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The Daily Agenda: It's about time
That took you three years? ... A minor victory amid so many losses ... And he's snacktastic.
The City of Phoenix yesterday approved a plan to let residents build backyard casitas — a small, long overdue step on a long road to incentivizing an affordable housing supply in a city desperately lacking options.
And when we say a small step, that’s putting it optimistically.
Though council members were careful to temper expectations — declaring the new policy “just one small piece of the puzzle” and promising that more tools are coming soon — the politicians couldn't help but voraciously congratulate each other for their hard work to finally, more than three years after the policy was first proposed, approve it.
“Allowing casitas to be built in neighborhoods with single detached homes provides the opportunity to provide thousands of new more affordable homes to Phoenix residents,” Phoenix vice-mayor Yassamin Ansari said.
“Thousands” of new casitas is a pretty optimistic prediction, considering that two years after launching a similar policy, Tucson has only seen dozens of applications — let alone actual casitas built. Even in places where casita policies have been more effectively instituted, like San Diego, the gain is more like “hundreds.”
Allowing casitas is a commendable, common-sense policy. Casitas can help provide the “missing middle” housing options that Arizona desperately needs.
But celebrating legalizing casitas is like celebrating slapping duct tape on a broken dam. And the slow speed with which Phoenix approached this urgent problem is nothing to celebrate.
It’s worth noting, once again, the staunch opposition that cities like Phoenix threw up to some of the bolder housing reforms proposed at the Legislature this year.
Given it took “years of hard work” and immense political pressure for the city council to accomplish something as simple and seemingly noncontroversial as allowing people to build casitas, we don’t have much faith that cities are prepared to take the kind of urgent action needed to put an actual dent in Arizona’s housing crisis.
And the city council still has a lot of work to do before the policy can even go into effect, let alone start alleviating the problem. The first big issue at hand is the Phoenix City Council’s plans to prohibit new casitas from being rented out as Airbnbs. The council will take up that proposal in two weeks.
The city also has a duty to ensure that the program is executed effectively and equitably, Democratic Rep. Analise Ortiz said. That means taking steps like offering model blueprints, as Tucson is preparing to do, and having all the material translated into Spanish to ensure equitable access among the Spanish-speaking community.
Ortiz was one of a handful of Democrats who backed the housing package that lawmakers attempted to pass at the Capitol this year, even after the Arizona League of Cities and Towns opposed it. Cities ultimately killed that package, instead backing a watered-down proposal that included low-risk, low-return policies like more casitas (which also went nowhere). But without the pressure that lawmakers put on city councils to address the problem themselves, since they didn't like the legislative solution, we wouldn't even be talking about casitas right now, Ortiz said.
Approving the casitas policy was easy. The real test of how committed cities like Phoenix are to actually solving the state’s housing crisis will come next January when lawmakers again debate more controversial, broad-based housing reform policies that actually have the potential to help create the “thousands” of more housing units that the Valley needs.
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Still no fraud: A Yavapai County Superior Court judge declared that the way counties verify signatures on mail-in ballot envelopes is likely illegal, saying recorders must use official voter registration forms as the basis for comparison, rather than the multitude of other official documents that most recorders use, Capitol scribe Howie Fischer reports. Election integrity groups had challenged the practice, and while the judge’s stance wasn’t an official ruling on the merits of the case, his words and decision not to dismiss the lawsuit may offer a preview of how he’ll actually rule.
Maybe next year: A recent district court decision in Montana striking down a pair of pro-fossil fuel laws because the state constitution declares residents have a right to a "clean and healthful environment" has local climate activists excited about the possibility of passing a similar provision in the Arizona Constitution, the Republic’s Joan Meiners reports. But Democratic Sen. Juan Mendez, who has proposed such a constitutional amendment, says he worries the ruling will make his legislation even harder to pass. (It has never received a hearing in the three years he has proposed it.)
"We're working with the Arizona Legislature, which is dominated by Republicans that are off the deep end," Mendez said. "When they hear the news that Montana is going to be guaranteeing future generations clean water, healthy air and land, I'm pretty sure they're gonna make sure that this never happens in Arizona."
Councilmembers resign/don’t: Two rural city council members resigned and left town this week. Kingman’s Cameron Patt got a job in Pinal County after Mohave County supervisors put a hiring freeze on the County Attorney’s Office, where he was a prosecutor, per the Daily Miner’s Dave Hawkins. And Cottonwood’s Jackie Nairn’s “family’s circumstances changed,” per the Verde Valley Independent’s Vyto Starinskas, and she’s moving to Buckeye. But Peoria’s Denette Dunn is definitely not quitting, despite her colleagues’ calls for her to resign following a police report revealing an old family friend who is a registered sex offender stayed at her house intermittently without registering at her address, the Republic’s Taylor Seely tells Lauren Gilger on KJZZ’s “The Show.”
Unlike many rural city council members, we’re not quitting this week. Subscribe today and we won’t quit next week, either!
Long time coming: Navajo Nation President Buu Nygren signed a victims’ rights law aimed at supporting victims, particularly of violent, sexual crimes. The Republic’s Arlyssa Becenti profiled the legislation last week when the Navajo Council sent it to Nygren.
“I want to make sure that you young ladies that grow up here on the Navajo Nation have the most opportunity to be whoever the heck they want to be," Nygren said at the signing, per KJZZ.
Executive orders are weaker than court orders: House Speaker Ben Toma and Senate President Warren Petersen filed a motion in federal court attempting to block a deal that would obligate the state’s insurance system to pay for gender-affirming care, not only for a person who sued the state years ago but for all future care. As Fischer notes, Gov. Katie Hobbs signed an executive order in June stating Arizona would cover that kind of care going forward, but the consent decree would make the policy enforceable by federal court.
Welcome to the land of spontaneity and exploration: Many of the children of the Taiwanese workers building the giant TSMC chip manufacturing plant in the North Valley are attending school in Deer Valley Unified School District, with the district’s Stetson Hills School seeing the largest number of Taiwanese kids, ABC15’s Elenee Dao reports.
“The whole environment in Taiwan, people will think fast, walk very fast, everything is very fast there,” mom Gloria Lai told ABC15. “The teaching environment is very different in Taiwan than in Arizona. In Arizona, students need to be spontaneous and they are able to explore themselves but in Taiwan, we prefer children to be good at various subjects and have more homework.”
Where are the rabbits, Steve?: Former lawmaker and gubernatorial candidate Steve Farley, now the CEO of the Humane Society of Southern Arizona, is facing questions about whether the anonymous animal rescue group that allegedly helped find homes for 250 small mammals actually did find them homes, Arizona Public Media’s Danyelle Khmara reports. Animal welfare advocates don’t believe any rescue operation could find homes for that many small animals so quickly. They want a paper trail of where the animals went and are offering a reward for information.
We’ve never celebrated the sale of a newspaper — in this business, the new overlords are almost never better than the last ones.
But the recent sale of the Arizona Daily Sun may actually be an improvement. The company that owned the paper, Lee Enterprises, is a half-click better than Gannett, but still among the worst in the business.
The Wick family, which has operated a string of some of the better rural newspapers in Arizona for decades, purchased the Sun for an undisclosed sum. Wick may not be an employee-owned journalist utopia like the Agenda, but at least it’s not Lee Enterprises. And unlike many other newspaper sales, all employees have been allowed to keep their positions.
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As fans of unintelligent uses of artificial intelligence, we got a kick out of the New Times’ recent attempt to use AI to rate the hotness of Arizona sports coaches and managers.
Ryan Yousefi got an app called Golden Ratio Face to take a gander at more than a half-dozen sports team leaders and decide which one of them is the biggest snack of the bunch. The AI correctly announced that Phoenix Rising manager Juan Guerra is the most handsome man in Arizona sports.
“(Computers) don't always get it right, but we have to say we're in agreement that the dapper Guerra — barely removed from his playing days himself — is the Arizona sports leader most likely to appear on the cover of GQ or your girlfriend's browsing history,” Yousefi writes.