District 8 Candidates Have Numerous Concerns
On Aug. 27 voters living in District 8 – a region that covers a section of downtown and large portions of east and south Phoenix, including the South Mountain Village and parts of Laveen – will take to the polls to determine who will fill the Phoenix City Council seat currently held by Michael Johnson, who is finishing his third and final term.
Candidates include Luis F. Rodriguez, Kate Gallego, Warren Stewart, Lawrence Robinson and Carolyn T. Lowery.
Recently, the South Mountain District News gave each person an opportunity address the most important issues facing residents in District 8. Lowery was unable to provide responses.
In your opinion, what are the three most critical issues facing District 8, and how would you help resolve them?
Rodriguez: The three most critical issues are:
1. Security. The solution is to prioritize police and fire above all other spending. We need to maintain a world-class police force and fire department, but the city has not made this a priority. The food tax was sold as a means to that end, but was misused and misappropriated.
2. We have to get control of pensions and the long-term financial obligations which they represent. This is important not just for District 8 but for the entire city. The city must negotiate with the taxpayer in mind. The solution is to begin transitioning away from city-financed pensions and move toward 401k-type retirement accounts. In the long term, a pension system is unsustainable.
3. Economic development has to be addressed. But the solution is tied to security. Along with encouraging small business, we must continue to streamline the process for businesses to get started.
Gallego: My first priority is economic development. The nearest hospital for many residents is a 30-minute drive; this is an unacceptable hurdle for medical emergencies. We need an emergency medical center. I would like to see more family entertainment options such as a movie theater and more local restaurants. We also need additional high-wage jobs such as professional services firms, which will be key to supporting these additional restaurants during the week. We need to take advantage of our great tourism resources such as South Mountain Park (recognized for its great hiking trails by National Geographic) and Aguila Golf Course, which Golf Digest rates as one of the top municipal courses in the country (the same score as The Boulder’s Resort and JW Marriott Desert Ridge). I would also like to see more educational resources, including support services for students with learning disabilities and a full community college campus. As an economic development professional, I am the best suited to develop local businesses and to help bring in new investments. I understand how businesses make decisions, and I know the tools that cities have to bring desired economic development while honoring our community’s history.
We need additional investment in transportation infrastructure. I have been the only candidate at the community meetings to discuss light rail in South Phoenix. I support expanded bus routes, shaded bus stops, adding bike lanes and improving sidewalks. We need a highway to serve Laveen. There are several areas that need traffic lights, and we need to improve safety and traffic flow near several schools, including Betty Fairfax (High School).
Finally, I will stand up to make sure District 8 gets our fair share of public safety resources. People shouldn’t have to feel unsafe in their own homes, and children shouldn’t have to feel unsafe on their way to school. Through block watches, additional police, and policy improvements we can make District 8 an area where we prevent crime or respond immediately.
Stewart: In my opinion, the three most critical issues facing District 8 are public safety, economic development and infrastructure. As an elected official, it is one’s duty to bring people together but also to fight for what is equitable. I have a record of doing both. In the ‘80s, I worked with Councilman Goode to implement the district system so the community could have a council more representative of the community. Additionally in the ‘80s, I, along with other leaders, fought to have the Salt River bridges built. If it rained at the time, South Phoenix residents would have to drive through Tempe if they wanted to go downtown, adding 45 minutes to their commute. In 1992, I led the charge of the passage of the MLK/Civil Rights Day in Arizona with what is said to be the most diverse coalition in our state’s history. In 2006, I co-chaired the successful Arizona Minimum Wage campaign that increased wages for hard-working families. For the last two years, I have been fighting for comprehensive immigration reform as chair of the National Immigration Forum. I intend on using this experience and proven leadership to build more coalitions and partnerships to create jobs, strengthen public safety and improve infrastructure for District 8.
Robinson: When elected, I will work endlessly and creatively to engage our diverse communities in moving Phoenix forward. This means fostering an inclusive city that celebrates, represents and protects every resident and brings these varied voices to the table. As a united community, we can tackle our most urgent priorities together: strengthening our local and regional economy, protecting vital public services and extend Metro light rail into District 8. I am the only candidate who has pledged to protect the city services that are essential to implementing real change for real people.
If elected, what goals do you hope to achieve?
Rodriguez: If elected I hope to make progress toward reigning in government spending through pension reform, finding inefficiencies, and to lessen the burden of government on the private citizen and private business.
Gallego: I want to create a safer, more prosperous city. I would like to use my background in water rights and economic development to help revitalize the area along the Salt River. I want to take advantage of the airport and all of the resources in Discovery Triangle to bring in high-wage jobs. I want to support the growth of the Biomedical Corridor in District 8. I will continue my work to build a strong downtown Phoenix filled with headquarters of companies that will help support the arts and education. I want to invest in our youth including programs for summer work and after school. I want to protect our great neighborhoods and parks. I want to build on the work I have done as chair of the Phoenix Environmental Quality Commission to address air quality problems in our district including the mulch fires. The City of Phoenix should build the Laveen Recreation Center and the same types of dog and splash parks that the city has built in other districts. We should also get more city investment in canal beautification projects.
Stewart: Once elected, my first goal will be to strengthen public safety and to clean up our neighborhoods. I will identify wasteful spending in the budget that can be reallocated to public safety and community clean-up projects. We cannot expect to attract new businesses if our residents and entrepreneurs do not feel safe. I will also fight to bring a full-service medical facility south of Buckeye. This will create jobs and augment public safety. Additionally, I will work diligently to create a stronger workforce by recruiting 500 volunteers from the large pool of retired educators in District 8 to help our youth from the ages of 16-24 to read and write at a level to stay competitive in a global economy. Lastly, I will forge strong partnerships with the private sector to have recruitment days for District 8 residents.
Robinson: On the city council, my first goal will be to take a hard look at our budget, and work with the rest of the council, as well as business leaders and members of the community, to find a sustainable way to fully restore all of our vital city services. Thankfully, the food tax is set to sunset in 2015, and I want to make sure that we are prepared so that we can fully restore all of our essential city programs and avoid more drastic cuts in the future. I would also like to increase opportunities for small businesses operating out of our district, as well as extend the light rail further south so everyone in our community has access to reliable public transportation.
What are the primary reasons you want to represent District 8?
Rodriguez: I would like to represent District 8 because I think we need someone whose first priority is people rather than the government or special interests. I want the city’s first reflex in any endeavor to be how to save money, not how to spend it.
Gallego: District 8 is my home, it is where I bought my first house, where I sprained my ankle hiking South Mountain Park, and it’s where I want to raise my children. I’ve been very involved with the city, and I’ve watched as our district has been ignored. I decided that I should put my experience to good use and fight for our district to get its fair share of resources.
Stewart: My candidacy is an extension of what I have already been doing for 36 years in the Valley. I have forged many relationships and built broad coalitions to get things done. Our district is at a critical point and we need someone who has the proven leadership to strengthen the community – too many politicians are putting their personal interests ahead of the community and I can’t sit idly by anymore.
Robinson: District 8 is my home. I was born here and still attend the same church where I was baptized. I know the district’s potential; I know the assets that will help us reach that potential and I know the obstacles that stand in our way. My experiences as a young man in this community, as well my family, have made me who I am today, and helped me realize the power that we hold together. I’ve seen the impact that good government can have on a community, and I am the only candidate who is committed to fighting for vital city services like public safety, public libraries, and after-school programs. Experience has taught me that we can achieve the most when we work together, and my focus will be to unite our diverse constituencies to address our most urgent priorities: strategic economic development, restoring vital city services, strengthening local schools and neighborhoods and expanding light rail.
What are your ideas for ensuring children in District 8 get the best possible education at the elementary and high school levels?
Rodriguez: First of all, the city council is limited as to how it may affect education. Having said that, I think that schools must return to building a basic foundation for children to succeed; this includes phonics and arithmetic and writing skills. Charter schools have seen a great amount of success and I believe that the competition created will drive education forward to greater success. I think voucher programs should be studied as a possible solution to better educate kids in an environment that is good for each individual child.
Gallego: On the city council I think the best opportunity we have to effect change is to make sure we have a keen focus on safety. Through working with schools and public safety professionals we should make sure we have all of the emergency response plans, resources, and safe routes to school that our students require. Additionally, the city should protect and expand the funding for after-school and summer programs that keep our students academically engaged and help develop future professionals.
Stewart: As a city councilperson, one does not deal with education policy directly. But what one does deal with directly is public safety and, therefore, the environment in which are children are expected to learn. The crime statistics for South Phoenix and the South Mountain area show a continued need for more police officers and community policing efforts to canvas our neighborhoods, as well as the need for school resource officers (SROs) in our schools. The restoration of SROs is crucial for our District 8 public schools to prevent any further school violence or gang infiltration. I also intend on recommitting council staff and resources to strengthen and empower block watch groups.
Robinson: As a community, we must finally prioritize improving our local schools. As a law school professor and member of a local school board, I’ve put my money where my mouth is, and worked to improve lives through teaching students directly as well as creating and implementing policy to make our students competitive in the new economy. First, I would like for the city to restore its after-school programs, which give our students a safe, educational environment that increases their access to STEM-based innovative educational opportunities. Next, I’d work with school districts to implement strong and effective anti-bullying policies, to ensure that schools are a safe space for our children and their teachers. I’d also work with our current curriculum to guarantee that it will adequately prepare students for high-wage, 21st century jobs – making Arizona students competitive globally as well as nationally.
What plans do you have for filling up empty land and vacant real estate within District 8, while still preserving the area’s unique character and history?
Rodriguez: The city should seek out businesses and developers ready to expand immediately and either sell or lease the vacant land owned by the city. This would generate revenue in the short term and long term. As the city sells land and businesses are created, this would incentivize private property owners to follow suit.
Gallego: We need to clean up the vacant lots that are magnets for crime and debris – and we can start with the ones owned by the City of Phoenix. I’ll immediately work to require the city to identify a plan and funding source to develop each city-owned lot within seven years. If there isn’t a plan to develop one, we should sell it to someone who will. Holding vacant lots is a waste of taxpayer dollars, and an eyesore for our community.
Private lands pose a different challenge. I am the only candidate who has worked with the city on its program to clean up polluted land, which is a problem in several areas of the district. It will take proactive city leadership to engage entrepreneurs to develop the land in way that is consistent with community plans, which include many areas of low-density development. I am proud to have the support of George Young, the chair of the South Mountain Village Planning Commission and Wes Lines, the chair of the Laveen Village Planning Commission. With my history working with the city and my business experience, I’m the candidate best suited to tackle this problem.
Stewart: As pastor of First Institutional Baptist Church, I led a $9 million infill project in the early 2000s on Jefferson Street in downtown Phoenix. In addition to spurring other infill projects and creating jobs, we were respectful of the area’s cultural history and aesthetics. In an effort to do so, we were proactive in reaching out to longtime residents and local business owners to hear their concerns and suggestions on how to preserve the area’s character.
It is time to examine the city’s Capital Improvement Program to see where we are in implementing past identified projects for District 8. We know that general obligation bond funds, federal funds, and general purpose funds are scarce but available. This will be a key priority for my office and staff – to identify those critical neighborhood and blight elimination projects in District 8 and determine when these projects will be started and finished.
As District 8’s next councilperson, I intend on always being proactive, especially in the area of economic development.
Robinson: I believe that infill development will be crucial to revitalizing blighted areas around the district, and working to attract small and local businesses to the area will help us create a more vibrant city. One important policy that I would promote if elected is building a comprehensive list of vacant lots and buildings that are suitable for redevelopment, and working with potential occupants to turn these areas into businesses that generate local tax revenue and strengthen our neighborhoods. I don’t, however, support any plan calling for across-the-board sale of our city land on an artificial timeline; we must develop our neighborhoods wisely, with public input that takes into account what our families and communities need.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell readers that you haven’t had a chance to share?
Rodriguez: I would like your readers to know that I believe in people. The ingenuity, capacity and drive of regular people is the solution to most problems. I don’t believe that more government is the right answer. I think government should be like a referee at a football game; a referee’s job is to ensure everyone is playing by the same rules, but should never affect the outcome by favoring some players or teams over others.
Gallego: One of Phoenix’s greatest treasures is South Mountain Park, but we have not always invested in the maintenance we need to take care of this asset. As chair of the Environmental Quality Commission, I successfully identified federal resources to help us rebuild trails within the park. I will continue to find creative ways to invest in our largest municipal park. The chair of the Phoenix Parks Foundation and the chair of the Phoenix Parks Commission are supporting my campaign because of my strong record.
Robinson: I am the only candidate who 100 percent supports reinstating our vital city services, and I’m the only candidate who has been straightforward about what that means. Restoring services like bus routes, library hours, parks, pools, and senior centers and after-school programs is essential to the success and well being of our residents. Restoring these services and strengthening our local neighborhoods is central to attracting quality jobs, increasing home values and making Phoenix the world-class city I know it can be.