Change is coming soon to the Tempe City Council.
Three positions are open because of expiring terms and the primary election to fill them will take place on March 8. Ballots will begin going out on Feb. 9 to all Tempe registered voters.
In anticipation of the election, the city has been hosting virtual candidate forums on various subjects, the last of which took place on Feb. 2 to discuss transit and sustainability. The debate was hosted and moderated by Arizona Forward.
The candidate forum can be viewed on the city’s YouTube channel.
Councilwoman Lauren Kuby declined to run again and is instead gunning for a seat on the Arizona Corporation Commission.
Robin Arredondo‐Savage also chose to step down from council when her term is up. Councilwoman Jennifer Adams is the only incumbent in the race.
The only certified candidate who did not appear during this final forum was Gina Kash.
Berdetta Hodge, who currently serves on the Tempe Union High School District governing board, had to leave the forum early for a board meeting and answered several questions prior to leaving.
“I believe that our city cannot make meaningful and lasting economical progress if elected officials ignore our policies on air and water, which is very precious,” she said.
Hodge’s sustainability plans, if elected, include expanding the Tempe climate action plan, investing in urban gardens, adding more shade and trees, and minimizing the city’s dependence on cars.
Working with high school students, she said many kids live out of the district and don’t have free and reliable access to transit to get to and from school through buses and light rail.
She said they deserve the same free transportation passes students who live within the district boundaries have.
She also knows firsthand the city’s youth are committed to climate action.
“It’s not how they are doing it, they already are doing it,” she said. “We have sustainability clubs in all of our high schools. What we need to do as a community is build partnerships. If these kids are ready and they’re already creating this company, I need to bring the business community in so they can start listening to it and hearing what these students are saying.”
Moderator John Ford, past board chair of Arizona Forward, went around the virtual room and asked each certified candidate the same questions. The first focused on transit.
John Skelton, a former Arizona Cardinals quarterback and owner of a small business called Senior Helpers of Tempe, said walkability is key.
“Making the city of Tempe a more walkable city I think would go a long way in reducing any type of emissions,” he said. “If we can be more conscious of how we’re traveling, that will go a long way in addressing some of the climate change issues when it comes to transportation.”
Harper Lines, a member of the Tempe Arts and Culture Commission, noted the city is expected to receive about 55,000 new residents between now and 2040,
“So that’s going to create some transportation infrastructure issues,” he said.
Lines called for additional energy storage, parking and more spending on indigenous plants for shade to help the problem.
Casey Clowes, corporate counsel for Nikola Motor Co., noted the Orbit bus doesn’t go south of Baseline.
“People were asking for it because a lot of students rely on the Orbit to get to school,” she said. “The neighborhood circulator might be easier for them than the city bus. We also need to increase frequency to increase ridership.
Extreme heat was also on the docket, and each candidate called on local businesses to be a part of the solution.
Adams noted the city currently has a green business certification program and added Carvana, expanding in Tempe, has set up its parking garage for electric vehicles.”
Arlene Chin, a former council member running for a seat once again, said the city has a good relationship with the local chamber of commerce that should be leveraged.
“You build relationships, you communicate with your partners and you set expectations,” she said. “You share the vision of what you want to build for our community and you set it early. That way, any potential partner comes to the table and you’ve managed their expectations.”
Chin, who was on the council when the city passed its Climate Action Plan, also said business owners need to know how adding things like solar energy or LED lighting can help their bottom line. For example, the Downtown Tempe
Authority has conducted water audits to save the dwindling resource.
“What I’ve learned about sustainable practices is it has to be economic, cultural and there’s a political element,” she said. “You have to have all three to make it workable. It has to be widely adopted and implemented.”
Clowes called on the city council to invest in neighborhoods where the city’s most vulnerable people live, including low-income families and people of color.
She pointed to an incident in the 1950s when Arizona State University displaced residents of the San Pablo barrio neighborhood to build dormitories and its stadium.
“Many of the San Pablo residents moved to La Victoria – Victory Acres – and that has not seen the same investment in shade and trees to cool down the temperatures that the old San Pablo barrio had or the current ASU development is experiencing,” she said.
All candidates agreed that the city’s youth should be more involved in solving the climate issue moving forward.
“The youth are interested,” said Chin. “This is a topic that is close to their heart. What we need to do is keep involving them.”