What three attributes do you consider Flagstaff’s greatest assets and why?
Flagstaff showed me a different way of being from where I grew up in Los Angeles as I had never lived so close to accessing nature and the landscape here has deeply enriched my life. Educational opportunities such as Lowell Observatory, Willow Bend Environmental Education Center, and NAU have all broadened my awareness of the world and for that I owe a debt of gratitude for those experiences. The third attribute is the people of Flagstaff as I’ve made so many friends over the years that have helped me to understand the importance of place and community.
What government strategies and policies, if any, do you believe can address Flagstaff’s high cost of living and unaffordability?
Voters approved a minimum wage increase twice and this has been one policy that has helped many workers in our city maintain a livable wage (although many still live paycheck-to-paycheck). Another solution can be a bond that, if approved, would offer assistance to homelessness housing permanency, renters, first-time home buyers, purchase of city-owned land for affordable housing development, and the purchase of existing sites for redevelopment. Creating further incentive programs with developers can also help. Set-aside requirements and rent control may also be needed if we do not figure out other ways to ensure access is more equitable.
Flagstaff’s High Occupancy Housing Plan was approved in 2018 and staff is starting to bring to Council changes to the zoning code promoted in the plan. What are your thoughts about the goals in this plan regarding building height, location and size and do you think they are adequate to deal with the concerns people have expressed about this type of housing going into the future?
There is no guarantee by increasing higher-density housing within activity center locations would that lead to walkability, less need for parking spaces, or a decrease in traffic congestion. Based on existing activity center locations still struggling to fill commercial spaces from a lack of demand, people tend to travel for supplies. Regarding building height, the 60’ allowance still seems high considering the loss of our viewsheds but I think it’s important the public understand that a Conditional Use Permit could bypass any limitation we set. The Neighborhood Community Commercial zoning may help as it restricts some heights to 45’.
In 2018 the City Council passed the Climate Action and Adaptation Plan. Just recently they declared a Climate Emergency and elevated the goals of the CAAP to carbon neutrality by 2030. What strategies would you prioritize in order to achieve carbon neutrality and how will you reallocate budget resources or come up with new revenue streams to fund these changes?
The restructuring of the Environmental Management Fee was a good place to create an equitable approach to paying the true cost of sustainability towards climate action. The tax revenue generated from this new setup should help us with future climate action programming. I would also like to see Sustainability included in a bond proposal to go before voters in 2022 to create a more significant investment in what is needed for carbon neutrality. Carbon offset programs, carbon impact fees, and neighborhood sustainability grants are approaches I see as being viable tools toward fixing the problem of carbon emissions.
Flagstaff has been using reclaimed water to replace the use of potable water for applications such as irrigation, toilet flushing and snowmaking. City Water Services is starting a study to consider how to manage reclaimed water for the long term. The study will consider whether to expand its use, use it for aquifer recharge, or reserve it as a future potential source of drinking water (after further processing). What are your thoughts about the future of reclaimed water use?
I think it is worth the investment to use reclaimed water to feed areas where conservation is so good our pipes cannot flow properly due to the lack of running water. Regarding potable water, we draw roughly 82% of our groundwater determined by our 100-year plan. I’m concerned that if we do not take water conservation even further than the progress we’ve made we will run the risk of not providing potable water for future generations. In addition, an investment in a more localized quaternary-process water treatment facility may prove beneficial in comparison to the proposed Red Gap Ranch project.
Flagstaff has long used tiered water rates for residential customers as an incentive to conserve water (under tiered rates, the price per gallon increases as usage rises). Do you favor extending tiered rates to commercial and industrial customers?
One of the best ways we can conserve water is through less use. I do favor commercial and industrial customers also using the tiered rate structure since this will incentive more of the heavier users of water to save costs through less use. This is a good opportunity for innovation and I hope to see firms take advantage in saving towards their own bottom lines.
Flagstaff’s minimum wage will rise to $15.50 per hour on January 1, 2022. On January 1, 2026 the tipped minimum wage, which is currently $3 less than the full minimum wage, will match the full minimum wage. Do you support the minimum wage ordinance that was approved by Flagstaff voters?
Yes. I supported the minimum wage item twice as I could see cost-of-living and inflation factors increasing at a rate exceeding the wages of many workers, especially within hospitality firms. Aspen, CO provides a good example of workers who cannot afford to live in the city they work and we’re heading in that direction. For example, since 2014 rental prices have gone up by ~20% and for those living paycheck-to-paycheck at the previous minimum wage this would price them out of the market. Without rent control or other measures to keep costs down, wages needed to go up.
What, if anything, do you believe the City ought to do to support and protect undocumented residents?
This issue should be handled at a local level first without federal intervention as we have seen violence brought into neighborhoods by agents not familiar with many in our community. Drug cartel activity south of our border is real but how many people are coming into the U.S. to escape a drug war our country helped to create? This issue is one requiring focus from all of us as we don’t want to invite violence but at the same time if folks are making their way here because they’re fleeing a true hell-on-earth then I think our humanity must prevail.
In light of the recent national protests against racism and police violence, many people are calling for re-imagining the role of policing in our communities. How do you envision applying this to Flagstaff?
With police violence, an officer bringing a lethal weapon into any situation will automatically escalate things. I’m not saying police officers should be put in harm’s way but there is also something to be said about bullying and abusive practices employed by those who are sworn to protect and serve all in our community. We can re-allocate funds from militarizing the police into more appropriate social work. The CAHOOTS model in Eugene, OR looks promising as it puts an emphasis on addressing the underlying issues that lead to crime rather than using an approach that criminalizes particular groups and individuals.
What are your three greatest concerns regarding Flagstaff’s future and what steps should we take to help address them?
My three concerns are growth, sustainability, and climate change action. We’re limited in our ability to stop growth due to state preemptions leaving us in a position to act more responsively than preventatively. Sustainability is key since we’re still using fossil fuels for electricity production, our recycling rate is only at 7% of our waste, and we’re close to exceeding the groundwater capacity of our 100-year plan. In addition, climate migration from areas such as Phoenix where record-breaking heats are still occurring seems likely. We’re feeling the pressure to grow and this should be a concern to all of us.