Log in

Guest Commentary

McLaren: Takeaways from recent Scottsdale council decisions


I attended the May 16 study session that the city council conducted.

The council also approved the proposed fiscal year 2023-24 tentative budget. The budget is the primary tool that governs how the city moves forward in the coming year and also sets the stage for the four following years.

It is by far the most important policy document that the council considers and approves each year. This year’s budget is proposed at $2.533 billion, that’s with a “b” for a lot of money! Granted the council has had presentations and seen the numbers prior to this hearing, but one would hope that they would be a little more curious about some of the details.

David Smith, a former councilman and former city treasurer questioned the waiver of a financial policy that sets forth the allocation of the bed tax. The one-time waiver would allow the use of bed tax funds to exceed the policy limit of $600,000 per commitment. This waiver was applied to five projects totaling $9.2 million.

The total allowed under the financial policy would have been $3 million. This is some waiver! In addition will it be a one-time waiver? You would have thought there would be some discussion by council members on this topic? There was not a question or comment by any councilperson about blowing through a policy by over 300%!

The questioning and intense interest was reserved for the so-called Road Diets called out in the Transportation Action Plan. City staff did an admirable presentation of the issue and the police and fire chiefs assured the council that their departments are closely involved in all the design issues regarding any project that alters city streets. They both assured the council that the safe passage of their vehicles is of prime concern and that these issues are resolved prior to any construction.

Some council members are still insistent that this issue be put on the ballot.

There are only a handful of projects that are possible contenders for any roadway modifications. One of those is the 68th Street project, which is currently under construction and the proposed Thomas Road project will be considered by council in the near future.

The total amount of funds expected to be expended on 68th and Thomas is $6.2 million out of a total of $416.7 million on other transportation projects.

These so-called Road Diets are only proposed when minor modifications to the roadway make the roadway safer for all users. In no circumstances are the outside curb and gutters modified and safety of all users is paramount.

The projects are done in conjunction with the regularly scheduled maintenance of the roadway. They represent a very small fraction of funds expended on transportation projects. The amount of exaggerated rhetoric generated by this topic is not warranted by the facts on the ground.

There appears to be a desire in some circles to exacerbate an issue for the sake of confrontation. Councilmember Graham was particularly hostile in his inquisitional approach when questioning city staff with regard to their knowledge of similar projects in other communities.

Staff laid out a cogent argument that the construction of the freeway system in and around the city has resulted in generally steady traffic volumes over the last years, even with continued development and re-development. It was also noted that most of the major roadway improvements that have been planned for decades will be completed by the mid-2020s. Traffic volumes do need to measured and reported in a standard manner.

This is an issue that the council can consider on a case-by-case basis and all agree that public input is important. I agree with Mayor Ortega when he said that our street system gives one a sense of place when one experiences our transportation street system. Whenever folks who have never been to Scottsdale see our streets, they are always impressed. One can tell also the difference when driving in adjacent communities.