Ahwatukee has benefitted from more than $5.5 million in parks investment in the last two years and will see a greater police presence, Mayor Kate Gallego said Monday night.
Addressing about 100 people at a town hall sponsored by the public policy committee of the Ahwatukee Foothills Chamber of Commerce, Gallego also touted a number of initiatives aimed at creating more jobs in Phoenix.
Although the Chamber billed her address as one that would focus on Ahwatukee issues, Gallego devoted most of her 40-minute speech to a broader discussion of citywide issues.
Gallego made her first official appearance as mayor in Ahwatukee at last April’s Easter Parade, but the Chamber event marked her first public address to the community since her election in March.
She touted $5.5 million in investments in Ahwatukee parks, primarily the new pickleball complex that opened a year ago at Pecos Park and the improvements at the Desert Foothills Trailhead – both of which Councilman Sal DiCiccio had been instrumental in securing before Gallego ran for mayor.
“If you are among the many, many people who reached out to the city and said we need pickleball investments in Ahwatukee, thank you. We have listened and invested,” she said.
Although neither she nor South Mountain police Commander Nicholas Diponzio elaborated, Gallego said that as a result of an acceleration in officer hirings, Ahwatukee will be seeing a stronger police presence – particularly in the area of traffic enforcement and especially around schools.
“You’re good drivers,” she quipped after the audience applauded that news. “If you’re clapping for more speed enforcement, that is always, always a good sign and thank you to commander for your partnership on that.”
“It’s a very important issue,” Gallego added. “I think it is very, very important that we keep people safe in the community.”
On the broader issues involving police, she also said that officers were receiving more training in mental health and first aid to more effectively address problems they encounter on police calls.
“The police chief has spent some of the summer visiting other cities to try and understand what innovations are happening in other communities so that, again, we can have the best, most modern police department possible,” Gallego said.
Gallego also briefly mentioned several other Ahwatukee-related issues, including a multimillion-dollar flood control project on Mandan Street – long victimized by South Mountain runoff after heavy rainstorms – as well as landscaping along some areas of the community, including the Warner Elliot Loop where more than 100 new trees have been planted.
She also pointed to roadway improvements, stating, “District 6, which is the district in which we are located, has had more miles of paving than any other council districts” this summer. However, she did not mention Ahwatukee’s share in the sprawling council district.
On broader citywide issues, Gallego spent considerable time touting the city’s strategies for attracting more businesses and creating more jobs in Phoenix.
She pointed to $5 billion in projects at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport that included an expansion of its runways and apron.
That expansion is aimed at accommodating larger planes used for point-to-point international flights as well as businesses that service the airlines industry.
Gallego also touted the major investment that the healthcare industry is making in Phoenix, including bioresearch, medical schools and investments by hospital chains.
She said she is especially interested in stimulating the development of medical and nursing schools to address Arizona’s critical shortage of doctors and nurses in the face of a rapidly growing population.
Two other issues Gallego addressed in response to audience questions involved the City Council’s elimination of fines for late book returns at Phoenix libraries and recycling.
On recycling she said city officials in October would be tackling the issue of recycling now that China’s severe curbs on what it would accept in recyclable shipments from the US has virtually eliminated a revenue stream for most if not all American cities.
Gallego noted that it now costs cities to maintain a recycling program. It has become so costly that at least three cities in Arizona – Surprise, Case Grande and Sierra Vista – have stopped their programs.
Gallego said she wanted to hold town halls in council districts to see what citizens felt about the issue and whether the city should continue recycling because of its impact on the environment.
“We have to as a community decide, Is recycling something that is important to do to reduce landfills and environmental impact or is it something we only do if it is a profit center? And so that’s a debate we are going to have in the City of Phoenix starting in October. I would like to see us continue to recycle.”
On the elimination of Gallego late fees for books, Gallego noted that Phoenix is now the largest city in the country to adopt the measure – which the Maricopa County library system adopted a few months earlier because studies showed the fines deterred access for people who needed it most.