But what local news media have ignored in their fawning attempts to serve this powerful group of developers and big business interests during the election cycle just past is the precise reason they've been so insistent that Tucsonans drink water directly from the big ditch.
Of course, "growth" is the vague answer. But for a concise snapshot, we need look no farther than Tucson's southeast side.
The view includes the beautiful Rincon Mountains, at whose base mega-developer Don Diamond has planned a billion-dollar community on the site of the old Rocking-K Ranch. The view also includes Civano, the overly hyped "solar village," and most recently, the Houghton Road Corridor lands.
You can be forgiven if you don't know much about the Houghton Road lands. They encompass roughly 12 square miles, stretching from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base on the west almost to Rocking K on the east. Although it may sooner rather than later be home to what some estimate could be as many as 120,000 Tucsonans, this gigantic project, already underway, has hardly been mentioned in the daily press.
It's almost as if your spouse had begun to add a rumpus room and a garage to your existing home -- not to mention the additional years of payments all that would entail -- but had noted it briefly, and only in passing, while you were preoccupied with other matters.
But it gets worse, far worse:
To continue the homey metaphor, let's just say that in order to get that rumpus room and garage, your spouse has been boffing the Governor of the great State of Arizona behind your back, while a gaggle of officials have been standing around watching.
JANE DEE HULL is Arizona's current Republican governor. And while she has displayed no randy, Clintonesque foibles in her personal life, this demur, grandmotherly head of state is obviously not above turning a down-and-dirty political trick or two -- or, what the hell, three or four, maybe five -- for the state's big money johns.
These are hardly harsh words for what's gone on in Tucson and elsewhere in Arizona in recent months; an illicit presidential quickie in the pantry looks positively innocent by comparison.
Instead of checking into some seedy Box X Motel, however, Hull has apparently chosen to engage in coldly calculated acts of political prostitution behind the deceptively bland facade of the state Land Department, 1616 W. Adams, Phoenix. Perhaps she needs the money -- Hull is rumored to be considering a run for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by her newly found political nemesis John McCain.
Since the whorehouses servicing legislators long ago went out of business (admittedly, an assumption), the Land Department is quite possibly the sleaziest address in Arizona.
It's a woefully -- some critics would say "deliberately" -- understaffed agency charged with managing 9.3 million acres that once belonged to the federal government, but which became the property of Arizona taxpayers (another assumption, admittedly even more naive than the first) with statehood in 1914.
The current administration's idea of "managing" state lands is apparently based on the oh-so-Arizona method of falling to one's knees to lick and slobber over the special interests, no matter how brutal or grotesque their pants-down protrusions.
A small example is the recent attempt by environmentally minded Phoenix-area residents to save 1,300 acres of lush, saguaro-studded Sonoran Desert between the outlying suburb of Fountain Hills northeast of Scottsdale and the McDowell Mountains Regional Park farther northeast. This still-beautiful acreage had been severely abused by wildcat dumpers and off-road vehicle yahoos, as well as beer-gutted gunmen bravely blasting away at the indigenous saguaro and ocotillo.
In March, a group of volunteers removed 40 tons of litter and other waste from the land, which is "managed" by the Pimps R Us at 1616 W. Adams.
With the cooperation of like-minded environmental organizations, the volunteers built two gates where the property fronts a road. They were about to fence the whole thing in to keep the off-road morons out, but they needed a permit from state Game & Fish, and that required a hearing.
The Land Department pimps showed up at the hearing looking flush -- seems they'd been handed a wad of more than $300,000, laundered through the state Parks Department, to promote the enjoyment of off-road vehicles in Arizona. They protested the move to close the land to motorized mayhem, and Game & Fish had no choice but to go along.
This particular 1,300 acres of rapidly vanishing desert flora and fauna may belong to Arizona's future generations, but it's also the Land Department's money-making bitch, y'all.
All of which is nothing more than a teensy semen stain on one unimportant bed sheet in the vast bordello of state whose current proprietress is Jane Dee Hull.
Apparently she doesn't much concern herself with the rough trade. Hull prefers instead to perform the more important duties of the genteel madam -- namely, presenting a veneer of social responsibility, even respectability, to the public, while simultaneously overseeing the real business in the parlor. There, as in any high-class whorehouse, a parade of fat cats are being encouraged to make their selections.
Hull told the Arizona League of Cities and Towns earlier this year: "The people of the State of Arizona want open space, particularly in Pima and Maricopa County. They want recreation areas, and they want not to have houses on every square foot of land in Arizona."
Her words -- responsible and respectable -- urged progress under the Growing Smarter Act, which she herself has promoted, ostensibly as a means of putting the brakes on urban sprawl.
But even as she delivered her nice little speech to the Ladies' Tea League, her hand-picked pimps at 1616 W. Adams were apparently busy rounding up the latest crop of virgin lands for the fat cats to deflower:
Minutes of a July 15 meeting within the Land Department state:
"There are 6 parcels in which we want to have development rights vested by 8/2000. These parcels will be in the first tier." The memo goes on to list the Houghton Road parcel.
And minutes of a July 22 meeting of the same group within the Land Department state:
"RON [Ruziska, head of the Real Estate Division] HAS PROMISED TO TAKE THE WHOLE TEAM TO DINNER IF AT LEAST FOUR PARCELS [in the package that included the Houghton Road lands] ARE SOLD BY JUNE 30, 2000!!!!!!!!!!!!"
SO IF YOU think our extended prostitution riff is annoyingly unnecessary, you've failed to grasp the sheer audacity and sleaziness of what's happening in Arizona and Tucson. But how could you, when the local press has been nearly silent on the matter?
Sure, there's been a flurry of vague references to the "fast-growing Rincon Valley"; and there was one brief front-page article in The Arizona Daily Star two weeks ago, by a new reporter who explained nothing. Last Wednesday's fawning, "sprawl-is-great" Star editorial questioned nothing, and actually suggested this massive growth will be good -- for mass transit and schools! Poorly informed residents will be paying for that, as well as other infrastructure and social services that result from rapid growth, but the Star fails to mention such matters in its clumsy, half-assed cheerleading for sprawl, sprawl and more sprawl.
Oddly, the press isn't silent when it comes to child molestation; it eagerly reports the name of the latest pathetic public school pedagogue accused of fondling his pupils' privates. But let the Growth Lobby grease up to assfuck an entire community and its taxpayers, with the discreet but enthusiastic encouragement of Madame Hull and her minions, and the reporters stand eerily mute.
Perhaps they've been temporarily struck speechless by the sheer size of the thing being unzippered in plain view.
In late July, the Land Department placed an advertisement in the Phoenix Business Gazette, a minor publication with limited circulation, calling for proposals for conceptual land-use planning contracts on five large tracts of state property. Number five on the list was a 1,500-acre parcel in the Houghton Road Corridor.
A month later when the proposals came in, Diamond Ventures and TEM Corp. (owned by stucco-box king Bill Estes Jr.) were proposing to join forces in consort with others of their choosing to plan not merely the 1,500 acres originally advertised, but 7,700 acres of the Houghton Road Corridor lands.
According to Land Department files, there was no tacky competition for the prize, said to be among the choicest developable lands in Arizona. The public bidding will supposedly come later, after the property has been thoroughly readied for the hordes to come.
Although the Land Department has approved a reimbursement of $25,000 for planning the Houghton Road Project, documents indicate the Diamond consortium had estimated the costs at $445,000.
State Land Commissioner Michael Anable, 34, claims this wild discrepancy must have been due to confusion about what, precisely, the Land Department was aiming for in its RFP.
"This conceptual planning is kind of a new thing that the Legislature has created," Anable says. "A lot of people were assuming the kind of information we wanted was to the detail of a master plan. It's not. We just want some generalized information about the land, potential land use, transportation infrastructure, drainage. That kind of stuff."
Anable's case for confusion is a rather lame one, however, given that Diamond was a major contributor to the Growing Smarter Act that mandated such planning, not to mention that Diamond's people are in frequent contact with Land Department personnel.
Furthermore, the RFP advertised by the Land Department specifies a strict and detailed level of planning, to which Diamond's proposal very concisely -- and very quickly -- responded.
Which raises the question: Why were the requirements for conceptual planning changed after the advertisement was published, and by whom?
Even assuming some innocent lack of communication regarding a vast area worth potentially $200 million or more, the supposed need for developer involvement at this stage is considerably weakened when Anable says of his suddenly considerably watered-down requirements for conceptual planning:
"A lot of [the land] information exists. What we need them [the Diamond consortium] to do is pull it together and put it into a format where we can analyze the total picture."
In that case, quips one high local official, who asked to remain anonymous, why doesn't local government simply prepare a list for the state?
The odor of special interests being granted special privileges is heightened when Anable notes, "Don Diamond -- probably not Don himself, but his folks -- you know, had expressed an interest in planning the Houghton Road Area for years, that I'm aware of."
Yes, and it looks like Diamond might be very close to owning the Houghton Road lands as well, despite Anable's assurances to the contrary -- as close as that June 2000 dinner Ruziska is promising his "team."
At any rate, Anable does the only thing he can in this sleazy situation -- he blames that traditional scapegoat of dirty politicians and bad bureaucrats, the Arizona Legislature:
"If the Legislature had given me all the money I needed and time to do it, I would much rather have planned it all on our nickel. They didn't give me enough money or enough time to conceptually plan all 450,000 acres of trust lands with the measly million bucks that they gave me."
Thus does this highly placed appointee of the Governor explain why he decided to allow a developer to plan Tucson's massive future growth. (Note to the Arizona Senate: Last time we checked, Anable had yet to be officially confirmed in his job.)
No doubt there will be a free dinner for the Land Department staff if they pull off what Anable sees as an impossible task, not to mention free lapel buttons boasting that the State Trust, for which the lands are held, has reached a billion bucks. The buttons have already been printed, although the goal for this $100 million increase in the Trust is 2001.
But critics charge that in their rush to sell state trust lands at what appear to be fire-sale rates, Anable and his crew will have, in essence, given away as much as $1 billion in potential future revenue.
Land Department types counter by observing real-estate prices are relatively high these days, and it's a good time to sell.
IT'S A GOOD time to be the fat cat, too.
Even better, in fact, when Jane Dee Hull is running the establishment. It seems there's a clause in the Growing Smarter Act that allows the state to defer to the client/developer when it comes to achieving the orgasm of profit.
This clause, angry observers argue, was never meant as a free ride for the big-money boys, but as an exception for the state to invoke for special projects clearly intended for the general good -- say, sewer construction, or a community group wanting to build low-income housing. In Arizona, it seems, the road to stuccoville and sprawl is paved with what, at first glance at least, appear to be good intentions.
Under Growing Smarter then, the fat cat, after tarting up the land -- for which, despite his public bid, he's paid almost nothing other than his own costs -- sells it, presumably at a handsome profit, to someone with a viable erection.
In the case of the Houghton Road Corridor, city officials predict, we'll be seeing mostly lower- to mid-priced housing, and lots of it, erected across this vast area. Only after such a sale, from developer to builder, will the state take its cut -- the exact percentage of which is apparently a secret. Land Department officials recently denied The Weekly's request to see such contracts and related working papers on grounds of attorney/client privilege.
For the fat cat developer, though, it's a little like being allowed to party freely with the prettiest whore in the house, and getting paid for it to boot, merely because you had the foresight to don your most impressive power suit that evening.
AND MAKE NO mistake -- power, or at least the appearance of it, is what's been fueling Arizona's latest land orgy.
In the same advertisement with the Houghton Road Corridor offering, the Land Department put out an RFP (request for proposals) for 15,000 acres near the White Tank Mountains 25 miles west of Phoenix. The sole planning bidder on this empire was the Del E. Webb Corporation, which got its start during World War II by throwing up internment camps for Japanese Americans. The company later profited greatly by throwing up voluntary internment camps for the elderly rich, such as Sun City west of Phoenix and Vistoso north of Tucson.
The CEO of Del Webb, Phillip Dion, chaired Gov. Hull's election campaign and now acts as one of her closest advisors. State records indicate Del Webb donated $18,000 to Hull's gubernatorial campaign, and thousands more to state legislative campaigns. Undoubtedly just a happy little coincidence.
Happy coincidence, too, must be the fact that Steven Betts, the whip-sharp lawyer generally credited with drafting the Growing Smarter Act -- although Anable takes credit for some of it -- is also a Hull advisor who has done work for Tucson-based Diamond, among many other Arizona developers.
Diamond, of course, is a major statewide political contributor in his own right. Records indicate he spent $15,000 alone on the Growing Smarter Initiative in 1998, and he lavished thousands more on Hull and other's statewide races.
In short, Arizona Republican politicians have every reason in the world, save the long-term interests of the people, to keep these plutocrats and their henchmen happy. Is it any wonder then, that Land Department records indicate Anable has been busy studying for his real estate license during office hours these past few months?
And, of course, nobody can accuse the Don of stupidity -- an almost frightening overzealousness when it comes to making money, perhaps, but certainly not stupidity.
Like some eternal desert Sphinx, Diamond's gaze is longer than that of any state or local bureaucracy. That's because he's smart and surrounds himself with even smarter operators like Stanley Abrams and Chris Monson, both major figures in the local development scene, and both of whom show up on Land Department appointment books to discuss the Houghton Road project.
Because of that brainpower and talent, Diamond has been steadily increasing his fortunes hereabouts for an astonishing four decades.
He's evolved into one $700-million gorilla who sits anywhere he wants, and right now that would be the Houghton Road Corridor.
For years, Diamond reportedly has been telling associates and local politicos the city will grow to the south and east. Roughly a decade ago he put his money where his mouth is when he acquired the Rocking K Ranch.
Of course, Diamond being Diamond, he also found a way to put taxpayer money where his mouth is -- by selling Rocking K land immediately adjacent to Saguaro National Park East to the federal government, at what critics charged was a highly inflated price.
The Don's well-oiled publicity machine painted this move as a goodwill effort to preserve the park, rather than as a way to take back a quickly inflated buck or two. Diamond even established a non-profit foundation, the Sonoran Institute, to keep the goodwill flowing and to show what a concerned environmentalist he is at heart.
These days, however, Phoenix-area enviro types are clucking that the Institute's chief, Luther Propst, is rumored to be a tad concerned at what's about to happen to those oodles and oodles of Houghton Road acres.
Alas, Propst did not return The Weekly's call. Perhaps he's too busy with his development duties, now that the Rincon Institute is listed as an official member of the consortium planning Tucson's next vast swath of stucco and fake tile roofs.
And vast it's sure to be. At four or five houses per acre, times 7,000 acres, that's roughly 28,000 homes, with 2.5 people per home, or about 70,000 people -- a figure arrived at by using city officials' conservative guestimates for the property.
Incidentally, although it's owned by the state, all of the land involved has already been annexed by the City of Tucson.
John Jones, the city's so-called annexation czar, says it happened a decade or so ago. And the area has had two major sewer interceptor lines, one running out to the tiny community of Vail, for as long as anyone can remember. Long indeed is the Don's gaze.
As far as the Land Department's recent moves on this 12 square miles of the city, Jones says, "We were just grateful to be on their radar screen." In other words, it was nice of them to tell us what they were up to.
BUT WHY WOULD the state Land Department be trotting out all of this Houghton Road property -- as well as thousands and thousands of additional acres in other parts of the state -- now?
Simple, really. Need and greed drive both politics and prostitution. And let's get this straight once and for all: as with prostitution, what's happening here is morally wrong.
This deal, some observers say, appears to give the Diamond Ventures consortium virtually all the developable land in the City of Tucson. (Well, not all -- the city has also annexed acreage as far as four miles south of Interstate 10, but that area isn't nearly as desirable as the Houghton Road lands.) Ironically, it's occurred at a time when even the Governor admits the voters are fed up with sprawl.
An internal memo issued this past summer in the state Land Department indicates there's plenty of land immediately adjacent to Arizona's cities and towns. A 10-15 year supply of this land, the memo says, is readily available to be sold off at acceptable, even lucrative, profit levels without encouraging sprawl and leapfrog development.
And in 1997 the state Auditor General issued a report saying the Land Department is selling off public lands prematurely and too cheaply. The Auditor General's report called for beefing up the Land Department's planning capacity as a means of getting a handle on the loose practices costing the State Trust big bucks.
Yet today, despite their denials, we see the Land Department folks trotting out the White Tank lands, a leapfrog development if ever there was one, and one which is likely to further depress already depressed land prices in nearby Surprise, Arizona. And instead of 1,500 acres in Tucson, the state blithely puts 7,700 acres -- 12 square miles instead of the two originally advertised -- into play. What will that do to home values in our town? Why should the real-estate whizzes at the Land Department care, as long as their cronies are making money?
While developers, who are businessmen after all, can't be faulted for trying to make a buck, even on a gargantuan scale such as this, Gov. Hull and the state Land Department certainly can be faulted. It appears they've breached their fiduciary duty to the citizens of Tucson and Arizona at the behest of special interests.
Phoenix-area environmentalists speculate the Governor is doing a favor for her developer cronies worried about the upcoming Growth Management Initiative, which, barring dirty tricks, will undoubtedly be on the ballot a year from now. Initiative supporters say they already have more than half of the 101,762 valid signatures required for a statewide vote.
And unlike Growing Smarter -- which critics such as Molly McKasson charge is a "corruption of our democracy" and a cheap attempt to buy off voters fed up with the ugliness and expense of sprawl -- this one would have teeth. The Growth Management Initiative would require cities of more than 21,500 residents to have 10-year growth plans, which could be drafted in many different ways, but with as much public input as possible and final approval from voters. The plans would identify growth areas defined by clear boundaries, outside of which public services, as well as development, would be limited.
The initiative, if passed, would also require municipal growth plans to include a calculation for full impact fees to be charged developers. In other words, a community would be required to determine its costs for everything, including roads and schools, to ensure growth pays for itself. (Such impact fees range from roughly $10,000 to $30,000 in other western states.) Another provision would repeal the Legislature's downzoning ban, while increasing county authority to regulate wildcat subdivisions.
The Governor did not respond to The Weekly's request for an interview, leaving Anable to twist in the wind. That's undoubtedly what he's paid for, after all.
IN FACT, FEW on either side of this matter have the courage to talk about it openly -- even when the reputations of innocent people are damaged.
But up in Phoenix, tongues are wagging privately. They're saying Hull fired Dennis Wells, the previous state land commissioner, because he had the temerity to question Del Webb's White Tank deal -- an allegation Anable denies, even as he declines to discuss the matter further.
The Phoenix-area enviros describe Wells as "a very good man, a decent man," but one who appears to be terrified of reprisals if he talks. Wells, reached through intermediaries, refused The Weekly's requests for an interview.
As did Earl Gordon Rodgers, the eminently qualified Canadian Anable hired after an exhaustive search to run the Land Department's Asset Management Division. As recommended in the Auditor General's report, Asset Management was supposed to do most of the Land Department's long-term planning. But Rodgers -- whose Canadian credentials place him on a par with architects and engineers, and which include a professional code of ethics -- was fired after little more than three months under Michael Anable.
In his all too short tenure, however, Rodgers appeared to have rattled the status quo, according to Land Department insiders.
One of his first acts of business was to prepare an initial planning report -- solely, sources say, for purposes of discussion within the Land Department -- about how to handle future growth in north Maricopa County. The report is said to have called for plenty of open space and hiking areas mixed in with the inevitable urban sprawl.
Shortly after Rodgers circulated the report, Land Department insiders say, Anable and Deputy Commissioner Jim Adams called the new guy in and allegedly "reamed him a new one," prompting Rodgers to immediately withdraw all copies of his rough draft in circulation.
Insiders also observe that, other than some initial memos on the subject of proper conceptual planning, neither Rodgers nor anybody else in the Asset Management Division appeared to protest as the Houghton Road and White Tank deals were being fast-tracked by the Land Department's real-estate bureaucrats.
They also say it's ludicrous to assume that 12 square miles can be adequately planned in the best interests of our community by a for-profit consortium in 30 days, the time-frame set by Anable. Such a project, they claim, would normally take six months or more, at best. With such vast amounts of land involved, and the future impact on an important Arizona community at stake, critics complain, reasonable minds would assume heavy participation by highly qualified state planners.
But that clearly isn't the case. State records confirm the Asset Management Division's apparent lack of involvement, including the fact that the Real Estate Division handled everything, up to and including the RFP advertising and beyond, on this past summer's land giveaways.
Anable himself confirms Real Estate's control over the matter, offering weakly that one of the key men in that department is a planner. However, the individual in question has a degree in geography, not planning.
Ironically, Rodgers was preparing to leave for Tucson for a meeting with members of the Houghton Road consortium, to which he was added almost as an afterthought and reportedly at his own request, on the morning Anable fired him.
Furthermore, two highly qualified planners approved by a committee within the Land Department and subsequently officially hired by Rodgers, were told that same day that their job offers were rescinded by Anable, leaving the Asset Management Division with little more than a plaque on the door.
Yet Anable, like the kid who shotguns his parents and then complains that he's an orphan, whines that he doesn't have the staff to adequately plan these important state lands.
But why should any of this surprise us?
After all, it's merely business as usual at Arizona's venerable -- or rather, venereal -- Box X Motel.