September 14 - September 20, 1995

B y  E m i l  F r a n z i

FOR THE SECOND time, the Pima County Board of Supervisors was forced to delay its hearing on impact fees Monday evening because the room was too small to hold the crowd. And once again, members of the Southern Arizona Homebuilders Association have shot themselves in the foot by over-packing a hearing.

The builders, developers and land speculators only want "fair" impact fees--meaning a fraction of the actual costs they create--and have gone to great effort and expense to fill the room with SAHBA members, employees, sub-contractors, and anybody's employees they can get their bosses to coerce into sending. They're using Supervisor Raul Grijalva's mere mention of the words "building moratorium" as a rallying point, even though Grijalva admits he can't even get a second for the proposal.

Developers are concerned about impact fees raising the cost of homes. If they have to pay to pack one more hearing and provide food again for all who come, never mind the impact fees. The cost of new housing will rise just to cover the costs of packing the meetings.

This is called Astroturfing--making it appear the crowd represents grass-roots support. How much some of the folks in Monday evening's crowd really wanted to be there is revealed in letters sent them by their employers and orders given by their bosses. The only people too dumb to see through it were several members of the Board of Supes.

The irony--and the incompetence--of it all is shown by the inability of these supervisors to hold the hearing at all. Probably 1,500 people showed up--and several hundred of those ranged from neighborhood types to members of a newly formed group called Developers Go Build in Hell. The latter are unabashed no-growthers in the Ed Abbey mold who are kinda neat to have around because they make the rest of us look moderate.

You could tell the environmentalists were spontaneous and genuine by their hand-lettered signs. One way to spot Astroturf is when there's a large pile of pre-printed signs being handed out to select folks, as SAHBA was doing.

The crowd was forced to form a long line to go through a security checkpoint that included a metal detector and X-rays. Anybody who walked down the line and listened could tell both sides were totally appalled by the supervisors' paranoia and need to check out everybody. Say what you will about construction workers spoiling the desert, as citizens they're not likely to shoot Mike Boyd just for the hell of it.

And they shouldn't have to go through a metal detector to attend a public hearing. But the supes, in their need for security, even had U.S. Custom Services personnel provide a mobile screening unit. Only the supes have such a low regard for the public as to force them into this degrading and time-consuming bullshit. If these turkeys are that afraid of the public, then what's next? Armor-plated cars? Full-time body guards? Guys dressed in ninja suits patrolling the room?

A hint for the Fearless Fosdicks who created that choke point: Better get rid of it next time, or plan to have everybody wait a couple hours or more to get through it. Why do you think it's so damn necessary to make the public wait twice as long to get to a public hearing as it takes to board an airliner?

So we'll all get to do it again, sometime, somewhere, in about three weeks. The supervisors had to postpone the hearing to a time uncertain and unspecified because they don't know what room might be available when. Which means SAHBA will have to mail, phone, feed and coerce the next batch of Astroturf.

Of course the supervisors may be too stupid to observe that all that Astroturf in the crowd isn't real and doesn't speak for the majority of Pima County residents, who have better things to do than be humiliated by the jerks they elect.

Impact fees and other development controls have never been more necessary--and more popular--with the general public than right now. If SAHBA is successful in spooking the supervisors into passing token fees, it'll be one more nail in their political coffins.

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September 14 - September 20, 1995

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