Guest Commentary

Catherine's most excellent adventure in zoning governance

They started appearing about two months ago, mysteriously, like pods from outer space: almost overnight, yellow and white notices posted on wooden stakes at eye level, courtesy of the Pima County Planning and Zoning Commission. I'd seen their like before, about a month earlier in a mailing. This mailing, scrutinized right side up, upside down, sideways and by the light of the full moon, made absolutely no sense to anyone I talked to.

Most people hadn't even given it a try. This was probably due to the opening sentence. Well, it's not actually a sentence, but who wants to split grammatical hairs?

"Proposal to amend the Agua Caliente-Sabino Creek Zoning Plan ("Plan") by adding the following additional conditions to the Plan." This gobbledy-gook was followed by a bunch more gobbledy-gook describing subdivision plats and conditional zoning, and peppered with abbreviations like SR-2, CR-1, TR, CB-1. What these abbreviations mean was anybody's guess.

The more these signs multiplied, the more suspicious I became. Suspicion became obsession, obsession paranoia. What were these impenetrable notices posted every quarter-mile trying to tell me? Was it dire? Was it trivial? Was it going to impact the lives of me and mine in some crucial way? Something, the notices said, was going to happen in March 2006. But for all the information conferred, it could have been that the residents of the entire eastside--from the boundary of the Coronado National Forest on the north, to Speedway Boulevard on the south, from Sabino Canyon Road on the west, to just beyond Wentworth Road on the east--were going to be fatally gassed.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. So I picked up the phone and got a zoning official's voicemail. The next day, I did the same thing. Same result. Two days later, and still more voicemail, albeit a different person's. This provided little solace, and I picked up the dreaded notice, torn from the wooden stake stuck into the ground alongside a creosote bush in my front yard only that morning, and perused it one more time. There was no way around it: I was going to have to go to the public hearing scheduled for the end of the month.

Now, like most barely civic-minded people, I'd rather contract a case of scabies than go to a public hearing. I've been to a few, and they generally amount to a bunch of dorky politicos in cheap suits droning on and on, using jargon nobody understands--that they themselves memorized only that morning whilst sitting on the can--while disgruntled citizens rail about the runoff from their neighbor's remodeling project poisoning their salvia hedges.

Did I say "scabies?" I'd rather contract dengue fever. (Watch. Now I'm going to get dozens of e-mails from people informing me of my ignorance since any idiot knows that dengue fever is contracted only by unfortunate mosquito-bitten pobres mucking around in the Amazon basin. Since I have no genuine understanding of their suffering, why in the hell do they ever give people like me word processors? The answer is, I don't know.)

I called the offices of the Planning and Zoning Commission one more time, innocently seeking the meeting's agenda. Lord knows I didn't want to have to sit through the entire goddamned thing. Miraculously, a human being answered.

What the Proposal to Amend the Agua Caliente--Sabino Creek Zoning Plan means is that in 1963, when people were buying up land out here, nobody in their right mind imagined the population density and real estate value would become what it is today. If an individual bought a 40-acre parcel of land, he could do what he wanted with it, including subdividing, allowing others to purchase it, who'd subdivide it again, sell off the pieces to others who subdivide it again, ad infinitum. This practice is called "wildcatting." Wildcatting has become so prevalent that since the old zoning plan is expiring, the new one attempts to slow it down. One of the reasons for this is environmental. The eastside riparian areas are being subdivided to death. The plan, simply stated, will require the submitting of an environmental-impact survey before applying for zoning variations on particular parcels. Landowners, in addition, will have to notify their neighbors as to what they're planning to do, thereby giving the neighbors the opportunity to object.

Why didn't the silly fucks just say so?