The South Central Avenue light rail project is under attack and needs our support against an increasingly anti-urban City Council. Build the damn train.
The South Central Avenue light rail extension is in the news again.
If you’ve not heard, the project is on life support. I don’t believe this to be hyperbole. Following Greg Stanton’s resignation as Mayor to run for Congress, two councilmenbers (Kate Gallego and Daniel Valenzuela) decided to resign to run for Mayor. That means that the Council has to appoint two individuals. In District 5, the City Council appointed Vania Guevara to replace Mr. Valenzuela. But in District 8, the Council appointed councilmember Michael Nowakowski’s chief of staff, Felicita Mendoza, to replace Ms. Gallego.
Nothing much is known on Ms. Mendoza’s urban viewpoints but it’s telling that at this week’s City Council meeting, she provided a key vote to study alternatives for the money that would have been spent on the South Central Avenue light rail project.
Transit is something that brings controversy. The idea of large public expenditure on transit doesn’t sit well with a lot of people. But public transportation is the great social equalizer. It connects people to the places that are important to their lives: jobs, education, recreation, arts, and culture.
There’s a trend going around that political groups connected to Americans for Prosperity (AfP) and the Koch Brothers are trying to kill public transportation projects around the country. They were successful in Nashville, providing the final nail in the coffin for their ambitious transit program. It seems like the group that’s morphed from “4 Lanes or No Train” to “No Train or No Train” is one of those astroturf-roots groups. This group has a major ally in Councilman Sal DiCiccio, who’s aligned with AfP. More troubling is that groups advocating for Latinx communities have taken a position against light rail.
To those who say that this light rail project is a new thing that’s being shoved down people’s throats, I say nonsense. This has been voted on three times and passed all three times: Transit 2000 in March 2000, Proposition 400 in 2004, and Transit 2015 (Move PHX) in August 2015. All three times, the vote in favor was by a resounding majority. With the South Central Avenue light rail alignment, over 300 community meetings were held to explain what was going to be happening (see p. 569 of this report, caution, very large PDF file).
This raises a worrying thought: If the Phoenix City Council foolishly kills the South Central Avenue light rail, a project voted on three times by the citizens of Phoenix, then what point is there on voting for master plans for the City when elements of them can be set aside for political expedience? Why should I vote for General Plans or major transit initiatives when a feckless City Council can do what they please? The Phoenix of today has descended so far from the Phoenix of 1993, winning the Bertelsmann Foundation’s Best Run City in the World award.
The Citizens of Phoenix want light rail. Stop this political nonsense. Build the damn train.
My thoughts on the feigned controversy about murals in central-city Phoenix
The following email was conveyed to members of the Phoenix City Council, the Historic Preservation Office, and others within the City of Phoenix to express my disdain for unnecessary regulations on murals in light of a few individuals’ complaints about the Phoenix Mural Festival:
In no uncertain terms, I am strongly opposed to the creation of any regulations or restrictions on private property owners to engage in artistic expression and paint a mural on their property. Further, I am concerned that if murals become regulated, other elements of personality and individuality will be up for additional regulations and the City would become one large homeowners’ association with all of the restrictions that have made HOAs infamous.
In his 2011 book Triumph of the City, the Harvard economist Edward Glaeser made this comment: “There is great value in protecting the most beautiful parts of our urban past, but cities shouldn’t be embalmed in amber” (p. 136). Cities are living and breathing embodiments of our history where the present is informed by the past. Like museum relics, however, if something is embalmed in amber, it is most likely deceased.
I am greatly troubled to hear about this row caused by murals painted in historic neighborhoods. I am sure that others have spoken to you about potential First Amendment implications and problems of mural regulation. I am also sure some have spoken to you about if it’s appropriate for City government to police murals painted on private property. As a Midtown community leader and a supporter of the arts, I am compelled to speak at this from a different angle.
In the City’s 2015 General Plan, arts and culture is a core part of the City’s identity. The General Plan’s goal for the arts in Phoenix is, “Ensure Phoenix becomes an Arts & Culture destination by encouraging new public art projects, maintenance of existing public art, and support for arts and cultural activities throughout our communities” (p. 126, emphasis mine). The General Plan was created through a celebrated program of community consensus. But now when its application is at hand, does this City- and community-driven plan mean anything, or will its guiding principles and specific recommendations be ignored?
Creating regulations because a small minority of Phoenix citizens have complained about recent murals undermines the great tradition of free artistic expression that has made Phoenix a welcoming community for artists to make our city better and for all of us as urban advocates to keep fighting for Phoenix.
In closing, I am strongly opposed to the creation of any regulations in any neighborhood to limit the painting of murals on private property.
The tremendous downside of listening to Classical Minnesota Public Radio in Phoenix is that you get the Minneapolis / St Paul weather forecasts, where the high temperature tomorrow will be about 40° F cooler than here and about 100 percent more rainy.