A few weeks ago, I sat down with Councilman Claude Mattox in his office on the 11th floor of City Hall and asked him questions about future development in Phoenix. I’ll be posting the interview in two parts. Part I is on Councilman Mattox’s views on Green Phoenix, City North, commuter rail, and attracting solar companies to our State. Councilman Mattox is running for Mayor in 2011.
Below is Part I of our conversation:
Blooming Rock: Tell me what your views are on the Green Phoenix plan and what your priorities would be to implement it if you get elected Mayor?
Councilman Mattox: I’ve been actively involved in all of our sustainability programs. My background, from a (Phoenix City) Council perspective is, I’ve been on or chaired the Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee and still do today. I’m also the immediate past chairman of the National League of Cities Natural Resources Committee where we work with national policy. I’ve been actively involved in those issues for quite a while. I’ve been on the Council for 11 years and for the entire 11 years I’ve been involved in some aspect of (sustainability).
As far as our particular programs are concerned, I think Phoenix is not recognized for what we have done from an environmental and sustainability perspective. I believe we are one of the more proactive cities in the country. Chicago and other cities like Seattle take those titles. But I think we’re just as aggressive and just as involved in our sustainability programs as any other city in the United States and perhaps in the world.
Now getting specific to our Green Phoenix plan, right now it’s focused on the Light Rail corridor because of the federal stimulus dollars. As you know, we were successful in getting some federal stimulus dollars and our partners are APS and ASU. There is a program to provide funding for both new (buildings) and also retrofitting existing buildings and homes within a ¼ mile on either side of the Light Rail. The whole focus of that is to focus on an area that we can use as a pilot project. If that is successful, we can expand the programs. We’re already looking at how we can expand this program and again with partners like SRP, APS and other utility companies on how we can provide better opportunities and better programs to the residents throughout the City of Phoenix. The ultimate goal is to wean ourselves off of coal-fired power plants and to generate more renewable power.
Everybody seems to be focused on the power side and that’s probably because the price of gas is going up and the associated problems with coal-fired power plants. But water has been a huge issue for Arizona and for Phoenix specifically. Proudly we can say that Phoenix has been, since the 1980s, on the front end of conservation, water reuse and water planning. That’s why we, even though a lot of people scream and yell about how we’re not doing enough, don’t have to do a lot, because we’ve done it on the front end. We’ve developed programs that have conserved enough water that we use less water today than we did back in the 1980s. Our per capita water usage is down almost 20%. That’s like banking 1/5 of your water. Even though we’ve grown, we’re still using the same amount of water we were using in the early 1990s.
People were asking, ‘why don’t you pay people to take their grass out’? Well there’s actually a reason that we don’t. One is why spend the money now when we don’t have to. The other is, if we ever got into a serious drought situation, we’re actually using that water for bank. So if we got into a serious drought situation, (then) we would tell people, you can’t water your yards any longer. Consequently, that would probably give us 20% more water. So we don’t need the water today. While we do bank the water, we pump it into the ground from the Colorado River, we don’t know ultimately when we try to get that water back, if all that water’s going to be there. Water’s one of those resources that you can’t keep for any length of time unless you can keep it away from the outside environment. So we do a lot of recharging of water. We reuse 90% of our water, from our 91st Ave. wastewater treatment plant. Part of that is that the cooling towers out at Palo Verde Nuclear Power plant use water that is from the wastewater treatment plant. We also trade water with the Roosevelt Irrigation District. It’s a 3 gallon to 2 gallon trade. They get 3 gallons of reused water, we get 2 gallons of raw water, raw water being from Colorado River or the Salt River Project or something to that effect.
We’ve been very creative in how to better plan and manage our water and we continue to do that. There were recently some articles in the paper about us (the City) subsidizing golf courses. We’re not really looking to subsidize golf courses. Golf courses are going to have to make improvements in order to take advantage of the dollars we were going to make available. But the other side of that is that golf courses have been very reluctant to allow us to look at their numbers and get a better understanding of their economic impact. Everyone talks about how golf courses are such a huge draw for the Valley, but we really don’t know what the economic impact of that is. If we get a better understanding of the economic impact, the business model, the better we’d know how important utilizing the water resource is to that industry and how much that benefits our overall economy. There’s a lot of different parts to that, but that’s all part of the sustainability discussion.
Blooming Rock: In the past we’ve been very growth oriented, what are your views on how Phoenix should grow?
Councilman Mattox: We’re not focused on how we grow up, we’re focused on how we grow out. Even though we’ve identified growth areas where we put in the infrastructure and we’re ready for that growth, there are still those developers that want to hop scotch that much further out and grow out further towards Lake Pleasant, towards North Phoenix, towards wherever. Ironically there is a lot of truth to the saying that water moves uphill to money. Because quite frankly, the developers will pay whatever it costs to get the water up there. But usually, we’re the ones (the City) who have to put up the infrastructure and we have to put in whatever is necessary to maintain that system. We have a huge existing infrastructure that’s already in place here in the Central Core area. As you slowly move outside of the Central Core area, into the first ring of suburbs, into the second ring of suburbs, right now I don’t know what ring of suburbs we’re into, we’re probably into 5 or 6 rings out now, (we don’t have existing infrastructure). In the central core area there’s a lot of open land, there’s a lot of existing infrastructure that we can continue to tap into at a minimal cost. It’s actually at minimal cost to the taxpayer, at virtually no cost to the taxpayers. We’ve run into some minor problems where you might have to reroute some lines or do something that might raise the water pressure which is an issue we’re dealing with over at the Biltmore area, or we run into some bottlenecks in the sewer system where we’ve had to reroute the sewer system. So there are some costs involved there, but in comparison of running a brand new line out in anticipation of how much development is going to happen in the hinterland so to speak, it makes more sense. From a sustainability perspective, it is much more sustainable to build where you’ve already got existing infrastructure and to build more density and to build up. And I support that. If Phoenix ever wants to become a real city, we’re going to have to face that issue.
Some of the arguments we’ve run into is why don’t you just build it (density) Downtown? We don’t want it here, build it downtown. We’ve kind of backed off building a lot of density say in the Biltmore/Camelback Corridor area, which is where a lot of the anti-density, anti-growth sentiment comes from. But the problem is that when we come into Downtown, we run into a different group of people who are saying the same thing. (For example,) the CityScape development, which is just on the verge of really opening up, there were opponents to that. They didn’t want to take out the old Patriot’s Park, even though there will be a replacement as part of that development that will be a replacement green space and park area. It will be sustainable and will be providing not just for the folks that will be working and living in the area, but will be open to the public in general with a lot of programming and things to that effect that will attract people into the Central City.
We regularly run into opponents that will tell you they hate sprawl, but don’t build in my back yard. The NIMBYs are everywhere. We don’t have to fight battles where there’s open desert. The battles we are fighting out there are people who go out there and build a house and they don’t want anybody else to move out there. It’s kind of ironic. I understand that you don’t want a 500 foot building next to your home, we need to be smart about how we develop that. But by the same token, I’ll use the City North case specifically, that (whole) issue was over sustainability. Most people don’t associate that with this (the City North) discussion. What we were looking to accomplish, what the City was working with the developer on in that case was, instead of having a development with a huge surface parking lot, like we see at all the malls all over the Valley, we entered into a performance agreement with them (the City North developers).
And I want to stress it was a performance agreement, which basically said, if you will build these multi-story parking garages, which provide shaded parking, as part of that deal we (the City) were going to get these spaces for a park and ride lot, so the city was getting some benefit out of it as well. But if you, developer, build these garages and this additional retail, and you don’t have all this surface parking, then you will generate an additional $100 Mil in sales tax revenue. And so what we will do for 10 years is that we will give 50% of that additional revenue back, because you’re making the investment of those additional parking garages and you’re making the investment of building these other retail buildings. You’re going to generate an additional $100 Mil, so instead of $100 Mil coming out of the development, we’re going to get $200 Mil coming out of the development. We’ll give your 50% back for ten years but to a maximum of a $100 Mil. So we were encouraging them to put more density on that land, to better utilize it so you don’t have a big heat island, and consequently generate to the City of Phoenix another $100 Mil a year in sales tax revenue.
Blooming Rock: Were they going to build out there anyway? I think the biggest problem people have is the location of City North. It’s not very central.
Councilman Mattox: They were going to build out there anyway.
Blooming Rock: So this deal was just mitigating the impact of this development?
Councilman Mattox: This was actually generating more revenue to the City and encouraging them (the developers) to do more as well. There was a business advantage for them to do this as well. In the long run, we were going to get sustainability, we were addressing some environmental issues, it was going to be a more sustainable development, it was going to generate considerably more sales tax dollars for the City of Phoenix and so it was a win for both sides. Unfortunately, the Goldwater Institute decided that they were going to challenge it. Ultimately we found that we had the authority to do that (the City North deal), we weren’t breaking any state laws. By that time, Goldwater Institute had pretty much killed the deal. So it is not going to be the same development that we originally planned. They’ve lost all of their major anchors. They were going to get Nordstroms, they were going to get all these class A retailers and then they all backed out. So we don’t know what they’re going to end up putting there. It’s unfortunate, very unfortunate. That was going to be a sustainable-type development, and the whole idea was to do away with surface parking lots and encourage people to utilize transit with the park and ride at that location. It was about density, while obviously, it’s out there, it was still about developing a sort of dense, urban, mixed-use with retail, restaurants, and offices and hotels and residential developments. For Phoenix, it was the type of development I’d like to see happen more frequently. It was just unfortunate that it was made a lightening rod. So we may end up seeing a surface parking lot out there.
Blooming Rock: What would you like to see in terms of transit in Phoenix?
Councilman Mattox: Obviously, an expansion of our Light Rail system. We’re currently talking about the west arm, we’re talking about going into south Phoenix, there’s discussion about taking it out to the 51 into Paradise Valley area. There’s talk about going further north into North Phoenix and perhaps tying ASU West into the system in which you have all three of the ASU campuses (connected) on the Light Rail. There are a lot of discussions about it, the problem is obviously the funding mechanism, the dollars. It’ll come with time.
Ultimately, we’re going to have to look at commuter rail. Because with the Sun Corridor, which in my opinion is going to happen, you’re going to have people living south of Tucson, all the way down in Nogales, all the way into Prescott, and all the way out to Wickenburg and beyond, Florence and Pinal County. A lot of those folks are going to be commuting into Phoenix since we’re the state capitol. Just as they do in southern California. As we get more and more Sun Corridor-type of development, in this megalopolis, then we’re going to need to have other forms of transportation. And commuter rail makes a lot of sense. Now how is that commuter rail going to manifest itself? That I don’t know yet. In Europe, in some parts of the US, you have electric-powered commuter rail, which generates virtually no exhaust, and the pollution is at the source. If we are successful at doing more renewable energy facilities, then you don’t even have pollution at the source any more. That is probably a more realistic alternative.
But people don’t like to see those power lines all over the place. You’ve got to get the power from point A to point B, that’s going to be an issue that’s going to have to be addressed. We all love the view of the mountains, and we want it unobstructed, we want it pristine and picturesque. If we want to get off of coal, then we’re going to have to look at (solar) electricity as the alternative power source. And that requires that you have power lines that run from the generating station into the system, we can’t continue to overload the existing grid. We’re going to have to put in extra power lines to handle the excess power.
Blooming Rock: What do you think the solar future of Arizona is? Are there programs in place to attract solar to Phoenix and to Arizona?
Councilman Mattox: Just recently the state passed laws that gave incentives to bring solar companies to Arizona on the generation side as well as the manufacturing side. We should have done this 20 years ago. But we have a legislature that thinks the market should dictate. While we’re standing on that principle, Germany and Spain and California and other states here in the US are offering huge incentives for companies to locate (there), to do research and development and do manufacturing, and basically move forward with solar programs. (Places like) Germany and the Netherlands are very quickly moving off of fossil fuel power generation, and (are) focusing on solar, on wave, on wind, and (other) renewable sources of energy. And we’re standing on economic principles that are putting us at a disadvantage. So our legislature is a lot of the issue that we’re dealing with. The City is very progressive on that type of things and we’re willing to invest in it. But there’s a limited amount of money we have to invest. So we depend on the state to provide us with other tools for our tool box so to speak. They’ve been very slow to provide that legislation to give us the tools for us to be successful. It’s very interesting, when they do make these sort of decisions, it’s like a light goes on and they go, ‘oh this works!’. (And we say,) ‘well, yeah, we knew it would. Why did it take you 10 years to decide?’ So that’s a very frustrating problem that we have to deal with.
If we can continue to maintain this, we just saw the legislature let the motion picture tax credit sunset. So the motion picture industry is going to Nevada or going into Mexico or staying in California or looking at alternative places where they will get those types of tax breaks that they were getting here in Arizona. So we’ll end up losing millions of dollars in revenue, because we didn’t want to give those tax breaks. We’re pennywise and pound foolish in that regard. We have some very short-sighted individuals that make those types of decisions and they’re preventing us from moving forward with economic development opportunities and sustainaing economic development programs that we have. Solar, hopefully, will not be one of those that falls into that circumstance. If it doesn’t, then we’ve got tons of land, huge parcels out there, that can be utilized for that purpose (solar power generation).
Photo Credit: City North. Photo from activerain.com.Tags: 2011, aps, arizona state legislature, asu, City North, claude mattox, commuter rail, Goldwater Institute, green phoenix, mayor of phoenix, power lines, roosevelt irrigation district, solar power, srp, sun corridor, water usage