The Range

Civic Stampede

Talk about a turnaround: Just last year, as city officials began a push for garbage fees and other tax increases, a citizen committee delivered the dire news that the community was on the verge of a "financial firestorm" thanks to a billion-dollar bill for unmet needs.

Now we're in such good financial shape that we can spend $8.5 million to expand the elephant pen at the zoo!

City officials, won over by an aggressive form-letter campaign by the Tucson Zoological Society, hope the $8.5 million will come from a combination of general fund dollars, private donations, contributions from Pima County and revenue bonds repaid through higher zoo admission fees.

Pima County Supervisor Ray Carroll downplayed the likelihood that Pima County would contribute to the cause, although he added that the city could shift some county bond dollars now dedicated for city projects if they go through a public process.

"I don't feel that it's appropriate for county taxpayers to be in the zoo business," Carroll says.

Various nattering nabobs of negativity suggest that the elephants might be happier at a zoo better equipped to handle them, or that the city could better spend the money elsewhere. (Perhaps on long-neglected residential streets?)

But they're missing the key point that the Reid Park Zoo is a world-class attraction that brings in visitors from across the globe to see our native critters and plants. Oh, wait--that's the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Gee, maybe they're the ones that should get an $8.5 million gift from the city.

The Range sees an easy way to turn this liability into an asset: Let's pack their trunks and sell 'em on eBay!

War Stories 2: Electric Boogaloo

Speaking of sudden turn-arounds: Last week, The Range recapped the slight difference of opinion between Vice President Dick Cheney, who said the Iraq insurgency was in the "last throes," and Arizona Sen. John McCain, who predicted the conflict would continue for years.

Over the weekend, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld clarified the administration's definition of "last throes" on Fox News Sunday, saying that the insurgents were becoming increasingly deadly and that the fight could continue for another dozen years. Rumsfeld added that it was the job of the Iraqi people, not the United States, to defeat the insurgency. Does that mean that if the insurgency wins, we have to invade all over again?

McCain spent last week chairing the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, which is investigating lobbyist Jack Abramoff's alleged fleecing of hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Choctaw tribe. While there's scarcely space to get into the details of a hearing the Washington Post described as "surreal," we can't pass up a mention of (a) the lifeguard who was paid $2,500 and headed up an international think-tank/money-laundering operation that held exactly one 15-minute board meeting, and (b) Abramoff's pathetic--but evidently successful--effort to get himself scholarly credentials from a rabbi buddy so he'd look more prestigious to a club he'd just joined.

"Today's hearing is about more than contempt, even more than greed," McCain said. "It is simply and sadly a tale of betrayal."

Lights! Camera! Action!

Rialto Theatre kingpin Douglas Biggers hosted a downtown gathering last Friday, June 24, to light up the Rialto Theatre's spectacular new marquee, designed by the husband-and-wife team of Heidi and David Ziegler-Voll of ZV Creative and assembled by Addisigns.

Mayor Bob Walkup gave a countdown to the ignition after saying that many people tell him about how they remember seeing films at the theatre. No word on whether that was during the run of Deep Throat in the early '70s.

Next up at the Rialto: Rock 'n' roll with John Hiatt on Monday, July 18.

While live on the scene, The Range noticed new striping on Congress Street and Broadway Boulevard that has trimmed both streets down to two lanes while adding about 150 parking spaces, according to Michael Graham of the Tucson Transportation Department. Expect traffic delays while traveling downtown, at least until the state closes all downtown exits along Interstate 10 for three years while widening the highway.

Still unresolved: Whether the streets will become two-way streets, as the merchants want to see, or remain one-way streets, which the city's Rio Nuevo gang wants, even though they're reluctant to actually come out and admit it.

What will the City Council decide? And what do you bet the final word comes after the November election?

If We Let Sixto Leave Town, Then the Terrorists Win

The intrigue over the fate of South Tucson Police Chief Sixto Molina has grown so thick that City Manager Fernando Castro introduced new policies that forbid any city employee from talking to the media without his permission. He added that employees should remain within South Tucson's city limits, except on lunch breaks.

Castro griped that media interest in his roughly square-mile city had spiraled out of the control and was now threatening to undo the War on Terror.

"I was home last night, sitting down to eat with my family and saying blessings for my son, who is in Afghanistan when (a local television station) called," Castro complained to C.T. Revere of the Tucson Citizen. "If anything happens to my son, it's because the blessings didn't get there, and (the station) is to blame."

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