EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITY: The opponents of the Amphitheater School District's Ironwood Ridge High School construction always wondered why the members of that school board--since cleared out by voters in a Y2K recall--insisted on a location at the extreme end of the district in a semi-rural area filled with native plants and animals, including the poor ol' pygmy owl. Beyond environmental concerns, the site made no sense.

After a prolonged court battle subsidized by Amphi taxpayers, the school finally got built. When the town of Tortolita's incorporation bid went south, the area was annexed by the town of Oro Valley.

When you check the number of rezoning requests and plan changes that have been presented to the town of Oro Valley in that area, the scam becomes obvious. Build a high school in the boonies, get the taxpayers to provide the sewers, roads and other infrastructure needed for that high school, then get the whole area annexed into a town where the developer stooges on the town council just can't say no to higher densities and land speculator profits.

Worked great, didn't it? And the worst part is that the rubes who write about the northwest for the two dailies and the rest of the mainstream media haven't even noticed. Remember that the next time they say it's for the children.

HOW THE MIGHTY ARE FALLING: Perception is power. One of the biggest powers is hammering the media to spike an unfavorable story.

Two guys who know a lot about that are Legendary Land Speculator Don Diamond and his 50-year associate, attorney Donald Pitt. Both have gotten obscenely rich around here milking that perception.

One candidate for local office, unfriendly to the Dynamic Duo, tells how he once received a favorable news story from KVOA news back when Pitt and Diamond owned Channel 4. The story ran on the 5 p.m. edition--and the reporter had been canned by the 10 p.m. broadcast. And when a local news director carried a story unfavorable to Board of Regents member Pitt involving a land deal and the UA, he found himself jobless almost immediately. And that, folks, was at a PBS station.

That's clout. Here's evidence that it's fading.

Pitt and Diamond acquired the Old Tucson contract with Pima County some years ago. The net result has been to convert a major attraction for tourists, locals and movie production into a big fat loser. This resulted in part from a 1995 fire that burned down more than half the buildings, including the sound stage. Seven years later, the agreement with the county to replace the burned-out buildings has yet to be fulfilled and they're behind, as actually reported by the local media, a total of $150,000 in back rent.

The Tucson Citizen gave us this story without even mentioning their names, saving them the embarrassment of watching Pima County programs for kids being shut down while two of the richest dudes in town stiff the parks department. But one local media outlet told it like it is--KVOA Channel 4, which is no longer owned by Pitt and Diamond and is obviously unimpressed with their past powers.

The armor is cracking, guys.

PRETZEL LOGIC: The Board of Supervisors last week appointed up-and-coming political hack Tom Prezelski to conclude a round of political musical chairs in Legislative District 29.

Prezelski, 33, beat out the other two names forwarded to the board by District 29 precinct captains to replace Victor Soltero, who got appointed to the Arizona Senate to replace Ramon Valadez, who got appointed to some vague economic development post in the Napolitano administration.

Prezelski, whose mother, Carmen, and twin brother, Ted, are also Democratic Party animals, has lived in the district for less than a year, having slipped from a townhouse on East West Circle Drive in Legislative District 28 to a trendy barrio pad on South Rubio.

The Board of Supes passed over Mark Mayer, the billboard-obsessed crusader, and Betty Liggins, a 71-year-old nurse who worked on the front lines of health care in Cook County before doing the same here.

Liggins, who had run for a House seat before in the old District 10, has done much to improve the quality of life for residents on the south side. She has fought for better schools. She has fought for better, safer parks. She has fought for better, safer streets. A Jefferson Award winner, Liggins also has courageously fought for better, safer neighborhoods and led the way, despite repeated threats, to sweep The Vistas clean of drug-dealing thugs.

Still, she just hadn't kissed the ring of Supervisor Dan Eckstrom enough. Democrats Sharon Bronson and Richard Elias and Republican Ann Day went right along.

Only Republican Supervisor Ray Carroll supported Liggins. Sugar Ray's mother also was a Cook County nurse.

YOU CAN'T ALWAYS GET WHAT YOU WANT: No company has parlayed political connections for Pima County bond booty better than Tetra Tech, and its predecessor Arizona engineering company, Collins-Piña.

Honcho Raul Piña funneled top dollars into the county's 1997 bond campaign, serving as the campaign chairman. He also spent big on every campaign ever run by Raúl Grijalva, the erstwhile supervisor who has now been made a member of Congress.

For Piña and his companies, that work paid off.

Take, for example, a $787,000 contract the company landed for consulting on the county's improvements to the swamp known as Wetmore and Ruthrauff roads between La Cholla Boulevard and Fairview Avenue.

Tetra Tech was handed a $787,000 contract, but quickly filed change orders and demanded mo' money.

On Dec. 18, 2000, nearly three weeks after the contract ended, Tetra Tech presented a change order bill for $384,000. County officials rejected it. Ten months later, county road bureaucrats recommended that Tetra Tech be paid no more than $130,100.

And then on Jan. 28, 2002, the county roadies upped the "settlement" offer to $318,050.

As Mick sang: "But if you try sometimes, you might find you'll get what you need."

And what's $300K between friends?

Supes, with the exception of Ray Carroll, a Republican troublemaker, seem just fine with all this. Hell, it's nothing when the next page in the county's troubled Book of Bonds shows that nifty Skyline Road project doubling to $21 million.

Meanwhile, down on another favorite in the county's budget-busting $350 million bond project, South 12th Avenue, taxpayers will have to cough up another $401,000 to boost Granite Construction Co.'s contract to $4.38 million.

This is dear to the heart of Democratic Supervisor Richard Elias, the Grijalva successor. It was, after all, where Grijalva pimped out Elias as a special $25,000 county consultant to walk the streets to seek support for the county road work.

HARD TO SWALLOW: Oro Valley's minions are on the move, trying to capture residents living on the rapidly growing suburb's southern boundaries and a commercial center on Oracle and Magee roads. But with just a few weeks to go before a deadline to gather signatures from annexation supporters, the consultants who have been wandering door-to-door are finding that county residents are reluctant to get swallowed up.

After a series of ads in the Northwest Explorer failed to win hearts and minds, Oro Valley Mayor Paul Loomis wrote an op-ed begging folks to agree to be assimilated and correcting a few "misperceptions" of the town.

Loomis promised "direct and convenient access to all local decisions." We think that means you can go to Town Council meetings and watch them roll over and allow developers to break old promises and re-zone whatever they please for high-density development.

We're betting the town limits don't change anytime soon.

HIDEOUS ERECTION: Our three on-the-spot TV news crews reacted in horror earlier this week when some unknown vandal defaced a midtown billboard honoring the astronauts who perished in the Columbia disaster.

We're not standing up for the creeps who disrespected the fallen NASA team, but we'd like to remind folks that Clear Channel Communications, the giganto corporation that owns the billboard in question, did its own defacing of city property last December, when they persuaded Tucson Fire Chief Dan Newburn to allow 'em to chop down a mesquite tree that had grown large enough to block the billboard (see "Timber," Jan. 2). We call that an act of civic vandalism.

Although billboard companies are real generous about giving space away to nonprofits, feel-good campaigns and, occasionally, God Almighty himself, they're lousy about following local laws. The recently defaced billboard, we'd remind folks, is one of many that the city of Tucson has been fighting in court to dismantle.

HOMELAND INSECURITY: Congressman Jim Kolbe's brother, rancher Walter Kolbe, stumbled across a troubling find earlier this month on his ranch: a backpack containing an Arabic-language diary that he discovered on a Southern Arizona trail used by illegal border crossers.

The FBI came by the pick up the diary, which included telephone contacts in Iran and Canada, according to Bill Hess of the Sierra Vista Herald, which recently reported the story.

So how many people from Middle Eastern countries are slipping across Southern Arizona's border? The Border Patrol is under orders from the order of the Joint Terrorism Task Force to not release specific information regarding countries of concern, but they did tell Hess that 99.4 percent of the 955,310 people apprehended by the agency from Oct. 1, 2001, through Sept. 30, 2002, were from the Americas, which includes Canada, Mexico and other Central and South American nations. The remainder comes from 140 countries, although specific info isn't available.

So should we all be stocking up on duct tape? For all we know, the diary is just steamy love notes. But as an INS source recently told Weekly contributor Leo W. Banks (see "At War on the Border," Dec. 19, 2002)

), last year Border Patrol officials apprehended six nationals from Egypt, two from Lebanon, three from Yemen and one from Iraq, as well as border crossers from Sudan, Cuba, China, Jordan, North Korea and the Philippines.

BACK-DOOR MEN: Spotted trying to sneak through a side door for the Jerry Seinfeld show at Centennial Hall on Valentine's Day: UA basketball stars Jason Gardner and Luke Walton. After security guards blocked their charge, the two, along with a couple of pals, were last seen wandering toward the ticket window, even though the show had been sold out for nearly two months.

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