Thanks, Chuck

Rarely Has A Local Government In The New West Advanced A Plan So Bold To Save The Land.

By Jeff Smith

WHAT DO YOU do when company comes from back home and you want to impress them?

Smith If you said, "Take them to Hooters and order the all-you-can-hurl buffet," one, you might be a redneck; and, two, you're on the wrong page: you need to be trolling the personals under SWMWBB seeks MWFWW.

If, however, you thumbed to this space with malice aforethought, and aren't moving your lips as you read these words, chances are your answer has something to do with driving your guests up to Mount Lemmon, or out to the Desert Museum, or maybe just up to Gates Pass to show off one of those lurid, Technicolor sunsets we tend to take for granted after a few years around here.

It is unlikely, I think, that you're going to take them to Broadway and Wilmot to show them how far the traffic backs up at 6 p.m., to one of the malls to prove that we've got Victoria's Secret here too, to downtown to let them get a peek at that stupid red sculpture in front of the library.

The best of what we've got to show off in Tucson was pretty much here before Tucson was here. In the case of the Desert Museum, we're simply herding a representative sample of pre-civilized scenery into a tidy enough space that you don't burn up a tank of gas trying to find it.

So one might make a case that there's nothing special about the City of Tucson as a city. We're not New York, where your city cousins may take you to visit the Statue of Liberty or the Empire State Building, city stuff, wrought by the hand of man. By the same token, they wouldn't drive you out to look at the Hudson River and admire the sewage floating by. No offense meant, but the Best of Tucson--our annual ad-sales orgy of the same name notwithstanding--has very little to do with Tucson, unless you count the taste and sense demonstrated by a populace that decided to pull off the highway and park and stay in a setting of such natural splendor.

I SAY all this by way of prefacing my approval of Chuck Huckelberry's ambitious Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan.

Frankly I'm stunned at the scope, the vision, the political audacity of such a notion, given the prevailing Sunbelt attitude of subdivide and conquer. The fact that Chuckleberry announced such a grand plan, and was not discovered the following morning in the trunk of a car with a bullet in his head, is testimony that our local brand of developer either is a less-virulent strain than his fellow-microbes in, say, Phoenix; or that the real-estate community has been struck dumb by the sheer huevos of the proposal.

Whatever, let us jump at the opportunity before the other side wakes up, or before our own supposed allies parcel us into so many subcommittees and discussion groups that we talk this wonderful idea to death before word can become deed.

What I like best about Chuck's plan is that it's to be a creature of government, but local government, and that its concept is simple, direct and unapologetically natural. Of late some of my friends, journalistic colleagues and the natural constituency of readers tell me I have gone anti-green. I disagree, contending that my arguments of late have been with organizations grown over-large, too powerful and perforce, monomaniacal in their approach to environmental matters.

Not to wander too far afield here, but let's just say good people sometimes can do bad things in a good cause. An absolutist, global approach to saving the green world by walling it off from untidy humanity may seem the surest way to save the snail-darter, but it ignores certain realities and does violence to local rights.

Putting the future of so much flora and fauna in the stewardship of Pima County may strike the Southwest Center for Biological Diversity as hiring a fox to guard the chickens, but I believe a county that has the wisdom to try such a plan, and the political will to pull it off, ain't a bad applicant for the job.

Sure, it's going to cost a shitload of money. But hey, eco-tourists could spend some of their L.L. Bean and Land's End money with us.

Sure, political whims and wills may vary, but we the people still have the means to impose ours on those boys and girls we hire to do our political bidding. If we want to keep our mountains piney and our deserts spiny, why then we'll just have to get off our asses every few Septembers and Novembers and vote the right folks in and out of office.

For five decades I've lived around here and listened to what the natives have had to say about growth--our own and other communities'--and I've taken a measure of pride in believing that Tucson wasn't like Phoenix. All the while watching Tucson become more and more like Phoenix. All that really has kept Tucson from becoming Phoenix is that Phoenix kept becoming Los Angeles. Tucson really is Phoenix circa 1970.

But there's a core of us who love the old town, the westside, the tortilla factories, dirt and creosote and swamp coolers and the way it cools off in the desert at night--even in August--as soon as you get away from the city lights. Huckelberry's vision of the brave old world appeals to people like us, and should to everybody who lives here and loves it.

Here's a way to keep the best of what is essentially Tucson, to put metaphorical leagues between our town and the greedy, growth-obsessed majority of the New West, to preserve this place as somewhere you're secure and proud to raise your kids, and perhaps even turn the odd dollar as well.

Bienvenidos a Tucson, the prettiest city west of Truth-or-Consequences and south of Provo: enjoy your vacation and then go home and leave us in peace. TW

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