What three attributes do you consider Flagstaff’s greatest assets and why?
I consider the following three attributes Flagstaff’s greatest assets:
1. Flagstaff’s location at 7,000 feet on the Colorado Plateau. We live in one of the most beautiful landscapes in the country with amazing outdoor recreation opportunities out our back door. While the City of Flagstaff has a population of about 72,000, it can feel smaller, something that many people really enjoy.
2. We are a hub for art and culture in Northern Arizona. The music, theater, and visual arts that Flagstaff cultivates is a huge asset to our community.
3. Our diversity. Being the closest city to many Native American reservations and tribes, and a city where most residents have relocated to, provides a place of rich multiculturalism.
What government strategies and policies, if any, do you believe can address Flagstaff’s high cost of living and unaffordability?
Rental prices in Flagstaff have increased 9-10% per year for the last three years. Home prices are higher than ever. The City has a ten-year old Incentive Policy for Affordable Housing for developers, which is not working. Without bringing the development community to the table, the City won’t make a dent in the problem. We also need to nurture strong relationships with the state and federal government to secure outside funding and change state laws that override local control, such as the state law prohibiting cities from requiring developers to include affordable housing in new developments (inclusionary zoning).
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?
I support many of the goals. My concern is about how the implementation of the HOH Plan will work. The Private Property Rights Act of 2006 (Proposition 207) requires local governments to compensate private property owners if the value of their property is reduced by new land use laws, such as building height restrictions. It appears that the City could never possibly compensate all of the property owners who file a Proposition 207 claim because it doesn’t have the money, so the only other alternative is for the city to grant waivers. If this happens, then it’s likely we’ll have a hodge-podge of building height restrictions, which really defeats the whole purpose of the change in the first place.
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?
I would prioritize coordinating with other municipalities in Arizona to lobby and press the Arizona Corporation Commission, the government agency that regulates Arizona’s energy sector, to take more stringent measures around alternative energies and reducing carbon emissions statewide. I support increasing infrastructure for electric vehicles in Flagstaff and promoting multi-modal transportation.
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?
Flagstaff’s reclaimed water is rated as an “A+” but this does not mean we should jump into using it as potable water without a better understanding of potentially overlooked and dangerous contaminants. The grading system was established in 1996, and a recent National Research Council committee concluded that reclaimed wastewater should only be used to supplement drinking-water sources as a last resort. We are not at the point of last resort, and without a better understanding of how contaminants such as pharmaceuticals in reclaimed water affect our health, I do not think we should convert our reclaimed water into potable water. If the city had tens of millions of dollars, it could build an advanced treatment facility, but Flagstaff Water Services doesn’t have that kind of money.
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?
I think the city should change its commercial water rate structure so that commercial users have the same incentive to conserve water as residential users. Today, residential water users have a tiered rate system, whereby the more water you use, the higher per gallon rate you pay. Commercial users face a flat rate. This means that commercial users do not have as much incentive to conserve.
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?
I support the minimum wage ordinance. As a policy analyst with a master’s in economics, I’ve read over a hundred quasi-experiments and quantitative papers on the impact of minimum wage. In 2015, I collected a lot of the data and research for the Flagstaff Living Wage Coalition. Minimum wage is not a silver bullet, but it has shown to reduce poverty and help more people than it harms. It is also one of the only tools we have as a city for systemic economic change. Five years ago, I was serving tables trying to support my family in town. The friends I made in the service industry are much better off than they were in 2016 (COVID aside). One was able to go back to school a semester early and just graduated. Another was able to get her child the dental care they needed. I have business owner friends who struggle with the wage adjustment, and understand this is not a simple change for businesses to absorb. Regardless, both through research and the stories I hear, I believe this has more of a positive than a negative impact.
What, if anything, do you believe the City ought to do to support and protect undocumented residents?
I believe the city has a moral obligation to take care of the most vulnerable in our community. Undocumented residents face many obstacles and struggles, from a high risk of wage theft to the inability to access most government services. Everyone should be treated in a fair and just manner.
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?
The City Council should have a larger discussion about these issues that have yet to be adequately addressed. We need a Council willing to look more carefully at alternative policing models like those in Eugene, Oregon or Camden, NJ and analyze what changes would mean to the budget. These alternative models could help inform conversations about what is best for Flagstaff, and navigate the situation to create meaningful policy changes that respond to the concerns being raised about the status quo.
What are your three greatest concerns regarding Flagstaff’s future and what steps should we take to help address them?
1. High cost of living: The lack of affordable housing affects all sectors of our economy. The City Council, in collaboration with the development community, should revise the Incentive Policy for Affordable Housing.
2. Dramatic changes in Flagstaff’s character. Flagstaff has experienced tremendous growth with new enormous student housing projects and subdivisions. I’m concerned that it won’t be long before Flagstaff has morphed into a city many don’t recognize. It’s hard to undo what’s been done, but the City can have conversations about the Regional Plan during the update process.
3. The city budget: Flagstaff is in the midst of recession so the Council is going to have to make some hard decisions about what is essential and what the city can do without.