Of Course!

Updates on some of the stories we covered in 2010

What eventually happened regarding some of the stories we covered in 2010 can be summed up in two words: Of course!

Of course the state of Arizona slashed assistance for the mentally ill ("Better Off Poor," May 13). Since it didn't make financial sense, of course the proposed Tucson Convention Center hotel ("Downtown Reservations," April 22, and "Downtown Hotel Hell," Sept. 2) was eventually abandoned by the City Council.

However, the moves that the Tucson City Council would make in response to the ongoing economic downturn were less obvious. One proposal put forth by businessmen, and questioned by neighborhood activists, was to relax key provisions of the Tucson land-use code ("What's the Rush?" May 27).

In July, the council unanimously approved the proposed changes. To loud applause from many in the audience, Mayor Bob Walkup exuberantly declared that the vote was a sign the community is "business friendly."

Three months later, by a 6-0 vote, the council upheld a decision of its Sign Code Advisory and Appeals Board ("Save This Sign?" Aug. 19). That meant a 1960s-era business pole sign on 22nd Street should have come down by now.

But the sign still stands, and City Hall scuttlebutt is that the owner, Thoroughbred Nissan, plans to now argue that the sign is "art." All John Lohrman, general manager of the business, would say is: "I have no comment at this time."

The economic situation isn't much better for Pima County. That means the timing of the county's next bond election will be delayed ("Financial Bonds," April 8) until at least November 2012.

As he recommended the delay, County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry told the county's Bond Advisory Committee in a memo last month that the total of secondary assessed property values in the county will decline for the next four years and won't return to 2010 levels for another decade, according to projections.

While property owners throughout Pima County are dealing with that decrease, residents of the Rincon Heights neighborhood south of the UA campus dealt with a disagreement with top university administrators ("Distrust Thy Neighbor," June 3). They didn't think the UA was being neighborly when it acquired homes, tore them down and turned the land into underutilized parking lots.

"We have détente," comments Jaime Gutierrez of the UA Office of Community Relations about the situation now. He says the two sides have worked together on a couple of issues, including landscaping for the parking lots.

Rincon Heights resident Mark Homan agrees that officials from the UA parking office have been cooperative. However, he adds: "The landscaping is a nice gesture, but we're still looking at vast stretches of unused asphalt."

In another central city neighborhood, an arson fire that destroyed a home was news. Gerardo Junior Parra was charged with torching a house being rehabilitated in downtown's Menlo Park area ("One Street's Story," July 22).

A few weeks ago, Parra pled guilty to the arson charge and was sentenced to one year in custody, followed by six years of probation. He was also ordered to pay the owner of the home $65,000.

Another downtown building needing rehabilitation, the Steinfeld Warehouse, will require much more money than that ("Proposals, Please," Jan. 28). That is why Congressman Raúl Grijalva included $2 million for the project in his list of 2011 federal earmarks. But with newly converted anti-earmark Republicans taking control of the House of Representatives, the fate of Grijalva's request, and the Steinfeld building itself, remains uncertain.

Other nearby warehouses located along Toole Avenue face more stable futures ("Return of the Artists," Aug. 12). After they were sold by the Arizona Department of Transportation to private owners, fears were that higher rents and hostile landlords would drive out artistic tenants. However, artist and property manager Steven Eye says the exact opposite has happened.

"It's been amazing, actually," he reflects. Eye says the huge warehouse called The Arches at 35 E. Toole Ave. is fully occupied, and even more artists are looking to move into other nearby spaces.

"The whole block is definitely experiencing a renaissance," Eye concludes.

Going in the opposite direction are some of the buildings left vacant when the Tucson Unified School District shut down nine schools earlier this year ("All Room, No Class," Aug. 26).

While plans for what to do with those vacant properties have yet to emerge, the TUSD school board in a few weeks will be presented with information about its other facilities. This will be followed by a report in February that could lead to even more school closures.

While that might not be good news, the outlook for Victoria Summers is decidedly more upbeat. A single mother without a high school diploma and no job ("Bottom Up," Jan. 21), Summers in January predicted that because of assistance from others, things would be much better for her by the end of the year.

That is exactly what happened. Summers reports that she soon will be finishing her course work in an office-specialist program at Pima Community College, and has a part-time job in the evenings.

"I'm hoping to work for a CPA, because I find bookkeeping very interesting," Summers says.

"Things are a lot better," Summers adds about her life compared to one year ago.

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