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GIANT SUCKING SOUND

Are Mayor Bob Walkup and his City Council allies going to stick to their guns when it comes time to decide whether to refuse to serve water to southeast-side developers who decline to sign to pre-annexation agreements? We're seeing signs that Tucson Water Director David Modeer doesn't think it's such a hot idea.

When Tucson Water released its new water policy planning framework a couple of weeks back, Modeer said it was based on serving within their service area, without regard to the city limits.

Modeer sees danger in refusing to serve developments outside the city limits, because the developers can still drill wells and pump groundwater. They just need to recharge water elsewhere within the management area. Recharge basins aren't anywhere near the developments, and the wells will suck the groundwater out of the aquifer we all share.

So if the council is serious about preserving resources and protecting the aquifer, it looks like they may need to abandon their annexation extortion--which we always thought was more about grabbing turf than preserving resources, anyhow.


SEWER RATS

Pima County's once-rich sewer department is the target of one audit after another. They show that Wastewater Management is running amok, a ratepayer-supported agency that can't keep a lid on expenses.

This includes the doubling of the cost for the Randolph Park treatment facility to $29.1 million. And while consultant Black & Veatch is focusing on the $15 million the project was to cost in 1997, look years earlier, and you'll see it was estimated to be far less, by several million dollars.

Next comes a report last week by Tony Davis in the Arizona Daily Star about the troubled expansion of the over-capacity Ina Road Treatment Plant and its power system. The county and its consultant, Camp Dresser & McKee, are in a pissing match over design, cost, reports, deadlines and consultant fees.

There also is the troubling suggestion in the audits and reports--and the subsequent finger-pointing--that the blame is being pinned on Kathleen Chavez, who took over the department four years ago after longtime director George Brinsko retired. Chavez rose to top management during Brinsko's command, and she possessed a thorough knowledge of the department.

Spare us the cracks about sewage flowing downhill. Fault lies not with Chavez but with the Board of Supervisors, which has repeatedly approved all the costly changes at Randolph and has done nothing to solve the problems at the Ina Road plant.


OUTDOOR AD NAUSEAM

The Pima County Board of Supervisors has a big billboard decision to make this month. Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry is recommending the board agree to a settlement that will remove some 45 billboards, but eliminate future enforcement of billboard regulations.

Anti-billboard activist Mark Mayer and his pals on a citizens advisory committee want the supes to vote against the agreement and instead begin hearing appeals against some 55 violations affecting 11 billboards.

Those 55 violations led to a fine of $319,000 against Clear Channel earlier this year. Clear Channel appealed to the Board of Supervisors, but a few days before they were supposed to hear the cases in March, Huckelberry instead came up with an alternative settlement that involved removing several dozen billboards in exchange for leaving the rest alone.

Huckelberry argues that it's more effective to cut a deal now, because battling Clear Channel in court is a lengthy and expensive process. Besides, he reckons, billboard interests have been successful at persuading the state Legislature to strip local governments of their authority to regulate the industry. He advocates making a deal today to avoid those headaches down the road.

But Mayer says most of the billboards that would come down as part of the settlement are lousy performers that don't yield much revenue for Clear Channel anyhow. He wants the supervisors to reject the offer.

The downside for supes: If they do reject the offer, they're scheduled to begin the long-delayed appeal of the original Clear Channel violations on Dec. 15. Spending a good chunk of the 12 days of Christmas hearing arguments regarding the technical details of 55 billboard violations doesn't sound like holiday magic to us.

Mayer also reminded us that mistakes were made during our recent recap of the city of Tucson's ongoing legal battle with Clear Channel. As you may recall, that fight is now in front of the Arizona Supreme Court because billboard lobbyists, led by the mighty Karl Eller, urged the Arizona Legislature to pass a bill that gave local jurisdictions only two years from the date of the discovery of a violation to bring a complaint against the billboard companies. Eller argued that the billboard companies had no intention of using the law retroactively as a defense against Tucson's enforcement activity.

Of course, once the law passed, Clear Channel's lawyers were in court, arguing that the billboard law should be considered retroactively--and, of course, they won the rounds in Superior and Appeals courts.

We said a few weeks back that Eller had sold his billboard company to Clear Channel after his testimony that the law wasn't retroactive. Mayer tells us the sale actually happened before he did his phony song and dance.


CAUSE I'M THE TAXMAN, YEAH, I'M THE TAXMAN

Pima County Assessor-Elect Bill Staples did something public employees and politicians should do: He paid his delinquent property taxes. Staples cut the $263 check for taxes on his vacant lot in El Rio Acres on Nov. 11, the same day the Weekly published a story that included information about the taxes he owed on property he spurred the county to sell to him in 1997.

Now Staples, a Democrat who will leave his job in the county's real estate department before taking over as assessor on Jan. 1, has more important things to worry about. He needs to appoint a competent deputy to replace Delma Araiza, the backbone of the assessor's operation for decades.


STUCK SOX

It appears the Chicago White Sox will stick around their Tucson spring training home a little longer than expected. Anaheim Angels owner Arte Moreno, a Rincon High grad, made a surprise move recently to keep his club training at Tempe's Diablo Stadium through 2025.

Moreno had been expected to pull the Angels from Tempe and have them train on the other side of Phoenix at his development land in Goodyear. That city passed $10 million in bonds for a new stadium for the Angels. Ask anyone familiar with Pima County's roughly $40 million spring training complex at Kino Sports Park, and you'll see that $10 million doesn't go far enough.

Moreno and the Angels will get upgrades in Tempe, including four lighted ball fields in 2006.

That will keep the White Sox, spring training tenants along with the Arizona Diamondbacks in Tucson since 1998, playing their spring training games at Tucson Electric Park for awhile. Or at least until owner Jerry Reinsdorf can latch onto another plan that would allow his team to play in front of the bigger flock of Chicago snowbirds in the Phoenix area.

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