South Tempe residents sounded off at a forum for Tempe City Council Candidates. What concerns do you have for our community?
Posted by Wrangler News on Wednesday, January 24, 2018
Commentary by Jonathan Coronel
It’s become a cliché archetype in American society: the courageous journalist who speaks truth to power and holds elected officials accountable. After observing the Tempe City Council candidate forum held at the Arizona Community Church on Jan. 23, however, it’s evident that informed private citizens seem to be the real watchdogs of government.
While candidates Jennifer Adams, Sarah Kader, Lauren Kuby, Justin Stewart and Genevieve Vega may have thought they were going to a simple meet-and-greet forum to introduce themselves to Tempe voters, the night was filled with pointed questions by concerned citizens who packed the chairs in a standing-room-only session at Arizona Community Church.
After the candidates gave a brief overview of their vision for their city, several eager hands shot up to ask questions, mainly concerning bread-and-butter economic issues like water bills and property values. One longtime Tempe resident and ASU grad voiced concerns about the proliferation of neighborhood properties being turned into Airbnbs, whose patrons’ sometimes rowdy comings and goings can create tension for local homeowners.
Knowing that politicians can often be long on platitudes and short on specific solutions, this speaker cut right to the chase, asking the panel:
“Other than stating you will study the problem, what is your personal feeling about this problem and what will you be doing as a Tempe City Council member to…keep our neighborhoods protected?”
For her incisive question the concerned citizen received applause from the entire room as well as empathy from all the candidates, who agreed that this was a problem for neighborhoods that needed to be addressed with city zoning regulations.
All candidates, however, decried the state legislature’s recent passage of a law removing citywide Airbnb restrictions, which has left city councils largely hamstrung in addressing this issue.
Another attendee voiced his frustration with Tempe’s tiered water system, which increases prices per gallon as a household’s consumption of water increases past 6,000 gallons.
“How are we protecting neighborhoods and encouraging businesses to come to south Tempe if, because of your policies, we are going to be spending….who knows how much more money on water, which is less money that we will be able to spend on restaurants and shops?
“While everyone is studying it, we’re cutting checks!”
While councilmember and candidate for reelection Lauren Kuby cited the potential shortage of water in the near future as the rationale for the tiered pricing system, Jennifer Adams received a resounding applause from the room for her response, arguing that the tiered system scares away small businesses and decreases property values.
“I completely disagree with the tiered water system…This is beating us with a stick instead of using carrots to get what you want. We have to have more communication; we should have been made aware earlier on so people could have changed their landscapes to xeriscape if they wanted.”
Other highlights from the candidates came when one attendee asked how they plan to make Tempe more accessible for senior citizens. Justin Stewart, current chair of the Mitchell Park Neighborhood Association, agreed that this was an important priority for him, while drawing chuckles from the crowd with his humorous uprightness.
“I’ll be honest, I just put a skate park — which isn’t so much for seniors — in Mitchell Park. But with that being said we have so many seniors in Mitchell Park, I’d like to find out for their next grant what they would like to have there so we can have 16-year-olds skating and 70- and 80-year-olds doing what they want to do in the park.”
While attendees also voiced concerns over bike paths, decrepit neighborhood roads and expanding the Orbit bus service, the main issues of the night continued to harken back to basic economic issues. At the end of the night, it all seemed to boil down to the economy, stupid.