B y J i m W r i g h t
NOT EVERYONE IS pleased about the proposed incorporation of the Town of Vail on the southeast outskirts of Tucson.
Take, for example, John Jones, the City of Tucson's annexation czar. Last week he requested city planners check whether Vail has the requisite 1,500 residents required for incorporation.
Why would Jones, who is also an assistant city manager, concern himself over whether such a little community qualifies for incorporation? The answer is simple: If Vail were successful in its incorporation, it could screw up Tucson's plans for further annexation, including the city's proposed 16.4-square-mile, I-10/Harrison annexation, which could be terminated in its present form if the Vail folks succeed.
Last week, when the proponents of Vail's incorporation presented their petition to the Pima County Board of Supervisors, Democrat Raul Grijalva voted against approving them. He argued the signatures should first be verified by the county recorder.
That argument seems to have worked for public consumption. However, Grijalva had told a reporter two weeks prior to Vail's signature-gathering drive that he was "thinking of not supporting (Vail's) incorporation."
Why would Grijalva not want to support a community's desire for self-government? When we asked Grijalva, he said he didn't know.
Could Grijalva's opposition be linked to his support for Tucson Mayor George Miller? Grijalva claims that's not the case, but Miller was grousing about the Vail petitions as they went before the supervisors for approval.
Miller's opposition to the Vail incorporation is based on civic self-interest. Vail's incorporation could muck up the I-10/Harrison annexation, which could cause the city to lose more than $800,000 a year in revenue-sharing dollars, the bulk of which would come from the annexation of state and federal prisons in the area. The Vail incorporation also could throw a royal monkey wrench into the city's plans to annex the area known as the Vail Valley Ranch, as well as portions of legendary land developer Don Diamond's proposed Rocking K development.
Which brings us to Supervisor Paul Marsh, whose constituents include the residents of the proposed Town of Vail. Marsh has been careful not to get involved in the incorporation. Although his aides have provided access to public records the residents needed to prepare for the incorporation, Marsh has made it clear he wants to be at arm's length from the process, saying he has no real stake in the outcome.
Marsh, along with Supervisors Ed Moore and Dan Eckstrom, voted to approve the signature petitions for the Vail incorporation. They did so with the proviso that should the county recorder find the petitions invalid, the matter would be brought back to the board, which would rescind approval.
But a few days after the supervisors voted to move the incorporation along, Eckstrom suddenly had an inexplicable change of heart.
Now Eckstrom is asking Marsh, the board chairman, for a reconsideration of the signature petitions at the supervisors' August 11 meeting.
"If we're going to do this," Eckstrom says, "let's do it right so (the incorporation) won't come back and bite us (in an unheroic place)."
Eckstrom told The Weekly if the signature petitions were to appear before the board on August 11 still unvalidated by the county recorder, he'd have no choice but to vote against their approval.
Not surprisingly, a delay in the approval of the petitions would be a blessing to Jones and others in the city. The city's annexation of I-10/Harrison and the wishes for self-government of residents in the Vail area are totally at odds. Or, as Assistant City Attorney Tobin Rosen says, "The first one to complete their process wins."
The city's annexation of the massive I-10/Harrison area is on a fast track. Once the city council approved the annexation, the process required a 30-day waiting period, which is up this week. Now, all Jones' annexation team has to do is gather the signatures of a handful of large land owners and place the item before the mayor and council as soon as possible. Once the council votes to approve the matter, as far as the city is concerned, the issue is closed.
Marsh is now worried County Recorder F. Ann Rodriguez might take her time validating the fewer than 300 petition signatures she's had since Wednesday of last week.
Marsh's concerns could be well founded: Rodriguez, like Grijalva, is supporting Miller for reelection.
"She's right out of George's office," Grijalva says. "She's got her name on his (campaign) letterhead and has even done fundraisers for him."
Arizona law allows 10 working days for the county recorder to complete the validation of the incorporation signatures.
If Rodriguez wanted to do Miller a favor, all she'd have to do is complete her validation of the incorporation signatures within the 10-day time limit. If that were to happen, she'd complete the process the week after Eckstrom asked for the matter to be reconsidered. The petitions would be on hold until the supervisors' next meeting.
By that time, the City of Tucson would be wrapping up the I-10/Harrison annexation, which would prevent the Vail folks from incorporating within six miles of Tucson. The Vail folks would have to scrap their incorporation in its present form, and possibly for good, since they would no longer have the legally required base of 1,500 residents.
As a result of all these behind-the-scenes maneuverings, Tucson taxpayers will be saying hello to Diamond's Rocking K as part of Tucson--it'll be easy for annexation-hungry city officials to get the necessary signatures from Diamond and a few others in the area. Of course Diamond wants his huge development within Tucson city limits, because he hopes city taxpayers will help cover millions in infrastructure costs. If the Town of Vail were to become ambitious and annex portions of Rocking K, Diamond could be left holding that massive bill.
So it's understandable why Diamond might want the city to annex his gargantuan project. Beyond that, however, lies the fact that the more raw land the City of Tucson incorporates, the better business will be for all big developers--those doing projects inside city limits are exempt from a law requiring them to certify they have a 100-year water supply.
Knowing time was critical, Marsh stepped in to help his constituents. He discussed with Rodriguez the possibility of her employees working on the weekend to verify the Vail signature petitions. Marsh offered to pay the overtime expense out of his budget.
Rodriguez refused. And late Friday afternoon, Marsh received a formal reply to his request telling him petitions were being processed in the order they were received. Two other petitions were ahead of the Vail paperwork.
"All petitions will be finished in the time allotted by Arizona Revised Statutes," wrote Rodriguez.
Looks like the fix is in.
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