Blog Archives

Viewpoint: Phoenix budget woes, big art, light rail made ’09 quite a year

[Source: Arizona Republic; section headers organized by yours truly] — With this being Christmas week, we figured you wouldn’t want to read a traditional editorial any more than we wanted to write one.  So today, we lighten things up a bit with awards for notable achievements in 2009.

Phoenix Overall

  • Story of the year: Phoenix did the virtually impossible this year — it cut $270 million from the general fund to balance the budget due to low sales-tax revenue.  Residents are feeling the effects with reduced hours or closures of swimming pools, libraries, and senior centers.  They also see more graffiti and potholes because staff is stretched so thin.  Now the city is talking about cutting an additional $100 million or so.  This story is getting old.
  • Best cheerleader: Mayor Phil Gordon earns this award again.  With frequent trips to Washington, D.C., to lobby for stimulus funds, and Janet Napolitano resigning as governor to lead Homeland Security, Gordon is the face of Arizona.
  • Embarrassment: Rep. Ray Barnes’ rambling reasons for voting to cut $144 million from public education.  Grab some eggnog and watch this Phoenix Republican go off.
  • Hot potato: The idea to raise the sales tax temporarily to generate revenue quickly.  Mayor Gordon suggested a community member take on his idea.  But no one wants to touch it.
  • Landmark: The city became the second in the state to offer a domestic-partner registry to gay or straight couples who share a Phoenix residence.  Among other privileges, the registry grants partners visitation rights in hospitals.
  • Pillar: City Manager Frank Fairbanks earns this award again.  He retired this year, but not before balancing the nastiest budget deficit in city history.  Thanks, Frank.

Downtown Focused/Strong Influence

  • Pushin’ on: Light rail has its fans and its foes.  But ridership is up and businesses have sprouted along the line.  The system is approaching it first anniversary.  We say light rail is on track.
  • Newcomer: Janet Echelman’s “Her Secret Is Patience” at the new Civic Space Park downtown opened to much criticism.  Meant to resemble a cactus bloom, the floating sculpture was called everything from a basketball hoop to a male contraceptive.  Not that we mind.  Some of the best artwork in the world drew heavy criticism.  We’re just glad people are noticing what downtown Phoenix has to offer.
  • Comeback: Phoenix Urban Market Grocery and Wine Bar at Central Avenue and Pierce Street is the first grocer to serve the area in 30 years.  It only carries the basics.  But milk, vegetables, bread, pasta and other staples are welcome.
  • Bragging rights: President Barack Obama made three visits to the Valley this year.  One of those was to the new Phoenix Convention Center, where Obama addressed the Veterans of Foreign Wars national convention.
  • Feather in the cap: A budding knowledge-based economy, parks and preservation efforts, and teen spaces at public libraries make Phoenix an All-America City.  Now it has the civic award to prove it.  This was Phoenix’s fifth win.  It would be a shame to lose these gains to budget cuts in the down economy.

Other Parts of Phoenix

  • Senseless act: A photo-enforcement-van driver was shot to death while deployed near Loop 101 in north Phoenix.  Thomas DeStories was indicted in connection with the shooting death of Douglas Georgianni.
  • Tallest story: Despite opposition from neighbors, the City Council approved a Mormon temple whose steeple and spire will rise 86 feet above the Deer Valley area.
  • Unsung hero: The Macehualli Day Labor Center in northeastern Phoenix provides a central location for day laborers and potential employers to negotiate business.  The center is for sale.

Choir teacher suspended after taking students to downtown Phoenix “Hooters”

[Source: eCanada Now] — In Phoenix, Arizona, a Paradise Valley High School choir teacher has been put on paid leave after taking her class to Hooters for lunch.  According to Judi Willis, a spokeswoman for the district school board, Mary Segall took her class to a Hooters resautrant after a performance at Arizona Center last week.  Segall said that Hooters, a restaurant known for hiring women with large breasts, was the only restaurant in the area capable of handling such a large group.

Segall, 23, took 40 students to the controversial restaurant, The Arizona Republic reported.  “We believe that there are many venues for lunch for a large group of people in the downtown Phoenix area,” Willis said.  “There could have been a choice that might have been more appropriate, given that it was a school-day event with a school employee in charge.”

The Hooters website says its restaurants aim to provide “a unique, entertaining dining experience… delivered by attractive, vivacious Hooters Girls.”

Segal traveled to Washington in January with the school’s choir and strings group to perform at one of President Barack Obama’s inaugural events, “History in the Making: A Dream and a Change Inaugural Ball.”

Phoenix mayor asks feds for millions of dollars to help city

[Source: ABC News 15] — Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon is looking for federal dollars.  The mayor is in Washington pressing the Obama Administration and Congress for millions of dollars to help the city build sewers, bridges, schools, and other capital projects.

Gordon said he will pitch projects costing between $2 million and $300 million.  He wants the money for 20 to 30 years with payments deferred for the first ten years.  If Phoenix fails to pay it back, Gordon said the city will forgo future federal funding.  Gordon reasons if the federal government can bail out banks and the auto industry, why not U.S. cities?  [Note: To read the full article, visit Phoenix mayor asks feds for millions of dollars to help city.]

President Obama taking a leisurely drive in downtown Phoenix

Videographer Chad Lawrence Wagner took this video of President Obama’s motorade leaving downtown Phoenix in August 2009.  Wonder what the President thought of all those vacant lots as he drove by?

Does Arizona have an image problem?

Outside the Phoenix Convention Center, where the U.S. President was speaking on Aug. 17, "Chris" sports a semi-automatic rifle and pistol.

[Source: Scott Wong, Arizona Republic] — Just as local and state tourism officials tried to shed Phoenix’s unbecoming title as the “kidnapping capital of America,” another national moniker has emerged: gun-crazy.  A man carrying a pistol and semi-automatic rifle outside the Phoenix hall where President Barack Obama spoke this month ignited a media firestorm, reinforcing the stereotype of the Grand Canyon State as a gun-loving vestige of the Wild West.

The firearms display, later revealed to be a publicity stunt, was legal under an Arizona law that allows most citizens to openly carry guns in public without a permit.  But the spotlight cast by cable-news pundits, newspaper editorials and blogs — including censure from a world-renowned travel writer — raised questions about whether Arizona’s lax gun laws make it safe to travel and do business in the state.  “We’re an urban city, and there are individuals trying to hold on to the old ways of the Wild West,” said Phoenix Councilman Michael Nowakowski, himself a gun owner.  “We’re going to lose a lot of conventions because of one knucklehead.”

Before the gun stunt, tales of Mexican drug cartels abducting rival smugglers and immigrants and holding them for ransom in Valley homes had already painted Phoenix as a city under siege. [Note: Read the full article at Does Arizona have an image problem?]

Frommer may boycott Arizona over guns

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Man with a rifle in downtown Phoenix during President Obama's visit (Photo Source: Jack Kurtz, Arizona Republic)

[Source: Robert Mackey, New York Times] — This week, the travel writer Arthur Frommer found himself in the middle of an unusually heated debate on his blog at Frommers.com after he published a post headlined “Do Guns at Political Events Disturb You? Then Consider Skipping Arizona for Now.”

Although Mr. Frommer, the founder of Frommer’s Travel Guides (which is an online content partner of The New York Times), has used his blog to express strong opinions in the past, his post on Wednesday — expressing horror at the spectacle of about a dozen gun-toting protesters on Arizona’s streets during a visit by President Obama — stuck out from other recent entries like “Current Room Rates in Orlando at Non-Disney Properties Are Almost Too Good to Be True” and “Southwest Airlines Announces a Four-Month Airfare Sale — and It’s a Dilly.”

We’re going to go ahead and assume that readers of The Lede can guess which post generated hundreds of times more comments than the others.  [Note: Read the full article at Frommer may boycott Arizona over guns.]

Obama’s summer novel includes dreary passage about Phoenix

"Garage mahal" in downtown Phoenix (photo source: Flickr photographer combusean)

[Source: Phoenix New Times and an observant reader] — The award-winning novel, Netherland, by Joseph O’Neill, famously being read this summer by President Obama, contains a rather downbeat assessment of downtown Phoenix:

On our way out we passed through downtown Phoenix.  It was seemingly an uninhabited place given over to multilevel garages that, with their stacked lateral voids, almost duplicated the office blocks and their bands of tinted glass.

The general vacancy was relieved by the slow and for some reason distinctly sinister movement of automobiles from street to street, as if these machines’ careful, orderly roaming was a charade whose purpose was to obscure the fact that the city had been forsake; and all the while the radio ceaselessly reported crashes and emergencies in the streets around us.  It was one of those occasions on which the disunion between one’s interior and external states reaches almost absolute proportions, and even as I smiled and nodded and knocked my can of Bud Light against another’s, I had fallen into the most horrible misery.  I escaped into a sleep.

[To read the full article, click here.]

Smaller trains considered for metro Phoenix light rail

[Source: Mike Branom, East Valley Tribune] — Metro light rail believes it has found a solution to its budget woes: Smaller trains running with less frequency.  Facing a $1.3 million deficit in the coming fiscal year, the agency is considering as a cost-cutting measure the occasional use of single-car trains.  Also, Sunday’s schedule would be cut back, with any given station seeing in an hour three trains rather than the current four.

According to Metro, these changes, plus unspecified cuts in administrative costs, will result in an annual savings of $885,000.  Making up the rest of the deficit is the expectation fare revenue will rise in the coming year.  Metro’s Rail Management Committee is scheduled to vote Wednesday on the proposed $33.7 million budget.  If approved, the budget will go before the board of directors later this month.

Since the 20-mile cross-Valley system opened in December, almost all of the trains running use two vehicles, each of which can carry 225 passengers.  During large events, such as President Barack Obama’s appearance at the recent graduation ceremony for Arizona State University, three-car trains are used.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.  To review related East Valley Tribune editorial on merging of mass transit organizations in the Valley, click here.]

Green college campus proposed for downtown Phoenix

[Source: Mike Sunnucks, Phoenix Business Journal] — Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon wants to create a “green” college campus just west of downtown Phoenix that would offer university, community college, work force training, and high school offerings in the sustainability arena.  Gordon will be in Washington next week lobbying the Obama administration to help fund the green campus via outlays from the federal stimulus package.

The Phoenix mayor would like to see the sustainability campus located near 7th Avenue and Van Buren Street just west of the downtown core.  He said Arizona State University and Maricopa County Community Colleges would be the centerpieces of the new campus.  Downtown Phoenix already is home to a growing ASU campus and a biomedical campus that features programs from ASU and the University of Arizona.  Those existing higher education assets are located in downtown’s core and to it eastern edges. [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

Phoenix mayor to unveil 17-point “green” plan

[Source: Scott Wong, Arizona Republic] — Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon will use today’s State of the City address to outline an ambitious strategy to make Phoenix the first carbon-neutral city — and the greenest — in the entire country.  Green Phoenix, a 17-point plan developed in collaboration with Arizona State University’s Global Institute of Sustainability, would require about $1 billion in water, renewable energy, public-transit, and other investments.

Gordon is turning to President Barack Obama’s economic-stimulus package for help, though he doesn’t expect to receive funding for every goal.  The mayor’s proposal, if fully implemented, would cut city-generated greenhouse-gas emissions by roughly 70 percent, or 430,000 metric tons a year, the equivalent of taking 80,000 vehicles off the road, based on one estimate.  The three- to four-year plan is essentially a mix of new concepts and projects already under way.  They range from providing bicycle rentals at light-rail stops to developing Phoenix’s canal system for recreation and business use similar to the Tempe Town Lake area.

In a bid to secure funding from the $787 billion federal stimulus package, Gordon and ASU President Michael Crow pitched the plan Tuesday to Energy Secretary Steven Chu in Washington, D.C., emphasizing that it also would create jobs and improve neighborhoods and health.  During the meeting, Crow said, he sensed that Phoenix was the first city to approach Chu with a comprehensive program promoting green technologies, which could be used as a model across the U.S.  “We put a new idea on the table,” Crow said by phone after the meeting.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]