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Our city government's actions involving nature are driving me nuts

I love Tucson, the city. The city of Tucson, not so much.

As the recession trickles miserably down to the local level, we obviously can't expect too much from state, county and city governments—and who ever expected much from the state of Arizona, anyway?—but there's stuff that the city does and doesn't do that's enough to drive you nuts.

Take, for example, the heaved-up sections of sidewalk along Fifth Street between Alvernon Way and Columbus Boulevard. These sidewalks were poured—flush to the curb, where pedestrians are least-safe, for some reason—just a couple of years ago. They almost instantly buckled in numerous places. Now some of the heaved sections are crumbling. The result? Where there was once flat, hard dirt, there's now rubble that pedestrians have to go around—the sidewalk itself is the obstacle. You might as well try to push a wheelchair in Kabul or Mogadishu. (OK, I'm exaggerating. But still.)

This hurts my civic pride. St. Mary's Road/Sixth Street/Fifth Street is my favorite Tucson street, along which most of my daily life, in one way or another, has taken place. As I get past Country Club Road heading east, I really start to feel comfortable, driving a human-scale road lined with pretty houses.

Then I hit the bad-sidewalk stretch, and all I can think about is the impression it must make on an out-of-towner. Tucson, the town where people are too stupid to pour concrete, and too shiftless to fix anything.

While the city can't find the money to fix sidewalks poured by someone's brother-in-law, fill vicious potholes or replace sun-bleached street signs, it has the wherewithal to regularly wipe out everything that tries to live in the raggedy midtown washes. Every summer for the last few years, a three-man city crew has showed up where Beverly Avenue crosses Arcadia wash in my neighborhood and spent a couple of days dumping tons of dirt into the wash so it can get a bulldozer in to clear brush in a section maybe 100 yards long. This is necessary, I was told by a guy taking a break, because brush in the wash can clog the underpasses and cause flooding. The dirt is to make a ramp for the bulldozer, and a flat surface for it to drive on.

I have trouble with this explanation. For one thing, the bulldozer stops where the wash gets too narrow, so the clearing must be done by hand, or not at all, further down. Surely this means that it could be done by hand in the accessible section as well, but that, rather than do the work themselves—or send in a crew of minimum-security prisoners or high school kids to clear by hand—these guys simply prefer to drive around in heavy machinery, making like the mining crew in Avatar.

Also, mightn't dumping hundreds of cubic yards of loose soil into the path of storm water contribute more to destructive flooding?

My strongest objection to the city's method, however, is not the waste of money, diesel or topsoil (which has almost washed away in the months since), or even the hellish noise. My problem is that they dump all that dirt and then drive around on it for a couple of days where there used to be a thriving spadefoot toad population. And they do it exactly during breeding season. The crew came last July just when the tadpoles were the size of tiny peas—I'd been watching the pools. They were all wiped out in one morning. I felt like throwing up when I saw the bulldozer down in there.

Every year, the nighttime monsoon chorus gets thinner. Some of the toads' struggle, I'm sure, is due to the drought—the rains last summer hardly would have given them enough puddle-time to breed successfully—but being smothered and then crushed year after year can't be helping.

I've been reading recently about a worldwide urban movement called daylighting, uncovering watercourses buried under cities and restoring the original plant and animal life for city people to enjoy. And I've heard that the city of Tucson plans a linear park along Arcadia wash and that the wash itself is slated for restoration, no doubt with the help of much, much heavy equipment.

In the meantime, the city might want to show a little mercy to the remnant of nature that's left.

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