Archive for February, 2009

28th February
2009
written by Mike

From Antiplaner.com – The state of California has a $41 billion budget deficit. This is even worse when you realize its total budget is $143 billion, so the deficit is is 29 percent of the budget.

The planning advocates who frequent this blog will deny it, but it is no coincidence that California has the strongest smart-growth laws in the nation and the worst deficit of any state in the nation.

Land-use restrictions that crammed 94.5 percent of the state’s residents into just 5.1 percent of the state’s land also made the state’s housing the least-affordable in the nation — and some California cities the least-affordable in the world. This led to an exodus of people and jobs. The bursting of the housing bubble devastated many recent home buyers   and took the state’s (and world’s) economy with them.

Meanwhile, the state has overspent on high-cost transportation systems in five major urban areas, while stinting on the forms of transportation that people actually use. (Californians travel more than 400 billion passenger miles by auto in urban areas and take transit only 7 billion passenger miles.) This did little to relieve the traffic that makes Los Angeles and San Francisco-Oakland the worst-congested urban areas in the nation while it added to the state’s deficits.

Tucson Choices – Recipe for disaster:

Does this post sound familiar? 86% of Pima County land is owned by a government entity. Pima County has already committed $200m to buy the remaining 14%. Will the voters approve another $500m to run up the credit card for more open space?  Less land, higher cost to develop (sewer hook up fees, impact fees, time to finish developments) and what you get is housing that becomes unaffordable to our working poor community.  Add in a dash of NIMBY from the City of Tucson neighborhood activist and what’s a community to do? Without leadership, I’m afraid we’ll have more of he same.

As if that wasn’t enough – From today’s LA Times

State caught in avalanche of job losses

Conditions are even worse in Los Angeles County, which saw its unemployment rate jump to 10.5% in January from 9.2% the month before.

The deep job losses follow a sharp drop in the gross domestic product — the value of all goods and services produced — in the waning months of 2008. Nationwide, GDP shrank at an annual rate of 6.2% in the fourth quarter, the Commerce Department said Friday. That was far worse than the 3.8% drop the agency had estimated, and the biggest decrease since 1982.

Paul Policarpio knew it was only a matter of time before he would be laid off.

 

28th February
2009
written by Arizona Kid

An article appeared in the Arizona Republic – HERE

More about the snake HERE.

The latest release from Fish and Wildlife – July 08 2008 – HERE

From Center For Biological Diversity: Southwestern Snake Slithers Closer to Safety –

Thanks to a petition by the Center for Biological Diversity, this Tuesday the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced it will scrutinize the plight of the Tucson shovel-nosed snake to see if the animal deserves protection under the Endangered Species Act. The snake, a small, black-and-yellow reptile that can “swim” through the sand using its shovel-like snout, is getting increasingly rare as development and agriculture take over its southern Arizona valley-floor habitat.

Although Pima County and one Arizona town have developed “habitat conservation plans” that include the imperiled snake, neither plan has been finalized –partly because another imperiled species in the plans, the cactus ferruginous pygmy owl, was removed from the endangered species list. Hopefully, both the snake and the owl will soon get the protection they need to defend themselves from the Southwest’s urban explosion.

HERE’S A RELATED PIECE, FROM HUGH HEWITT, AN EXPERT ON THESE MATTERS. From AZCentral Comments:

JUST SUBSTITUTE ‘polar bear’ WITH ‘Tucson shovel-nosed snake,’ ‘American Arctic’ WITH ‘The most developable land between Phoenix and Tucson,’ AND ‘continued oil and gas development’ WITH ‘agricultural expansion and urban sprawl.’ 

HUGH HEWITT: 

By way of background, I have practiced natural resources law since I left the Reagan Administration in early 1989. Wetlands, jurisdictional waters, and endangered species are my areas of expertise, and if you ever need a lesson on the Stephens’ kangaroo rat, the Delhi sands flower-loving fly, the California gnat catcher, the Desert tortoise or any of a couple dozen other plants and animals throughout the west that are protected under the federal or state Endangered Species Act, drop me an e-mail. 

All of those species and many more have fairly predictable aftermaths of their listing –a period of great confusion about where they live and breed, what can and cannot be done near them, and lots of meetings and negotiations with federal officials over habitat conservation plans, Section 7 consultations etc. There are lots of landowners and businesses that lose a lot because of this law, but in the past, the impact zone of a listing was at least limited to the area in which the listed species lived. 

That won’t be the case with any listing of the polar bear, which is why it is the focus of so much zeal among the groups. The reach of the listing wil be immense because of the rationale offered for its protection. 

The proposed listing states that the polar bear may be threatened because it is losing the ice it needs to live on due to climate change. If the government agrees with the models that project a dramatic loss of Arctic sea ice over the next few decades, and further agrees that this loss would imperil the polar bear’s survivability, the bear gets listed. 

Once listed, the Federal Endangered Species Act is very clear: Any federal action that might impact the polar bear must be reviewed by the U.S. Fish &Wildlife Service under Section 7 of the Act. 

What sort of federal actions? The most obvious would be any activity on or near Arctic ice, but that’s not the gold ring the environmentalists are reaching for. 

They will argue that every federal permit that allows directly or indirectly for increased emissions of hydrocarbons is a federal act that might impact the polar bear –every port expansion, every refinery opening or repair, every Army Corps of Engineers permit that allows for more homes or office buildings to rise. 

Don’t believe me. Believe the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the plaintiffs in the suit filed to force the listing. From the Center’s website: 

“Protection under the Endangered Species Act will provide concrete help to polar bears and could revolutionize American climate policy. Since U.S. resistance to curbing greenhouse gases has allowed other countries to shirk their responsibilities as well, major changes in American policy are likely to have a powerful domino effect, catalyzing change in climate policy worldwide. The polar bear’s protected status will require a new level of environmental review before oil and gas development continue in polar bear habitat in the American Arctic. Even more critically, because it is illegal to harm threatened species or jeopardize their survival, the polar bear listing could mean that all U.S. industries emitting large quantities of greenhouse gases — and requiring a federal permit to do so — will come under the purview of the Endangered Species Act. From polluting power plants in the Midwest to auto manufacturers, a vast array of industries may have to clean up their acts to give the polar bear a chance to survive.” 

They will do more than argue that a listing has these impacts. Once listed, the polar bear will launch a thousand law suits as the groups search for judges and opportunities to assert that hydrocarbon emission reduction must be apart of every federal permit and that those reductions must be negotiated by and approved by the already understaffed and overwhelmed U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. The advocates of the listing know the stakes, which is why they have filed suit in federal district court in the Northern District of California to force a decision. That’s why California Senator Barbara Boxer is demanding that the Secretary of the Interior act. 

What is amazing is that industry seems almost wholly unaware of this debate. I e-mailed a senior vice president of a major coal company asking what he thought about the controversy, and he sent me back a polite, straightforward reply that he didn’t think it would affect his industry much. 

The groups have achieved strategic surprise. 

If the industries wake up any time soon, they will have to move to intervene in the lawsuit filed to require the listing decision be made, and to demand a reopening of the record in order to make sure that this year’s temperature and ice data are included, and that the models relied on to predict ice loss through mid-century be examined against this year’s data. They will also have to begin to mount the obvious due process challenges to a scheme to radically extend the reach of a 1973 law that was never intended to work this way but which has grown steadily via a series of aggressive judicial interpretations. There are other Constitutional and Administrative Procedures Act challenges as well, which should be lodged in the District of Columbia Circuit, not in the Ninth Circuit. 

And Secretary Kempthorne should resist the pressure from the left to rush to a listing decision. Too few people knew this has happened, and too much is at stake on a too little-reviewed or understood set of facts. 

“As a result of [global] warming, Arctic sea ice is melting very rapidly,” plaintiffs argue in their suit. They continue: 

“In 2007 the Arctic sea ice hit a new record minimum, fully one million square miles below the average minimum sea ice extent between 1979-2000. There was less ice in the Arctic in September, 2007 than more than half of the world’s leading climate models project for 2050. Some scientists now say summer ice could disappear entirely as early as 2012. 

Polar bears cannot survive the loss of their sea-habitat.” 

Plaintiffs are making arguments about the approach of catastrophe and the Court does not have before it any challenge either to the assertions about the models or the appropriateness of using the ESA to impose Kyoto on an unpersuaded country

 

Pygmy Owl Dwindling in Mexico, Really Needs Help Here

Speaking of the cactus ferruginous pygmy owl, a new University of Arizona study has shown that the owl’s population in northern Sonora, Mexico has decidedly declined over the past nine years. In fact, this year’s pygmy-owl abundance in Mexico is the lowest it’s been since the study began — not good news for the tiny owl, whose U.S. population is now nearly gone thanks to habitat destruction. Once protected under the Endangered Species Act, the pygmy owl’s endangered status was pulled out from under it in 2006 when the administration declared that its presence in Mexico meant it didn’t need protection in Arizona, where its last population is hanging by a thread.

The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), Defenders of Wildlife, and Public Employees for Responsibility have petitioned to renew the species’ protection, and last spring the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began a new review of the owl’s situation. With luck, the new study will help ensure the U.S. population’s peril isn’t ignored.

You think the CBD aren’t serious and will stop at nothing?

Activist charged in office protest

By Eric Swedlund
ARIZONA DAILY STAR

A prominent local environmental activist was arrested Friday on assault, trespassing and disorderly conduct charges stemming from a demonstration Tuesday at a home builders association news conference, police said.

Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, is accused of pushing one Southern Arizona Home Builders Association official as he forced his way into the group’s offices and pushing another as he left, according to a Tucson Police Department report compiled from interviews with SAHBA officials.

Suckling said the accusations are false.

The incident began Tuesday afternoon at a SAHBA press conference called to discuss a federal appeals court victory for the group. The decision could reverse the pygmy owl’s status as an endangered species.

About 20 members of the Center for Biological Diversity and other environmental groups started a protest against the ruling just before the press conference, at 2840 N. Country Club Road. The demonstrators were dressed in owl costumes and went onto SAHBA property, the police report states.

SAHBA officials told police Suckling was the most vocal protester and that they told him to leave the property.

At one point, Suckling allegedly “pushed past” one official to sit down inside the building. “From S.A.H.B.A. standpoint, Suckling then created a disturbance during the press conference,” the police report states.

SAHBA officials told police that Suckling pushed another person out of his way as he left. “Neither victim had visible injuries, but each did complain of soreness” but did not ask for medical treatment, the report states.

Suckling was booked into the Pima County jail Friday on two counts of assault, one count of second-degree criminal trespass and seven counts of disorderly conduct.

In an interview with the Arizona Daily Star after his release Saturday, Suckling said the developers’ police report is a “pack of lies from the beginning to the end” and that the center plans to file a civil suit against SAHBA for filing a false report.

“They simply made it up,” he said. “This is a political assault engineered by Tucson developers against people who try to protect the desert. SAHBA is so frustrated the media actually presents two sides of the story that they try to bring bogus legal charges against environmentalists to try and shut them up.”

Suckling said he went to the press conference to “expose the outright lies of the home builders” regarding the court decision and when he went inside, he was pushed.

The police report did not include interviews with anybody but developers, Suckling said, and police officers arrested him immediately without asking questions when he met with them Friday.

Julie Miller said she went with Suckling to demonstrate Tuesday, did not go inside, and did not see any pushing.

Ed Taczanowsky, SAHBA’s executive vice president, declined to comment Saturday.

Contact reporter Eric Swedlund at 629-9412 or swedlund@azstarnet.com.

27th February
2009
written by JHiggins

From Antiplanner.com. The notion that real cities have big downtowns is firmly ingrained in the minds of many urban planners and city officials. As Joel Garreau points out in Edge City, this ignores the fact that such downtowns were only built for about a century, from roughly 1820 to 1920.

Modern cities, which planners deride by calling them “sprawl,” have job centers spread out all over the place. San Jose, Phoenix, and Los Angeles are all typical examples. Planners and officials try to re-create obsolete downtowns by building pork-barrel projects such as convention centers and giving developers huge subsidies for hotels and office buildings. This enriches developers and contractors, but it never really creates a “real” downtown.

Downtown Los Angeles, for example, has less than 4 percent of the jobs in the region and does not even have as many jobs as Long Beach. Downtown San Jose is pathetic as a downtown: it has a few restaurants and a heavily subsidized hotel or two, but most of the real jobs are scattered around other parts of Santa Clara County. If you want a real “lively streets” experience, go to Santana Row.

Now Phoenix has succumbed to the downtown mania. As the Arizona Republic reports, this year the city will open a $1.4 billion light-rail line, an expanded convention center (because the existing one wasn’t losing enough money) costing $600 million, at least $350 million in subsidies to a new Sheraton Hotel, and hundreds of millions in subsidies for a downtown campus of Arizona State University.

Just what this country needs: another failed convention center. And why does ASU need a downtown Phoenix campus anyway? Isn’t Tempe a prestigious enough address for it?

Of course, Phoenix doesn’t limit its subsidies to downtown. The city is providing $100 milion in subsidies to a new, mixed-use development (another utopian planning scheme) on the edge of the city. This is part of a “border war between adjacent cities over who could give away the most to attract the best retailers.” The Goldwater Institute is suing the city to stop this subsidy.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result. These giveaways are nothing more than a way to satisfy political egos, transfer tax dollars to favored developers, and give urban planners a chance to try their insane theories.

26th February
2009
written by Arizona Kid

Twenty-five years back, there were a clutch of prime mantras among the activist set: Growth could be stopped. Cattle-grazing was archaic. Mining was a goner. Developers could be battled to a standstill, and the Pusch Ridge bighorns would tough it out.Today, folks who built below Pusch Ridge adore the foothills wildlife–until it nibbles their bougainvillea. More habitat has vanished from this county than perhaps ever existed in some states. Cows are now seen as bulwarks against bulldozers. As for bighorn sheep, well, somebody figures they might have seen a footprint up beyond those pretty cul-de-sacs sometime back.

Growth has continued at freakish levels, although a crashing real estate market offers some hope. Still, even wayward water supplies haven’t truly threatened this juggernaut; the housing industry, along with local government, still huddles under the Central Arizona Project’s rippling chimera.

Yet time marches on. And some iconic battles from those days–stopping the UA telescopes on Mount Graham, for example, or blocking developer Don Diamond’s Rocking K Ranch exurb–weren’t exactly won, but they weren’t totally lost, either.

The Mount Graham mountaintop telescopes are nearly due for review by the Coronado National Forest, and UA astronomers may lack the political muscle of yesteryear. Diamond did toss a few acreage bones to Saguaro National Park East, and bankrolled the Rincon Institute to cope with what his avarice had wrought.

Meanwhile, some things have actually improved. Though our fair city has plumped beyond reason, one recent UA analysis reveals that Arizona’s population grew by a measly 1.6 percent in the last year, the lowest rate since the blistering recession in the 1990s.

And although we’ve had decades to ponder the mine tailings south of Tucson (“Manmade Mountains!” one real estate brochure enthused), citizens are tightly organized against a new mine proposed for Rosemont Valley in the Santa Rita Mountains.

So there is reason to hope. Indeed, tempered optimism is raison d’ètre among most conservationists. Among them is Carolyn Campbell, executive director of the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection. Campbell’s coalition has been knee-deep in prodding Pima County’s Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan (one true victory-in-progress) down the road to reality.

Since its late 1990s inception as a wildlife-protection blueprint, the project has spent roughly $120 million from a voter-approved bond to purchase or lease more than 160,000 acres.

To Campbell, that 2004 bond–when citizens earmarked nearly $175 million to buy open space–was a turning point. “In Pima County, people have always been working on protecting open space,” she says, “and we’ve had open-space bonds for the last 20 years. But the big difference is the planning and scientific effort that went into this endangered-species project. The open space we targeted was key habitat for particular species, along with connectivity between some of the already preserved areas. So there was a little bit of method to the madness.

“It’s why there’s still a lot of support from the conservation community, and, I believe, the community at large,” Campbell says. “We’ve had the best available science behind the plan, and not politics. But what is different now is that we have the political will among citizens. Before, it was like beating our heads against the wall.”

Gayle Hartmann has also been in the trenches for eons, including a stint on the Pima County Planning and Zoning Commission. She now heads Save the Scenic Santa Ritas, a group fighting the proposed Rosemont mine. Hartmann heralds the addition of Sharon Bronson and Ray Carroll to the Pima County Board of Supervisors. Bronson was elected to the board in 1996, representing District 3; Carroll was appointed to represent District 4 a year later, and formally elected in 1998. Finally, says Hartmann, “there was a majority on the board that was really interested in conservation.”

Both supervisors championed open-space preservation, and Carroll has fought the proposed Rosemont mine with a notable vengeance. In 2007, he garnered the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Outstanding Achievement award.

Equally notable is a shift among Green Valley constituents in District 4 who support him. “Twenty years ago, Green Valley was always against any type of open space,” says Hartmann, “and that’s completely changed. I don’t know if it’s because there are more people there, or if the people there are somewhat different. But his district–although they may be politically conservative in some ways–now seems very concerned about environmental issues.”

That concern has been critical in efforts to limit Santa Cruz Valley growth, including the vastly scaled-down Canoa Ranch development. Many Green Valley dwellers have also been bare-knuckle opponents of the Augusta mine.

Another positive change, says Hartmann, “is that we don’t have quite as nasty a war between the pro-growth and no-growth sides. To some degree, I guess the pro-growthers won. But at the same time, I think there’s a much better understanding of the need to do preservation and see that we have enough water.”

Roger Featherstone, a longtime anti-mining activist, has likewise been in the fray for years. Today, he relishes the heat generated against Canadian-owned Augusta Resource Corp., the mining company hoping to gut Rosemont Valley. He’s also guardedly cheered about legislation sifting through Congress to reform the despised 1872 Mining Act. This antiquated law gives mining companies such as Augusta near carte blanche in laying claim to public lands.

“Tucson has become a lot more conservation-minded in the last 20 years,” Featherstone says, “and I think that really shows in the Rosemont fight. You now have to look long and hard to find anybody who’s in favor of that mine.

“People understand,” he says, “that Tucson has different values now when it comes to raping and pillaging the land than they did 20 years ago.”

Despite that positive shift, says Featherstone, conservationists now face an unexpected foe: themselves. “Twenty-five years ago, when we were all here fighting, we worked really hard, and we had some successes and some real disappointments. But the pace wasn’t nearly so frenetic. We had time to sit on a porch at night with buddies and drink beer.

“But now we’ve really gotten into this ‘Alice in Wonderland’ syndrome, where we’re running twice as fast, and we’re still falling behind. I think the conservation community has to take a serious look at the fact that they’re working twice as hard and getting a lot less done–with a lot more stress and a lot more unhappiness.

“If I could start a new environmental trend,” he half-chuckles, “it would be modeled on the slow-food movement.”

So does long and languid dining offer any tantalizing hints for Tucson’s environmental future? We’ll pop a beer, gnaw a few pretzels and get back to you on that in about 25 years.

26th February
2009
written by madge

When revenues aren’t coming in you have to cut expenses. Sound pretty basic right? Well according to a recent editorial in the Tucson Citizen  “City leaders should contemplate other creative alternatives as well to save money without eliminating jobs.”  In other words, instead of cutting expenses let’s look at raising income – click HERE for tax increases you should start planning for.

A look at lay offs around the state:

Oro Valley Cutting Jobs To Balance Budget – HERE

Paradise Valley Laying Off Workers – HERE
Phoenix Looking For 1000 Lay Offs – HERE
State of Arizona Lay Offs – HERE
Flagstaff -
Chandler - HERE
Tempe – HERE
Mesa – HERE
Bullhead – HERE
Phoenixis expected to lay off 1,200 people next month, Fischbach said. And Tempe, Chandler, Mesa, Bullhead City and Flagstaff have already been through series of layoffs. 
An editorial from the Tucson Citizen. Of course from an editorial staff that will be looking for a job come March 21st.
February 25, 2009, 4:28 p.m.

Normally we would not applaud Tucson City Council members for delaying decisive action, but their hesitancy to lay off workers in this economy is commendable.

Yes, the financial forecast is grim and the city budget situation is dire.

Yes, difficult decisions must be made.

And yes, perhaps City Manager Mike Hein’s recommended 30 or so layoffs would result in more city “efficiency,” as he says.

But as we at the Tucson Citizen know all too well, losing a job in this economy is an especially terrible fate.

Every layoff sends ripple effects through the local economy – and those effects hit city government, too.

So the council members are wise to continue their work on other options, such as 12-day furloughs.

City leaders should contemplate other creative alternatives as well to save money without eliminating jobs.

Employees should be offered unpaid, voluntary sabbaticals, with their jobs reserved for them until they return.

Also, most workers undoubtedly would prefer to accept a sizable pay cut on a temporary basis rather than lose their jobs permanently.

Or, some portion of employee salaries could be deferred for a year while the economy recovers (let’s hope).

And if some employees’ jobs in the development arena no longer are needed, as Hein reports, then the city should try to devise a way to transfer those workers to other vacant positions.

In that way, when the construction industry picks up again – and it will – the city will not have to hire and train new employees to perform permitting and other development-related functions.

Councilwoman Karin Uhlich recently told the Citizen, “Obviously I’m concerned about the high-quality staff we have throughout the Planning Department and making sure we don’t lose the benefit of their guidance in any way.”

The federal stimulus bill also “could fill in some of these blanks,” Councilwoman Nina Trasoff recently noted. “It’d be fabulous if it does. The city has done a good job of poising itself with shovel-ready projects if it does.

“I hate to see anybody lose a job.”

So do we. Director Fred Gray’s ideas to reduce services in the Parks & Recreation Department would preserve full-time jobs but eliminate part-time ones.

He would cut the summer swimming season by three weeks, close three pools, reduce adult sports leagues by half and eliminate up to 40 leisure classes.

We urge the council to continue carefully calculating its strategies. If the federal infusion of funds can eliminate the need for layoffs, we hope the money will be used in that regard.

26th February
2009
written by Mike

We hit 1 million population and that puts us on the radar of a number of national retailers, home builders and other enterprises. That should be good thing, right?

I’ve had over a half dozen conversations with business owners or representatives of large chains that  swear to never do another deal in Tucson or Pima County again.  These are conversations over lunch and usually don’t take much prodding to get the business to open up. Most of these stories will never make the newspaper because now that the issues are over most owners chose to not dwell on the past or are afraid of some sort of repurcushion for becoming a whistle blower. Either way it’s typically easier to keep quite than to run to the media. A few have contacted the local media as a last result, click HERE for a detailed account of one small businesses nightmare when he took on city hall. 

Without permission to divulge names and details here are a few of the stories;

– First a conversation I had last night with a high volume national food chain that opened locations in Tucson. They took over another restaurant and had the pleasure to go through the development services process at the City of Tucson.  This chain has 1500 locations nation wide. The owner I spoke with has opened over 40 locations in the west.

 He stated, unequivacably that Tucson was by far the most difficult building experience of any other market.  To illustrate his point, two weeks before the grand opening they were required to add a floor sink, change out framing from wood to metal and remove all the sink fixtures and have them replaced. All the last minute changes were in the plans that were approved by the city, all had been inspected all along the process by other officials. In each case a new field inspector changed his mind or interpreted the code on the fly.

– Second is another national food chain that specializes in the happy hour ‘in the neighborhood’ concept. Their lead architect swore to never come back after the process with Pima County development services. It started with incompetent dev services reviews and escalated to way over designed sewer and plumbing plans that cost $10s of thousands more. 

– Don’t you think it’s odd that a number of the super large home builders arent’ doing business here? Maybe the environmental hurdles are more than they choose to tackle.

– Read this B.S. Alert HERE for another group, the Dallas Police and Firefighters’ Pension System that probably is regretting the day they set foot in our market.

– Westcor chief Mitch Stallard was quoted after completing the La Encantada shopping mall at Campbell and Skyline that he will ‘never do another project in Pima County’ again. Their night mare experience in building the upscale scale mall centered around neighborhood opposition to Nordstroms and the malls hours of operation. 

Unfortunately this will be an ongoing series. Stay tuned for more stories. If you have any, send them over.

Poll Results

Under which government is it easiest to open and run a small business?

Tucson 10 %
I don’t know 32 %
Pima County 7 %
Oro Valley 3 %
Marana 11 %
Sahuarita 3 %
None of the above 33 %

Total number of votes: 176

Poll results aren’t scientific. Percentages may not add up to 100 percent due to rounding.

Jim Heath Fought City Hall
Jim Heath Fought City Hall
26th February
2009
written by JHiggins

Goldwater Institute Wins Victory on Behalf of Property Owners
County lifts moratorium that stripped property rights around Luke Air Force Base
 
Phoenix–In a clear victory for property owners in Arizona, the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors today lifted a moratorium on building permits in neighborhoods surrounding Luke Air Force Base. The moratorium was the target of $20 million in legal claims filed by the Goldwater Institute on February 17 under protections provided by Prop 207, the Private Property Rights Protection Act. 

“We applaud Maricopa County’s action,” said Carrie Ann Sitren, the Goldwater Institute attorney representing the affected property owners. “By repealing the moratorium, the county has returned valuable property rights not only to the owners who rightfully demanded compensation in the past week, but to all landowners surrounding Luke.”

In 2004 the Arizona Legislature passed a law requiring Maricopa County to implement a series of building and development restrictions on land surrounding Luke Air Force Base. The county believed the law was illegal and in 2008 took the state to court to have it thrown out. Pending an outcome in that lawsuit, the county issued a moratorium on building permits in the “Clear Zone” and other areas adjacent to the base. On Feb 9, 2009, Superior Court Judge Edward Burke ruled the 2004 state statute was legal, leaving questions about whether the county would continue to enforce the moratorium. 

The moratorium caused severe reductions in property values–95 percent for vacant lots that were already zoned for housing and 50 percent for lots with single-family homes already built–and has prevented homeowners from doing simple renovations. As a result the Goldwater Institute Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation filed claims on behalf of more than 175 property owners under protections provided by Prop 207, which requires government to compensate property owners when it passes laws or rules that reduce property values.

Maricopa County issued a statement today stating, “Effective immediately, building permits can be granted if they meet all County requirements and are for uses permitted by state statute.”
The Goldwater Institute is a nonprofit public policy research and litigation organization whose work is made possible by the generosity of its supporters.

25th February
2009
written by Arizona Kid

Teams boost Valley’s status as spring training hub

Cactus League hits grand slam with Dodgers, White Sox, Indians and Reds

Not long ago, spring training in Arizona had two strikes against it.

In 2000, the state had 10 teams to Florida’s 20, and franchises talked about leaving the Arizona desert for locales such as Las Vegas.

A bid for money to prop up the league stalled in the Legislature. After some intense arm-twisting, a proposal got enough votes at the Capitol to be placed on the fall ballot for voters.Even then, prospects didn’t look good. Spring-training money was lumped together with a new stadium for the then-woeful Arizona Cardinals. Then a funny thing happened.

The frugal Cardinals opened their wallets for a sophisticated advertising blitz, which emphasized the proposal’s benefits to youth sports. Cardinals players went door to door asking for votes, and two days before the November election, the team pulled off an upset of the Washington Redskins.

Maricopa County said yes to Proposition 302 with 51 percent of voters’ support, creating a sports and tourism authority that would levy taxes to build youth fields, a football facility and baseball stadiums.

In an economic sense, Arizona had gotten something right.

This year, as the recession hammers the economy, 1.5 million fans are expected to attend Cactus League games, the numbers to be swelled by the addition of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Cleveland Indians. The Chicago White Sox moving from Tucson to join the Dodgers is also expected to boost attendance.

Games start Wednesday and run through April 2, and they are projected to pump more than $300 million into Arizona’s economy.

The league is a far cry from what it was in 2000. By next year, when the Cincinnati Reds move in from Florida, the Cactus League will be up to 15 spring-training teams, the same as the Grapefruit League. In addition to five Florida teams lured to the Valley, the White Sox this year moved from Tucson, where two teams – the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies – still play but are considering moving to metro Phoenix.

Cactus League President Robert Brinton said Prop. 302, which helped facilities only in Maricopa County, gave a vision not just for saving the league but expanding.

“It allowed us to move from defense to offense,” he said.

Brinton expects this year’s additional teams, along with a longer season because of the World Baseball Classic, to boost attendance more than 15 percent from last year’s record-setting total of 1.3 million visitors.

Not fully recession-proof, Brinton said the average per-game attendance may drop to about 6,900 from last year’s record 7,436.

 

One lawmaker’s impact

 

The recent West Valley boom can be credited to a former state lawmaker, ambitious leaders in Glendale and Goodyear, and some good old-fashioned networking on a golf course.

The architect of the sports funding measure was ex-state Sen. Scott Bundgaard, a fiscal conservative who shepherded the bill through the Legislature in spring 2000. Bundgaard was forced to use a procedural move to keep the bill alive after it initially failed in the Senate. It eventually passed that chamber and was approved in the 60-member House after six representatives changed their votes to “yes” after intense lobbying. The deciding 31st “yes” vote came when former Rep. Dan Schottel, R-Tucson, changed his vote.

“I was studying it and getting notes from everyone on the (House) floor,” said Schottel, who also was encouraged to change his vote by former Gov. Fife Symington. “I think it has been good for the state, and that is what we were concerned about.”

Bundgaard, who now lives in Peoria and works for an Internet startup, said he took plenty of heat in getting the measure passed.

“It was an election year, these were tax increases, and there was uncertainty to the economic impact,” Bundgaard said. “In hindsight, it’s wonderful to see how our community came together with a long-term vision to push something through that has been very positive.”

The public vote established the Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority, which uses hotel and car-rental taxes and taxes generated at University of Phoenix Stadium to fund the construction of Cactus League facilities in Maricopa County, the Cardinals’ new home and youth sports.

Through 2031, the authority has roughly $400 million allocated for the construction and renovation of Maricopa County spring-training stadiums. While new stadiums have lured five teams from Florida, renovations are equally as important. Upgrades are done to existing stadiums in return for teams signing long-term leases to stay in Arizona. Authority money is not used for maintenance.

Slightly more than half of the money comes from Prop 302 funds. The rest comes from the Maricopa County Stadium District, which the board of supervisors created in 1991 to help fund the Cactus League with a $2.50 surcharge on rental cars. With those funds, the county’s ballparks got upgrades, and facilities were built in Peoria and the Maryvale area of Phoenix.

Some of the surcharge has been folded into the sports and tourism authority, after the two entities agreed in 2003 to have the stadium district transfer money that wasn’t needed. Cities also contribute to the construction and renovation of stadiums.

Shortly after voters created the sports and tourism authority, work began on a new two-team stadium in Surprise. The ballpark opened in 2003 with two Grapefruit League refugees, the Texas Rangers and Kansas City Royals.

Two years later, then-Gov. Janet Napolitano formed the Arizona Baseball and Softball Commission to build on the momentum and expand the then-dozen-team Cactus League.

 

Glendale’s expertise

 

Glendale got into the spring-training business after turning an alfalfa field off Loop 101 into Jobing.com Arena, a hockey facility for the Phoenix Coyotes, in 2003, and University of Phoenix Stadium in 2006.

For years, the city had wanted to add spring training to its sports portfolio, but City Manager Ed Beasley said officials waited until they saw the right teams. With the White Sox and Dodgers, he said, Glendale assured itself of drawing big crowds.

Dealings began in 2005, when the Dodgers, who had held spring training in Vero Beach, Fla., since 1948, authorized the White Sox to shop around for an Arizona city interested in building a ballpark for the teams to share.

The White Sox had moved from Florida to Tucson in 1998 to share a facility with the then- expansion Diamondbacks. But White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf lives part time in Paradise Valley and made it known he found metro Phoenix more appealing.

Glendale, riding its other sporting successes, entered negotiations, which remained under wraps until 2006. White Sox representative John Kaites said the team considered other cities but believed Glendale had the expertise to craft a deal. Representatives also liked the proximity of the football and hockey venues about three miles north.

“They had gotten it done with the Cardinals stadium. They had gotten it done with the Coyotes arena,” Kaites said.

But by the time Glendale and the teams announced in November 2006 they had a deal, Goodyear was ahead of the curve. The fast-growing southwest Valley city already had submitted a proposal for funding from the sports and tourism authority.

Both proposals hinged on getting money from a limited pot, and it appeared the battle might pit the two West Valley communities against each other.

The authority, however, decided to dip into money from the county stadium district, and both projects were funded.

 

Goodyear’s ambition

 

The emerging community of Goodyear had tried to host spring training since the 1990s but couldn’t finance a stadium.

In 2003, it appeared the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, owned by Valley millionaire Arte Moreno, would move spring-training operations from Tempe. But the plan fell through a year later.

The possibilities of spring training had city officials hooked, and they held on to voter-approved bonding authority in hopes of enticing another team.

With that funding and money from the sports authority, Goodyear attracted two Ohio teams. But the ball only got rolling thanks to a fortuitous encounter.

On May 5, 2006, Mayor Jim Cavanaugh, who was in a charity golf tournament, started talking about baseball with an attorney in his foursome. The lawyer had previously represented Goodyear and offered to put in a call to an Ohio-based colleague who had worked for the Indians.

Within weeks, Goodyear was making a presentation to the Indians, and in September the city signed a deal with the team. The Reds followed after a connection with the Indians got Goodyear a chance to make a presentation, Cavanaugh said.

“Both teams wanted to stay in Florida. They made that clear to me,” he said. “If their cities (in Florida) had treated them differently, they wouldn’t be here.”

At a ballpark groundbreaking for the Reds in November, Chief Executive Bob Castellini said Goodyear had gone above and beyond in attracting baseball’s oldest professional team.

“Nobody cares about being treated like a big shot, but everybody wants to feel like they’re wanted,” Castellini said. “And we truly feel like we’re wanted out here.”

 

Future catches?

 

Arizona communities continue to seek ways to land spring-training tenants, although future growth remains uncertain.

The only team in Florida on a year-to-year lease is Baltimore, and Florida has invested $150 million in matching funds since 2001 to keep teams from leaving.

If other Grapefruit League teams migrate west, they won’t be able to rely on the sports authority for a new stadium.

Charles Foley, the authority’s chief financial officer, said all but $3.8 million of the roughly $400 million for Cactus League projects in Maricopa County is earmarked through 2031, when the funding ends.

Yet other options remain.

The Gila River Indian Community has considered building a ballpark, as has Casa Grande in Pinal County. Pima County is seeking approval from the Legislature to ask voters to build a new stadium in southern Arizona and to renovate ballparks in Tucson that are home to the Diamondbacks and Rockies.

“In 2000, we risked losing the Cactus League. Now Arizona is the dominant force in spring training,” said Joe Yuhas, a political consultant who ran the Prop. 302 campaign. “I don’t think the growth of the Cactus League is over. I think we can continue to grow if we have the resources available.”

 

Reach the reporter at craig.harris@arizonarepublic.com.

25th February
2009
written by Arizona Kid

Here’s my prediction – Rental tax -YES, the council will think they are taxing big bad landlords but in reality it’s renters that will pay. Trash Increase – NO Uhlich and Trasoff ran on eliminating the trash fee so don’t expect this political football to go anywhere in an election year. Bed Tax – YES, easy target because it only hits out of towners. It is kind of biting the hand that feeds you. The MTCV is collecting $9m as it is. Any discussion on how they are spending their funds? Bus Fare – YES, it needs to happen. We are way out of line with other communities. We don’t have the political leadership or will to make this tough decision so the RTA will take over Sun Tran and promptly raise fares. Utility Tax – who knows – No telling how this council will go on this one. It hits everyone so the impact on low to middle class families will be noticeable.  The memo forgot to mention an Ad Tax – look for that one coming soon. Low Income Housing Trust Fund – watch this one closely. It’s a classic take from the rich and give to the poor. All it will do is increase the prices of housing and drive investors out of city limits. We’ll probably see increases in sign permit renewals, building permits etc. Development Services will need to recoup as much as they can.  Water Fees - YES – we went up 8.9% last year, expect another 10% or so this year. Sewer Fees - YES. Anyone notice your TEP bills have a new tiered pricing structure. Higher users pay more – keep an eye on that on because it can be a big escalator. Wonder who this will hit the hardest?  What you are witnessing is nickle and diming an entire class of people and business right out of a community.

We are starting to hear of lay offs finally today, with over 5600 employees at the City cutting 12 here or 30 there is a drop in the bucket.  – fromt the Star – HERE.

City ponders new taxes, boost in fees to balance budget

February 23, 2009, 6:26 p.m.

CARLI BROSSEAU
Tucson Citizen

Higher parks and recreation fees, higher bus fares, taxes on rental properties and gem show vendors buying temporary licenses are among the “revenue enhancements” Tucson officials have proposed in a report sent to the city manager Feb. 4.

The report, obtained by the Tucson Citizen through a public records request, examined ways the city can increase its tax and fee collections to cover its costs. It suggested that most fees be hitched to an index or cost-recovery formula to avoid financial handwringing whenever there is an economic downturn.

“Without intermittent fee increases, or a mechanism for incremental increases, the city will continue to find itself in situations during economic downturns when it is forced to cut entire services and programs,” the report states.

The report was written by the city’s Revenue Enhancement Team, which consists of staffers from the finance, transportation, legal and internal auditing departments.

The panel suggests returning to the city’s 1996 user-fee policy, which sets a percentage of the cost of a service that must be paid by the fee.

Seemingly small changes could mean significant revenue for the city, which is looking to save another $30 million next fiscal year (which starts July 1) to match expected revenues. Any new or reinstated taxes would likely take effect in July.

The City Council is scheduled to discuss City Manager Mike Hein’s proposals for closing the $30 million gap at its meeting Tuesday. They include $5 million in unspecified revenue enhancements.

The options on the table and the amounts they are expected to raise annually are:

•A 2 percent tax on residential rental real estate – $12 million.

• Raising residential trash and recycling fees by 4 percent – $986,000.

• A 25 percent increase in most bus fares – $1.8 million, with economy and express fares exempted. The basic fare would go from $1 to $1.25.

• Doubling the bed tax levied on hotels to $2 a night – $1.8 million.

• Utility tax increases on water, power and cable – $5 million

Officials also recommended that advertising, health spa memberships and tanning salons be taxed, that residential rental property owners be licensed and that builders be prevented from taking a cost-of-land deduction on their taxes.

City golf courses may also raise fees due to a $1.1 million bill they left the city’s general operating budget for the 2008 fiscal year, which ended June 30.

Twice in the past dozen years the City Council considered a proposal put together by a “revenue enhancement team.” Of the 10 suggestions made in 1997 and 2000, one was implemented: the much debated trash collection fee.

23rd February
2009
written by Arizona Kid

Arizona Public Schools Received $9,707 per student in 2007-08

By Matthew Ladner, Ph.D.

Arizona’s citizens have been subjected non-stop to the claim that Arizona’s public schools are desperately underfunded. The Superintendent of Public Instruction’s finance report says otherwise.

On page six of that document, you will find a figure for all revenues collected by Arizona school districts from all sources. That number is $9,232,916,095. If you divide that figure by the enrollment number for districts on page nine of the same document, you get $9,707.45 in total revenue per pupil.

For a bit of perspective, the average Arizona private school tuition in 2006 was $4,300 and the average total cost was $5,500. The same revenue per pupil calculation for Arizona charter schools is $7,800.

Some might be inclined (I’m not) to divide the revenue number by fall enrollment rather than average attendance. Doing so effectively gives credit for students that have since dropped out or moved away. Even doing the math this way, this figure is still near $9,000 per pupil.

Facing a catastrophic downturn in revenues, state lawmakers cut 3 percent from the 2009 K-12 budget. The various education associations whipped their members into a frenzy and directed them to send hate emails to legislators. I’ve been getting them myself.

If, however, you go to the JLBC website and look at the budget excel spreadsheet you’ll see a budget line for the Arizona Department of Education of $4,141,201,000 on line 135.

Even if you cut this number by 18 percent, to $3,395,784,820, it would keep state K-12 funding between where it was in 2005 and 2006. Yes there has been some inflation and enrollment growth since 2005, so tightening of belts would be necessary. Average revenue per pupil would remain well above what charter schools receive. 

Dr. Matthew Ladner is vice president for research at the Goldwater Institute.

 

 

 

 

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