Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Mayor's Race 2011: Walkup's Out, Asta's In

Posted By on Tue, Feb 22, 2011 at 9:12 PM

With Mayor Bob Walkup announcing he won't seek a fourth term this year, Republican Ron Asta told us he'd be running for the office.

The only other Republican now seeking the mayor's office is Shaun McClusky, who made his political debut with an unsuccessful campaign for the Ward 5 City Council seat in 2009. Democrat Jonathan Rothschild is also in the race.

Here's the announcement from Asta (and yes, he mentions the whole steak incident):

I have lived and worked in Tucson since 1964. I own a home in Tucson. My son was born, grew up and still lives in Tucson. I plan on living here the rest of my life—beginning with this announcement to be the next mayor of the city I have grown to love. But our city is in real need of new leadership.

I am the only candidate for mayor with proven leadership ability in an elected office—as the former chairman of the Pima County Board of Supervisors.

I am the only candidate with experience in urban planning. In fact, I have a Masters degree in Civil Engineering from the UA. And helped set the stage for the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan.

I used to be a liberal Democrat whose base narrowed with extreme positions…the poster boy for anti-growth in Tucson…which means I am a candidate who admits to making mistakes…and seeing the error of his ways.

Now I’m a conservative Republican…and a businessman. I still care deeply about the environment. But I also want an environment in which our kids can find jobs. I believe Tucson will work again when Tucsonans are working again. So, with age, I’m a lot more committed when it comes to keeping and attracting businesses. And I’ve learned how to build

consensus among parties who often have strong disagreements. That requires a strong mayor…the kind of mayor who will stand up for taxpayers and stand up against special interests.

Yes, I am still concerned about air quality, water quality and quality of life. But I am also concerned about our economy… and about a government that continues to make it difficult to live and work here — while it continues to squander taxpayer dollars. There are no excuses for that. In the coming weeks, I will show you how we can reduce restrictions on doing business here…and reduce city spending…without reducing our quality of life. And without reducing police and fire protection. When it comes to public safety, there are no excuses for second best.

While it is not in the mayor's job description, there are also no excuses for the sorry state of public education in Tucson. When 70% of our high school graduates need remedial math and English before they can take classes at Pima Community College, we have nobody to blame but ourselves. We are failing to bring new business here because of it .... and that is in the city's job description. I intend to get involved.

Finally, I also have no excuses for a mistake I made 33 years ago…when I stole a steak from a supermarket. I’m human. With nobody to blame but me, it was one of the great humbling experiences of my life. So I am the only candidate who will admit to making mistakes. But I’ve come back strong from each of them. And I hope to use that strength to help get Tucson moving again…get our city back on track…back to where it once was: the country’s best place to live and work and raise a family.

Here's more background, courtesy of Asta:

Ron Asta currently holds a position at CPE Consultants. Prior to 2004 he was the Sole Proprietor of Asta Planning & Zoning Co. and one of the Most Experienced Real Estate Consultants in this Valley. He has worked for CPE Consultants as the director of private development then general manager and now vice president.

He is the host of Ron Asta's Tucson, a radio talk show that airs every Tuesday at noon on 1330 AM the JOLT. The purpose of the show is to give voice to everyday people on matters of life, business and politics.


He learned civil engineering as a student in college. He was a regulator with county government for 7 years. He voted on more than 500 rezoning cases as an elected official. He was the owner of a real estate business and, as a planning and zoning consultant, he fought "City Hall" for 18 years and won.

In 1963 Ron Asta received a BS degree in civil engineering from Oregon State University and in 1965 he earned a master's degree from the U of A. He joined the Pima County Planning Department that same year and left in 1972 as Associate Director to run for the Pima County Board of Supervisors. After a 4 year term, including one year as Chairman, he went into the real estate business and became President and shareholder of Heritage Real Estate co.

In the 80's, Ron Asta expanded his real estate activity into planning and zoning consulting work when several businesses suggested his valuable experience with both government and commerce was needed in the growth and development industry. Asta Planning & Zoning Co. was created in 1986.

Pima County Government was one of Asta's major clients where he served as a contract hearing officer for zoning and building code violations.

From the archives: Tucson Citizen, March 5, 1998

Life a Lesson for Asta, leader in '70s sprawl wars

by Mark Kimble


If there were a godfather to the recently renewed discussion of sprawl in Pima County, it would be Ron Asta.


Asta, a member of the Board of Supervisors from 1972 to 1976 was the first to launch a serious and to hint, fatal - debate about what government should be doing to control and direct growth.

Now, the subject has again been brought up this time by one of his successors, Supervisor Mike Boyd. And as someone whose political career died on the growth debate, Asta has a few suggestions for Boyd.
Boyd was still in high school when Asta, then a 30¬ year old deputy planning director for Pima County, was elected to the Board of Supervisors in 1972. Four years later, as Boyd was playing football for UCLA and earning his degree in political science, Asta's political life was already over.

Although he was in office only a single term, Asta energized some say demonized the debate over growth in a way that forever divided Tucsonans. For that brief time, his power was so great that his disciples were referred to as Astacrats a term that either was bestowed as a high honor or spat out as the lowest insult, depending on your persuasion.

What's happened in the intervening 22 years?

"This community has not delivered," Asta said. "It has found a comfort zone in the debate."

From the perspective of a person long removed from that debate, Asta has suggestions for those leading the new charge.

"It's important for Mike, when he looks at the '90s, to look at what happened in the '70s," Asta said last week.

Asta's ideas were revolutionary, especially coming in the 1970s a decade in which Tucson's population increased 32 percent, from 265,6600 to 351,667.

Asta proposed a partial ring around the metropolitan area Ina Road on the north, Houghton Road on the east and Tucson Mountain Park on the west. Inside that ring, the city or county would provide roads, sewers and other services to developers at subsidized cost; outside, developers would pay the entire bill.
Outside the ring there would have been self contained satellite cities, such as the Three Points area west of Tucson, that would be separated from the metropolis with a greenbelt left undeveloped.

But almost as quickly as Asta proposed his ideas, he and his followers were gone.

First, in the fall of 1976, Asta was defeated is what was widely seen as a solid repudiation of his growth control philosophy. He tried a political comeback, running for mayor in 1983 but Tucsonans were not yet ready for his message, and he lost.

A few months later, in January 1977, four followers were thrown off the City Council in a special recall election because they advocated cost of service water rates that would have meant much higher bills for people who use lots of water and for those living at altitudes higher than the downtown area.

"After the massacre of the Astacrats, nobody talked about growth because it was a lightning rod," Asta said.

Since his defeat, Asta has been a self employed planning and zoning consultant, working for developers mostly those wanting to build small projects in the developed parts of town. He is hired to meet with neighbors and come up with a favorable plan that will make it through the labyrinthian rezoning process.

Although some of his formerly rabid supporters consider him a turncoat, Asta sees what he is now doing as a continuation of his core beliefs encouraging in-fill development instead of sprawl. True to his convictions, he recently was one of the few people in his own neighborhood to strongly support the building of 40 homes on an adjoining vacant parcel in the central city.

And that, Asta said, illustrates that sprawl limitation policies do have tradeoffs that will require unpopular decisions he calls it "political will" from Boyd and his colleagues as well as from members of the City Council. Because growth will come. And if it is not allowed on the periphery, it must be allowed on vacant parcels sandwiched in among existing neighborhoods.

"I do believe that in fill is good for the community, but there's got to be some tough stands to make it work," Asta said. "You can't say 'no' over here, without saying 'yes' over there.

"There has to be some political will. There has to be a certainty to the business community that when they do try in fill, they can get the rezonings."

From his perspective of a former elected official, a planner and a employee of the development industry, Asta said the demands of builders are simple: 'They want predictability. If the county wants to direct growth in one direction, the underlying facilities must be put in place to back up that direction.

"Where do you go if you're a businessman?" he asked. "You go here, and it's sprawl. You go in the city and the neighbors oppose you. You go here, and there's no roads and no sewers."

With more than two decades of hindsight, Asta feels that he wasn't hurt by his stands, but by his methods. "I didn't make any effort to go to the other sides and build bridges," Asta said. "I could have been the bridge to the Roy Drachmans of Tucson.

"I've been very critical of myself. I see a lot of opportunities lost."

So what will happen in the latest reincarnation of the sprawl debate? And does Asta feel that he could again play a role in it?

"I think I could run again," Asta said. "I'm itching to try some alternatives."

"Are there going to be controversies? Yes. Are there going to be extremists at both ends? Yes. Yes, we've sprawled farther than we ever thought we would," Asta said.

"But it's not too late to have an outstanding community.

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