The Skinny


We'd like to thank City Councilman Steve Leal for the nicest gift we got during the recent holiday season: By deciding to retire rather than seek a sixth term, Leal gave us a City Council race to cover this year.

At least we hope there will be a race. After all, you'd think lots of people would be interested in a council seat that only opens up once every two decades.

We hear that at least three Ward 5 Democrats have some fire in their proverbial bellies:

• Magdalena Barajas, who won a seat on the Sunnyside School Board last November after being appointed to fill a vacant slot. Barajas now works for the city's intergovernmental affairs office, so she's in an awkward spot about coming right out and saying she's running for a council seat. She assures us, though, that she cares a lot about what happens in Ward 5.

• Annabelle Nuñez, who now works as an assistant librarian at the Arizona Health Sciences Center. Nuñez, who used to work for the Tucson-Pima Arts Council, gave some thought to pursuing the seat when Leal was weighing a mayoral run in 2007.

• Richard Fimbres, who now works for the Governor's Office of Highway Safety. Fimbres' wife, Mary Fimbres, now works for Leal.


The Skinny recently took a trip to the exclusive Saguaro Ranch development near the Tortolita Mountains to get a better view of the mountain-loop road that's part of a public-access dispute between developer Stephen Phinny and his neighbors.

Those neighbors haven't been too pleased that Phinny keeps blocking the road, ignoring a county-recorded public easement that goes through the Saguaro Ranch property and has provided access to the Tortolitas going back to the 1960s.

Taking in the rock formations, saguaros, caves and petroglyphs makes the Skinny question why Pima County and Marana have worked so diligently to help Phinny--especially in light of his continuing legal and financial problems.

In other Saguaro Ranch news: Rumors surfaced that McClintock's, the restaurant at the development open to the public only through reservations, lost the chef that put the restaurant on the regional eating map. A call to the restaurant confirmed that executive chef Virginia Wooters, who went to McClintock's after stints at restaurants including the Dish, is gone.

A May 2007 press release said the restaurant was one of two upscale eateries slated to open at the development. Wooters is credited with creating a menu with items like Scottish salmon, truffles and Italian cheeses--the kind of haute cuisine one is served when the only way to get to the restaurant is through a 700-foot tunnel blasted through a mountain.

Although Wooters is gone, her name remains on the McClintock's Web site as the restaurant's chef.

The Saguaro Ranch Web site, however, is down.

Things aren't only hot for Phinny in the kitchen. The Skinny has discovered that four lawsuits were filed against Saguaro Ranch in Maricopa County, on top of the ones filed in Pima County last year.

Linthicum Corporation, a Scottsdale-based high-end custom construction company, filed two lawsuits--one last May and another in December. Spark Design, a Web site design and marketing firm in Tempe, filed a lawsuit in December. (Maybe that explains why Saguaro Ranch's Web site is AWOL.)

A lawsuit from Programs for the Arts was filed in October for unpaid contract debt. The Phoenix-based company sells advertising for magazine-style programs used in productions from groups such as UApresents and the Arizona Theatre Company.

Along with the ongoing lawsuits, Phinny also has an oh-so-fashionable foreclosure in the making on a Saguaro Ranch parcel near the corner of Moore and Thornydale roads. The parcel has a building on it that still says it's the Saguaro Ranch Sales Office, although the development's trademark Land Rovers with the purple Saguaro Ranch logo were nowhere to be seen during our visit. The property's slated to go to the highest bidder in a public auction on March 20 at 10:01 a.m., according to a trustee's-sale notice filed on Dec. 17.

And regarding those boulders that Phinny keeps using to block the public easements, using the backhoe that remains on the property: His neighbors keep removing them so they can hike and drive the loop road that goes through Saguaro Ranch and Pima County property.

Those same neighbors who filed a public-access lawsuit against Phinny last year got a break when they recently asked a judge to allow them to return to court to argue their case based on information from a recent deposition from Marana attorney Frank Cassidy. Cassidy contradicted Phinny's claim that the town abandoned the road.

With this information, the judge gave the neighbors a new date to head back into Pima County Superior Court, on Jan. 26--a lot sooner than their original June date.

One final thought on access along the mountain loop road: A large red-and-white sign is posted in front of the entrance--going onto county property--warning hikers that they are entering private property owned by Saguaro Ranch. This is a surprise to those who know where Phinny's property ends and the county's property for the Tortolita Mountain Park begins.

The misleading sign happened to be bent and folded over the day we traveled through.


It took a few months, but Republican Vic Williams finally made good on his debt to Army Sgt. Tasha Downum.

As we've reported in previous installments of Screwed-Over Iraq Vet Watch: Downum rented a house in Venice Beach from Williams last July after she returned from a year-long stint in Tikrit.

But Downum never got her $400 deposit back from Williams, who will begin representing Legislative District 26 in the Arizona House of Representatives next week. Downum eventually won $1,845 from Williams in a California small-claims court, but found it difficult to get Williams to pay up--until she told her story to David Safier over at

With a little nudge from us, Williams finally got around to sending a check to Downum last week.


Pima County Democratic Party chairman Vince Rabago won't be pursuing a new term when the party meets this weekend.

Rabago, who has served two two-year terms as the county party's boss, will instead seek to win a vice-chair slot with the state party when officials gather on Saturday, Jan. 24.

Rabago notes that Pima County Democrats have had better luck than the state party, which just managed to lose two seats in the Arizona House of Representatives and one seat in the Arizona Senate. Given that the Democrats and their allies spent more than a million bucks and had the advantage of the national mood on their side, it was a disaster for the party that has activists outside of Maricopa County grumbling that party leaders didn't listen to them when crafting their 2008 strategy.

"I'm very concerned that we not lose momentum as a result of what happened, and also that we're taking a hard look at everything," says Rabago.

Attorney Jeff Rogers, the second vice-chair of the county party, is expected to succeed Rabago down here, although former lawmaker Ted Downing has been making some noises about pursuing the job.

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