Skinny FLOW WORMS: As we sadly predicted last week, the Tucson City Council--by that same annoying four-vote majority of Mayor George Miller and council members Shirley Scott, Janet Marcus and Fred Ronstadt--voted this week to begin recharging effluent rather than CAP water in the Rillito River.

The big switcheroo--opposed by council members Steve Leal, Jerry Anderson and José Ibarra, who support a plan to recharge CAP water in the Rillito--was urged by Tucson Water staff, who said the thin trickle of sewer water (mixed with ground water pumped from Avra Valley) would let us know, in just a few years, whether recharge in the Rillito is viable.

In the meantime, evidently, we'll just continue paying for 148,000 acre-feet of CAP water which continues to sit in a canal because the Council and Tucson Water can't figure out how to recharge it.

We knew all along that Miller, Scott and Marcus wouldn't go along with plans to put CAP water in the Rillito, but Ronstadt's vote was a disappointment. In the weeks before the meeting, Ronstadt was assuring folks from the Pure Water Coalition that he would go along with the Rillito CAP recharge plan.

Ronstadt now says he only promised to try recharge in the Rillito, which this plan does, technically speaking. He argues that recharge in the riverbed might not work, and this is a less-expensive alternative to test the capacity of the riverbed for recharge. He's worried the city would have a $10 million "white elephant" if the proposed CAP plan didn't work.

But that $10 million figure could well have been inflated by city staff. And let's face it: The city already has a $600 million white elephant in the form of a CAP treatment plant that delivered sludge to Tucson homes.

Those same experts who supported that plant--and the disastrous direct delivery of CAP water--were pressuring Ronstadt to oppose Rillito recharge. In the week before the vote, the Tucson Regional Water Council began faxing "action alerts" around town, urging business owners to contact Ronstadt to derail the CAP recharge pilot project in the Rillito.

Ronstadt's vote has the Pure Water Coalition mulling its options. They're considering a recall effort against the Republican councilman, which--if backed by car dealer/water activist Bob Beaudry--could leave Ronstadt fighting to hang onto his Ward 6 seat less than a year after taking office.

If that happens, Ronstadt's vote to recharge effluent in the Rillito may have just left him up shit creek, without the proverbial paddle.

AND WHO'S TWISTING ARMS BEHIND THE SCENES? The Tucson Regional Water Council is the political arm of SAWARA, the Southern Arizona Water Resources Association. An establishment outfit that's been around for years, SAWARA was formed to influence water decisions and promote CAP usage.

The TRWC's first foray into politics was supporting last year's ill-fated Proposition 201, which would have repealed the Water Consumer Protection Act, passed by Tucson voters in 1995. They got their butts kicked soundly in that fight, because Tucsonans saw what happened when that CAP crap was pumped directly into our pipes.

Basically, TRWC is just another branch office for the Growth Lobby.

We recently noticed their current letterhead, which lists the group's members alphabetically. The first two names are Larry Aldrich, president of Tucson Newspapers, Inc., and Edith Auslander, wife of Arizona Daily Suckwad executive editor Steve Auslander.

Remember that next time somebody bitches about the Tucson Weekly not being "impartial." We aren't, but--unlike the two dailies--we don't pretend we are.

BID ROW: To the thunderous applause of supporters, the Tucson City Council narrowly approved the downtown Business Improvement District (BID), with Mayor George Miller joining with council members Fred Ronstadt, Shirley Scott and Janet Marcus to pass the proposal.

The BID will have an annual budget of about $750,000, with about $413,000 coming from assessments from downtown property owners and $338,000 coming--maybe--from the city, county, state and federal governments. While the city has committed to pay its share (about $216,000), county supervisors are skeptical of the proposal and the state is apparently leaning toward providing "in-kind" services--like, for example, flowerpots.

The three council members--Steve Leal, José Ibarra and Jerry Anderson--who voted against the BID didn't oppose the concept, but they worried that the small merchants who have invested in downtown could find themselves driven out of business if the BID's board of directors began a campaign to bring chain stores and national restaurant outfits into the area.

Leal offered a substitute motion that would have forced the BID to elect a board of directors that would be split 50-50 between property owners and merchants to ensure the shopkeepers would have a voice in the future of downtown.

But Thomas Laursen, an attorney who worked on the BID's steering committee, said that kind of change would force organizers to start the BID all over again--and besides, democracy tends to be an awfully messy process. Instead, the board of directors will be appointed by the BID's steering committee; future boards will appoint new members.

The vote capped a week of intense lobbying of the merchants by the BID's steering committee, who met with many of the concerned merchants to assuage their concerns. The organizers promised to increase merchant representation from the proposed two seats.

The Council meeting was filled with BID supporters--including Bert Lopez, who owns the downtown Holiday Inn and Clarion hotels. Lopez had told the BID's steering committee he didn't want anything to do with the project, so they had exempted both of his properties from assessments. Having weaseled out of ponying up any funds for the improvement district, Lopez was unexpectedly converted into a BID booster.

There's no doubt downtown still needs a boost. As a tool to help continue the revitalization effort, the BID could help improve the perception of downtown--as long as its core mission isn't subverted into a means of turning Congress Street into another plastic strip mall of corporate chain stores.

UNCOORDINATED DREAMERS: Tucson Mayor George Miller's far-fetched idea of discouraging new incorporations by offering annexation incentives began to take shape on Thursday, March 12. That's when former Republican Mayor Lew Murphy and Democrats Ernesto Portillo and Martha Elias filed papers to begin the initiative effort to transform the current citywide election of council candidates to a ward-only system.

Whether this issue can even be voted on this year remains uncertain. Also uncertain is why the second part of Miller's annexation package, to allow both the foothills and Casas Adobes areas their own seats on the council, was not included with the initiative language.

This whole effort is somebody's idea of a bad joke. Anybody who thinks people will want to become city residents just because they can vote in ward-only elections is missing a few things. It just ain't enough.

HUCKELBERRY LEAVING? The recent 3-to-2 vote by the Pima Board of Supervisors to remove all control over health-related matters from County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry and the Board itself and turn that major function over to an appointed 11-member committee, who in turn will pick the health czar, has major implications. The individual currently holding the role is the controversial Dr. Richard Carmona.

It's no secret that Huckelberry and Carmona don't get along, and that the supervisors are split over whom to support. Supervisors Raul Grijalva and Ray Carroll support Carmona and aren't happy with Huckelberry; Supervisors Dan Eckstrom and Sharon Bronson support Huckelberry, dislike Carmona, and opposed the power transfer. Supervisor Mike Boyd was the third vote for both Huckelberry and Carmona.

The situation is complicated by Huckelberry's contract, passed by the same 3-to-2 margin. It contains a clause that requires Huckelberry's permission to reduce his role in county government. Huckelberry fought for that clause after seeing a parade of county managers hung out to dry both here and elsewhere for failing to control stuff they weren't really allowed to be in charge of.

Huckelberry has 30 days either to acquiesce in the power shift and make it clear that the biggest budget item--health--is no longer his responsibility, or decide to consider the whole move a breach of contract, leave and force the county to pay him off. He's mum so far on what he'll do.

Huckelbery has already qualified for a fat pension and may decide he doesn't need the grief of playing second fiddle in the county hierarchy to Carmona, who's paid $40,000 a year more.

Pima County is in the process of putting together the annual budget, and most concede that Huckelberry is the only person who can pull it off.

But if Chuck does bail, one name that's being floated is Carmona himself. If he's good enough to handle that big of a chunk of county government, maybe he could grab the whole enchilada. He obviously has three supes who have confidence in him.

In the meantime the creation of a new health bureaucracy is a classic example of what Thomas Jefferson warned us against: Never take on vast projects with a slim majority. Stay tuned.

CADDY SHACK'S CEMENTHEADS TAKE IT IN THE SHORTS: The cementheads are still smarting from the recent Oro Valley primary election, which saw the defeat of one of the Growth Lobby's biggest stooges, Councilman Bill Kautenberger.

Kautenberger, who finished third in a four-way race, was running for mayor. The Oro Valley Neighborhood Coalition's candidate, Paul Loomis, led the ticket in the mayoral race with 35 percent of the vote. Loomis will face second-place candidate Mike Cadden, who got 31 percent.

Kautenberger, who out-spent all other candidates combined, got only 27 percent of the vote. Mort Nelson, who barely showed any more pulse than when he was the Democratic candidate against U.S. Rep. Jim Kolbe in 1996, got 8 percent.

If he hopes to win, Loomis has to pick up Nelson's votes, plus some of Kautenberger's, which won't be easy--most of Kautenberger's votes should go to Cadden, whom the Growth Lobby would clearly prefer.

While the rejection of Oro Valley's pro-development policies clearly played a major role in this election, so did Kautenberger's inadequacies as a candidate: He was lazy and arrogant, and he never understood the resentment of many voters over the Town Council's alleged misuse of expense accounts. His ace political consultant, Nina Trasoff, blew the bucks early, so his campaign shut down the phone bank at the end of the race for lack of money--a major blunder. And Trasoff went out of her way to let everybody know her Democratic Party pedigree in an overwhelmingly GOP town. Apparently her role model is political consultant Bunny Badertscher, who has a long track record of handling losers who spend four or five times as much as their opposition.

In the other council race, Frank Butrico, an appointee of the present Council, was defeated by Francis LaSala, another candidate of the Oro Valley Neighborhood Coalition.

But within days, Oro Valley officials declared that LaSala and Butrico would have to face each other in the May general election, because LaSala didn't get more than 50 percent of all votes cast in the primary.

Isn't it funny how the Growth Lobby and their toadies can find the most narrow technicalities to hang onto power?

The May general election will show whether the Growth Lobby's influence in Oro Valley is truly on the wane. But so far, the Oro Valley Neighborhood Coalition has 'em on the run.

LOOK WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU SEND AN EGGPLANT TO REPORT AN ELECTION: While Oro Valley voters were turning out at 30 percent for hotly contested races and a ballot prop on spending, Tortolita voters almost matched that with a 26 percent turnout for an uncontested primary that re-elected their seven incumbents. They may have set a record for turnout in an uncontested primary--Tucson voters only turned out at 15 percent for their last contested primary!

Which proves to even the most casual observer that plenty of Tortolitans wish to keep their town.

Of course, that went unnoticed by KGUN-TV's Tammy Vigil, who went out of her way to dig up two supposed--but unidentified--Tortolitans to bad-mouth the town. Vigil was both arrogant and ignorant in her approach, reporting that Tortolitans were "trying to be a town."

Tammy, even Tucson Mayor George Miller knows that Tortolita and Casas Adobes are still towns until the courts rule otherwise. They're trying to stay that way.

And if you're going to do shallow "he said-she said" journalism without bothering to report which side has overwhelming support, you should at least identify who you're quoting and allow their remarks to be refuted.

One of Tammy's interviewees babbled incoherently about being "lied to," but never explained about what. Tammy neither edified us, nor allowed refutation. She also failed to notice that one of her subjects was the mother of the creep who dragged the horse to death in Marana--not exactly one of Tortolita's leading citizens.

We suggest Tammy and her ace news director get a copy of KVOA-TV coverage of the same event the following night. KVOA's Tony Paniagua got it right--which may have something to do with why lots more folks tune into Channel 4 than Channel 9. It's because they have a much better product.

AND THEY DON'T DO WINDOWS EITHER: Road construction is about to make great portions of the northwest side close to impassable.

Oro Valley is churning La Cañada Boulevard, the state is putting in a new intersection at Cortaro and Interstate 10, and Pima County is cutting Thornydale Road to one lane between Orange Grove and Ina roads to open a new bridge.

Obviously, residents wonder how they're supposed to get anywhere. MaryLou Johnson, ace community relations manager for Pima County's Department of Transportation, was asked about alternative routes.

"We don't want to direct traffic," Johnson told the Tucson Citizen.

If the Pima County Department of Transportation isn't responsible for directing traffic in Pima County, who the hell is?

THE LITTLE CHOPPER THAT CAN'T? Latest news flash on KOLD-TV's Chopper 13, the news helicopter that's going to dumb down news even further in this burg: Seems there's a real problem on where to park it.

While the Town of Marana could care less about what anybody does in a flood plain, even including building a TV station, insurance companies do care. Because of potential flood problems, KOLD sources tell us they can't get the chopper insured if they park it and land it near the station. Apparently the out-of-town geniuses who own the station and the locals who sold the chopper idea never noticed they'd built in a flood plain.

So they'll have to put their bird somewhere else, which will totally negate the hype of instant access to news events that the chopper is supposed to bring.

Oh, well. We were sure looking forward to all that footage of car chases. Guess we'll just have to watch the Fox Network for that. TW

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