The Best Fixes of '97

It Was Business As Usual In The Naked Pueblo.

By Emil Franzi

THE FIX HAS been with us for years, and this is the annual review of recent major examples. The author of the defining remark is former City Magistrate Reuben Emanuel. He's originally from Philadelphia, where the fix is a way of life.

Currents Some would think the ASU basketball scandal is a good fix. Wrong--a good fix is never illegal, just sleazy. Tammany Hall leader George Washington Plunkitt, a great American, once observed that government was like a big apple orchard, but one of the trees was marked "penal code." He could never understand why so many people wanted the apples from that tree when there were so many others.

The following are the best examples of those who understood that principle: the best fixes of 1997.


FOREST CITY DEVELOPMENT, an Ohio-based company, owns 309 acres on which it plans to develop a massive retail complex. But those plans won't fly unless there are plenty of consumers nearby to run up their plastic at the strip malls, so Forest City has also been working since the mid-'80s with the state Land Department to develop a massive residential development on 1,200 acres on state land that currently happens to be in the newly formed Town of Tortolita.

Of course, many Tortolita residents favor controlled growth, rather than the unrestrained variety generally plaguing Pima County. And therein lies a fix story:

Seems you can begin planning on land the taxpayer owns even before it's publicly auctioned. Obviously, Forest City doesn't want Tortolita--where most citizens hate tract development and the blade 'n' grade ethic--to exist, so the company sued, alleging a number of reasons why Tortolita's incorporation should be deemed illegal. Citing Tortolita's "rural nature," the suit argued it's not a "real community"; and, perhaps most ludicrous of all, the suit pointed to the Tortolitans' negative attitudes toward such things as the massive rape Forest City is planning for that state land as a reason for denying them town status.

When the Pima County Board of Supervisors incorporated Tortolita, Forest City lost standing to sue. So the company approached the Attorney General and Forest City's virtual development partner, the state Land Department, and got them to adopt their lawsuit. The Attorney General accepted on face value the allegations made by Schorr and other development lawyers against Tortolita.

The AG's Office even filed to enjoin Tortolita from defending itself. The state attorneys argued residents would face irreparable harm based on the costs of the defense for their own lawsuit that could ultimately be born by Tortolita's property owners. That's a 10 for chutzpah!

The AG's Office then proceeded to reverse itself on the issue of the constitutionality of the 1997 statute allowing Tortolita's incorporation. Until then, the AG had defended that statute, but suddenly agreed the state Appellate Court was correct in striking it down. Strange behavior? Nah--the fix was in. The developers don't want the town, and, it seems, out-of-town property owners take precedence over mere citizens and residents.

Judge Michael Brown concurred, ruling against Tortolita.


WE ALREADY AWARDED Jerry Coangelo and the major league boys a fix award for getting taxpayers to build them a stadium from which Pima County will, if lucky, not lose any money. Never mind that the county's already lost the revenue from hotel rooms, rental cars, and RV parks that could've been used for something else; we've got plenty of revenue to burn around here. And besides, the public will get the use of the stadium for about 10 months out of the year and make some money off of concerts and stuff.

Ooooops. New fix. Now we've rolled over for minor league baseball by assigning most of the rest of the year to the new Tucson Sidewinders, the team that replaced the Toros and became the AAA farm club for Coangelo's Diamondbacks.

So the public's stadium won't be quite so public, and the terms of the agreement clearly favor the Sidewinders' franchise owner, Martin Stone. Pima County won't make much of anything until attendance reaches some ridiculous number the old Toros prayed for. Note that the county's cut is based on attendance figures, and not gross sales or profits.

County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry was negotiating for a real deal for taxpayers when team owner Stone pulled out three votes from the supervisors, whom he'd been working separately, and got his own deal. The taxpayers now hold another big empty bag. The three suckers were supervisors Mike Boyd, Ray Carroll and Raul Grijalva.

Boyd is easy to fix with anything that's wrapped in "economic development," and Carroll plainly hasn't figured it all out yet. But Grijalva usually doesn't take this big and obvious a dive for rich white people.


WHILE THE ATTORNEY General is suing Tortolita and claiming the town is rural and agricultural in nature (never mind that there are no agricultural uses within its borders), next door in Oro Valley the developer Vistoso Partners is using an old tax dodge called "rent-a-cow." That scheme involves running cattle on empty land zoned for thousands of homes and commercial uses. This abuse by itself is one of the grandest fixes in the history of the state.

After members of the Oro Valley Neighborhood Coalition filed a complaint with the town because cattle were damaging what's left of one of the county's precious few riparian areas, Honey Bee Canyon, Oro Valley Planning Director Don Chatfield actually proposed that the town end this scam. He reasoned there's no provision in the town code for such a usage.

But the developers argued that because the land had been used for grazing in the past, they were entitled to continue, although they agreed to move the cows out of the Honey Bee area.

Oro Valley rolled over and allowed Vistoso to continue the tax dodge, meaning the company will continue to pay less than a thousand dollars a year for the entire 2,700 acres on which it should be paying well over $1 million annually. And you can bet the rest of us taxpaying peasants will cough up for the infrastructure this development requires.

They didn't have to give in so easily, but the spineless Growth Lobby toadies who run Oro Valley took a dive in the second round. Great fix.


LEGENDARY LAND SPECULATOR Don Diamond always makes the list. This year, he sat with the leadership of the Committee to Incorporate Casas Adobes and approved their final proposed boundary lines.

What was Diamond's motivation in supporting the law that made new incorporations possible?

One guess was it would put further impetus on Tucson Mayor George Miller and the City Council majority to annex Diamond's massive, far-southeast side development site, the Rocking K Ranch. (Better hurry up and cover our infrastructure costs, before we form our own community!)

Another obvious guess concerns all that land Diamond owns at River Road and La Cholla Boulevard, which Pima County rezoned for him in 1996. He chose to keep that parcel out of Casas Adobes, leaving him the opportunity to start a bidding war with growth-happy competing city jurisdictions for the best annexation deal.

Some people are known as the "fathers" of their various communities. Casas Adobes' daddy is Don Diamond.


WOW, THIS CLEVELAND company has scored two nominations in one year.

Forest City Development owns 300 acres already rezoned for either a shopping center, lots of houses, or both, at Tangerine and Thornydale roads. The thought of that parcel going into the Town of Tortolita where, unlike the Town of Marana, there could possibly be a restriction or two was more than the Forest City cementheads could stand, so they asked their friends on the Marana Town Council to grab it and another 900 acres before Tortolita's incorporation was complete.

But when several families who live in the proposed annexation area protested the move, the Marana Council told them it would put the matter on hold. They lied. So 24 hours before the next town meeting, Forest City slipped the item back onto the Council's consent agenda, and the Council passed it unanimously.

Since then, Marana citizens have secured enough signatures for a referendum in the next election, proving there are some folks living in Dogpatch who grasp the need for better government. And Tortolita's in court questioning the legality of the annexation.

All of which goes to show that fixing the Marana Council isn't difficult; in fact, it's even easier than Oro Valley. These rubes have been known to fix themselves sometimes without even being told. They're sleazy 'n' easy.


THE U.S. FOREST Service needs more tourist parking for Sabino Canyon and developers want to build ticky-tacky stucco boxes in the area. Unfortunately, there's a shooting range in the way: the Tucson Rod and Gun Club, which has been there on leased land since 1953.

Forest Service officials needed an excuse to evict the club, so they raised the bogus issue of the safety of the range.

While no serious accidents have occurred at the shooting range in its 43 years of operation, club leaders wanted to make certain safety and sound improvements. The Forest Service denied them permission to make those improvements, then announced the safety issue would be paramount in the decision about whether to leave the club open. If that weren't B.S. enough, the Forest Service then hired a fraudulent expert on a no-bid contract to write a phony report about the safety dangers posed by the range.

But the Forest Service bigshots were inept and they got caught, and their phony expert--an unqualified high school drop-out with no credentials in ballistics--was exposed.

The matter has gone to court, with scarcely a peep from the establishment media about the Forest Service's lies and subterfuge. The daily news media still falsely report that the range was closed for "safety reasons," citing the shabby and doctored report. The issue remains unresolved, and is winding its way through the Forest Service bureaucracy, and, ultimately, the courts.

And now many Arizonans have learned that Smokey is a lying sonofabitch.


SOMEHOW--OFFICIAL MEMORIES are conveniently foggy--local real estate broker Bill Arnold was appointed the exclusive agent for Amphi School District real estate deals. It probably helped that his good friend Vicki Cox-Golder was chairwoman of the Amphi School Board at the time. (Arnold chaired Cox-Golder's disastrous 1996 Pima County supervisorial campaign/debacle). Arnold scored a big commission on the now infamous 73-acre site that's tied up because it's located in the heart of the endangered pygmy owl's critical habitat.

Amphi bought the land for the school site without an appraisal; didn't get an environmental assessment, even though the land has three washes running through it; and paid more per acre than comparable sales of nearby parcels. But that has failed to move Arnold and the corrupt dolts on the Amphi School Board and their collection of assorted stooges into any form of repentance. They're still trying to justify what was clearly a bad move, even in the face of a conflict-of-interest suit filed by Amphi property owner and former County Supervisor David Yetman. And they've tried to convert their mistake into to an argument about "owls vs. kids," instead of what it really is: "taxpayers and parents vs. sleaze."

For despicably hiding behind children ala Saddam Hussein, this one's worth a 12 on the barf-o-meter. TW

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