League of Women Voters Forum Questions
Good evening. My name is Brian Fultz, and I live near the Chapel with my wife, Amy, and we've owned our home in Sedona for nearly 18 years. We have 3 children with the youngest just having finished her first year of college. I spent most of the last 2 decades living in the Atlanta area but grew up in Indiana and earned a degree in aeronautical & astronautical engineering from Purdue University. So when someone says it doesn't take a rocket scientist to solve our problems in Sedona that hurts my feelings! But I do like to say in response that even if it doesn't take a rocket scientist, it can never hurt to have one around. My education was rounded out with an MBA from The University of Chicago.
Professionally I have worked for large companies like General Electric and Accenture and have been responsible for hundreds of employees, dozens of facilities, and the setting and achieving of substantial budgets. But over the past 16 years I have settled in as a small business owner. I currently own Peak Innovation, a consulting firm I founded in 2008, that provides marketing and sales strategy consulting for mid-market and large, global enterprise clients. I also co-own several franchises outside of Arizona. I have learned how to endure tough times like the Great Recession as well as the collapse of business at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic and have always delivered for my employees and their families.
Since becoming a full-time Sedona resident I have completed the Sedona Citizen's Academy which is really valuable in learning how our city operates. I've been appointed to the Sedona Community Plan Update Working Group where we are tasked with gathering community input to ensure that our next 10 year community plan reflects the values and priorities of our residents. I've helped plan and participate in ATV protests with Sedona Residents Unite. I'm an active volunteer at Aletheia Church, and I'm an avid mountain biker and hiker here in Red Rock Country.
As the Verde Valley continues to grow, what does growth look like to you in your municipality? Specifically, tell us what you plan to do in your elected role.
The growth I'd like to see in Sedona starts with its resident population. Due to the proliferation of non-owner occupied short-term rentals, our already limited long-term rental housing pool has become much smaller and much more expensive. The impact became evident when the 2020 national census revealed a population decrease in Sedona. Our population loss includes retirees, workers, and families with children. I would like to see growth in all 3 of those population segments. We know we need more workers, and we need to stop the long-term decline in enrollment of our public school system by ensuring that families can find housing here.
So, how do we grow our population? It's complex--maybe it does take a rocket scientist? Sorry, I couldn't resist. Well, one tactic is that we need to be able to cap the number of non-owner-occupied STRs. And as many of us know, all cities in AZ are constrained in this regard by SB1350. In addition to the efforts already underway by the city, I believe that Sedona should host a state housing summit. We are the epicenter of excess STRs with about 15% of our housing stock lost to them. We should invite the AirBnB lobby, the realtors' lobby, and certainly every state legislator that has held up meaningful reform of SB1350. But we should also invite housing solution visionaries because while one tactic is to cap STRs, which frankly only stanches the bleeding, we also need intelligent solutions to add more housing. And our community needs to be engaged in this discussion concerning what is going to be acceptable if we want to grow our population.
One other area of growth I'd like to see in our community is in healthcare. We have been experiencing an alarming reduction of healthcare workers. Northern Arizona Healthcare is not demonstrating a long term commitment to Sedona. As a city council, I believe we need to give direction to city staff to begin identifying potential new healthcare partners and incentives to attract the right quantity and mix of healthcare providers.
Tourism in Sedona is a $1 billion industry that supports over 10,000 jobs and creates over $240 million in wages. Visitors generate 77% of the city's sales and bed tax revenues that support city services and residents' quality of life. (Yavapai College REDC) Given these facts, what will you do to support this primary economic engine? And, where do you see Sedona tourism five years from now?
I respect that tourism is a big part of our economy and our culture in Sedona. In thinking of how to support this engine, I believe any strategies need to be in balance with resident quality of life and the environmental impact on the land. So what does that mean? Well, I think we should want our traditional lodging, i.e., hotels/motels/BnBs to be healthy. They are playing by the rules established by the city for zoning, health & safety, parking and nuisances, and so on. Non-owner-occupied STRs are a wholly different matter. They have more than doubled the number of beds in town in just 5 years. As I mentioned previously tonight, they are the cause of our population decline, a loss in rental housing, and they've led to more traffic congestion and wear and tear on the trails. So, supporting this important economic engine means supporting traditional lodging but not STRs, and it also means supporting our other businesses in town. According to a recent survey, 70% of our businesses rely heavily on tourism. So tactics that support desirable businesses, at the right time, attracting the right kind of tourist that is respectful of the land and our community make sense.
As for 5 years from now, I'm excited about the future. I see transit, with a park once and ride transit for the rest of your stay approach, becoming a reality. Let's get day trippers parking at the edges of town, not clogging up Uptown. I see progress with the Forest Service to have implemented permits for certain high-usage trails such as Cathedral and Devils Bridge. I also see progress with the Forest Service and the County largely banning roadside parking in the forest. And I really expect to see progress, again, with the Forest Service concerning limited ATV access to Broken Arrow and limits and better controls of the forest west of town. Overall, I see these changes creating a safer, more predictable, more convenient, and more enjoyable tourist experience. But importantly, I see these benefits extending to our residents with a safer, quieter environment, less traffic congestion, and overall higher quality of life.