Monday, December 29, 2008

Light Rail comes to Mesa

The opening of light rail was met with large lines and a lot of interested onlookers. Today is considered to be the real test of the train as a commuter option. However, I would bet that it won't really be a commuter test until next Monday when everyone returns to a regular work week.

I know people who have the first part of the week off, and others who have the second half off, and some very lucky ones who have the whole week off. So, it may take some time to test the commuter capabilities, but it will get a good workout on New Years Eve for the block party and the Insight bowl. Soon after, they will be decked out for the NBA All-Star game.

I was not able to attend the opening, so if you were there, let me know how the party was and if Grand Funk put on a good show. As I have said before, I am going to wait and see how this thing works out, but its great that people are paying attention. Now, the question will be if they are actually willing to use the light rail as a viable form of transportation.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Waveyard waiting game

Waveyard was welcomed to Mesa with open arms after a resounding victory about 13 months ago. Now, they are having trouble securing the financing to get the project off the ground. This should not come as that big of a surprise based on the fact that everyone seems to be financial trouble right now, including most of the cities in the Valley. You are also seeing developers and homebuilders close up shop, so it gives you a fairly decent understanding of the economic climate.

However, the founders remain positive in their quest and believe that Waveyard will still be a reality. They have it right when they say, "It's not like (other) things are getting done and Waveyard is not." While that is true, it would be helpful for them to keep the community informed with their activities and how their plans are taking shape.

We really don't hear anything from Waveyard until Republic reporter Gary Nelson picks up the phone and asks. It sounds like the Mayor and City Manager receive regular updates, which is encouraging, but last time I checked, it was the voters who approved the project. This has been an issue I have covered before (here and here), but I still believe that there is a partnership between the folks behind Waveyard and the community which should be fostered. Its one thing for them to say that Waveyard will still get built, its another for them to show the community that they are committed to reaching their goal.

I understand that they are busy trying to make this thing happen, but it only makes sense that they should do what is necessary to make sure they are still a welcome part of the community when the finally open their doors. After all, one would expect that they would like a steady base of customers to actually come from Mesa.

Looking for creative re-use

Here is an interesting article about Mesa and their efforts to reuse old big box buildings and turn them into something else. This is not a problem exclusive to Mesa, in fact, its happening all over the valley with the closing of Mervyns, Circuit City, and Linens N Things, which are basically in every community.

The good news is, Mesa actually has a bit of a track record of finding creative things to do with big boxes and reinvigorating the area surrounding them. They mention Mekong Plaza and an incoming Mexican grocery, but there are other examples. Amazing Jakes is another example of an innovative use of an old big box. The converted outlet stores near Superstition Springs is another example of a reuse that taught lessons of what not to do.

As other communities and their shopping centers catch up in age, we are going to see more creative uses for these power centers and shopping plazas that have popped up over the years. Hopefully Mesa can be ahead of the curve and serve as an example of how other communities can effectively re-use buildings. In my mind, that would be an okay reputation to have.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Budget cuts finalized

The City of Mesa has finalized their $61 million in budget cuts. The Mayor and the Council took the time to talk about their opinions on the cuts and their thoughts for the long term. Overall, the impression I get is that these cuts were hard, but they retain hope for the future.

My hope is that these cuts will make the city think about the actual needs of the community and the services that they provide. These cuts have allowed to some restructuring, but that doesn't mean that they should be done tinkering with the system just because the budget problem has been fixed. In fact, during this lean time is the best time to decide which services are essential to the community and what Mesa can do to be the best at providing those services.

When prosperity returns, I hope they will also take this efficiency into consideration instead of going back to their old ways. If you lose your job or get a pay cut, and have to sell your home, very rarely do you return to your old home. You would hope, that when you get back on your feet, you take a time to find a newer and better home that has some of the same amenities that you enjoyed previously along with upgrades or changes that you realized were important to you.

I agree with Councilman Richins that reinstating pay that had been cut is a start, but from there, I hope they don't just hire more people back or return staff positions just because they can.

Lame duck flapping her wings

In the wake of granting of "meet and confer" powers to labor authorities, the new incoming GOP leadership has asked Governor Napolitano not to issue any more executive orders. Two Mesa Legislators have had a lot to say about Napolitano's efforts.

Newly Elected Speaker Kirk Adams said, "It would be unprecedented for an outgoing governor to issue last-minute executive orders that tie the hands of the incoming administration. Unless it involves a state emergency, the governor should not be creating new policies that will not be her responsibility to oversee."

Newly Elected Senator Russell Pearce said in another article, "This is simply outrageous, and it’s a payback for the unions, and that’s very clear that’s what it is. If she was serious about this and thought that was a good idea…why wouldn’t she have done this six years ago? She does it while she’s got a bus ticket out of town?"

Its hard not to see this as payback to the unions for all of their years of support. Unlike most, I am neither shocked nor appalled by the notion that - gasp - a politician is loyal to those who are loyal to him or her. However, I do have concerns over Napolitano's decision and I think that the unions should have concerns as well.

First, my concerns. I don't think that putting salary negotiations and unionizing the state workforce is in the best interest of the taxpayers right now. Napolitano has already done her part to create this giant deficit and now she is leaving us with another gift while her bags are packed and she has one foot out the door. I have noticed a lot lately that people hold to the fact that she is a "popular" governor and she was elected twice. However, I would question that if people asked right now what they thought of her, her popularity would be down significantly. From the Janet Cams to the mounting debt, I think her supporters are covering their ears to the bad news to they can remember her fondly.

Secondly, the concerns I see for the unions. Obviously, its not going to be popular for a new Governor to come in and strip off something that another Governor did, but it is certainly doable. If it were something that had been done years ago, I would assume that it would have a better chance of surviving. Which brings up Pearce's point - why didn't Napolitano do this earlier? This endorsement of meet and confer by Napolitano is tepid, at best, which should not be a great comfort to the unions, especially after I assume they spent hundreds of thousands of dollars supporting her for the past 6 years.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Gateway Airport's Future

Gateway Airport has finished their master plan after working on it for the last two years. It took a bit of looking, but I believe you can check out all of the documentation on the City of Mesa's site.

The exciting news is that they are predicting over 2 million passengers by 2027. Depending on development, they could see more than 5 million in that period of time. I am glad that they are being realistic, especially right now, when development seems to be grinding to a halt.

The expansion would not only be a benefit to Mesa but also the entire Southeast Valley - but it comes with a fairly hefty price tag. A $755 million estimated cost, with about $342 million falling to the cities does not seem like something that Mesa would be able to commit to in the immediate future. With so much going on out there, including the GM Proving Grounds project, its essential that Mesa is able to find ways to make that airport capable of handling an influx of traffic.

More arrests in Golfland Case

The Sheriff's office has made two more arrests in the employer sanctions case against Golfland/Sunsplash for hiring illegal immigrants (Republic version here). Now word yet on how many deputies it took to carry out the arrests, but it remains newsworthy when the sheriff does his job.

I would guess that this is the type of article written to sell newspapers. I am sure that there were a lot more arrests for different offenses on Tuesday, but these are noteworthy because they are controversial. Of course, if the goal here was to increase web traffic and sell papers, they have succeeded because I am writing about it as well.

I hate it when they trick me.

Father Dale excommunicated

My nearly year old post about Father Dale Fushek remains one of the most read posts from this site. He is clearly a polarizing figure.

Now, the news has been announced that he has been excommunicated from the Catholic Church. Bear in mind, this is the same guy who organized bringing the Pope to Arizona and introduced Life Teen. His trial is still pending, and while he has not been able to participate in Catholic Services, he has been leading worship through the "Praise and Worship Center" which has been attracting hundreds to their services.

While its still unclear what his underlying motives are, this excommunication has raised the stakes for Fushek. Now, it is known that even if he is found innocent, he will not be able to go back to the life he once knew. And if he is found guilty, how will that impact those people who attend the Praise and Worship center?

Mixed news for people with disabilities

This current economy has brought a mixed bag of news for the community as a whole as well as those with disabilities.

On the positive side, a gallery featuring artists with disabilities has opened downtown across from the Mesa Arts Center. They are currently renting the space purely for the cost of the utilities, which I would assume is a function of the landlord wanting the building to be occupied. In this case, it doesn't cost the landlord anything since the space wasn't being used, and they get to build goodwill within the community.

However, as reported on the front page of the Tribune this morning, the current budget cuts threaten programs for the disabled, with some programs being reduced and others being eliminated completely. Just as the cost cuts have impacted other quality of life items, these special programs are also threatened by the multi-million dollar hole that Mesa faces.

Perhaps these two organizations could get together to find a way to work to eachother's mutual benefit.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Gaylord Election Part 2

Just a little while after my last post, I got a press release in my email with the complete listing of the people who filed in support of the Gaylord Election. I had said before that 41 was impressive, but I didn't know it was a record number.

Here is the release I received from the campaign:

Record Number of Ballot Arguments Filed in Support of Proposition 300 – Mesa Proving Grounds Resort Core
Yes on 300 files 41 statements of support from across Mesa for the March 2009 Election

MESA – The Yes on 300 committee in support of the Mesa Proving Grounds Resort Core filed a record number of ballot arguments with the Mesa City Clerk yesterday. In all, 41 statements were filed in support with zero statements filed in opposition.

These ballot arguments will be part of the official publicity pamphlet containing ballot language and background information that the City of Mesa will send to every registered voter. Citizens are given an opportunity to submit letters of support or opposition to be included in the pamphlet.

"I am pleased with the record number of people who were willing to show their support for this historic project," said Councilmember Scott Somers, Chairman of the Yes on 300 Committee. "Our goal with this committee will be to educate voters about the project. We want to show how the largest private investment in Mesa's history will jump start development in the Gateway area. This will be a catalyst for Mesa's future economic engine."

"We need to be actively looking for opportunities like this to support the long-term health of our economy and boost revenues, especially in these challenging times," said Mayor Scott Smith. "What we will be voting on represents a private investment of one billion dollars, and will create thousands of jobs and millions in revenue for Mesa without a tax increase. We won't have to wait long to see the results either, as Mesa is projected to see nearly $70 million in new revenue in the first 10 years."

The statements of support came from citizens and elected officials from all parts of Mesa and many organizations:

· Mayor Scott Smith
· Councilmember Scott Somers
· Councilmember Kyle Jones
· Councilmember Dave Richins
· Councilmember Dennis Kavanaugh
· Councilmember Alex Finter
· Councilmember Dina Higgins
· DMB Associates Inc.
· Gaylord Entertainment
· United Mesa Firefighters
· Mesa Police Association
· Mesa Fraternal Order of Police
· Mesa Convention and Visitors Bureau
· Mesa Chamber of Commerce
· Speaker-Elect Kirk Adams
· Senator Thayer Vershoor
· Senator-Elect Russell Pearce
· Representative Rich Crandall
· Maricopa County Supervisor Fulton Brock
· Carl Kunasek, Former State Senate President
· Rex Griswold, Former Councilmember
· Dr. Jim Zaharis, Former Mesa Public Schools Superintendent
· John M. Williams, Jr., President, SRP
· Roc Arnett, East Valley Partnership
· Pat Esparza, Chairperson Planning and Zoning Commission
· Frank Mizner, Mesa Planning and Zoning Board Member
· Matt Tolman, Chairman, District 18 Republicans and Former West Mesa City Council Candidate
· Steve Chucri, President and CEO of Arizona Restaurant Association
· Sherry Henry, Arizona Tourism Alliance
· Dr. Sally Downey, Superintendent and CEO, EVIT
· Lynn Strang, President, Mesa Baseline Rotary, Public Relations Director, EVIT
· Dr. John Schroeder, Provost, Chandler-Gilbert Community College
· Marty Whalen, Long-time Mesa Resident
· Terry Benelli, Neighborhood Economic Development
· Brian Campbell, Member of East Valley Partnership Board of Directors and Past Chairman of Mesa's Economic Development and Advisory Board
· Jason Barney, Landmark Companies, Circle G Property Development, Barney Farms
· Chuck Wahlheim, Former CEO Cox Arizona Publications
· John Perkinson, Perkinson Companies
· Arizona Corporation Commissioner Gary Pierce
· Lois C. Yates, Executive Director, Falcon Field Area Alliance
· Deanna Becker, Sophomore, Desert Ridge High School

"Voting Yes on Proposition 300 will bring a world-renowned resort and tourist destination to Mesa. Gaylord Entertainment is known for their 'everything-in-one-place' properties and they have earned a reputation as an employer of choice by treating their employees as STARS," said Robert Brinton, President of the Mesa Convention and Visitors Bureau and Treasurer of the Yes on 300 Committee, "We have a great story to tell and these support statements are just the beginning of our efforts to encourage the passage of Proposition 300 and the Mesa Proving Grounds Resort Core."

Gaylord Election - 41 to 1 apparently

Two interesting stories regarding the Gaylord election in March:

First, Senator Chuck Gray publicly criticized the plan at a chamber meeting. On the other hand, the "ballot arguments" were filed yesterday and there were 41 pro-statements including several other legislators who don't seem to share Gray's opinion. Even Russell Pearce is among those who are supporting the project.

So, from the look of it, the official score appears to be 41 in favor and 1 against, although Gray's statements won't appear in the booklet. I remembered there was an interesting collection of folks who were in favor of the Waveyard project, so I went back and looked, and sure enough Gray was on the list. So why was Waveyard better than the Gaylord plan in his mind? We can look to the other Gaylord resorts around the nation and see how this thing works and they have a track record.

Gary Nelson also whipped out the "who's who" line a year and a half a go when talking about Waveyard and their 23 arguments. I would think that filing 41 is even more impressive. What's more, none of the naysayers appear to be out banging the drum. At least so far.

Mesa Fire Makes Cuts, announces plans

Mesa Fire Department is going to cut 23 positions and about $7.5 million out of their budget. They are also promoting a revised method for handling 911 calls. Still no word on if the cut day of pay is on the table, but I am assuming with these announcements and the change of heart from the fire union head, that they probably aren't.

I am glad that they have come to the same conclusion that I have that it makes more sense to man some of the TRVs as opposed to keeping all of the big trucks on the road. If they think they can do it with only two, I will wait and see, but I thought the 5 TRVs seemed to make more sense to give more coverage across the city. It looks like no department will be spared in this recession.

More on Mesa Cuts

Mesa's Parks and Rec is laying of 56 and may have to close several smaller pools. Mesa Arts Center had their budget cut by 30%. Obviously, with such a dramatic shortfall, these types of cuts could not be avoided. However, I would encourage the city to look into some different ways to perhaps bring some of these quality of life type items back in a different way.

For example, I have no idea how much money is costs to run one of the pools (small or big), but it would be helpful to know. Perhaps, then as a resident near a small pool which may not open next summer, I could try to put together an effort to save the pool for my neighborhood. You could even look for a sponsor, "Blah blah blah community pool brought to you by Coca Cola" or something like that. If its good enough for the Bowl Games, it could be good enough for public amenities.

I understand the short term need for cuts, but this shouldn't preclude us from finding creative ways to maintain our quality of life.

More on Mesa Police and Accreditation

Thoughts on Mesa has issued a follow up post to his story about Mesa Police losing their accreditation. He makes two good points that I agree with:

1. The Police Department, just like any other government entity, should desire to gain the trust of the public and work in an open and honest manner.

2. Citizens are able to vote for County Sheriff, whereas they are not allowed to vote for City employees making the accountability to the citizens less direct.

To be clear, I don't think the story hit a sore spot with me, I just thought it created more questions than answers. His report gives me the impression that the directives of the Mesa Police are now done through word of mouth and policies are not standardized. If that is, in fact, the case, there would be a major problem that must be addressed.

My question, however, is if there is some level in between that the police are achieving? I would assume if I applied for the academy and ended up as a Mesa Police trainee, I would receive some sort of formal training and a policy pamphlet of some sort. Otherwise, how would they get me to sign one of those, "I have read and I understand" statements that seems to be all the rage these days? If its something I need to sign for a library book, I am assuming it would be something that I would have to sign before wielding a gun at people in the name of Mesa.

Secondly, not too long ago, Mesa clarified their immigration policy. Am I to believe that it wasn't written down anywhere? Perhaps I am having some sort of disconnect on exactly what he is talking about. On one hand, I see procedures in place, and on the other hand, he is talking about investigation squads targeting whomever they like. Is that really an accredidation issue or is that something that should be looked into by the independent auditor. I am just having trouble seeing how the two are connected.

Advertising on Light Rail

I was watching the Suns game last night, and when the commercial for the All-Star Game came on, I realized that I had completely forgotten that it was coming to town. Then, I read this article this morning about the All-Star game and NBA and Suns' desire to advertise on the outside of the new light rail cars.

I have now seen some of the shiny new light rail trains and their slate/teal/purple color scheme. They look very nice, but I have to say that they should make an exception for the All-Star game if it will really generate $1.5 million in additional revenue.

The reason why cities attempt to land things like All-Star games and Super Bowls is to attract tourists and money to town. Why leave millions on the table? I am not saying that you should wrap every train from top to bottom to look like basketballs, but there must be an agreement that can be reached where they could do some reasonable advertising.

Not only that, but this is an opportunity to put a protocal in place that allows other events to understand what it takes financially to advertise. I understand where Vice Mayor Jones is coming from on the uniformity thing, but if you only do it on rare major event occasions, it would be a great way to allow the light rail to contribute a little bit more financially.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

What does it mean?

I read on Thoughts on Mesa that the Mesa Police Department is no longer accredited. I looked around the web and no where else did I find this news. So, does this mean that it didn't really happen or its not that big of news? I can't really tell because I looked at the link that they provided and I can't quite figure out what the accreditation means.

It doesn't appear to me to be a procedural issue. It looks like some sort of annual report that must be filed to keep in good standing. The idea of keeping tabs on officers and changing the rules to suit their needs does sound like a law enforcement official... I just can't think of which one. Oh wait, maybe the one who has his own personal swat force and raided Mesa City Hall.

Ironically, Sheriff Joe's jail lost National accreditation in October, but we haven't heard much about it. Is Thoughts on Mesa "flabbergasted" about this as well? Doubtful since they think the Goldwater Institute is missing the ball on their criticism of Arpaio.

If you are going to criticize the Mesa Police Department, point to the "getting paid to put on a uniform" debacle or questioning if they did enough in the Fiesta Mall stabbing. They have their own successes and failures just like any other group.

Demonizing Gascon doesn't really help.

Speed Cameras Redux

Well, it looks like they are finally just about ready to turn on the speed cameras on the US 60. There still does not appear to be any cameras at all on the 202 Red Mountain or on the San Tan, so at least there appears to be a way around it for the time being. However, one would assume that it won't last long.

What is most interesting to me, however, is the fact, that only about 1/3 of the time that the camera goes off are they able to capture and ticket the culprit. I have a few different acquaintances who have been flashed, and very few of them have received their tickets so far. The biggest concern I have heard from people so far is the brightness of the flash at night. Even when the camera flashes in the opposite direction, it is apparently very startling.

Brewer Launches Website

In going through some old email, I saw the announcement from last week that soon-to-be Governor Jan Brewer launched a new website for her transition. She also announced her transition team.

Twitter? Facebook? She is already more websavvy than yours truly. And I think its pretty cool that she is taking suggestions from voters and their priorities for Arizona. I am going to log on recommend that they don't look to take more money from the already struggling cities to make ends meet.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Fallout from the Stapley Indictment

One of the biggest stories while I was out last week was the 118 count indictment of Maricopa County Supervisor Don Stapley. Stapley has been Mesa's representative on the Board of Supervisors since 1993 and has been an oft-mentioned candidate for Congress (in fact, remember when he has the US Capitol on his campaign signs a few years back?).

The indictment was brought down by County Attorney Andrew Thomas and Sheriff Joe Arpaio last week with the large majority of the counts coming from a failure to report business dealings and land ownership. The rift has widened with the Board of Supervisors asking for their own legal representation, Stapley's case being assigned to an anti-Thomas judge, and the thought that Thomas and Arpaio may be stretching the seriousness of the offense.

First, I tend to agree that 118 indictment counts appears to be a tad excessive. Also, wouldn't you at least notify the guy about the issues before dropping such a bomb on him? After all, if these truly are disclosure issues, isn't the goal here to have his dealings disclosed publicly?

As Robb says in his article, there is a penalty for offenses like this, but they are misdemeanors with a financial punishment.

The fact is, only one or two of the 118 counts are probably going to stick, and that is likely all its going to take to get him off the board. Even if he does survive, the damage is done. Look at Sandra Dowling or Kevin Ross. An impression of impropriety is enough to taint an elected official for a long time. I agree with the Tribune, that we should let the facts play out, but I don't quite get their stance on freezing his salary.

The story is getting even stranger, as it turns out, as I have had a few people tell me stories about stakeouts and undercover cars following Stapley and members of his family. What exactly are they looking for? Are they worried that he is going to skip town? How much taxpayer money is being devoted to this task?

Shop Mesa

I am glad to see that Mesa is finally trying to do more to shop in Mesa. This is a creative way to help businesses here at home during the course of the normal procurement process. I am not saying that they should stay in town if they can find the goods significantly cheaper elsewhere, but you never know what you have until you ask.

This is one of the initiatives that I have heard about as of late that I really think makes a lot of sense. We are always looking for ways to attract tourists, car buyers, etc to our town, but why not utilize the revenue we collect help continue to contribute to the local economy?

Gateway plan is finished

The Gateway plan is finished and its going to go to council for a vote. Thoughts on Mesa has a call to action for this to serve as a new downtown for Southeast Mesa and a real chance to stretch our legs with some real urban planning.

The new council has put together a plan with emphasis areas that are focused more on the type of businesses and projects that they want to attract rather than parcelling out a color coded map defining what must go where. I think that this newfound emphasis on flexibility is going to allow this plan to grow and breathe in the long-term and allow Mesa to stay on the cutting edge of planning.

If you want to learn more yourself, you can check out the Gateway section on the City Site.

Train preservation slightly more likely

It turns out that the estimates to refurbish the train at Pioneer Park were a little high because they were based on bringing it to "museum quality." Instead of $400,000, the committee to save the train more than likely needs only about $125,000.

However, the committee still has only raised about $21,000, which means they are only about 17% of the way there. They plan on being at the light rail opening looking to raise more money. They should hit up Grand Funk Railroad.

Also mentioned in the article is the President of the Pacific Locomotive Association who has an almost creepy level love affair with trains. They want to take the engine and return it to actual operation. It doesn't say if they are willing to pay.

As long as its not costing the City, I am okay with giving the local group a chance to raise money. However, if it does start to cost more, I say we let the other folks pony up and take it off our hands.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Great news for Gateway

Thanksgiving Weekend spurred Gateway's busiest day ever on Wednesday with over 2,100 passengers travelling. Bustling parking lots, gift shops, and terminals is a good sign for the future of the airport. It is also downright amazing that the terminal annex was able to be built in about 75 days according to the story.

Allegiant is adding more flights in January and who knows if they have any more plans to throw another super saver cheap flight sale. It will be interesting to see if these passenger counts continue throughout the holiday as people look for flights that are either closer to home or get them to a slightly better destination.

I would assume that other airlines are looking at this growing time along with the Gaylord Resort election in March to see if they should start looking into expanding to Gateway. After all, the future growth of the valley is either south and east into Pinal County or way out west. Sensible airport service closer to home that keep people from having to drive to Sky Harbor is only going to continue to make more sense.

So long, Governor Napolitano

Governor Janet Napolitano is leaving to take the head post at the Department of Homeland Security under the Obama administration. This will elevate Secretary of State Jan Brewer to the Governor's position. It is not clear who becomes Secretary of State, but I think that Brewer gets to pick her replacement.

Although Brewer is from Glendale, I think that this is likely good news for Mesa. First, the Governor and the legislature would both be Republican. This gives Mesa resident Speaker-Elect Kirk Adams the ability to get more stuff done to help Mesa. Secondly, one would assume that Brewer would not take as much money away from the state-shared revenues which would help Mesa in this tough budget time.

Christmas lights with a message

As most people have, I have been to the cul de sac near Guadalupe and Country club with all of the Christmas lights several times. We haven't been for a few years, but I remember the house with the walking path in the backyard with the life of Christ and some sort of message about 9-11. I guess its put together by a local pastor who lives in the house and he has now been doing it for six years.

If you have never been, I would recommend checking it out, especially if your family has a tradition of going out and looking at Christmas lights. Every year, we used to go out and look at the downtown Christmas displays and then check out the lights at the Temple. When the displays went away downtown, we started looking for other places around town to look at lights. I think that the one at Guadalupe and Country Club is one of the best because its not just one or two great houses, its an entire street that really kicks it up a notch.