GO WILDCATS: The latest ploy by the Growth Lobby is the war against what they call "wildcat subdivisions." Unfortunately, too many greenies are sucking in and backstopping them, as are many who purport to believe in property rights. All of which proves you can usually get most lefty enviros to back anything as long as you make it "regulatory," regardless of who is the ultimate beneficiary--or the ultimate loser. And a whole lot of conservatives piss backwards on the free market as soon as they can weasel a profit out of government action.

The term "wildcat subdivision" originally referred to those who took a piece of land, usually a 40-acre parcel or larger, and broke it down into one-acre lots, getting around the old provision that only allowed it to be split three times. The subterfuge used was to keep up the splits until the one-acre lots were established.

This is now illegal. A "wildcat" subdivision for some would now appear to be any subdividing of anything that isn't covered by the same rules used by developers for large projects--such as paving internal roads or hooking up to water and sewer lines. And hiring the right lawyers, architects, planners and lobbyists, which makes the job viable only for big developers. This has gotten so extreme that one guy with a 5-acre lot wanting to divide it into three parcels was denied a rezoning and accused of requesting a wildcat subdivision, which is ludicrous. In asking for the parcel to be rezoned he could not, by definition, be "wildcatting" it!

Most "wildcat" subdivisions now consist of people either building their home or (where permitted) installing their own manufactured home on their own lot, often in SR zoning--3.3 acres per house or more. This is known as reasonably priced low-density housing. It leaves most of the vegetation, allows wildlife to move around (including pygmy owls if washes are left undisturbed) and--most important of all--prevents that piece of land from becoming another portion of a giant "regulated" development with tons of clear-cut tract homes at six to the acre. Which is why the Growth Lobby bitches about it.

Non-tract housing--which is what "wildcat" really means now--pays less in taxes and makes bureaucrats spend more time. It's easier for them to deal with one builder instead of a bunch of people, which is why they bitch, too.

But notice what causes the biggest need for services and infrastructure, from schools to roads to cops. A dozen families spread over 40 acres use a lot less of everything than a couple of hundred tract homes on the same land. The extra revenue doesn't match the extra costs to taxpayers.

Those choosing the suburban ranch lifestyle provide their own wells and septic systems, and are usually happy to live on roads they maintain themselves. A couple dozen cars using a few hundred yards of dirt road pollute considerably less than 20 times that number of vehicles driving on pavement when you consider how many more vehicle miles they create. A 3.3-acre or larger lot with a septic tank does not pollute groundwater and costs the taxpayer nothing, and the water system is not subsidized by the city ratepayer. And those dirt roads provide their own speed bumps at no extra charge, making them much more friendly to wildlife, kids and horses.

Try driving through Tortolita, where almost everything could be defined as "wildcat." Then hit Marana and Oro Valley and check out the regulated, clear-cut "planned developments." Which best preserves the environment and costs the taxpayer less?

It is not coincidental that most of the desirable housing and truly great neighborhoods are those well-built and well-designed older areas constructed before most planning regulations, while most of the schlock came in afterwards. And before some SAHBA hack whines about "affordable" housing, please note that the most "affordable" housing currently available is a single-wide on an acre lot somewhere like Avra Valley--usually in an old "wildcat" subdivision.

All you need do is check out Growth Lobby shills like talk-show host John C. Scott's anti-"wildcat" tirades to know this whole argument smells fishy. Left-wing greens need to transcend their alleged inherent bias against personal freedom before they sign on with the big developers. And righties ought to try living the "property rights" maxims they regularly quote about allowing people to use their own land, something that applies to individuals much more than it does giant corporations.

PUBLISHING IN DENIAL: Readers of the business pages of the "new-attitude" Arizona Daily Star on January 30 learned that denial was part of the new attitude of the morning fishwrap. The nifty little EconoMeter, with information all the way from the think tank at the University of Arizona's Eller College of Business and Public Administration, purported to list the property tax burden here. Musta been great for some CEOs thinking of moving to Tucson. The table listed only municipal property and sales tax rates. They all looked so palatable. Wonder what the bean counters at the Star and its roommate, the Tucson Citizen, thought? Why are our tax bills so high?

For example, only the primary rate--used for daily government operations--was listed, not bond indebtedness carried in secondary rates. So Tucson looked wonderful at only 29 cents per $100 of assessed value. The wizkids at Eller didn't include, much to the delight of the boosters at the Star, the biggest bites. Add 98 cents per $100 for Tucson's secondary tax rate, $5.56 for the five property taxes levied by Pima County, and $1.56 for two taxes levied by Pima Community College. Also left out were the tax rates for the Tucson Unified School District--which total $9.05 per $100--or the rates for any of the county's 15 other school districts, and the state's 53-cent-per-$100 education tax. They all total a whopping $17.68 per $100. But hey, we wanted good news.

STAR ATTRACTION: More movin' and shakin' at the Star/Citizen. The Star added two more Citizen reporters to the list of mediocre talent the morning yawner began luring away from Gannett's afternoon rag several years ago. Mitch Tobin (who went to the Super Bowl with his dad and wrote about it) and Tom Collins are now at the Star. The recruiting pitch is that the Citizen won't be around much longer. Collins will be taking over the GREAT BIG transportation beat vacated by Anita McDivitt, who piled up so many uncorrected errors that she earned a spot as an assistant city editor.

Pulitzer's Star is now more Gannettized than Gannett's Citizen. Most of the bosses and their suppliants are Gannett alumni.

A special treat from the Star's sale of StarNet was disconnection of all the reporters' and editors' StarNet ISP home accounts. Staffers were told to cough up new e-mail addresses for weekend and night bulletins.

Meanwhile, publisher "Iron" Jane Amari has decreed that all reporters change their voice mail messages daily--including weekends--alerting callers exactly when they expect to be at their desks that day. It's a good thing not many of them actually leave the building to report news; the phone logistics could be horrible. Amari has also hired an outside firm to call staffers' phone numbers to make sure the messages are changing on schedule. Circulation and advertising must be way, way up if Amari can afford to burn revenue this way.

GAYLE FORCE: Democrat Gayle Hartmann formally launched her campaign to take on Republican Fred Ronstadt for the midtown Ward 6 City Council seat this week.

Hartmann, who lives on a chic block in Sam Hughes, is a long-serving environmental and neighborhood activist. She sorely disappointed Pima County Supervisor Raúl Grijalva in 1989, though, when she skipped a Planning and Zoning Commission hearing on the biggest zoning in county history--the 6,300-acre, 21,000-home Rocking K Ranch. Hartmann went to Europe instead, and Grijalva removed her from her seat on P&Z three months later.

Despite that enmity, and the fact that her speech before the Democrats of Greater Tucson was short on specifics, Hartmann will make a formidable opponent for the incumbent Republican.

Despite the Democrats' registration advantage in the city, Ronstadt will be tough to knock off. He's an incumbent and the family name will give him a boost; besides, he's avoided upsetting too many Tucsonans, despite his record of sucking up to El Con's owners and billboard lord Karl Eller. Wonder if those big-bucks folks will run an independent campaign to boost Fred's fortunes?

Hartmann hopes to avoid a repeat of the divisive primary that split Ward 6 in 1997, when five Democrats battled for the chance to succeed retiring Councilwoman Molly McKasson. The eventual winner of the primary, Alison Hughes, was knocked off by Ronstadt, a political virgin making his first run for public office. So far, Hartmann has managed to talk other wannabe candidates out of the race, but the year is still young.

BETWEEN THE LINES: The state's new five-member redistricting panel is nearly completed, with only one member left to pick. The commission, created by the passage of Prop 106 last November, takes over the job of drawing congressional and legislative districts, whose boundaries were previously decided by state lawmakers.

Last week, Senate President Randall Gnant made his pick: Tucsonan Dan Elder, a landscape architect with extensive cartography experience. We hear that in naming Elder, Gnant bucked considerable political pressure from the GOP establishment, including the congressional delegation, to pick a party hack from north of the Gila. Had he gone along with that demand, the entire commission may have been without a Pima County representative.

Gnant was in a tight spot. He'll hit his term limit in two years, meaning he'll be out of the legislature. He's considering a run for Secretary of State (as are several other Republicans, including lawmaker Barbara Leff and Sharon Collins, who heads up the governor's office here in Southern Arizona).

In general, it looks as though the redistricting advantage seems to be leaning the GOP's way. The Republicans have picked Republicans (Elder and Phoenix attorney James Huntwork), while the Democrats have picked apparently rightist Democrats (Phoenix real-estate investor Andrea "Andi" Minkoff and Joshua Hall, a conservative real-estate guy from rural St. John's).

The fifth member, who is chosen by the first four, has yet to be announced. The commission can have no more than two members from any political party, so the two Democrats and two Republicans will likely pick an Independent. Phone psychic Mistress Cleo tells us that the job will go to Tucson's own Steve Lynn, a PR guy who's now working for Tucson Electric Power. While he may be registered as an Independent, Lynn tends to lean right, which gives another boost to the GOP.

So much for draining the politics out of the process. The Democrats might have been better off with the old system, since they have a lot of juice in the state Senate this year. Oh, well--maybe it'll turn out different a decade from now, when the redistricting committee will meet again.

BARRIO BATTLELINES: As The Skinny predicted last week, some residents of downtown's Barrio Viejo are pissed off about the City of Tucson's demolition of the historic Drachman School.

On Sunday, approximately 20 of them protested the decision in front of City Councilman Fred Ronstadt's office. Later in the day they confronted Ronstadt while he toured the old school, chewing his ass because he supported tearing the old place down.

Then on Monday, neighborhood residents physically blocked the demolition work from beginning. This forced the City Council to hold a special meeting on the proposal Wednesday night.

While the council majority of Bob Walkup, Ronstadt, Carol West and Shirley Scott may eventually get their way with removing the old school, what kind of message does that send to the neighborhood about the Rio Nuevo project? That enormous building proposal, which borders the neighborhood on the north, will be the subject of a City Council public hearing in a few weeks. Council members have repeatedly told Barrio Viejo residents that they can trust the city not to harm the area when Rio Nuevo is implemented. But if Drachman School is any example, why should anyone in the barrio believe them?

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