GROWING DUMBER: In their continuing effort to appear to be doing something about managing growth so they can derail the growth-management initiative headed for the ballot in November, state lawmakers unveiled their latest version of Growing Smarter last week. The bill went onto the fast track at the Capitol this week, with orders that the legislation make it through both houses without amendment. In one House committee, GOP lawmakers weren't even interested in listening to opposition to the bill. Why waste time when the fix is already in? Conservationists assailed the bill's weaknesses almost immediately. As Sandy Bahr, legislative lobbyist for the Sierra Club, puts it: "If people are happy with the status quo, they'll just love these bills, because they're not going to change the way we plan and manage growth in Arizona."

The Legislature's plan includes a proposal to set aside, at most, 3 percent of state land for preservation -- and a good portion of that would be steep slopes and washes couldn't be developed anyway. At best, we're talking 270,000 acres statewide. The package doesn't doesn't come close to the major reform needed at the cesspool known as the state Land Department.

The planning aspects of Growing Smarter are equally toothless -- which is one reason the proposal is meeting with little resistance in the Legislature.

But voters will have the final say about growth management, provided the growth-management initiative makes the ballot. And public sentiment seems to be in favor of tougher development regs these days, if a recent statewide poll is any indication. The survey showed 77 percent of the registered voters support setting aside state land for conservation, while 15 percent were opposed to the idea.

Does that mean it's a slam-dunk for the growth-management initiative in November? Not hardly. We predict lawmakers will present their plan as a "reasonable" alternative to the "radical" notion of urban growth boundaries. And a multi-million political campaign, supported by the Growth Lobby, will demonize the initiative and encourage voters to choose the alternative, a change to the state constitution that sets aside the aforementioned pittance of state land.

While conservationists are dismayed by the latest Growing Smarter proposal, ex-attorney general Grant Woods jumped on the Legislature's bandwagon.

Woods had been chairing the Citizens for Growth Management's initiative effort, but now he's rolled over, arguing that Legislature's plan is good enough for managing the state's frenzied development. We just wonder if Grant was a phony from the start (a more-than-likely possibility) or if he was pressured to switch sides by the Growth Lobby, where his loyalties naturally lie. Either way, we suspect Grant was always more concerned about his next run for office than about saving our vanishing desert.

DISTRICT 3'S COMPANY: Barney Brenner, the peripatetic property tax protester, is making life miserable for Sharon Bronson, the Democratic chair of the Board of Supervisors. Brenner, owner of an import auto-parts shop, lives in the Tucson Mountains in District 5, but is exploring a move to run against Bronson for the District 3 seat. Brenner, a Republican, earned a name for himself last year during the protest of the county's property tax increase, which Bronson supported. Brenner may have some appeal in the idiosyncratic District 3, which has elected a more erratic Republican -- Big Ed Moore -- before. The red-neck and yuppie district covers northwest neighborhoods, a chunk of the southwest side and rural Pima County to Ajo.

TRUE FANS: Why is it that the UA basketball beat reporters at the dailies can't get past the wall of silence? So eager to suck up to coach Lute Olson, these reporters don't even bother to establish any source not deemed official. That obsequious and lazy behavior has led to the dailies -- and their readers -- being left completely in the dark and forced to chase after stories done by the Kansas City Star and others (e.g., the Miles Simon academic sham).

Whenever a player, bought and paid for by the UA, gets yanked for some infraction, it's always a mystery. Ooh, we can't say and Lute ain't telling. B.S.! Yeah, yeah we know all about the Buckley amendment and student privacy. We're not talking about prying into some regular student's record. These are the most public of Tucson's public figures, at least seasonally. Does the Star/Citizen allow news reporters to get away with this garbage? City Council executive sessions are confidential. But that reporter better have some sources to explain exactly what was said.

The latest example of this rub-my-tummy journalism was produced by the Star's Bruce Pascoe, the same one who got his clock cleaned on the Miles Simon story and who loves to waste column inches on Cat travel trivia -- including tear-stained accounts of flight delays from years (many) past. Earlier this month, Pascoe could not explain what Rick Anderson had done or not done to get him deleted from the losing trip to LSU. But we were forced to read some feel-good stuff about Anderson's new hair-do.

Contrast that with The New York Times account a few weekends back about the suspension of St. John's star Erick Barkley. The Times reporter found out just what the hell the NCAA was up to, accusing Barkley of accepting some preferential treatment because he traded vehicles with a friend.

And if you think no UA player has had help getting wheels, you need to read more from Pascoe.

DON'T CRY FOR SUNNYSIDE, EVA: Sunnyside School Board member Eva Dong, a smart and deliberative reformer, is planning a run for Pima County School Superintendent, the somewhat anachronistic post held for 30 years until late last year by Anita Lohr. When Lohr stepped down, the Board of Supervisors filled her job with Republican Linda Arzoumanian, to the outrage of public school teachers.

Dong will likely face Amphi teacher Andy Morales (who lost a bid for a House seat in District 12 in 1998) in the Democratic primary. She's getting some unsolicited advice from Mary Werner Garcia, the lame-duck Sunnyside superintendent. Garcia is telling Dong to resign from the Sunnyside board post to run for the full-time county job. We don't expect Dong will follow Garcia's unwanted guidance.

ANOTHER INSANE DISPATCH FROM THE DRUG WAR: Kudos to Jace Zack, chief deputy Mohave County attorney, who defended his office's decision to prosecute a wheelchair-bound crippled woman for selling a quarter-ounce of marijuana to a police snitch. It'll cost $126,000 for taxpayers to keep Deborah Lynn Quinn behind bars for a year.

When prosecutors abuse their discretion like that, it's little wonder that voters consistently vote to decriminalize pot.

BRAVO, CARMEN: If you missed Carmen Duarte and her compassionate writing in The Arizona Daily Star, it was all worth the wait. Her work, "Mama's Santos, An Arizona Life" began Sunday. Told in a lengthy series, the story of her wonderful mother, Leonarda Duarte, is poignant and will resonate with many of Tucson's daughters and sons. It includes great photography from Fred Araiza.

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