Today’s post is a continuation of my interview with Greg Stanton, the Deputy Attorney General who is thinking about running for Mayor of Phoenix in 2011. Read yesterday’s installment of the interview here.
Blooming Rock: Mayor Gordon has this Green Phoenix plan. What do you think are the key aspects of becoming a green city?
Greg Stanton: When I was chair of the committee that I talked about, (I oversaw) the carbon emissions plan of Central Phoenix. The Mayor’s plan I think is a good ambitious plan. We ought to always be looking for ways to be more environmentally friendly, all big cities need to do that . That’s a great ambitious plan. But that was a specific plan to reduce carbon emissions. We required upon ourselves the same requirements that the (Arizona) Corporation Commission has for utilities in the state of Arizona. It was a very specific time line and a specific amount of carbon emissions that would have to be reduced in the city of Phoenix . That’s an achievable goal. And it’s not based on going after the federal stimulus dollars or anything like that. We should be chasing after as much of the federal stimulus as we can and we should be being as tough on ourselves as possible, relative to green policies. We’ve got to make sure that what we’re doing is not a plan that’s put on the shelf and it looks nice and urban planners will look at it a decade from now and say, ‘man that was a nice plan, too bad it never got implemented’. We actually have to have a plan that’s ambitious but achievable. That’s what we’ve got to be going after too, it’s not one of the other.
Blooming Rock: As far as carbon emissions go, obviously that’s going to imply that we reduce our car usage. I know Phoenix has been car centric forever and probably will be. What are your plans on making it more transit-oriented, more walkable, more bike-able and less car centric?
Greg Stanton: I grew up in a transit family, a Phoenix transit family. My dad took the bus to work every single day for 25 years. We actually had a better bus system in the 70s than we do now and the reason is we were a more compact city. So there was less area to cover and there were more routes. Growing up in a working-class family we could only afford one car. If my mom took the car, my dad took the bus. That’s how it worked. We couldn’t have made it without a vibrant transit system.
In Ahwatukee we had what was called the local Explorer system (Alex), a community bus system which has now been moved across the city. It was a van that drove around the city and it became cool amongst teenagers to ride the Alex from their home to the movies. It was a free system. Some people question why were you having a free bus system. It’s because you are building your future ridership today! Whatever social stigma may or may not be attached to the bus system and again I grew up in a transit family and there was never one for me, but I know some people think that (way). Let’s blow it up! We can do things that make transit ridership a popular, heck, even a cool thing to do. I saw it (happen) in Ahwatukee Foothills.
The idea is if you maximize the options for commuters or people who want to come to Downtown for an arts and culture event and if it’s more convenient for them to use alternative transportation, they are going to do it. There will be some people who’ll want to take the Light Rail because it’s just part of who they are, and I love that. But probably for the vast majority of people, if taking alternative transportation is more convenient than driving their car, then that makes a lot of sense. That’s kind of my philosophy on it. We shouldn’t create false debates, we should actually create the maximum number of alternative transportation options. If I decide to run and I win, I will be a huge advocate for public transportation. That’s part of how I grew up, it’s who I am as a person.
Blooming Rock: What are your views on historic preservation? Thus far, we’ve done a pretty bad job with historic preservation. What would be your plan to preserve what we have?
Greg Stanton: I built up a reputation in the Council as someone who was known to be an advocate of historic preservation. I’ve seen what I would consider magic to happen with historic preservation when I was involved in asking the U of A School of Medicine to come to Phoenix. The decision to save the Phoenix Union High School buildings on Van Buren was not done to put the Medical School there. It’s a little known fact. And Mayor Gordon was excellent on this issue by the way. The decision was made that something special was going to happen and we needed to save those buildings, to put the resources into them and we did. Some people in the City staff were not supportive of it at and they were asking what are we doing here, what’s the plan? Because those buildings were so centrally located, so attractive physically and charming it became an attractive thing for the University of Arizona. And when I say magic happened, we have the spectacular marriage of modern medicine and a historic building.
What do we need to do (with historic preservation)? Make it a priority. Historic preservation should not be a secondary priority within the City, like, oh that’s kind of nice, let’s put it off in the corner and show a few pictures once in a while. We need to understand that preserving our history sends a message of who we are and it is an economic development message. People want to live in an interesting place. And cities that have done a good job with historical preservation generally are considered attractive places for people to live particularly in the center city where most of these buildings are. Similar to the arts I would consider my support for historic preservation to be one of the true understanding that a city that knocks down its historic buildings is ultimately not a place that people are going to want to move to. A city that respects a sense of history is a more attractive place.
When I was in the Council we made Murphy Bridle path on Central Avenue historic, including the trees! People think that’s silly, but it’s part of Phoenix history. I actively opposed Proposition 207, the so-called Private Property Rights Protection Act. It basically says you can’t do anything to a person’s property that might detrimentally affect its property values. And I still oppose Proposition 207. The biggest harm caused by it is to historic preservation because we lost a lot of flexibility to designate things as appropriately historic. I think we’re going to regret that. One of the things I’m going to do, if I’m lucky enough to be elected mayor, is be an advocate explaining why something like Proposition 207 can hurt our long term goals, our long term economic development goals, especially historic preservation.
Another thing by the way that you’re going to need from the mayor is someone to protect and stand up for the historic neighborhoods. Not just to protect their essential character, making sure there isn’t zoning that harms it, but also that the Legislature is working to make sure that the tax credit is preserved. That’s critically important. People don’t move to certain neighborhoods to take advantage of certain tax credits. I would argue that the cost of maintaining a historic neighborhood or a historic house is high, so there is actually a policy rationale for doing so.
Blooming Rock: What’s your stance on the reversible lanes?
Greg Stanton: I’m someone who generally respects the City staff. I’ve worked with them for nine years, I think they give their recommendations on good faith reasons so we really have to respect what their opinion is. With regard to the reversible lanes, the staff position was that there’s still enough traffic being carried on 7th Street and 7th Avenue that it’s a real issue. We’ve got to come to terms with it as a real issue, and if we got rid of them, it would result in more cut-through traffic in the neighborhoods. I’m a huge proponent of traffic mitigation, reducing the amount of cut-through traffic, speed humps and traffic diverted.
The City of Phoenix Traffic Department shouldn’t have as a main goal (just) to move traffic but also to protect neighborhoods. So I use that as a base. When staff comes forward and says, you’re going to double the commute time and therefore end up with more cars cutting through neighborhoods I took heed of that. I didn’t want to just automatically reject that. I’m aware that there’s a huge amount of cut-through right now, and it’s something we have to come to terms with and have to fix. I don’t want to do anything that’s going to harm (the neighborhoods).
I know the city is looking at it. I always keep an open mind, as well I should. I’ve learned that you never close your mind to anything. I’m looking forward to the results of the group that’s getting together to study it. But when making public policy, you have to make sure you look at all the angles. You’ve got to make sure you don’t do more harm than good in what you’re trying to achieve. The reason why we need (the reversible lanes) is because our city was built with the major arterials almost as freeways unto themselves because we didn’t have a freeway system. Our forefathers didn’t want a freeway system. They wanted Phoenix to be different. That ultimately was a mistake not to have a vibrant freeway system. There’s a reason why there’s so much traffic on our major arterials.
I would agree that the signage isn’t what it should be. It’s worth investing in, if as a community we decide they stay, that we have lights or something, not just written signage that makes it more instinctual to know whether or not it’s ok to go or not to go.
Blooming Rock: What about the impact on the small businesses along those streets? Basically those streets will never be as walkable or accessible when those lanes are reversible. How do we mitigate that, that impact on the small businesses along those streets?
Greg Stanton: First of all, I totally respect all those small businesses and appreciate the fact that they decided to locate in Central Phoenix. And I go to a lot of them. I enjoy the coffee shops along 7th Avenue, they’re really cool. I guess my answer to that question is that we don’t want to do anything to harm the neighborhoods and I’m cognizant of that. At least according to staff now, (eliminating the reversible lanes) would result in additional cut-through traffic when nobody wants additional cut-through traffic.
Are there ways we can get accessibility to those businesses? Maybe we look at the times, if we decide to keep them, maybe the times right now don’t reflect what real rush hour is. Maybe (rush hour) is significantly limited. I know (the reversible lanes are in effect) 6-9am, but I’m not sure that 6-9am is still the real commute time in Phoenix. That’s something we could look at: how long of a period of time do the reversible lanes go into effect? I guess I’m open to anything. That’s my general attitude is to keep an open mind. I know there’s a whole philosophy that if you’re on an arterial street you get a whole lot more eyeballs on your signage so hopefully a lot of the people who’re coming from Moon Valley and other parts of Phoenix stop in the next time they’re driving through that area. I don’t have a complete answer to that. I just don’t want to do something that would result in more harm than good.
Blooming Rock: I think we have limited public engagement. People here don’t seem to be involved in the community or engaged as much. What advice would you give people about getting involved, getting engaged, getting to know who’s running for Mayor and things like that?
Greg Stanton: The universe of people who are actively involved in government/policy stuff for a city our size is an incredibly small universe. We often end up seeing the same people serving on these various boards and commissions. I see that as a problem and we really need to reach out in a much broader way to get different people, more people, new people involved in the city process. Our city was built on it being a very public process, I think that should be reflected not only in the number of committees but also on the diversity and the wide swath of people who serve on those committees. I think that’s one thing you would see from me is a much deeper involvement in the community, reaching out and asking for new people to serve. On the various boards and commissions that give advice to the City I don’t want to look at the membership and almost know in advance what the answer’s going to be. Surprise me, that’s what the point is. I listened to my citizen boards and recommending bodies. I felt they were closer to the ground than I was and that it was appropriate to do that. I think people need to have confidence in their leadership that they will listen to them, that they’re not wasting their time serving on various boards and committees. So when they give a recommendation, unless there’s a good reason to go against, we should listen to it.
A dirty little secret about the mayor’s job is that the system is set up as a weak mayor system. We have a strong city manager system. We are the largest city manager form of government in the country. Every other city our size has a different form of government. I don’t advocate that we should change our form of government. It works. But you realize that the mayor is one vote of nine. The mayor doesn’t have veto power. The mayor can’t hire or fire anybody. The Council as a group can only hire and fire one person, and that’s the city manager.
So you know what happens when a new mayor comes in? He or she gets to hire a few people on his or her staff. But guess what else? Nothing changes! It’s the same police chief, it’s the same fire chief, the same planning director, etc. The mayor doesn’t oversee that. I actually think that’s a strength of our system. The reason why I bring that up is that the real strength of the mayor is (number one), the ability to build consensus among the Council to move in the direction that you would like the city to move in and number two the ability to build support in the community. That the community supports your vision for the city (is important) and if you keep talking to the same old people, you’re not going to build that basis of support. You’re only going to do that once you’re out there in the community. The mayor’s job is not one, especially in Phoenix, where you just sit in an office. If you sit in the office all day, you’ve wasted a day. Your job is to be out in the community, listening to people, talking to people, getting their ideas, hopefully encouraging them to serve on boards and commissions and when they do, listen to their ideas. I think that makes for a stronger and better, not only mayor, but an entire city. In a weird way, that attracts me to the mayor’s job. It’s not Chicago where it’s a strong mayor form of government where he hires a bunch of political cronies. It doesn’t work that way in Phoenix. Phoenix is a very different culture, and it should remain so. I think that’s the strength of our city, not a weakness.
So right now I work for the Attorney General, and my number one goal is to help him. I think he would be an outstanding Governor if that were to work out. The election is in November, and I think Terry Goddard would be an outstanding governor. He’s so honest and ethical, in fact, what makes him such a good elected official, both as mayor and as Attorney General, probably makes it harder for him to campaign in 30-second sound bites because he really is a very substantive person. So that’s my main priority and I’m still in the mode of thinking about (running for mayor).
Photo Credit: Murphy’s Bridle Path on north Central Avenue. Photo from Phoenix Daily Photo.Tags: 7th avenue, 7th street, alternative transportation, city manager, form of city government, green phoenix, Greg Stanton, historic preservation, Metro Light Rail, phil gordon, Phoenix Union High School, Proposition 207, public engagement, reversible lanes, Terry Goddard, transit oriented, U of A School of Medicine