Posts Tagged ‘Romero’
Three events surrounding Rio Nuevo downtown redevelopment have occurred in the last month: the Tucson City Council rightly ended plans to build a convention center hotel, the state Auditor General released an audit of Rio Nuevo’s funds, and we did our first Rio Nuevo “Reality Tour.” As each event unfolded, there was an outcry from a portion of the downtown community. The common line in each was: “Let’s turn the page and concentrate on the future.”
In some cases, letting go of yesterday is a healthy step in the healing process. In this case, $230 million is missing with little to show for it. There needs to be an explanation to the individual and business taxpayers of the city and the State of Arizona.
Here are some things that need explanations: Print this story
• Are people who were complicit in the massive failure of Rio Nuevo still in positions of authority?
• How could the city make wholesale transfers of millions of dollars of assets with little more than a footnote in a financial statement?
• When will taxpayers get an explanation about every single dime that was spent?
There are “ghosts” of Rio Nuevo past. Most have departed the city bureaucracy. The cast of characters who deserve most of the responsibility for the fiasco that is Rio Nuevo include:
Former City Manager Mike Hein is back at Pima County working at the pleasure of County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry. There was Hein’s right-hand man and in charge
of the early hotel projects, Jaret Barr. There was the early quarterback Assistant City Manager Karen Thoreson and project manager John Updike. Sprinkle in Greg Shelko — at $100 per hour — and former city managers Luis Gutierrez and Jim Keene, and you have the makings of too many government officials with too little private sector experience controlling a huge checkbook.
The financial audit spelled out the inability of the original four-member city-appointed Rio Nuevo board to manage and control the purse strings. The district was supposed to be autonomous and the board was to act as the gatekeeper of the tax revenues. The original board included former county Supervisor Dan Eckstom, bed-and-breakfast owner Jeff DiGregorio, Anne Marie Russell, director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, and former state Sen. Victor Soltero.
The chosen few
These are the myriad of consultants, engineers and planners who reaped huge fees for designs that were never used on projects that were never built, like commissioning an out-of-state company to make an $820,000 movie to be played in a museum that never got built. There were countless insider developers and campaign donors who were beneficiaries of $1 rents, free land and prime redevelopment tracks because they hired the right consultants or attorneys with the relationships. At least this is changing and the light is being shown on these backroom deals thanks to Councilman Steve Kozachik, investigative reporting and talk radio.
Three of Rio Nuevo’s “superstars” are gone from the City Council: Jose Ibarra, Steve Leal and Nina Trasoff. Councilwoman Shirley Scott and Mayor Bob Walkup still bear responsibility because they’ve been there from the beginning. Walkup, the chief cheerleader for the hotel and light rail, has burned all his political capital and now needs to begin planning his second retirement.
Councilwoman Karin Uhlich added to the fiasco when she pushed for low-income housing projects that have taken an inordinate amount of attention at Rio Nuevo. Scott, Uhlich, Walkup and Councilwoman Regina Romero all were responsible for green lighting an $80 million bond sale at the worst possible time to sell bonds, and for spending it on museum designs, orange griffen statutes, and an over-priced parking garage. They can also take credit for $18 million to plan a hotel that never made sense.
After researching and leading a tour for 40 people a few weeks ago, we came to a realization that the taxpayer was not only robbed by this Rio Nuevo debacle, but punched in the mouth by the city.
The lines between what were Rio Nuevo assets and City of Tucson assets have been so blurred they’ll be hard to untangle. We’ve identified over $44 million that have shifted balance sheets and will probably involve lawsuits to sort out. There is a $14 million parking garage and $30 million spent on the west side.
And just before the state installed a new Rio Nuevo oversight board, the city removed $30 million of assets from Rio Nuevo. Coincidence?
People who were compliant in the fiasco now must face the consequences. These are the first steps the city must take to regain the trust of taxpayers and the Legislature.
We’ll be willing to turn the page on Rio Nuevo when the city is open and transparent — two concepts that have been lacking in the project so far.
Copyright © 2010 Inside Tucson Business
From today’s Citizen – HERE
Uhlich, who made the motion to dismiss Hein, said Tuesday evening that the decision to fire Hein would not have a substantial effect on the city’s wrangling with precipitous drops in revenue or its struggle to maintain the Rio Nuevo sales tax stream the state Legislature has threatened to sever. “The city certainly doesn’t ride on the rise or fall of one person,” she said.
Romero provided similar assurances, referring to the city as “a well-oiled machine” staffed with top-notch department leaders.
She cited concerns about transparency. “I think Tucson deserves better,” Romero said.
The vote left Hein’s three council supporters fuming.
“I think it was one of the most patently shortsighted and ill-conceived decisions they could have made,” Trasoff said of her colleagues.
Glassman said, “I supported the city manager based on his work performance and the importance of consistency and focus on taking care of our neighbors during these troubled economic times.”
Mayor tells it like it is, pushes job creation
I have finally come to the conclusion that the Mayor, City Council and local papers just don’t care what happens to greater Tucson. After listening to the drivel that Walkup spewed at the State of the City Address, I came to the realization that most of those in elected positions are just phoning it in. Either that or they are too inexperienced to make smart choices (Romero), too driven by political ambition (Glassman), or they simply have not been affected the way the rest of Tucson has (the papers). All of them see things from a liberal standpoint. Even Walkup during his address sounded more like a second-rate John Edwards than a quasi-conservative like John McCain. The latest attempt to show progress downtown and Rio Nuevo apparently all hinges on a new streetcar. Yes, a streetcar that will take people through four miles of downtown to visit all that downtown doesn’t have to offer. We found the below video last year.
Thanks to friend of the show Glenn who added the Never Ending Parade of Stupid soundtrack. At the time we thought this was just someone’s lame vision of what Tucson could be. Sadly without any leadership to tackle the major problems with the downtown area of Tucson like crime, homeless, lack of business, tourism etc.. this streetcar would end up being nothing but transportation for the few people who are brave enough to venture downtown and the homeless. It turns out this video was created as part of a showcase to show what will happen to downtown Tucson. I was shocked to see it shown in the middle of the Mayors speech. Then I was saddened at the realization that its all a big smoke and mirrors fantasy. The Tucson government is so scared they will lose their funding that they are putting the cart before the horse for so many projects. So now along with the Trolley we have the “Streetcar named Disaster” as part of our Never Ending Parade of Stupid. It would seem the Parade is quickly turning into a train!
Yesterday, I had the opportunity to have a front row seat at the problem facing the City of Tucson. Along with 150+ supporters, I attended the Mayor and Council study session on a proposal to waiving impact fees. Under the plan new commercial and residential construction projects would be waived in city limits for one year. The goal of the proposal is to take a small step to get people back to work and get the local economy moving again.
The entire circus focused around who proposed the idea, how the idea was proposed (in the media) and how it needed to go through the meat grinder of a community panel before it could merit consideration.
Glassman had a fully orchestrated event starting with a good old fashioned construction worker rally out front. Inside the saga got even better, speakers from the city departments and industry were paraded up to explain the budget effects of waived impact fees on the general fund.
The drama started with a few protesters out front with their own signs calling for ‘Casas Por La Pobre’ – and ‘Don’t Waive Impact Fees’. The events carried into the chambers with a handful of ‘tax the rich to give low income housing options to the poor’ activist to remind the council members how they got elected and that if they wish to get reelected they had better squash this idea. The remaining Council members gave the activists all the sweet buzz words that they could handle.
When the other council members got their chance to speak each one of them proceeded to dress down Glassman for breaking the code. The code is ‘play nice and get things done, deviate from the herd and we’ll eat you!’
This proposal to waive impact fees was clearly a departure from the norm. It was one council members nod to the business community, we’ve been asking for support and one person listened. The idea was admittedly brought to the council by the growth industry (SAHBA apparently gave the idea to all the council members, Glassman ran with it), but it was an idea that has merit.
Romero called for a panel made up of Chicanos Por La Causa, Habitat For Humanity, Casa Maria (the soup kitchen for the homeless), Sonoran Institute (environmental lobby), a historic neighborhood representative, low income housing representatives, city staff and anyone else that may oppose anything remotely related to the big bad growth lobby. I guess the Council hasn’t put the pieces together to realize that the workers that supposedly will start bringing home a pay check are the people that live and raise families in the City of Tucson. Those pay checks allow families to buy homes and the cycle continues.
Scott called for a affordable housing trust fund that developers would pay into to build housing for the poor. Her other option was to mandate a set aside from each housing development for low income housing. Sounds strangely close to the County mandating developers buy open space miles away from their projects to get the zoning they are looking for. We will all end up paying for these quid pro quo deals in increased housing prices and less inner city development taking place.
Right or wrong this community lives and dies with the growth industry. Unless or until we diversify our economic base we will be dependent on people moving in and buying new houses. The idea to waive impact fees was not the end all to be all. It would have an economic incentive to get things moving but more importantly it would send a message to the citizens that our leaders are trying something. Now more than ever the message need to come back that ‘we feel your pain and want to help.’
Glassman took and idea and ran with it. There were holes in the program but as our new president said on Monday,
“The plan is not perfect,” the president told reporters. “No plan is. I can’t tell you for sure that everything in this plan will work exactly as we hope, but I can tell you with complete confidence that a failure to act will only deepen this crisis as well as the pain felt by millions of Americans.”
What this council needs now more than ever is a leader. A member who is willing to step outside the pack and shake things up. This ‘go along to get along’ mentality from the group continues to hurt the City of Tucson. We are loosing opportunities, jobs and creating a permanent lower class. It’s a good learning experience for Glassman. Let’s see if these events bring him back into line or if he steps up for what is best for the community as a whole, not just a vocal minority.
February 11, 2009, 12:27 a.m.CARLI BROSSEAU
After a protest, a counterprotest and an emotional volley of political barbs, the City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to form a committee to study local economic stimulus strategies.
The debate was ignited a week ago when Councilman Rodney Glassman put forward a proposal to suspend most fees levied on developers to cover the infrastructure costs of growth, commonly known as impact fees.
The idea, he said, was to create jobs and jump-start the ailing economy.
Glassman submitted letters of support from builders and environmentalists, about 150 of whom rallied for the proposal in the hour before Tuesday’s study session.
But the proposal was sidestepped by Glassman’s colleagues who were angry, saying he took credit for an idea other ward offices were exploring and put a divisive debate center stage.
Councilwoman Regina Romero called the proposal a “political gimmick” that forced a “win-lose situation” in which developers benefited at the cost of affordable housing and neighborhood goals.
Councilwoman Nina Trasoff described Glassman’s presentation as misleading, saying that his “lawyerly asking of questions” led to “half truths.”
Councilwoman Shirley Scott presented the compromise task force plan that outlined a dozen groups to participate and set a 30-day time frame.
The task force will consider proposals to delay or suspend impact fees and to allocate some developer fees to affordable housing or mandate that developers build affordable housing into plans. It is also free to weigh other options.
The group’s discussions will be coordinated by the Metropolitan-Pima Alliance, whose members are largely in the building industry.
Among the proposed task force participants are the Southern Arizona Home Builders Association, Tucson Association of Realtors, Habitat for Humanity, Sustainable Tucson, the local plumbers and pipefitters union, the Neighborhood Infill Coalition and a historic neighborhood representative.
Also at Tuesday’s study session, the council announced plans to buy part of the West Side hiking mecca Tumamoc Hill and to accept liability for an old landfill there. The decision was key in years-long wrangling between the city and Pima County aimed at designating the hill as open space.
In another announcement, the council appointed Deputy Finance Director Silvia Amparano to be interim finance director. The former director, Frank Abeyta, resigned two weeks ago after holding the position for less than two months.
A decision on how to proceed with selling about a third of city’s yearly allocation of Central Arizona Project water was delayed until next week.
In an ongoing series to spell out exactly how unfair and hard it is to get anything done in our region. I am going dig deep into specific projects and let the reader be the judge. Since the Painted Hills project is back on the Board of Supervisor’s agenda for review this week we thought we’d update the readers on the challenge the project has been. Read yesterday’s Star’s article – HERE.
A little history on Painted Hills. Picture a tract of land, with beautiful saguaros and pristine desert that took 1000’s of years to create (never mind that virtually the entirety of Pima County was once such pristine desert). The property totals 283 acres on Tucson’s west side which would turn in to 260 high end homes. The project is owned by the TDB Tucson Group who represents the Dallas Police and Firefighters’ Pension System and is being developed by LandBaron a Las Vegas firm. Lots of big dollars and professional firms involved.
Here is were it starts to get interesting. Apparently Pima County identified the land as part of it’s open space purchases from voter approved bond money. At one point there was an offer to purchase the property for $4.25 million. The ultimate sale price came in at $27 million well beyond the County’s budget.
The new land owner went through the motions to turn the property into a CLUSTER DEVELOPMENT which is a way to encourage higher density infill. By becoming a cluster development the developer agreed to the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan requirements and set aside over 200 acres of the total of 283 for open space. The cluster development requires that housing be grouped in clusters on the development instead of checker boarded around the site. Tough mistake but a mistake none the less. From The Weekly:
Officials from Pima County Development Services say cluster subdivisions allow high-density development on small parcels of land without compromising more open space. Critics use Painted Hills as an example to show that they can also offer a loophole to developers: Cluster subdivisions like Painted Hills effectively create a de facto rezoning with less scrutiny while ignoring the guidelines in the county’s Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan.
Let me see if I understand, buyer buys the land, understands the rules BEFORE buying the land, buyer goes to work on turning their investment into a profit. Enter the neighbors, a couple of which happen to be none other than Chuck Huckleberry, the Pima County Administrator and Carolyn Campbell from the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection. (learn more HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE). Probably two of the most powerful environmental leaders in Tucson just happen to be your new neighbors. NIMBY starts taking on a whole new meaning.
Neighbors file suit to block the development. Board of Supervisors take another look at the cluster development problem and fix the loop hole. The Board seeks legal advice about RETROACTIVLY applying the fixed ordinance to the Painted Hills development.
Silvyn (attorny for LandBaron) warned the county that applying cluster revisions retroactively is “unconstitutional,” because the development has completed its county review process.
What’s a little unconstitutionality among friends.
The Tucson Weekly ran a feature profiling the Friends of Painted Hills discussion.
I’m not taking a position on what, if or how this property does or does not ever get developed. Leave it as open space, turn it into apartments, section 8 housing you name it I really don’t have a horse in the race so I don’t particularly care.
Here is where I have a major issue; how on earth can a government entity so blatantly disregard private property rights. Unless I missed something we do live in America. Pima County could have cowboyed up and purchased the property but didn’t. The group that did buy the land did their due diligence and knew exactly what they were getting into. The rules were posted and the developer followed them to the ‘T’. In return they’ve received nothing but grief. I can bet you that the buyer, Dallas Police and Fire Pension Fund are cursing the day they ever set foot in Tucson.
As of the April 17th, 2008 publishing of the Weekly article the legal opinion on if the retroactive application of the ordinance fix is waiting a ruling. But why stop there, let’s hit the project with everything we got. Oct 21, 2008 the Star ran an article about the City of Tucson, denying water hook up to four new developments located outside of Tucson city limits, you guessed it Painted Hills is one of them.
Of the four projects at stake, Painted Hills is the most controversial…..In its legal claim filed Oct. 8 at City Hall, Painted Hills developer TDB Tucson Group said city officials ignored three requests for comment on water service when Pima County officials were reviewing the developer’s application for approval of its subdivision layout. ….Tucson Water lines already exist along West Speedway and Anklam roads next to the Painted Hills property, and Tucson Water already serves properties on three sides of this parcel, Iurino wrote. The letter quoted a 2007 memo from Assistant City Attorney Chris Avery saying the city cannot arbitrarily refuse to provide water to “infill” development within an existing service area.“We’re not really protesting anything. All we’re doing is saying this is one of those situations where city has a clear obligation to serve,” said Keri Silvyn, another attorney for the developer.The city’s stance was welcomed by neighbors who have fought the Painted Hills project.“I think that the City Council and mayor understand the value of the natural environment, that it is an irreplaceable asset to the character of life and quality of life and are supporting (a) clear mandate voters made by approving bonds to buy that land,” said Lissa Gibbs, a neighboring resident.Ward 1 Councilwoman Regina Romero. “It’s not about Painted Hills — it’s about the future and planning of all our development.”
It goes something like this;
1. Elected representatives approve a zoning plan for up zoning on a piece of property. Usually the lots are zoned for 3 acres to 25 acres or restricted to agriculture or churches. The developer often buys the land contingent on these zoning changes. With the vote from the elected officials in hand the transaction is completed.
2. Environmental activists learn about the impact of the development on the SDCP or on the habitat of a pygmy owl or the (insert plant or animal name here – try the Gila Chub, Tucson shovel-nosed snake, the Pima Pinaple Cactus, Southwest Willow Flycatcher or whatever). Their efforts go into full court press.
3. The Enviro’s drum up support from the adjacent neighbors. This plan includes door to door marketing to each neighbor. The goal is to stress the traffic impact of the new development or just about anything that will stoke the fires of the NIMBY crowd. Petitions are signed, special elections are demanded, court actions are started. The Enviro’s use some or all of these efforts to over rule the original zoning or council approved vote.
4. The cycle goes on costing the developer untold dollars and more importantly TIME. The Enviro’s are organized, they know the rules and they pull every legal lever they can. Usually the cost of legal engagement is minimal because the federal species acts are set up force the government to do the heavy lifting. Whether it’s getting federal designation of the Santa Cruz as navigable, or forcing a mining company to go through the federal process to cross a small wash leading to their quarry, the Enviro’s use the laws and our taxpayer funded court system to do their work.
5. If the petition process isn’t the best fit, the Enviro’s can pit one jurisdiction against another. You see that in State Land Department wedged between Pima County and Oro Valley, or the developer in Sahuarita that was being played between the county and the Town of Sahaurita. Using political leverage with the help of an Enviro friendly jurisdiction against one another is common place. These power player jurisdictions use future annexation of land as a tool to get municipalities into line. (Oro Valley and Marana recently adopted the SDCP.)
6. Building in requirements to all developments are another tactic. Enviro’s have successfully built in requirements for future developments to include; native plant preservation, rain water harvesting, water shed and rainwater retention basins, 100 year assured water supplies just to name a few. Some of these new development design specifications are useful and important. Many are simply pandering to a special interest and down right ridiculous. All of these added requirements cost money. Guess who ultimately pays the price for these extra steps? The developer? Absolutely not, the cost gets passed directly to you and I the end consumers.
7. When all else fails and probably the Enviro’s greatest ace in the hole is there ability to count votes from elected officials. By picking, supporting, funding and working to get the elected officials in office the Enviro lobby wields tremendous influence with elected officials in towns, cities and the county.
Are you for “open space” laws forbidding building and also for “affordable housing”? Don’t be discouraged by the fact that severe building restrictions have sent housing prices sky-rocketing in community after community.
It may be impossible to have “open space” laws and “affordable housing” at the same time, but what are politicians there for, except to figure out ways to give us the impossible?
Palo Alto, California, where housing prices nearly quadrupled in one decade after severe building restrictions were imposed, also pioneered in laws mandating that each builder agree to sell a certain percentage of any new housing “below market.”
In other words, they combined “open space” laws with “affordable housing.” Who says the impossible cannot be achieved?
Of course this system can work only where just a fraction of the new housing is sold “below market.” Moreover, the market price of housing is raised so far above what it was by building restrictions that even “below market” prices for condominiums in Palo Alto can run to $300,000 or $400,000.
This is hardly “affordable housing” for people on modest incomes. Only 7 percent of Palo Alto’s police, for example, live in Palo Alto– probably older cops who bought their homes long ago.
But none of that matters politically. What matters is that people in Palo Alto can feel good about themselves, by being for both “open space” and “affordable housing.” Happy voters are what get politicians re-elected.
From Thomas Sowell of TownHall.com – Read the full post HERE.
Now the brilliant politicians that run our community demand open space, restrict infill developments in their back yards and still try to find ways to tax housing to set up an ‘affordable housing’ fund for those less fortunate. News flash, more people will need affordable housing based on policies that this community’s elected officials are enacting. What’s the definition of insanity again?
Arizona Daily Star
September 28, 2008
Many new homes in Tucson could come with a 1 percent transfer fee assessed on their sale under a proposal now being pushed by City Council members.
The idea faces strong opposition from real estate and development interests, who are being rocked by one of the worst housing markets in decades due to the mortgage industry collapse. They say the fee would take money from either the home buyer or seller, making housing less affordable.
The new fee, recommended for approval by a council subcommittee on Sept. 15, would apply to any house or condominium unit where a builder has entered into a development agreement with the city.
Money from the fee — equal to $2,000 on a $200,000 home — would go to the city’s housing trust fund, used to pay for such things as home repairs and down-payment assistance for low-income residents.
The fee for the first sale from the developer to the original buyer would be one-half percent, but it would increase to a full 1 percent for any subsequent sale in perpetuity. It would be enforced through a deed restriction attached to the home.
Development agreements are contracts between the city and a developer to do things they otherwise wouldn’t do, beyond a standard rezoning.
The agreements often are used to collaborate on parking, for pre-annexation agreements, or when the city sells public land, City Attorney Mike Rankin said. Developers and the city also make agreements to share the cost of building roads or other infrastructure.
The push for the 1 percent transfer fee by Councilwomen Regina Romero and Karin Uhlich already threatened to derail one development, a proposal to convert apartments to condominiums Downtown.
Romero and Uhlich voted on Sept. 15 in the Children, Families and Seniors Subcommittee to recommend that the full council consider the fee, which could happen as soon as late October. Councilman Rodney Glassman, the third member of the panel, was absent.
Although the idea still hadn’t been presented to the full council, on Sept. 16 Romero proposed attaching a transfer fee to a development agreement with Ross Rulney for his Flats at Julian Drew project, converting apartments into 53 condominiums in a 91-year-old Downtown building.
Romero said she wanted to talk about a “voluntary” 1 percent transfer fee, but Rulney balked, saying he didn’t want to saddle his potential residents with the fee. With Mayor Bob Walkup absent and the City Council split on what to do, the decision was put off for a week.
Romero subsequently agreed to drop the issue for Rulney’s project, which was approved unanimously by the council last week.
Since then, Uhlich and Romero have dialed back their push for the transfer fee, saying it is one item on a “menu” of options that should be considered to help fund affordable housing in Tucson.
Romero said the idea was proposed by the board of the affordable-housing trust fund after developer Jerry Dixon, of the Gadsden Co., agreed to the 1 percent transfer fee in a recent development agreement for a mixed-use development on the West Side.
“We think it’s a good idea for the council as a whole to hear about it,” Romero said.
Uhlich said she will withhold judgment on the transfer fee until it is considered by the whole council, but she said it merits consideration, especially if the city is giving concessions or incentives in the development agreement.
“It has enough validity to be considered,” Uhlich said. “I support giving it serious consideration as another tool for developers to address affordable housing with their projects.”
The transfer fee will face opposition from the Tucson Association of Realtors, said Colin Zimmerman, its director of public affairs.
“Now is not the time to stick another tax on a market that’s already shaky,” Zimmerman said.
That opinion was backed by Downtown resident Mike Sepich, a counselor who is interested in buying one of the Julian Drew block condos priced in the low to mid-$100,000s. “It’s pretty ironic to have a fee like that on the only affordable housing that’s proposed Downtown,” he said.
Zimmerman said the Realtors already support Proposition 100 on November’s ballot, which would ban a fee or tax on the sale of property by the state, counties, cities and towns.
He acknowledged that the proposition would not forbid Tucson’s new rules because the fee would be part of a deed restriction that city officials contend to be voluntary, although Zimmerman added that it’s not voluntary if you can’t get your project approved without it.
Rankin agreed that the state proposition would not prohibit the city’s transfer fee.
Corky Poster, a housing trust fund board member, said the housing fund needs a dedicated funding source to supplement the money it now gets from condo conversions and other smaller sources.
Since being created in 2006, the city’s housing trust fund has taken in $650,000 and has committed $385,000 for homeowner repairs, down-payment assistance and employer-assisted housing, said Community Services Director Emily Nottingham.
The idea behind the fee was to recapture some of the public money that helps get a project off the ground, Poster said.
“It recognizes the city contribution,” he said. “Developers think it’s a good idea because it doesn’t interfere with their first sale.”
However, Richard Studwell, a local developer who opposes the fee, said Tucson doesn’t have a track record of spending tax money wisely, given its much-criticized Rio Nuevo Downtown redevelopment effort.
“The fund … will have high administrative expenses, and it won’t accomplish anything,” Studwell said. “These are well-meaning people who can’t get it done.”
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