Longform

Deconstructing the Phoenix Mountain Preserve

Page 7 of 9

Ever efficient, the Parks Department is already working on Plan B.

One recent evening, Deputy Parks Director Jim Burke lays a color-coded computer-generated map in front of the Desert Preserves Citizens Advisory Committee. The committee is a collection of hikers and bikers and interested professionals that the department has appointed to provide citizen input on a variety of decisions ranging from the new desert preserves envisioned for North Phoenix to trail work on Camelback Mountain and now on the mountains preserve boundaries as well.

Burke's map this evening shows a diagram of Lookout Mountain, the northernmost outpost of preserves in the city; if Van Cleve's 1972 plan hadn't proved too expensive it would have been connected to the bulk of preserve land to the south. Instead it sits as a tiny island in a sea of red-tiled roofs.

On the map, the parcels that were obtained to make up the larger unit have all been numbered and identified as to what monies and what City Council actions brought them together. There's a section of green that Burke identifies as a city park of similar status to Mountain View--not preserves. There's a patch of blue that he identifies as a water tower, the road leading up to it--not preserves either. The rest of the parcels are brown and labeled as to the various bond issues that purchased them. Those, he concedes, should be preserves.

Granted, he's chosen this tract of preserves and park as an example for simplicity's sake. There is far more question due south toward Mountain View Park: land that was once mining claims obtained from the feds, the flood plains, North Mountain Park, some more water properties, all of which Assistant City Attorney Reinhold maintains are not yet officially preserve lands until City Council declares them such by ordinance. Carried to an extreme, if all of those lands were permanently excluded, the preserves would be a tiny and fragmented memory of itself.

Curiously, Chapter 26 uses the word ordinance in its definition section. Section 3 of Chapter 26, "Uses," sets out a single task to the Parks Board, which is to recommend acceptable preserve uses along a set of criteria to the City Council, which the council would then codify in an ordinance. The Parks Board started that job in the late 1980s and then interrupted itself to tend to the boundary encroachments.

City staffers talk as if Chapter 26 also demanded the boundaries be declared by ordinance, and that is why they claim that what happened before is irrelevant.

"In 1985, when Chapter 26 was passed, it became a different ball game," says Colley. "Because to implement Chapter 26, you had to do a boundary survey [and make] recommendations about the boundaries from the Parks Board to the council."

The chapter doesn't say that--it says the council is to ordain uses--but the city interprets the chapter as if it asks for boundaries as well.

"What we're working toward is filling in the obligations of Chapter 26," Burke concurs, "getting an ordinance to council that designates the boundaries."

To get there, this committee will look at Burke's maps, and the city staffers will recommend to the Parks Board what should and shouldn't be included in the preserves. The board will make recommendations to City Council. The City Council will craft its resolution. And as politics go, it will make its decisions based on how popular or unpopular those decisions will make council members with their constitutents and campaign contributors.

Kent Reinhold from the city attorney's office assures New Times that in sorting out the preserves boundaries, the city would err on the side of the preserves. "Let's put it this way," he says. "Lands which the city acquired by some means other than purchase from private sources--the mining claims, from the county through annexation, which would be North Mountain Park--if the city declared those to be mountain preserves through ordinance, then I don't think there's any question about it."

Nor does the Parks Department have draconian plans for the preserve lands. "If as we go around, if the Water Department land can be officially incorporated into the preserves and still make an exception where the Water Department can still maintain those facilities, then I'm going to urge that it be put into the preserve boundaries," says Jim Colley.

But Chapter 26 already gives the City Council full access to the preserves to make sure that the water department can already maintain those facilities.

So what's the point? Discretion over city properties: The city could rebuild its water towers without even considering the Parks Board or the pesky oldtimers from the PMPC who seem to be hovering over its every move, staking out its meetings and taking notes. One supposes, though, if the water properties are cut loose, down the road, the city would be more free to explore private-public partnerships to manage them without Parks Board interference.

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Michael Kiefer