Carefree Votes

In healthy democracies multiple viewpoints are always welcome, and there’s been no shortage regarding the important upcoming August 2nd Carefree elections. A combination of facts, lies, hyperboles and innuendos, are intertwined. Discussions are generally persuading voters of the advantages of the new candidates representing future directions, grit and novel ideas, versus the experienced old guard’s entrenched operations. Both have positive and negative aspects to their candidacies. Since the future of our unique Carefree hangs in the balance, I encourage all to cautiously examine these differences.

As I read the Foothills Focus, Sonoran News and City Sun Times letters to the editors, the entrenched hurl negatives toward their competitors, the newcomers. These comments are clearly aimed at promoting the incumbents’ status quo and stoking voter fears of change. After all, their years in office already provide name recognition. So why besiege voters 3-4 times per week with articles, full-page team advertisements and mailings extolling the virtues of experience? How many of the current council had prior political experience before running for election or being named to fill sudden vacancies?  Experience does count, but, after we’ve experienced them, we want to be done with them. 

Incumbents can be reluctant to resist the rest of the crowd on their team, instead becoming rubber stamps for the influential. Why break from the prevailing plans? Maintain ‘loyalty’ regardless of personal beliefs, with conclusions arrived at during executive closed sessions, conveniently excluding the input of the citizenry. An incumbent councilor recently wrote a defense for these sessions as “things that cannot be disclosed publicly due to the sensitive nature of those concerns.” The old guard have also been characterized in letters as our protectors preventing runaway Town employees from taking advantages in their implementation of duties. Also, construction developers have written support for them, describing their close involvement with, and ties to the established. It appears that the bread and butter of their businesses are linked to maintaining the tenure of their possible employers. 

In contrast, new candidates are not bound to local power brokers, preordained designs, or the dominant political pressures. They can bring more debate to issues instead of passing most unanimously, and can reveal the real reasons behind the entrenched’s decision-making process. They are willing to encourage votes on big projects by the citizens, rather than learning about internal council decisions retroactively after it’s too late. This is especially important regarding changes permanently altering Carefree’s environment, infrastructure, and budget. What’s to stop those now in authority from continuing to make future judgements unilaterally without the vote of the citizens, if we don’t stop them in this election?

The ‘experienced,’ are convinced they know what’s best for us? Why urge referenda for the townspeople to vote upon, and risk mucking up their plans? The new council candidates and Peter Sample for Mayor are genuinely concerned about the unbridled, unknown benefits of massive spending – to create revenue according to incumbents. To the contrary, the new candidates are looking out for Carefree residents by promoting direct ballot involvement. 

Mayoral candidate Peter Sample made an unsuccessful attempt to arrange a debate at Desert Foothills Library with Vice Mayor John Crane. Apparently, holding a debate in a neutral location like the DFL, was disliked by the Vice Mayor, preferring a Carefree location in a Town church. More importantly, Crane was also opposed to getting questions directly from the audience, as preferred by Sample for a more direct responsive process. Instead Crane wanted questions submitted before hand. Crane’s preference would have promoted predetermined answers preventing the embarrassment of spontaneity. He feared the open “format could potentially devolve into a free for all.” A moderator could have prevented such audience interference? These dodges from debating are not unusual among incumbents!

As an abutter directly and dramatically affected by the Council’s plans for the 21-acre northwest corner of Tom Darlington and Carefree Highway, I can speak to the confusion prompted by Town misinformation. Their designs for a second multistory, multinational chain hotel were originally portrayed by Carefree’s Economic Development Director, during our initial meeting of abutters in April 2021, as a “quaint boutique resort,” similar to the 43 hacienda-type at Hermosa Inn of Paradise Valley. The word “boutique” is used frequently by our decision-makers, when making pitches for major projects, so they sound unobtrusive and charming. Regretfully, the plan devolved over months into a gigantic,175-180 rooms, twice the size of the multistory, 90-room Hampton within Carefree’s former ‘quaint boutique’ center, where golden arches alone cost Carefree almost $400,000. (By the way, Hampton can now boast of hiring about 20 locals presently.) The majority of abutter attendees were awe struck, as most anticipated the owner would sell 2-acre lots for residential development of about 12-13 homes. To coax our acceptance of a mega-hotel, we were warned 2-story home(s) could also be built obscuring our views of the iconic “Boulder Stack” on Darlington. We responded, why would someone build an expensive home to gaze down upon the traffic and emergency vehicles on Darlington/Carefree Highway. Then we were told “many people” were in favor of this second hotel/resort. But a vote of approximately 40 resident attendees showed only one in favor of the hotel – coincidentally, a friend of the land owner. We were then advised the hotel’s presence would encourage desperately needed revenue from tourist sales tax at center restaurant and retail establishments. This overlooked the fact that most hotels/resorts have their own guest packages with self-contained dining and souvenir shops, so that customers do not have to leave, just relaxing in place. Additionally, Carefree’s many center buildings remain empty, and unattractive to tourists. 

Incumbents should demonstrate more concern with the water usage of these huge hotels and our future water resources? The Vice Mayor recently wrote about his water concerns in the CitySunTimes – “Carefree — Managing Drought.” He describes the “desert Southwest . . . as the most severe drought in 1,200 years . . . a climactic change.” More recently, the Carefree Water Department Director wrote an article in the Sonoran News, “Stepping Up Water Conservation Efforts.”  Given the dire forecasts by these Town officials, clearly residential development would be wiser than colossal hotels.

Voting yes to term limits would encourage continuing infusions of thinking outside the box for Carefree, and a more inclusive, positive political climate. Anyone can run for political office regardless of their background. After all, we have seen a reality show host become president, an actor become president, and currently a news station personality run for governor in AZ. Only one, Ronald Reagan, had previous political experience.

Does the excuse for headstrong development justify the power holders’ imagined sales tax-centric revenue? Building grand, increasingly water-demanding hotels, permanently altering the Carefree landscape, to the detriment of all residents and property values, is short sighted. Rather, redeveloping the empty businesses in the center would generate the desired sales tax without the imagined success of risky hotel developments. Remember, any business venture can fade and deteriorate. Have you shopped at El Pedregal lately? We could be stuck with more monstrous, empty towers. 

Additionally, in the proposed Town center redevelopment unanswered questions persist. Private business owners may reject investing in improvements, and can’t be forced into redesign of their businesses. These valuable spaces may merely be vacant, unappealing income tax business loss deductions. Simultaneously, incumbents warn us that a property tax may still be in the near-term. If so, then why do they push the sales tax-centric benefits generated by ripping up every open corner of Carefree. If they foresee a property tax, it might also spur action by the center merchants to pick their act up, or vacate and make room for new spark.

Carefree residents are now encumbered with a $32 million long-term debt to be paid through our already high water bills. Meanwhile, incumbents warn us of the costs of ripping out the in-construction reservoir, while ignoring the implications of the future outrageous expense they have imposed. What additional costs will the incumbents push through in the future, if not checked now? 

Current Carefree leaders promise open, transparent decision-making processes. But transparency has actually evolved only as layers have been peeled back by concerned citizenry. If the Carefree voters had merely been allowed to weigh in through a referendum on the reservoir, trust and ownership might have been created – whatever the consequences of the vote. Carefree politicians wouldn’t need to have any concern about their internal, closed decision imposing a financial burden upon us. On the other hand, getting everything instantly “dug in” certainly benefits them, as they warn us about projected expenses involving a reversal. 

Intentionally, this water infrastructure, reservoir project is meant to encourage additional commercialization at the 27-acre northeast Cave Creek Road/Carefree Highway corner. It will also bring water to approximately 500 Carefree residents in that sector, currently served by Cave Creek. This development was previously crushed by the lack of water provisions by Carefree. Today again, without a vote on this envisioned development, nearby property owner opinions are neglected, about trading water for commercialization, similar to the above-discussed 21-acre northwest corner. Some residents across from the Lowes corner have expressed their dislike of the Ordinance 2018-06 setting business design parameters. According to one current councilor, these include 5 drive-through pads,, “such as banks, coffeeshops, drugstores like CVS and restaurants such as Chipotle,” . . . separated from residential areas by “a landscaped 2-foot berm with a six-foot block wall . . . with 50-foot offsets along” the residential border. Is this plan adequate to protect opposed property owners from what is essentially a strip mall? 

We are all currently coping with the bizarre traffic detours on Darlington near the in-construction reservoir. Consider the traffic that will be generated in Town by the 90-room and 180-room hotels, as guests circumnavigate around Carefree Highway, Cave Creek Road, Tom Darlington Road and Black Mountain. We need candidates, who will be responsive toward constituent voting before making unalterable decisions.   I don’t think we want to be converted into a  cookie-cutter town of empty center shops, typical budget hotels and transient VRBO rentals.

Arthur J. Veves