The Skinny


In light of the city of Tucson's budget crunch, Councilman Steve Leal has proposed a new tax on alcohol--perhaps a nickel a drink, or a few pennies on the sale of every six-pack.

Leal says that alcohol causes numerous social problems, so drinkers should pay a little more to cover those costs. He wants city staff to study the impact of alcohol abuse. (We hope that they include data on the benefits of drinking, which include making it a lot easier to get through a City Council meeting.)

We're not sure the city has the authority to enact a new booze tax. And having a tax inside the city just gives an advantage to liquor stores outside of city limits, so it's not the smartest idea we've heard lately.

But the larger problem is that Leal didn't reach out to his colleagues to get much buy-in on the idea before he pitched it--so we expect it's DOA.

If Leal really wants to find a way to raise more money, why doesn't he just follow Gov. Janet Napolitano's lead and expand the photo-radar program that the city is using to bust people who speed and run red lights? That program has been underway for more than a year, and the early evidence suggests that it has reduced car crashes and saved lives.

The program has caused almost no uproar, except among a small group of civil libertarians. Added bonus: It's definitely legal and won't require city staff to waste time doing another dumb "study."


A few weeks back, Republican Tim Bee, who is seeking to unseat Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, picked up an endorsement from the National Vietnam and Gulf War Veterans Coalition.

Now Giffords is touting her own endorsements from two veterans groups. The Veterans of Foreign Wars Political Action Committee and the Military Families for Progress are both backing Giffords, who has pushed for more funding to help veterans, particularly those with post-traumatic stress disorders.

In a letter to Giffords, Larry W. Rivers, director of VFW-PAC, said that the endorsement was "based on your strong support for veterans, national security/defense and military personnel issues."


Carolyn Campbell, Pima County's green queen and the director of the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection, warns that two propositions on the November ballot could hamstring efforts to conserve our vanishing Sonoran Desert.

The first is Proposition 105, aka the Majority Rules initiative, which would require any statewide initiative that increases fees or taxes to pass with a majority of all registered voters, not just the ones who vote. That means all nonvoters would be considered a "no" vote, so even if 80 percent of the voters support an idea, it could still fail. (See "Extra-Special Interests" in this issue for more details.)

Campbell says Prop 105 would essentially torpedo the entire initiative process, which environmental groups have used, for example, to direct lottery funds to help support state parks. The second proposition that has drawn the ire of the cacti crowd is Proposition 100, aka Protect Our Homes, which would block a real-estate transfer tax, which is essentially a sales tax on the purchase of homes or other real estate. Campbell says that other states--including Florida, Maryland and New York--use similar fees to acquire land for conservation. Campbell says Pima County could use the fees to manage the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan.

"This is a key aspect of the plan," Campbell press-released last week. "Monitoring and management cost money, and many conservation efforts have failed because of a lack of funding for these purposes. And in Arizona, we are already severely restricted in what kind of funding is available for conservation."


Tucson City Councilmember Regina Romero has a new idea to stop development in environmentally sensitive areas: Refuse to serve the new residents any water. Romero shot off the idea in a memo to Tucson City Manager Mike Hein last month, reminding him that last year, the city came up with an interim policy on water: Tucson Water shall not agree to provide water service outside Tucson Water's current obligated service area until further guidance is provided by the mayor and council. Regina's memo has offered hope to Painted Hills-area residents who are fighting a cluster subdivision that would put 260 homes on 286 acres directly south of Speedway Boulevard and west of Anklam Road on the ascent toward Gates Pass.

"The proposed Painted Hills development has recently requested water service from Tucson Water. Because this proposed development is outside city limits and is not considered an infill area, it is my understanding that the city is not obligated to serve this area, and it is my opinion that we should not," Romero wrote. "If we agree to deliver water to the Painted Hills, are we encouraging the development of sensitive lands against the prior direction and the core values of our local citizenry?"

Romero aide Mac Hudson says it may be too late for Painted Hills. The developer has a plan filed with the county, but that doesn't mean Romero's recent water advocacy wouldn't work for other saguaro-studded areas.

In her memo, Romero mentions that Tucsonans voted in past bond elections to protect areas such as Painted Hills and Tumamoc Hill, which were listed as conservation priorities in 1997 and 2004. Both properties, however, have been valued too high for Pima County to afford when it came time to purchase.

Instead, Painted Hills was snatched up in 2007 by the Dallas (Texas) Police and Fire Pension System for a ridiculous $27 million. At Tumamoc Hill, the county is waiting to see if it can buy state-trust land at a price it can afford.

The Painted Hills area can use a friend like Romero right now. A group of residents filed a lawsuit in April after the county said those neighbors didn't have a right to appeal a county Design Review Committee decision allowing the property to be developed under the cluster-subdivision option.

That lawsuit didn't go their way. Last month, a judge ruled that he was troubled by the inability of property owners to appeal the Design Review Committee's decision, but said the matter should go before the legislative branch, not the courts.

Now the neighbors' only hope may be to file a motion for reconsideration; they point out that the Pima County Board of Commissioners hoped the court would make a final decision for them.

Officials from Pima County Development Services maintain that cluster subdivisions allow high-density development on small parcels of land without compromising more open space. But the Friends of Painted Hills complain that cluster subdivisions create de-facto rezoning with less scrutiny while ignoring the guidelines of the county's Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan. Their lawyers say the county violated their due-process rights, because the cluster-subdivision statute does not require the county or developers to notify neighbors or environmental organizations about cluster-option projects.

On the bright side: After the Friends of Painted Hills took the county to court, the county rewrote its statutes to require neighborhood notification and to allow for appeal rights as part of the development and design-review process.

Hudson says Romero's memo will go before the city's Environment, Planning and Resource Management Subcommittee on Oct. 22. The Friends of Painted Hills say now's the time to call the mayor and council and ask them to support Romero.

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