El Controversy

To the Editor,

Regarding Dan Huff's "Walkout On Walkup" (January 27): It has been asked: why won't the El Con controversy go away? One reason it won't go away is that a shopping mall decided to move into the center of miles of already established and maintained neighborhoods. Now that shopping mall wants to significantly intensify its retail presence. But those miles of proud neighborhoods just won't go away.

I want to once again support the action of City Council members Jerry Anderson, José Ibarra and Steve Leal in preventing the finalization of a so-called "development agreement" with the owners of the El Con Mall. The spins that have been placed on their action are incredible. First, why the inflammatory accusations that they prevented the council from conducting routine business? Why not acknowledge that it was Mayor Bob Walkup who chose to move those routine agenda items to follow what everyone knows is a complex and highly contentious issue. Why would anyone not quickly dispense with the easy items first?

Claims that El Con neighborhoods participated in the production of the "development agreement" are false. I am a very active and informed El Con neighbor, and it was not available to us until Thursday, January 20, after 5 p.m., and only four days before the hearing. We have been called a "vocal subminority." If we are vocal, clearly we are not heard. If we are a "subminority," please note that individuals and neighborhood associations across the city have, in writing, agreed that dense and intense retail activity in the center of neighborhoods anywhere needs to be regulated.

Connecting this current "development agreement" to the mitigation agreement of June 7, 1999, where what was being mitigated was not revealed, does not today meet the standard of neighborhood participation.

I was prepared to speak to Monday's open meeting, and I knew that my presentation would not be a contribution to a process. I was willing to speak only to demonstrate that I will not go away without protest. The issues have been before the public for more than a year.

But let me summarize. If my right to the peaceful enjoyment of my private property protects me from a neighbor's barking dog, then why can I not be protected from the noise invasion of day and night delivery rigs, diesel engines, beeping loaders and customer traffic? Why must neighborhoods be overwhelmed by retail warehouse boxes? Why is there no protection from the visual pollution of huge signage visible day and night for significant distances? A "noise attenuating wall" and some "canopy trees" will not do it.

Anyone who wants to "understand the issues" is referred to the "development agreement" itself: Resolution 18489. It should alarm any taxpayer, citizen or resident of any neighborhood. On Monday night, there were four votes to pass the thing. Preventing a quorum was the only way to stop it. Applause to the three who had the courage to do that and take the consequent heat. They did the right thing.

-- Anne Murray

To the Editor,

Regarding Dan Huff's "Walkout On Walkup" (January 27): As a resident of El Conquistador estates, one of several neighborhoods directly impacted by the proposed El Con redevelopment, I would like to congratulate the City Council members who had the courage to stand by their convictions. This issue had been heard and voted on by the council just months earlier.

Mayor Bob Walkup contends that he had spent hours with neighbors discussing this proposal. Oh yes, we neighbors muttered to ourselves in disbelief. The development plan was not even made public until late Thursday, and no input was sought from any of the residents in our subdivision. It became very clear that our new mayor was dealing with his big business buddies behind closed door and presenting them with an opportunity to have their way with their redevelopment, at any cost.

Fighting to maintain our quality of life is an old issue for us. Each and every time the El Con owners do not get their way they hire even more expensive consultants and attorneys. Each time the public mobilizes and because our homes are at stake we fight Goliath. It is clear to me that eventually the multimillion-dollar corporations will have their way with us and the evil empire will win this war. We have put up a good and honorable fight, with the support of three councilman who represent our interest, Steve Leal, José Ibarra, and Jerry Anderson. Our own representative, Fred Ronstadt, sold us out a long time ago, and now he and the new mayor will conspire to place the nails in our coffins. We will continue to fight, and hope the public will back our cause. The next big box may be in your backyard.

-- Vicki Dawson

To the Editor,

Regarding Dan Huff's "Walkout On Walkup" (January 27): The Mayor and Council are supposed to see to the faithful execution of the laws according to their oath of office and not just to passing laws (ordinances).

There is in place an ordinance, called the "Big Box Ordinance," which calls for two public hearings before a big box can be allowed, one before the zoning examiner and one before the Mayor and Council.

The Mayor and Council in exercising their health and safety powers, i.e., their duty, are to consider the impact of the proposed development. Such considerations include, but are not limited to, the traffic that will be caused by such a big box, in this case the impact of two big boxes, exacerbated by a 20-screen theater, on the surrounding streets (Broadway, Alvernon Way, Fifth Street, etc.), and the hazard to health and safety by the huge storage of inflammable and toxic materials that Home Depots have in these big boxes which will be in such proximity to homes. These are facts the ordinance requires the Mayor and Council to take into consideration before the decision is made to allow a big box to be placed there.

The Mayor and his three supporters were ignoring this ordinance and seeking to circumvent it by adopting an agreement and a development plan which has two big boxes included and without taking into consideration the health and safety issues which are required under the ordinance. Instead of upholding the law, they were trying to avoid the law.

Carol West's seven amendments were directed to the development conditions, the "mitigation," and not to the question of allowing big boxes. It was a given. (Mitigation agreements don't work. How do you mitigate when you don't know what all the big boxes will be? The city as a rule does not enforce them because of staff constraints, and home owners must retain attorneys to do so, but that is neither here nor there.) Their development plan has two big boxes and her amendments were not directed to removing big boxes.

What the Mayor and his three assistants were doing was violating the due process requirements of the Constitution. And three courageous Council members, probably knowing the abuse and criticism unthinking critics would heap on them, chose to uphold the law and not allow a violation of due process to occur.

As for the neighborhoods, I believe I know the sentiments of the 325 people of the three neighborhoods who oppose the big boxes, most of whom were there January 24. We felt betrayed by Carol West and the Mayor. Please note that our "representative," Fred Ronstadt, is not included in our disappointment. He calls 90 percent of the surrounding neighborhoods, most of whom were there that night, a vocal subminority, as does the Mayor. When I called the Mayor's office and offices of Fred Ronstadt and Shirley Scott to voice my objections, they would not record my objections but asked me to call the citizen's hotline. Query: do supporters of their actions get this kind of treatment?

All four put mall owners ahead of constituents. Walkup stated that Wal-Mart will win its referendum lawsuit because the city contends the referendum petitions do not comply with city ordinances, ignoring the intervenor's grounds that the petitions do not comply with state law and ignoring the cases cited in direct support of this position.

We feel betrayed by Carol West because she stated during her campaign that a Home Depot should not go into El Con. Our neighborhood felt reassured by this statement. Some of our neighbors believed Walkup when he was campaigning and stated that he was for neighborhoods and that a Home Depot next to three neighborhoods was inappropriate.

That night we called out "railroad" to the Mayor and his three assistants. We were frustrated by their attitude and West's misleading us. We were not frustrated by the brave acts of the three council members who walked out. To say what they did was not the democratic process is to ignore the fact that they prevented the avoidance of the law and thus upheld the rule of law.

This is the democratic process, not agreements drawn in secret to avoid the law.

-- Joana Diamos

To the Editor,

Regarding Dan Huff's "Walkout On Walkup" (January 27): The managers of El Con Mall have, through the years, chosen to manage their beautiful commercial real estate investment by:

1) Demolishing a local landmark,

2) Seeking variances to increase the size of department stores to attract potential retailers, then...

3) Begging for city tax breaks to offset expenses when the new retailers bail, and as a consequence,

4) Alienating all of their neighbors.

Has anyone suggested to the current owners that they might sell to a developer who "gets it," and then quietly retire to San Diego to raise martinis?

The revived El Con plan will become the monument to Tucson's public policy and political will.

I have no doubt that the legacies of the politicians participating, as well and whatever size box is ultimately built, will surely be managed by the current owners in a historically consistent way.

El Con under current management is a lose/lose situation for our community.

-- Brad Holland