pursues a housing-first model. While Mayor Ortega portrays his efforts as laden with compassion and goodwill, in reality, providing housing first with few strings attached will lock homeless individuals in dependency on government handouts.

A similar housing first initiative in Mesa, labeled “Off the Streets,” has run into myriad problems, leading property owners near Off the Streets shelter sites to voice grave concerns about the program.

Maintaining Scottsdale’s unique character and dynamism requires city policymakers to avoid pursuing radical changes to Scottsdale’s makeup simply to present themselves as forward-thinking civic visionaries. Road diets and housing first policies to address homelessness will only serve to diminish Scottsdale’s well-regarded reputation and residential appeal.

Sometimes it is healthy for city council members to take a step back, stay in their lane, and simply work to preserve the policies that have made Scottsdale a vibrant community.

Editor’s Note: Mason Gates is seeking a seat at Scottsdale City Council at the November 2024 general election.

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