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The Reality Behind Proposition 421

As if there’s not enough misstatements and half truths in the presidential election, now we have to put up with it in our local politics, too. When will it all stop?

I’m talking about Proposition 421 and the yellow flyers the “Committee for Progress” has mailed around town. Someone reading this fanciful document might think that the passing of Prop 421 will transform Wickenburg into something…well, let me use a phrase from the flyer: a “desirable place to visit and live.”

I guess these people don’t think Wickenburg already is a desirable place to visit and live. I also think it’s interesting that they should put the word “visit” before “live.” This just supports what a large number of Wickenburg residents believe: that the town is more interested in a tourist-based economy than a year-round, resident-based economy.

But what is Prop 421? It’s an attempt by a private developer to add an unspecified (in the flyer) number of homes and condos in the Wickenburg Country Club area. This requires a change to the zoning of the area for this high density housing. The carrot being dangled is an additional 9 holes for Wickenburg Country Club’s 9 hole golf course.

I think it’s funny that the flyer should have the phrase “one home per acre” underlined so it stands out. I’m surprised they didn’t use fine print after an asterisk for the second half of that sentence: “with concentrated density in specific approved areas.”

Okay, that’s the proposed plan. Now let’s look at the “Committee’s” claims — and the associated reality.

“Great economic growth potential for Wickenburg.” How? Well, I guess someone will get revenue from more golfers. And I’m certain the developer, over time, will make a lot of money on those new homes and condos before departing the area to leave their mark on other communities. But will this add jobs, the one thing that Wickenburg really needs? The golf course will need a few more groundskeepers. But I’m not even convinced that local builders and other contractors will benefit from this. After all, the condos currently under construction in town near the hospital are using an awful lot of Phoenix-based construction labor.

“Increased revenue from property taxes, additional sales tax, and added impact and building fees from new homes.” I’ll agree that the town should get more property taxes and it’ll certainly cash in on impact and building fees, but sales tax? I think the best way the town can increase revenue from sales tax is to promote local retail businesses. With so many empty storefronts in the retail areas of town (as Maria pointed out in an article she wrote here last month), the town is certainly not getting as much sales tax revenue as it could. It’s pretty hard for me to see how a golf course will increase sales tax revenues in an amount worth quantifying. And if the “committee” thinks all these new people in town are going to do all their shopping here, they really need a reality check. What percentage of the current population does all its shopping locally? How can it when only part of what a person needs to buy is available in town? Maybe the town should be doing something about that.

“A new 18-hole golf course.” Yep. The town will certainly get another one of those. But how much of the town really benefits from that? Golfers, for sure. What percentage of the town’s population golfs? (I don’t, but I don’t live here year-round, either.) Does the “committee” think that visitors will flock from out of town to this new community golf course when Rancho de los Caballeros, one of the top golf courses in the state, offers not only golf but all of the amenities a golfing visitor (and his family) would want?

“The golf course will add to the amenities and services of the town, alongside the hospital, museum, the nature preserve, performing arts center, library, swimming pool, parks, etc.” That’s some list of amenities. Of these, only the hospital, museum, and library are open year-round. The Nature Preserve (which is technically outside of Wickenburg), was closed all summer and I’m not even sure if it has opened yet. The Performing Arts Center only has shows in the fall, winter, and spring. The swimming pool is only open in the summer. Will the golf course be open only part of the year, too?

“An 18-hole golf course and improvements to the Country Club will enhance the entire neighborhood and the Westside, as well and (sic) the whole town.” Enhance the neighborhood? I’m sure you can find more than a “handful” of people who disagree with that claim. After all, how do you think the people in nice homes that overlooked the golf course or virgin desert will feel when their windows suddenly look into the windows of a row of condos? Will high density housing improve that neighborhood or add to traffic, noise, and light pollution? What will it do to housing values for existing homes? Won’t the values decline with such a glut in available housing? And what of the impact on our natural resources? A buddy of mine recently told me that a golf course he visited in Phoenix uses 1 million gallons of water a day. Where will this water come from? The water table in Wickenburg is dropping every year — the Hassayampa, which once ran year-round through town, is now dried up past Box Canyon. Is there enough water for that grass and all those new people? Can the water treatment plant support more sewage?

“Home sites on the golf fairways will provide needed and desirable housing for new residents, including condos and townhouses which are in short supply in Wickenburg.” What? Needed housing? I guess the “committee” hasn’t driven around town lately and seen all the For Sale signs in front of homes throughout town — including spec homes that local builders built. And just how many condos and apartments are being built near the hospital? I don’t have numbers but I’ve driven by and there must be more than a hundred of them there! There’s new development going in near the airport, down the end of South Jackson Street, and in Mariposa Heights. And what kind of “new residents” are they talking about? The kind that come and live in Wickenburg year-round and contribute to the community or the ones that are looking for a second home they can escape to during the winter months, when the winters back home are too cold to take? The same ones that do all their shopping in Wal-Mart in Surprise? Is that the kind of new resident the “committee” wants?

Those are the “committee’s” claims and the reality. Now let’s look at who’s heading up the committee. Their names are at the bottom of the flyer.

Ron Badowski, CPA is also the town’s recently-elected Mayor, a transplant from the east coast who probably misses the kind of densely packed population so common there. Oddly enough, he is not identified as the mayor on the flyer. One of Prop 421’s opponents has pointed out, on numerous occasions, that the mayor’s daughter, who works for a mortgage company, will certainly benefit from new homes built in town. Is this one of the reasons the Mayor is so supportive? Or is he just looking for a few new clients for his accounting practice?

Julie Brooks heads up the town’s Chamber of Commerce — the same organization that has consistently failed to attract new businesses to the town. The vast majority of the Chamber’s activities and events support tourism. Talk to any Chamber member other than the owner of a motel or restaurant and ask what the Chamber has done for them lately. You won’t hear anything nice. But the saddest thing you’ll hear is that these people join the Chamber because they don’t want to be “blacklisted” (their word, and they all use it) by the Chamber. I guess the Chamber wants the golf course so it can add 9 holes to the town’s list of amenities.

Myron Deibel owns the Super 8 Motel. Not too many years ago, he was an also ran for a Town Council slot. Does Mr. Deibel have ideas about out-of-town golfers staying in his motel? Perhaps he plans to offer golf packages.

Ed Hunt is a local car dealer who is involved in local government. Frankly, I have no idea why he’s so hot for the passing of this Proposition. Perhaps I’ll give him a call and ask.

My next question is, who paid to print up and mail the yellow flyers? I certainly hope it didn’t come from the Town’s budget. Would taxpayers approve of their money being used to influence voters about a highly controversial proposition? Did it come from the Chamber of Commerce? Would the majority of Chamber members support their membership dues being used in such a way — especially when their businesses are faltering due to lack of real support? Or did it come from a few private individuals or organizations who stand to benefit from the passing of Prop 421? The flyer doesn’t say, leaving me to wonder exactly who the rest of the “Committee for Progress” is. Perhaps the developer knows?

Here’s the way I look at this issue — and all other political issues this election year. Each voter must vote for what he or she thinks is best. But at the same time, each voter should vote knowing all the facts. The yellow flyer I saw was heavy on promises and light on facts. It was a document meant to lead people who don’t know the whole story to vote one particular way.

I hope that my comments here have caused some of you to think about these promises and the associated reality. Vote for what you think is best for Wickenburg — which might not be the same as what’s best for the “Committee for Progress” members.

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