Last Wednesday, the Phoenix City Council declared that COVID-19 no longer constitutes an emergency. The council passed the resolution quietly and without discussion, lumping it in with dozens of other agenda items.
It has been two years and eight months since the city first declared COVID-19 as an emergency. Yet, the issue that instigated controversy and struggle for so long was passed over with little notice.
The resolution rescinding the emergency declaration for COVID-19 cited the CDC data from late last month listing transmission levels for Maricopa County as “low.” This means that all declarations related to the COVID-19 emergency are rescinded.
Although the city rescinded the emergency declaration, they continue to offer COVID-19 mitigation resources like testing kits and masks.
The city lagged behind the state in determining that COVID-19 no longer constituted an emergency.
Governor Doug Ducey ended the state’s COVID-19 emergency in March. The city last updated its face mask policy in February, requiring mask-wearing if risk levels were considered high. Phoenix went through periods of rescinding then reimposing its mask mandate.
It wasn’t until April that the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport dropped its mask mandate in accordance with the Transportation Security Administration no longer enforcing the federal mask mandate.
Like most other cities, Phoenix capitalized on its $396 million in COVID-19 relief funds to subsidize community needs and other projects.
As for COVID-19 mitigation efforts and expenses: $28.9 million went to city testing and vaccination efforts, $28 million funded current and projected COVID-19 health care expenses for the city, and $22 million funded premium pay for essential city workers.
The city of Phoenix plans to spend over 25 percent of its $396 million in COVID-19 relief funds on homelessness and affordable housing initiatives. It is the city’s second-highest expenditure of relief funds after city operations.
According to the city’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) plan for this year, over $99.5 million will be spent on homelessness and affordable housing. The majority of this, around $75.5 million, is slated to address the homelessness crisis.
Even with tens of millions allocated to mitigate the homeless crisis, notorious encampments like “The Zone” continue to worsen. City spokespersons informed reporters in September that the city is working to approve contracts and allocate the funds, which expire in 2024.
Earlier this week, the state’s largest homeless shelter told12 News that they lacked enough resources to meet community needs, though they receive city funding. The city announced on Wednesday that it allocated $8 million to expand shelters for homeless families.
Comparatively, the city’s allocation of relief funds for other initiatives amounted to far less.
Financial, utility, and rent assistance for low-income families totaled $26 million altogether — about one-fourth of what’s slated for homelessness and affordable housing. Funds to advance the city’s workforce training facility and program, as well as establish workforce tuition and apprenticeship programs, totaled $28.5 million.
Concerning COVID-19 mitigation, the city allocated $28.9 million for testing and vaccines. From last July until the end of June, the city provided nearly 120,000 tests and 15,700 vaccines.
The city also allocated $28 million for COVID-19 health care expenses for its workers, and another $22 million to give premium pay for its essential workers. The city’s revenue replacement totaled $20 million. It set aside $23 million to rehabilitate a recycling facility and manage stormwater projects with the county’s flood control district.
$6 million went to tuition assistance and college prep for high school students, with another $3 million to update the Mesquite Library. $5.9 million went toward public Wi-Fi, with a small portion of that allocated for laptops and hotspots for the community, and $22 million to improve internet connectivity in certain neighborhoods.
$8.3 million went to refugees. $10.5 million went to climate-related initiatives: $6 million to plant trees, and $4.5 million to make 200 homes energy efficient.
Child care-related initiatives received $14.8 million, with the majority slated for airport employee child care and establishing an early childhood education program for 300 children.
Earlier this month, a lawsuit against the city of Phoenix for facilitating a crime-riddled homeless encampment in the downtown area dubbed “the Zone” received a legal boost. The Zone has over 1,000 individuals, making it the largest homeless encampment in the state and one of the largest homeless encampments in the country.
The Goldwater Institute, a Phoenix-based public policy think tank and litigation organization, submitted an amicus brief in support of the lawsuit in early October. They petitioned the court to require the city to clean up The Zone.
The brief summarized that the city’s dereliction of duty violated multiple laws, including a 1985 Arizona Supreme Court decision constituting the invitation of vagrants into an area as an illegal nuisance as well as state law forbidding cities from maintaining activities that pollute public waterways.
In a press release, the Goldwater Institute’s vice president for legal affairs, Timothy Sandefur, contested that it was “outrageous” that the city would withhold police protection from the property and business owners within The Zone.
“It’s not compassion to let people live on the streets, in an atmosphere riddled with unpoliced gang violence,” wrote Sandefur. “Hardworking Phoenicians should be able to rely on the public services their tax dollars pay for — and their elected officials owe them a duty to enforce the laws.”
Sandefur highlighted one of the businesses harmed by the city’s facilitation of The Zone: Arizona Rock Products Association (ARPA), a trade organization for the mining and rock industry. Sandefur relayed how the homeless started fires, left used needles and condoms, defecated and urinated, broke into cars, trespassed, and stole food from a refrigerator on ARPA property.
“ARPA is one of the many crucial contributors to Arizona’s economy, all of whom deserve to have their public officials enforce the law and protect their rights,” wrote Sandefur. “Yet thanks to this nuisance the city has created, ARPA is finding it increasingly difficult to do business at all in Arizona.”
The case, Brown v. City of Phoenix (CV2022-010439), was filed in August in the Maricopa County Superior Court and will be heard by Judge Alison Bachus.
The 19 plaintiffs represent property and business owners located within The Zone: Freddy Brown, Joel and Jo-Ann Coplin, Joseph and Deborah Faillace, Karl Freund, Gallery 119, Michael Godbehere, Jordan Evan Greeman, Rozella Hector, Daniel and Dianne Langmade, Ian Likwarz, Matthew and Michael Lysiak, Old Station Sub Shop, PBF Manufacturing Company, Phoenix Kitchens Spe, and Don Stockman.
In their lawsuit, the plaintiffs accused the city of Phoenix of concentrating the homeless population within The Zone. The plaintiffs noted that city officials had full authority to adopt “irrational” policies, but asserted that those policies couldn’t cause nuisance and damage to civilians.
“In short, instead of seeking to solve the homelessness crisis, the City has effectively invited this population to construct semi-permanent tent dwellings on the public sidewalks and rights of way in Plaintiffs’ neighborhood, and to make the Zone their home,” stated the lawsuit. “The City has not only permitted this illegal conduct and maintained it on public lands within its control, but it has also encouraged it through a policy of directing other homeless persons from around the city to the Zone.”
The plaintiffs noted that a “substantial portion” of the homeless residents within The Zone were mentally ill or addicted to drugs, and consistently in violation of quality-of-life ordinances prohibiting loitering, disturbing the peace, drunken and disorderly conduct, drug use, domestic violence, and obstruction of streets, sidewalks, and other public grounds.
“In the Zone and its environs, laws are violated with impunity; residents are subject to violence, property damage, and other criminal and civil violations of laws designed to protect the quality of life of residents; property values have been erased; trash and human waste litter streets and yards; and, most tragically, a great humanitarian crisis unfolds as homeless residents of the Zone die on daily basis,” read the lawsuit.
Arizona has the highest inflation rate in the country — making this state the number one victim of President Joe Biden’s inflation crisis.
The Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale area suffers from 13 percent inflation, according to the latest Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics data released Tuesday. Nationwide inflation rate sits just over 8 percent.
According to recent polling, the inflation and border crises are of equal importance to Arizona voters.
Arizona Free Enterprise Club (AZFEC) President Scot Mussi told AZ Free News that the Biden administration has only worsened the economic woes of Arizonans. Mussi warned that consumers would continue to cut back on major purchases, and business owners would freeze expansions and hiring. He also pointed out that any reductions in inflation weren’t due to the Biden administration’s actions, but instead consumers cutting back.
“It’s pretty clear that the decision makers in Washington want to make this situation worse,” said Mussi. “The recession will continue to linger on until policy makers get serious about runaway spending.”
While Arizonans and the rest of America were taking in the federal government’s latest inflation report on Tuesday, President Joe Biden was celebrating the controversial Inflation Reduction Act (IRA).
Biden didn’t address how the latest inflation data reflected historic highs. Rather, the president asserted that the effects of inflation were improving, and that the state of the economy should come as good news for Americans.
Arizona’s Democratic state legislators also celebrated the IRA.
However, not all within Biden’s party agreed that the IRA and other recent actions by the president are wins. In an interview this week, Senator Mark Kelly (D-AZ) refused to affirm that Biden is doing a good job as president. Congressman Andy Biggs (R-AZ-05) assessed that Kelly treaded carefully due to Biden’s unpopularity among voters.
Mick McGuire, former Arizona National Guard general and failed senate candidate, told “The Conservative Circus” on Tuesday that Kelly was just as guilty as Biden for failing Arizonans with worsening inflation.
Mussi asserted that the IRA wasn’t anything to celebrate, calling it the “Inflation Destruction Act.” He explained that the IRA wouldn’t reduce inflation. Mussi noted that the government hasn’t even distributed all of the stimulus funds from the American Rescue Plan.
“We haven’t even finished rolling out the Biden COVID recovery act: the $1.9 trillion spending palooza. There’s no discipline right now, and there’s really no end in sight,” said Mussi. “Right now, we’ve hit what would be the definition of a recession. Even if you wanted to use the Biden administration’s viewpoint, at best you could say we’re in a bad state of stagflation. There’s absolutely no growth.”
The latest Phoenix Police Department (PPD) data indicates that violent crime has increased while property crimes have decreased from last year.
There was an average increase of over 2 percent for violent crimes, and 3 percent decrease for property crimes. Below are the overall crimes year to date, comparing last January to July to this January to July.
According to separate PPD data, there’s also been a decrease in bias crimes from last year. Last January through August, there were 116 crimes motivated by bias. This year, there have only been 13 in total from January through March.
The drop in bias-motivated crimes has been consistent since 2020, when there was a peak of 204 bias-motivated crimes that year. The greatest number of bias-motivated crimes occurred in 2017, reaching a total of 230.
The rise in crime accompanies PPD’s staffing shortages. On Wednesday, the Phoenix City Council discussed the PPD’s efforts to increase hiring. PPD affirmed that they continue to experience net losses: more officers retiring or resigning than being hired.
Currently, PPD has about 2,600 sworn field positions, 80 in academy, 1,000 working and patrolling officers, 20 in training, and 80 in transitional duty assignment. Current retirements and resignations this year are just under 200. Last year, there were 275 retirements and resignations.
However, PPD Assistant Chief of Police Bryan Chapman said that PPD expected to see a turnaround in the near future.
“If you look at a year ago in terms of where we are today, we are in a much better position. Next year we’ll be back to some normalized numbers or an even better position than where we are,” Chapman.
Officer shortage last year resulted in PPD not responding to certain 911 calls.
Watch the Phoenix City Council policy meeting on public safety and justice below: