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Coconino Voices: Flagstaff voters should decide Schultz Meadow's fate
COCONINO VOICES

Coconino Voices: Flagstaff voters should decide Schultz Meadow's fate

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We are deeply disappointed that on September 29th the Flagstaff City Council will hear outgoing Mayor Coral Evans’s "Future Agenda Item Request" to discuss giving staff direction on the development of the city-owned Schultz Meadow parcel at the intersection of Highway 180 and Schultz Pass Road.

By pushing this conversation at the end of both of their terms on Council, Mayor Evans and Councilmember Jamie Whelan are making it clear that they believe that a majority (four members) of the city council should decide the fate of the parcel rather than the Flagstaff voters; they apparently believe that they know better than thousands of Flagstaff residents.

Mayor Evans’s and Councilmember Whelan’s insistence that the Council have yet another discussion about the parcel after Council removed it from consideration, and before allowing the public to vote, completely flies in the face of their often-repeated flowery rhetoric about how public comment is so important.

Yet, they don’t seem to understand that the citizen initiative process, which is enshrined in the Arizona Constitution, is without a doubt the purest form of democracy — much more so than having four of our seven city councilmembers make a decision for us. It is the best public comment an elected official could ever want.

As the Daily Sun recently reported, over 4,500 registered voters in Flagstaff have signed the Save Schultz Meadow petition to place a question on the ballot asking voters to preserve the parcel as open space. We met the minimum signature requirement set by state law, but then the pandemic hit. Because public health and safety was our first priority, we decided to stop collecting signatures.

This meant we couldn’t continue to collect more signatures to ensure we’d have a comfortable margin of error for the signature screening process, and the question wouldn’t be on the November 2020 ballot as we had planned from the start. Had the pandemic not hit, we undoubtedly would have collected enough signatures to ensure a comfortable margin of error, and voters would be voting on this question this November. 

 A careful review of the controversy surrounding the Schultz Pass parcel since April 2017 suggests that the City Council has been inconsistent about what to do with the parcel. First, the Open Spaces Commission unanimously said the land has open space value. Then, the City Council included the parcel with two other city parcels in a Request for Proposals for an affordable housing developer (commonly referred to as the Scattered Site Affordable Housing RFP). Then, the City Council changed course and removed the Schultz Pass parcel from the RFP and replaced it with the city property at 303 Lone Tree Road. In February 2020, the Arizona Daily Sun reported that the Scattered Site Affordable Housing Project had fallen through.

In August 2017, the Save Schultz Meadow Committee asked the Council, which included Mayor Evans and Councilmember Whelan, to designate the parcel as open space. The Council declined and instead recommended that we pursue a citizen initiative because, if successful, it is much harder to change than a decision by the Council to change an open-space zoning designation on city land. The minutes of this Council discussion reflect that Councilmember Whelan said she believed that it would be best for the committee to do a citizen initiative so that it doesn’t matter who is sitting on the Council in the future. She emphatically said that she will always support the power of the people. 

The Save Schultz Meadow Committee followed the advice of Council and became official, filed paperwork for a citizen ballot initiative, and in March 2019, started collecting signatures.

Since then, many volunteers have helped us collect more than 4,500 signatures, which is no small feat. We never imagined that Mayor Evans and Councilmember Whelan would take advantage of the pandemic by bringing back the issue before we could get the question on the ballot. It feels like they are trying to pull the rug out from underneath us.

We urge Councilmembers Salas, McCarthy, Odegaard, Shimoni, and Aslan to support the citizen initiative process, rather than move forward with the future agenda item discussion that Mayor Evans is requesting. If you believe, like we do, that the voters putting a question on the ballot is the purest form of democracy and the ultimate public comment and that Flagstaff voters want and deserve a chance to vote on this question, please email the city council at council@flagstaffaz.gov and let them know.

Members of the Save Schultz Meadow Committee who signed the above column include Rossana Baker, James and Staci Foulks, Cynthia Mackin, Robert Miller, Joe Shannon, Kyle and Janet Vesely, Cat Weidinger and Mary Williams.

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