How I got to “yes”

Today, the Phoenix City Council voted to approve a deal to secure the Suns’ future in Phoenix and renovate Talking Stick Resort Arena. As you may recall, I previously said I wouldn’t support the deal. Today, I voted to move forward with the renovation. Clearly, I changed my mind, and my constituents deserve to hear from me directly about what led to the change.

As you probably know, the City put on a series of five public meetings to explain the details of this deal to the public. These meetings provided an opportunity to learn more about the deal, as well as an opportunity to voice support or opposition. The feedback that City staff received at these meetings was overwhelmingly positive and supportive, though of course, some residents did show up to these meetings to voice opposition. At the same time, Phoenix’s business community has rallied in support of this deal.

I previously mentioned that I never hear from constituents regarding this issue. Recently, that has changed in a big way. As this issue has become discussed with the public, it seems I can’t go anywhere without hearing about it. Whether it’s phone calls, conversations at the doorstep, or neighborhood meetings, my constituents have not been shy about telling me their thoughts on the arena deal. To be clear, I’ve heard a wide variety of opinions from my constituents. But I heard from them, and understood how people in my District felt.

The discussion that has taken place since early December has been rich and filled with facts, a far cry from the discussion that took place prior. It gave me a lot to think about. Then on January 9th, I learned that for budgetary reasons, Phoenix would once again be cutting the number of slots available for its Head Start preschool program. This is a program that provides high-quality preschool at no cost to children in working families. District 5 is one of the biggest beneficiaries of this program, as 25 percent of all Head Start slots are located within the District. If these cuts were to take place, a minimum of 300, and perhaps as many as 450 families would no longer be able to access this program. In District 5 alone, students in the Washington Elementary School District, Cartwright School District, Alhambra School District, and Pendergast School District all benefit from the City’s Head Start program. The last time this program was cut, in 2016, Alhambra School District took on the biggest cut in the entire City. Not only is this preschool program vital for working families, it’s also a winner for the City of Phoenix. Research shows that for every dollar spent on early childhood programs, the public sees a return on investment between 4 dollars and 9 dollars.

I thought about the likelihood of finding the necessary funding — $2.6 million — in the normal budget process on somewhat short notice, knowing that the Council had previously failed to prevent cuts to the program. I thought about what the program means to thousands of working families across Phoenix, many of them in District 5. And I thought about what I previously said — that “as long as I’m a Councilmember, I’ll advocate for investments in our residents, our neighborhoods, and our future.”

I decided to sit back down with the Suns. The City and the Suns had spent considerable time negotiating this deal, and there was little appetite on either side to change the overall structure. But what about, I wondered, making sure the deal included additional investments in our residents, our neighborhoods, and our future? What if we found a way to invest in our City-owned infrastructure, while at the same time investing in our most valuable resource, our residents? To his credit, Robert Sarver was more than happy to have this discussion, a discussion which finally pushed me to support the deal.

When this item came before the City Council today, I moved to approve the deal, subject to this addition: That the Suns make a $10 million community benefit investment in Phoenix in 2019. $2.6 million will be earmarked for the Head Start program, preventing as many as 450 families from losing access to this program. While the remaining $7.4 million will be invested throughout the City, Robert Sarver has committed to me that District 5 will be a top priority for this money, which is to be invested in schools, parks, athletic programs, and more throughout the District.

Like I said before, “there are legitimate reasons why the City should look for a way to renovate the arena, which is a City-owned building.” And though I didn’t initially see myself voting “yes,” I’m happy to have found a deal that invests in education, our community, and City infrastructure. I know that those who oppose this renovation deal will be disappointed that I supported it. To those who feel that way: I understand. I don’t believe that the City should be in the arena business, but unfortunately, that wasn’t the choice before this Council.

A few will invariably call me some choice words for changing my mind. That’s okay. As public officials, and as people, we shouldn’t be afraid to change our mind or admit that we initially got it wrong. My concern will always be to act in the best interest of my constituents and our City. I know who isn’t disappointed today though: the thousands of families who know they will not lose access to preschool for their children, the thousands of employees and hundreds of local businesses that directly support the arena, and the countless Phoenicians who will benefit from new community investment in our schools, parks, and programs for children.