Focus on Sustainability: City of Phoenix

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Sustainability: City of Phoenix
Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton talks about what he’s doing to promote sustainability in the City of Phoenix

Steve Goldstein: The city of Phoenix is tonight's focus on sustainability. Since taking office in January, Greg Stanton has made sustainability one of his top priorities. He's been quoted as saying he wants to transform Phoenix into Eclipse Educational version only -- not for commercial use sustainability and he appoint add team to help him accomplish that goal. Joining me now is Phoenix mayor Greg Stanton.

Steve Goldstein: We'll be talking about sustainability, but let's start with a few other issues. Sales tax revenue numbers in the city of Phoenix going up?

Greg Stanton: We are heading in the right direction. So Phoenix is a very fiscally well run city, fiscally responsible. We're paying close attention to the sales tax numbers, we're not saying happy times are here again but we're heading in the right direction. Development activity at the city is up, we just granted permission for two new high-rises right in downtown in the heart of the city, sales tax numbers are up, so all indications are we're heading in the right direction, so we're cautiously optimistic we're going to keep it that way. But we -- I'm glad we're heading that way.

Steve Goldstein: How important is regional economic cooperation going forward? Phoenix is the leader, you see the sales tax numbers going up, are you going to see the other cities going up with you?

Greg Stanton: We're a team. When people talking about regionalism, it's at times been talked about positively, negatively, I can tell you my philosophy. We're going to sink or swim as a region. Phoenix does not exist outside of the community surrounding us. We have to operate as a team. Our economic development strategy needs to be coherent and consistent, and we need to operate as a team, and many times I spend more time than anything else recruiting businesses, working with existing businesses, trying to retain them, hopefully they expand and grow. And I can only be successful in I operate in partnership with the other cities in the valley. We can't pass self-defeating tax policies, we have to make sure we pass smart tax policies, and I'm going to end up recruiting buses that sometimes end up in other cities, and that's fine. As long as they're high-paying, high-quality jobs that's good for Phoenix.

Steve Goldstein: How do you find the balance between supporting local businessis and recruiting new ones? Do you get local businesses that say, pay more attention to me?

Greg Stanton: Well, of course you hear that, but I want to make sure it's clear, I have made a commitment to visit the top 100 Phoenix-based employers in my first year in office. So I spend a lot of time in Phoenix in conference rooms, taking tours of local business, and we ask the question, what can we do as a city to make you more successful? And we find that as -- if you're consolidating operations we want to make sure do you that in Phoenix. We want you to expand in Phoenix, in our region, we want to make sure you do that in Phoenix. And we are to go out and recruit new people, what new people would. So ironically, our recruitment efforts of new businesses is directly a result of the information we learn from our existing businesses. If we're going to be successful, if we're going to grow this economy with the right jobs, the number one thing we can do is to support our existing businesses. So I spend a lot of time, and I love it, I've learned a lot as mayor of the city of Phoenix, about what we can do to support local business particularly small business.

Steve Goldstein: One other field you've been public about supporting, the defense industry. You'll northbound Washington, DC next Tuesday with a press conference about that. There are some, not many critics but some that say people want to get out of Afghanistan and Iraq. So, are the defense jobs going to be there in the future and how would that affect Phoenix going forward?

Greg Stanton: OK. And I happen to support the defense industry in aerospace industry because those are high-wage jobs in this city and in this state. It's not just a Phoenix thing. I'm taking a leadership role regionally, statewide, and I've been asked to take on a leadership role nationally to support the aerospace industry. Look. We need more diversity in our economy, we need more sustainability in our economy, we've been overly reliant on growth on the desert's edge. We need to be smarter about economic development and we need that are here. I'm not naive. I'm aware that the budget in Washington is going to decrease, it's going to shrink, and it should. What I'm fighting against is what's called sequestration, which was never meant to be public policy. This is across the board, slash and burn cuts to the Pentagon, and they would disproportionately affect our local economy because we are fortunate to have so many employers, high-wage employers in science, technology, engineering, and math in the defense and aerospace industry. So if I'm going to talk the talk about having a high-wage economy and being smart about economic development, I need to walk the walk. And when I look at the landscape of potential threats to our economy, this threat of sequestration is one of the largest threats. I'll be in Washington, DC next week, at a press conference put on by the aerospace industries. Trying to tell our friends in Washington, DC, I don't care if you're Democrat or Republican, get to the bargaining table, reach an agreement on the budget, make the necessary cuts, but don't allow sequestration. It will significantly harm our local and national economy, estimates are a million people in that industry would unfortunately have to be laid off before the end of the year if it goes through. You're going to start hearing more about it, and Congress needs to act now. Don't wait, and don't get caught the other side is wrong, and we're all right, we expect leaders to be statesmen and to compromise and we need that to happen if were going to best protect our economy.

Steve Goldstein: You mentioned statesman. How are the cities getting along with the legislature as a whole, does the legislature get what mayors like yourself, mayor Scott Smith of Mesa are trying to do?

Greg Stanton: Some do, some don't. It's a mixed bag. I hate to paint with too broad of a brush. This past session was a tough session. Many bills were passed that tried to get pretty deep into the operations of the city. I'm a believer in local control. Just as our friends at the state legislature don't want Washington, DC to tell them how to do their business at the state level, by the exact same token, we feel that local decisions should be best made at the local level. Whether it be elections, or whether it be how we operate red light running cameras in our cities, etc. There's been a lot of bills that got pretty deep into city operations, and I think it's important that city councils and mayors stand up and say, no, this -- the people expect us to govern in the areas upon which we have jurisdiction, and we don't want to get unfunded mandates from the state, and so it consisted with their political philosophy relative to the feds, they should treat the cities the same way, done at the local level.

Steve Goldstein: Governor Jan Brewer seems to want to intrude on the benefits of domestic partners, especially those who are Gay or lesbian. What's your viewpoint on that?

Greg Stanton: Well, and the city of Phoenix have a very different philosophy. Domestic partner benefits, which are health benefits for domestic partners which include gay and lesbian couples, I believe and the city believes is a really good thing for our city. Putting aside whatever you may feel about politics of various issues, all I care about is what can we do to attract the very best employees, what can we do to retain the very best employees? And in this economy it's critically important that we have whatever competitive advantage we can to have the best people working at the city of Phoenix. We need the best minds, the hardest working people, I don't care about someone's sexual orientation. I just care whether they're a great city employee. If you're a great city employee I want you to have the full benefits of city employment, including health benefits for you and your family. So for me it's all about what is the right management decision, I try to avoid getting involved in the politics. What's in the best interest of the city, and I think having domestic partner benefits at least for the city that I lead is good not only the right thing to practice.

Steve Goldstein: Let's move to sustainability. You and I are both trying not to sweat, 114 degrees outside. Where does solar energy fit?

Greg Stanton: Solar energy fits directly into my vision. First we need to as a city show leadership. We need to put solar on as many city buildings as we can. We just put a large solar array on the car rental facility at Sky Harbor Airport. The largest on-building solar array in Arizona, one of the top five in the United States of America. And we're just getting started. We need to make sure we increase solar on rooftops, residential rooftops, and with the recently announced Solar Phoenix 2 program, secretary of energy, Stephen chu came out to Phoenix because it's such a cutting edge program, the largest public-private partnership of its kind for residential solar. It's been a huge success. It's $25 million of opportunity for investment in solar, already 5 million has been laid out. So this is good economic development as well. This program has been hugely successful in terms of getting people interested in it and we've already moved forward with almost 200 homes having solar on their roofs. It's a public-private partnership, no government money. We're promoting it, we make sure they get the permits as quickly as possible, it's in partnership with APS, and SRP. And when we -- when this program concludes, I know it's gonna be a big success. It will be the model about how to take solar to scale on residential. But not only that, we just don't want to get the benefit of the sun, we want the architects, the engineers, we want the business side of solar. You can really build a strong economy, these are good-paying jobs. And I want to brand this city as a city that loves sustainability and if you're a sustainability entrepreneur, not just solar, and you've got a business idea and you need a proof of concept, come to the city of Phoenix. We're going to be totally open-minded to you using our city if you've got an idea about how to save energy, let us test it out. We want -- when I say I want Phoenix to be the Silicon Valley for sustainability, it's exactly what I'm talking about we want the best minds of sustainability to choose to come to Phoenix. This is an issue in its infancy and Phoenix has a chance to take competitive advantage if we substantively get it right and we brand ourselves correctly.

Steve Goldstein: The Silicon Valley sustainability is incredibly ambitious, though. You're biting off a lot. What is the term we can look for as far as how long, how far we have to look? It is 10 years, 20 years?

Greg Stanton: Yes and yes. A commitment to sustainability is a short-term commitment to get programs going. You're going to see my commitment with regard to light rail, and promotion of Eclipse Educational version only -- not for commercial use vacant lots, which have been a huge problem in our city, a very depressing problem in many ways. We'll send a message that you can turn a negative into a positive. You gotta have a series of short-term programs, make the city more bikable, more walkable, but it's also a long-term commitment. At the end of the day we as a city have to significantly increase our use of renewable energy. Not only as a city ourselves in terms of the 14,000 employees of the city of Phoenix, but the 1.4 million people of the city as a whole. It's good for jobs, it's good for reducing our dependence on foreign oil, so from a national security perspective, this is really important that we get this right. And the action is really at the city level. I often get asked, do you want Phoenix to be ranked number one in sustainability, number two in sustainability? And my answer is, I don't care. I want Phoenix to do the best we can do. And oh, by the way, I want Los Angeles to do the best they can do and New York and Chicago and Denver, and all the other cities of the United States of America. If we get it right, we can significantly reduce our dependence on foreign oil. It's really good for business, really good for national security, and good for the environment.

Steve Goldstein: How much are connected are light-rail and sustainability.

Greg Stanton: They're one in the same. We need to increase not only bus service but light rail service, and we just as a city council approved the Northwest extension. So the current light rail as you know it is going to be expanding very soon. On the east side, Mesa is doing it as well. We're going to do it on the extension in Phoenix. So we're going to pick up a lot of new customers and riders as a result of that. So that -- to get people out of their cars into other forms of transportation, not just light rail, not light rail excuse me, buses, we want people to bike to work, we want our city more walkable, which traditionally it hasn't been a particularly walkable city. Not just because of the weather, but its design. We need to retrofit it in that regard. But not only in terms of reducing congestion and getting people to work more quickly and spend more time with their families, there's a real reason why increased multimodal transportation is important, but certainly from a sustainability and environmental perspective, getting that right in the short run and long run is critically important.

Steve Goldstein: When you talk about getting it right, is it easier or more difficult to get it right in a city the size of Phoenix, and one that has so much land mass?

Greg Stanton: Oh, that's a tough question to answer. I grew up in Phoenix. I'm the mayor of Phoenix. I didn't grow up in any other city. I'm not -- I only know Phoenix. And I love this city. And I love the activists. I've learned so much from the people of this community. I'm going to tell you the dirty secret of local politics. I have very few original ideas. But what I need to do is reach out and listen to the people of the city. And I get my best ideas, politics in many ways is politically correct plagiarism. I steal ideas and I run with them. And I've got some great ideas from this community on sustainability. And you've got a mayor and a city staff that is open minded and we want to do better. We want to look in the mirror and always say, how can we do better as a city? Yes, we're one of the largest cities in America. Does it make it easier or harder? I don't know. All I know we've got to get it right and I think we're headed in the right direction.

Steve Goldstein: Phoenix mayor Greg Stanton, thanks very much.

Greg Stanton: Happy to be here.

Greg Stanton - Phoenix Mayor

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