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Fri, Sept. 20

Talk of the Town

On June 24, Mayor Simmons wrote about a visit to Costco, where a citizen pleaded with him not to let Prescott become Anthem North.

It was reassuring to read that the Mayor and Council intend to be "thoughtful and pragmatic" about growth, wishing to "harness and direct it."

I too had a recent growth-related encounter: a phone survey a couple of weeks ago asking how I felt about where I lived and soliciting my feelings about growth. Turned out ASU's Dr. Bruce Merrill conducted the poll pursuant to a contact from Al Bradshaw of Prescott on behalf of a client whose name Merrill didn't know. A May 15 Courier article identified Mr. Bradshaw as spokesperson for Granite Dells Ranch Holdings LLC, a holding company led by Scottsdale developer Cavan Real Estate Investments, purchaser of the Granite Dells and Point of Rocks ranches northeast of Prescott.

It's reassuring, also, to think that Cavan might care how I feel about Prescott, its challenges and opportunities, its future growth.

Mr. Simmons sees growth as a force of nature. That's very directly true for, say, quackgrass. Cities, however, grow as the result of numerous human choices, made by individuals and groups. That's our human nature.

Each individual and group has interests. Many have an interest in particular ecological systems, or in some area, that growth would impact; officials and others often call these "special interests." Other groups may have a financial or "vested interest" in how growth proceeds. We all want to sustain the quality of life and reasonable property tax burden that drew us here. So we need all interested parties to participate in decisions about growth, in open forums, where everyone can see what is being said and done.

That was one of the goals of Proposition 400, which a majority of Prescott voters approved this past November, responding to a development agreement the council had approved in a process that appeared inadequately discussed and not well thought through.

The issue was not: How do we stop growth? But rather: Who decides how our community grows? (Nobody said anything about "city government Š trying to gobble up land in a gluttonous attempt to devour anyone's destiny" ­ Mr. Simmons's words. I would plead with everyone, let's refrain from falsely characterizing the thoughts of others).

Prop 400's drafters worried that the development agreement seemed to give a lot of taxpayer-generated benefit to a profitable development proposed for those two ranches ­ a development based on annexation to the city. The 400 drafters believed that the amount of water needed to develop those ranches to build-out came pretty close to equaling what Prescott would import from the new Big Chino water ranch ­ and the agreement appeared to promise the developers all the city water they needed, right up to build-out.

Prescott should receive the benefit of the effluent from the homes in the newly annexed area. We are going to need this water to deal with the debt, or "overdraft," accumulating through municipal pumping over the years. This overdraft drove the state to declare "groundwater mining" and require the area to achieve "safe yield" in 19 years, by 2025. We must be sure that effluent doesn't go entirely for new growth but helps us attain safe yield.

All individual building decisions have consequences beyond current profits or taxes. Adding more bedrooms to our city will generate greater demands for taxes rather than more revenue.

We need a public discussion of how to shift our economic base from increasing sales of homes and land to more enduring, sustainable revenue generators.

Other cities have done this; let's investigate how. Let's talk with Cavan, and other developers, about how we want our community to look and work.

Communities can manage growth. We can require new growth to pay for itself. We can set conditions for developers, so they'll benefit from certainty and fair competition and pay for infrastructure to keep up with growth.

So I'm with you, Mayor Simmons. Let's talk about it.

(Candace McNulty is a member of Citizens for Reasonable Growth in Prescott.)

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