If two-year Oro Valley Town Council candidate Steven A. Conrad can be pigeonholed, it might be as the sustainable community candidate.
The 33-year-old water consultant rejects the notion that a town has no say in how it develops, because in his work with successful cities and towns around the country, he's seen just the opposite.
"Downtown Portland, for example, is zoned in such a way that all commercial construction needs to be restaurants or retail stores," he said. Unlike Oro Valley, "the list of permitted uses is very small.
"The town's (Citizen Planning Institute) class really taught me that because of our current rules and regulations, we are very limited on decisions about who can build in our town. I think that's wrong," he said. "I think a town has the right to decide what businesses are built and where they're built."
As an employee of the international engineering firm EMA, Inc., Conrad has spent the past four years working with water utilities and local governments in cities like Portland, Ore., Austin, Texas, San Diego and Jacksonville, Fla., to help them manage their water and energy use in a way that can be sustained over the long term.
"I've spent a lot of time in the highest tier of government, so I'm quite used to talking with city leaders," he said. "I'm used to dealing with issues that come before city councils" and making recommendations on water, land use and energy policy.
"We have to accept that development will occur but plan for it in a way that supports the environment, the community and the area's financial future," he said. "If you get blindsided by any of those, you won't be successful over the long term."
"Something Oro Valley is already doing is bringing reclaimed water to public golf courses. A step above that would be develop regulations to allow household gray water use for household irrigation," he said. "Both these things create sustainable communities by sustaining water resources. It's a way of maximizing what you have."
Overhauling the town's zoning code is a secondary, but related, issue for the candidate.
"I think it's time to question whether our zoning code is correct and whether it needs to be changed," he said. "Builders will come. This is a great market. If you specify what you're looking for, you'll find a developer to build it. I'd never allow a rezoning unless the developer specified what they were going to build. That's very common in cities that work.
A third issue is whether Oro Valley should become a city.
"If the town council is so constrained, maybe that's because of our Arizona town charter, and we need to become a city with our own charter and our own rules and regulations," he said.
"We need to build a local economy that is not subsidized by development, but one in which development plays the appropriate role in creating the community we want to live in - one with parks, open space, nature trails, community centers and small neighborhood shopping centers," he wrote.
How would targeting development impact the town's economy?
"We can't have financial stability based on growth because eventually growth stops," he said. "A person would be naive to think there will never be a property tax. Personally, I would rather pay an extra $100 a year in property tax than to have my corner flooded with Walgreens. We already pay property taxes for schools and fire, why shouldn't it go to the town?"
The candidate said he's probably attended two-dozen town meetings since he moved to Oro Valley, but he reads the town council meeting minutes on-line.
"I think more information should be available on the Web site," he said. "There is no way the average citizen can attend every meeting. Most of the people on my cul-de-sac wouldn't have the time. These are young families. There needs to be a way for citizens to contact and communicate with members of council."
As a consultant for his firm, Conrad travels about five days a month, but controls his own schedule. He said he's used to working 60-hour weeks and juggling multiple commitments on top of that. If elected to council, "I'll give it as much time as it needs," he said.
The candidate, a registered Democrat, gives the town council a "B for effort, but C for results" for its performance during the past two years.
"A lot of people on council are hesitant. We need strong leadership, someone who's not afraid," he said. "I would rather go to court to protect what's best for the town than let someone from Massachusetts decide what they want to build here.
"Overall, we need a vision for the town that can bring everyone in," he continued. "We have to ask what that vision is. If the answer is rural with open corridors and limited access, we have to respect that. The people I've talked to want open space and preservation of the environment. That's the reason they moved here."
Conrad and his wife Maria built their home in Oro Valley five years ago because the town reminded the candidate of the way his native Tucson used to be.
"We moved here because it's closest to the Arizona I remember as a kid," he said. Coyotes and javelina no longer visit the couple's Rancho Vistoso home as they did only five years ago.
"I don't think growth should be limited. I think it should be expected," he said. "But we still need open space and scenic views."
Born and raised in Tucson, the candidate has spent his entire life in Arizona. His father, an Air Force engineer, moved his family from Ohio to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base before Conrad was born. His mother is a secretary with Texas Instruments.
As a boy he attended several local elementary schools and then Flowing Wells High School. In 1993, he earned a bachelor of science degree in optical engineering from the University of Arizona, but couldn't find a job in his field. He returned to the university for a second degree in psychology, which he finished in 1998, supporting himself as a computer information specialist for EMA and other engineering firms.
"You can have the best technology, science and engineering know-how, but you also need to understand how people are going to use those solutions," he said.
The candidate met his wife through mutual friends in 1998. The pair became best friends and married the following year. Maria, a dog trainer and pet therapist, conducts animal visits to a boys' school in Catalina. The couple plans to start a family to join their five cats, a dog and a parrot and two desert tortoises.
In 2003, Conrad received a master of science degree in environmental technology from Arizona State University through its distance-learning program.
He recently completed Oro Valley's 2003 - 2004 Citizen Planning Institute. In 2001 - 2002, he worked as a docent at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, helping visitors understand where water comes from. He is an active member of the GlobeScan Sustainability Expert Panel, the Arizona Hydrological Society, Smart Growth Network and the American Water Resources Association.
Education: M.S. in Environmental Technology -
Arizona State University. B.S. Optical Engineering -
University of Arizona. B.S. Psychology -
University of Arizona
Profession/Employer: Water Consultant, EMA Inc.
Lived in Arizona: 33 years
Lived in Oro Valley: 4 years
Came to Arizona from: N/A, Native
Public offices held: None
Other biographical data:
Member, GlobeScan Sustainability Expert Panel
Member, Arizona Hydrological Society
Member, Smart Growth Network
Member, American Water Resources Association
Former docent Arizona Sonora Desert Museum
Over 10 years of experience working with water utilities and communities on implementing strategies to efficiently manage water and energy in a sustainable manner. Many published contributions on water resource management, community efficiency, and sustainability.
Why he's running for council:
As a Tucson-region native I have seen much of Arizona disappear because of economic conflicts and mismanaged growth. I moved to Oro Valley to start and raise a family because Oro Valley was close to the Arizona I remember as a child. I have found that many of my neighbors feel the same way. Oro Valley has the potential to be a world-class community if only we can find the right way to collaborate with our partners to return us to a sense of community.
I want to work on building Oro Valley into a sustainable community. One that maximizes Oro Valley's environment, community and financial stability. We need to promote the development of services that are closer to families and strengthen the community appeal of Oro Valley. I will work on changing the zoning and development codes in a manner that specifically identifies the type and placement of development that will build a sustainable community and I will support the development of a general plan that fully incorporates aspects of sustainability and smart growth.