By Robert Blood
[Editor’s note: The following interview was culled from conversations between the reporter and Joe Trudeau, the chair of Save the Dells. Find out more at SaveTheDells.Org.]
What is Save the Dells and how did it get started?
Save the Dells is a local citizens advocacy group advocating for the protection of the Granite Dells as a publicly available space. I started this group two years ago when we learned about a major development that was in the conceptual planning phase that involved several hundred acres of the Granite Dells. A few of us got together at a coffee shop downtown and talked about the rumors we’d been hearing and decided it was the right time for us to take a close look at the proposed development. So, we did that and what we found was really troubling. At that point in the conversation with the Prescott City Council — that is, between the developer and the city council — it was looking like it would be a really bad thing: probably the largest development in the history of Yavapai County and certainly the largest in the history of the Granite Dells. We had to do something.
So what’s happened since the group was formed?
We spent about a year just trying to educate ourselves on the issues and getting to know the key players and history of open space protection and advocacy in the Granite Dells. In February of this year, 2018, we went public with our organization, called Save the Dells, and have since then been building our community network and engaging on social media and with the media and meeting with community decision makers and business owners and other people of influence in the community. We’ve been trying to build a case to show the city council that this is a decision that’ll have long-standing impact on the quality of life in Prescott.
What are some of the signposts in the development process?
The main one is that some point in January of next year, the city council, the city planning and zoning commission, will be holding public meetings. I can’t give you a date because no date’s been set yet. [Editor’s Note: This interview took place in early November.] We’re quite attuned to what they’re doing in terms of the inner workings of the city and soon as we know the dates for those hearings, we’re going to disseminate them and make sure everyone knows. That’ll last about a month. They’ll have three or four hearings. As we get into February and March, there’ll be a 60-day public comment period. That’s a requirement put in place for past propositions that affect open spaces in Prescott. After that, the city council will hold a vote on whether or not to approve this tremendous development. Our primary objective is to engage with the city and convince them that the development they approve should include protections of critical lands in the Dells.
Regardless, some development is going to happen, then?
Development’s going to happen. There’s very little to anything we can do to stop it. What we did was look at Prescott’s general plan, the “Open Space Master Plan,” and the history of how open space has worked in Prescott. When we did that, it was clear that the people of Prescott have for decades been saying we should protect the Granite Dells as a public park. We looked at a map, saw where the proposed development was, and said here, this is the land we have to protect. Again, this is what the people have been asking for for decades. This developer owns 15,000 acres of land and this development, itself, is asking to annex about 2,500 acres into the city. The land we’re most concerned about is 500 acres. That’s just three percent of their total land holdings and 20 percent of the proposed development. City statutes require that they dedicate 25 percent of their acreage to open spaces. What we’re asking for is actually less than what’s required by the city. The only thing we’re doing is, as a civic group, representing the public, is trying to identify which acres we want to see as protected open space.
What’s been your biggest obstacle or surprise thus far?
Honestly, the level of resistance from some members of the city council. We see this as an opportunity for our city leaders to make a decision that will leave a legacy for future generations in Prescott to be proud of. So far, our city councilors have been showing a lot of resistance to this idea. They appear to have more allegiance to the owner of this development who doesn’t even live in the United States — more allegiance to him than the voters who elected them. That’s just mind-boggling. The majority of the city council is actively trying to alienate us and force us out of the decision-making process despite the fact that we have thousands of people who support Save The Dells.
On a practical level, between billboards and bumper stickers, it seems like you’ve got quite a big profile around Prescott.
We have extremely motivated and active committees. We are all volunteers, so none of us is doing this for pay. It’s just amazing the amount of time and energy and passion we’re all putting into this. You’re right to notice that our materials are all over town. We have volunteers who go door to door around Prescott asking for people’s support and explaining our positions and getting people signed up as volunteers. This is a true grassroots movement from its core. Our message is resonating with people across the political spectrum, across cultures, across economic and demographic divides. Pretty much everyone — I’d say 99.9 percent of people we talk to — emphatically support the idea of protecting the Granite Dells.
How can people get involved?
The first thing that anybody should do is just go to our website, SaveTheDells.Org. You can learn about and explore the issue there, and that’s where you sign up for our mailing lists. We regularly send out emails that have calls to action in them. The thing is, all of this is time-sensitive. The schedule by which the city rolls out this process is not designed for the average person to get involved. In many regards, it’s actually designed to discourage public involvement. What we’re trying to do is get people involved at a civil level. Signing up for that email list is the first step toward getting involved. The next thing that people ought to do is write a letter or schedule a meeting with their city councilors and do their best to convince them how important the Dells are and to protect them as a public open space rather than a gated development closed to everyone but an exclusive few. The third thing to do would be to make a donation. I’ll be honest; this has been a very expensive campaign to wage and we’re lucky that this community has risen to the challenge. We’ve received tens of thousands of dollars in donations from the community and we’re very grateful. People’s generosity can’t dry up. Our events and advertising cost a lot of money and it’s important to stay in contact. This is an uphill battle, but it’s a hill worth climbing for Prescott’s future.
Find out more about Save the Dells at SaveTheDells.Org or via Facebook.
Robert Blood is a Mayer-ish-based freelance writer and ne’er-do-well who’s working on his last book, which, incidentally, will be his first. Contact him at BloodyBobby5@Gmail.Com.