Details man has eye on the plan –

Strauch not a one issue candidate


Highway issues have propelled Ernie Strauch into political fray

By Terri Likens


Ernie Strauch is quiet and measured in his ways, but his impact in Sedona this year has been profound.  Strauch burst into the Sedona public arena through the Voice of Choice group, which is seeking to convince the state to scale back its plans to widen Hwy. 179 to four and five lanes.  Strauch has made a difference by arming the group with facts. He spends hours gleaning through traffic, engineering and accident reports. His diplomatic skills have also been put into service many times over the past year.  Strauch is now the vice- president of the group.

A look at Strauch's past shows a history of achievement. He grew up in a working-class town in Illinois, was active in sports and was a varsity wrestler in Beloit College, which he attended on a full scholarship.  He met his wife, Karen, on the first day of college, and they were married in the college chapel on graduation day.

He earned a bachelor's in Government and immediately went into the Air Force. He is a Vietnam veteran and served six years on active duty and three years in the reserves.

Much of his career was with an orthodontic manufacturing firm in Southern California, where he was in marketing management. He also attended law school during this time, completing 60 course units in three years.

The Strauchs bought property in Sedona in 1992, and moved here in 1997, about a year after he retired.  Like many retirees, he has remained active. He's been involved with the Sedona Arts Center and Chamber Music Sedona. He's a board member with Keep Sedona Beautiful, and he also participates with the Action Coalition for Transportation Solutions committee.

Hwy. 179

"I got started by just trying to find out what the issues were”, Strauch said. He said he attended Arizona Department of Transportation open houses on the project.  "I didn't seem to get answers from ADOT engineers. When I questioned maps and charts on the wall, they said they had changed, but they couldn't tell me what they'd been changed to," Strauch said.

"My larger issue was the change to the community that would occur when four and five lanes came through," he said.  He said estimated construction costs indicate that the state plans to move a lot more earth on the Hwy. 179 project compared with Hwy. 89A, a point he thinks it is important for the public to realize.

Open Space

Strauch remembers participating on a Sedona Forum focus group to discuss open space issues. He noted that even developers in the group supported the concept.  "I think there is overwhelming support from all segments of the community to preserve open space and avoid urban sprawl," he said.

Community character/local needs

"I consider that there need not be a conflict between community needs and tourist needs or business community needs," Strauch said.  "For probably more than 95 percent of us, we were the very tourists who became so impressed we decided to make this our home," he said. "We want to enhance, not degrade, the very values that brought us here in the first place."

Strauch said there's been a change in the understanding of why tourists visit certain locations.  Part of the eco-tourism experience is getting there, he said.  "It is not Uptown Sedona, and it is not just the red rocks that make up the “Sedona experience”.  It is the roadway and it is the infrastructure," Strauch said.  He noted that even Arizona Highways, a travel magazine put out by ADOT, steers readers to backroads and longer, more leisurely routes to help them better enjoy their travel experience.


“In my mind, I think about the big four: dark skies, quiet skies, clean air and water," Strauch said.  He thinks light pollution problems have been addressed through the city's lighting ordinance.  However, Strauch thinks the city can do more about quieting the skies by taking more responsibility for the airport and its management.

He said the city had a chance to talk about taking a greater role with the airport but let it slip away.  "It seems we have been too willing to accept the status quo," he said.

The threats he sees to clean air include increased traffic due to significantly widening the highways into town and any significant increase in wood-burning fireplaces.  For him water issues include not only having clean water but having an adequate supply.  "This is our life blood,t' Strauch said.  He added that he supports further studies to determine water supplies and capacity.


"At every community plan meeting that I have attended, there is a strong expression of concern about every unit that exists and continues to be proposed," Strauch said.  The concern is that these units promote use of resources and infrastructure by people who only have a short term involvement in our community."

"We do not know and have not done the study on what the maximum capacity for tourists is," he said. "There is a maximum."  "I would initiate a project to do that," he said. "It would affect so many of the decisions we make."

Affordable housing

Strauch attended the city's most recent affordable housing committee meeting and said he was impressed with the facts that came out.  “The encouraging thing is it is being addressed," he said.  He said the city is probably on the right path by looking into the need for a Housing Authority to help see that affordable housing that is built will go to people who need it, not outsiders looking for a second home.

"The larger issue is that there are not enough zoned acres left," for higher density housing, Strauch said.  He said the city may have to look at other ways to address the problem, including mass transit to cheaply carry workers in.

Overall, Strauch said he'll be talking about the city's community plan a lot.  "I consider the community plan for Sedona similar to the Constitution of the United States," he said. "It's really the reason I'm running: to better match what we say in the community plan to the policy decisions we make."

Strauch noted that more public input has gone into that document than any other the city has produced.  "If government is supposed to be responsible to the community, it has to follow the community plan," he said. "My concern is that the lofty goals in the community plan are not as often followed by lofty policy decisions."

As an example, Strauch notes that the community plan speaks of supporting the arts community.  However, at a recent city strategic plan meeting, city officials said they would not support efforts to build a city performing arts facility.

Strauch also doesn't feel that the city council has treated community-based organizations such at the library, Humane Society and Sedona Recycles Inc. fairly in funding decisions.  "When the rubber meets the road, we run off the road and fail to support them with more than words," he said.

Strauch's parting quote?

"I will bring together marketing concepts that focus on the customer—the Sedona resident— and my educational background in government. I will apply three 'golden rules' that were successful in my business: careful determination of the public's needs by really listening; creation of innovative solutions based on thorough research; and constant, effective communications to keep the public informed."