Economic development, Northern Arizona University and the city’s noise ordinance were all subjects of discussion as this year’s candidates for Flagstaff City council responded to audience questions and went head-to-head during a debate hosted by KAFF News Wednesday evening.
But throughout the debate, which was moderated by news directer Dave Zorn, the main issue many candidates kept returning to was that of housing and how the city should manage its growth.
Council candidate Adam Shimoni even went as far as saying housing was the No. 1 issue in his campaign.
“Members, like NAU in the community, need to be held accountable,” Shimoni said. “Arizona Board of Regents needs to be held accountable and we need to have better relationships with Governor Ducey, who is appointing ABOR, which directs NAU to develop the way they develop.”
Shimoni added that he is opposed to all student-only, off-campus housing developments and said the best way to address the issue was by drastically increasing the supply of housing in Flagstaff, which would lower prices.
Austin Aslan disagreed that increasing the supply is the best solution to the housing issue, and said Flagstaff needs to manage its growth by slowing it down. Aslan said if elected to the council, he would push the city to grow in a more sustainable way.
“Growth is one thing and growth is inevitable and growth can often be good,” Aslan said. “But rapid growth that is doing whatever it wants whenever it wants to is often called cancer in the medical community.”
Alex Martinez, who has served two years on the housing and zoning commission, agreed that the council may need to slow down both growth and the decision-making process, as well as looking outside the box for solutions.
“We have to stop looking at housing in the traditional way, front yard, backyard, two-car garage,” Martinez said. He pointed at co-ops as a good potential solution to the housing issue, but he also said the city should approach the issue by tackling underemployment rather than directly going after housing.
“The university is not our enemy, education is not our enemy, but what is our enemy is underemployment,” Martinez said.
To address the issue of housing, the current council placed a housing bond on the ballot for voters to decide on. If passed, the bond could provide $25 million for affordable housing solutions on both the supply and demand sides of the issue.
But Dennis Lavin said instead of a bond, the city should consider funding such projects through the budget itself.
Lavin said he is also concerned about how new development may be affecting the city’s infrastructure.
“We’ve got a lot of deferred maintenance; it’s kind of a silent topic,” Lavin said. “Our infrastructure is 40 years old -- that’s under the streets. What are we going to do about that? So, I would say about growth, we need to keep that in the back of our mind.”
Regina Salas said when it comes to managing growth, she would first want to take a second look at the regional plan and some of the city’s ordinances.
“[We should] see what has worked and what hasn’t worked and what needs to be modified and adjusted,” Salas said. “Case in point, Flagstaff voters approved the McMillian Mesa natural area. Part of [the mesa] was originally planned, according to the regional plan, for affordable housing. Since now we are protecting that area, we will have to find another property to put housing.”
Paul Deasy agreed that the council may need to adjust ordinances and find ways to allow residents to increase the density on the property they may already have.
“We need a housing supply that serves the residents -- not just the students, but we need single-family homes,” Deasy said. “We need tiny homes to be in people’s backyards so that they can serve students or serve the elderly and [better] use our land.”
The candidates also addressed the issue of Flagstaff’s current noise ordinance.
All of the candidates spoke to the recent controversy over how Council may change regulations on the decibel levels for special events in public places such as the Flagstaff Hullabaloo, and all but one came to the same conclusion.
While most candidates said the city had regulated such events enough when it came to sound, Shimoni said he believed a compromise solution could be found.