America the Messy Yard Police State


Messy yard laws selectively enforced.


May 5, 2007

Growth abounds downtown, but what about the rest of Tempe?

Garin Groff, Tribune

Tempe boasts nearly three dozen big developments downtown and along Town Lake. Yet across the rest of the 42-square-mile city, the number of big projects could literally be counted on one hand. There are just five — and only three are south of Apache Boulevard.

The downtown’s success has triggered a bit of a backlash from Tempe neighborhoods. Residents see billions of dollars of highly concentrated development downtown and wonder why more isn’t being done to fix up aging parks, refurbish dated shopping centers or tell the neighbor to cut down foot-tall weeds.

The intensity of downtown development perplexes artist Beth Tom, who lives along Apache Boule- vard. The city helped her with a down payment to buy her house through a program to boost home ownership. Yet she looks down her street and sees house after house with overgrown weeds — and no apparent effort on the city’s part to enforce its own codes.

“It’s really hard for my neighborhood to sustain its value or to even grow in value when so many properties are rentals,” Tom said. “I am upset that there is not more code enforcement.”

It’s no secret the city has long put more into downtown and the lake than its neighborhoods. City leaders pumped millions of incentives into downtown through the 1980s and ’90s to spur redevelopment.

Residents frequently complain City Hall has put too much effort downtown in a lust to get its hands on sales and property taxes. That’s been frustrating as they watch neighborhood shopping centers age or parks deteriorate.

Mayor Hugh Hallman acknowledges the city neglected neighborhoods at the expense of downtown and the lake. He criticized the city’s incentives for years before he became mayor, saying nearly every extra city dollar was funneled downtown or to the lake at the expense of neighborhoods.

“I’ve reversed that,” Hallman said. “The lake and downtown are generating money that we are now putting into neighborhoods.”

But he defends the attention city leaders have paid to downtown, saying Tempe’s future depends on building a dense downtown. Every new project means sales tax on the construction and vastly higher property taxes.

Once the condo towers, offices and shops open, the city gets sales tax. The new revenue streams give the city money for parks, police and neighborhood quality-of-life improvements, Hallman said.

If the city didn’t allow the density downtown, he said, officials would be forced to raise property taxes on homeowners to pay for services.

“You can’t generate resources out of the neighborhoods,” Hallman said. “You have to generate it out of the businesses.”

The city’s latest budget shows a dramatic shift of money toward neighborhoods.

Tempe expects to sell a parcel of land along Town Lake for $42.5 million and use that money for parks and other neighborhood amenities. Officials recently agreed to spend $30 million to renovate every park in the city.

The city also boosted police pay, making it the highest in the Valley. And it added 31 police department positions this year.

Hallman said the city has again focused on neighborhoods since he became mayor. He and others list a number of recently completed amenities or newly funded projects, including:

• A new police substation on Apache Boulevard.

• Funds to repair the city’s aging flood irrigation system.

• Neighborhood traffic calming.

• A rental housing code that tries to reduce neglect, lawn parking and the number of people living in the same home.

• A new squad of code enforcement officers for commercial properties, and 10 part-time workers for residential areas.

The city is also trying to bolster the more lackluster neighborhood shopping centers. Tempe will loan money to the owners of the centers for facade improvements, and the city recently hired a retail specialist whose job is to lure more tenants into the centers.

The city doesn’t have any major shopping centers that are dead or mostly vacant, said Chris Salomon, community development manager. But he said the city wants to encourage owners to make some of the drab centers more lively.

“There aren’t any that are terrible,” Salomon said. “Obviously, there are some that we’d like to see improve.”

Tom said she knows some city employees and knows that many care about the city. And she understands the city needs money from downtown development, but she said the city should work harder to ensure neighborhoods get more attention.

“I wish the big businesses wanted to live here because there were a lot of cool people in cool houses who really cared about their kids instead of starting at the top and trickling down,” Tom said. “I wish it could be spread more evenly to begin with.”

Neighborhood activist Phil Amoroso said his neighborhood and others have been neglected and promised things such as pool repairs that have been delayed for up to a decade. But the delays are legitimate because of reasons like recessions, he said, so he doesn’t blame the city.

Amoroso lives along Apache Boulevard and sees improvement in the area.

He thinks downtown growth will have a ripple effect on neighborhoods like his.

“I’m a neighborhood activist, but yeah, they are correct that the downtown needed to be built up.”


America the Messy Yard Police State