Today’s post is part II of my interview with Councilman Claude Mattox who is running for Mayor in 2011. If you missed part I of the interview, catch it here.
Below is the rest of our conversation:
Blooming Rock: This is a question I’m sure you get a lot, what are your views on the reversible lanes?
Councilman Mattox: My view of the reversible lanes is that they function the way they are designed. In lieu of having another freeway that runs north and south, they decided to do this (the reversible lanes) 40 years ago. My official position has and continues to be: you show me an alternative to that and I’ll support an alternative to that. But without an alternative, if you eliminate those reversible lanes, you’re going to increase drive times which means more cars sitting at stop lights basically polluting the air.
You’re going to increase cut-through traffic through the neighborhoods which I think a lot of people don’t think is going to happen but it’s going to. Because the longer you end up waiting at a light, the more you look for alternative routes to get to where you need to go in a timely fashion. So I am a proponent of the reversible lanes. I am open to the discussion of an alternative, but if we the City decide that we are going to eliminate the reversible lanes, then I think in the long run, those who have been advocating for this, will realize that that probably wasn’t a good move. I don’t think once we remove them we’re going to put them back into place.
Blooming Rock: What about the negative impact on the small businesses along 7th Ave. and 7th St.?
Claude Mattox: Well I don’t disagree that there are negative impacts but a lot of these businesses have opened up when the reversible lanes were (already) in existence. So from a business person’s perspective, that should have been part of their due diligence. To move in after the fact and now say, hey wait a minute, this is hurting my business, you know…shame on you businessman.
I understand Councilman Simplot’s position, that he wants Melrose place, that he wants 7th Ave. to be successful and I do too. But, by the same token, it doesn’t do any good if people are stuck in traffic. They may have easier access into your business, that may be good for you, but people may decide to go in a completely different direction and not even go to your business anymore because it’s so congested on 7th St. or 7th Ave. during rush-hour.
Blooming Rock: Do you think that at least we should get better signage?
Claude Mattox: I don’t disagree with that. The only problem we have with that right now just has to do with funding. Personally, I’m an advocate for making 7th Ave. and 7th St. reversible one ways. Make them one way going in in the morning and make them one way going out at night. The problem is that people will go the wrong way, you’ll have a couple of head on collisions and that’ll be the end of that. From a signage perspective, if there’s a better way to control that, then I’m a proponent of any way that we can make it safer. A lot of it has to do with people just not watching what they’re doing. They’re too busy talking on their cell phone.
A lot of the issues we have on the 7s have to do with people just not watching what they’re doing. I do understand the frustration and the difficulty for the businesses in the area, but by the same token, how much of their business occurs during rush hour? I don’t know the answer to that, but usually I don’t know a lot of businesses that are open at 6am in the morning, maybe convenience stores, gas stations, coffee shops. What you want to do is if you’re a coffee shop business, make sure your business is on the morning side of the traffic flow. And say, for going home you want the grocery stores and the convenience stores and the gas stations and the things of that nature (to be on the evening side of traffic).
Again, business people need to do their due diligence. And if they opened up after the reverse lanes were in place, and didn’t realize that that might have an impact on their business, and now they’re complaining about it, while I understand their frustration, I find it difficult to say that we need to change something that will affect literally tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people, in the long run. I will say hundreds of thousands, because it’s not just the commuters, it’s the people living in those neighborhoods that are going to be impacted by those types of changes. I’ve found those south of Camelback have a serious problem, those north of Camelback have less of a problem. Camelback seems to be the dividing line.
Blooming Rock: In the past we haven’t been very good at historic preservation, we tear down old buildings and build new. What is your view on historic preservation and what would you do as Mayor to advocate for historic preservation?
Claude Mattox: I support historic preservation. If we’re going to preserve a historic building, then I think it needs to look as close to the original as possible. Does that require that you use the original types of windows and things to that effect? Not necessarily. But it shouldn’t be where instead of your normal residential-type windows, you put in huge storefront types of windows. To me, that changes the whole character of the building.
In some cases, I believe you need to allow some variances because things have changed. An example, a friend of mine bought a historic home. This historic home, it had a one car garage and a one-car driveway. But he was a family person and he had two cars. He didn’t want to park one car on the street, so he wanted to have a two-car driveway. He could do that with a variance. But they (the Historic Preservation Commission) wouldn’t give him the curb-cut to do a two-car driveway access. To me that doesn’t make a lot of sense, but that was Historic Preservation Commission, they wouldn’t let him do that. And ultimately, he didn’t do it at all. He sold the house and left because he felt that it was too onerous.
I find myself at odds sometimes with the decisions that are made (by the Historic Preservation Commission) because they don’t make sense to me and I have a real estate background. So I guess I’m looking at it not just from a preservation perspective but also from a marketability perspective. I do understand you don’t want to completely modify a neighborhood. But I think there should be exceptions that make sense and we should allow those exceptions to be made. I think more people would be inclined to participate in our historic preservation programs if they were allowed to work with some of these exemptions.
For example, a friend of ours was looking in some of these historic neighborhoods and ultimately bought a house that was not part of the historic neighborhoods. It was just outside of the historic neighborhood because they didn’t want to be dictated to about how they can improve their home. Another situation is that a friend bought in a historic neighborhood a historic house. They went in and wanted to do some improvements on the house and they were turned down (by the Historic Preservation Commission). Because historic funds had been used on the house previously, it gave complete control to the Commission on what they could do. From their (the Historic Preservation Commission’s) perspective, they (the home owners) are anti-historic preservation. But I think it just takes the owner’s property rights away from them. So I think there’s a middle ground that needs to be worked with.
You’ve got the extremes that think it’s got to be done a certain way and they’re trying to preserve a neighborhood that was built in say the 20s and the 30s. You want it to look like it, but it doesn’t have to be it. My perspective is that I like that they moved it (the Historic Preservation Commission) into Planning. That makes sense to me, I know there was a lot of controversy about that and a lot of angst about that. But that makes sense to me. The other side of it is I will try to accomplish some of the things I just mentioned: how do we make it more user-friendly? And how do we encourage more people to participate in the (Historic Preservation) program and take advantage of the program without having to give up on their property rights? I think in the long run you’ll get more cooperation and more people will be interested in participating in the program.
Blooming Rock: I wanted to ask you about the Sahara Hotel. I know there are plans for it to become a parking lot. A lot of people want to preserve that building, also they don’t want another parking lot there, there are so many other empty lots that could be parking lots. Why did the City and ASU want that particular lot?
Claude Mattox: I think it was just a matter of timing. I didn’t find that property to be particularly attractive and well maintained, even when it was Ramada. But basically it was a tiny thing on that piece of property. The property owners were getting ready to be foreclosed on, and the City could buy the property out of foreclosure at a considerably discounted rate. I think that was the only reason, it was just economics. It made sense to buy that piece of property at that time.
As far as preservation is concerned, one it would have cost us way too much money. And what would we preserve it for? It really had no functional value to us (the City). At one point it may have actually been used for student housing, before the new student housing was built. But there was no additional value to the property to keep it that way. I think there were some asbestos issues, some environmental issues on the property. It was a lot cheaper just to go in and raze it. I don’t know what the status is on that at this point. I don’t know where it is on demolition. But we have a customer that wanted to use the parking temporarily and once we’re in a position to start moving forward on it that site has been designated for the Law School. Basically we didn’t have any use for that building, and in order for us to preserve it, it was going to cost us a lot more than it was worth to us. To my recollection, it was just an old motor inn type of a building.
Blooming Rock: A lot of buildings have been lost because it’s too expensive to preserve them and so we just demolish them. I think that’s what happened in the past and that’s why preservationists have kind of held on to this building.
Claude Mattox: I understand that. But again, it has to do with economics, and sometimes it just doesn’t make economic sense. It would be so expensive, especially with some of the older buildings, to try to rehab them. The environmental costs would be outrageous because with new laws we have to take all the asbestos out. We have to eliminate lead pipes and those types of things. And so by the time you do all of that stuff, you have more invested in rehabbing than you have in building new.
In this particular case (the Sahara) that would have never worked for a law school. It’s just not going to be big enough to accommodate that. We go back to what we said about building more density and Downtown being the place where that should happen. Well if you’ve got the preservationists saying, don’t tear down these old buildings, then where are we going to build those other things? I’m not saying we don’t have sufficient land throughout the Downtown, but when you’re building a campus, you don’t want the law school to be 3 blocks away on a different parcel that’s not even associated with the campus itself because that makes it difficult for the students move back and forth and it also makes it difficult from the student union perspective for students to take advantage of the services that are available. You want to try to build it (the ASU campus) as closely together as possible. In that particular case, that piece of property happened to fit that bill.
Blooming Rock: Phoenix is very car-centric right now and it has been for 40 years. As mayor, what would you do to improve infrastructure for biking and for walking, especially in the Downtown core?
Claude Mattox: For walking, it’s got everything to do with shade, putting more shade into Downtown, building more shade-type structures. It doesn’t have to be trees, even though my preference would be that it would be natural shade, but more shade-type structures. I got a chance to participate in the Rose Fellowship of ULI. And part of what we talked about was walkability in Downtown, putting in the type of things that make it more enjoyable to walk through Downtown, not just more glass buildings and those types of things, what kind of materials can be used to not contribute to the heat island and provide shade structures and make that walking experience more comfortable.
For example, today we had lunch at the Hard Rock Café, which is a 4-block walk and normally I will walk that, but not today. It’s just too hot and too humid for me to do that. By the time I got down there I’d be soaking wet. Truthfully, there is no shade between here and there. That will change as CityScape develops and more buildings are built. But we’re not building cantilevered shade structures over the sidewalks, we are putting some trees in that will mature, and when they mature, they will provide some additional shade. But from a walking perspective, especially in Downtown, it’s all about shade. And it’s about the types of walking surfaces, (we have to see) if there is some type of material for sidewalks that is as durable but not as heat absorbing and heat radiating, such as the concrete we have out here now. Those are the types of things we need to be focusing on, same things with streets. What can we do as far as our street paving that’s not going to absorb and hold heat?
From a bicycling perspective? That’s a good question. It’s really difficult, when you mix bikes and cars on the same street. Are there some sort of bicycle spines we can put in there? Can we take the existing alleys and make them more bike-usable? If that’s the case, how do you prevent someone from backing out of their building or their garage which faces onto the alley from hitting a bicyclist who’s there at the same time? There are some safety issues we’d have to take under consideration there. But even with the byciclists, I think it has to do with shade. When people pedal down the street, you’re in the hot sun, if there’s some shade, at least it’s not going to be as intense.
Blooming Rock: I think there are going to be more bikers and walkers in Downtown because of the students.
Claude Mattox: One of the things Phoenix has already done, and I’ve been indirectly part of some of these discussions, is as we’re looking to develop the Central Core area, shade is a huge part of that equation. As people are coming into develop in the Downtown Core area, we’re saying, what are you going to do to provide shade? How are you going to encourage pedestrian, and in some cases, bicycle-types of uses? I think that is happening already.
It’s not something we’re going to be starting 10 years from now. It’s part of the Downtown Code. Assuming we’re successful with that, we’ll look at doing it in other areas where we have larger developments. Going back to the City North conversation, we want to encourage more of that dense type of development, especially retail developments and get away from these huge parking lots. Part of it may be developing those things along the Light Rail line so it doesn’t require as much parking.
But the other side of it is, your statement is correct. People are going to want to drive. We can’t discourage that. All we can do is, and this is up to the retailers, if they want people to use transit as opposed to drive to their facilities, then they need to charge for parking. One of the things we’ve done, and I don’t know if it’s had much of an impact or not, was we raised the parking rates Downtown. Comparitively, we’re still cheap. We’re really not discouraging people from driving. The more you charge them the more they start looking at alternatives.
Blooming Rock: This is a question I like to ask every City official. Historically, the community hasn’t been very engaged in what goes on in the City, they’re not aware of things like who’s running for mayor. What would you like to tell people about that and what would you do to encourage people to become more engaged and more involved?
Councilman Mattox: People initially like the concept of getting involved. But when they figure out how much work it is to get involved, they decide it’s more fun to go home and watch TV. I personally send out newsletters, I know all my colleagues do that, we hold public meetings frequently, and we always end up with the same group of people that show up. Even though I may have a 10,000 person email list, and a 25,000 person mailing list, I will still get the same 10 people at the meetings.
Occassionally we’ll get some new folks, but usually it’s the folks that have just moved into the community, it’s not people who live in the community. It’s just getting people to decide that they want to get actively involved in what’s happening in their lives. As much as we encourage people to do it, that’s a decision they have to ultimately make for themselves. It’s not a decision we can force them to make. I try to provide them with every opportunity to talk to me and to become part of the City.
We have boards and commissions that regularly are wanting for people to participate and they can’t find folks that want to put the time into it. So what happens then, it’s people like myself or yourself, who do get involved ultimately are the ones making the decisions that impact millions of lives. While that makes me a pretty powerful person, and you as well, it shouldn’t be that way. We should have more people who want to participate in those discussions and perhaps decisions would be made differently, things would go in a different direction if they were involved. But sitting at home and yelling at the stupid politician on TV isn’t going to accomplish a thing. And the other side of it is you’ve got to vote. If you don’t vote, you’ve got no reason to complain.
Photo Credit: The status of the Sahara Hotel today, September 15, 2010. Photo by the author.Tags: 7th avenue, 7th street, asu, claude mattox, historic preservation, Historic Preservation Commission, Melrose Place, phoenix, public engagement, reversible lanes, Sahara Hotel, shade, Tom Simplot