Scottsdale's New Mayor On Reinstating Mask Mandate, Navigating Pandemic
MARK BRODIE: David Ortega was sworn in as the new mayor of Scottsdale last week, and one of his first orders of business was to reimpose the city's mask mandate. Ortega had previously served on Scottsdale City Council and succeeds Jim Lane, who had allowed the requirement that people wear masks in Scottsdale to expire. Ortega joins me to talk about how he plans to deal with the pandemic, along with other issues in the city. And, Mayor Ortega, why did you decide to reissue the city's mask requirement as one of your first orders of business?
DAVID ORTEGA: Well, I had signaled throughout the campaign and upon taking office, I had the ability as mayor to issue the emergency proclamation and it is consistent with the Mask Up, Arizona. In fact, you could call it Mask Up, Scottsdale. You know, in response to the huge surge in fatalities and hospitalizations.
BRODIE: How much of an impact do you think Scottsdale having its own mask requirement can have?
ORTEGA: Well, Scottsdale is synonymous with Arizona in many ways. We attract a lot of visitors. And by strengthening the mask-up message, I believe we're able to get a voluntary compliance and move it forward as a deterrent to this crisis.
BRODIE: So when you talk about people following along voluntarily, one of the criticisms of municipalities passing their own mask mandates is that there really hasn't been a lot of enforcement. Like, if somebody's not wearing a mask, they're not being given a ticket, they're not being made to do it. What kind of enforcement do you foresee for Scottsdale?
ORTEGA: Well, our approach, first of all, is to read the headlines. And it's not about the mask, perse — it's about the crisis and the deterrence that we, we have to employ. So 50, you know, a $50 fine or enforcement is not the issue. The virus itself generates its own punishment. And that's the punishment that we can try to tamp down, and I believe we can do it successfully without throwing people in jail or, so that's irrelevant. We believe that's more important to get out the countermeasures and make sure that we're very conscious of them.
BRODIE: What has the pandemic and all the related activity and lack of activity in many cases done to Scottsdale's budget and its economy? Where, where are you guys right now?
ORTEGA: Well, of course, 2020 was a year of shock, but actually, surprisingly, Scottsdale has held up pretty well. We have — had $29 million allocated through the CARES Act funding, which was all put to work, especially to deliver food, medicines to those most vulnerable. Also with rent assistance and utility assistance. Now, those are just to keep people afloat within our, you know, jurisdiction. As far as the question of how we will move forward with our budget decisions, we are midyear on the 2021 budget, and I believe we will do very well through this recovery year, 2021.
BRODIE: You mentioned that in many ways when people think about Arizona, they think about Scottsdale, and tourism is such a big component of the city — we're coming up on spring training. I'm wondering how much that has hurt the city — the fact that we lost half of the high season of tourism, we have no idea what this season is going to be — certainly not normal. How big of an impact has that had on the city and on its economy?
ORTEGA: Well, absolutely. I mean, Scottsdale, Arizona, is all about social closeness, right? You know, being at events, enjoying our entertainment world, our restaurants and shopping and so forth. So that's the whole impetus of Scottsdale. Our jet port has not slowed down. What we're finding out, or my overall opinion, is that COVID-19 — the pandemic — has turned the world away from high density, heavy urban, packed mass transit and, you know, closed in spaces and pushed people more towards low density, low profile, well-open desert, beautiful neighborhoods, and, gee, all that adds up to Scottsdale. So we have been actually more desirable due to the pandemic. Let's call it the flight away from the, the congestion that's perhaps multiplied the, the virus in that environment. So I believe both short term, yes, it's been a bit crippling, but we're adjusting to it. But long term, it just reinforces our reputation.
BRODIE: It's interesting what you said about density because that's been such a contentious issue in your city for so long, where, yes, you certainly have, you know, lower density in the central and northern parts of the city, but in the downtown, the Old Town, south Scottsdale, there has been some desire for taller buildings, more density, especially in the, you know, the arts area in the Old Town area. Do you see that battle, those arguments abating any time soon? I mean, do you think that, that those arguments are going to continue?
ORTEGA: Well, I'm a defender of the downtown atmosphere, the pedestrian scale way of enjoying Scottsdale. You may know I'm an architect, so, you know, and I've been here 42 years. So I've been involved in, you know, replacement of buildings and replacing them for the last 30 years, and that are worn out. And they need to be, basically, totally replaced. But we still can preserve the identity, the walkability and really that flavor. We don't need 10, 12-story buildings in Old Town. It's contrary to what Scottsdale, our reputation, is. We happen to be involved in a citizen visioning process called the general plan. And that's one of the things that's, that's underway. And I believe that the citizens spoke, right? And the citizens get the first word, and the citizens get the last word. And the last word, of course, is the election. And the first word, though, is what's called the general plan or the vision statement. And we're in process of doing that. And I think we'll steer more towards or back to our solid identity. We don't need 12-story buildings, higher density to define or redefine Scottsdale.
BRODIE: All right, that is David Ortega, the new mayor of Scottsdale. Mayor Ortega, nice to talk to you. Thank you.
ORTEGA: Terrific. Thank you.