The Skinny

GROWING CONCERN: Kudos to KUAT-TV's Arizona Illustrated for being the only media outlet in town to tape Gov. Jane Dee Hull's appearance at the Arizona League of Cities and Towns growth shindig a few weeks back.

Midway through her speech, Hull addressed the Citizens for Growth Management's efforts to put a growth-management initiative on the November 2000 ballot, which would force communities to enact urban boundaries, develop serious comprehensive plans and impose impact fees. This summer, with almost a year to go before they need to turn in 101,762 valid signatures, the group announced 50,000 people had already signed the petition.

The Sierra Club tried to get a similar initiative on the 1998 ballot, but failed to gather enough signatures. The Legislature, meanwhile, put the competing Growing Smarter proposal on the ballot, which passed easily. Since its passage, however, members of the Growing Smarter commission have been bogged down as they try to develop relevant regulations the Growth Lobby can abide.

The new initiative has Hull worried. "Growth is one of the most major issues that faces Arizona," Hull told her audience earlier this month. "Almost all of the polls that have been run on growth show that any growth management issue that is on the ballot will pass by a 70 percent margin. If you don't want to believe it, don't believe it, but this governor will lay bets on what will pass, and it will be a growth-management issue, and I believe it will be an untenable one--. The people of the State of Arizona want open space, particularly in Pima and Maricopa County. They want accessible recreation areas and they want not to have houses on every square foot of land in Arizona."

After expressing her support for "flexible" regulations -- "It has to be flexible, and it has to be done right" -- Hull complained about the uncertainty of federal regulations regarding the endangered cactus ferruginous pygmy owl: "Oro Valley, Marana are suffering the harmful effects of federal land-use decisions on their way of life."

As she concluded her speech, Hull strayed from her prepared comments and returned to the issue of the growth-management initiative.

"If you are being told that an initiative on growth boundaries will not pass, don't believe it," Hull warned the crowd. "It will pass, it will pass if nothing else by a vote in Coconino, Maricopa and Pima counties by at least a margin of 70 to 75 percent. It may not pass in your county, but if it does pass, and you're the reluctant dragon, you will find that it has passed not over your head but onto your head."

It's clear where Hull stands on the issue -- and she may already be working with Legislature to throw a monkey-wrench into the works. KUAT's Peggy Johnson reported lawmakers may try to confuse voters -- er, that is, "offer voters a choice" -- by putting some form of Growing Smarter back on the ballot, setting up a head-to-head competition between the two proposals. We're betting the Citizens for Growth Management would win, but this much is certain: political consultants will make a fortune between the two ballot questions.

BRIGHT STAR: While we all expected apathy to be the big winner in this month's primary election, that isn't what happened. The Democrat primary -- the only election with a race -- showed about 25 percent of the eligible voters cast a ballot. While that's nothing to cheer about, it's considerably higher than prior city primaries, and the highest figures since 1991. Coincidentally, that was also the last year in which the local newspapers, particularly The Arizona Daily Star, actually covered the candidates and the issues.

Which goes a long way toward proving our long-running thesis that there's a direct correlation between voter turnout and media coverage. We'd like to do something rare for us: commend the Star for once again accepting their responsibility to produce viable political coverage.

IT PLAYS IN PEORIA: A few years back, the Growth Lobby spent a lot of time and money opposing an almost-negligible transportation impact fee of $1,500 for each new home. The development community warned the fee would bankrupt builders, cause the stock market to collapse and force everyone's aged mother into homelessness.

Take a look at the fees other communities are charging. In the heart of growth-happy Maricopa County, Peoria just upped its impact fee to $12,353 per home. Phoenix charges about $9,000, and Queen Creek, $7,300. Apache Junction is even fighting court battles to charge impact fees for schools.

Meanwhile, in our supposedly environmentally sensitive community, Tucson has no impact fees and Pima County has that measly $1,500 -- which is about half of the amount county staff originally proposed in 1996.

Isn't it time our green Board of Supervisors raised that transportation impact fee? It's just a few drops in the bucket, but surely we could use every dollar we could get for our overcrowded roads.

BIG-BOX MAN: Al Norman, the guy who wrote the book -- literally -- on how to fight big-box retailers like Wal-Mart, is in town today, Thursday, September 23, to lend his support to midtown residents battling the Home Depot planned for their historic neighborhoods surrounding El Con. The former journalist organized the first successful community campaign against Wal-Mart in his hometown of Greenfield, Mass. He speaks at 7:30 p.m. at Temple Emanu-El, 225 N. Country Club. Slam-Dunking Wal-Mart, Norman's amazing book, which details the cheesy world of big-box retailers, will be available for sale.

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