The ongoing investigation over the alleged misuse of Proposition 400 monies to build a north Phoenix road — the so-called “Sonoran Boulevard” — and Phoenix Mayoral candidate Peggy Neely’s ties to developer Paul Gilbert just heated up now that the investigation has been turned over to the FBI’s Public Corruption/Civil Rights Squad. They even have a cool website.
Opponents of the Sonoran Boulevard, led mostly by members of the Sonoran Citizens Improvement Association, have consistently maintained that the city misused $40 million in city revenues to construct a 7-mile alignment from 23rd Avenue to Cave Creek Road, which is scheduled for completion in 2013.
Members of the Sonoran Citizens Improvement Association say they sent 132 pages of documentation about Sonoran Boulevard to the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office. A May 18 letter from Maricopa County’s law enforcement liaison Keith Manning notified the SCIA that the letter had been turned over to the F.B.I.:
County attorney spokesman Jerry Cobb said the letter mailed to (SCIA vice president Brian) Cazier is a standard letter sent most times when citizens’ complaints are turned in to the office. This is a formality notifying citizens that their allegation was turned over to the proper law enforcement agency.
“I would stress the mere fact that we received a citizen complaint and forwarded it on to law enforcement should in no way be considered as any sort of comments, merits or the legitimacy of the particular claim,” Cobb said. “This is not a matter that we can act on. It belongs to another agency to take action, if any.”
Phoenix officials said this week that if an inquiry proceeds, “we will cooperate fully,” said Sina Matthes, a Phoenix spokeswoman.
The “involvement” of the F.B.I. appears to be nothing more than a procedural move as the county attorney alleges above. And this could be another attempt to taint Neely by Claude Mattox consultant Jason Rose. But according to Sonoran Citizens Improvement Association’s vice president Brian Crazier, formality or not, the issue remains whether the city misused the funds to develop the parkway:
“All public documentation showed Sonoran Parkway/Boulevard at the Lone Mountain alignment and that’s what the public expected,” said Cazier, who added that’s what “Prop. 400 was funding, a road at the publicly posted location that aligned with the 303 Loop at Lone Mountain, not at Dove Valley Road.”
Opponents of the alignment allege that former Councilmember Neely has had a lot of influence on the route and point to her role as chairwoman of the city’s Transportation Subcommittee.
Bryan Gmyrek, a north Phoenix resident who created the website sonorancitizens.com, also noted that Paul Gilbert, one of Neely’s campaign managers, is legal counsel for Phoenix mall developer Westcor. The company is pursuing a land-use zoning change on the northeastern corner of Sonoran Boulevard and Interstate 17. The property is called North Black Canyon Crossings.
Currently, the land is zoned for an auto mall. Westcor is proposing to divide the 80-acre property – part of it for retail and part of it for a medical campus where John C. Lincoln Health Network would build a hospital.
The zoning requests are scheduled to go before the council this summer for a final decision.
Another article questioning Neely’s ties to developer Paul Gilbert elaborates:
Gmyrek said he researched North Black Canyon Crossings on the city’s website and found law firm Beus Gilbert PLLC stamped on the maps showing Sonoran Boulevard (formerly Dove Valley Road) leading straight to the planned Westcor auto-mall development.
Gilbert said he had never discussed Sonoran Boulevard with Neely until January, when Westcor started to pursue zoning changes.
“I had nothing to do with the alignment, the timing or the width of the street,” Gilbert said. “I wish I had that kind of influence but I don’t.”
Neely said the Sonoran Boulevard expansion has been on her radar since 2003.
“My actions on Sonoran Boulevard have nothing to do with any one developer, zoning attorney or any of that,” Neely said. “Paul Gilbert is working on an issue to change what the auto mall was. I don’t know what the schedule is. That is not tied to Sonoran Boulevard.”
Some north residents are opposed to Sonoran Boulevard road project because of the traffic it would bring into their neighborhood, given the 7-mile alignment does not connect to I-17. Others say the proposed Lone Mountain Road alignment south of Sonoran Boulevard should have been built first because it would connect to the future Loop 303.
Paul Gilbert’s words praising Neely from earlier this year seem deliciously rich given the recent controversy:
“It is time for leaders to listen – to work with the citizens of our great city to chart a course for a prosperous future,” said Paul Gilbert, Co-Chair of Exploratory Committee for Neely for Mayor, “That is why the vision for this committee has been ‘The Phoenix We Want.’ Peggy has been listening to the citizens of Phoenix, neighborhood leaders, business owners because she understands the benefits of inclusive and thoughtful dialogue.”
The Sonoran Citizens Improvement Association began proceedings to recall Neely in April before she resigned from the council to run for Mayor, but so far there seems to be no concrete evidence that Neely has done anything wrong.
Don’t expect much to happen with this development.