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Phoenix residents vow to fight cuts to city programs

[Source: Jahna Berry, Arizona Republic] — As Phoenix leaders prepare to whittle $140 million in city services to help close a $245 million budget gap, neighbors say they are ready to fight for popular programs.  The proposed cuts will be announced this week, and there will be public hearings next month at which residents can voice their concerns before the final vote, scheduled for March 2.  But residents aren’t waiting to have their say.

In central Phoenix, downtown activists are worried about two neighborhood parks that they fear could become havens for crime if they lost funding.  In west and south Phoenix, residents want the city to stop trimming library hours.  And in northeast Phoenix, horse enthusiasts are concerned about a popular equestrian park…

The latest round of cuts comes one year after the city slashed $156 million in city services to close a $270 million general-fund budget shortfall.  City leaders are considering a proposed 2 percent grocery tax that could generate $50 million annually.  But even if it is implemented, the city would still have to cut about $100 million in city services.

Since cuts are inevitable, residents also worried that Phoenix may end recreation programs at University and Verde parks.  Cuts at those parks were proposed last year, but the city backed off amid an outcry from the community.  Activists recently spent most of the Downtown Voices Coalition meeting brainstorming ways to shield those parks from more reductions.  Cuts could erase years of community efforts to boost youth programs, discourage gang activity, and make the parks safer, said Reid Butler, a local developer who belongs to the group.

It’s premature to talk about specific programs because no proposals have been made, city spokesman David Urbinato said.

The Parks and Recreation Department has been asked to suggest ways to cut its budget by 30 percent.  At 30 percent, “it would dramatically reduce, if not eliminate” many parks programs, Urbinato said.  The parks would remain open, but the staffing, programs and community centers attached to them would face deep cuts.  “That’s the tragic downside.  There has been massive investment through the system” over the years, Urbinato said.

People now depend on city services more than ever, said Councilman Michael Nowakowski, noting that he and Councilman Michael Johnson represent some of Phoenix’s poorest neighborhoods in west and south Phoenix.

Residents have pressed Nowakowski to protect after-school programs and library hours, the councilman said.  People wait up to three hours to use free computers at César Chavez Library, because they have canceled their Internet service, he said.  Recently, a mother came to a community meeting with an armful of notices about sex offenders who live in her neighborhood, he said.  She wants the city to keep low-cost after-school programs open so her children will be safe, Nowakowski added.  “We need to listen to find out what are the needs and wants for the whole city,” he said.

McCarty on Monroe, new Phoenix senior housing apartments open

[Source: City of Phoenix] — Last week McCarty on Monroe officially opened its doors to seniors age 62 and older.  The new, modern, 69-unit apartment complex is on the property where Phoenix real estate broker Leon McCarty originally built quality and affordable housing for low-income families, particularly families of color, in 1963.

The four-story building has a large community room with kitchen facilities for resident activities, a computer room, gated parking garage and a landscaped inner courtyard with walking and seating areas for senior residents.  Six of the units are accessible for people with disabilities and 34 of the units are available for public housing.  “We are committed to providing quality housing for our seniors, people who have made numerous contributions to society and now may be living on a fixed income,” said Mayor Phil Gordon.  “I congratulate the McCarty residents.  They have chosen a safe and comfortable location to enjoy their leisure years.”

The city of Phoenix Housing Department purchased the McCarty apartments in 1977 and continued to provide senior housing.  The original building was demolished in 2008 and ground broken for more units and more modern, quality housing for seniors on a fixed income.  The property is the first city-developed low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC) project funded through the Arizona Department of Housing.  The funds enabled the city to build an additional 35 units.  “I welcome the 69 new residents to McCarty on Monroe to District 8,” said Councilman Michael Johnson.  “I’m impressed with all the amenities offered to the seniors, including nearby shopping, restaurants and churches, which are accessible by taking the light rail.”

The Housing Department partnered with six city departments, Arizona Department of Housing, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and other local businesses to complete this housing project.  The city’s Housing Department provides almost 650 units of public housing serving area seniors, plus 336 units of affordable housing for seniors in six Phoenix apartment communities.

Phoenix’s “New Vision” city council slate unveils Plan 468

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Proposed Playa del Sol along the banks of the Rio Salado.

[Source: Scott Wong, Arizona Republic] — Free health care for all Phoenicians.  The creation of a Mexican Riviera-type development along the Rio Salado.  And a new Phoenix energy board to oversee the city’s sustainability efforts.  They are just a few ideas from Plan 468, which the New Vision slate unveiled during a Thursday evening news conference attended by one reporter.

City Council candidates Robert Dennis Johnson (District 4), Nathan Oshop (District 6) and Jon Garrido (District 8), all Democrats, published the six-point strategy online.  “Everybody talks about a comprehensive plan.  We’ve done it,” said Garrido, who is in a three-way race with incumbent Michael Johnson and Darlene Jackson. The plan calls for:

  • Transforming the Rio Salado, or Salt River, into a giant lagoon that would anchor a multi-billion dollar beachfront development called Playa del Sol.  It would serve as a world-class destination, attracting 8 million new tourists to its resorts, golf courses, shops, casino, and Phoenix SeaWorld.
  • Free health care insurance for all Phoenix residents, paid for using $1 billion in casino revenue from the Playa del Sol project.  The only caveat: The proposal relies on Arizona voters to pass an initiative allowing a casino to be built on non-tribal land.
  • Refocusing economic-development efforts from downtown to the Indian School Road Corridor by creating jobs in research and development, light manufacturing, and international trade.  The city would forge business ties with Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and Spain.
  • Forming a city energy board charged with reducing the city’s carbon emissions by 30 percent within 10 years, and redeveloping blighted landfills into revenue-generating commercial developments.
  • Widening the reach of city community centers so they serve all segments of the population.
  • Developing urban mixed-use “nodes” where people can work, shop and play.

Even though the slate is being outspent by incumbent candidates, none have put together a more ambitious and complete plan than New Vision, said Robert Dennis Johnson.  “We realize we are outgunned.  This is a David vs. Goliath fight,” he said.  “But what we have, when you look at this, is substantially more than any of our challengers are offering.”  [Note: Read the full blog post at Phoenix’s “New Vision” city council slate unveils Plan 468.]

Jon Garrido to run for Phoenix District 8 City Council seat

Jon Garrido

[Source: Jahna Berry, Arizona Republic] — Phoenix businessman Jon Garrido, 66, announced Thursday that he would challenge Councilman Michael Johnson for the District 8 city council seat.  On Sept. 1, Phoenix voters will elect four city council members.  Council members Peggy Neely, Tom Simplot, and Sal DiCiccio are also up for reelection.

The centerpiece of Garrido’s campaign is a proposal to redevelop land near the Salt River, which runs south of downtown Phoenix.  Garrido wants to put water in the mostly-dry riverbed, similar to the way that Tempe Town Lake was created.  Garrido also proposes that Phoenix build a “Mexican Rivera” — a casino, hotel, and shops — near Chase Field.  The casino could generate $1.1 billion annually for the city, he estimated.  “We need to make downtown Phoenix a destination,” said Garrido, who owns several news Web sites.  “The first thing that people say when they leave the convention center is, ‘Where’s Scottsdale?'” he said.

He estimated that it would costs $500 million to build the projects, but says that figure does not include the Salt River improvements.  Garrido plans to put an initiative on the November 2010 ballot to pave the way for proposed casino.  Now, only Native American tribes have casinos in the Valley.

Garrido is a fifth generation Arizona resident.  Earlier in his career, he was a real estate consultant.  He’s also held planning and economic development posts in Tuscon, in El Paso, TX, and at the Salt River Maricopa Indian Community.

Phoenix Mayor and Council urge shoppers to spend at home

[Source: Colton Shone, KTAR] — Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon has declared next week “Buy Local Week” in an effort to jump-start the economy.  Kimber Lanning, founder of Local First Arizona, hopes the mayor’s action will get people to shop at mom and pop stores to help them get through the current recession.  “For every $100 you spend in a local business, roughly $42 recirculates in that community,” Lanning said.  “For the same $100 spent in a national chain, only $13 stays.”

[The mayor’s declaration was made at a press conference this morning at the Central and Washington Light Rail Stop in downtown Phoenix.  Joining the Mayor were Members of Council Michael Johnson, Michael Nowakowski, Tom Simplot, and Greg Stanton (all of whom purchased something from a locally-owned business before attending the event).  Nearly 100 local business owners and interested citizens also were in attendance.]

Lanning said local shops often spend for local services.  “The local businesses tend to have local accountants, local attorneys, local sign makers.  All those things are outsourced by national chains.”  She added, “There was a new study done two weeks ago in Grand Rapids, Michigan, that showed that, for every 10% of consumer spending they shifted toward local, they created over 1,000 jobs.  And, conversely, for every 10% they shifted toward national, they eliminated 1,000 jobs.”

The city, already facing a projected $250 million budget deficit, will be in worse shape if people don’t shop local, Lanning said.  “Our pools, our libraries, our parks, our fire department will no longer have any money because all the money will be in the pockets of the shareholders in distant states.”

The city is not trying to boot out the big national retailers, but just keep the mom’s and pop’s competitive, she said.  “We’re trying to level the playing field.  Every great city has a good balance of big and small.  Even if just one in five times when you set out, you deliberately go to a local retailer, a local restaurant, then you’re actually doing something positive for your local community,” she said.

City’s “Shop Phoenix” invitation targeted to local businesses

[Source: City of Phoenix] — The Phoenix City Council approved a plan that will increase significantly the ability of the city of Phoenix to “Shop Phoenix” by increasing the number of Phoenix companies involved in the city bid process.  The city purchases a large quantity of goods and services and, while Phoenix firms win many of the bids, contracts also go to firms outside of Phoenix and outside of the state. 

“By buying more goods and services within Phoenix, local firms will be able to maintain and even increase jobs at their facilities while helping to build the Phoenix tax base,” said District 5 Councilman Claude Mattox.  “We plan to implement this program in the next 30 days and evaluate the results in June 2009, the end of the fiscal year.”  According to District 8 Councilman Michael Johnson, “By increasing our efforts to target local businesses, we will build stronger lines of communication, have more competitive bids and potentially increase the number of Phoenix businesses winning bids and proposals.”

The outreach program will be implemented in three areas, all formal procurements over $40,000, all procurements less than $40,000 and where the state contract supplier is a non-Phoenix business, the city will consider performing its own bid process to include Phoenix businesses.  The city will continue to purchase quality goods and services at the lowest price.

Neighborhoods work to stop gun violence in south Phoenix

[Source: EV Living, June 05, 2008] — A gun buy-back, a neighborhood cleanup, and community walk are part of the “Take Back Your Neighborhood” campaign recently unveiled by Mayor Phil Gordon.  The month-long campaign will focus on four specific neighborhoods that, according to police, experience a disproportionate amount of gun violence and include several events specifically designed to make the neighborhoods a safer place. 

Joining the mayor were Phoenix City Council members Michael Johnson, District 8, and Michael Nowakowski, District 7, and representatives of the Phoenix Police Department; Phoenix Fire Department; U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF); U.S. Attorney’s Office in Arizona; Silent Witness; and Arizonans for Gun Safety.

The goal of the program is to empower the residents of these neighborhoods to take action to prevent future gun violence.  The neighborhoods involved in the project and their boundaries are:

  • 7/11 Fight Back (7th to 15th avenues and Buckeye Road to I-17)
  • Lindo Park (19th to 23rd avenues and Roeser Road to Southern Avenue)
  • South Vista (12th to 16th streets and Roeser Road to Southern Avenue)
  • Hermoso Park (16th to 24th streets and Vineyard to Broadway roads)

For more information about the program, click here or call 602-222-5400.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

New convention center expected to give downtown a boost

[Source: Jahna Berry, Arizona Republic] — A huge economic engine is rising near Third and Monroe streets in downtown Phoenix, city officials say.  Work continues on the Phoenix Convention Center North Building, which will help funnel $350 million into the regional economy each year, according to city projections.  By 2013, that number could grow to $500 million a year, city officials say.  “We are planting the seeds for future tourism in the state of Arizona,” said Jay Green, director of the convention center. 

The North Building, which is 569,000 square feet, is the final and biggest phase of the $600 million Phoenix Convention Center makeover.  The project will be completed in December and will welcome its first convention in January, Phoenix officials say.  “We are looking at this as the centerpiece downtown,” said Councilman Michael Johnson, whose district includes the convention center.  Few signs of the old Civic Plaza, old convention center complex that opened in 1972, are left.  The name was changed to the Phoenix Convention Center.  A new 155,400-square-foot West Building was completed in 2006, and the old North Building was razed to make way for the one now under construction. [Note: To read the full article, click here.]