The Skinny

GROWING PAINS: Prop 202, the Citizens Growth Management Initiative, was resoundingly defeated by nearly 70 percent of the voters on Election Day. Prop 100, the Arizona Legislature's attempt to modify policy for state trust land, also went down, by a narrower 51 percent of the vote statewide.

Prop 202's defeat is no big surprise, given that more than $4.5 million was spent on a slick advertising campaign to knock it down. Prop 100's defeat is more interesting, because opponents--basically, nearly every conservation group in the state--were outspent at least five-to-one, raising roughly $150,000 to supporters' $950,000. In Pima County, where the measure lost 57-37 (with 6 percent not voting), the opposition was led by Luther Propst, director of the Sonoran Institute, and Pima County Supervisor Sharon Bronson, who argued that the prop, placed on the ballot by the Arizona Legislature, was an attempt to trick voters. It didn't do enough to protect state trust lands, and the acres set aside for conservation couldn't be developed anyway.

So where does that leave the fight to better manage growth? Well, we have the "tough new laws" passed as part of Growing Smarter Plus by the legislature earlier this year. Forgive our skepticism, but we don't think those regulations will do squat when it comes to finding ways to make growth pay for itself. But the legislature, although it's likely to be more moderate after losing bozos such as Jeff Groscost and Bill McGibbon, will likely stay away from the issue, saying it's time to give Growing Smarter a chance. So it's unlikely that local governments will see any new tools to manage growth.

The legislature will have to deal with the Heritage Fund, which sunsets in 2003. The fund is an environmental program that, among other things, buys land for preservation with lottery dollars. Given the pinch the state coffers are likely to feel as a result of that alt-fuel fiasco, it's likely lawmakers will extend the life of the lottery because they're going to need the money.

Basically, it's back to business as usual, at least at the statewide level. That's bad news for Maricopa County, which will likely continue its helter-skelter sprawl from here to eternity.

Here in Pima County, however, two green incumbents, Raúl Grijalva and Sharon Bronson, have been returned to the Board of Supervisors. They'll join Republicans Ray Carroll, who walked to re-election in District 4, and Ann Day, who easily bested Byron Howard on Election Day. Carroll has been a green vote since his appointment to the seat in 1997, and Day campaigned on her commitment to preserving the environment.

That's good news for supporters of the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan, which may protect some fragile areas from the bulldozer by the time it's finally finished.

Don't expect the Sierra Club to come back with another growth-management initiative anytime in the foreseeable future. But it's very likely we'll see another initiative effort to amend the state constitution to change policy regarding state trust land.

We hear the conservation groups that opposed Prop 100 because they felt it didn't do enough may already be planting the seeds for an initiative that will amend the state constitution to conserve state trust land rather than sell it off for development. Under the current constitutional restrictions, state trust land--which was set aside at statehood to benefit primarily education--must be used for "highest and best use," which has generally meant selling it off for high-density development. Of course, once all those houses fill with children, there's more of a drain than a boost on educational resources, but the State Land Department ignores the losers in this development Ponzi scheme.

The folks looking to reform the policy want to create a way to recognize the value of conserving some of that state land without the 3 percent cap that made Prop 100 so unappealing. They'd also like to make sure the method for setting aside land is less political and more scientific, so that the land will not just be hilltops and lakebeds.

How will voters respond next time? Check back in 2002.

POLL SCAT: In the waning days of Campaign 2000, the Tucson Chamber of Commerce released a poll on local races that was worth less than the fax paper it arrived on.

The poll had gigantic margins of error--some topping 6 points--and showed huge numbers of voters undecided. It's hard to say the poll was wrong, given the number of undecided voters, but it showed state Senate candidates Toni Osterloh and Andy Nichols trailing their opponents; both won on Election Day.

The Chamber evidently wants to get into the polling biz, in addition to all the lobbying work it does to screw average Tucsonans. We suggest they find someone competent to make the calls next time.

BLOCK'S BACK. At long last the abandoned block of Congress between Stone and Scott is in the hands of the city of Tucson. The Old Pueblo doesn't own it, not yet anyway, but the feds at the General Services Administration leased it to the city for one year as of November 1.

A dozen years ago, the feds bought up the whole south side of a block that was once Tucson's commercial heart, intending to put a federal courthouse on the site. Alarmed by the attack on the federal building in Oklahoma City a few years back, they switched gears and picked a new and more secure location over on Granada. They're mighty pleased with their spanking new building there, but they don't have much to be proud of in their stewardship of the Congress Street block. With the exception of the fine old bank at the corner of Stone and Congress, and the Indian Village Traders at Scott and Congress, its old storefronts, some dating back to the 19th century, were allowed to rot. Some have lain empty for years.

"Frankly the block is as ugly as sin," says the city's John Updike, project manager for Rio Nuevo South.

The city's plan, Updike says, is to send in consultants to evaluate the buildings for structural and environmental soundness and historic worth. Eventually, the city hopes to buy the block outright from the feds and then finagle some kind of commercial development there. The purchase money could come from the Rio Nuevo funds. That project's consultant has already emphasized that downtown proper must not be neglected while the grand schemes for the city's birthplace on the west bank of the Santa Cruz unfold.

All well and good, but a couple of red flags are already flying. The feds have not yet declared the buildings excess property. By law, assorted government agencies and non-profit educational groups get a crack at the properties before they're allowed to go on the open market. For several years, a group of downtown artists has been hoping to get hold of at least the old Thrifty Drugstore in the center of the block as a home for a Museum of Contemporary Art. Rio Nuevo project director John Jones says he's never heard of that plan.

And historic preservationists interested in the integrity of the block will want to keep a close eye on the whole process. The city plans to look at all the buildings for historic worth, Jones says, but he's mostly interested in two of the oldest. Updike explains that "We see the block as having historic book-ends." The mid-century Thrifty building and others in the middle of the block could be at risk for demolition.

Updike says the art museum proponents can pitch their ideas for the block along with the rest of the public at the Rio Nuevo open sessions. The next meeting is a workshop from 4 to 8 p.m., Tuesday, December 5, in the lobby of the Tucson Convention Center. The next day, from 6:30 to 8 p.m., is a public presentation in the TCC Crystal Ballroom. For details call 791-5580.

SIT OUT THE SIT-IN: The Students Against Sweatshops protest at the UA November 9 didn't quite evoke the glory years of civil disobedience. Where was the dramatic conflict? Where was the police brutality? Where the hell were the participants?

Not counting the gawkers, no more than 15 to 20 students seem to have been involved at any one time. Sure, chaining yourself to the administration building isn't the most comfortable way to spend the day, and that probably is what turned off the notoriously apathetic student population. The UA is a breeding ground for Young Republicans who think Jane Hull is a sex goddess, or a surrogate mom, if they make a distinction between the two, and those people are way too busy spell-checking their letters of application to the Karl Eller School of Worker Oppression to bother with arcane social issues.

So it fell to a very few latter-day followers of Mother Jones to protest UA prez Peter Likins' failure to withdraw the UA from the Fair Labor Association, an ostensibly anti-sweatshop group dominated by remarkably lenient self-policing corporations. All well and good, except that the protesters stumbled at nearly every step.

First, they neglected to barricade a service entrance, so employees entered the administration building with ease. The students managed to "shut down" the building only because the fire marshal decided there weren't enough escape routes left in the highly unlikely event that somebody started shouting "Burn, baby, burn!"

When the campus cops finally showed up around 2 p.m. and politely tried to clear the exits, all the protesters quickly scurried away to safety, leaving only the eight students who'd chained themselves down to face arrest. If even the group's core membership is this lukewarm about civil disobedience, no wonder they can't stir up the general student population.

C'mon, guys. The Skinny sympathizes with your cause, but you're gonna have to do a more professional job of hell-raising. As one observer noted, "It's like watching the Three Stooges organize a freedom march."