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Scottsdale City Council opts for continuation of sustainability plan deliberations

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Scottsdale Councilwoman Betty Janik offered impassioned words regarding resident concerns of the proposed sustainability plan during a May 21 public hearing at City Hall, 3939 N. Drinkwater Blvd. (Photo: Arianna Grainey/DigitalFreePress)
Scottsdale City Council hears from the public regarding sustainability pursuit
By Terrance Thornton | Digital Free Press

Scottsdale City Council Tuesday, May 21, opted to continue its proposed sustainability plan — an aspirational document three years in the making.

“Work on the plan began in June 2021, with support of the Walton Sustainability Solution Service and with input from the Scottsdale Environmental Advisory Commission and other community members,” Lisa McNeilly, Scottsdale sustainability director, said in her May 21 report to City Council. “City Council feedback at five Work Study sessions resulted in a sharp focus on five priorities, a push to develop baseline metrics and set numeric targets, and the need to include the costs and benefits of action.”

Designed to align with the 2035 General Plan approved by Scottsdale voters, the Scottsdale Community Sustainability Plan provides a comprehensive approach to energy, water, waste, air quality, and extreme heat management, officials at City Hall tell the Digital Free Press.

Scottsdale City Council debated the virtues of the sustainability plan, and what kind of suggestions for resident behavior are appropriate — things like reducing water consumption and a dedicated approach to reduce household waste — meanwhile everyone who spoke at City Hall last night says they believe in the idea of sustainability.

The plan in its current form suggests 15 strategies and 93 actions, which Ms. McNeilly says will have immediate positive results.

“An implementation table for each priority shares initial plans for each action: time horizon for completion, lead agencies and partners, costs, and benefits. The city will administer the plan to ensure continuous improvement by producing an annual report and formally updating the plan every three years,” she said.

“The city has been committed to a broad public input process with outreach to residents, boards and commissions and other stakeholders for their feedback.”

Ms. McNeilly provided to members of City Council certain tenets of the proposed master plan document.

“The community sustainability plan is an important part of the city’s commitment to a sustainable future and seeks creative solutions to solving the environmental challenges we all face,” she said during the May 21 public hearing.

“In recent meetings, we have gotten specific direction in the preparing of this final draft for your approval today. This plan is an aspirational document, there are not mandates and it does not penalize for goals not being met. There are not mandates — and it does not require future mandates.”

Ms. McNeilly explains the plan provides baseline data,” she said. “We are wanting residents and businesses to join us on this more sustainable path … It can be difficult to estimate the total cost of a master plan.”

While concrete cost estimates are hard to forge with such a comprehensive, long-form sustainability plan Ms. McNeilly points out at a time the beloved greenbelt of Scottsdale was a point of consternation when it was first proposed to be concrete.

“This is what will be remembered by this plan,” she said of what long-range planning can achieve when certain goals are achieved. “The people using the greenbelt are not thinking about the cost of it — if I asked anyone here if that was bad decision or was that something we shouldn’t have done? We expect the city will lead and be a catalyst for action in the private sector.”

Read the report for yourself HERE.

What does sustainability look like for Scottsdale residents?

Jim Davis spoke during the May 21 public hearing representing the Coalition of Greater Scottsdale, a local group of residents focused on issues effecting the local community and provides political endorsements during election cycles.

“We are here to task the council to consider adding a conversation about physical sustainability,” he said pointing out Scottsdale is rapidly approaching build-out. “We believe this comes even more critical as we approach build-out, we would appreciate that discussion.”

Sonnie Kirtley, founder of COGS, went on the record in support of the Scottsdale Community Sustainability Plan.

The remainder of those who spoke at the May 21 public hearing did not support the plan — but each contended they support sustainability just not this version of it.

“I urge you to vote ‘no’ on this,” said Scottsdale resident Jim Haxby. “The plan is full of idealistic visions and mandates for the only purpose for some people to pat themselves on the back saying they done something about the environment,” he said. “The residents of Scottsdale will suffer for it. The plan will increase cost to the residents. The goals are admirable … but this plan is not going to do it.”

For Bob Pejman, an art gallery owner in the arts district, says the “hypocrisy is mind numbing” when taken into consideration development concessions made for multifamily development projects amended and approved atop the local dais, he says.

“Overdevelopment is what makes this worse. That kind of plan is this guys?” he asked of City Council during the public hearing. “You are not willing to put restrictions on development … you approve high-density apartment buildings — the hypocrisy is mind numbing.”

What does sustainability look like for City Council?

Scottsdale Councilwoman Betty Janik offered impassioned comments on the intrinsic value of a long-from sustainability plan for a community atop the Sonoran Desert.

“We have had success and we will continue to have successes,” she said. “I believe that we are carpable of moving the needle on availability of water, on heat, on air pollution.”

Councilwoman Janik, a scientist at heart and a science teacher by profession, contends proof of concept comes from innovation to solve problems humans face.

“As far as proof of concept, as a scientist and as a science teacher I want to remind you that when Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin, he did not have proof of concept,” she said of great human feats of triumph based on will and the scientific method.

“When we walked on the moon for the first time, we did not have proof of concept. And finally when we came up with successful treatments for AIDS, we did not have proof concept. That is how we evolve as a people.”

But Councilwoman Janik does say City Hall needs to do a better job at engaging concerned residents.

“Unless we embrace you the people we will not be successful,” she said. “We have the ability to advance, but how good is our city going to be if we don’t have water, which is a finite resource?”

Councilman Barry Graham says certain goals are a bridge too far for the community of Scottsdale.

“Everyone wants a sustainable Scottsdale. And everyone wants to conserve our natural resources,” he said. “Our city leads in water innovation, open space, energy efficiency and environmental awareness. There are many things I like about the document, but there are proposals that go too far. While I support many of the proposals … I don’t think it is our job to police residents like that.”

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