As we prepare to welcome 2019 it might be interesting to reflect on what happened in 2018 as it was a monumental year for the citizens of Scottsdale.
First on the negative side, long time activist, and leader of the Coalition of Pinnacle Peak (COPP), Bob Vario died in December. COPP had a major impact on the city and in particular on the makeup of the city council and as a result of their efforts we had a council that did listen to citizens and often voted with citizens, not against them. So COPP, and Bob, will be sorely missed. Somehow we have to try to recreate what they did.
On the positive side, there was a major battle over the development in the Preserve with 4 members of the city council, and a powerful well connected organization backed by power and money, wanting to build a tourist attraction in the Preserve. Two citizen groups formed, determined to prevent that from happening. One group, Protect Our Preserve, put together a change to the city Charter that would require a public vote to build anything in the Preserve and/or use any of the Preserve funds for anything other than land acquisition or finishing trails, then formed a Political Action Committee (Protect Our Preserve PAC), and with the help of the NoDDC group gathered enough signatures to put that Charter change on the ballot, all in about 5 months. Over 300 Scottsdale citizens, from all over the city, were involved in this effort, contributing their time and money to get this Charter change on the ballot and passed. A little over 24,000 signatures from registered Scottsdale voters were required and over 37,000 were collected to insure there would be at least 24,000 signatures declared valid by the county. Over 30,000 were declared as valid, easily passing the threshold. It became Proposition 420 on the November ballot. However the battle wasn’t over as the people, who wanted this attraction in the Preserve, mounted an extensive, well funded, negative campaign to confuse voters and get them to vote no. In the end, thanks to exceptional media efforts by the Protect Our Preserve PAC and so many volunteers talking to voters, voters saw through all that and approved the Charter change by over 71% to 29%, a significant margin. It also won big in EVERY voting precinct in the entire city, a landslide victory that also showed the entire city was united at least on this issue.
But that isn’t all. In the process, residents found out they have a lot in common regardless of where they live in the city, what age they are, what religion they follow, and even what their political affiliation is. The community rallied and became united to not only protect their Preserve, but to also start to change the makeup of the city council to give themselves a voice in government. Residents found out that they weren’t alone in being concerned about overdevelopment in the city that is destroying their quality of life. Another point citizens found they were united on. As a result, two resident friendly council candidates sailed to victories by large margins, in EVERY voting precinct in the city, again showing that unity. Kathy Littlefield was reelected capturing first place in 51 of 53 voting precincts and Solange Whitehead, who started with Protect Our Preserve and then had to resign to run for city council to give us a 2nd resident friendly council member to vote for, came in second in 46 of 53 precincts and first in the only two Kathy wasn’t first in. So as a result of this monumental grass roots effort to protect our Preserve we now will have a vote on any development proposed for the Preserve and will also have two or three city council members who will definitely represent us.
This Proposition 420 effort was the most successful grass roots effort I have ever witnessed, much less been a part of, and I have to say I am encouraged, by the unity and resolve our entire community showed. I have been told it was a historic event for Scottsdale, never before been attempted much less been successful. A group of determined citizens beat the odds, all the rules established by the state to make citizen ballot initiatives impossible, powerful well funded opposing groups that staged a horrible negative campaign, and an arrogant city council majority intent on building whatever they wanted in our Preserve. This effort also united the city’s residents, another first. Attempts to divide the city to defeat Proposition 420 didn’t work at all. It showed residents all over the city that they can accomplish anything if they work together.
Will the political landscape change as a result of this year’s activity? Only time will tell but it is a great start. Residents are more energized, engaged, and united than they have ever been, so the key is to keep that interest and momentum into the 2020 elections. The Preserve was a pivotal and emotional issue that brought so many people together, and once that happened they realized they had a lot more in common. So as we enter the new year, for the first time in a long time there is hope for 2019 and beyond, at least in Scottsdale. The city has some major problems to solve, but at least for now residents seem to be united in what they want and they realize changing the makeup of the council has to be a priority.
Have a Happy New Year and welcome 2019!