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As the city planning staff prepares to take an long-delayed impact fee proposal to the Tucson City Council next month, elements of the plan are already falling to the wayside.

So far, the transportation impact fee for residential housing reflects the number developed by a pricey consultant's study: $2.15 per square foot of housing, or $4,031.25 for Tucson's average 1,875-square-foot home. (The proposed fee includes a 23 percent discount inside the city's core.)

The staff is still wrangling over impact fees for commercial and industrial development, which Mayor Bob Walkup has called too high.

The transportation fee was supposed to be accompanied by an impact fee for parks, which would have run 80 cents per square foot, or $1,500 for the average home. But city Planning Director Albert Elias tells The Skinny that the park fee is on hold for at least a few months. Elias says the group of stakeholders who have been meeting to discuss the fee has "substantive issues" with the park fee. Elias hopes for a quick resolution so that a park proposal will be sent to the council by the end of the year.

Paul Mackey, a neighborhood activist who has been part of the city's planning group, calls the delay a "cop out" by city officials.

"Too much time has elapsed since the idea of impact fees was proposed and the ordinance now being developed," Mackey wrote in a recent e-mail. "Further delay on the parks fee should not take place. Too much money is slipping away and too many residents will be denied facilities because of inaction. We can get this done."


GROWING PAINS

The morning daily provided us with another editorial last weekend about the wonders of annexation, arguing that the city of Tucson should enact its proposed policy of withholding water service from developers who refuse to agree to agreements that bind future home buyers to annexation in the future.

Although the building industry supports annexation in general, developers aren't real happy with the proposed policy for a simple reason: Potential customers might not like the requirement that they surrender their right to decide whether they want to live within the city limits--and in a competitive market, that means they might just end up buying somewhere else.

The city's heavy-handed approach pretty much confirms what recent history has shown: Existing residents will decline to be absorbed into the city unless you leave them with no choice.

The Star continues to blather about how the county and city are duplicating services, but the evidence for their position remains elusive. The county doesn't pick up garbage, or offer swimming lessons, or put out fires. It does maintain a park system, but even then, there's little duplication--the county parks system involves mostly large open-space preserves, while the city's park system includes lots of pocket parks and ball fields, as well as recreation programs.

There is one area of duplication: The county does provide sheriff's deputies to patrol unincorporated areas, but if the city takes over that service, the currently over-extended Tucson Police Department will have to pick up the work--and since the city has a higher officer-to-citizen ratio, it will increase law-enforcement costs. We don't see much savings there.

Most bizarre is the argument from city officials that including far-flung communities in the Tucson city limits will somehow address sprawl. Sprawl is all about location, location, location. Whether developments are inside or outside the city limits isn't the issue; it's how far they are from existing infrastructure that matters.


TRUST FUSS

Busy with efforts to ban gay marriage and the sale of cold beer, Arizona lawmakers never got around to a proposed reform of State Trust Land during the last legislative session. Backers of the proposal, including a coalition of developers, educators, ranchers and environmentalists, wanted to see voters have a chance to approve constitutional changes this November, because the next regularly scheduled election isn't until November 2006.

But some environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity, opposed the reform package and complained that the proposal was too complex to rush through the Legislature.

In the end, lawmakers put off a decision, but it appears increasingly likely they'll come back in the fall to take another shot at it in a special session. If lawmakers approve the package, voters would then have a shot at approving it in a special election sometime next spring.

How often do such special elections occur? It's rare enough that the Arizona Secretary of State's office can't even find info about past special elections--at least while they're busy preparing for the upcoming season.

Further digging led us to the Legislative Council, which informed us that the last time lawmakers put a special election on the ballot was in 1980, to head off a property tax revolution being driven by Bill Heuisler, the anti-tax advocate now seeking the Republican nomination for Pima County Assessor.

Incidentally, officials at the Secretary of State's office put the cost of such a special election at between $4 million and $5 million.


UNLIVELY DEBATE

With the Clean Elections program safely in place at least through 2004 (See "The Range"), voters can rest assured that the Citizens Clean Election Commission will continue to sponsor debates so the citizenry can see candidates in action.

Why, in July, a debate featuring three Democrats seeking two House of Representatives seats in District 28--Ted Downing, Dave Bradley and Dan Lawrence--attracted nearly 20 people to Catalina High's cavernous auditorium.

Earlier this month, a debate featuring three Republicans for two House seats in District 30--Marian McClure, Jonathan Paton and Doug Spitoso--drew exactly two audience members--one of whom was District 30 Sen. Tim Bee. Oh, and a cameraman was present to film the whole thing, which can be viewed at the CCEC's Web site. Bet that's a hot download!

David Gowan, a fourth candidate in the District 30 race who is receiving Clean Elections funding, skipped the debate.


POLITICIANS ON THE LOOSE! DEFEND YOURSELF!

Another election season, another collection of bullshit, lies and spin for voters to sort through. Our friends at Project Vote Smart make it a little easier, though, with their totally free Voter Self-Defense Manual, which is yours for free if you just call (888) VOTE SMART. (That's (888) 868-3762.)

If you've got questions about how your congressman has voted, you can also call the Vote Smart gang. Or you can visit their Web site at vote-smart.org, where you'll find voting records, biographical information, rankings from dozens and dozens of special-interest groups and more. Politicians are still doing their best to avoid responding to Vote Smart's political awareness test because their advisers warn them it could be used as one-stop shopping for opposition research. We'd like to take the opportunity to urge candidates to lay out their positions--before we have to embarrass them in public for dodging the questions.


RISING TENSIONS

Like most of us these days, Tucson Medical Center is in full makeover mode. The single-story hospital, at Grant and Craycroft roads, wants to transform itself into a medical campus with towers that would rise as high as 200 feet. Naturally, neighbors who now enjoy their mountain views are concerned, calling the proposal the biggest central-city redevelopment proposal since the Williams Center project on Broadway Boulevard was launched more than 20 years ago.

To outline and discuss the hospital's plans, the Old Fort Lowell Neighborhood Association is sponsoring a meeting from 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 25, in the cafeteria of St. Gregory's High School, 3231 N. Craycroft Road. TMC representatives have been asked to present their proposal, and the public will be invited to comment.

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