Scottsdale voters will decide hotly debated measure on city preserve, tax hike for roads

Scottsdale voters will decide on two ballot measures in Tuesday’s election, including hotly debated plans for the city preserve. 

The citizens’ initiative, referred to the ballot as Proposition 420, pertains to development in the city’s McDowell Sonoran Preserve, 30,000 acres of pristine desert.

Another ballot request, Question 1, would increase the city sales tax to raise an estimated $100 million over 10 years for road and transportation improvements. 

What Prop. 420 would do

The effort to place Prop. 420 on the ballot was sparked by opposition to a proposed desert education center, first called the Desert Discovery Center and later changed to Desert EDGE, in the preserve.

The City Council hit pause on the $68 million Desert EDGE plans a year ago to allow the ballot measure to play out.

A “yes” vote on Prop. 420 would require any development in the preserve other than trails and planned trailheads to go to voters. It would also limit preserve funds to purchasing land and preserving trails unless authorized by voters.  

A “no” vote would leave the city charter unchanged, and allow a majority vote by the City Council to proceed with the proposed center.

Supporters of Prop. 420 say the measure puts decisions about development in the preserve in the hands of residents, who taxed themselves to create the preserve.

Without Prop. 420, Jason Alexander, a spokesman for the initiative, says a council majority could approve Desert Edge and set a precedent for commercial development in the preserve.

“The citizens taxed themselves five times to set this land aside for preservation,” Alexander said. “If development is going to come in, it’s our land, it’s our taxes, it should be our vote, that simple.”

Opponents say Prop. 420 would have unintended consequences and that it’s an unnecessary change to the charter, which is like the city’s constitution. 

Councilwoman Virginia Korte questioned what she sees as vague wording in proposed charter change. “It’s a lawsuit waiting to happen,” she said.

Korte also says it would lead to bad governance. “We are a representative democracy and our form of governance is a council and mayoral form of government,” Korte said. “Prop. 420 is the … erosion … of that form of government.”

Question 1 is about roads

A “yes” vote on Question 1 would increase the city sales tax by 0.1 percent for 10 years to raise an estimated $100 million for road and other transportation infrastructure. It would also allow Scottsdale to provide matching funds to access $140 million in regional transportation funding.

Approval would take the city’s sales tax rate to 1.75 percent, which would still be among the lowest in metro Phoenix.

A “no” vote could force the city to forfeit the countywide money.

All five candidates running for three City Council seats support the measure.  

Reach the reporter at Lorraine.Longhi@gannett.com. Follow her on Twitter: @lolonghi.

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