NOTHING SEPARATES the mayoral candidates like the water issue, perhaps because it's arguably the most critical issue facing the city. Since the disastrous delivery of CAP water in the early 1990s and the passage of the Water Consumer Protection Act by voters in 1995, the city has been unable to follow through on its plan to directly deliver CAP water to Tucson households.
That meant Tucson Water had to develop an alternative plan for its annual allotment of 148,000 acre-feet of CAP water. Rather than attempt recharge in Tucson dry riverbeds, which the utility claims would not help the central well field, Tucson Water has created a recharge facility -- the Central Avra Valley Storage and Recovery Project, or CAVSARP -- northwest of Tucson. Tucson Water plans to pour the water into the ground, pump it back out and mix it with groundwater for delivery in the next few years. Additional portions of the allotment will be sold to other water companies and recharged in other projects.
But that plan may be blocked if a new water initiative passes in November. Backed primarily by car dealer Bob Beaudry, who funded most of the 1995 initiative campaign as well as fighting an attempt to repeal it in 1997, the new complex measure would force recharge in the central well field, as well as enacting several other controversial changes in water policy.
Councilwoman Janet Marcus fully supports the city's current water policy. Even if the Water Consumer Protection Act were not in place, she says she wouldn't change a thing about the current plan to recharge CAP water at the CAVSARP facility and blend it with groundwater for delivery to Tucson homes.
Marcus thinks the City Council should retain its control of the water utility. She opposes the November initiative.
Betsy Bolding wouldn't bring much change to the water policy, either. She says that Tucson Water "screwed up" the initial delivery of CAP water, but she doesn't fault its current direction.
Bolding doesn't rule out direct delivery of CAP water, but she does have a caveat. "CAP water should never be delivered directly -- or blended -- to homes without sufficient pilot programs, testing and distribution studies to ensure that water is safe, reliable and tasty, and that it will not damage appliances, pipes, fish or other pets."
Bolding opposes the November initiative and says the city should hand over the responsibility for handling water issues to an elected board.
"I think I would ultimately look at forming a water district that would include all of the Tucson Water ratepayers and that would have a board of people who are relative experts in the area of water policy and water management," she says.
Molly McKasson was the only member of the City Council to support the Water Consumer Protection Act and has been a frequent critic of the city's current water policy. She supports recharge in riverbeds, but admits she's not certain how much water could be recharged in the central well field. "I'm not a technician," McKasson says.
McKasson notes that pecan farms south of Tucson pump between 25,000 to 30,000 acre feet of groundwater annually from the aquifer, while copper mines near Green Valley use anywhere from 13,000 to 26,000 acre feet of groundwater. She says she'd push to use CAP water for those kinds of industrial purposes, while reserving high-quality groundwater for the citizens of Tucson. For such a plan to work, however, taxpayers would have to foot the bill for expensive pipelines to carry CAP water to those users, who own the rights to large portions of the groundwater in the aquifer. Tucson Water ratepayers would also have to pay the difference between the cost of CAP water and the groundwater, which now costs industry only what it costs to pump water from the aquifer.
McKasson supports the November initiative and believes the City Council should retain control of the water utililty.
Pat Darcy frankly admits he doesn't know what Tucson's water policy should be. He says he'd consider all options, from trades with industry to riverbed recharge to blending with groundwater for direct delivery.
He's critical of the Ambassador program. "That's not real life at all," he says. "They're doing a lot of advertising now, because people don't really trust them, hoping after time that will change."
He opposes the November initiative.
As mayor, Darcy would just as soon not have to deal with the issue. He'd hand responsibility over to an appointed board of experts that would eventually have to stand for election. He thinks the board should have representatives from mining and agricultural industries, the city and county, and the environmental and hydrological communities.
|Do you support...||Betsy
|...direct delivery of CAP water?||Maybe||No||No||No|
|...the delivery of blended CAP/groundwater?||Maybe||Maybe||Yes||No|
|...streambed recharge in the Rillito?||Maybe||Maybe||Maybe||Yes|
|...building infrastructure to sell CAP water to mines and farms?||Maybe||Maybe||Maybe||Yes|
|...the creation of an elected Water Board to take control of Tucson Water?||Yes||Yes||No||No|
|...the creation of an appointed Water Board to take control of Tucson Water?||No||Yes||No||No|
|...the privatization of Tucson Water?||No||No||No||No|
Darcy was also the real-estate broker for another recently scuttled downtown project to build a $400-million mega-mall and museum complex on Rio Nuevo South, the vacant parcel south of Congress Street and west of the Santa Cruz riverbed. Instead, City Manager Luis Gutierrez has recommended his office develop a still-sketchy plan that would call for reconstructing some of Tucson's early settlements, a museum complex and a modest retail center.
Voters will have to decide in November whether to allow the city to sell $80 million in bonds to support the project; bonds to be repaid over 10 years through $60 million in state sales taxes diverted from downtown businesses, El Con and Park Mall, with a $60-million match from city taxpayers (primarily from sales taxes from the same retailers).
Darcy opposes the plan because it's "too vague." He blames neighborhood politics for dooming the Daystar proposal. "You've got listen to people and be reasonable about it, but you can't let neighborhood groups shut down a major project in downtown Tucson."
Molly McKasson says she can't support the Rio Nuevo plan until she learns more about the details, which are still being shaped by the City Manager's Office. While she supports the idea of rebuilding the Convento and restoring the old Presidio walls, McKasson is concerned about committing the city to repaying $60 million in bonds over the next decade. She says the plans "have to have their own backing. Otherwise, we'll find ourselves not being able to invest in the rest of the city."
"This new tax-increment financing district is just so confusing that I'm to the point where I just don't know," McKasson says. "I still haven't seen the financial analysis of the TIF district. I have to see the figures. Where are they planning on getting the revenue, what are the projects, and who's going to oversee these?"
McKasson says a lack of leadership has led to the current confusion. "Mayor and Council seem absent from this process," she says. "It looks bad."
Betsy Bolding also faults the Council's leadership. As mayor, she says she would have been more involved with the project from the beginning, rather than allowing Gutierrez to unveil his plan with little time to modify it.
Bolding says the project will need more than museums to spark revitalization. "A museum doesn't make a downtown come alive," Bolding says. "It's the museum and the retail, restaurants, things around it that causes it to be where people want to spend time."
Janet Marcus voted to put the plan on the ballot earlier this summer.
Bolding has made downtown revitalization a centerpiece of her campaign. She says she'd hire a full-time downtown development specialist in the Office of Economic Development. The department had a full-time development specialist until last year, when Carol Carpenter left OED to head up the Tucson Downtown Alliance Business Improvement District, which recently came under scrutiny by the City Manager's Office.
Bolding says the city didn't put enough resources into the BID, which she blames for the deaths of some downtown businesses. "What the BID has done -- perhaps because the city itself didn't put enough resources into it and expected the building owners to do it -- is driven some of the smaller...you know, you have a bunch of businesses where the profit margin is just barely there anyway, and what they had to pay made the difference. You lost some of the retail that you had," Bolding says. "The BID, also, for a range of reasons, has become a political controversy instead of bringing people together and doing what I think everyone hoped. Somehow or other, there's still factions."
But she's unsure whether the city should put more resources into the BID: "I'd have to look at all of the figures on what it needs and what it would take and what some of the needs are to encourage more participation downtown," Bolding says. "I don't have enough information at this time to know."
McKasson says she's "very skeptical" of the organization: "I'm not sure the money is being well spent." She says she wouldn't have voted to create the district in the first place, because it uses public dollars without significant public oversight.
Marcus, who provided the swing vote to create the district last year, says the Alliance "needs a longer period of time" to see if it will work.
Darcy seems indifferent to the BID. "I think they're doing the best they can with what they have," he says. "The streets are cleaner, they have those guys walking around in case a guy gets locked out of his car. It's going to help people who are downtown now, but they're not going to bring people downtown. They're not going to go downtown because it's cleaner or there are more benches there."
A persistent complaint from downtown business owners is the heavy concentration of transients. More than two years ago, the City Council voted to split the downtown feeding station on Toole Avenue into six satellite operations, with one in each ward. At the time, Council members hoped the strategy would alleviate some of the tension created by the volume of transients downtown.
Bolding opposes breaking up the feeding stations. "I understand the concept and I do think we should share responsibility in this thing, and if it were just feeding stations, that might work," she says. "But it's not. Wherever you have a concentration of homeless people and people who aren't all the time homeless but need a job, you have to have a range of services. Transportation issues, mental health, job training, other kinds of things, because it's never just feeding people. I don't think we have the resources to have those full services in every ward."
McKasson disagrees. If the Council isn't going to split the feeding station up, "Stop sinking money into the downtown, then," says McKasson. "I'm afraid the majority of the Council doesn't understand what a heavy impact it has on businesses downtown and the perception that downtown is not safe, whether that's true or not."
Marcus says she'd support opening feeding stations in every ward, "if acceptable sites could be found."
Darcy would keep the feeding station downtown. "Obviously, you want to feed 'em where they are," he says.
Be that as it may, the non-smokers carried the day as the Council voted 4-3 to ban smoking in restaurants, beginning October 1. The Council hoped to persuade the Pima County Board of Supervisors to pass a similar ordinance to ensure a level playing field throughout the county, but the supes don't seem to be biting.
Under the city's ordinance, restaurants could be exempted from the ban if they install ventilation fans that ensure smoke does not drift from smoking to non-smoking sections, or if they show a 15 percent drop in business.
McKasson supports the ban, "to protect restaurant employees who have no choice."
Bolding, however, opposes the law. "I do understand the issue of employees at restaurants being a captive audience and I understand second-hand smoke, but I would have to oppose a ban in the city because it disadvantages city employers."
Likewise, Darcy wouldn't stub out smoking.
"The community, unless they're in the development business, really supports this idea," McKasson says. "They get it. They understand why we're so far behind in fixing streets, taking care of our libraries, and getting more police on the street. And it wouldn't be a punishment, because right now the only people being punished are the people who live here, especially in the older areas where things aren't maintained."
Bolding has talked a lot about infill during her campaign. "The best environmental thing we could do is encourage infill," Bolding says. "If it's easier to develop in the city instead of on the fringes of the desert, then that's an advantage."
Bolding's definition of infill is slippery, though. Early in the campaign, she said there are "something like 38,000 acres" available for infill, but when pressed, admitted that includes those vast tracts of completely undeveloped land on the city's fringes. She sees that area as the next stomping ground for developers.
"Development will be on the southeast side, which is not a bad thing," Bolding said in July; but she recently admitted it wasn't infill. She said the city should "really target the stuff way in the well-developed city and try to encourage people to develop there. Undeveloped land that is in the city but more on the periphery should be looked at very slowly, very sensitively. We have opportunities to do some really very wonderful little communities and neighborhoods, by assessing the wash systems and drainage patterns."
Bolding would like to see development "using the Civano model as opposed to the Rita Ranch model -- not a grid system but a mixed-use development connecting some job opportunities in the place where people live...areas to walk and bike to smaller shopping areas."
She also vows to take on homebuilders. "Part of the negotiations with a developer who wants to develop on the southeast or east side might be to provide a certain number of low-cost dwellings within the plan. They would eat that subsidy. They'll call it extortion, I'll call it negotiating."
But tough as she talks, she doesn't support impact fees. "To create the livable city we all want...requires a strong tax base and a healthy economy. Impact fees for transportation or anything else in the city limits are counterproductive. That's common sense."
Darcy and Marcus also oppose impact fees in the city.
Tucson could soon have even more vacant land within its borders. The city's annexation team is currently working to annex 34 square miles on its southern border.
"I don't think the timing is very good," says McKasson. "Everyone gives a lot of credence to this reinvestment and back-to-basics services stuff, and yet if we go out and annex that huge area, we're looking at a very large price tag for developing it. I don't know what kind of figures they give, but we'd have to put roads in, we'd have to put lights in. A developer isn't going to put everything in, nor is he going to take care of the need to widen or improve anything on the way out there."
Ultimately, says McKasson, "Our annexation policy should be we become the best city in the Southwest. A mecca for optics technology, arts, everybody finishes high school. You want to have a great community and you want people to be a part of your community. Show them they're missing something."
Bolding says she's not sure if the area should be annexed.
"Here's another chance for you guys to say I'm wishy-washy and can't make up my mind," she laughs. "I don't have enough information on that to make a decision. I don't think it's a slam-dunk. It sounds like Sahaurita is looking at this. I understand the concept of annexing to control the destiny and keep the wildcat developments out and so forth, but I don't know all that I would require to know to make a decision on that."
Janet Marcus has rarely seen an annexation she didn't like. She says capturing land before it's developed allows the city to benefit financially in the future, but admits infrastructure demands draw resources from the inner city.
"That's the flip side of the coin," Marcus says. "There are never enough resources."
When it comes to annexation, Darcy says simply: "I wouldn't rule anything out. If it's positive, if it makes sense for Tucson, then do it."
As for allowing communities to form on the city's border, McKasson says she doesn't object. "If you really want to have a voice in decision-making, in the democratic process, maybe you want to be in a smaller place," McKasson says. "I don't think that's so weird, nor do I think it's counterproductive. Some say it just creates bickering and everything will be ruined. Well, as much as I don't care for the Phoenix metropolitan area, they seem to be thriving. Everybody says it's a terrible mess for them. We're the ones with the really lousy wages."
Bolding agrees that the city should stop the legal fight against neighboring communities. "It saddens me that areas adjacent to the City of Tucson are unwilling to become part of the city, and I believe that their decisions to incorporate may be, in the long run, counterproductive and expensive for residents of those municipalities," she explains. "However, if they are determined not to belong to the City of Tucson, it's beneficial for our metropolitan area that they incorporate and bring additional tax monies into eastern Pima County."
Darcy agrees. "Residents should decide where they live," he says succinctly.
Marcus, who voted to take legal action against the budding municipalities, says the city should continue the legal fight to dissolve Casas Adobes and Tortolita.
To revitalize the sagging mall, El Con's owners have lured a 20-screen movie palace. Of greater concern to the midtown neighborhoods next to the mall are plans to locate a massive Home Depot (which filed plans for a store last week) and a Super Wal-Mart. Unlike other malls, El Con has no buffer with bordering neighborhoods, which has led to a drawn-out battle between the neighbors and mall owners over the increased noise and traffic coming from 24-hour retail operations. The City Council stepped in earlier this year to close northern access to the mall from Fifth Street. The Council later decided to reopen Dodge Boulevard when the mall owners agreed to mitigation measures with the neighborhoods.
But all hell broke loose again last month, when the Council voted to craft an ordinance to regulate superstores based on size, hours of operation, traffic generation and other factors. Following that decision, mall owners withdrew the mitigation agreement and sued the city to force the opening of all three roads leading to Fifth Street.
Janet Marcus initially voted in favor of closing the streets as a form of "shock treatment" for the mall owners. When the mitigation agreement was reached, she voted to reopen Dodge. She also supported the plan to have staff study ways to regulate superstores.
Molly McKasson believes big-box stores should be required to adhere to strict guidelines to receive a special use permit. She says negotiations shouldn't have collapsed between the mall and neighborhoods.
Betsy Bolding supports the effort to regulate superstores and other commercial retail activity. "This is way out of scale for El Con Mall. I do favor re-looking at commercial codes, because our commercial has different characteristics now. We have to consider not just size or footprint, but the activity, the hours, the traffic, the noise, the kind of development that it is. We have some small stores that aren't even boxes that are intrusive to their neighborhood because of noise and so forth. So it's not just the size. It's a whole range of things that accompany our lifestyle. I'm not sure you can do that in retrospect, and that's the lawsuit issue at El Con."
Bolding rules out closing down northern access to the mall as a negotiation tactic, but she says "people should keep talking. It looks like that's not happening. That's the worst of all solutions, because legal rulings, by nature, are win-lose. And that's not good for Tucson under any circumstances."
Pat Darcy says there's little the city can do. "I could see maybe there's got to be some kind of compromise on this. The problem is that the owners have zoning and the value of their land is in what they can do. You can't go in and say, 'OK, guys, we don't want the mall--put this up instead.' Now, would I want to live next door to a Wal-Mart or a Home Depot? No, I wouldn't like that, but if a property owner has zoning there, you can't change the rules in the middle of the game."