06/06/2011 & 06/09/2011 Town Council Study Session & Meeting

GILBERT: THE 5TH SAFEST CITY IN AMERICA! Since the 5/10/2010 defeat of Prop 406 (the sales tax increase “dedicated to public safety”), Gilbert has gone from being the 17th Safest City in the United States, to the 5th Safest City in the United States.

It isn’t how much money you have. It’s how you spend it.

Mayor Lewis thanked Chief Jobusch of the Gilbert Fire Department, and Chief Dorn of the Gilbert Police Department, for their role in helping make Gilbert one of the safest cities in America.

SOUTHEAST REGIONAL LIBRARY: A DEN OF THIEVING, BELLIGERANT PATRONS AND PORN VIEWERS?

Gilbert might be the 5th Safest City in America, but after hearing former Southeast Regional Branch Manager Andrew Chanse’s presentation at the Council meeting on June 9, you’d think all the crime occurs at the library.

The solution? Former Council Member Linda Abbott blocked approval of the new 2011-2012 town budget until funds for security guards were reinstated.

I don’t disagree that security guards might ultimately be needed at the libraries. I visited the SE library on Greenfield recently. The parking lot was over half full, people of all ages were filing in and out carrying a few books or DVD’s, or lugging a stack of them, or even a bagful. There were about 20 people at computers, and more sitting and studying at tables, or in side conference rooms, and others were going through shelves of books, CD’s and DVD’s. There were lots of kids in the Youth room. It’s not what I think of as a “library,” but it is well used and attracts lots of people.

So, what’s going on at the Library? According to Mr. Chanse’s Facebook page (Facebook is a reporting method?), both he and a staff member were grabbed recently by an angry patron. In another scenario, some patrons with large fines refused to leave and threatened him with bodily harm.

In May 2011, he reported to the Town that some patrons are stealing DVD’s by the trainloads (4,000 since July 2010). Some patrons are “defeating“ the porn filters. Some are fighting over computers, screaming, and damaging property.

According to Mr. Chanse those 4,000 DVD’s cost $35 each to replace, when you factor in “handling.” $35???

Oh, don’t worry. All the library’s products and services are “free,” subsidized by the taxpayer.

I thought of all the used bookstores and places like Blockbuster Video that have gone out of business. Yes, business owners expect risk and competition in a free market. But when your own government competes against you and drives you to bankruptcy, that’s a crime.

The patrons of the SE Regional Library checked out 2.2 million items in fiscal year 2010.
Gilbert taxpayers will pay $2.3 million in fiscal year 2011-2012. That’s over $1 for every item that is checked out.

Yes, some things are out of control at the library. But the security guard can’t fix them.

(Stay tuned for how the new and improved Town Council approaches this problem!)

COUNCIL APPROVES THE $613,291,580 BUDGET FOR FISCAL YEAR 2011 (7/1/2011 – 6/30/2012).

COUNCIL APPROVES CAPITAL IMPROVEMENT PLAN.

This is approval of the plan only. The projects included in the plan will come before Council separately for direction to proceed to build, or to go in a different direction.

I was glad to hear Council member Ben Cooper state that he was interested in exploring the possibility of using the Vaughn Avenue Parking Garage funds for other options, such as making improvements to existing parking.

COUNCIL DENIES 2 CONDITIONAL USE PERMITS FOR MEDICAL MARIJUANA DISPENSARIES.

Last November, the voters of Arizona approved allowing medical marijuana dispensaries to operate in Arizona, including Gilbert.

The problem is, where can they set up shop? In Gilbert, they cannot be closer than 1,000 feet of a public or private park. That might sound like an easy requirement. It isn’t. The problem is, how do you define a “park”? The definition doesn’t exist in the Land Development Code.

The Town’s Planning and Development Services staff were in favor of granting conditional use permits to two applicants—Sonoran Star Remedies and Beleaf, Inc– asserting that they had been diligent and conscientious in following all of the Town’s legal requirements. Town Staff stated that the applicants were well beyond 1,000 feet of a “park.”

The appellants, however, who appealed those permits, argued that, if an open space area is used like a park, even if it isn’t called a park, it is a park. Joe Turner stated that an open space area close to Sonoran Star Remedies, was closer than 1,000 feet, if measured at the wall. The Town argued that the true measurement was at the basketball court, where most activity took place. Also, there was a question about razor wire that was attached to the top of the wall. From the photos, it wasn’t clear if the razor wire extended the full length of the wall. If it did, the park wasn’t accessible from the wall. That question was not answered.

After hearing from Town Staff, the applicants, appellants, and seeing photos, the Council agreed that the “use” of the area was most important. They denied the Conditional Use Permits.

I felt badly for these business people who have invested thousands of dollars in doing their due diligence, following all Town requirements, and paying their $1500 conditional use permits, only to be denied. If they reapply having found an alternate location, they must pay $1500 for another permit.

I wanted to see the wall and the open space for myself, and so I drove to the proposed site of Sonoran Star Remedies, 1310 N Acacia Drive, and then found my way to the open space in Cooper Ranch Community. To enter, I had to drive well beyond the wall, into the community. There was no parking on Houston Rd.

From the edge of the retention basin, it looked like the razor wire covered the entire length of the wall. See photo below:

I took a few more photos of the park and the street and was about to leave, when the HOA president David Thomas rolled up in his pickup truck and asked me who I was and what was I doing. When I explained, he told me about what goes on at the “park.” It is heavily used by residents, especially kids. Cooper Ranch Community is mostly families. They play basketball. The HOA installed solar lighting for them. Kids play all over the entire area, often.

He also explained that the wall is NOT covered with razor wire all the way to the far end and in fact, the HOA has had some problems with transients or teenagers jumping over the wall, even tearing out sections of it to gain access from the industrial area on the other side. They drink beer and carry on and leave bottles, cigarette butts, and graffiti behind.

So far, the HOA hasn’t been able to catch the culprits. They had repaired the wall fairly recently. I walked to the far end beyond the razor wire, and, behold, the interlopers had recently struck. Mr. Thomas immediately made a call for more repairs. See photo below:

Mr. Thomas and I talked some more, both of us pondering the wisdom of having marijuana dispensaries in fairly remote parts of Gilbert, where vandals tend to hang out. If they are bold enough to break down walls to carouse and drink, they won’t have a problem searching out marijuana dispensaries and cultivation sites.

That grassy area where lots of kids frequently play may not be called a park, but it is definitely used like a park, and it is closer than 1,000 feet from the proposed dispensary.

Another thing was made clear by former Council Member Les Presmyk: Gilbert has required developers to provide a certain amount of open space. These communities exist all over Gilbert. If grassy retention basins are determined to be parks by the Council, it will be virtually impossible for a medical marijuana dispensary to set up shop in Gilbert.

Do we want marijuana cultivated in backyards?

The former Council paid $300,000 per acre for the Zinke parkland, because we didn’t have enough parks. Now it seems we don’t have anyplace for business.

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