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CLEAR CHANNEL DOES THE TIME WARP

Give the guys at Clear Channel credit: They never stop trying to find ways to stop the city of Tucson from enforcing regulations against billboards. This time, they hope to persuade the Arizona Legislature to give them the power to travel through time to fix past mistakes.

When we last checked in on Clear Channel's efforts to flout Tucson ordinances, the company was trying to use a state law--which Clear Channel officials had assured lawmakers was not retroactive--to retroactively claim that the city had waited too long to sock them with various violations.

The Arizona Supreme Court ruled against Clear Channel, which has returned to the Capitol to once again thwart the City of Tucson's effort to regulate them. This time, they've attached their scheme to a bill that originally dealt with rounding off income-tax returns to the nearest dollar.

This striker includes the following astonishing provisions:

· Clear Channel would be able to go back in time--legally speaking, of course--and correct tiny past mistakes, like, say, neglecting to get a permit before putting up a billboard. Or even after.

If the city didn't give them the chance to retroactively work out that paperwork problem, city taxpayers would have to shell out compensation to Clear Channel for any earnings lost after the billboard came down.

"They would be rewarded for their illegal modifications and relocations by having us pay them condemnation damages to remove illegal billboards," says Tucson City Attorney Mike Rankin.

· If a permit can't be found in city records--because, say, somebody never bothered to get one--then the city is obligated to grant them a new one. Given that a whole bunch of the city's complaints are based on the fact that the billboards went up illegally in the first place, this would nicely settle that dispute.

· If billboards have been rebuilt or relocated on the same site in violation of the 1985 voter-passed law that bans new billboards, billboard companies get a chance to fix that little snafu by putting it back in the original location. That gives Clear Channel a chance to build a brand-new billboard that will stand for decades.

· If a property owner refuses to allow the company to rebuild a billboard, then the city would have to condemn the billboard and pay damages.

"It's clearly an attempt to do an end-run around our successful case in Supreme Court," Rankin said. "It's an ambitious piece of legislation."

The striker, Senate Bill 1193, passed the House Federal Mandates and Property Rights Committee 3-2 on Monday, March 28, with Democrat Tom Prezelski of Tucson casting his vote against it.

"These people want to change the rules when it's becoming obvious they're losing the game," Prezelski says.


DIAMONDS ARE THE COUNTY'S BEST FRIEND

Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry tightened ties with the family of legendary land speculator Donald R. Diamond, appointing Diamond son-in-law Yoram Levy to the powerful Outside Agency Advisory Committee.

Powerful?

You bet. The Board of Supervisors loves to cede control to unelected appointees. And the six-member panel determines where millions in county money goes among the many nonprofit agencies that annually beg for cash. Each member of the Board of Supervisors gets a single appointment to the group, and Prime Minister Huckelberry gets the other.

Levy, 44, is a genuinely nice guy, and he isn't stupid. But he is already on the county parks commission, even though daddy-in-law Diamond and his partner, Donald Pitt, and their families have long controlled Old Tucson. The county-owned Western theme park has never regained its historic movie-set grandeur or financial strength since the Diamond-Pitt partnership failed to rebuild as promised after a devastating--and unsolved--fire in 1995. That parks commission post already is a conflict for Levy because the county parks department administers the Old Tucson lease and oversees the property.

Huckelberry is perhaps helping Levy fulfill another promise. Levy, branching out on his own with Triangle Ventures, said a few months ago that he wanted to help the community when he offered to sell the 2,960-acre Rosemont Ranch in the Santa Rita Mountains to the county for $11.5 million for open-space preservation. Levy's company paid $4 million in June 2004 to acquire Rosemont from Asarco, the mining company that paid $1.8 million for the property in 1988.

Dangling the Rosemont Ranch in front of the county, flush with $174 million in voter-approved credit for open space, presented another conflict for Levy, who was appointed to the 10-member parks commission by foothills Republican Supervisor Ann Day. The parks commission also oversees park lands and open space.

"Mr. Levy," Huckelberry said in a March 24 memo, "has been extensively involved in community activities, and I believe he brings specific and unique expertise to the Outside Agency Advisory Committee."

Indeed.


STAR VALUE

County Assessor Bill Staples, the Democrat who enjoyed strong and important editorial support from the Arizona Daily Star and Tucson Citizen, has wisely jacked up the value of the newspapers' separate newsrooms and shared printing, advertising, circulation and business operations at 4850 S. Park Ave.

Chronically undervalued after expansions, remodeling and big press upgrades, the beloved (note to TNI employees: yes, we're being ironic) plant now carries a full cash value of $17.06 million, up 54 percent from $11.52 million last year.

Tucson Newspapers Inc., the printing, advertising and circulation arm jointly owned by the Star and Citizen, likely won't take the increase lying down. TNI and its army of lawyers and consultants will appeal, as they have done almost every year. Last year, they suggested the real property was worth only $5 million instead of the $6.5 million set by the staff of Staples' predecessor and mentor, Rick Lyons.

The Star has eagerly cheered Staples (as it did Lyons) for the broad increases in residential and commercial property values, saying the market demands them. Let's see if they think that will be the case when the Star/Citizen face a 54 percent increase--to $740,348--in taxes for schools and Pima County's voracious billion-dollar-a-year spending.

At least part of the decision will be left to the Star's new owners, Lee Enterprises, which has agreed to pay $1.46 billion for Star parent Pulitzer Inc.

Props to Staples and crew for also boosting the value of the home of Jane Amari, the Star's imperious editor and publisher. On the southern end of the Tanque Verde Valley, the house and horse property (4.5 acres) has finally cracked its four-year-old purchase price in this market that the Star constantly tells us is hot, hot, hot. The Amari villa is on the tax rolls for $500,726, up from $417,272. We're darn proud of Lady Jane, too. She could have marched to the county and demanded a reduction in value based on those demon ATV riders who have shredded the 'hood, prompting Amari to complain to a number of county officials.


SPIT SHINE

Pima County is wasting $25,000 on a no-bid contract to have an advertising and public-relations company, The Nordensson Group, prepare a best-foot-forward approach to what the county is doing (to you) for the one-day, utterly superfluous State of the County get-together.

Here's the Nordensson hourly rate list for the county work: Jeff Nordensson, the president, $150; public relations, $125; copywriter, account supervisor and copywriter at $100 each; account manager, $80; creative director, $75; production artist, $60; traffic/production, $50; and account coordinator and clerical, $45.

County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry pushed this through from his budget. At least he didn't hire, say, some New Jersey Republicanpolitical-image firm that, say, was an employer/contractor for a, say, an aide to a member of the Board of Supervisors, a scenario that occurred in 2001 when Huckelberry and the board paid Jamestown Associates $35,000 for a (never released) video and scripts to tout the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan.


PILL POPPING

As much as Pima County officials pray the huge drug theft from Kino Community Hospital would just go away (a prayer they thought would be answered with its willingness to pay a cash fine), the scandal won't disappear. Thieves--dealers, addicts and others--stole a staggering 475,000 pills of 13 types of narcotic drugs in less than two years. If resold, the total value could reach $4.7 million. The amounts should have alerted even the dumbest of Kino administrators--top to bottom--because there were so few Kino patients.

Someone will get to the bottom of it. A federal grand jury is getting information on the Kino drug theft, and the matter has University Physicians--the UA and UMC docs who were given a cushy deal to run Kino--enough heartburn that they have lawyered up even though University Physicians didn't take over until the dope was already out Kino's many back doors.


CROSSWALK CRACKDOWN

Stay in the crosswalks! The afternoon daily brings us the news that Tucson police are cracking down on jaywalkers and bicyclists, thanks to a generous $170,000 grant from the Governor's Office of Highway Safety.

Won't we all sleep a little better tonight?

Where are we, Mayberry? Isn't there something better for cops to do than hassle jaywalkers? Last time we checked, we were leading the nation in property crimes--and haven't we been reading about some meth scourge that's plaguing the community?

We haven't heard about something so wasteful since the cops launched that underage drinking crackdown in 2003. Say, whatever happened to that initiative, anyway? We thought the cops were promising to stick with that until the kids sober up.

More by Chris Limberis

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