“I’m thrilled to be here, not just at this event, but at this moment in history,” Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego said kicking off her inaugural State of the City address. “Although change can sometimes be difficult, I am incredibly optimistic about our future in Phoenix.”
During the event, which was hosted by the Greater Phoenix Chamber, Gallego shared her vision for the future of Phoenix and how two upcoming city ballot initiatives could “drastically” impact the success of the city while also addressing issues like transportation, economic development, housing and homelessness, health care and education.
Gallego expressed the importance of public transit saying no choice is as consequential as whether or not the city votes to save the light rail in August.
“Voters were wise when they voted not once, not twice, but three times to support light rail in Phoenix. But a small ideological group wants us to throw out years of economic development and reverse course…Their plans would jeopardize billions of dollars in infrastructure. We cannot afford that,” Gallego said in reference to Phoenix ballot initiative Proposition 105.
If passed, the proposition would require the city’s share of funding for the light rail to fund other transportation infrastructure improvements and would stop funding improvements to light rail built on or after August 17, 2018.
Gallego said that the city is spending transportation dollars on other infrastructure such as bike lanes and wheelchair ramps as well as upgrading street signs, street lights and traffic signals.
“The voters have spoken on this. And we’re going to have to speak again,” Gallego added. “Investment in infrastructure is an investment in our people and our economy. Think about it: Nearly a quarter-million people in our region ride public transportation every weekday.”
Nearly $11 billion has been invested along the light rail and its development has brought 35,000 permanent jobs, according to the Mayor’s office. The proposition could derail several light rail extensions including ones already underway like South Central Extension/Downtown Hub.
According to Gallego, keeping the light rail is “just common sense.”
The mayor also addressed Proposition 400, the half-cent sales tax that supports regional transportation in Maricopa County.
“Our transportation system should be evaluated collectively, and we need to be thinking about the funding for our future,” Gallego said. “In 2022, we need to vote to extend [Prop. 400]. That conversation must not wait until 2022, we must start today.”
“There are few in the valley driving our progress more than innovative small business owners,” Gallego said. “Despite our city’s massive growth, we continue to succeed on the backs of small business entrepreneurs willing to make the valley their home…How do we make the city a destination for even more businesses? We push for them.”
According to Gallego, she listened to small business owners and now, small business owners have help navigating the city process through the city’s new navigator position.
“I understand the many demands on businesses and dealing with the city bureaucracy should not be one of those demands. That’s why I made it a priority, in this year’s budget, to dedicate new resources to help business owners navigate the city,” Gallego said.
Since the Great Recession, Phoenix has diversified its job sectors and lent more support to actively growing high-wage jobs, Gallego said. Before 2008, Phoenix had 44 percent of its jobs in advanced industries. Today, it is more than 60 percent.
Phoenix has helped 136 companies move or expand here over the past five years, creating more than 50,000 jobs. 25 companies have planted or expanded corporate and regional headquarters to the city, hiring nearly 7,000 people.
Most of the growth has been seen in downtown Phoenix but according to Gallego, “Wall Street West” has more than 30,000 people working in finance and FinTech, making Phoenix the third largest financial workforce in the nation.
“Watch out Wall Street! The BBC projects we will soon surpass New York’s Wall Street in the number of financial services jobs,” Gallego said.
Gallego also addressed Proposition 106, an investment cap initiative on the August ballot that would cut funding for areas like libraries and after-school programs.
“A small group of special interests continue to try and chip away at local autonomy and we need to stand together to show that the most effective form of government is local government,” Gallego said. “The same groups pushing this initiative have long tried to use Phoenix as a proving ground for initiatives that they want to run in other cities. Our great city cannot be the lab rat for these entities.”
Housing and Homelessness
Gallego addressed the affordable housing and homelessness problem saying that the city is working on innovative ways to prepare for the future.
“We are going to need all of the city’s best minds to address growing challenges. We have areas of Phoenix that need more attention. Rents are rising and there is not enough affordable and workforce housing for our residents,” Gallego said.
The city has worked on helping individuals in areas with high eviction rates including working with the Phoenix Municipal Court to give 41,000 the chance to get their driver’s license back and pay fines using payment plans that work for them, according to Gallego.
“This is good for housing stability, good for families, and good for our city. The city can still do more. And we will,” Gallego said.
According to her, Phoenix has created a “Housing Czar” to leverage resources across the city and work with other levels of government to improve the city’s housing supply and bring in additional resources.
The city is researching new innovative areas like opportunity zones and deciding whether city department owned land is “ripe” for housing development. It has also launched the most extensive health relief program yet of 59 cooling stations across the city open to anyone who needs air-conditioning or water.
Health and education
One-third of the city’s daily riders of light rail and buses are students commuting to school, Gallego said. Growing public transportation allows schools to take the dollars that would be spent on school buses for these students and reinvest them in the classrooms.
“Our investment in education is critical,” she said transitioning to address the physician and nurse shortage in Arizona.
The city has put $3 billion towards health and biosciences to help solve the shortage of physicians and nurses.
“Growing our medical schools and bringing more training programs to the valley will tackle a long-standing issue,” Gallego said. “More medical residency spots will keep more doctors in state.”
The health care sector is expected to develop 4.4 million square feet of advanced facilities and bring more than 7,000 quality jobs over the next few years, Gallego said.
“Innovative companies in the valley are rethinking population health, how urgent care works, and how insurance companies work with hospitals,” she added. “These groundbreaking companies are at the forefront of healthcare science and are helping to save lives. If the world finds a cure for cancer, it’s very likely that it will happen right here in Phoenix.”
Phoenix Firefighters are working to lead the way on Phoenix becoming a Dementia Friendly City. As of right now, 1,700 firefighters have already been simulation-trained in the curriculum.
“Dementia is a growing public health crisis. Eighty percent of individuals who suffer from dementia live at home and, when these individuals run into problems, our first responders are often the ones to answer the call,” Gallego said.
According to Gallego, Phoenix police delivered more than 10,000 mental health patients to treatment centers last year. Phoenix saw more than 4,000 suicides in that year.
“We are working on solutions to these complex problems. We’ve talked to a lot of cities and Mayors to try and figure out what they’re doing right,” Gallego said. “Phoenix is putting more money into mental and behavioral health solutions to assist our public safety officers. I want to hire clinicians who can partner with our first responders on crisis response. Both police officers and community leaders agree police should not be alone on the front lines of behavioral health response.”
“Phoenix is number one in the nation for the amount of solar on city property,” Gallego said. “We must lay the foundation of sustainability for future generations.”
Gallego announced she is creating a task force to make the Rio Re-imagined dream a reality. It will ensure there is sweat equity behind the plans and move the vision forward.
“I have a keen interest in seeing the long-held dream of Rio Reimagined come to fruition,” she said. “A greener city that is looking ahead, 50 to 100 years from now, isn’t just about sustainability, it is about quality of life.”
“I want our residents to look to City Hall and to see solutions to their problems. I want them to know that their elected leaders hear their voice,” Gallego said ending her address. “I cannot do this alone, any of this. I need your help and the backing of all Phoenicians to make this happen. Our city’s future is bright, and we are only just beginning.”