Somewhere, every day, the fix is in.
--Reuben Moses Emanuel, Former City Magistrate
By Emil Franzi
Fix: The simple act of conducting an inside deal. To fix: Using clout or influence to produce a favorable result, usually from an entity of government. The fix is not an illegal act, but usually involves stealth, subterfuge, and a degree of hypocrisy.
PIMA COUNTY HAD its share of fixes in 1996, at various levels of government. Some were continuations of prior fixes, others ongoing fixes that just came to light. Most involved tax dollars that didn't need to be spent, while others involved tax dollars that would've been spent anyway, but with another beneficiary. There are other fixes coming up in the new year. And there are even a couple of fixes that failed.
The local recipient of the most fixes, year after year, is legendary land speculator Don Diamond. The man is a master. He should be honored by the American Institute of Political Pathology, not only for the sheer volume of his actions, but his consistent ability to do it on the cheap. In any other county of this size in the United States, and many of much smaller resources, the political contributions and other favor-collecting devices Diamond uses would cost him five- or even 10-fold. Maybe that's why he does business here--everybody rolls over for the first offer, as Arizona land fraud king Ned Warren used to say.
Although there are undoubtedly others, here's a few of the 1996 Diamond fixes we've noticed:
The big development southeast of Tucson got fixed several times this year. First the feds finished the deal to purchase 1,945 acres for $22.5 million to add it to Saguaro National Park, a price that was greatly enhanced by the acreage's inclusion in the Rocking K Specific Plan. In fact, some of us think the only reason Saguaro National Monument East became Saguaro National Park was to enhance the price of Diamond's land. Hey, the cactus won't be able to tell the difference. And never mind that under current Pima County ordinances, Diamond couldn't build anything on most of it anyway. Environmentalists were worried he'd get exemptions from the ordinances, but for what? The Big D seldom builds anything--that's too risky.
Next part was the Christmas presents bestowed upon Diamond by an exiting Board of Supervisors. Their approval increased the size of the Rocking K Specific Plan via one fast-tracked amendment for utility easements. The process, with the modifications placed on the Board's agenda at the last minute by lame duck Supervisor Paul Marsh, was an obvious fix all by itself.
And a majority of the Tucson City Council is waiting to annex the Rocking K development. Watch that deal--it'll no doubt include provisions that exempt Diamond from most of his commitments made to Pima County to get the rezoning in the first place. Example: Diamond is supposed to provide the sewer lines and a treatment plant. But the city is currently condemning rights of way for utility easements that will cover the sewer lines to Civano Solar Village. If you check the map, you'll see the route will obviously take care of a nice hunk of the sewers to Rocking K.
Interesting, when you realize the city isn't even in the sewer business.
After the disastrous fire that destroyed this publicly owned park, and the ineptitude shown by both the Pima County Parks Department and the lease holder in failing to practice rudimentary fire safety, you'd expect there would be some discussion concerning the lease holder. There was--Diamond interests received a 25-year extension on the contract to manage Old Tucson, without a competitive bid. And in November, they were given a rate increase so the rest of us can pay more to take Cousin Charlie and his kids to see all the new additions we're paying for that Diamond gets to profit from. One of the more irresponsible fixes by an irresponsible Board of Supervisors.
One That Failed
Even Diamond doesn't make it every time. His attempt to stop the new federal courthouse so he could keep collecting rent from the feds officed at La Placita went down, and courthouse construction has begun. In any community with any real self-respect, Diamond would have caught a lot more flak for that attempted fix (through lobbying Congress) than he did from the basically supine media and pols around here.
Which is why he'll be back next year, and why this survey is an annual event. Most other fixes don't achieve the magnitude of Diamond's, but he hasn't been alone this year:
Amphitheater School Land Deals
This has been ongoing for at least four years. The tip-off occurred when it was noticed that for the past eight years, the same title company was used to handle all 19 of the district's land purchases. Normally the seller picks the title company, unless there's another reason. The Weekly's own Jim Nintzel found the reason--a guy named Bill Arnold.
A broker with Genesis Real Estate and Development, Arnold had, and still has, an exclusive arrangement to represent the fast-growing Amphi School District in all of its land deals. And Arnold was, just coincidentally, the chairman of the campaign to elect Vicki Cox-Golder to the Board of Supervisors. And Cox-Golder just happened to be president of the Amphitheater School District.
There's an old political saying: Cockroaches hate sunlight. They sure started to scurry when we asked the folks charged with a $60-million school budget to explain how all of this happened. They stonewalled, they dodged, they mumbled, they obfuscated, and they downright lied.
Cox-Golder claimed she had no idea how Arnold got the deal, and added she really didn't know him very well. Arnold couldn't remember how much he made. District officials couldn't remember who recommended him, nor could they find the documents for that land they bought.
The establishment media finally noticed--after another Nintzel exposé--when these clowns went too far and Amphi tried to buy a big parcel from another close friend of Cox-Golder's at the end of the Cholla Airpark runway.
Matched to Diamond's fixes, the couple of hundred grand Arnold has made during the last few years off a job that wasn't really needed was small change. But in the category of sleaze, it was one of the biggest.
Marana Sewer Lines
The recent mammoth rezonings in Marana and the well-publicized run-in between then-Supervisor Ed Moore and his standard nemesis, Tucson Water, spilled much ink this year. But the daily press missed the key element in the deal: Why is the City of Tucson's water department running miles of water lines, both potable and effluent, way north of the city limits, to an area that has no water resources in the Town of Marana? Why are current city water users subsidizing this madness with higher water rates?
In this valley, the old question, "Why did the chicken cross the road?" would get the same answer: "Because that's the way the developers want it." Subsidized lines are an on-going fix. Taking care of the developers in the Tortolita Mountains just expands the abuse.
Subsidized Baseball Stadium
With a straight face, these baseball bozos tell us building a stadium to be used for a few weeks of spring training will bring us jobs and tourist dollars--more than enough to offset the costs. And those costs continue to escalate, now pushing $40 million. Not to worry, that'll give us increased tax revenues!
Yeah, but the two biggest items a turista buys are hotels and rental cars, and the revenue from those, plus the revenue from all the other hotel and rental car taxes we have, already have been blown on the stadium project. Bottom line: It's a good deal if you own a baseball club, a screw if you're a local taxpayer.
But the rubes who run this valley for us are so insecure about our town that they'll buy into anything that gives us "exposure".
Financial publications like Barron's have already noted the stadium-building craze that has sucked in local governments throughout America has resulted in most of them getting screwed. The Arizona Republic recently reported the Phoenix stadium fix Jerry Coangelo got for the Suns a few years back won't pay be paid off until the 30th year of the deal. Since most stadiums--and teams--don't last that long, Phoenix will never see the balloon payment. And just for the record, Don Diamond owns a piece of the Phoenix Diamondbacks along with Coangelo.
Boy, there are two guys who know how to work a deal--usually at taxpayer expense."
The Copper Bowl
How long will the taxpayer continue to be ground to fund this loser bowl game? "Loser" because the locals running it are coming around for their seventh year of tax-dollar handouts. They had all this time to get "established," the reason they said they needed help at the beginning of this tax fix, and they've been without a corporate sponsor for about a year.
If no corporation will touch this turkey, why do our drooling pols?
We've been told this is the last--absolutely the last!--year they'll want any tax money for this one-day event. Furthermore, it's a case study in voodoo economics: Claims about how much the game pumps into the local economy are totally ludicrous.
We'd remind Copper Bowl promoters that under welfare reform they'd have lost government funding two years ago. This is the longest ongoing annual fix in town.
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