Volunteers with the Northern Arizona Red Cross Disaster Action Team are used to giving aid to victims of house fires. However, this December has been an especially busy month.
“I would say in Flagstaff we are dealing with double the house fires we normally have,” DAT Program Manager Brooke Clanton said.
The DAT team has helped a large number of families during a month where heavy snow would usually prevent the dry conditions that created some of these house fires.
The DAT team has assisted nine families affected by house fires, with money for clothes, food and lodging across Northern Arizona this month, with five of the fires occurring in Flagstaff.
“It has been a pretty busy month for us,” volunteer Brad Barnett said.
The Red Cross DAT program is meant to give residential fire victims immediate assistance after a fire.
Volunteer Lesly Livingston said her team is essential to helping people who are in shock after a tragedy.
“We are trying to give people enough money to buy a couple of outfits, get some food or find some lodging while they wait for their insurance to kick in or they figure out what they are going to do next,” Livingston said. “A lot of people have just lost everything so they shouldn’t have to worry about what they are going to eat or where they are going to stay.”
Northern Arizona Red Cross Executive Director Frank Boruget said that the DAT team expects more house fires during the holiday season because people are inside using their heaters.
“The holiday season is always a busy one for us because families are inside to escape the cold and they are using fireplaces, space heaters, coal and firewood to heat their homes. We expect house fires this time of year,” Boruget said. “But we also usually have some rain and snow by this time and I think the dryness has been the reason for this increase in house fires.”
The Red Cross finds out about victims through the local fire departments, who give out information about the DAT program.
“We have a really good working relationship with all the fire departments,” Clanton said. “They know who we are and they give our information to people so they can call us if they need help.”
The DAT team also helps people get through the emotional and mental toll of a house fire by directing victims to free counseling sessions and helping them navigate through complicated insurance policies.
“We try and stay with people through the whole process,” volunteer Brad Barnett said. “We can help you get counseling if you need it or we can help you with insurance if you need that.”
Livingston said that after people have the bare necessities they just need some compassion.
“I let people know that I have been through a house fire myself or if they need a hug I give them a hug,” Livingston said. “We just want people to know that we are here to help and we let them know that we are here to help through our words and actions.”
One of the Flagstaff City Council’s most consequential votes came early in the year, when a supermajority of the council voted to amend the citizens’ initiative Proposition 414, delaying the requirement that the city’s minimum wage must always be $2 above Arizona’s.
The amendment required a supermajority to vote twice in favor of changing the law, and it appeared that it would fail at the second reading when Councilman Charlie Odegaard, who originally voted in favor, changed his mind and opposed the amendment.
However, Councilman Scott Overton, who originally voted against the amendment, changed his vote at the second reading to give the change the supermajority vote it needed to comply with Arizona’s Voter Protection Act. Mayor Coral Evans, Vice Mayor Jamie Whelan and councilmembers Eva Putzova, Celia Barotz and Jim McCarthy also voted in favor of the amendment.
The amendment prevented the city’s minimum wage from jumping to $12 in July after already increasing to $10 in January from $8.05, alleviating some of the worry expressed from the business and social service industries.
However, providers of services for disabled residents in the city said the delay did not address the crux of the issue, which they said was the Legislature’s unwillingness to boost state grants to cover their rising payrolls in Flagstaff. Providers approached the city council asking for consideration for funding in the council’s 2019 budget.
The city council also ended up divided on another hot button issue in 2017: whether the city should include a three-acre parcel on Schultz Pass and Fort Valley roads in a bundled request for proposals for affordable housing.
In the first several meetings, despite a large amount of public resistance, the council chose to keep the parcel, along with two others on the east side of town, included in the request. However, after a group of citizens approached the council with a petition asking them to rezone the parcel as open space, Mayor Coral Evans and councilmen Jim McCarthy, Charlie Odegaard and Scott Overton voted against including the parcel in the finalized proposal. The group instead opted to include a third parcel on Lone Tree Road in the proposal in place of the Schultz Pass parcel.
However, the council ultimately decided against rezoning the parcel as open space, despite the petition. The group of citizens has since proposed including the open space designation for the parcel in a proposed sales tax to fund open space, parks and recreation.
In December, the city council voted on the first reading of the rezoning of the parcels included in the request for affordable housing. City documents say between 40 and 60 subsidized rental units will be created in the project.
In June, the council finalized the city’s 2018 budget, which included a 7 percent increase to the city’s primary property tax levy, which City Manager Josh Copley said would be used to help fund new positions for the police and fire departments. The increase to the levy, or the total revenue the city collects, was the first increase after five years of keeping the levy flat.
The levy increase represented a $17 increase on a home worth $300,000.
Flagstaff Police arrested a man on Christmas Day on suspicion of second-degree homicide after he allegedly beat his estranged girlfriend and left her outside in the cold in the 2200 block of East Cedar Avenue.
Vaughn Seumptewa is currently being held in the Coconino County Detention Facility on $1 million bail after Nicole Joe, 40, was found dead in Seumptewa’s apartment.
According to police, the suspect admitted to police that he had been involved in a verbal and physical altercation with Joe on Sunday night. Joe reportedly left the apartment and returned, requesting that Seumptewa let her in because of the cold, according to Flagstaff Police Spokesman Cory Runge.
Seumptewa told police that he grabbed Joe, threw her onto the ground, jumped on top of her and struck her multiple times in the head with his fist.
Vaughn then went back inside the apartment and locked the door, while Joe was unconscious outside.
The woman was found at 3 a.m. Christmas morning after another resident of the apartment went outside to smoke a cigarette. He brought Joe inside and laid her on the floor of the living room.
None of the apartment’s residents saw Joe conscious during the time they found her, according to Flagstaff Police.
Seumptewa has a long criminal history that consists of multiple assault charges, prescription drug possession and an aggravated DUI.
He spent one year in prison for an aggravated assault in 2011 and more than two years for a 2013 conviction for unlawful use of transportation and aggravated DUI.
This is the fifth recorded murder this year in Flagstaff. Police recorded zero homicides in 2016.
A 2-year fight over a 591-bedroom apartment complex being built in the Southside came to a close in April, when a visiting judge from Pima County ruled against an appeal of the Flagstaff Board of Adjustment’s decision to allow the building to be constructed.
Judge James Marner ruled the city’s transect zoning code did allow The Hub, which spans two zoning designations, to be built in the T5 and T4 zones.
The main argument in the case, which was also the main argument to the Board of Adjustment, was whether a commercial block type building, like The Hub, is allowed under the parcel’s zoning. One list in the city’s zoning code that details allowable building types does not include commercial block as acceptable in the T4 zone. However, other areas in the zoning code list commercial block as allowable in that zone.
Marner ultimately ruled in favor of allowing The Hub and said ambiguities in the code must fall in favor of the property owner.
Maury Herman, the owner of 120 Cottage Place, LLC, which appealed the Board of Adjustment’s decision, chose not to appeal Marner’s decision, and construction on the apartment complex began soon after the court’s ruling.
Farther west on Route 66, demolition began for another housing project geared toward students: The Standard, a 650-bed apartment complex. The project had been dormant for about a year before removal of the buildings on the property began in September.
Nearly 300 NAU students were unable to move into Fremont Station, an apartment complex geared toward students in August, when several of the buildings were not completed in time for move-in. Students were given the option to stay in hotels or find other arrangements until their rooms were completed. All students were able to move in by October 12.
In June, the city was introduced to plans for Mill Town, another proposed student housing development on Milton Road. The project is part of a public-private partnership between the city of Flagstaff, the Arizona Department of Transportation and developer Vintage Partners.
Early plans for the commercial and student housing project include 1,221 beds geared toward Northern Arizona University students, commercial use along Milton and a Milton Road pedestrian underpass. The project would be built where the ADOT facilities are, once the department is moved to the building that used to be the Harkins movie theater on University Avenue.
Development in one neighborhood left residents feeling like they were being pushed out. The construction of stacked triplexes near the university in the Southside left some residents frustrated as their single-story homes were dwarfed by larger structures, which will bring more people and more cars to streets that residents feel are already filled to their limit. Zoning in some of the neighborhoods in the Southside allows developers to build to 60 feet.
Nearly 50 families living in Arrowhead Village Mobile Home Park were notified in November the park would no longer be open for residential use after May 7 and all residents must vacate the park.
Around the city, housing prices continued to climb toward pre-Recession levels. Flagstaff-area housing prices in the third quarter of 2017 set a record high median sale price of $382,000, which is 8 percent higher than the same period a year ago. Many neighborhoods in the city exceeded home prices from 2006 and 2007, which was when prices hit their previous highest points.
Flagstaff employers grappled with two minimum wage increases when the state’s minimum wage increased to $10 in January and the city’s increased to $10.50 in July. The Flagstaff City Council voted in March to delay part of the city’s law that requires the city’s minimum wage to always be $2 above the state’s, but the amendment will eventually bring the city’s minimum to $15.50 by 2022.