Lawn and Order

In most of water-poor Tucson, green lawns are frowned upon. In Winterhaven, they're required.

Kathleen Manton-Jones was born in Cleveland, and when she moved to Tucson, she was certainly not looking for a house or neighborhood to copy those in the tree-lined streets that wind through thick-grass lots of Great Lakes suburbs.

She did not choose a home in Winterhaven, the quaint but quirky north-central Tucson neighborhood that is as famous for its enchanting Christmas lights as it is for its mandatory water waste. Her husband, an Air Force man, selected the Winterhaven house when they re-settled in 1997, buying a $118,000 home in a neighborhood created in 1949 to look, for promotional purposes, like the Cleveland suburb of Shaker Heights.

And when her husband ditched the marriage, she was left with the home. Manton-Jones, 44, is an artist, and she was forced to take extra secretarial, clerk and administrative jobs to keep up the payments.

The crimp made her examine all of life's expenses, including the maintenance of a lush lawn and water-guzzling plants that make up Winterhaven's desert-defying green--even in the dead of a Tucson summer.

"I designed this yard so it could be managed by me, a single woman who works full-time, in a house that's bigger than anything I could manage," says Manton-Jones, who has re-married.

It also struck her more than odd that she was in the Sonoran Desert--with turf that needed watering from an antique irrigation system. Water runs damn near free in Winterhaven, guided and policed by the Winterhaven Water and Development Co., which owns the well that furnishes the water for the 270-plus-lot subdivision off East Fort Lowell and North Country Club roads.

Therefore, she studied low-water plants and landscape design. She made visits to The Home Depot and paid $700 to a University of Arizona engineering student who had done some landscape work for a Winterhaven neighbor.

"I'm invested in this," she says. "I dug every hole out there."

Forget some high-minded conservation ethic. For doing what would seem normal, or even required, in other neighborhoods in drought-stricken Tucson, Manton-Jones is facing fines and even court action.

After repeat submissions of her landscape plan to Winterhaven's board and its landscape committee, Manton-Jones was stunned to get a certified-mail notice on Jan. 30.

She drained more time waiting in a post office line for the privilege of getting the news: she was being dunned $350 in "landscape noncompliance fines" together with $195 in "unpaid late fees on unpaid fines."

It would be funny, Manton-Jones says, if it were not so aggravating and such a waste of time for adults.

Or if the notice--or rather, the Winterhaven board--didn't come after her so heavy. Her neighbors have enlisted Luis Ochoa. And if Ochoa's name doesn't immediately strike fear, his firm, Quarles & Brady Streich Lang, does.

Ochoa asserted that Manton-Jones ran afoul of Winterhaven's lawn and garden police beginning December 2002.

"As you know, the Winterhaven CC&Rs and Bylaws affecting your property authorize the Association to impose certain rules, assessments and fees and require the payment of certain assessments and fees which ... were adopted for the mutual benefit of all Winterhaven lot owners," Ochoa wrote.

Indeed. Manton-Jones once allowed her sense of neighborhood and community to propel her to serve on the Winterhaven board, until she got publicly sliced by a combative colleague. Manton-Jones resigned immediately--not because her verbal assailant was accurate, but because she believed that the trashing served its purpose of eroding Manton-Jones' effectiveness.

Ochoa, who also represented Winterhaven while working at another powerful, politically wired law firm (DeConcini McDonald Yetwin & Lacy), rolled out the threats. The "legal remedies," he noted, included a notice of assessment that could jeopardize Manton-Jones' home ownership with a notice of assessment that can confound the property title.

Chris Chandler, the president of Winterhaven's board of directors, is frank and politely unapologetic for the tough stand.

"They play hardball," he says of Ochoa and his law firm.

But the case confronting Manton-Jones is exposing Winterhaven as a Tucson and desert anachronism, a subdivision that drains increasingly scarce water for turf that no longer has a place.

"We pay our own way here," Chandler says. "We have our own well. We pump it ourselves. This is really not a water issue."

CHANDLER, A RESIDENTIAL real estate appraiser who grew up in neighboring--and drier--Richland Heights, supported Manton-Jones for the Winterhaven board.

"I was on Kathleen's page of we need to cut back," says Chandler, who bought his Winterhaven home in 1992 for $121,000. "I don't think I have a natural plant in my landscape, but I didn't plant any of it."

That's not quite right: Chandler is proud of his Goldwater pine that once served as a Christmas tree, but now adorns the front lip of his yard.

Chandler, on the Winterhaven board for four years and president for three, says he believes he has a duty to represent Winterhaven's majority that wants turf.

"Drive all of our streets, and you decide what the majority wants," Chandler says. "Kathleen Manton is a micro-minority."

Rather than drive, we walked with Chandler last weekend.

Heading north on Fox Avenue, Chandler notes with disdain residents who have a front yard full of gravel, a sharply reduced turf area or--heaven forbid--a pure dirt yard.

As for the one with dirt, Chandler notes that "there is nothing we can do; they are grandfathered"--meaning the property was in that condition when revised landscape requirements went into effect more than a dozen years ago.

But Winterhaven persists with open taps, busting its agreements on water use. At 295 gallons, the average Winterhaven resident uses nearly double the 150 gallons per day the average Tucsonan uses.

Winterhaven does so with a comfortable arrangement with City Hall, which has for more than a dozen years clamped down on excessive water use in areas served by the city water utility, Tucson Water, an organization that's snapped up other water companies and shamed some into conservation. It is a look-the-other-way relationship made possible in part by Winterhaven's Christmas attraction and even by Winterhaven's willingness to be a pioneering neighborhood willing to pay for garbage collection.

Winterhaven luxuriated in 254 acre-feet of water last year. An acre foot, 325,851 gallons, is equal to a football field under one foot of water.

Use at Winterhaven exceeded the 250-acre-foot limit it had pledged to the Arizona Department of Water Resources to keep. But the state is powerless to penalize Winterhaven for that 1.3 million-gallon excess.

Supply helps mandate demand at Winterhaven, as does the low cost. Under Tucson Water rates accepted by the City Council, a typical Winterhaven home would pay about $51 a month just for water. Instead, they pay $48 a month to the nonprofit Winterhaven for water--as well as garbage collection and association dues.

Chandler counters that the city should pay a visit and examine Winterhaven as model of efficiency.

"We have three well sites that are in very good shape. We've never been down, never been dry, never had to drill deeper. We haven't had a rate increase for 13 years," Chandler says.

Chandler, 48, is the unofficial mayor of Winterhaven. He is a Republican in real-world politics, but is an infrequent voter. On a walking tour with reporters, he gets such a positive response from a few neighbors that he jokes that he obviously staged the event.

But as he passes Stan and Shirley Brown's place on Christmas Avenue and Kleindale Road, Stan and Chandler exchange sardonic formal greetings. The Brown's front is decorated each holiday, including for Valentine's Day, but he has amassed a tidy but sizeable collection of junk on the side of his house.

It is the source of friction, and Brown, maintaining the tone, asks derisively: "May I put out green bulbs for St. Patrick's Day?"

Chandler tells him that the entrance is under the homeowners' authority and later explains that the Browns change the color of the light bulbs; last holiday season, they included lights that flashed.

Turf and preservation of Winterhaven's original design and marketing scheme also guide Chandler and the other residents who are pushing for recognition as a historic neighborhood. Among other things, the designation would chop property taxes in half.

THOSE IN THE water conservation business are uncomfortable with Winterhaven.

"The part that troubles me is the punishment, the fines for someone who chooses to conserve," says Val Little, director of the Water Conservation Alliance of Southern Arizona.

The "requirement to have a lawn runs counter" to conservation programs undertaken throughout Pima County, Little says.

George Miller knows Winterhaven. A liberal Democrat, Miller represented Winterhaven during his 13 years on the City Council from Ward 3 and another two terms as mayor. He enjoyed a pleasant relationship with Winterhaven, even though it is a predominantly Republican neighborhood.

Much of the city's water conservation programs--cuts in personal use, desert landscape, effluent on parks and golf courses, etc. --were developed during Miller's 21-plus years in office.

The time has come, he says, for Winterhaven to get with the rest of the community.

"They have their own well, but it is all part of our aquifer," Miller says.

The big, turf yards should go, he says.

"From all that I've read and heard from people who know more about this than I do, we are in the seventh year of a drought that is supposed to be 20 years long," Miller says. "The other part of it is the Colorado River. We are not going to get as much from it as we thought. We cannot rely more on it, but will have to learn how to rely on it less.

"Indiscriminate watering," Miller says, is a thing of the past.

Demand will increase despite conservation. Tucson's population grew more than 20 percent from 1990 to 2000, to 486,699. It was projected to top 514,000 last summer. The 2000 Census showed 843,746 people in Pima County. The population was expected to hit 911,000 by mid-2003.

Mitch Basefsky, spokesman for Tucson Water, says city officials believe everyone should be involved in water conservation, and that Winterhaven is the glaring exception to the other water companies and governments that are in sync.

"It's inequitable," Basefsky says, to have Tucson Water customers and water users in other parts of Pima County working to conserve while Winterhaven guzzles.

Miller says there would be greater conservation if Winterhaven and other water companies were consolidated under one authority: Tucson Water. The city bought the dilapidated Forty-Niner Country Club water system, for example, two years ago.

But the city is taking no steps to buy Winterhaven's water rights. It would be a monumentally hostile attempt and would be costly to provide infrastructure upgrades on pipes, pumps and effluent irrigation lines. Talk of a city purchase also could be seen as a threat to Winterhaven and could damage attempts to get the neighborhood to conserve.

Meanwhile, the city is encountering resistance in midtown. Some residents of exclusive El Encanto are drilling their own wells to water their lawns and trees. The city is backing a bill in the Legislature to block that type of well-drilling, except in the cases where it is shown that Tucson Water cannot serve the neighborhood or residence.

And neither the bill under consideration nor local conservation efforts will do anything to curb use in Winterhaven, which is protected by grandfathered water rights.

"It is one of the rights that comes with the land," says Chandler, who does not fear a water crackdown.

Too many powerful interests, in agriculture and in real estate, will fend off such action, Chandler says.

"Drive 100 miles north, and you'll see more grass than in Cleveland."

FOR MANTON-JONES, efforts to cut out high-water plants and turf were difficult.

In the heat of the summer of 2000, she was warned that she needed to come into compliance by watering. She was sent what has become a stack of the Winterhaven Conditions, Covenants and Restrictions.

"Winterhaven Water and Development is investing a large amount of money into the care and maintenance of the Winterhaven trees and landscaping with trimming and deep root feeding in order to maintain the beauty and integrity of our community," Steve Kirkpatrick, then the landscape chair, said in a July 1, 2000 letter to Manton-Jones. "We are COUNTING on you to do your part in working toward that same goal."

Instead, Manton-Jones submitted numerous landscape plans to the Winterhaven bosses. She has worked to reduce her 1,727 square feet of turf to 524 square feet. That was not good enough, according to the Winterhaven board. Her plan has too much area that won't require watering. It's next to impossible to have less than half of a yard without green grass.

"All my neighbors directly affected--next door and across the street--are fine with my plan," she says.

And she's fine with the others. Manton-Jones is no militant marching up and down Winterhaven demanding that rock replace rye.

She has received more than one lecture on Winterhaven's integrity and property values that are somehow propped up by grass.

But a look at county records shows property values in Winterhaven, with strikingly moderate, even modest, homes, are stable--a benefit when taxes are due.

Dorotha Bradley, a Winterhaven board member, delivered one such property value lecture to Manton-Jones, once telling her that her property was driving down the value of others.

County records show that Bradley has not suffered a decline at her Christmas Avenue home. In fact, since Manton-Jones moved into Winterhaven, Bradley's home has increased 42 percent in taxable value, from $85,105 in 1997 to $120,754 this year.

"The property values in Winterhaven," Manton-Jones says, "stem from the sense of community; the friendly helpful neighbor and friend next door, down the street and around the block. It is not a product of the numbers of blades of grass in our front yards. It is manifest in how we care for what we have, not what it is that we have."

It also manifests itself in the form of political clout. Miller says Winterhaven had the clout to get city subsidy and cooperation for the Festival of Lights, which he was selected to judge in 1999. The event is free and attracted about 150,000 this year. With revenue from vendor rental fees, Winterhaven helps itself and the festival's chief beneficiary, the Community Food Bank.

Winterhaven received $30,000 in Miller's day for the holiday light show.

"That's no small amount," Miller says. "So in that sense, they did have clout. But I never found it oppressive."

And while Miller didn't have to rely on Winterhaven to get elected, the neighborhood did show clout in being one of the few precincts west of Alvernon Way to support Republican City Councilwoman Kathleen Dunbar in 2001. (By the way, Dunbar didn't return a call from The Weekly regarding this matter.)

CITY HALL CONTINUES to smile on Winterhaven, offering a new perk denied to other parts of Tucson.

Creeping around deep and historic opposition to a first-ever garbage collection fee, the City Council last year approved a measure to tack on a $2-a-month charge for so-called "brush & bulky" pick-up service for yard debris and big household items.

Though seemingly small, the charge for what is semiannual collection in most neighborhoods has become controversial. The city rigidly slapped it on everyone, including some mobile home parks that have no use for brush and bulky collection (see "The Brush Off," Jan. 22). At $24 a year, the brush and bulky fee is $3 more than what the owner of a $100,000 home pays in the admittedly low portion of city property taxes that helps pay for daily city operations.

For example, Sonny Rickles asked the City Council to refine the ordinance to exempt trailer parks like his Bermuda Garden, where brush and bulky items are hauled away by the contractors whom Rickles calls.

Rickles was rebuffed, an insult worsened by the revelation of the sweetheart deal the city cut for garbage collection in Winterhaven. Compared with Bermuda Garden and all other city neighborhoods where households pay $24 a year for just two brush and bulky collections, Winterhaven gets $168 worth of service as part of the deal with the city. That includes the regular semi-annual brush and bulky for free and monthly, and smaller, lawn and garden collections free.

The city, happy to be charging someone for garbage collection, waived the brush and bulky fee for Winterhaven. It is a deal that was concealed from Rickles and his advocates.

Byron Howard is the chief of staff for Councilwoman Shirley Scott, the Democrat whose southeast Ward 4 is across town from Bermuda Garden. Howard, a former director of Pima County's sewer system and a former home building executive, began checking on the brush and bulky fees when Rickles grew frustrated.

In late January, Howard sent four questions via e-mail to Eliseo Garza, director of city environmental services. Garza, passed them to his deputy, Sam Chandler.

Second on Howard's short quiz was, "What is the city of Tucson charging the homeowners of Winterhaven?"

Sam Chandler, no relation to Winterhaven President Chris Chandler, replied that "all residential units pay the $2 brush & bulky fee including Bermuda Gardens and Winterhaven."

But the city-Winterhaven contract for garbage collection specifically states: "twice per year scheduled Brush & Bulky curbside collection--at no charge."

The contract, approved in December and effective from Jan. 1 through the end of 2006, calls for Winterhaven to pay $2,295 a month, or $8.50 for each of the 270 residences.

City garbage trucks have replaced those from Waste Management and roll through Winterhaven on Tuesdays and Fridays. Winterhaven also receives recycling pick-up every Monday.

The rest of the city gets just one garbage pick up each week and one recycling collection, but without an charge that is in addition to the property and sales taxes residents pay.

Sam Chandler's erroneous answer to Howard was further exposed by the Jan. 12 minutes of the Winterhaven board meeting that tout the city bargain.

Dorotha Bradley, who is also chair of Winterhaven trash, reported that "the city has stated that they will no longer assess Winterhaven residents the $2 per month fee for brush and bulky pickup since we now have a special contract with the city for pick up."

Bradley began touting the city deal nearly a month earlier.

"Here's the Good News," Bradley gushed in a Dec. 12 memo she sent Winterhaven households to explain the switch from Waste Management to the city. "As a special favor to Winterhaven to make this transition easier, the city has agreed to provide us with similar twice-a-week service for less than we now pay Waste Management." At $8.50 a month, the city's rate is $1.10 less than what Waste Management was charging.

It is the second day of garbage collection--eliminated for the rest of the city two years ago and changed to recycling--that Winterhaven pays for, according to the contract.

But the city also is providing Winterhaven with once-a-month collection of the neighborhood's considerable green waste that is bundled or bagged and no more than 35 pounds. Based on what the $2 a month the city charges other residents, those in Winterhaven are getting another $144 per year in city garbage collection for free. And the city provides at no cost extra barrels or collection points in Winterhaven during the Festival of Lights.

The city's move into Winterhaven to collect garbage is not insignificant. It gives City Manager James Keene and Garza, Keene's inherited point man for citywide garbage collection fees, a way to demonstrate the city's long-desired fee-for-service plans.

"We didn't ask for city garbage collection or for brush and bulky," Chandler says. "Since the beginning of time, since the beginning of Winterhaven, this neighborhood has paid for garbage collection. Paid dearly." He says Winterhaven was an unwitting target of the city.

Winterhaven was in the middle of a three-year contract with Waste Management, the international trash giant, when the city took steps to keep Waste Management and other companies from picking up residential trash within the city.

"Look, this came on the heels of the failure of the sales tax (city transportation measure in May 2002) and this mercenary city manager needed revenue," Chandler says.

It took Keene to start what Tom Wilson, another gypsy municipal manager who was canned in 1992, wanted to do in Tucson 14 years ago: charge city residents for service upgrades.

And the Winterhaven garbage deal also allows the city to get a foothold in garbage fees, something Keene and other city officials have wanted to institute but have failed given the strong and historic belief of many residents that garbage collection is among the services spelled out in the City Charter and covered by property and sales taxes. Keene dramatizes his push for the fees with his annual forecasts of budget deficits, which for the 2004-05 fiscal year that begins July 1 is listed at $26 million.

"It's a sad fact, but James Keene's solution is to raise taxes," says Ward 1 City Councilman Jose Ibarra, a westside Democrat. "Call it a garbage fee, it's a tax increase. He never thinks outside the box. He just wants instant money."

Chandler says he sees no special treatment for Winterhaven. It may be the other way around. With few police calls, few streets repairs, no water repairs and now fee-for-service garbage collection, Winterhaven is, according to Chandler, a model.

And an open one.

"We're not some snotty gated La Paloma," Chandler says.

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