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Concerns about the DDC @ Gateway Trailhead

1.  Placing the DDC at the Gateway doesn’t abide by the current McDowell Sonoran Preserve Ordinance #   3321 ;  on several dimensions:

A.  Article 1, Section 21 2 B:  states that, "the Preserve will be left in as pristine a state as possible to maintain for this and future generations, IN PERPETUITY, a nearby natural desert REFUGE  from the rigors of urban life.

B.   Article 1,  Section 21-2C of the Ordinance states, The preserve will NOT contain traditional facilities or improvements associated with a public park, but may contain facilities or improvements that the city determines are necessary or appropriate to support PASSIVE recreational activities. 

C.  Article III, Section 12-11 specifically defines  what “passive recreational activities” are. They include hiking, non-motorized biking, horseback riding, rock climbing, and wildlife viewing”  (none of these activities require  building structures)

D.   Article 1, Section 21-3,  # 9 provides even more clarity…  stipulating  that “TOURISM in the community will be supported by providing OUTDOOR educational opportunities for visitors.  (….no buildings  needed to support tourism.)

E.   Finally, Article 3,   Section 21-12 / 9  clearly states that the sale of food, beverages or other merchandise is prohibited.  

The ORDINANCE currently governing use of the Preserve seems to be in DIRECT OPPOSITION  with what the city  council wants to  build there…..an acknowledged "TOURIST ATTRACTION'…with

 buildings  totaling  72,000 sf , spread over 30 acres, with  parking for 900…. FOOD SERVICE,  and probably other commercial like elements The fact that the city and DDC have announced that food service vendors will be classified as “not for profit entities” , does  not assuage the violation found in article 3 above. The reasons for this stipulation was undoubtedly that people felt the activity of serving food and beverages was inconsistent with the concept of a Preserve.

2.   Citizens are due a definitive legal ruling on what is and is not legal to build in the Preserve,  based on the CURRENT Preserve Ordinance  #  3321,  AND,   the  current Municipal Use Site Plan.   

A.  The  Scottsdale city attorney stated in the council meeting of Jan 11th, 2016 that the Council currently has the right to build almost anything they want to in the Preserve (no nuclear power plants  or things that break Federal law, etc.) Citizens have made a formal request, asking the council to provide the specific  legal rationale for their attorney’s point of view on this.  So far, NOTHING has been offered in this regard.               

B.  In the Jan. 11th city council meeting ,  the council voted to have city staff draw up an amendment to the Municipal Use Site Plan for the Preserve. The specific amendment will be voted on by the council in an upcoming meeting. Why would this be necessary?  Probably because what the council wants to do in the Preserve is not currently allowed in the MUSP

C.   If the rationale for the attorney stating that,  the city can build whatever they want to in the Preserve, is that “the city owns the land”, then that is far from the whole picture.  The PEOPLE own it. They voted for it 5 times and paid for it.  This ownership concept, is in fact, the POV laid out in the city approved book on the History of the Preserve:  The People’s Preserve, by Joan C. Fudala.  

3. There should be an official  Scottsdale  Citizen Vote before a DDC  is constructed within the boundaries of the  Sonoran Desert Preserve. 

A.    Six times, the citizens of Scottsdale have engaged in a vote regarding the   Mcdowell Mountain Sonoran Preserve. (all 6 passed in favor of a Preserve)

1.   Citizens voted 5 times to pay for and create a Preserve     which respects the environment and habitat of the wildlife, and ensures that the beauty of the land is not disturbed…. By law, this was ensured  “into perpetuity. “

2.   Citizens  voted one time  (in the midst of the acquisition process;    1998)  to amend the City Charter  relating to designation,     removal of designation and disposition of Preserve lands. 

A “YES” vote shall have the effect of providing for the designation of preserve lands, prohibiting disposition of preserve lands and limiting the removal of the preserve designation without a vote of the qualified electors.

  This vote clearly demonstrates, that people felt the idea of  protecting   the pristine nature of the Preserve land, was a critical concept;  SO critical,   that  that the City Charter itself should be changed.

3.   It is the people of Scottsdale that own the Preserve; not just a few council members, who apparently believe themselves to be superior thinkers than its citizenry.

B.    What did the citizens INTEND when they voted to support a Preserve?    The answer is land acquisition, trailheads, bathrooms,  and minimal 

facilities; NOT a major “tourist attraction” with multiple buildings,    parking for 900, and  commercial vendors.  (Info for ballot language  re    the 6 votes, appears in  Appendix A.  Only on the 6th citizen vote , in 2004,    did  the words “improvements”  appear. At this point in time, a DDC was    years  away, and plans being talked about, were very  modest.    Additionally, the city- approved, “official  history” of the Preserve    (The People’s Preserve, by Joan  Fudala) suggests on p. 57 that this     money was designated for trailheads and trails for public  access. No      buildings were discussed in her commentary.)

C.   Importantly:  

1.   The Council has asked for language to be drafted, to be presented  for a council vote,  to amend  the current  Municipal Use Site Plan. These changes would allow the proposed 30 acre DDC to be built within the Preserve. The current Municipal Use and Site plan does not allow it. Only 4 votes from council members would be needed to change the Municipal Use Site Plan.

2.   There has also been talk of changing the Preserve Ordinance. Only 4 votes from council members would be needed to change the Ordinance.  Why would amending the Preserve Ordinance be necessary? 

3.   The City Council’s voting to change  either of the above( the Preserve Ordinance or the Municipal Use Site Plan) looks strongly to be a simple tactic  to avoid taking these issues to a public vote

 -  Why should 4 council members be able to make this decision for all the citizens of Scottsdale, who rightfully own the Preserve?

4.  Is this how the city council wants to govern?

A.  Mayor Lane himself asked this very question (rhetorically) at the Jan 11th Council meeting.   This is truly a relevant question; particularly when the council knows there is opposition  to putting the DDC within the Preserve.  (Some citizens  may even have other priorities, and would be in opposition to spending any money at all on a DDC.)   

-  Does the council just not care?

-  Do they consider themselves to be superior thinkers?

-  Could special interests be in play?

 Why is there such blatant disregard for the people who have paid for it?      

B.  There are indications that, how the process has been managed, is              tainted with bias and censorship.  

-  DDC public outreach meetings were clearly meant to be a one way dialogue, where presenters controlled the ability for people to speak.

They even stated that it was NOT their role to garner public input. This is in direct opposition to what the city council promised about these meetings.

-  The site manager for the Stewards’ private FB page, takes down negative commentary about the proposal.

-  It has been difficult to get negative commentary posted on pro-DDC sites. 

-  The city council STILL has  not provided an explanation regarding “on   what basis?”  their attorney made the statement that they can build just   about anything they want.

5.  TheCity Charter Change in November of 1998:  prohibits any future council from selling OR LEASING land in the preserve, without a citizen vote.  Food service and shopping vendors, discussed in the current proposal for the DDC,  would probably be signing a lease,  to ensure their right to be there for a contracted period of time.  This is simply NOT ALLOWED without a citizen vote. 

A. It’s  possible that the council plans to get around this, by leasing a “building” in the Preserve ; not the land itself.  In this scenario,  they may not be in violation of the Charter. 

B.  It is also possible that by designating the food service vendors as “not for profit” entities, the city could try to wiggle around this.

However, neither of the above two options are in keeping with the spirit of the amendment to the Charter!!

6.  The structures that currently exist at the Gateway, are sufficient.  

7. Bad Economics:The annual budget for operating  the DDC shows an annual shortfall of  about $1.6MM. (This is an optimistic estimate. The building costs and revenue stream could produce  a much bigger shortfall!)  Whatever the shortfall, turns out to be, it is expected to be made up by philanthropic efforts. However, in the event that philanthropy cannot meet this financial obligation, the burden will certainly fall back on the taxpayers!  

8.  A shortfall in operating revenues and philanthropic efforts could lead to an ever increasing expansion of  unwanted events in the Preserve!  Who knows what other “uses”  they may decide to “allow” , once they’ve changed the MUSP/ORDINANCE  and are bleeding red ink on the cost of the project.

   -  More commercial vendors 

-  Concerts

-  Weddings

The infrastructure  proposed in the current DDC Plan (  Amphitheatre, ability for food preparation, parking for 900,  and night-time lighting ) would certainly be in place, to accommodate things like the above listed items. 

9.    The council admittedly stated at the Jan 11th council meeting that they want to build a “tourist attraction” there.   (Interestingly, at the DDC outreach meetings, presenters moved away from using this terminology as a mission objective.  This shift probably occurred because there was significant negative reaction to it after the Jan 11th council meeting. In this meeting, the “tourist attraction” theme was prominently touted). 

    A.   MANY residents DON’T WANT a tourist Attraction in the Preserve!

    B.  This completely violates the Preserve’s original concept, as well as Ordinance language, to keep it pristine.

10.  Despite the council’s claim to the contrary,  it is highly doubtful that  building a DDC will cause an additional  300,000 discretionary travelers to actually choose  to visit Scottsdale over other locations. 

A.   No specific and quantitative  research has been conducted to support this claim of economic  benefit.  The council cites only generalized information from other cities.  

B.   If this projection (regarding a significant increase in visitors to Scottsdale as a direct result of building the DDC)  is WRONG , it will not be the tourist industry that suffers.  The citizens will.  And, the bleeding will be far greater than the $1.6MM  deficit  currently anticipated.

11.  Additional traffic  (particularly on Bell and Thompson Peak) could be extremely cumbersome and dangerous for residents,  hikers, and school children! 

A.  The effect of an extra 300,000 visitors to the Gateway also has not been quantitatively studied.  Officials from the DDC make generalized remarks that some official in the city can, and eventually will, speak to this;  that residents should not worry. They themselves however,   appear to have zero understanding of  the issue.

B.  In addition to having major increases in the number of vehicles in the area, the fact that Thompson Peak narrows to just two lanes in specific places, could  significantly accentuate this  traffic problem. 

12.   Conservation Issues: The original purpose of CREATING  a Preserve was to protect our wildlife and their habitats, to protect the natural flora of the Sonoran Desert, and to maintain into perpetuity the unspoiled nature,  magnificence,  and beauty of this area.  Putting the DDC within the Preserve runs contrary to all the above!

A.  What the city and the DDC would like to build, (regardless of whether it is the latest proposal, or a modified version of that) is, in their own words, a tourist attraction, attracting a couple hundred thousand more visitors each year.    The plan that is currently favored includes :

- building numerous more structures (for a total of 15) 

- over an expanse of perhaps 30 acres 

-  providing Stewards with office space

- providing visitors with gift shops and food vendors  

-  adding  parking for hundreds  more vehicles, 

-  and providing night lighting to cover the parking areas. 

B.   Who  could even stand up and make the argument that there will NOT be an adverse effect on  the wildlife, the flora and the pristine nature of the Preserve!?   

1.  NO effect on 25 species of mammals!   35 species of reptiles and       amphibians? 128 identified species of birds?

2.  NO effect on their habitat!?

3.  NO effect on their foraging patterns!?                                                            6.

4.  NO effect on the flora  and symbiotic nature of the Preserve!? 

5.  NO altering of the pristine nature of the land and the Preserve’s          scenic views….which was described in the city ordained history          book  as….. “unspoiled from the rigors of urban life”  ?

 C.  All of the above  WILL be affected; and ADVERSELY so !  

     1.   The natural habitat for many animals, and species will be altered. The        Preserve’s wildlife comes down from the mountains at           night,  through the washes to the lower areas of the Preserve, to find        prey.  What will they do when there are night time activities going on in       the Preserve,  with lighting flooding the parking area for 900 cars? ?       Might  these animals  even be diverted into residential communities, as        a result ?

-   Food waste from vendors  and  traffic could accelerate the disruption of natural foraging patterns , (as well as  turn the area into what looks  like…..a tourist attraction!)

2.   Let’s not forget….Protecting all of the above…. into perpetuity…. for       generations to come…  was indeed the main mission of creating a       Preserve!

13.  There are better locations available where a DDC could be built; sites that the city already owns , which are close to the Preserve, but not IN the Preserve.

Property by  West World, could accommodate a DDC as well as any extra parking which might be needed.  There are other city owned areas as well.  Shuttle service for hikers.

14.  There may be more innovative and culturally appropriate ways of fulfilling the educational objective that the DDC hopes to provide, that does not require any further build-outs within the Preserve.  Minimal, virtual reality stations by Preserve areas or items could allow visitors to use their cell phones to dial in and access informational material. This is the wave of the future and has already been successfully demonstrated in many tourist -oriented venues. This approach to enhancing an educational experience has many potential benefits. Specifically, it would be: 

-  far more cost effective

-  far less intrusive7.

-  far less disruptive  and harmful to the flora and fauna of the area

-  far less damaging to the pristine nature of the Preserve

-   and far less disrespectful to the people who paid to create a Preserve  into     perpetuity!

15. Finally, Citizens of Scottsdale may not want to use $75 MM of its city’s resources to build a DDC at all. The whole concept of spending  this much money on a Desert Discovery Center could  go to a citizen vote,  regardless of whether it is put in the Preserve or not.   There could be other, more important priorities in people’s minds.

This ends the Summary of Concerns as of 4/28/2016.  New entries may be added and dated accordingly.

Appendix A

VOTE # 1:   5/23/1995 Proposition 400;    (64% yea/36% nay)

       “Shall the city council be authorized to increase the rate of transaction privilege and use taxes in the city by two-tenths (.2) of one percent (1%), for a period of thirty (30) years, or less, to provide funds to supplement private efforts to acquire land for the Mcdowell Sonoran Preserve for the purpose of maintaining scenic views, preserving plant and wildlife, and supporting our largest industry, tourism, while providing appropriate public access and passive outdoor recreational opportunities for residents and visitors?”)   

  VOTE # 2 9/10/1996:  Scottsdale council asked voters for permission to sell revenue bonds (to get $$ in faster to buy privately owned land)

-  would be repaid from preservation tax.

Proposition 40474% yea/ 26 % Nay

“Shall the city council be authorized to approve bonds to acquire land for the Mcdowell Sonoran preserve, to be paid only from the proceeds of the two-tenths (.2%) of one percent (1%) transaction privilege and use tax which was approved by the voters at the special election held on may 23, 1995, for the purpose of acquiring such land.

Vote #3  11/3/98Proposition 410    81% yea/ 19% nay

City Charter amendment relating to designation, removal of designation and disposition of Preserve lands

A “YES” vote shall have the effect of providing for the designation of preserve lands, prohibiting disposition of preserve lands and limiting the removal of the preserve designation without a vote of the qualified electors.

A “NO” vote shall have the effect of making preserve lands subject to existing legal provisions relating to real property, including those relating to sale or transfer of interests in real property.

Vote # 4  11/3/98   

Ballot in which voters agreed to use preservation tax to buy surrounding desert lands. (36,400 acres)

-  critical to ensuring biological sustainability of land

-  AZ Game and Fish Dept. stated that this made the preserve the most significant natural habit in the region, after the Tonto Nat. Forest. 

Proposition 411   70% yea/  30% nay

      Allowing existing tax revenues designated for preserve land. to be used within the extended Preserve boundary 

A “YES” vote shall have the effect of allowing use of tax revenues designated to acquire preserve land to be used within the extended Study boundary

A “NO” vote shall have the effect of requiring that revenues designated to acquire preserve land be used only within the original recommended study boundary.

Vote # 5 Scottsdale voters approved issuance of bonds for preserve purchases 

“Save Our McDowells” Campaign

Q 1.9/7/199977% yea/ 23% nay

Shall the City of Scottsdale be authorized to issue and sell general obligation bonds of the City in an aggregate principal amount not exceeding $200,000,000 to provide funds for the purpose of acquiring land for the McDowell Sonoran Preserve or refinancing obligations incurred for that purpose and to pay all necessary legal, financial consulting and other related costs and fees in connection therewith; such bonds to be issued in one or more series, maturing not more than 25 years following the date of the issuance of each series, and bearing interest at a rate or rates not higher than 12% per annum?

Vote # 6 5/18/20042 questions

City had to go back to voters for the 6th time  for more $ and broader authority for using the preserve tax for access and improvements

-  1.  Provided funding from a 0.15 % sales tax increase for more land purchases AND for ”improvements” to that land

-  2.  Authorized sale of $500 MM gen obligation bonds to fund purchases of land and to construct amenities in the preserve

(p. 57 of  city approved history  (the People’s Preserve) suggests voters approved this to build trailheads, and  trails for public access .

Q 1 55% yea/  45% nay

“Shall the city of Scottsdale be authorized to impose and collect a special transaction privilege and use tax for a period of thirty (30) years at a rate equal to .15 percent (.15%) of the gross proceeds of sales or gross income from business in the city of Scottsdale to provide funds to be used solely for the general purposes of acquiring land and interests in land, and constructing improvements thereto, for the Mcdowell Sonoran preserve and paying related financing costs and fees in connection therewith?”

Q 258% yea/ 42% nay

“Shall the city of Scottsdale be authorized to issue and sell general obligation bonds of the city in an aggregate principal amount not exceeding five hundred million dollars ($500,000,000) to provide funds to be used for the purposes of acquiring land and interests in land, and constructing improvements thereto, for the Mcdowell Sonoran preserve, or refinancing obligations incurred for that purpose, and paying all necessary legal, financial consulting and other related costs and fees in connection therewith; such bonds to be issued in one or more series, maturing not more than thirty (30) years following the date of issuance of each such series, and bearing interest at a rate or rates not greater than ten percent (10%) per annum? this ballot proposition shall be inoperative and of no force or effect if ballot question number 1 above is not approved by a majority of the qualified electors of the city of Scottsdale voting at the election.”

 

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A Detailed Look at the DDC @ Gateway Trailhead
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