What do 'Bobbleheads' have to do with the Prescott City Council? Is affordable housing possible in Prescott? How many parking spaces are really necessary? And, can't we all just get along?
These were some of the issues on the table as Prescott City Council candidates, Lora Lopas and Steve Blair, faced off for their second and last debate at the Las Fuentes Resort Village in Prescott. The debate was organized by Jan Hilton, who is both a resident of Las Fuentes, and the in-house Republican Precinct Committee Chairperson.
When asked why she would organize a political debate at an assisted living facility, Hilton explained simply, "It means a lot to the residents."
The debate was moderated by Dr. Joan Fleming, who, as a member of the Prescott Unified School District Board, understands about debates and politics. Fleming, made everyone in the room smile when she quipped that, "Getting old isn't for sissies."
Each candidate was given an opportunity to introduce themselves and tell why they were running for City Council, and after that, they answered unscripted questions from the audience. The audience, which included those who were retired as well as the general public, asked tough questions that were direct and to the point.
Believing that the candidates should speak for themselves, we have attempted to provide their answers as closely as possible to their exact words.
My name is Lora Lopas and to give you a little bit of my background, I was born in Phoenix in 1970 and moved to Prescott in 1978. The reason my family moved up here is my little brother had really severe asthma, and the doctor said you need to get out of the dirty Phoenix air and go to the mountains where it's nice and clean. So, this is where our family's been ever since.
I am a graduate of Prescott High School in 1988, I also spent my elementary school years at Sacred Heart School and I met my husband in 1988 out at the airport; he was going to Embry Riddle, he was a senior at Embry Riddle. I had my first real time job at the airport, I opened Mesa Airlines and that was a great experience, working at the airport, and that's how we met and fell in love and have been together ever since, it's been 19 years.
And in 1995 we moved to Memphis - my husband is a pilot for Federal Express - and that's their home base. We lived there for 6 years, and after 6 years, we'd had enough. We were ready to get back home. This was home for us, and it always will be. And we decided that this was the greatest place we could live to raise our children. We've got two girls, age 7 and 9, and they go to Prima Vera School here in town, and I serve on their school board. I've been on that school board for, I think, 4 years now.
I've also been the chair for the City of Prescott Open Space for almost 2 years; I've been on the committee for a total of four. I am a part owner in Long Realty, I've got a real estate company downtown, and my interests are all over the place. I have things with my children that I do, trying to establish a children's interactive museum up here, on over to the Open Space,and going out on hikes and trying to save our beautiful Granite Dells area, which we're negotiating with a lot of land owners there, we're really excited about some of the properties that will be coming up and we can get some more details to you in a few of months when we've got those actually in escrow. So, those are some of the things that I work on, and I look forward to hearing questions from you and and getting to know every one of you, thank you.
For most people, that don't know me, I've been here many times with Jan's "Come talk to Las Fuentas Forums" that we have here on the City Council - which is quite often - and I like to let the folks out here know what's going on in the community.
I am running for reelection, and I am a native born and raised Prescottonian; I have two children, Jeremy and Chelsea. Jeremy is 25 and Chelsea is 23. Both are students and roommates, ironically, at the University of Montana. One a senior and one a junior. One in forensic psychology and the other in sports fitness. My daughter is the tomboy in Sports Fitness. My nephew, Matt Holliday, plays for the Colorado Rockies, he is the left fielder, so my daughter is looking forward to hopefully doing an internship with the Colorado Rockies with Sports Fitness next year. So, I'm kind of proud of her.
Been in Prescott all my life. Left to go to college, went to Oklahoma State for a year, came back, went to ASU, graduated in ASU in 1979 with a degree in Landscape Architecture and Public Design. That's what I did for the federal government and the state, I designed parks. I didn't like working in a cubicle with a tie on and my dad got ready to retire from the family business, which is Holsom Bakery. So when you don't see me here, you might eat my bread that comes through the back door of the building. We've owned the Holsum route for 43 years, and I also have a window covering company. We do blinds, shutters, drapes, all that kind of thing, and I've been doing that since 1979, so I have two active businesses in the community.
I'm very well entrenched in what goes on in the City of Prescott, I'm proud of some of the things that Prescott has done in the past and some of the things that we're working on for the future. I call Prescott my home, and certainly, I hope you do, and I look forward to hearing your questions and answering those for you.
One of my concerns is reasonable growth. I understand that nobody wants zero growth, and no one wants uncontrolled growth. And for some people, reasonable growth can mean one to ten residences per contractor, to developer's reasonable growth can mean hundreds of homes at the same time. I'd like to ask both candidates, "what is your definition and meaning of reasonable growth, and if you were on the city council, how would you work to control it?"
Well, being in real estate, I'm very close to the growth. I have clients that do want to retire here, because it's such a great place to live. They want to know if we've got enough water, what the infrastructure is, and they want to know what the surrounding communities are doing. And, that's where Prescott's a little bit stuck. Even if we were to literally shut our doors tomorrow, we're not going to stop Prescott Valley, Chino Valley, or the county from growing.
So what we need to do is plan our growth. And, this is going to mean many things. We've got our infrastructure that needs to be worked on, we need public transportation, that needs to be worked on, we need workforce housing for our police, fire, teachers, nurses, etc., so there's a lot of things we need to do for growth.
But what we want to do is maintain the quality of life. That's why we're all here. I don't think anyone can say we're not here because we've got a great quality of life. So we need to maintain that quality of life. What the numbers actually are, is hard to say. We can't say that we're going to grow to 50,000 and stop. There's no magic number for it.
What we need is a balance. We need a balance between residential growth and commercial growth. And the commercial growth needs to be focused on the retail aspect of things, not just retail big box stores. I think we need to focus more on getting tourism dollars, we need to focus on getting those clean energy jobs that are the technology jobs that are the higher paying jobs as well.
I know there's a lot of my classmates from my graduating class that can't afford to live here and they'd love to raise their families here, but they can't get a job here. I was at Red Robin last night with my daughters, and our waiter had just moved back to take care of his parents. He's got twins on the way. He's like, 'I don't want to be a waiter, but there's no other jobs." He had to leave a very well-paying job at American Express. That's a clean energy job, we need jobs like that.
So, we need to balance the growth, the rooftops, and the good jobs, and it's going to take a lot of work; it's not something that's going to be handled in the next 2,4,6 years. This is long range planning, we need to look at like, 20, 30, 40 years out.
I think one thing that you need to understand is that the city of Prescott take an interest in our community. At least from my standpoint here. We have a staff that works diligently on these things here, and we do have a long-range planner. And that long-range planner makes the world out there. She looks at plans and different things. One thing we do have and have completed, to get an estimate out there, we have projected - and I'm part of the water advisory committee along with Bob Roecker and Jim Lamerson - we know exactly how many lots are in the City of Prescott. We know how much water is going to each one of those lots, so one, we can't overdrill; because not only are we surrounded by the National Forest, but by the tribe land. And unless we annex more land in, the amount of land you see in the City of Prescott has already been accounted for as far as growth, as far as water, as far as sewer, as far as all those kind of things.
We, the City of Prescott, plan on about a 3% growth rate, which is a very mild growth rate. We cannot control what Prescott Valley or Chino Valley does. With Prescott Valley being about 17, and Chino Valley being about 11, it has put a lot of stress on the infrastructure, because we still are the largest employer base of the community. And you see people coming into Prescott for their jobs, which is a healthy thing to do.
But one thing I want to let you know to address your question point blank, as far as growth, and I want to point to the fact that as you start talking about growth and the cost of living; I've been on the City Council for about 8 years, and we have lowered the property tax every single year.To me, that's important, I'm a taxpayer as well. Our sales tax is the driving base for our general fund, which pays for all your services, your fire, your police, your garbage, all those types of things. We have a very healthy service type of community out there, and a very healthy tax when it comes to sales tax. If we lose the sales tax base, the only option we have to have services that folks demand is to raise taxes.
My kids are in Montana, as I mentioned before. They don't have the sales tax in Montana, they only have property tax, and with the influx of what properties have done in the last two years, there's a lot of people that are losing their homes because they cannot afford the taxes on their properties. I'm here to tell you, from my standpoint, there needs to be a mix; we need to be sales tax strong, we need to keep your property taxes in check, because you folks out there are the only ones that pay on them, and our growth is in check. Thank you.
You have a new mayor. I want to know how you feel you can work with Jack Wilson, and I know that this is very important, it's important that you have some plan in mind that will help him and help us, as well in the community, I'd like both of you to answer that.
Thank you for the question, and I suppose, that as a councilman that's been in the City Council for 8 years, I've worked with four different mayors. You know, Rowle's been there for three times, I worked for Sam Steiger - you want to talk about somebody difficult to work with - that was Sam Steiger.
I will also tell you that I worked with many different Council people, I have my office shared with Jim Lamerson, if you want to talk about difficult. (The audience laughs, at this point, because Lamerson had just walked in).
I think what we need to understand is that we're all of an opinion. The real reason that I survive on the council, the reason we do and have done a good job, is every single one of us that sits on the council today knows that we all have an opinion. And that opinion is for me to ask Jim what he thinks, I ask him and we do it vice versa. And what we come up with is that we come up with a different opinion, we find some middle ground on some issues, we can see a lot of things the same, and I think that when your heart wants the best thing for the community, what you come up with is the right thing to do.
So, how do I feel about working with Jack Wilson? I can work with anyone, it's been shown over the last 8 years. I will continue to do that, and every January, we have council retreats, where we bring in a professional in, and that professional, in an environment that's open to the public, sits down with all the new folks that we have in, and the old folks, and we actually have a visioning session of what we want to accomplish for the citizens of this community. That helps break the ice with the new people and smooth things over with the old, so I look forward to that. It's always a challenge, but it's always fun to do.
I look forward to working with the entire council and the mayor. I've already met with mayor-elect Wilson several times to talk about different ideas, that I've seen from my perspective as a citizen as well as the chairman of the Open Space committee. I filled him in on all the prospects the Open Space committee has looked at over the past 4 years, and what we're looking at in the future.
And in our talks we've talked about a lot of citizen groups. We really feel there needs to be a transparency for the citizens of Prescott. And citizens groups are one of the ways to do that. The Open Space committee is a unit of 10 members, being the Chair, I am the 11th member - that's non-voting - and the ten people come from all over the community. It's a great well-rounded group of people. And the brain trust that's in that room when we meet is just amazing and I'd like to see some more groups like that, and Jack does, too.
There's a liquid value in listening to our citizens. The best natural resource Prescott has are all of you. The history, the experiences that our citizens have, I think is absolutely phenomenal, we have retirees from every walk in life, and the value they can bring, and tell a number of generations their experiences, so we don't make the same mistakes, so we can learn from those mistakes, that's just something that you can't replace, you can't buy. So, we need more citizen's committees, we need to work on these and we need to work with the citizens to do what you want to do.
This is really for Lora, because last week, I was at a forum and I heard you talking before a group of residents and it was a little disconcerting to me, but in talking, I believe a gentleman asked you how well you could work with the sitting council people, and you indicated you had a particular allegiance toward Bob Luzius and toward the mayor-elect, but then you characterized the other council people as, in your word, 'Bobbleheads,' and I'm wondering how you're going to characterize people you're going to work with as 'Bobbleheads' and still expect to work with them?
Well, what I see from a resident as a citizen of this committee, is not a lot of cooperation, I see a lack of respect for many speakers. I attended the World Development Conference, and I also attended the Governor's Housing Forum. Both of those forums, I met people from all over the state and they said, "What is wrong with Prescott? What is wrong with their City Council?"
I had several people that have done presentations up here, and they all said, "The lack of respect was just appalling," and they don't want to come back. It got to the point where I was embarrassed to say I was from the City of Prescott, and I've never been embarrassed of where I live before.
So that was a really hard thing for me to hear about our town and the reason is because of who represents us. Growing up at Sacred Heart School, the nun that was in charge ... always said, 'When you are out in front of people, you are representing the school.' So, we have to keep in mind that when you're an elected official, you are always representing the City of Prescott. It doesn't matter where you are, what you're doing or who you're talking to. So if we have a lack of respect for people that come from the state and do presentations, what message is that sending out there?
So the comment of 'Bobbleheads' is we've got people that will sit there and agree or nod or throw their head around and I hear this all the time in the canvassing I've been doing, the phone making I've been doing, we hear this comment again and again and again. And I think that's why we have a new mayor, because people want new people in there they want to see someone else up in the seats, they want to see fresh blood up there.
Lora, I don't know if you can do this, but I wonder if there's a specific name or someone, because I was on Planning and Zoning a long time, I shared it with Steve, I've watched Council a long time, I used to go to more meetings, I don't go any more, but I watch all the time, and I do not have that opinion about how the people who come before them are treated. Now, perhaps its in another arena, but I would sure like to know where that happens because I have not seen it.
Well, the most comments were from the housing forum, and that was that visit, and these were all governor conferences and forums, they were governor sponsored forums, they were with the state employees, so, I'm not at liberty to give all these names out and who they were, and some of them I honestly don't remember all their names, but like I said, this was a comment from Northern Arizona and Southern Arizona that I heard time and time again. So, yeah, that's just what people said.
This question is for Steve, what percentage of our crime here in Prescott is involved with illegal aliens and what are we doing about it?
Well, the actual percentages - it's very difficult to put a number on it because there's a lot things we can't do, and when the folks are out there committing crimes, a lot of them are not caught, number one; and number two, I would suspect, based upon the ones that are caught, I would say at least 65%, and based on folks that are here illegally.
What are we doing about it as a city? Not near enough. I think we have a chicken attitude, in my opinion. I have talked to the city manager about it, I have talked to the police chief about it, we are going forward with our designation with ICE to have a couple of officers trained and be able to handle certain scenarios, but I believe, based upon our laws, that we have on our books today in the City of Prescott - we have loitering laws, we have vagrancy laws, we have a lot of things that are out there, and we could be doing more than we're doing. And, I'm appalled that we're not.
We did a sweep here about three weeks ago with the Prescott Police Department, most folks don't know, because it's not released because we don't want folks to know we have a problem. They did a sweep of downtown Prescott, thirteen undocumented residents. They were not only for pan-handling, but for laundering money, for prostitution, all down in the center of Prescott, Lincoln Street Bridge and the Fry's Food store.
Now those are facts, we have a problem and we need to address the problem. I have been very clear. In Mexico, when I'm there, they can pull me over, they can ask for my license; when I'm pulled over by a police officer in the City of Prescott, I can be asked for my registration, for my proof of insurance, and my license, I don't call that racial profiling. Nor should we believe that if a Mexican is pulled over and asked the same thing, that should be considered as racial profiling either. That's a cop-out, we need to be doing more in this community to curb the illegal alien problem.
I'd like to direct a question to Councilman Blair. I'm concerned about the business of young professionals in Prescott. I'm aware of two young professionals under thirty, both of whom are highly trained, both of whom have families with children, neither of whom can afford a house in the City of Prescott. It's clear, I think that with the development of the internet, more and more in the future, people will not have to live in cities like San Francisco, they won't have to live in Chicago, they can live anywhere they please. My question then, is what is Prescott City Council doing to try to ease the problem that these people face and to guarantee that in the future that when we hire young professionals, we'll be able to keep them?
That's a long question and one that's very difficult to answer. We've all experienced a very artificial inflation the last couple of years. Give you a good example, and she won't mind if I use her name. Joyce Karlo (sp?), a lady that came from California and has a house in Yavapai Hills. She just called me today, and they're moving to Prescott, they've had their house for a year, but have not been able to afford to move because her husband's still working, but now he's been given the opportunity to telecommute. So, their bags are packed, they're moving to Prescott.
We're in the same position with my kids in Montana, they want to move back here, too. They want to have their jobs here, my son wants to become a police officer, a forensic investigator, and he wants to do it in the community of Prescott. The question becomes where is he going to live and how is he going to do that? I don't have an answer for you.
The only thing I can tell you is that I've been working with the governor's office Community Development Director to try to get certain state lands rezoned as multi-family to provide some kind of affordable housing. And that's about the only thing that I know that we can do, because of the way that inflation's taken over. We're continually bringing in new jobs; we have an economic development group that works constantly on bringing in folks out to the airport. Those are higher paying jobs and we have been very successful with that. We have been working with Embry Riddle to bring in a tech park that will bring in higher paying jobs than we've ever had. But it doesn't mean that your daughter or your son will be in that field that can afford it.
So it's kind of a catch-22, I really don't have an answer, all I know is that from a city standpoint, we're working on workforce housing. Our water group, including Mr. Lamerson and Bob Roecker, we've set aside 20% of the remaining available water to this community for workforce housing, to entice the contractors and the developers to build that kind of project to make houses available for people that are first time homeowners, new couples or new people moving into the market. So, we are working on that, but it's a difficult scenario.
Again, I'll go back to the Affordable Housing Forum that the governor put on last month, and there was nobody from the City of Prescott that attended that, there was no staff, no council people. I went on my own dime, because as a realtor I wanted to learn what we can do.
There are some great projects out there that other communities are doing, we don't have to reinvent the wheel, we can do it here. One of the things we need are some infill projects downtown. One of the projects that could be done is in affordable housing, the problem downtown is the code for parking. Affordable housing, the numbers that the Arizona Department of Housing, what they use is 3/4 of a vehicle for every unit, that's not per bedroom, it's per unit, because most of these people, share a car, if they have a car. Or if you have downtown living, they don't even have a vehicle. So, they need to be able to walk wherever they need to go.
There is one gal who works over at Access 13, does not have a vehicle. She has to drop her daughter downtown, she lives on Gail Gardner, and she also has to get over to Access 13, which is in the Grace Sparks Activity Center on East Gurley. All of that is on foot, and that's a long way for her to go on foot. So, we need to change some of the requirements for downtown housing projects so we don't have overbuilt parking lots. That's the reason that many people can't build downtown, because you have to have one parking unit for every bedroom and half for each unit for a guest space. So a two bedroom unit needs two and a half parking spaces. So, you've got too much parking and not enough housing.
I've been working with a client on a downtown project of condos, which are not going to be affordable housing, because the cost of the land was too high on that project, but we've run into the same problem there. We expect these units to be weekend-type residences, and we have to have way too much parking for what we see the need is going to be. So, we've got to change some codes and some of the city regulations to allow some of this.
And some of the downtown areas, we've had to go through the Historic Preservation Commission and they, two of their members, when we went before them, said, "We don't think it's appropriate for residents to live downtown." Well, here I've got a developer, we're trying to bring in housing downtown where people are going to be walking more and enjoying the downtown living, and that's what we're coming up against. So, it is very difficult and we do have to change some mindsets for things like that.
So, what about Public Transit, Zoning Codes, Rent Taxes and more? Read Part 2 on Friday.