The Skinny


You may recall that the Tucson City Council was thrown into quite a tizzy last month by Ward 2 Councilman Rodney Glassman's suggestion that the city consider suspending impact fees for a year to boost the construction industry.

Glassman's Democratic colleagues reacted with anger over the idea--partly because Karin Uhlich, Shirley Scott and Regina Romero were already working on their own plan to delay the collection of impact fees, as long as developers agreed to make contributions to a trust fund that the city is trying to build up to help low-income homebuyers.

The basic idea: If developers don't have to pay impact fees until the house is sold, they don't have to borrow as much money to finance their projects, so they save money on interest payments. Then they can pass along some of those savings to the city, which in turn can help poor people buy homes.

At that contentious meeting last month, after they were done barking at Glassman, the City Council unanimously agreed to create another one of those citizens' committees to look into ways to stimulate the construction biz.

That group of stakeholders, which met twice a week over the last month, came back this week with their suggestions. The one-year suspension of impact fees was whittled down to six months, followed by an implementation of the policy to delay impact fees as long as developers kick in to the affordable-housing fund.

The council decided at its Tuesday meeting to skip the part about suspending impact fees and proceeded straight to the plan to let developers delay their payments. Sounds like a waste of time for the members of the citizens' committee, but whatevs.

The homebuilders were hoping for the six-month suspension, but they can live with the final plan. When you get right down to it, suspending impact fees for six months probably wouldn't have made a huge difference in the number of homes that got built, given that the market is now flooded with homes, and sales remain somewhat soft.

Here's one wrinkle in the council's play to delay the payment of impact fees: Developers will now have to negotiate individual development agreements with the city for each project, since state law dictates when impact fees are collected otherwise. We could see how neighborhood groups could pressure the council to extract new concessions from developers as part of that process. But as long as it remains voluntary, the developer would have the option of stepping away from the process.

While council members hope that the end result will be developers agreeing to split the financing savings 50-50, there are a lot variables involved, from interest-rate fluctuations to the amount of time a house is on the market. We're sure we can trust the bright minds at City Hall to work out all the details. Right?

The City Council agreed to another suggestion from the committee: Extending development rights from one year to up to five years. Right now, once they get their permits in place, developers have to start work within 12 months, or they have to begin the approval process all over again.

With so many projects stalled, this is one way for developers to plan some projects so they'll be shovel-ready once the market rebounds.

That rebound doesn't look like it's on the horizon. In the city of Tucson, only 13 permits for new homes were taken out in February. At that rate, homebuilders won't even hit the low projection of building 300 homes in the city in 2009.

If that pace doesn't pick up, we might not have many homebuilders to collect impact fees from in the future.


Senate President Bob Burns is continuing to astonish some of the Capitol's chattering class by standing firm on his promise to hold any legislation that doesn't deal with the budget.

But now that Gov. Jan Brewer has complicated the picture by calling for a tax increase, a budget solution suddenly seems a long way off. And that means that almost any other legislation is doomed--unless Burns can be persuaded to change his mind.

Democrats should mostly be relieved, because it would mean that most of the GOP legislation that's moving through the House--such as stricter abortion restrictions--will be dead until next year.

And lobbyists should be happy, because they have a perfect excuse to give their clients as to why they couldn't get any legislation passed this year.

The real losers would be social conservatives who had a long list of legislation they hoped to get passed now that Democrat Janet Napolitano is no longer governor.


If bills do start moving again, look for gun legislation that combines looser restrictions on concealed weapons, new rules about allowing guns in restaurants that serve booze, and stricter regulations about selling firearms to straw buyers who transport them into Mexico.


The sleepy forecast for this year's city election--the big news this week was that Democrat Richard Fimbres has filed to run for the Ward 5 seat being vacated by Steve Leal--already has people playing political parlor games regarding 2010.

The best one we've heard yet: Eight Democrats are considering a run for the two seats in midtown Tucson's District 28, now held by Democrats Dave Bradley and Steve Farley. That's even crazier than last year's seven-way super-slam in the Democratic primary in Legislative District 29.

Farley, who just started his second term, plans to run for re-election. (And he wants you to know there's no truth to those scurrilous rumors that he's planning to move to Phoenix or Washington, D.C.)

But Bradley has hit his four-term limit, so he has to find something else to do next year. And that open seat is igniting fires in the bellies of a whole crew of Democrats.

Besides Farley, here's the lineup of Democrats we're hearing about:

Ted Prezelski, the local blogger who finished fourth in a four-way Democratic primary for a LD28 House seat in 2006. (Prezelski's brother, Tom, was knocked out of the House in the aforementioned 2008 seven-way super-slam in LD 29, and may be plotting his own political comeback in 2010.)

Ted Downing, the UA professor who had a LD 28 House seat from 2002 to 2006, when he gave it up to make an ill-fated run for the Senate against fellow Democrat Paula Aboud.

Bruce Wheeler, the feisty former Tucson City Council member who went out in a blaze of glory in a Democratic mayoral primary. Wheeler still has a taste for politics and may want to return to the Arizona Legislature, where he served when he was just a young pup way back in the 1970s.

Tim Sultan, who lost a Democratic primary to pick a sacrificial lamb to lose to then-Congressman Jim Kolbe in 2004.

Mohur Sidhwa, a former chair of LD28 who is now a vice chair of the Arizona Democratic Party.

Jim Sinex, a math teacher who is currently collecting signatures for a half-dozen or so initiatives designed to revamp city government.

Jonathan Rothschild, a local attorney and treasurer for the Pima County Democratic Party.

Let the wild rumpus begin!

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