Flagstaff City Council and mayoral candidates have been given the chance to answer a weekly question in no more than 150 words. This week’s question: How do you feel about the current relationship between the city and the university and would you like to see it change in any way?
It’s imperative to perceive NAU as a community asset rather than a liability. It cannot be denied that NAU is an economic driver essential for our community.
NAU’s growth has impacted our mountain town. I listened and understand the frustrations of Flagstaff citizens who believe NAU’s aggressive growth cause traffic congestion, high-rise buildings and a higher cost of living for residents. It’s time for city leadership to take a proactive approach to growth at NAU, working together with citizens and the university to study the true impacts, positive and negative, and create a joint strategic plan to work toward solutions.
It's time to improve and build upon existing relations and communications between the City and NAU and work as partners in pursuit of community vitality. It's time to find areas of cooperation and foster synergy with NAU and its stakeholders on economic and workforce development, infrastructure, road and traffic management, sustainability, housing, safety and crime prevention.
The conflict between NAU and the City of Flagstaff seems to be an ongoing issue regardless of who you ask. We first need to look at the university’s purpose and its impact on Flagstaff. I think everybody will agree that the traffic issue in Flagstaff is becoming more frustrating as the university grows. Many point at developers providing off campus student housing because the university is not building dormitory facilities. NAU is developing and building as a research institution. This benefits our community because it will attract high tech companies that provide careers that pay a living wage and benefits.
I would propose a full-time city planning position to work with the university in coordinating economic development and possible land swaps to help alleviate housing issues and congestion concerns. The question is, what is this city and NAU ready to give up to get what we all want?
The Arizona Board of Regents (ABOR), which gives direction to all state public universities, is trying to grow NAU similarly to ASU and UofA. The problem is that Flagstaff isn’t Phoenix or Tucson. The ability to increase Flagstaff’s population at the rate that ABOR envisions NAUS’ growth causes friction, especially when it comes to housing developments and off campus conduct. The fact that NAU is planning to grow, but not to house more students on campus, puts the new students on the backs of our neighborhoods and the pressure for housing them on our town. This creates a lot of frustration and controversy.
We need a relationship with NAU and ABOR that is based on mutual respect, understanding of each other’s needs (not just the needs of the university), and compromises. A relationship where the University makes plans that align with the City’s vision and strategies for growth and safety.
After conducting thousands of door-to-door conversations during my listening campaign, it’s clear that the Flagstaff/NAU relationship has recently soured.
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The root causes include a lack of communication — which ought to be fixable. Few city residents understand the pressures placed on NAU to expand for survival as a result of Arizona’s abysmal funding of education broadly. Meanwhile, the university has disregarded residents’ concerns as it elbows into historic neighborhoods and ties up traffic with inadequate student vehicle management policies. Of particular concern to me is the drain that NAU’s exploding population represents on already-strained city public safety resources.
The university doesn’t shoulder its fair share of police and fire responsibilities. NAU has an obligation to help keep Flagstaff safe and thriving. The next Council must deliver this message to ABOR, which oversees the university administration. I’m among those candidates who possess the skills and background necessary to effectively engage that process.
I do not have a basis to determine how satisfied I am with the relationship. However, I would make one comment and one recommendation:
Comment: Many Community members are concerned with the growth of the student housing stock and they were not aware as to how it was planned and approved. Reading “The Flagstaff Regional Plan 2030,” I do not see where the authors identify off-campus housing when dealing with all of the sustainable and cost factors in Appendix B.
Recommendation: Enhanced messaging/communications from the City and NAU leadership can contribute to an educated community during the next build out phase.
I think we should be working more as community partners, and better communicate with those who have the power to address the issue — the governor and Arizona Board of Regents. We are all a part of the Flagstaff community, NAU or otherwise. We raise our children here, drive on the same roads, and feel the pressures and frustrations the same way. We are all concerned for the community’s future.
Let’s be clear. NAU doesn’t set the enrollment targets. That’s done by the Arizona Board of Regents in Phoenix. We need open lines of communication to better address our issues. Former elected officials of Flagstaff would go to Phoenix and speak at public participation segments of ABOR meetings when issues arose, and were successful in their efforts. Council and the mayor should do the same. The governor appoints ABOR members, and we should strongly advocate to have input on those decisions.
NAU is a vital part of Flagstaff, there’s no denying that. At the city we’ve been building a better relationship with NAU, we share a community and held joint meetings with administration.
However, concerning the university’s rapid expansion, the most relevant relationships are not between the city and NAU. The directive for growth, and the bonuses paid out to administrators tasked with that growth come from the board of regents, who are appointed by the governor. Furthermore, the state legislature slashed enormous amounts of funding from our public universities, funding that had to made up with tuition dollars.
I live next to NAU, and I’m as frustrated as you are. Until we have a governor who will stop paying people hundreds of thousands of dollars to increase NAU enrollment, and a legislature that will fund education all the meetings in all the world won’t slow the growth.