We Must Be Dreaming!

Did The Recent 'Ambush' At The Board Of Supervisors Mark The Beginning Of The End Of Cancerous Growth In Pima County?

By Emil Franzi

RESTRAINED-GROWTH advocates got a major boost from the now well-publicized Pima County Board of Supervisors study session of February 24 held to discuss urban sprawl.

The guy who put the subject on the agenda, Board Chairman Mike Boyd, heretofore an unfailingly developer-friendly Republican, apparently got a whole lot more than he wanted or expected.

As a result of this meeting, it appears that after years of talk, pointless meetings, plan amendments, ordinance waivers, and general stalling and concessions whenever the Growth Lobby belched, this Board just might actually do something to curb unrestrained growth.

Currents The session's most significant revelation--and what will ultimately mean the most in the long run, and make February 24 a watershed date in Pima County history--is the general acceptance by all five supervisors of something most of the public has been aware of for years--namely, that all growth is not good.

That may not be enough for those who think most growth sucks, but it's one big step towards redefining the entire future of this valley. It's called a "paradigm shift," and once such an event occurs, societies generally don't regress to earlier, simpler views.

The fundamental aim of the restrained-growth faction is, quite simply, to quit subsidizing growth, quit encouraging it, and quit believing it's good for us. By placing the growth issue on an agenda for a special meeting, and by conceding that growth doesn't pay for itself, Boyd has validated the restrained-growth faction's basic premises. In voting to take the first step to expand controlled-growth ordinances, the Board of Supervisors has already begun the restrained-growth process.

OF COURSE, THE big question among local political players has been: What in the name of God did Boyd really have in mind?

Suspicious environmentalists thought he was simply coming up with a way to stall or cut them out of the process. Others think he was pandering for a future run at higher office. Still others give him credit for honestly trying to address a major issue.

All scenarios may be partially true, but it's impossible to analyze Boyd's actions without factoring in the influence of his aide, Ron St. John. That's because Boyd spends little time as a supervisor, and St. John not only carries much of his water, but fills a few buckets on his own. St. John has always been a policy wonk, and his role in the events of February 24 was significant.

The Boyd-St. John plan was to name a big committee containing developers, environmentalists and representatives from other jurisdictions to meet and "reach consensus" about what was needed to be done on growth matters. In fact, Boyd is still promoting such a meeting for June.

The makeup of the committee would obviously be skewed. With the exception of the Town of Tortolita, most other local jurisdictions, like Marana and Oro Valley, are branch offices for the Growth Lobby. And such a summit would have been further skewed by Boyd and St. John deciding which environmental groups would have been represented.

Also, it's obvious the fix was in because of the presence of The Rincon Institute and other environmental "Uncle Toms" in some of the Boyd/St. John organizational meetings on the question.

The February 24 meeting, as orchestrated by Boyd and St. John, was supposed to be similarly restricted--to a discussion of a report prepared by County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry. Nothing else was supposed to happen. Only county bureaucrats and those invited by Boyd were supposed to speak. St. John actually threatened Sierra Club leader Rich Genzer before the meeting, calling Genzer and groups like the Sierra Club too "extreme." And, St. John added, he and Boyd planned to deal with more "moderate" elements of the environmental community.

The meeting, as planned, basically consisted of a couple of hours of bureaucrats explaining stuff. Probably the most ludicrous was the Pima Association of Governments presentation informing us that we'll have 1.2 million people here by 2020 and 435,000 of them will live in unincorporated areas. Apparently PAG is assuming there will be no new incorporations in the next 20 years, nor will anybody succeed in massive annexations.

Huckelberry's report, however, was chock full o' nuts: It tells us about the many ways we subsidize urban sprawl and development in general, and gives us all sorts of fascinating data that generally reinforce the restrained-growth argument. Furthermore, it outlines the first steps to be taken to implement restraint.

AFTER THESE presentations, the screws of local history began to turn: It was time for citizen participation.

Unfortunately for Boyd and St. John, by law there's a call to the audience at every supervisors' meeting.

Ignorning any attempts at intimidation, a host of environmentalists stepped up to the mike, led off by Carolyn Campbell, spokeswoman for a coalition of 17 groups. She admirably proved there is some consensus in this community by laying out a two-page agenda encompassing a host of specifics--from tightening the buffer and hillside ordinances, to identifying and protecting wildlife corridors, to pushing for more open space and a native plant law.

Campbell backed up the environmental consensus with a discussion of voter consensus in the last several elections, in which open-space bonds were passed and restrained-growth candidates were elected. She pointed out that we've talked this stuff to death and it's way past time for some action.

Other speakers followed her lead, including Genzer, who doesn't take orders well, although the Growth Lobby types did--Boyd and St. John had promised them nothing was going to happen, so they remained silent.

Which is why Supervisor Sharon Bronson saw her opportunity, and grabbed it.

Bronson threw away Boyd's script and basically moved for Campbell's agenda, setting May 19 as the earliest date all that good stuff could wind through the process.

To his credit, Supervisor Raul Grijalva put aside the festering personal feud between himself and Bronson, seconded her motion and then expanded on it. Supervisor Dan Eckstrom jumped on the bandwagon, adding a concern for affordable housing and inner-city investment as part of the equation. Eckstrom had previously noted that any discussion of transportation and other infrastructure priorities was inhibited by the recent bond election in which voters had already allocated most available funds and already told the county what they wanted and where.

At this point Boyd didn't know whether to go the john or bake an apple pie. He tried to stall and was joined by fellow Republican Ray Carroll, who now says he had no real substantive objections, but wanted a little more time to consider matters. Besides, Carroll's ally, Boyd, was clearly twisting in the wind.

After it became obvious that the three Democrats were hanging tight, both Boyd and Carroll supported the measure. Which led Alan Lurie, director of the politically powerful Southern Arizona Home Builders Association, to complain he and the rest of the Growth Lobby had been "ambushed."

Could be. But Lurie was a general in the Air Force (and spent a few years in the Hanoi Hilton, making him one of Tucson's genuine war heroes). And a good general who gets ambushed should take another look at his point man.

For years, St. John has suffered from delusions of relevance, and Genzer isn't the first person he's crudely tried to intimidate. In 1996 St. John raised 30 grand, mostly from the Growth Lobby, for an abortive race for the state House of Representatives in District 13. He blew most of that cash--some on questionable items like shirts, tires and a computer--and then announced he wasn't running after all because nobody had found his unemployed roommate a job. That should have told Lurie and others something about St. John's judgment and credibility.

He and Boyd, however unintentionally, have opened Pandora's Box. They're still trying for their hokey "consensus committee," but the real environmentalists are wise to this crap.

Boyd should recall that in 1988 then-Supervisor Iris Dewhirst and then-City Councilwoman Sharon Heckman co-sponsored a "growth symposium" at Hotel Park Tucson and invited all groups to come "reason together" to "reach consensus." They dragged in some mediator type from Denver to do "conflict resolution." The highlight of the proceedings came when then-Supervisor Reg Morrision brought in a guy from the development community as a featured speaker--Charles Keating. And Dewhirst and Heckman were blown out in the next election.

The neighborhood and tree-hugger types have been stalled for years with these feel-good ploys. They've gone to countless meetings and sat around for endless hours with a bunch of suits and county staffers getting paid to mumble pop-pysch babble. The process was designed to wear the environmentally-minded folks down and blow them off. Enough. Sorry, Mike. Been there, done that.

THE REAL GAMES begin on May 19, when all those ordinances and modifications come back to the supervisors. Between now and then the Growth Lobby will counter-attack at a scheduled series of public hearings

Even if Carolyn Campbell draws the ordinances, they'll represent merely a start at finally getting around to restraining growth in Pima County. Supervisor Carroll calls most of these proposed measures "housekeeping" that should've been accomplished long ago. He's right, of course, but the house is now filthy and needs a major renovation. Some folks even think it was beginning to smell.

And, unfortunately, however strong such ordinances may be, they'll have little effect on entities like Marana and Oro Valley, which could currently handle most of this area's projected growth based on existing zonings.

We suspect there'll be three votes for the new ordinances on May 19. If the Growth Lobby is smart, they'll try for some meaningful reform in other areas--for example, a reduction in certain developmental standards that put a lot higher price tag on new homes than those lousy $1,500 impact fees they've bitched about, or for speeding up the process that adds more interest costs. It'll be their turn to control "extremists."

For whatever reason, the community is indebted to Boyd for putting the whole growth issue on the table. And more in debt to Bronson for actually taking action, and to Grijalva for backing her up, and to Eckstrom for providing the third vote, and to Carroll for going along. And to all of them for adding a few points of their own. And to Tucson City Councilman Steve Leal, who has been talking up the need for infill and city-county cooperation for years, and who brought the city into the process.

With any luck, at least three supes will stay tight and vote right on May 19, and it will mark the beginning of some intelligent growth policies for our community.

That's the real way to finally start resolving the growth wars. TW

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