Guest Editorial

By Jacqueline Davis  |  FEBRUARY 18, 2015

The road back

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jackie davisIn many ways Cave Creek has always been unique in the Valley. Historically it was a mining, ranching community that gradually became a tourist destination when those activities were no longer viable. Spur Cross Ranch, Rancho Mañana and Sierra Vista were early guest ranches that attracted visitors to the area. Cave Creek’s setting, up against the rugged mountains of the Tonto National Forest, has given the town a backdrop of stunning natural beauty that draws visitors from far and wide.

When the community incorporated in 1986, residents were determined to preserve its natural desert character. According to a survey at the time, residents overwhelmingly favored a quiet desert lifestyle, preservation of wildlife corridors and protection of natural vegetation, and I don’t think that has changed. The goal of community economic development was to complement this natural environment with businesses to serve both residents and visitors. Early councils set out to plan carefully for the future, and we worked hard, set up a town from scratch, and forged ahead.

Very early on Cave Creek established a council-manager form of government, with an emphasis on a strong manager. It took awhile to get our feet under us, but from the time of Usama Abjubarah’s arrival as town manager there was a feeling of stability. The staff felt more secure and the town made a lot of progress, including purchase of the water company which would allow Cave Creek to control the inevitable growth, and the construction of a waste water treatment plant to provide for current and future needs. Usama had been trained as a planner, and he did what a good a planner does: look ahead. He saw Cave Creek through the recession by cutting days from five to four, reducing his own salary, and minimizing impact on staff. He encouraged the approval of Walmart as a source of revenue. With the council members as policy makers, he grew as a manager, guiding the town through a difficult recession, and he and his councils got a lot done. Council members come and go, but a good manager can keep things moving forward.

Now the future of Cave Creek, with four relatively inexperienced council members and a weak manager, looks bleak. All the things we incorporated for, worked and planned for, are at risk. Residents are extremely unhappy with the general appearance of the town. One of my friends who lives on the east end of town changed his post office to Carefree so he doesn’t have to come through our “entertainment district” to get his mail. Small businesses guard their parking on weekends for their own customers because of the endless special events. One long-time resident wrote to me: “What was once a unique and eclectic business community has become a tawdry, noise-polluted bar scene.” Another wrote: “Cave Creek has become a town of out-of-town events, out-of-town bikers, out-of-town traffic hazards and no longer supports the residential lifestyle residents came here to enjoy.” Residents from miles away constantly report hearing noise and music from the bars, especially at night and on week-ends, while sitting in their yard or through open windows. And there is the sense that the current council pays more attention to the wishes of the bar owners than to the wishes of the residents.

Because Cave Creek Road through town has become a bazaar, with all the wares put out for viewing, pedestrians wander from one side to the other, constantly at risk and creating hazards for drivers. We have truly become a town that caters first to tourists, and one must question whose interests are really being served.

We all know property values are tied to what visitors see when they come to town. So the current carnival-like atmosphere on Cave Creek Road puts at risk the value of our property and the lifestyle we worked so hard to preserve. There are too many events, too many road closures, too many bikers, too much noise pollution. Something has to change.

Unfortunately the road back won’t be easy; it will take planning and commitment and strong leaders. It seems unlikely Vice Mayor Adam Trenk would address this issue, given the close ties he has to the owner of Hogs and Horses. Of all of the people currently running for council, Steve LaMar is the most prepared for the job. His “For the Love of Cave Creek” website is dedicated to the lifestyle we moved here for. Susan Clancy, Dick Esser, and Mark Lipsky are all mature and thoughtful people. They’re our best hope for turning things around before it really is too late.

Jacqueline Davis was a Cave Creek Councilmember and Mayor from 1986-91