Bubble, Bubble...

Here's The Latest Trouble Over Tucson Water.
By Jim Wright

OTHER WATER ISSUES have come to a boil during the last two decades. Chief among them was the decision to deliver Central Arizona Project water from the Colorado River to Tucson homes. After the brown CAP crud scared people and damaged water pipes, voters passed Proposition 200, the Clean Water Initiative, which prevented Tucson Water from serving anything less than quality groundwater to its customers for five years.

Unfortunately, Tucson Water is an agency with an entrenched and willful bureaucracy. Recently resigned City Manager Michael Brown called them all but unmanageable.

The problem is so bad, Tucson Mayor George Miller last week called for a study to determine whether Tucson Water should be privatized. It seemed an amazing about face for Miller, who was adamant about maintaining government control over Tucson Water during his last reelection campaign. Early this week, the City Council voted to study the issue, while insiders were saying the skids are already greased for privatization.

"The issue is credibility," says Miller. He claims privatization may allow city government to regain control of Tucson Water free of the encumbrances of civil service rules which make it hard to fire people. And, he adds, it may be the only way for the Council to regain the public's respect when it comes to controlling Tucson Water.

All of which sounds a bit fishy--selling off a chunk of the government to regain control of it? Get real.

Miller says the Council will still set water policy, just as it does now. The situation, he adds, is no different than that of the Council's relation with SunTran, the private bus company serving city residents.

But Rene G. Guillen, a SunTran official, says the City Council has little to say about that company's policies, other than approving its budget.

IN FACT, CRITICS charge Miller's move is just a cheap political sleight-of-hand trick designed to vest control of Tucson's precious water supply in those who would profit most from business as usual--the developers and builders known collectively as the Growth Lobby.

It's not surprising, the critics say, that Tucson Water bureaucrats have refused to comply with Proposition 200, because they've been very well paid for serving the Growth Lobby--to which Prop 200 is an anathema--over the years.

The Growth Lobby wants the entire area to drink CAP water because that would absolve developers of the state requirement they provide assurances their projects have at least 100 years' worth of potable water available.

It's simple, really: We drink that CAP crap so they can sell more homes and make more money.

Privatization, some critics warn, would place Tucson Water's everyday dealings beyond public scrutiny, thus making it easier for developers to cut questionable deals.

While Miller promises such issues as access to information and Prop 200 compliance will be addressed when city staffers research privatization, Councilman Steve Leal, who voted against the privatization study earlier this week, says much more than Prop 200 could fall through the cracks of a private water company.

Leal has been calling for the creation of an open and competitive bidding procedure for architects, consultants and engineers. City staffers have ignored his requests for about a year.

Leal notes Tucson Water has spent several hundred million dollars on water projects during the last decade--projects, he says, that were never competitively bid. Leal believes the city can correct the problem, but once Tucson Water is privatized, he warns, it's likely "the boys will continue doing business as usual."

Miller disagrees, citing the SunTran model as an example of how city government can control a quasi-private entity. But SunTran's Guillen notes the company uses its own purchasing procedures along with "some" city policies. He agreed the city has little say about SunTran's procurement procedures.

Leal says his biggest problem with the privatization of any city department, but especially Tucson Water, is the public's lack of access to information.

Once a department is privatized, Leal says, its problems seem to become invisible. At least the City Council conducts its business on TV, he notes, adding, "When was the last time the TV cameras covered a SunTran or a Tucson Electric Power management meeting? Who will tell the public about the new company's day-to-day environmental decisions, public health problems and where new water resources are being provided?"

Who, indeed.


January, 1976

Consultant report recommends 240 percent hike in water bills. The funds are to be used to pay for system improvements, higher electrical expenses and development of additional Avra Valley water sources. The consultant also recommends lift charges to higher elevations.

June 7, 1976

City Council approves 34 percent hike in water bills effective July 1. Average monthly residential water bill to rise from $8.04 to $10.75 before lift charges are applied. Vote is 4 to 3.

August 3, 1976

Recall petitions against four council members (Robert Cauthorn, Barbara Weymann, Doug Kennedy and Margot Garcia) are requested by John Varga. A total of 15,604 valid signatures will be needed to force an election.

August 6, 1976

The four council members announce lift charges will be rescinded. The same day, 350 "visibly disgruntled" people attend a recall organization meeting.

August 14, 1976

Varga announces that 17,000 recall petition signatures have been collected.

September 13, 1976

Varga files petitions bearing 30,849 signatures. Of these, almost 20,000 are found to be valid.

November, 1976

Cauthorn resigns his council position to take a job in Florida. The City Council decides to leave the seat vacant pending the recall election.

November, 1976

Thirty-six people take out petitions to run for the four council seats. Eventually, 16 names will appear on the ballot.

December, 1976-January, 1977

The Citizens Recall Committee, spearheaded by Varga and Jack Fitzgerald, campaign for three candidates, Richard Amlee, Cheri Cross and James Hooton. They also endorse a fourth, Schuyler Lininger. The three incumbents are supported by the Democratic Party.

January 18, 1977

Amlee, Cross, Hooton and Lininger win large victories in the recall election.

February 7, 1977

The new Council fails to roll back the previously approved water rates. Fitzgerald says he's "disappointed."

March 3, 1977

The Council repeals the old rates and replaces them with increases of 13 percent in the winter and 23 percent in the summer for the average customer. TW

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