The Skinny 

TORTOLITA STILL LIVES: An 11-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled unanimously in favor of the embattled Town of Tortolita, returning their lawsuit for a hearing on the merits in front of Judge Raner Collins. It was a victory not only for Tortolitans, but for the voting rights of all of us. The court ruled that the case did not have to wind its way through state courts before federal courts could tackle it, speeding up a process that has dragged on since Tortolita's original incorporation in 1997.

City Attorney Dennis McLaughlin made light of the decision he had so vigorously opposed, saying it was simply a jurisdictional ruling. We would remind you this is the same legal genius who has defined appearances by council members up for re-election on radio talk shows as an in-kind contribution by the broadcaster.

The issue involves the state's 1961 incorporation law, which plaintiffs allege infringes on their voting rights by not allowing them to participate in the incorporation process if they live within six miles of an incorporated city. The Ninth Circuit clearly found some merit in the arguments made by attorneys Bill Risner and Tony Ching, or they would not have ordered the case heard on the merits.

Tortolita is waiting for the Arizona Supreme Court to decide whether it will hear an appeal of lower court rulings upholding the six-mile non-participation zone. And the still functioning, feisty and duly elected Tortolita Town Council has passed a resolution it forwarded to the Tucson City Council, asking it to drop the lawsuit against Tortolita for a variety of reasons. Among them: the well-known fact that Tucson has no interest in ever annexing any portion of Tortolita now or forever; that allowing local control of the area as opposed to having it partitioned by Oro Valley and Marana is in Tucson's interest; and that the six-mile rule Tucson has so steadfastly defended is in danger of being tossed out entirely in federal court.

Good arguments for a settlement. We hope that a majority of the Council has enough sense to override their legal staff, who would once again strap them into a potential kamikaze plane. They should just let Tortolita live. The original fight over the issue began with Tucson's objections to Casas Adobes, whose founders cut their own deal to secure another election--which they lost. It is obvious that the plaintiffs in the federal case are not going to quit, and neither are their lawyers. Even if the state courts order Tortolita disincorporated, the issue isn't finished. Judge Collins' ruling will no doubt be appealed back to the Ninth Circuit. Should the argument over the unconstitutionality of the six-mile zone prevail, that could not only legalize Tortolita's incorporation, but the original one in Casas Adobes.


TRACK MEET: Is light rail, big on the local scene back in the late '80s, on the rebound in Tucson? You'd almost think so, listening to City Council candidates at a transportation forum last week. The eight candidates who showed up all expressed various levels of support for a light rail system. We're just sorry Libertarian Jonathan Hoffman, running in north-central Ward 3, couldn't make it. His recent dismissal of light rail as a proven transit failure would have livened up the event a bit.

The open minds of the candidates probably have something to do with their eagerness to pander as much as possible while campaigning. After all, there's a big difference between being willing to consider studying light rail and being ready to lay down track.

And light rail remains on the fringes of local transportation planning. The Pima Association of Governments' 25-year transportation plan includes an 18-mile, $588 million system, traveling along Broadway Boulevard, South Sixth Avenue and Oracle Road, but it's grouped among projects that remain out of financial reach even if we were to jack up sales taxes, gas taxes and impact fees.

But there's a new groundswell of interest in light rail. Much of the credit goes to graphic designer Steve Farley, who is spearheading Citizens for Sensible Transportation, a fledgling group that had its first meeting just last month. Already, more than 150 people have asked for more info, which you can find at the group's slick Web site, www.tucsonlightrail.org.

Farley isn't unnerved by the potential costs of a system, which he estimates could run between $20 million and $30 million a mile. He says the feds can pay up to 80 percent of the costs and, in the long run, it's a better investment than lining arterial streets with grade-separated intersections.

"Unless you do a whole series of GSIs at $30 million a pop, you just move the problem one intersection over," Farley says. "It's insanity. For that price, you could get an excellent light rail line."

So why spend money on light rail instead of, say, a better bus system? Because, Farley argues, it's a sexy alternative: "Light rail increases ridership among people who normally would not take transit at all. You increase the constituency for transit and take more cars off the road."

Wanna know more? Councilman Fred Ronstadt, who calls light rail "a great notion," has turned over his next Ward 6 open house to Citizens for Sensible Transportation, who will give an overview on rail options. Head over to Hotel Congress, 311 E. Congress St., from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday, July 25, to kick around ideas about light rail at this month's Ward 6 open house.


COMMAND DECISION: Congressman Jim Kolbe is in a snit over the actions of the Border Patrol--finally, after years of what approached almost total sycophancy. He's so ticked that he has threatened to use his position as a high-ranking congressman on the House Appropriations Committee to muscle what he considers a recalcitrant bureaucracy into line the only way possible: by withholding funds.

We think that's great; we always applaud elected officials who stop acting like potted plants and recognize they do have legitimate power over unelected, recalcitrant and often surly bureaucracies.

But we wonder why, when the U.S. Forest Service broke a multitude of its own rules, lied, obfuscated, and even paid an exorbitant amount of money for a fraudulent study to an unqualified consultant, Kolbe told the several thousand screwed-over members of the Tucson Rod and Gun Club that he could do nothing about it?

We have suspected that was because Kolbe not only didn't give a big rat's ass about the gun club, but actually wanted it gone so the nearby landowners could develop property and even do a land trade with the Forest Service for the spot where the club is currently located. Maybe that's why some of them appeared on his contribution lists.

We call that "selective enforcement" when it involves cops. With politicians, we call it "whoring out."


BLOWN OUTLET: We've heard a lot recently about the decline of one of Casa Grande's outlet malls along I-10, which has lost all but two tenants. Evidently, similar discount stores are opening in Tucson and Phoenix, so people are less inclined to drive 60 miles to go shopping.

Sure, it's a hit to Casa Grande's budget, but look at the bright side: less traffic on I-10, less burning of gasoline, less pollution. Frankly, this strikes us as a solution, not a problem.

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