A few weeks ago I spoke to Councilman Peggy Neely who’s formed an exploratory committee to see if she wants to run for Mayor in 2011. Councilman Neely’s is District 2 that includes Kierland Commons and City North. I was curious to find out, since her district is away from the central city, what her view is for Downtown. I was also curious to know about her position on City North as it is in her district. Also, I asked the Councilwoman about how we can support small businesses since as much of her district is home to lots of big chains.
Below are her answers to those questions and more:
Blooming Rock: Your district isn’t necessarily in the city center, what would your priorities be as mayor for Downtown development?
Councilman Neely: I’m a strong believer in a vibrant Downtown. I’ve supported all of the projects that have come along Downtown. It’s the heart of our city and cities that are known nationally have a strong downtown. I definitely would be supportive of projects moving along in Downtown. Of course, the economy is going to slow that down. I think the public has pushed a lot of the projects that we’ve seen occur in Downtown and just before the downturn we began to see private development come in. And as we see the economy change we’ll start to see private investors coming back to Downtown. We have to keep our Downtown strong.
Blooming Rock: What are you views on growth in Phoenix? We’ve generally been expanding. What do you think we should be doing in the future?
Councilman Neely: I think it’s going to be a lot of years before most cities and counties are going to be able to do infrastructure that has to happen (for expansion). But I think in Maricopa County, a lot of the backbone has been laid and there is a lot of infrastructure (in place) that hasn’t been utilized. I’ve never been a believer that we should have leap-frog growth. I think we need to grow logically and we need to have the infrastructure there because I think those are huge issues for municipalities to find funding for. So my answer to you, and it’s a long answer, is that we’re not going to see a lot of outlying growth. I think we’re going to see it growth within.
I think people are pretty concerned with where we are with our transportation. And when gas got up to be over $4 a gallon, they began to think about where they lived (in comparison to) where they worked. I think that may be some of the problem we had with our outlying areas. People drove out until they could afford (a house) and then gas prices got way out of hand and they couldn’t afford the gas to get into town. So I think we’re well positioned for growth but it will be within the current boundaries. I don’t see any growth occurring outside of that. I also think we have some great opportunities that would be infill and we can stay within our current boundaries and be very comfortable.
Blooming Rock: What do you think are the priorities in making Phoenix a green city as we’re aiming to do with Mayor Gordon’s Green Phoenix plan?
Councilman Neely: I want to talk about one of the issues I don’t think we spend enough time on. I am a huge proponent of conserving water. I don’t think we talk about it enough in Phoenix. We live in the desert and I believe we have to begin to be so very careful with our water. It’s so very precious. For me sustainability is going to be trying to make sure we have the proper program for water. I think we need to educate, just like when gas prices go up real high, people figure out other modes of transportation. So we need to encourage people how to do drought-tolerant plantings and move them off of some much use of water because that’s the community we live in. So number one for me, sustainability is going to be huge in the water area.
At my subcommittee, we’ve asked staff to look at LEED-type standards for new buildings. I think we should not build something that is going to be torn down in 20 years, I think we need to build something that will stay and be friendly to our environment. I think moving to LEED-type standards in our building code is huge. And that we believe it’s going to happen within the next couple of years and I’m very supportive of it.
I think that rolls into transportation. We’re not ever going to be able to afford all the roads we need, but during our growth periods we would stipulate you’ve got to put in a bike path. There’s nothing that irritates me more than when I drive through these communities and the bike path is put in one area but you can’t get anywhere. If your ride your bicycle, you understand that. I think we need to focus on completing our trail system and our bicycle paths because we don’t give people those options. Up in my area, you’re lucky if you can ride on the side of the road and be safe. I really believe we haven’t worked through that as smoothly as we should have.
Blooming Rock: As a follow up to that, what would you do to promote people getting out of their car and into transit, biking and walking?
Councilman Neely: The new areas we’re planning, they are going to have to be friendly to do those things (transit, biking and walking). If you look at the type of zoning that occurred fifty years ago, it’s not friendly for walking. I think we should put in more shade. I think wider sidewalks are better than narrow sidewalks. And those are all things we need to do to make it a more inviting environment (for walking). Can we afford to do that all at once? Absolutely not, but we should include that into our planning process. Because that’s how we’re going to get people out and around. I was recently in a town recently where you walk on their downtown streets and they have a bench every few feet. What a wonderful idea. Why don’t we do that here? We have a perfect (climate) here and we should do that in Downtown. Yes, you won’t sit on it in the summer, but you will sit on it in the fall. It’s inviting and it just encourages you to enjoy. I think there are a lot of ways to do that.
We allow parking to be too cheap Downtown. And by doing that, people think, “well I can just get in my car, put a buck fifty in the meter and it’ll be fine.” That’s absolutely the wrong approach. We have to encourage people to ride transit and if we have lots of parking lots and it’s very cheap to park there or on the street, they will pick the car every time. In my mind, and this has been my soapbox for a lot of years, we need to encourage parking to be (more expensive) or you’re not going to get the cars off the street. When budget times get better we need to increase our routes on buses, we need to increase the frequency. Unfortunately that’s not something that we can do right now. I came from a city in 1990 where I could walk to a major roadway and at every half mile or quarter mile you could catch a bus every 10 minutes. And I think we have to begin looking regionally, not only at the City of Phoenix. If we have a regional system, we begin to tie the whole system together more so than we’ve done in the past. And that way we maximize the dollars.
Blooming Rock: I know you encourage big businesses to come to Phoenix, big companies, but how can we help our small businesses to thrive?
Councilman Neely: Let’s correct that. We have a lot of big businesses that we try to promote that have moved into District 2 and we’re glad to have them. They bring a wealth of people. There is a wonderful community called Palomino in our district and that’s been a project and a labor of love since three and a half years. It was the small businesses that convinced me that I neeed to sit down and talk to them about their issues. Some issues we addressed, but we formed a business alliance and we’ve changed the face of the neighborhood, we’ve lowered the crime. They (the business alliance) are the face and the voice of the community. We’ve done a study through ASU called the Mosaic Mile to give them some branding ability.
Small businesses are wonderful. But it takes all of them (small and big) to make a community. We have large businesses but we need to make sure we are also encouraging our small businesses. So I would disagree with you, it’s not just large businesses, in fact we did a little research before you came. Sometimes people say all you care about are the large businesses. Let’s take Kierland, we did up a survey of that before you came in, and 30% of the businesses in Kierland which is a mall in my district are small businesses. And that’s a huge number!
In this environment there is more opportunity to get a store front (if you’re a small business) than there was three years ago because you couldn’t afford the lease rate. But now they’re willing to be flexible and help those people out. I love all of them and it takes all of them. I think entrepreneurs are the backbone of Arizona and we can’t forget that. We need to make sure we’re not over-regulating and we’re not over-taxing. And those are some of the things we need to look at as we move forward. It’s going to take all of those (small and big businesses) to get us out of the position we’re in. We need to make sure we’re not cutting off opportunities for small business from coming in or the large businesses.
Blooming Rock: Now that you know what you do now, do you think the city subsidies for City North were the right thing to do?
Councilman Neely: First and foremost, the City hasn’t invested at all and they won’t unless sometime someone performs and puts the square footage in it. To address a misconception, there haven’t been any City dollars that have gone into this project because it is based upon performance. And I would say that where I stand on that is that the courts did rule that we did not violate the gift clause. They did tweak and tighten some of the requirements but what we have there stands. I would say that from the City’s recommendation, from the management down to the Council, the Council did make a decision that worked.
Since you’re an architect, you understand that the biggest issue for building a new project is the infrastructure. And sometimes you need some sort of an agreement that allows you to find a way to reimburse for that. All of us are looking for new revenue sources. And when we look for these new revenue sources, some of them come with, “Would you (the City) be able to help us with the infrastructure?” The City will look at those, but we’ll live within the law as we did before. We must be sure that we are meeting the gift clause of the Constitution and understanding that public infrastructure is something that is needed to be able to service some of these larger projects. My position (on City North) is that the Council made the right decision and the courts did rule in that direction.
Blooming Rock: As a last question, this is something I ask everyone in the city, we don’t have a greatly engaged public…what would you do if you were mayor to encourage more public engagement?
Councilman Neely: One of the items I’m looking at is transparency. I think transparency goes a lot of different ways. Some of it is making sure that constituents understand what’s going on. I look at the way sometimes we operate and when something is passed before anyone knows about it, like the new tax for example. I didn’t support it because you can’t pass something in 24 hours. We need to become much more transparent.
You’re a blogger so you know that this is an internet society. And we need to use that to the best of our knowledge. I believe that people should be able to understand where their tax dollars are going. We need to be disclosing where the taxpayer dollars are going and how you can come and have a say about that. (The public should be able to say,) “It looks like we’re going to pay you $10 this week and I want to be able to speak for or against it, so how do I get there?” We need to make sure that that happens. Quite frankly, I’ve spoken to people and asked why can’t we get an app so people can get on their phone (and check in on the City)? Wouldn’t it be great to use my little Apple (phone) and find out what the subcommittee’s plans are for Downtown? I think we have to move that way. We have to move with people.
Photo Credit: Photo of Kierland Commons. Photo from My New Outside Blog.Tags: big business, biking, City North, city subsidies, Downtown development, green building code, green phoenix, kierland commons, LEED, mosaic mile, parking downtown, Peggy Neely, Phoenix City Council, public engagement, transit, transportation, walking