City Hall

Mass Resignations Hit Phoenix's Complete Streets Advisory Board

All but two members of Phoenix's Complete Streets Advisory Board abruptly resigned on Tuesday night, accusing city staff of lying to them and trying to obstruct their work.

The board has been around since 2014, when Phoenix adopted a "complete streets" ordinance to advance the idea that the city should be designed to accommodate pedestrians and bicyclists, not just cars.

In a resignation letter sent to the mayor and city council at a little after 9 p.m. on Tuesday, seven of the board's members explain:

The design guidelines we have recommended are the result of three-and-a-half years of intense and public work. The bulk of the design guidelines were written by the leading transportation officials of this country and have been endorsed by the Federal Highway Administration. They represent the national standards and best practices Phoenicians deserve. Our board has spent a full year deliberating with developer lobbyists to incorporate their input where appropriate. Our board has weathered extraordinary interference from City staff that has included lying, obstruction, and even an attempt to disband us entirely. And all of this in order to deliver to you the most publicly deliberated document this City may have ever seen.

The departing board members cite what they describe as "an unnecessarily byzantine approval process," requiring input from the Environmental Quality Commission, Development Advisory Board, Planning Commission, Citizen Transportation Commission, and Transportation & Infrastructure Subcommittee.

As part of that process, they wrote, they repeatedly tried to get input from developers. But lobbyists for developers have been lying to city staff and saying they didn't get to provide feedback, the members claim. Meeting minutes, documents, and emails "prove those are lies," the letter's authors say.

They also claim that Phoenix's street transportation department has been "hostile" to their group, citing an attempt to disband the advisory board and a series of discussions that took place in 2017.

In mid-April, the Phoenix City Council voted to speed up the process of adopting Complete Streets design guidelines. But progress has stalled again, the advisory board members say. The council’s Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee declined to approve the design guidelines and declared it would not take up the issue again until August.

"Their unanimous decision was disappointingly gut-wrenching," the members wrote. "It was clear the developer lobbyists were trusted more than the citizens who took time off of work to voice their support, more than the experts who informed our design guidelines, and more than even us, your appointed members of the Complete Streets Advisory Board."

The letter is signed by Leslie Dornfeld, who had been serving as the advisory board's chair, as well as Karen Heck, Connor Descheemaker, Kirby Hoyt, Ray Cabrera, Allison Disarufino, and Sean Sweat.

That means that only two people remain on the board: C.J. Eisenbarth Hager and Silvia Urritia. (The roster on the city's website is slightly out of date, listing Jack L. Davis and Mark McLaren, who left prior to the mass resignations.)

City staff workers are "sorry to see" the board members leave, and their work was appreciated, said city spokesman Matthew Heil. With the public's help, the city will keep working to finish writing the guidelines for the Complete Streets design concept, he said.

"By the end of the summer, we will provide, as requested by the city council, additional perspectives of impacted parties, as well as information on analysis of cost impacts," Heil said.
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Antonia Noori Farzan is a staff writer at New Times and an honors graduate of Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. Before moving to Arizona, she worked for the New Times Broward-Palm Beach.