As I’ve been out campaigning for a seat on the Sedona City Council, walking neighborhoods and talking with people, I’ve encountered a few questions that I hadn’t directly addressed in my campaign materials. These questions have been about Jordan Lofts, San Jose Pension Reform, and lessons I’ve learned as a Mayor’s Chief of Staff.
On 7/6/2021 the Planning & Zoning (P&Z) Commission heard a request to change the Future Land Use Map in conjunction with the Jordan Lofts project. Changing the Future Land Use Map is an early technical step in a long public process for some zoning changes. Staff was not requesting a rezoning decision, but the action was clearing a process step. Staff made a convincing case that the parcel would be best suited for higher density residential use, especially multifamily residential, of which there is a severe shortage in Sedona. P&Z voted 5-2 to approve the Future Land Use change. I voted with the majority. Ultimately, the Future Land Use Map was not changed because the request was withdrawn before it came to the City Council.
I voted for the Future Land Use Map change to encourage innovative projects to come forward. I am committed to helping solve the housing crisis that Sedona faces. We need to reverse the decline of our full-time resident population. We need housing options beyond expensive single-family homes. We need smaller homes, multifamily homes, and long-term rental units. Creative proposals for mixed-use projects should be welcomed. We need more families, local workers, and full-time residents in our community to keep it thriving and to help support the resident-oriented businesses we desire.
The 7/6/2021 P&Z meeting was also a Conceptual Design Review of the Jordan Lofts proposal. Conceptual Design Reviews are intended to solicit early feedback from the public and P&Z Commissioners and are not decision-making opportunities. Most of the community members who wrote or spoke at the review expressed concerns about the Jordan Lofts project. P&Z members heard the community, had their own concerns, and reflected them in many comments to the developers. My comments, as well as those of my colleagues, expressed skepticism that the project would deliver the workforce housing and other community benefits the developers were promoting. It seems that the developers concluded their project wasn’t being favorably received, withdrew their application, and are working on another project that does not require P&Z approval.
The second question I’ve been asked is to provide more context and detail about the fiscal and pension reforms we implemented in San Jose. Sedona has never faced the crisis that confronted San Jose, partially because of good budget policies and practices, and partially because public sector pensions in Arizona are managed by the state, rather than the city as they are in San Jose. I’m resolved to keeping Sedona financially healthy.
I began working as the Mayor’s Chief of Staff in January 2007. We were quickly confronted with the 2007-2008 financial crisis that enveloped our nation and the world. San Jose faced the fiscal crisis with added stresses from budget shortfalls caused by a series of poor decisions in previous administrations. One factor was rapidly rising pension unfunded liabilities, which imposed an unsustainable demand on the city budget. During the crisis every city department faced budget and staffing cuts, including police and fire. Libraries and community centers were shuttered. San Jose faced a service level insolvency that had the potential to destroy the community. There were many difficult decisions that had to be made, and pension reform was one. It’s no surprise that city employees and their union bosses didn’t want to make the necessary changes. But the voters did, and in 2012 they approved pension changes with 69% approval. Of course, that wasn’t the end of the story. In California, major decisions are met with litigation, and years of courtroom drama and employee negotiations ensued. Some of the changes were rolled back, some remained intact. The bottom line is that an insolvency crisis was avoided, and pensions became more sustainable. San Jose pensions aren’t yet out of the woods; only exceptional future investment returns will save the day.
For more background on the pension crisis San Jose faced, refer to the San Jose Auditor Report 10-10, September 2010: “Pension Sustainability: Rising Pension Costs Threaten the City’s Ability to Maintain Service Levels – Alternatives for a Sustainable Future.”
Finally, as I reflect on eight years serving as the Mayor’s Chief of Staff, I remain impressed by the number and diversity of issues that crossed my desk each day. Addressing them required seeking input from staff and outside experts, engaging with many interested and concerned residents, and working to build a consensus with council colleagues, all within the bounds of open meeting laws. Thankfully, I was supported by caring and dedicated professionals. It was an eye-opener, coming from the private sector and working mostly with engineers, to working with a huge diversity of learning and working styles. I adapted and learned. You listen when others around you point out flaws in your thinking and help you see and learn new things. Public policymaking is not for the faint of heart, and experience matters. I have never worked as hard and long as I did in those eight years, and I enjoyed almost all of it. It was the most meaningful work I have done in my life, and I’m proud to have served the mayor and people of San Jose.