The folks who fought the city of Tucson for access to public records as part of an effort to prevent the sale of the El Rio Golf Court to Grand Canyon University are having a community forum on Sunday, Oct. 20, from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Woods Library, 3455 N. First Ave., just south of Prince.
From a letter that went out today from forum organizers:
Our purpose is to share with the community what we have found (so far) with our lawsuit, public records request, to hear from others who have had similar issues with the City, and to try to forge a united way forward in order to protect the public interest in the face of a large and powerfully deceitful bureaucracy and political structure that conducts business behind closed Executive Sessions, and through shadowy public/private partnerships like T.R.E.O. and the Downtown Partnership. We have invited representatives to speak from groups such as the West University Neighborhood Association, the Neighborhood Infill Coalition, Broadway Corridor, and others.
Last May, in response to an attempt by a majority of members of the Tucson City Council to sell the publicly-owned Trini Alvarez El Rio Golf Course, a diverse group of people organized to prevent this sale to a private, for-profit entity that would have replaced over 100 acres of valuable urban green space with large concrete and steel structures for what is ostensibly an on-line diploma “educational” institution.
Calling ourselves the “El Rio Coalition II” (in deference to the grass-roots movement in the early 1970s which successfully forced the City to create Joaquin Murrieta Park and the El Rio Neighborhood Center, while maintaining the golf course,) we reached out to a number of inner-city neighborhood associations and various social activist and environmental organizations for help in our struggle to preserve our publicly used and personally treasured green space. Many people lent their support, and encouraged us to continue to “fight city hall.” Even when the Mayor and Council voted 5-2 to move forward with the negotiations that could have led to the loss of the golf course, we stood strong and united and the City officials indicated they would acquiesce to community demands to drop the plan (without acknowledging it was a bad idea to begin with). Soon after, the private entity—Grand Canyon University—found another site for its campus.
Some who were not part of the El Rio Coalition assumed that our battle was then over, that we had won, that there was no further need to engage in a continued fight with the City. But there were too many unanswered questions about the proposed El Rio deal for us to just declare victory and go home. Questions such as:
Why was the City even considering giving up this particular valuable and well-used piece of property? Were other public parks considered for sale as well? When did the Mayor and Council publicly approve such a policy?
Who was G.C.U. and why did they want over 100 acres of public land for their program, rather than pursuing acquisition of private land? What, exactly, were they looking for and why did the City feel that El Rio could provide them what they needed?
Who initially proposed this deal, and for whose benefit? What were the specifics? What analysis was done in terms of an appraisal of the site and how would the sale benefit the people of Tucson?
What are the real profit and losses of the municipal golf program, and why was only El Rio being singled out? Why was council member Romero telling us that she was trying to save El Rio while voting to sell it? Tucson Regional Economic Organization (T.R.E.O.) was heavily involved in the El Rio-GCU matter. What role did Mayor Rothschild play, as a Board member of T.R.E.O., in the sale?
And finally, why was the City refusing to answer our questions or to make available to the public documents that the public by law has a right to review and obtain?
The last issue listed—the lack of transparency and the refusal to provide documents that the City is legally obligated to make available to the public—forced us to sue the City for the documents. The judge ruled in our favor and directed the City to release all the documents/ However, to this day the City has continued to refuse to provide the public records that have been requested. The City has allowed some documents to trickle out, and just what we have been allowed to see has been shocking. Not only was the proposed destruction of El Rio a bad idea in terms of the damage it would have done to the surrounding residents, but from a business sense it became painfully obvious that if the Council had not been forced to retreat they would have been responsible for a massive rip-off of our public resources—in the range of tens of millions of dollars.
Other revelations included the fact that the City directed the appraisers to determine El Rio’s worth based on a falsehood: that the golf course—which contains hundreds of trees, grass, ponds; which supports diverse wildlife and birdlife; has water, electric, telephone, and sewer lines, and buildings—should be appraised as a “vacant, unimproved lot!” We also found out that the City was planning to propose a “renters tax” on any new dorms constructed on the site, a new tax that the Council has never publicly voted on but which was going to be secretly imposed.
When about a dozen of us met with the Mayor and his staff, he assured us that the golf course was no longer on the auction block, so we asked him to rescinded the vote to sell the property. This has not been done. We then watched with consternation as this Mayor and Council betrayed their promises to the community to preserve the Ronstadt Transit Center—they are now “exploring options” for its use as more retail development. So we remain very concerned about how the city does its business and how they continue to deceive the public.
We know that the only way to stop the City from making more back-room deals is to shed light on the problem. And in that regard, we are inviting you to our first public forum.
With warmest regards,
El Rio Coalition II<