Land War

County Supervisor Sharon Bronson Faces A Challenge From Republican Barney Brenner.

PIMA COUNTY'S DISTRICT 3 covers a lot of ground. Its 7,403 square miles include the growing town of Marana, the outskirts of Green Valley, and redneck residents in the remaining rural patches north, south and west of Tucson. It stretches west across vast minimally developed countryside, including the Tohono O'odham reservation and the towns of Sells and Ajo. It brushes against the Mexican border in the town of Lukeville.

As a result, there have been a lot of competing constituents for Supervisor Sharon Bronson to keep happy during her first term in office. The test of how well she's done will be on November 7, when voters will choose between the Democratic incumbent and her Republican challenger, Barney Brenner.

Bronson has a lot working in her favor. Besides the advantage of incumbency, District 3 is primarily Democratic country, with about 45 percent of the voters registered Democrats. Less than 36 percent identify themselves as Republicans, with the remaining 19 percent outside both major parties. The only Republican ever to win in District 3 was Ed Moore, who had won twice on the Democratic ticket before switching to the GOP before his final successful run in 1992.

Before her election to the board in 1996, Bronson was best known for her environmental activism. Since taking public office, she's moved more toward the middle to keep in step with her voters.

Particularly this year, Bronson has worked to solidify her political base. The board was able to avoid increasing the tax rate this year because the county's record $840 million budget included increased revenues from bond sales and newly improved properties. That budget included enough funding for 43 new deputies, earning Bronson a strong endorsement from Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik.

Although some environmentalists have had rocky moments with her, Bronson has worked growth issues. She joined in a majority vote in 1998 to strengthen Pima County's regulation of hillsides, native plants and riparian areas, and she voted against the Canoa Ranch rezoning in January 1999.

"Given the constraints the legislature has placed on us, we have tried to actively make growth pay for itself by conditions placed on rezonings," she says, "and I think if you look at what happened with the major rezonings, we no longer approve rezoning as a matter of course. It's become much more difficult to get a rezoning and it has to be one that protects the quality of life."

Bronson has also served on subcommittees for the state's Growing Smarter Commission. She was so dismayed at the state legislature's handling of Growing Smarter Plus that she's co-chairing the campaign against Prop 100, the legislature's referendum to set aside 3 percent of state trust land for conservation. (For details, see "Trick Or Treat," TW, October 12.)

Bronson is supporting Prop 202, the Citizens Growth Management Initiative. She complains that the state legislature isn't giving counties the "land-use tools" they need to better manage growth. "So the only alternative right now, especially when we try to control how we grow and where we grow, is the Citizens Growth Management Initiative. It may not be the best of all possible solutions, but it is the only one up there right now."

BRENNER IS A staunch opponent of the CGMI, saying "it's potentially the single biggest lawmaking disaster in Arizona history and would be detrimental to the quality of life that we enjoy today."

Brenner grew up in the New York City borough of Queens. He studied engineering in college before dropping out to travel. He recalls arriving in Tucson in 1972 "with $100 and a dying vehicle." He started working on Volkswagen engines and eventually opened his own automotive repair shop. He now owns an automotive parts shop, Barney's Import Parts, on West Prince Road.

Brenner didn't catch the political bug until a few years ago, when he purchased some land to develop home sites. Although he's tightlipped on the details, he says he was "villified" in the process. That led him to pay more attention to the details of county government, which in 1999 was facing a growing tax revolt. Brenner emerged from that crowd as a leader and became an outspoken proponent of property rights and a natural foil for Bronson.

Take the downzoning issue. In 1998, when the environmentally inclined members of the Board of Supervisors appeared ready to invoke the board's seldom-used authority to downzone property, the Arizona Legislature passed a law stripping them of that authority. The county challenged the law, but a judge rejected the case because the county had no pending downzoning cases.

So the board created one in April of this year, voting unanimously to downzone 30 acres at Gates Pass and North Camino de Oeste. The zoning, passed in 1963, would have allowed a shopping center to be built at the intersection. Bronson argues that the zoning is incompatible with the low-density housing that has developed in the area in the ensuring 37 years. The property's owner, Emmet McLoughlin, sued the county in July.

"Downzoning is stealing," says Brenner, adding that the legal action is sure to engender ill will at the Capitol. "Then it's very hard for the county to turn around and ask the legislature, 'Gee we need favors from you.' We need a county board that can work cooperatively with our elected officials and we're not seeing that."

RESPONDING TO THE legal chaos that an endangered species like the cactus ferruginous pygmy owl can bring, Bronson has also been a key supporter of the county's Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan.

Brenner is skeptical about many elements of that plan, including provisions that call for increased impact fees and the public purchase of open space.

"We can work that in a such a way that we have the most ecologically sensitive approach," Brenner says. "But the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan envisions spending three to five million dollars of badly needed tax money. Not the right approach for me."

Brenner shrugs off concerns that similar planning efforts related to endangered species have included public land set-asides. For that matter, he sees the listing of the pygmy owl as a misuse of the Endangered Species Act.

Nor is he a fan of impact fees. "You can call 'em impact fees, you can call 'em assessments, you can call 'em levies, you can call 'em anything that you want," Brenner says. "Let's translate it. It's 'We want more tax money.' I maintain that they're not administrating the tax money they're receiving accurately enough."

Brenner points to Kino Hospital as an obvious area of mismanagement. "It's been a fiasco," he says.

Bronson agrees that Kino has been mismanaged. But she argues that she opposed the move that spun management of Kino to an independent commission, which hired Dr. Richard Carmona as its administrator. As the debt problems grew at Kino, Carmona resigned last year at the same time the Board of Supervisors voted to retake control of the hospital.

"I was the only one on the board since January 1997 until recently who spoke out against the current healthcare system," Bronson says. "We're going to balance the Kino budget and repay that debt. Without my leadership that wouldn't have happened."

Earlier this year, in a cost-cutting move, the board eliminated the birthing unit at Kino. Brenner is particularly upset about that decision, saying the birthing unit should have been spared. Ask him what he'd cut, though, and he confesses he doesn't know. As with the rest of the county budget, he's sure there's waste, but he has yet to pinpoint it.

"I'll find out," Brenner promises. "I intend to have competent audits of areas of county spending and see where is the bleeding."

BRENNER TRAILS BRONSON in fundraising. According to campaign finance reports filed last week with the county, he had raised $33,088 as of October 2, with $12,500 coming from his own pocket. He'd spent $32,503, leaving him with less than $585 in the bank.

That's not much compared to Republican Vicki Cox-Golder, who was defeated by Bronson four years ago. Cox-Golder, a well-connected real-estate broker, raised more than $150,000 for her own campaign. Two independent campaigns spent an additional $80,000. Despite all that money and a slick campaign, Bronson pulled 52 percent of the vote, while Cox-Golder only claimed 32 percent. (The remainder went to incumbent Moore, who had decided to run as an independent, primarily to undermine Cox-Golder.)

This year, Bronson has raised twice as much money as Brenner: $78,811 though October 2. She was frugal through her primary campaign, spending only $28,330 and leaving her with more than $50,000 to spend in the final weeks of the campaign.

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