As Patty Badenoch and other activists have shuttled around the city, gathering signatures to force a public vote on a 750-unit condominium development in downtown Scottsdale, some residents claim they signed before the activists arrived.
Those residents might have been signing for Melvin Lang, one of several "independent contractors" hired by Optima Development to counter their opponents’ effort. The Optima Camelview Village, which critics call too tall and too dense, was unanimously approved by the City Council last month.
The signatures that contractors collect will be given to the developer as a show of support for the project to be built on land north of Scottsdale Fashion Square.
Badenoch and Sam West, a local architect, allege the developer’s petition effort is designed to disrupt their own.
Some days, Lang and his colleagues beat Badenoch and the members of Why Scottsdale?, a political action committee, to collect signatures at certain places. On Monday, Lang set up his table next to Badenoch’s in front of the Civic Center Library.
Concerned that Lang’s asking for signatures on an unofficial petition violated the law, Badenoch said she called 911.
"All this stuff that we have to do and they can go around, masquerading with something that’s similar to what we have and completely derail our efforts. . . . I think that’s unconscionable," Badenoch said. "Did I think it was illegal? I did. Did I think there might have been a confrontation? I did. So did I call the police? Yes, I did."
When Scottsdale police arrived, they had Badenoch check the legality of Lang’s efforts on public property with City Clerk Carolyn Jagger.
"All I know is I started to talk to her about it, (and) she said, ‘I’m on a police phone, I’ll call you right back.’ And I haven’t heard another word," Jagger said. It is not illegal to distribute a petition on public property.
To force a referendum, the activists must collect more than 3,384 signatures by Dec. 16, a feat Badenoch said the group is unlikely to achieve. Susan Bitter Smith, an Optima spokeswoman, said they have collected signatures from supporters for months, but restarted when the referendum drive began.
Sometimes, Optima staff members distribute petitions and, Bitter Smith said, the contractors who are hired are provided enough information to discuss the development.
"In my opinion, I’d rather see this (project) in downtown," Lang said, repeating the points Optima gave him. "We’re losing our desert."