TUSAYAN — Coming back into her hometown of Tusayan Wednesday after the election, Canyon Forest Village opponent Clarinda Vail felt the tears stream down her face as she drove over the hill past the airport with the rim of the Grand Canyon in the distance.
The historic Proposition 400 vote had gone the way she wanted. Although expected by many to be close, the CFV referendum went down to defeat by a sizeable margin with 63.8 percent of county voters opposing the developer's rezoning request. Out of Coconino County's 75 precincts, only four had more yes votes with a fifth splitting right down the middle.
Voters were greeted by ‘It’s Just Too Much!’ campaign signs on the way into the polls last week. Advertising is allowable by law, if 75 feet away from the voting venue, indicated by the sign to the left. Voters apparently didn’t need any last-minute signs to sway their vote, based on the 2-to-1 margin.
"That was an emotional night," Vail said about last Tuesday. "Driving into Tusayan is when it really hit me. I was balling, absolutely. Not only did we help protect all of Coconino County, but protected that beautiful land."
Vail, a lifelong Tusayan resident and one of the principles involved in the anti-CFV campaign, said she was confident the public would vote no on Prop 400. When the results were coming in, the reality of her confidence was another reason she became so emotional.
"In my mind, the voters have spoken and Canyon Forest Village should be dead," Vail said.
Michael Vasquez, treasurer of the "It's Just Too Much!" campaign and Williams businessman, said he was surprised by the margin of victory.
"What surprised me was in some of the precincts the yes people thought they had, we did very well in," Vasquez said. "I'd hate to say I think it's dead, but CFV is dead. In its form that was presented, it's dead. What I feel is that everybody should listen to the voters and the public of northern Arizona."
Tom De Paolo, CFV's managing partner, didn't say what his group's next move would be, but did express an interest in connecting with the public better. De Paolo didn't agree with the campaign strategy of "It's Just Too Much."
"What we'll do is take a break and just reflect on the last number of months and re-evaluate the different options that area available," De Paolo said from his Scottsdale office Thursday. "I'm disappointed that the opponents in the hotel industry stooped to just incredibly low tactics in their PR (public relations) campaign to put their financial interests ahead of the greater interest of the park and the region and the visitor."
Prop 400 was defeated soundly throughout the county. The CFV issue went down on every precinct not included on the Navajo reservation. It passed in all 30 Flagstaff precincts with a popular vote margin of 63 percent to 37 percent. Williams voted in down by a 77-23 margin, Tusayan said no by a 65-35 margin and Grand Canyon rejected it by a 63-37 margin.
"I've lived in Coconino County all my life and I'm not sure if voters have ever sent a clearer message on a local issue," Vail said. "We're proud of the campaign we mounted and pleased that voters from every part of Coconino County recognized how potentially damaging this development could have been for the Grand Canyon and Coconino County."
Coming together for a regional solution to the remaining concerns around the greater Grand Canyon area is on the minds of the anti-CFV group. Both Vail and Vasquez indicated there needs to be some communication between the various entities involved.
"This is a tremendous opportunity for all our communities to get together and do a regional solution for visitation at the Grand Canyon," Vasquez said. "If we're making sure the visitors have a pleasant experience, then we are all winners. There are no losers."
"There's still some work to be done," Vail said. "With all of this, there are still regional discussions and solutions that need to come up amongst Williams, Flagstaff, Grand Canyon and the reservation. Water, of course, is one of them but that needs to be the National Park Service working with Tusayan. We're going to start opening up the door here soon. Things still need to be discussed, but that does not include CFV. It includes the existing communities in northern Arizona."
De Paolo said it was interesting to him that the opponents did not cite how they would handle current problems earlier, such as during the campaign.
"Everything our opponents said was what's wrong with us," De Paolo said. "But not one thing about how they would deal with these challenges."
CFV can come back and reapply for zoning under the same or modified plan and go through the public process all over again after a one-year wait.
"If you make substantive changes, you can do it sooner, that's at the discretion of the county," De Paolo said. "There's actually some who feel the trigger date was the approval of the board of supervisors and others who believe that it's the date of the election. Under any circumstances, should we choose to pursue that course of action, we'll try to do it in cooperation with who can decide that."
When asked if the developer's might try something east of Tusayan closer to the Desert View area, De Paolo said that all options would be studied, adding that there are some eight to 10 alternatives.
De Paolo feels CFV's message wasn't getting through to the voters effectively.
"I really think the vote is indicative of one thing, our failure to connect with the general population effectively," he said. "When people do connect with a lot of these issues, it makes them look at some of the choices a little differently. The issues are complex, they're often confusing, and they require an inordinate amount of personal time to fully appreciate and that's asking a lot of anyone because people are extremely busy."
De Paolo said people can also be afraid of that six-letter word, "c-h-a-n-g-e."
"I think it's sort of human nature to be concerned about change," he said. "There's a tendency to resist change. Nevertheless, 11,000 people did support this. So even though far more than double didn't, 11,000 (12,000-plus in actuality) is a lot of people to connect with when you think of major changes at a place that everyone cherishes so much about like the Grand Canyon."
When asked if he would continue on with the CFV project, De Paolo said he hopes to be part of the future solution to Grand Canyon-area problems.
"I don't regret a day of the last 10 years and look forward to another 20 just like it, with maybe a little different outcome," De Paolo said. "This is something we believe in and our supports believe very strongly in and we hope to be a small part of the solution to the problems that did not go away last Tuesday."
CFV does have millions of dollars invested in those last 10 years. On campaign materials alone for Proposition 400, CFV spent more than $1 million, many times more than "It's Just Too Much."
Vail pointed toward the many volunteers associated with the anti-CFV campaign.
"I have a lot of thanks to give to those who gave their time and money toward this campaign," Vail said. "I’d really like to thank a lot of the people who worked so hard out on the reservation. They were incredible people and knew it was right.”