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You can help shape the
future of red rock country;
Updating the Sedona Community Plan

by Judith M. Keane

Updating? Why, when we just adopted a major revision of the original 1991 plan in 1998? Sedona is noted for its plans and regulations that induce high quality growth. What’s wrong with what we have? What have we missed?

Good questions.

Basically, the Sedona Community Plan is being updated because the Arizona Legislature in 1998 and 2000 adopted requirements that all cities with a population above 2,500 must develop a community plan that meets certain new criteria, and it also gave cities additional opportunities to manage growth. The statute is known as "Growing Smarter," and it requires that the proposed new plan be adopted or rejected by the voters of the city through a referendum in 2002.

So yes, we did just complete a comprehensive process of public participation and adopted an updated plan in 1998. And it’s recognized throughout the state as outstanding, one that requires high standards for development and building, and compatibility with the natural beauty of our community. The Community Plan is a "road map" for achieving community objectives.

The data just released from the 2000 census confirms, with facts, what we already sensed about the 10-year growth in the Verde Valley: it’s been big, a combined total of over 50%. The state as a whole grew 40%. Our neighboring communities racked up big numbers: Village of Oak Creek, 73%, Cornville, 60%, Cottonwood, 55%, Camp Verde, 51%. Jerome lost 18%.

Sedona’s population growth of 32% - the lowest not counting Jerome - looks good by comparison. It translates into a growth rate of 2.8% per year. But we see the effects of that growth, and we know intuitively there is no end to how often we must keep working to ensure that our plan and the regulations that implement it are clear and strong and far-sighted.

That kind of eternal vigilance in recent years has brought about such new plan provisions as:

• Impact fees, that require new development to pay its fair share of the cost of public facilities.

• Regulation of the locations of timeshares, hotels and bed and breakfasts.

• Establishing buffer or "transitional" zones to protect residential areas from unwelcome effects of commercial development and to provide community and neighborhood benefits.

• Policies to regulate residential densities and commercial acreage.

• Major concentration on development of a regional plan.

• Drafting of a comprehensive lighting ordinance.

• A feasibility study for shuttle transit.

• Creating interior parallel routes to draw traffic from 89A.

The new statutes require broad public participation, which has always been a part of Sedona’s planning process. In 1988, for instance, Sedona having just been incorporated as a city, had to develop a comprehensive plan starting from "ground zero." Hundreds of citizens were involved in creating the first Community Plan. In fact, the process was so creative and involved that Sedona received an award from the Arizona Planning Association in 1990 for the best public participation in the State of Arizona. The City Council adopted the first plan in November, 1991.

A major update of the Community Plan was adopted by the City Council in June, l998. This was preceded by an extensive review, including the work of a City Council-appointed Growth Committee. Many citizens had expressed deeply felt concerns about growth issues. The Growth Committee analyzed the facts, looked for creative solutions and made recommendations to the Planning and Zoning Commission and the City Council. The Committee’s recommendations became the most critical component in the last update of the Plan.

It’s quite intriguing to look at the Sedona "snapshot" and see how the community has evolved in the last five years.

In one major respect, the new state law is timely for Sedona: the completion of the wastewater treatment plant expansion has opened many areas for development, making it vitally important to ensure that all the city’s policies can effectively induce development of the highest quality.

Other issues that may be addressed in the update of the Community Plan include: greater focus on the needs of local residents in "Transitional" areas; need for moderate-income housing; evaluation of the issues relating to potential annexation of surrounding private lands to provide development review and infrastructure consistent with city standards; and the development of an uptown "creek walk."

A number of opportunities will be provided for citizen input. Because Sedona has a number of citizens moving to the community each year, this is a wonderful opportunity to learn more about the planning process and provide your comments to this update.

It is especially important since you will be voting on this update of the Community Plan in May, 2002.

fers space to local political organizations and affilated groups to express their view on current local issues. Sherman is a co-founder of the AZ NoFee Coalition, which has been a leader in the fight against forest fees.

Throughout the greater Sedona area, folks from a wide range of backgrounds and spanning the political spectrum are gathering and speaking together. They are earnestly debating the future of our shared federally managed public lands in new and sometimes bewildering ways.

This expanding dialogue has many voices, yet they are united on one thing: their opposition to the Red Rock Pass and other Forest Service Recreation Fee Demonstration Programs. Increasingly, citizens are voluntarily spending hours both researching this issue and sharing their information with friends and strangers. These conversations are taking place in homes, coffee shops, bars and places of business; in cities, towns; and on trails, online and on the phone.

This crowd is part of a larger community, stretching across the entire state of Arizona, from coast to coast. There are now more than 200 organizations and political bodies across the nation that are united in opposition to such Recreation Fee Demonstration Programs.

The AZ NoFee Coalition is one of ten here in Arizona. The entire state legislatures of both California and New Hampshire have signed resolutions against Fee Demo. Representative Bob Stump, who represents Sedona and other parts of Arizona, is a co-sponsor of legislation to terminate such Forest Service programs.

This dialogue has recently taken on a new sense of urgency. This is due partly to the fact that we all are about to pay our yearly taxes - sending money to the government so that they will be able to handle the concerns and encourage the aspirations of the country (public landscapes clearly being a concern - and love - for many of us). Likewise, pressure is building due to continuing reports from the Government Accounting Office and the non-partisan Congressional Research Service detailing case after case of Forest Service mismanagement of funds and public resources.

Whatever the exact cause, many people are engaging in new levels of activism across the nation. Retirees are engaging in full-time educational campaigns; folks are traveling to Washington, D.C., to speak with their representatives; seventh graders are collecting signatures opposing the program; and many "ordinary," law-abiding citizens are now taking their grievances to the judicial system.

One such person is Heather Songster.

Monday, March 26th, 8:30 a.m., Songster’s arraignment was scheduled to commence - for allegedly failing to purchase a Red Rock Pass in Sedona. She had decided to contest the ticket and had contacted the AZ NoFee Coalition. Members of the Coalition provided information and attended the proceedings in support of the defendant. Those proceedings were relatively short-lived.

As part of their nationwide Recreation Fee Demonstration Program, the Forest Service has made it clear that they view anyone who has the audacity to enjoy their public lands, which we all pay to maintain every April 15th, as a criminal. And they treat them as such. This case was no exception.

Fortunately, Songster was well aware of both her rights and the simple fact that the burden of proving her guilt was solely the responsibility of the Forest Service. She refused to incriminate herself in any way and let the Forest Service make the best case against her they could. And their case was woefully inadequate.

It immediately became clear that the Forest Service prosecution had no evidence who, if anyone, had "failed to purchase a fee established for admission or entrance to, or use of, a site, facility, equipment or service furnished by the United States" as stated on the ticket (Regulation 36 Code of Federal Regulations 261.15). The case was quickly dismissed.

Songster was never asked if she was indeed on the trail in question. Had such a question been asked, her response simply could have been that the prosecution had not proved that point. If pressed, the 5th Amendment guarantees one the right to not incriminate oneself. Simply "taking the 5th" will allow one to not answer any questions deemed incriminating.

Throughout the Sedona Ranger District, there are dozens of signs that say, "Red Rock Pass required for parking on the national forest" and "Parked vehicles must display a Red Rock Pass." These signs are official Forest Service signs, although there is no legal code cited beneath these statements. Ken Anderson, the District Ranger in Sedona, readily admits that there is "no law exactly" to support either of the above statements. Yet, despite the fact that the signs are inaccurate, because they are "informational… not regulatory," it’s okay to post them.

In reality, these signs mislead the public, many of whom are not from the area, into believing that they must purchase a pass. Of the many locals and visitors the AZ NoFee Coalition has spoken with, the overwhelming majority who purchased passes did so out of fear of getting a ticket.

And although Mr. Anderson states that these signs are not "relative to enforcement," vehicles at trailheads and along state roads have been receiving tickets for allegedly failing to purchase a Red Rock Pass based solely on the fact that the vehicle was there.

The entire state of New Hampshire refuses to prosecute any more Fee Demo cases because the presence of one’s vehicle at a trailhead, or along the side of the road, holding that it the vehicle is not sufficient evidence of either a defendant being anywhere near the "site," or of them recreating. In Tucson, a case against four individuals for such an alleged violation was dismissed this past fall. Here in northern Arizona, Songster’s case was dismissed.

Obviously the Forest Service is aware of the simple fact that they do not have the legal authority to demand that a pass be purchased simply for parking one’s vehicle on the National Forest. Yet they continue to deceive the public and pretend that this is the case, attempting to prosecute both those who know better and those who do not.

The fact that the Forest Service required Songster to waste both her time and taxpayer money in order to defend herself from a charge that the Forest Service knew would not hold up under scrutiny - unless they were successful in intimidating her into admitting that she was there and recreating without having purchased a pass - is outrageous.

There is no law stating that a pass must be displayed. They had no evidence whatsoever of who, if anyone, was on the trails and recreating that day. None. They knew this. Yet they still choose to prosecute.

"While the dismissal of my ticket today represents a clear step towards judicial protest of the Red Rock Pass, many people in our community feel intimidated or confused regarding the legal process, and therefore comply with the Fee Demo Program. I strongly encourage these people to make their voice heard, educate themselves about the program, and seek help from the AZ NoFee Coalition," Songster said after her case was dismissed.

It is clear that the Forest Service is using compliance to gauge public acceptance of their Fee Demo programs. Even if such compliance is based on strong-arm tactics and deceiving the public, the Forest Service still quotes compliance figures.

As the move to expand Fee Demo mouses through Congress on padded feet, now is the time to declare our united outrage loud and strong. We must support both ourselves and those elected leaders who value our public lands as we do. The time to actively fight to preserve our birthright, one of the last remaining vestiges of the public good and the American psyche, is now. And the tactics are many.

There are a growing number of people interested in returning their Red Rock Pass to the Sedona Ranger District to voice their opposition to this program. Many people are joining the AZ NoFee Coalition to support in education and outreach efforts.

People are making friends with old neighbors, as they speak with those they meet on trail and in town about the program. We encourage folks to write letters to the editors across the nation, again and again if need be.

Write your friends and family too, and let them know what could soon be in their backyard, or waiting here for them should they happen to visit. Furthermore, we must constantly remind our representatives that we are watching them, and that we urge them to make the right choice and dedicate appropriate public funding for responsible public land recreation programs.

There is an Online petition against Fee Demo (www.petitiononline.com/feedemo/petition.html). Please take a moment to sign it and pass on the address. And if one does get a ticket, please consider contacting us and taking it to court. The state of Idaho refuses to hear more Fee Demo cases because there were too many and they were a waste of taxpayer time and money. We can do the same in Arizona.

Legislation to both continue the Recreation Fee "Demonstration" and terminate the Forest Service’s participation in such programs is making its way through Washington D.C.. Now is the time to tighten one’s belt and get ready for a pitched struggle.

If we are to preserve our shared natural heritage, if we are to protect that tiny bit of wilder country, both in terms of geography and our American heritage, we must do so now. Contact the AZ NoFee Coalition at (520) 773-1064 in Flagstaff, (520) 204-2930 in Sedona, or itomni@hotmail.com for more information about what you, your friends and your relatives can all do to help raise awareness about this critical struggle.

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