How did Scottsdale's 2 mayoral candidates vote during their time on council? A look back
Former Scottsdale City Council members David Ortega and Lisa Borowsky are on their way to a runoff for mayor in November after a majority of Scottsdale voters sent a clear message that they wanted a leadership change.
Concerns about development and responsible growth have dominated City Hall for the last several years, culminating in citizen-driven efforts to prevent commercial development in the city's desert preserve and taller buildings in Old Town.
It has been over a decade since Ortega, the top vote-getter in August's primary election, last served on the council, while Borowsky vacated her seat in 2013. But many of the issues that the candidates faced during their time on council still resonate today.
For Ortega, it was a controversial land deal that Scottsdale residents rejected after sending the issue to a vote. For Borowsky, it was working to balance the city's budget amid declining revenues caused by a prolonged economic downturn.
Each candidate served just one term on council, Ortega from 2000 to 2004 and Borowsky from 2009 to 2013. Ortega went on to run for mayor in 2004 where he lost to then-incumbent Mary Manross by a 2-1 margin, while Borowsky mounted an unsuccessful bid for Arizona's 9th Congressional District in 2012.
The Arizona Republic took a look back to see where each candidate shook out on the most important issues of the day.
Development issues persist after 2 decades
In 2008, Borowsky ran on a platform of speaking up for businesses. Borowsky, who was a strong supporter of Scottsdale's bar district, criticized the city for being too tough on bar owners.
Borowsky also assisted her brother, Todd Borowsky, with a referendum that overturned the city's efforts to impose tougher restrictions on strip clubs in 2006. Todd Borowsky is the owner of Skin Cabaret, near Scottsdale and McDowell roads.
In 2011, Borowsky voted for Blue Sky, a proposed 749-unit, 128-foot apartment complex planned near Scottsdale Fashion Square. The project saw pushback, but Borowsky said she worked with the developers to win concessions to make the project more palatable to opponents, who were planning a referendum to send the issue to voters.
The concessions included a promise by the developer to improve sidewalks and pedestrian walkability in the area, but critics said the project was still too tall and too dense for the area.
The project never materialized, and Ortega criticized Borowsky for her vote on Blue Sky on his campaign website. "All that remains of the Blue Sky Apartments is the fenced, vacant blighted lot we see today," he wrote.
Borowsky also voted for the Optima Sonoran Village project, a luxury apartment complex across from Scottsdale Fashion Square. She said she opposed the Moderne, a luxury apartment complex near Fashion Square, but said the developer prevented her from voting on the project by hiring a fellow attorney at Borowsky's then law firm, creating a conflict of interest.
Borowsky has also spent the last year representing a mixed-use housing development on 282 acres of land between Cottonwood and Sedona owned by her father, Eric Borowsky, who also owns the Arizona Snowbowl resort in Flagstaff.
The development, Spring Creek Ranch, has received immense pushback from neighbors. For now, Borowsky said her father has pulled the development application after hearing the resident feedback and said the project had no bearing on her Scottsdale candidacy.
"My dad asked me to help him with something, of course, I'm helping him," Borowsky said. "Not only is it 120 miles away from Scottsdale, it's just a universe away from what Scottsdale the municipality is versus where Spring Creek Ranch is."
"The people that are speaking out against the project oppose absolutely everything, no matter what it is. That's what's led to the severe housing crisis up there," she said.
During his time on council, Ortega opposed the Los Arcos mall development, which would have been a taxpayer-subsidized shopping center anchored by a WalMart Supercenter near McDowell and Scottsdale roads.
The deal would have allowed the developer, EllmanCo., to capture nearly half of the sales tax generated by the site for 40 years. The site had been eyed for years as a potential site for the Arizona Coyotes, but Ellman took the NHL team to Glendale after Scottsdale officials pushed for a public vote to ask residents about financing an arena.
A referendum later sent the Los Arcos development to voters, who rejected the deal by a 5-1 margin. The site would later become SkySong, a 42-acre mixed-use public-private effort between Scottsdale, Arizona State University and Plaza Cos.
Borowsky said during her campaign in 2008 that she would have preferred to see a hockey arena on the site as opposed to SkySong, saying it would have attracted more people and tax revenue.
During his term on council, Ortega voted to approve the 135-foot Waterfront Towers along the Arizona Canal in Old Town, and Desert Mountain, an 8,000-acre luxury housing community nestled between the Tonto National Forest and Carefree.
He also opposed a controversial council decision to build 125 townhouses on the 9-acre site of the former Smitty's grocery store, in lieu of 200 senior apartments, which many residents said were needed in the area.
Ortega's fellow council member, Ned O'Hearn, said at the time that Ortega had met with the developer following the decision and insulted them with "aggressive and inappropriate assaults." At the time, Ortega described his demeanor as a tough questioner. The developer later pulled the plug on the development.
More recently, the two candidates sounded off on the Desert Discovery Center, a proposed education center in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve that became a lightning rod issue in the city amid the 2018 election.
Ortega said he fully opposed the Discovery Center, calling it a $70 million commercial center that the council had tried to pass without the consent of residents. Earlier this year, a local PR firm resurfaced Ortega's past opposition to a sales tax increase that would have acquired more land for the preserve.
In 2008, Borowsky said the Desert Discovery Center was a project that should be completed to "better our community." On Wednesday, she told The Republic that the initial iteration of the DDC that she supported was billed as a non-threatening, educational opportunity that would have allowed taxpayers to enjoy and utilize the McDowell Sonoran Preserve.
Borowsky said she fully supported Prop. 420, which prohibited commercial development in the preserve without a vote by residents.
Managing the city's budget
Ortega took office in 2000, a year before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks would ground airplanes and decimate the city's budget, he said.
The city faced similar budget constraints as it does now amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, Ortega said.
"We went through similar monitoring to what they’re doing now, kind of holding your breath and seeing what the numbers are like," he said.
Ortega said the need to hold various city departments accountable for spending during that time has equipped him to tackle the city's current economic situation.
Borowsky, who took office amid the Great Recession, touted similar experience with managing and balancing the city's budget.
Borowsky said she advocated for creating an independent city treasurer position that reported directly to the council, which happened during her tenure. Borowsky also advocated for core services like public safety to remain unaffected by budget cuts, something she said she plans to maintain in the current economic situation.
Borowsky said she would call for a reinstatement of the Budget Review Commission, an advisory body that made recommendations to the council about the proposed budget. The commission was disbanded after Borowsky left office, likely because of their tough questioning and ability to hold elected officials' feet to the fire, she said.
"More sets of eyes, especially in such dire financial conditions, certainly turned out to be better, and I think that's always the case," Borowsky said.
Each council member could make an appointment to the commission. Borowsky nominated her father to the Budget Review Commission in 2009.
Her selection of a family member raised eyebrows at the time, but Borowsky said she could rely on her father's professional experience and that he would be accountable to her.
"I have great firsthand experience with him," she said. "I knew that I could rely on his professional experience and his intelligence."
Successfully passing a general plan
This year, the city will work to update its general plan, the city's blueprint to guide growth.
Scottsdale's general plan was established in 2001 and is meant to be updated every 10 years, according to state law. However, residents narrowly rejected an update to the general plan in 2012.
Ortega served on council when voters approved the last General Plan and credits the success of the 2001 plan with the feedback that council members gathered citywide.
Ortega said councilmembers went around in groups of two to gather feedback from residents about the proposed plan.
"The general plan takes work," Ortega said. "A lot of citizens put in a lot of work to get it done 19 years ago."
Ortega called attention to the fact that Borowsky served on council in 2012 when the city failed to pass a General Plan update.
Critics at the time said the 2012 plan had a weak vision statement and pandered to special interests and developers. Borowsky was one of two council members who had voted against the plan, saying at the time that some of the city's most involved residents hadn't been consulted in the process.
Borowsky said advisory panels that represent different areas of the city should be created to ensure every resident can contribute to the process.
"I think that you need to bring it to the people that live in the day-to-day of their area," she said. "Have buy-in from the citizens who are voting on it."
City planners have said a proposed general plan could go to a vote in November 2021.
Borowsky said that, while the plan needs to be updated to reflect what's happened over the last two decades, the city shouldn't rush to put a plan before voters in 2021 and risk having it rejected like in 2011.
She also believes that Scottsdale residents are mostly in agreement about what they want to see from a general plan this time around.
"I don't think we're divided," Borowsky said. "I think that when we get to extremes, that's when there's upset and that's when there's opposition. When the pendulum swings too far in either direction, that's when the division occurs."
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