Planning? What Planning?

Looks as though the honeymoon is over between Phoenix politicians and the citizens who helped them win last year's hugely successful bond election. The love affair ended with the Phoenix City Council's rejection last week of a citizen-backed spending plan for $18 million from those bonds. The city chose instead to dig into the fund for projects the councilmembers say can't wait.

Members of the committee that developed and promoted the $18 million of bonds earmarked for plans and projects to "mitigate" the damage to neighborhoods from the city's burgeoning network of freeways angrily condemned the decision as "shortsighted" and a "betrayal of good faith." Among the possible ways to lessen the damage caused by freeways is to erect sound and visual barriers and build pedestrian overpasses. But the city still has no overall plan for the money, much to the disgust of some citizens.

"The goal of the bond was to address the complete lack of mitigation plans along the freeways," Phoenix architect Dave Armacost told the council. "If you just fritter away the money on pet projects, and don't come up with any plans, or a process, that's not the intent of the plan or what encouraged us to sell it to the public."

Councilmember Howard Adams, who led the move to circumvent the committee's proposed planning requirements, expressed the majority's sentiment curtly: "I understand and support their recommendations, but it ain't law." Like-minded councilmembers grump about losing possible matching funds while waiting for plans to be written. They say the citizen objections were part of a ploy by Councilmember Linda Nadolski to concentrate spending in her eastside District 6. "Out in Deer Valley, we don't even have our general plan settled yet, let alone being ready to do a specific land-use plan to accompany our freeways," says Councilmember Duane Pell. "I think what's happening is a very concerted effort to take the whole mitigation fund and apply it to the Squaw Peak Parkway, because that's closer to having a specific plan in place than any other freeway."

Peter Martori, like Armacost a member of the bond committee, told councilmembers the bonds were intended to fund a select set of innovative pilot projects that could be used to sell voters on the idea of funding mitigation measures for all 108 miles of freeway planned over the next thirty years. "Each of the projects funded now should offer a unique and imaginative solution to protecting neighborhoods so you can show it to voters in five years to convince them to give you the money for the entire 108 miles," Martori says.

But at least half the council has made a run at the freeway-mitigation money since it was approved in April 1988, proffering everything from a proposal to buy school buses to requests to beautify overpasses in heavily commercial districts. Only one project, money to build an underpass for the Squaw Peak Parkway at Bethany Home Road, has been approved. That money will not be spent until the parkway land-use plan is completed later this year. But opponents point out that $18 million won't go very far if the city simply raids the fund for pet projects before it does any planning.

"Everyone agrees there are two- or three-hundred million dollars in projects waiting to be done out there," Martori told the council last week. "I'm just trying to persuade you it's in your best interest and the best interest of your districts to set up a process that will address the problems of 108 miles of freeway in a built city.

"The need won't be served unless you develop a process that everybody feels they've got a shot at."

The partnership between City Hall and its citizen army of bond committees not only resulted in the successful bond election, it played a big role in winning the coveted title of "All-America City" for Phoenix. And councilmembers fairly basked in praise from contest sponsors for "the city's extraordinary efforts to involve citizens in decision-making" when the designation was conferred this spring.

The irony is not lost on Nadolski. "The citizen bond process is something we just received a great deal of acclaim for," she says. "I feel like it's going back on a commitment we made to the committees. We have something that works and that we're proud of; we should do what we can to keep it." In the end, however, only she and Mayor Terry Goddard voted to adhere to the bond committee's plan-first-spend-later recommendation.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Kathleen Stanton