Fear-based politicking tarnishes Scottsdale brand
By Tammy Caputi | Free Press Point of View
I ran for City Council to be a positive, forward-thinking voice for Scottsdale. We need councilmembers who will govern with facts and open minds.
Activism has its place, and the council can have disagreement about policy, but we must understand what it means to govern, and base our decisions on facts and data. My job as a councilmember is to promote Scottsdale’s brand — not to stoke fear and misinformation.
Fear may help a candidate get elected, but it’s not a winning strategy for our city. We need to encourage residents, businesses and tourists to come to Scottsdale and contribute to our economic development, so we can afford to stay special.
We’re often told we only hear from people when they don’t like something. A handful of people complain; most of our 240,000 residents love the city and are happy with our direction. Scottsdale scores highest on almost every metric. We have one of the lowest crime rates of any city in the Valley. We are not being overtaken by “high rise” buildings — there are two 150-foot buildings in Scottsdale, appropriately located at Fashion Square. Short-term rentals make up approximately 3% of our current housing stock — they are a real problem, but not the cause of our housing shortage.
We are not growing “out of control.”
Our population has grown much slower than predicted, resulting in a $2 million decrease in state-shared revenue. We are not building light rail, removing a lane from Scottsdale Road, or mandating bicycles. These are all versions of the same “boogeyman.” Per our General Plan, our projected build out in 2055 is expected to reach 316,700 people residing in 157,034 housing units, which is about 20,000 more than we have now. We are planning carefully.
No one on council or running for council supports the idea: All development is good. We are known for our strict codes and guidelines. Projects often take years to move through the rigorous application system and many die long before reaching the finish line. Our job on council is to approve the best projects for our city, not to interfere with or dictate what the free market does. The amount and type of housing proposed is driven by population needs, market conditions and private industry.
Leaders should not be repeating extremist talking points. Apartments are not draining our water supply. Our city water department’s vast body of data tells us that multifamily dwellings use half the water per capita of single-family homes. Statewide, 70% of water use is for agriculture, housing is a small piece. We are experiencing drought conditions, and the city is well-positioned to manage this issue.
Every development project must show a 100-year water supply and large water users must justify their economic benefit to the city. There are many things we can do to conserve water before calling for the drastic step of shutting down economic development. We shouldn’t solve one problem by creating a bigger one, which would be destroying our local economy.
Planning Commission and DRB meetings have been canceled for lack of agenda items. City Council has seen only a handful of projects in the last 18 months. Interest rates and construction costs are rising, recession is looming, and the economic boom is passing Scottsdale by while we push investors and job creators away.
There has been politically manufactured hysteria about “tens of thousands” of apartment units being built. This is not true. The trend to deny facts and double-down on a false political narrative is one of the biggest problems we are facing at the national level, we must not let it infect our local politics as well.
According to city staff and marketplace data, there are a few thousand apartment units currently under construction. If we look back six years, there are another few thousand “prospective” units at various stages of progress, many that will never get built, and about the same amount of “planned” units, with zoning entitlements but no building permits pulled.
Many future units included as “planned” haven’t even been submitted to the city for review. Adding up every conceptual project, real and potential, is a false narrative — these projects will take several years to develop, and many will never happen. We need to make decisions based on facts, not fear.
Arguing over what the exact number of apartments is in the “pipeline” is a distraction; the real problem is that vacancy rates are approaching 0% and housing prices are soaring out of control. The fact is we need more housing! Our city is suffering from a lack of housing supply at all income levels along with huge demand, which has pushed prices past the reach of many, and is forcing families, young people, workforce, and long-time residents out of our city.
The “Housing Element” of our General Plan calls for us to “encourage a variety of housing densities in context-appropriate locations throughout Scottsdale to accommodate projected population growth,” and to “support adjustments to the housing mix based on demographic needs and economic changes.” We should be following our plan.
The problem is not developers, it’s lack of supply and massive demand as people move to Maricopa County. This is basic economics. The annual average number of new apartment units delivered across the entire Valley has been 5,600 over the past 22 years. We are not “overdeveloping” by any stretch of the imagination. Construction projects take many years, and often never get built — there must be an adequate pipeline of potential projects to keep our city fiscally sustainable. Project pipelines are our lifeblood; they prevent us from raising taxes or cutting services.
Scottsdale today is a vibrant city. We can’t unrealistically cling to a past that has changed over 50 years. We have 240,000 residents, 18,000 businesses, the second-largest number of corporate HQs in the Valley, the most startups, and a $2 billion-plus budget. Without thoughtful, continued economic development we will have outdated infrastructure, rundown buildings, homeless camps, unattainable housing, high taxes, less services and amenities, an aging population and fewer tourists.
Leaders must not be afraid to embrace the facts, overlook the rhetoric of extremists, make hard decisions, and continue to look ahead while using our voter approved General Plan as a guide. Successful cities do not stagnate.
Editor’s note: Ms. Caputi is a member of Scottsdale City Council.