Short-term rentals and apartment building construction will be among the top issues Scottsdale faces in the coming year as it leaves the pandemic behind, Mayor David Ortega said in his State of the City address Friday.
“Council enacted tighter restrictions on short-term rentals and we expect push back from the short-term rental industry,” said the mayor, who was originally scheduled to give the annual address live on Jan. 18 but changed it to a video presentation of the pandemic.
Scottsdale passed two laws in 2021 designed to curb abuses by short-term renters.
One requires each property’s emergency contact to respond in person to the site within one hour for emergencies if police have to respond for complaints about unruly gatherings and the other set fines at the maximum allowed by state law. It also mandates civil sanctions through citations filed in City Court to improve enforceability, including the possibility of criminal charges against habitual offenders.
“I will continue to ask the Arizona Legislature to remand to Arizona cities local control and compliance,” Ortega said. “The state failed to fund enforcement with any state office. We must have the ability to protect our neighborhoods.”
Ortega alluded to House Bill 2674, which would strip local governments of control of zoning and land use rights in an attempt to spur more affordable housing. It has been tabled but could come back.
“Recently the Arizona Legislature proposed a bill that would completely strip Scottsdale of our constitutional zoning responsibility regarding multi-family housing. I will vigorously fight any bill which circumvents local control,” Ortega said.
He also said the city is also changing its approach toward the McDowell Sonoran Preserve.
“Council directed that the McDowell Sonoran Preserve study funding mechanisms for fire hazard abatement, maintenance and operations rather than seek funds for additional land acquisition,” Ortega said. “The Preserve sales tax for land purchases expires in 2025. In 2022, council must shift gears to identify funds to keep our preserve healthy and accessible in perpetuity.”
He also said the Civic Center will reopen next January year and “Center will be rededicated with three new entertainment platforms, botanical gardens and family-friendly spaces.”
“Scottsdale initiated action to designate the award-winning City Hall as an historic, protected landmark. At our next State of the City, we will celebrate the reopening of our Civic Center campus, which interlaces performing arts, the library, city hall and Scottsdale Stadium, all walkable and accessible to our world-renowned Scottsdale Old Town.”
Climate change will also be on the city’s agenda in 2022, he said.
“Council authorized a comprehensive sustainability plan encompassing climate change, green building, heat island, transportation and energy and water conservation,” Ortega said. “You will be asked to weigh in on this vital project, which will be completed by December 2022.
He also predicted stage two of the city drought mitigation plan is imminent, stating, “We must conserve.”
The pandemic last year “sorely tested” the city, Ortega said.
“We’ve mobilized city, state and federal resources to ensure over 75% of all residents are vaccinated, protecting them from the worst effects of COVID- 19,” he said.
He also noted the city “redeployed more than 60 city staff members to provide needed food and medicine to seniors and immunocompromised residents, conducted wellness checks and created virtual opportunities for our residents to stay connected.”
The city “responsibly deployed federal Cares Act and rescue funds to support a series of rent, mortgage and utility assistance programs to protect families on the verge of losing everything as a result of the terrible pandemic,” Ortega said, and updated its ventilation systems as well.
Among other accomplishments in 2021, City Council’s unanimous passage of an anti-discrimination ordinance with protections for the LGBTQ+ community and other protected classes as well as the General Plan 2035.
The General Plan is the city’s state-mandated long-range planning document that broadly guides development and growth in the city.
The city also has been trying to tackle homelessness, he said, explaining: “I initiated a conversation with state, county, and our neighbors in Tempe and Mesa to form an East Valley collaboration regional homelessness [organization]. Council agreed we could do more regionally and for the first time budgeted $10 million for affordable housing.”
Noting additions to the city’s infrastructure, including building a new water treatment facility and runway at the airport, Ortega said the city “set new records” for the number of building permits, up 35% and valuations increased above pre-COVID levels.
Ortega also called on residents to volunteer this coming year.
“I recently had the pleasure of speaking with a group of students from Mohave Middle School who had come to city hall to learn about local government,” Ortega said. “During a conversation an eighth-grade student asked me an important question. She asked, ‘Mayor, what do you give to?’ It was a great question because the answer reveals a lot about a person. What is important to them? Where do they focus their attention, their time, their money.
“I responded it’s not about writing a check. For me, it is my time. I have volunteered several years at Pueblo Elementary School as a reading coach. It’s not about story time reading, it’s about spending time one-on-one with a young person, eventually finding the topic that sparks a hesitant reader to want to read, and then ignites that young mind to love reading.”
Ortega also said the city will face its challenges this year as it has in the past.
“No one can say what challenges await us,” he said. “What we do know is that we face them with determination. With our western attitude we face the future with optimism and grit like the west’s most western town should.”
AUTHOR: J. Graber