- Helping to get Tempe through the Severity of the Coronavirus Pandemic.
- Launching a slew of affordable housing programs and construction projects.
- Modernizing the city wastewater program and transportation infrastructure.
- Making Tempe an attractive place for people and families to live, play, and thrive.
- Starting a new local light rail system running through the Arizona State University Community.
Those were and still are some of the issues Mayor Corey Woods and the Tempe City Council have faced since the start of 2022.
Giving credit to many on his team, the first term Mayor who had also been a councilman is proud of the many achievements his administration, the council, and city specialists have presided over.
Mayor Woods graciously took the time to discuss the achievements of the first six months of 2022 and the goals to achieve for the remainder of the year.
The questions and his responses are below.
- Please tell the readers, at least three policy accomplishments you are proudest of since the beginning of 2022. Please explain.
“There are a number of things. I think that one thing I would obviously have to talk about would be and this initially got passed in January of 2021 is our Hometown for All Affordable Housing Program. It’s been a very big success. We have been spending a lot of time going out and acquiring additional property in the city of Tempe for the purpose of doing more affordable and workforce housing. We’re spending a lot of money and resources right now doing environmental remediation on several city-owned lots to get them prepared for partnerships with affordable housing developers. So, I would absolutely say that has been a tremendous highlight of seeing the continued enhancement and acceleration of that program.
The second thing I would talk about would be our Refresh Tempe Initiative. Refresh Tempe is really ways that the city of Tempe is putting more capital dollars into the improvement of roads and alleys, neighborhood parks, and things of that nature. I mean, it really is about sort of taking care of the bread and butter of what being in municipal elected officials is. Frankly, all about a lot of these bigger initiatives of things that we can absolutely do but you have to really take care of the basics like the roads can’t be full of potholes. The alleys can’t be in a state of disrepair and people have to feel that the equipment at the parks is safe for their kids to play on and have a good time at. So, the Refresh Tempe Initiative is all about how ways that we can put additional capital dollars in resources into maintenance and upgrades of existing assets, but also make sure that we put behind a pretty robust marketing campaign and let people know exactly what’s being done and exactly where these projects are currently in progress and being completed.
But the next thing is just the work that we are doing when it comes to human services. Back in 2021, the council voted to allocate an additional $1.2 to $1.3 million to hire additional members for our homeless outreach team, which is called our HOPE Team, and our Care 7 group that works with people who are experiencing mental health challenges. I know that we’re doing even more work on that right now, in terms of working with people who are currently living in the River Bottom by Tempe Town Lake or, in the downtown and in some of the parks throughout the city, trying to find ways to get them more housing and more wraparound services.
So, we really are kind of redoubling a lot of our efforts in those areas. I’m very excited to see what that kind how that plays out, moving forward. Some of the relationships that we’re currently building with a lot of our nonprofits and our business community, and even folks in our unsheltered community, we’re having direct conversations with people who’ve been directly affected by homelessness to say what kinds of programs and services could and sheltered options could we offer you that would help you get housing and find a way to kind of get back on your feet.”
- What has been the single greatest highlight of 2022 for you so far?
“For me personally, I think it’s been the way the City of Tempe has emerged from the pandemic. Obviously, the pandemic is not over. There’s clearly another surge going on right now and a lot of people that I know, friends, family, and coworkers are getting this most recent variant of COVID but at the same time, I think that we did a very good job of managing through it.
I think about things as an example, like our COVID 19 Wastewater Testing Program that we rolled out during the peak of the COVID 19 pandemic and frankly, during some of the most uncertain times, you know that the Wastewater Testing Program actually started its way to sort of test for opioids in the water within the City of Tempe but it then got sort of shifted during the COVID 19 pandemic, because we were able to find ways to test, to see where the rates of COVID 19 might be higher so we could surge resources and information into those specific areas.
It was really very helpful to a lot of our Tempe residents because they knew that when we were crafting policies about how we were going to manage the pandemic, whether it was mask policy or indoor occupancy for restaurants or things of that nature, they knew it was based on data that was very much not specific to the state or even specific just to Maricopa County, but specific to the zip codes that actually contained and encompassed the city of Tempe. We’ve gotten a lot of support to continue and expand that program. So, I think that’s just a really good example of the innovation that the City of Tempe utilizes on a very regular basis to deliver high-quality services and information to our residents, especially during a very uncertain global pandemic.”
- Please tell the readers, what are at least three policy challenges goals you would like to address in the second half of 2020. Please explain.
“One would be on affordable housing. Recently, I was named to the State Legislature’s bipartisan housing supply study committee that’s taking place at the State Capitol. They are going to have a meeting every other week for the next five to six months to talk about this, and so from my perspective, we really need to find ways to continue to accelerate the growth of affordable housing opportunities in our city.
We have all types of people in our service industry, our teachers, people who are just sort of being recent college graduates who are just being completely priced out of the market. I think that in order to be a diverse, inclusive city, you have to have the ability for everyone who wants to live in your city and able to afford to live here. I think from a policy standpoint, we’re going to find ways to continue to increase that housing stock, and I’m hoping that I can continue to work with folks at a statewide level to maybe create policies through the State Legislature that might help to give not only the City of Tempe but other cities and towns throughout the state of Arizona, additional tools, to be able to create more affordable housing stock because really at this point we’re kind of swimming upstream. I mean, we don’t have a lot of the tools that other states frankly have whether it comes to rent control or inclusionary zoning, or tax increment financing, which places like California, and New York could use to create more affordable housing. So, I’m hoping that you know, that I can work with a lot of other leaders of the state to create more running room for us to do more of that work in Tempe and throughout the Valley. I think the affordable housing thing is something we’re going to have to continue to work on and frankly, double down on our efforts.
A second issue would frankly be short-term rentals that I think we’re going to have to really work on moving forward. That’s been a huge issue for a lot of communities and while we recognize private property rights and the importance of those and people being able to do what they want for the most part, with the property that they’ve owned and, and rightfully acquired at the same time, we have, you know, neighborhoods that people moved into with the perspective that these were going to be single-family neighborhoods, where they were going to live or potentially raise a family.
Now, all of a sudden with the kind of proliferation of short-term rentals, their neighborhoods are looking more like places where there are party houses or people kind of using them more as hotels, which really does change the overall composition of the neighborhood. So, I think that whatever we can do to understand that while we want to respect private property rights, we also don’t want people necessarily using single-family neighborhoods and even multi-family neighborhoods to operate commercial businesses and turning them into something than what they were originally intended to do. I would definitely look for the council to hopefully do something this fall on the short-term rental issue to kind of shore that up a lot more and then I would say, you know, moving forward as well, to touch upon a previous subject. I still think when it comes to homelessness, I think we have to continue to do more work there.
I mean it’s not a Tempe-specific issue. It’s not even a Valley-specific issue. It’s a national issue and the challenges increased even more during the COVID 19 pandemic, probably due to a lot of the financial instability that the pandemic created for so many people in our society. I think that whatever we can do from a policy standpoint, as a city council, and even as a state, to do what we can to help people who are currently experiencing homelessness or need family reunification or substance abuse issues or whatever it might happen to be. I think we need to work even harder on those ends.”
- What has been one area or incident in 2022 that you wish you could have a do-over? Please explain.
“Honestly, I think we did a really good job of managing despite all of the uncertainty. I will say just speaking for myself personally, there are always things. There’s always second guessing that I do or I go back and I watch council meetings that I’ve had to officiate. Afterward. I say, gosh, you know, I wish I had handled that situation a little bit differently, but to be quite honest, and this is not punting on the question or not trying to be reflective or introspective, I think that we did a very good job over the last six, seven months or so of managing through some very challenging times. I mean, even when we had very lengthy meetings like during our budget hearings, or when there were conversations about the proposed hours of the Coyotes Project, we have rules in our council, procedures that basically say we only have to take an aggregate of 60 minutes of public comment and we took hours of public comment, the meeting we had about the hours of the Coyotes with eight hours in total and that was not because of the council discussion. It’s because we wanted to have the opinions of every single person in our community and in surrounding communities who wanted to come in and weigh on this very important subject. When it came to our budget and where we were going to be allocating resources because people always talk about how the budget’s a reflection of not only your city but frankly of your values as a community. We allowed everyone to get up and have their three minutes and a lot of people who even exceeded the three-minute time limit. As the chair of those meetings, I have some discretion about how much public comment that I want to allow and I’m happy that we allowed everyone who wanted to speak whether it was in person or even in a virtual format for folks who said I’m still not comfortable coming to an in-person council meeting with the prevalence of the COVID 19 pandemic or perhaps my work or my childcare situation, won’t enable me to get down to a council meeting physically. We still allow for people to participate through Cisco WebEx so they could actually chime in from their couch or from their office or from their bedroom.
I think there are always things where we strive for continuous improvement. Absolutely. And I am probably my own biggest critic about what I do and about trying to find ways to improve what we do at the City of Tempe and improve how I do my own job as mayor of the city. But I do think that we did a very effective job of managing through some very challenging and uncertain times over the last six to seven months.”
- Is there anyone on your staff and team you would like to salute for their positive contributions to advancing your and the city’s goals and programs?
“Absolutely. I mean, there are plenty of folks. Rosa Inchausti, the deputy city manager, and chief innovation officer for the work that she did when it came to steering the public safety advisory task force to the COVID 19 Wastewater Testing Program to a lot of the work that she’s doing right now on homelessness. I definitely give her a lot of props and a lot of credit for her efforts. I give her a lot of credit for the work that she’s done.
Look to my Mayoral Aide Parrish Spisz, who came to work for me and who’s been part of this organization for over 10 years. He was my aide for a long stretch during my term as a council member but who came back to come work for me in January and has just done a phenomenal job helping me achieve a lot of the policy goals that myself and the council want to work on. He pretty much works around the clock and he very much is with me every step of the way.
Working alongside me, I say a couple of other very exceptional staff members like Jeff Tamulevich. He’s our new community development director, but he was a longtime exceptional employee who ran our residential and commercial code enforcement division, but he’s doing an exceptional job in his new role to Keith Burke who’s our deputy city manager/ chief operating officer.
Then I would also say our fire and police chiefs. Our fire and medical rescue, chief, Greg Ruiz, and to our Police Chief Jeff Glover, who’s done a phenomenal job. It’s not easy to be a police chief, especially during the times that we’re currently living, but I think he’s done a wonderful job.
Those are just some of the employees that I think are doing a great job, but I overall think our team performs at a high level each and every day.”
- Is there anything not covered in the first five questions that you’d like the readers to know about your tenure as Tempe Mayor for the first six months of 2022? Please explain.
“I would just say that it’s a great job and it’s a huge honor to be in this role.
I would obviously say too that we would want people to be as patient with us as we possibly can sometimes because the government doesn’t always move incredibly quickly, but we’re trying harder to be even more nimble and more agile. We’re definitely kind of redesigning the organization with those thoughts in mind of how we make sure that we’re meeting the needs of our residents and our business community as rapidly as possible. We’ve made a lot of changes over the last couple of years to make us even more nimble from an operational standpoint.
I can promise you that even sometimes if you don’t see things change immediately, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t a lot of hard-working council members and city staff members who are working incredibly hard behind the scenes, reading every single email, taking every single call, meeting with residents in person and virtually. We are doing everything we can to try to make sure that we produce a city that people feel comfortable, working in, living in, and playing in.
Even if you don’t see things happen instantly, I can guarantee you, there are people here who are dedicated, diligent, and working very hard behind the scenes, trying to advance the mission of the city of Tempe each and every day.”