Tempe City Council candidates sounded off on some of the most pressing issues affecting Tempe and offered solutions to how they would tackle problems if elected.
Council candidates Arlene Chin, Casey Clowes, Gina Kash, Harper Lines, John Skelton and incumbent Jennifer Adams responded to nearly two hours of questions during a virtual forum on Wednesday sponsored by The Arizona Republic and Tempe Chamber of Commerce.
The event moved online because of the COVID-19 surge.
Candidate Berdetta Hodge, a board member in the Tempe Union High School District, did not attend because she had a governing board meeting. Hodge said in a prepared statement that was read during the forum that as an elected leader she must maintain her commitment to the teachers, students and residents of the district.
Growth and development and its impacts on the city dominated the discussion. The Arizona Coyotes proposal to build a new arena and entertainment district near Tempe Town Lake was discussed, as was the 2020 presidential election.
Ballots in the all-mail March 8 election will be sent to all registered voters beginning Feb. 9.
Here’s a look at some of the responses to questions at the forum. The Republic spoke to Hodge on Thursday to share her positions with voters as well.
The forum is available online and will be rebroadcast several times on Tempe channel 11 on Cox Cable.
Coyotes arena deal
The National Hockey League team, which has played in Glendale since 2003, wants to build a $1.7 billion development with a 16,000-seat arena, hotels, apartments and shops on 46 acres near Priest Drive and Rio Salado Parkway that the team said would be financed by private investors. The team wants to use a portion of city sales tax revenues generated on the site to help pay for $200 million in infrastructure and other costs to get the site shovel-ready.
A city committee is reviewing the team’s bid and is expected to make a recommendation to the City Council by the end of February.
Candidates weighed in on whether they supported the plan and what would be their key requirements if hammering out a deal with the team.
Skelton: A former Arizona Cardinals quarterback who operates an in-home senior care center in the East Valley, Skelton said the NHL team’s proposal appeared to be a “good deal” for Tempe, especially as that land isn’t currently generating revenue for the city. A development of that size could cause traffic issues and he said if elected he would want to look at what the city can do to alleviate congestion around the project.
Clowes: An attorney and community advocate whose work focuses on environmental and social equity causes, Clowes said she grew up playing hockey and attending Coyotes games. If elected, she would look at the benefits and drawbacks of developing an arena as opposed to another type of development on that land. One deal point she would drill down on would be any financial incentives like property tax subsidies offered to the team, which she doesn’t support. She would also encourage the team to prioritize hiring Tempe residents, hiring companies that offer fair wages and hiring companies that use apprenticeship programs during construction.
Kash: The project could help draw money for local businesses and she would support the arena, said Kash, a former top-level Republican caucus staffer at the Arizona House of Representatives where she started in 1998. She wants to see local businesses prioritized in the project and would want to have discussions with residents on whether tax dollars should be used in the deal.
Lines: A member of the Tempe Arts and Culture Commission who oversees community engagement at the University of Phoenix, Lines said the city needs to weigh potential job opportunities and economic development benefits of an arena against transportation issues it could cause. The city also needs to consider the team’s rocky relationship with Glendale and reports of late rent and other payments to Glendale so that the city isn’t saddled with debt if it enters into a deal with the Coyotes.
Adams: The council member who was first elected in 2018 said she is currently involved in negotiations and couldn’t comment on the question but that she “evaluates everything very carefully” to see if a deal is a right fit for Tempe.
Chin: Appointed by the council to fill a vacancy on the dais from May 2019 to July 2020, Chin, who works for the ASU Foundation and is active in city commissions and nonprofit boards, said overall she is supportive of bringing more investment to Tempe and of projects that could bring jobs and business development but it has to pencil out financially for the city. She raised concerns about the infrastructure needs to support such a large project, potential burdens it could put on city systems and the cost of moving a city operations yard that is on the site that would have to be moved before construction.
Hodge: Hodge, who has long been involved in the local community, said she would support the project if it’s the right fit for Tempe. She is optimistic that a project of this magnitude could bring more jobs and commerce to the city but would want to make sure that traffic issues and neighborhood impacts are addressed. She wants the team to prioritize working with union contractors that provide prevailing wages, create partnerships with community groups and schools to provide opportunities for residents and support parks and neighborhoods. She wouldn’t support city funding for the project and said Tempe residents shouldn’t be taxed for it.
Tempe has seen development reshape downtown and areas around Tempe Town Lake and Arizona State University, from glass-sided office buildings to higher-end apartments and condos.
Candidates discussed various questions related to development, from whether the city is prepared to handle more growth, particularly downtown, to how development impacts historic preservation and neighborhood needs.
Lines: He said the city must be forward-thinking as it grows to address issues such as congestion that come with additional residents and development. Neighborhood and preservation needs shouldn’t be pitted against development needs, and the city should involve all stakeholders and find a balance, he said.
Kash: She wants projects to get proper vetting and to involve all stakeholders, including residents.
Clowes: The city needs additional housing and to invest in multimodal transit and the public transportation system to prepare for growth. There is a way to balance preservation needs and growth by building smaller-density projects that add units without affecting existing properties or residents, she said.
Chin: She said the city is ready for the developments planned in the downtown area and she invites the growth which can help increase commerce in the city. In terms of historic preservation, Chin supports preservation but while it should be taken into account as part of the development process, it shouldn’t stop growth, she said.
Skelton: Growth can put a strain on city infrastructure and exacerbate housing shortages so he said the city needs more houses, investments in infrastructure and multimodal transportation. Stakeholders need to be brought to the table and he would weigh the impacts of individual projects on neighborhood needs and historic preservation as they move through the development process, he said.
Adams: She said the city is ready for the expected growth but needs to listen to neighborhoods to see how developments impact existing residents. She supports historic preservation and believes the city shouldn’t lose its history.
Hodge: She supports smart, quality developments that will create jobs and add needed housing but she said development should happen equitably across the city and not just be focused in north Tempe. Traffic, particularly downtown, is one drawback of growth that the city needs to address. Hodge said balancing growth with neighborhood needs and historic preservation requires bringing everyone to the table and giving them a voice in the development process.
Tempe development:Billion dollar project to transform south shore of Tempe Town Lake
Tempe has some of the Phoenix area’s highest rents, and rising housing costs have put a squeeze on renters and buyers as older apartments and mobile home parks are demolished for high-end options.
Mayor Corey Woods last year launched an initiative known as Hometown for All to provide a dedicated funding stream to help the city purchase and develop affordable units.
Here’s what candidates say they would do to alleviate the problem.
Adams: She said she is a strong supporter of the Hometown for All initiative and would like to see it grow. She is also proud of the work the city is doing to provide temporary housing and transitional living space for people experiencing homelessness.
Lines: He would work with developers to increase the city’s housing stock and provide affordable apartments, townhouses and family homes. The city also needs to set aside more land to be developed into affordable housing, he said.
Chin: Supporting strong programs, like Hometown for All, is one way to increase the number of affordable apartments and homes in the city. Chin would want to grow the fund, she said.
Clowes: When her family lost their home, Clowes said it was Tempe neighbors who helped her mom find a landlord “who took a chance on a mom and two kids” and pitched in while the family got back on its feet. Clowes said not everyone is lucky enough to have community backing and the city needs to have systems in place to ensure residents stay housed. She would invest in and expand Hometown for All and encourage the development of what she described as missing middle housing and gentle density housing that would add additional units without changing the character of a neighborhood that can help first-time homebuyers and seniors, she said.
Kash: She praised the city’s efforts to create a dedicated funding source for the development of affordable housing through Hometown for All and said she would support the program. She would also like to see the city purchase hotels for affordable housing, she said.
Skelton: The city can improve on its work by partnering with developers and nonprofit organizations to develop more affordable housing, he said.
Hodge: She supports the mayor’s Hometown for All initiative and said it’s a model for what cities need to do to increase affordable housing. She would want to grow the fund and also leverage the city’s relationship with developers to encourage that a percentage of units they build are maintained as permanently affordable.
Tempe transformation:City to redevelop former Food City site into affordable housing
Tempe has one of the Valley’s most robust public transit systems with connections to regional bus routes, free neighborhood circulators and several stops on the Valley Metro light rail line.
The city’s streetcar will begin operating this spring on a 3-mile loop through downtown.
The route isn’t operational yet but already Tempe leaders are working with Mesa to study a proposed extension along Rio Salado Parkway that would connect downtown Tempe to Sloan Park and Mesa Riverview.
Candidates addressed whether they would support the extension and spoke about what other multimodal options they would champion.
Adams: Traffic is an issue in Tempe and she supports extending the streetcar to Mesa because it would help get more cars off Rio Salado Parkway, she said. Adams also wants to see additional bus services, expanded Orbit routes and bicycle lane improvements.
Lines: He said he is for any option that encourages the use of public transportation versus adding cars to Tempe’s already congested roads and supports the expansion of the streetcar. He also supports bike lanes, particularly on the Apache Corridor.
Chin: She said she supports providing multimodal options for residents and an expanded streetcar route could provide traffic relief downtown.
Clowes: Expanding the streetcar route would help increase ridership, decrease traffic and help address climate goals by getting cars off the road, she said.
Kash: She supports expanding the streetcar but was wary that construction could impact businesses along the route. She would want to see federal infrastructure dollars help accelerate construction timelines and provide aid to businesses that are affected.
Skelton: He supports expanding the streetcar, particularly if there is federal money available for the project. Skelton, who said he rides his bike from his south Tempe home to downtown, would also like to see the streetcar extended south.
Hodge: She supports extending the streetcar route because it would help alleviate traffic and provide transit options to residents who don’t have access to a car but said the city must be cautious about construction impacts on businesses along the line. She wants to see more bus routes and expansion of the Orbit system, too, she said.
Surveys have shown that Arizonans and more broadly Americans have growing and widespread concern about climate change and want government action to address a prolonged drought, water shortages, record-breaking heat and giant wildfires that plague the Southwest.
Some Arizona cities and counties have taken the lead on climate action in the absence of state and national measures. Tempe is among a handful of cities that have implemented or are in the process of developing a climate action plan that outlines strategies to help reduce the city’s emissions and become more sustainable.
Candidates discussed how they would address the climate crisis.
Kash: Aside from measures to improve air quality that the city already has in place, the city should incentivize residents to save water through efforts like decommissioning pools and pulling out grass, said Kash, who said she served as a water and environment policy expert while working at the Capitol.
Clowes: She would mitigate climate change impacts by increasing the city’s tree canopy and building green stormwater infrastructure. The city’s climate plan must have measurable goals and teeth to be effective, she said.
Skelton: The city can make some strides by increasing tree cover and encouraging more efficient building practices but climate change is a global issue and will take a global initiative to create improvements, he said.
Lines: He would encourage rainwater harvesting and other water-saving strategies. The city should incentivize xeriscaping and the use of indigenous trees and encourage sustainable building practices in developments
Adams: She has worked with developers to encourage them to increase the tree canopy in projects. She wants to restart the water conservation consultants program that helps residents save water and is pushing to replace trees as they die with low-water-use trees and increase xeriscaping.
Chin: Chin was on the council when the city approved the climate action plan and she said she supports it. She wants to see the city incorporate the plan in city processes and as the city grows.
Hodge: She would implement measures identified in the city’s climate action plan and partner with educational institutions like Arizona State University to explore other ways of saving water and becoming more sustainable. Planting more trees to increase shade canopy and fight off heat effects and xeriscaping are two measures she would encourage, she said.
Months after the 2020 presidential election results were certified and President Joe Biden was sworn into office, efforts continued in Arizona to overturn the results.
After several counts and inspections, a company that oversaw a monthslong partisan review of ballots cast in Maricopa County found that Biden won the election and its report did not claim widespread fraud. The review cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars but the results don’t appear to have assuaged those who believe the election was stolen.
It’s likely to have a lasting effect on Arizona’s highly divided political landscape, including the introduction of several election-related bills at the state Legislature this year.
Residents wrote into The Arizona Republic asking where candidates stood in the election. They wanted to know whether candidates thought the election was fair and free of extensive fraud, whether Biden was elected openly and fairly and whether they supported former President Donald Trump’s assertion that the election was rife with fraud and stolen from him.
Lines: Trump was defeated fairly just as he defeated Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in 2016. The election was free and fair and the most transparent in history, he said.
Chin: She said Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were elected honestly and freely.
Clowes: She said Biden and Harris were elected fairly through the Electoral College despite voting rights coming under attack. The U.S. Senate’s filibuster, a legislative hurdle that requires 60 votes to start debate on a bill, needs to be reformed to allow for voting rights legislation to be introduced, she said.
Kash: She said Biden and Harris won through the electoral college but also said that one of her neighbors remained on the permanent early voting list despite being dead for four years. She said decertifying an election must happen quickly, under the statute, but looking into any type of voting issue takes time, as the audit of the county election showed.
Skelton: He said Biden won and Trump lost.
Adams: The election was fair and the most transparent in history and Biden and Harris won, she said.
Hodge: She said she doesn’t support Trump’s attacks on the election process and said the election was free and fair. Biden won the election, and court claims and recounts have proven that, she said.
AUTHOR: Paulina Pineda
SOURCE: Arizona Republic