My Turn: What exactly can a city government do?


Not everything is in their hands

A few weeks ago I wrote a column where I asked what I thought was a pretty simple question — do you really want the city of Page building affordable housing and becoming the landlord for local residents?
Based on the responses I’ve received, the answer is a resounding yes. And I still think that is crazy. The same people who don’t trust the local government to do much of anything want them to spend millions and millions of dollars to build homes? I don’t think so.
Another topic this week has been roads, especially after the city council announced its priorities for repairing roads in the city. The controversy stems around a decision to repair the largest and most-used roads before repairing roads used primarily for residents getting to and from home.
This has caused an outcry from many who say the city is prioritizing tourists over local residents. I get the frustration, but I mostly disagree.
And remember, I have been plenty critical of the council at times, I just don’t consider this a bad decision.
A few thoughts on the roads.
No. 1, our roads are mostly pretty good. I know people who have lived here a long time would disagree, but I can tell you having lived in Tucson and elsewhere, these roads are far from deteriorating. I actually applaud the city for bringing up the issue before things get worse.
No. 2, it is absolutely appropriate to repair the roads that get used the most over residential roads. I live on a residential road, but I spend a lot more time on roads like Elm Street, Lake Powell Boulevard and Highway 89 than I do on my street. If the city council wants to help me, someone who lives here, works here, pays taxes here, fix those roads first. My street can wait.
No. 3, I have lived on a street in the past that was undergoing renovation and it was horrible. For months, my car and my life were disrupted with construction crews and the street torn to shreds. I would almost rather drive on a dirt road than put up with that again.
My final thought is the most important one — I honestly don’t think many local residents understand what local governments can and can’t do. I bring this up because of a letter in today’s paper. The writers live on Aero Avenue and are rightly concerned their street is getting ignored despite high traffic. But they also have a line that says the city sends tour buses, school buses and other drivers down Aero. The city doesn’t do that. City officials do not tell private individuals what roads they can use.
Those bus companies map out the easiest and fastest routes to get where they are going. If that means driving up Aero Avenue, that’s the way they go. If there was a better route, that’s where they would go. The city council has nothing to do with that.
I have been covering and closely watching local governments for decades now, and I have learned a few things about what cities can and can’t do.
They can build roads and sometimes even charge drivers or local residents to pay for them, but they can’t control who drives on them. That’s only possible on private roads, and cities do not own or maintain private roads.
Cities can also offer tax breaks and a few fringe benefits to encourage developers to build and offer affordable housing. But cities don’t build housing and if you’re lucky they don’t act as landlords.
There are a lot of reasons to keep a close eye on your local government, but my advice is be careful what you wish for.