Rampant growth, limited water=trouble ahead
The Courier's Dec. 22 editorial, "There's a reason why it's called 'desert'" was a welcome departure from what I thought was the Courier's over-all support of Prescott City and Yavapai County pro-growth policies and politicos. Case in point, I cite the Courier's reporting without comment or outright support of:
• The Yavapai Ranch land swap, which will put development in the watershed of the Upper Verde River, already stressed by current development in Paulden and Camp Verde, while the ranch owner retains water rights to all the land he's swapping with the Forest Service. Will the taxpayers end up paying twice for this deal – publicly-owned land swapped for water rights we'll pay for later?
• The city's $50+ million taxpayer investment in the Chino Valley land purchase to acquire water rights for future Prescott land development without the city's implementation of a water conservation policy.
• The Summit building zoning variance, which will inevitably result in high commercial vacancy rates when tenants abandon their current leases, in turn increasing demand for a bigger population to fill the vacancies.
• Wal-Mart's not one, but two, Prescott superstores which, in the short term, will fill the city sales tax coffers, but in the long term, destroy Prescott's small business economy.
• Political candidates, such as Jim Lamerson, former president of the pro-growth Prescott Chamber of Commerce, who are both on record against the Prescott General Plan and its public land use conservation proposals. (EDITOR'S NOTE: Lamerson supports the General Plan in its current form.)
• The City Council's approval of a developer's proposal to build 9,000 homes in Granite Dells, resulting in at least 20,000 new residents just four miles from Prescott, who, as you reported, will be serviced by imported water. From where?
Yet a ray of hope shines, contained within the Courier's Dec. 22 endorsement of the Arizona Department of Water Resources' (ADWR) denial of several Phoenix developments for lack of 100-year water supplies. As the editorial refrains, I, for one, am paying attention. I can only hope that the Courier's editorial signals its awareness that as goes Phoenix, goes Prescott when it comes to our governments' endorsement of unbridled land development in the face of dwindling water resources for the people who are already here. Is the Courier finally paying attention?
I am not unsympathetic to the self-preservation motivation behind the pro-growthers – the fear that without an expanding population, business profit and tax receipts will stagnate. No growing newspaper subscriptions, for instance, not to mention the tax dollars to pay for roads, education, law enforcement or social services for our growing population.
But our local government's short-term reliance on tourism and high-dollar land development to build our economy – like the Phoenix summer-cum-retirement "Talking Rock" developments off Williamson Valley Road and the Granite Dells time-shares – will, in the long run, result in a Prescott composed of, on the one hand, the überwealthy, who do not create new jobs, and on the other, the private and public professionals, their clericals, and minimum-wage-plus-tips employees who service them.
Say goodbye to Prescott's middle class and our diverse small-town quality of life. Say hello to an out-of-sight standard of living, and the higher crime rate and social service costs that come with the transient population typical of low wage-earners. It will not be long before the rock-bed of our middle class community – our law enforcement personnel, nurses, teachers, middle income office workers and small business/government employees – will be unable to afford to live here. Are we paying attention?
Bottom line, with nearly 40,000 ready-to-build residential plats in the tri-city area (not including the 9,000-home Granite Dells project), Prescott may soon find itself under the ADWR's jurisdiction if our elected officials do not wake up and smell the whiffs of the over-populated sewer to come. Will our community really be better off in the long run with this stress on our limited water resources? Is anyone in our local government paying attention?
When will the Prescott business community accept the indisputable fact that the inevitable scarcity of water to serve all these people will force all but the very rich from Prescott and the middle class and low-income wage earners to Prescott Valley and Chino Valley – along with their small business needs?
When will our elected officials commit themselves to protect and preserve our quality of life?
When will the Courier fully investigate and report on the pressures our city and county policies are having on our limited water resources?
I hope the Courier's "There's a reason it's called 'desert'" editorial is a sign of good things to come.
Bottom line, are we, the voters (and Courier readers), paying attention?
(Melanie G. Jacobson, a seventh generation Arizonan, grew up in Prescott. After a 30-year career in law and business, she returned to Prescott. She is a business consultant in corporate development, human resources and public relations.)