Amphi Theatrics

To the Editor,

Regarding "Sneak Attack" (Tucson Weekly, March 19): Owls vs. kids. Environmentalists vs. developers. Parents vs. parents. How did it get to this point? How far will it go before someone decides to grow up and compromise? There is plenty of blame to go around and all sides should feel ashamed.

Mailbag I have always considered myself an environmentalist, as I'm sure we all do, but I've been aware of the pygmy owl for only about a year. I didn't even know who or what the Southwest Center was until last October. Certainly, the stoppage of a high school has been a public relations disaster for the environmental cause.

Perhaps they could have or should have tried harder to work with Amphitheater to create an environmentally sound high school and to educate the school board on the negative effects of "winking" at every high density rezoning request that skips past the Board of Supervisors. It appears that people can only resolve their problems by going to court these days and that's a pity.

The Amphitheater board has learned a costly lesson (I hope) by lacking leadership and vision at a time when children needed it most. We should have had a 10-year plan eight or 10 years ago. This high school should have been built five years ago. Who was in charge? This only magnifies the failures of the previous superintendent and board president. Both refused to move the attendance boundaries for Amphi High School to Ina Road for fear of upsetting the "northern" half of the district. That alone would have eased the crowding at CDO.

Personally, I was never against the site because of the owl. I am not an owl expert. My gut instinct tells me that there are owls on the site and I have given an affidavit stating that I heard what appeared to be the owl while touring the site last month. I gave the affidavit because I was ethically, if not legally, required to do so. Instincts are not facts, however, and if required to choose between children and owls, I would choose children in a heart beat.

My opposition was solely based on the before-mentioned land deals and the threat of high density development that always surrounds schools. The past does matter because this board has demonstrated that it does not learn from its mistakes.

Does this make me anti-child? I have dedicated most of my life to children as a special education teacher in Amphi. I can tell you that I would protect any and all children from harm. I have hundreds of parents and colleagues who can vouch for my dedication to children.

I tell you this because I refuse to let any group lie and attack my character by even suggesting that my opposition to this site makes me anti-child. What this does do, however, is make the threat of retaliation against me by my employers a possibility because, in their eyes, "To question Amphi is to be against Amphi." I've seen it, I've lived it and we've all read about it.

Now, we are forced to let the legal system do what should have been done between mature adults months ago. Compromise.

We better learn from all of this because there are two more battles ahead. One is naming the new school and the other is deciding which kids will get to go to it. We will truly see parents vs. parents and wealthy vs. poor if these issues are not handled with vision and with leadership.

--Andy Morales

To the Editor,

Recently, some members of the group known as the "Yellow Ribbon" Committee have raised questions about conflict of interest in reference to Amphi School Board member Nancy Young Wright. Since they brought up the subject, please, let's address the "Conflict of Interest" issue.

Several recent letters and articles in local papers have been authored by Esther Underwood, who signs herself as the mother of an Amphi student. Underwood, however, fails to mention her other affiliations, which could help explain her rabid devotion to development interests and the present Amphi school site.

The furor over the Amphi School site issue is also part of a larger battle by the development community, against the federal Endangered Species Act. The current pygmy owl listing, like previous listings of other endangered species such as the kangaroo rat in California, has halted or threatens development of the school site and of other development projects throughout northwestern Pima County. Many people believe that the school district has been encouraged by the development community to pursue their fight against these laws, rather than trying to work out acceptable mitigation plans with U.S. Fish and Wildlife.

The school district makes a wonderful "poster child" in this fight. How much better for the school district to talk about not being able to build their project because of these laws, than for some non-sympathetic figure such as a Don Diamond or other major developers to pursue these same issues?

Unfortunately, the children's needs are lost in the political shuffle. That's why working out alternate plans such as seeking or trading for acceptable alternate sites, selling this site as habitat, working out mitigation plans, etc. have taken a back seat to fighting headlong for the present school site.

Esther Underwood and her group have focused on one member of the board, Nancy Wright, for the problems associated with the site. To set the record straight:

  1. Wright is only one vote out of five members.

  2. The site was purchased at inflated prices before she was on the board.

  3. The Shannon and Naranja site is one of three other fiascos by the board. The others were the contaminated bus barn property and the school site in the landing pattern of La Cholla Airpark.

  4. The board has not formulated alternate plans to remedy the high school problem if the government regulations and lawsuits stop the project.

  5. The various lawsuits and federal laws that affect the site are beyond Wright's control.
Underwood and her husband Richard Underwood are influential members of the development community. Richard Underwood owns AAA landscape, one of the largest landscaping firms in the state. His firm works on new development projects, and large existing commercial and residential projects.

No new developments could translate into fewer projects and less money coming into AAA Landscape.

Richard Underwood is a member of Southern Arizona Home Builders Association. Esther Underwood is a licensed real-estate agent, working for Cañada Vista Homes, a new housing development. The Underwoods have benefitted through enhancement of their businesses, and continue to benefit from all the new development. How inconvenient it would be for their businesses if a school district were to make statements such as: "Mr. Town Official, we only have five seats remaining in our local school. The school would not be able to handle the additional students generated by this new project." Instead, Amphi School District officials, friends of the development community, have publicly stated: "If you build it, we will provide schools." Maybe that's partly how we have reached this present situation.

Esther Underwood also believes in mixing half-truths and innuendos in her writings--for example, the potentially libelous statements in her article in the March 19 Tucson Citizen. She has apparently been handing out a malicious flyer depicting Amphi School Board member Nancy Young Wright, which includes a cartoon that the Explorer Newspaper refused to print. In 1996, Richard Underwood was part of a committee printing and mailing libelous and disparaging flyers and political advertisements about other Oro Valley politicians, for which he was warned about the false and malicious content.

They have been getting away with some of these activities, and think it's OK to keep them up. In Arizona, the standard of proof for libeling a public official requires proof that the author had knowledge and malicious intent.

It is unfortunate that in attempting to divert the spotlight from the current Amphi School District administration and their deeds and actions that not only created but failed to help solve the mess, the Underwoods and the school district have resorted to a tactic of throwing mud everywhere, in the hopes that it will land on someone else, rather than themselves.

In the process, they have smeared Nancy Young Wright, who is looking out for the interests of the kids and the people who elected her. She perceives a different track than do the rest of the school board members, and perhaps different outcomes to Amphi's lawsuits with environmental groups and possibly the federal government.

Wright apparently thinks a back-up plan should be in place, rather than the indefinite commitment to continuing litigation that the rest of the board seems willing to make. Continuing litigation may not succeed in getting the school built. Working out a habitat conservation plan with U.S. Fish and Wildlife, or satisfactory mitigation measures, or perhaps a swap of lands to a less sensitive site, might be a faster way of achieving the goal of building a high school for the district's children.

How convenient for the rest of the school board members, and perhaps some of the district's parents, to target scapegoats for their own previous and continuing bad decisions, and for blindly charging forward with this site, no matter what the ultimate costs in litigation or time lost. Many residents of Amphi District believe that a problem may continue to exist in finalizing construction of a high school on the Shannon and Naranja site. Whereas the rest of the school board and Amphi administration would like to have us believe that problems have gone away, never existed, etc.

The other side of the issue also deserves a voice. And that voice represents an honest opinion, rather than a conflict of interest. Why are Underwood and her group so desperate to silence a divergent opinion?

--Rosalie C. Roszak

Getting In Gear

To the Editor,

Thank you for publishing Kay Sather's "Pedal-Pushing 40" (Tucson Weekly, March 5). Her testament to living auto-free for a year and a half was striking in terms of the challenges she faced and her success in meeting them. Her well-written work inspired me to jump on my tandem the next day and have my son pedal me to his school...the only way to go!

Sather's account may seem extreme and not altogether successful due to her accident, but I trust she'll continue to make a large number of her trips by bike when she recovers.

And that's really the point. Many of us could make at least some of our trips by bicycling, walking, transit, or carpool. In several European communities with per capita incomes much higher than ours and more adverse weather (OK, winter, anyway), such as Groningen, Holland, and Copenhagen, Denmark, more than 50 percent of all trips are made by bicycling, walking and taking transit.

There is, of course, the argument that our normal low-density Tucson development limits the use of alternative modes. There is some truth to that, yet the more that low-density development is fostered the more that dependency on automotive travel will increase. With fuel prices and fuel taxes at historically low levels, the available high levels of subsidized parking, and our autocentric culture, it appears Bruce Cockburn was on to something when he said, "The trouble with 'normal' is that it only gets worse."

Can or should anything be done, especially since it seems we've voted with our feet (on the gas pedal)? If anything were to be done, most important should include improved land-use management to promote closer location of goods, services, employment opportunities and housing. Increased support for alternative modes of travel would go hand in hand with this.

Some issues should be considered, especially transportation access and housing opportunities near employment for average to lower-income people. According to the census, a very high number of people in the Tucson area--about half the population--live in households which earn under $30,000 per year. This isn't truly "low income" as the census may define it; however, $30,000 doesn't go all that far these days for many families in our community.

Nearly 10 percent of workers in these households either bike or walk to work, and another 5 percent take transit. Doesn't sound like very high numbers, but imagine what congestion and pollution would be like if all of these people drove. Then imagine what congestion and pollution would be like if fewer of all of us drove.

Reasonable housing opportunities and access to alternate modes can make quite a difference to lower-income families and to our community as a whole. Besides the private expense of driving, which the American Automobile Association has estimated at over $6,000 per year for average-price newer vehicles, there are external costs of motor-vehicle use which don't directly hit us in the pocketbooks. In fact, the Federal Highway Administration has estimated that we're paying less than 20 percent of the total costs of driving when we pay gas taxes and other motor vehicle use fees. The total costs include the private costs of owning and operating a vehicle and costs due to accidents, pollution, roadway construction and maintenance, emergency response, and protection of access to oil supplies.

So for those motivated to help out with provisions and programs for alternative modes, some volunteer citizen forums exist which can actually have some influence in the process. Locally, these include the Citizens Transportation Advisory Committee (CTAC) and the Tucson-Pima County Bicycle Advisory Committee (BAC for short).

CTAC works on all aspects of transportation and I'll let their spokesman speak to their good deeds. On our part, the BAC actively supports the development of bike lanes, local street bike routes, and off-road paths to provide improved travel opportunities and safety for bicyclists as well as motorists. We work in particular on improving difficult segments of roadways and providing safer intersection crossings for bicyclists and pedestrians. We also promote the shared use of roadways by motorists and bicyclists, and traffic calming to help improve the margin of safety for cyclists and walkers.

The BAC works a lot on long-term bikeway improvement issues, but we've also gotten some other things accomplished over the recent past. We coordinate closely with the City of Tucson, which has striped nearly 25 miles of bike lanes and constructed 10 miles of off-street paths over the past two years. The city has also just completed an innovative design of a new intersection crossing for bicyclists and pedestrians and will construct it this summer.

We worked closely with CTAC to get a new bike/pedestrian coordinator position established within the city, which the City Council strongly supported and approved. We've worked with area governments to get federal grants for bike and pedestrian projects which have recently been built or will soon be completed. Some of these include the Mountain Avenue Bridge, reconstruction of the Santa Cruz multi-use path, the Catalina Foothills Bike Loop, the connection of the Aviation multi-use path with the Golf Links path, construction of wide-curb lanes and bike lanes on Congress and St. Mary's under I-10, and construction of a bike/pedestrian bridge over Broadway to connect the Aviation path and Fourth Avenue. We also got the city to legalize use of the Fourth Avenue underpass for bike use and successfully lobbied the Forest Service to remove the $5 per bike daily fee they were going to charge people to ride up Mount Lemmon.

The Bike Advisory Committee is working hard with the public and area governments to improve conditions for bicyclists. If you would like to support our efforts and help people like Kay Sather thrive as bicyclists, please contact the committee and bring your concerns to one of our monthly meetings. The Bike Advisory Committee as well as CTAC can be reached through the city bike/pedestrian coordinator at 791-4372.

--Matthew Zoll

Chair, Tucson-Pima County Bicycle Advisory Committee

To the Editor,

Everything Kay Sather writes in "Pedal Pushing 40" (Tucson Weekly, March 5) is right on the money. I take this issue one step further and say the responsibility for lifestyle changes lies within Corporate America. The heavy hitters are blowing smog up our noses. Business owners and managers need to open their minds to flex-time, bike-lockers, showers and such. Corporate America can afford to give the people freedom of choice. Employers can give the people the freedom to live happier, healthier lives. There is an unnecessary evil in our city--it is the automobile.

Bicycling as a means of transportation in a city where the sun shines 200-plus days a year is not only sensible, but profitable. For four years I did not drive a car; not because I could not afford one or because I was a college student, but because I choose to. I rode my bike to work, to school, to shopping, to the library, to doctor appointments, to social occasions--everywhere. I loved/hated it. Everyday I tolerated honking, whistling, yelling maniacs who forced me to play cat and mouse while they spewed poisonous pollutants into the air I breathed so heavily. Yet, I did not falter under the oppression, for not only was I fit, but I belonged to me. I owed no one a thing. Bicycling helped support my college education, countless vacations (including Europe and Hawaii), and a big, fat stock portfolio.

Nowadays, I commute by bike three or four times a week. I can see Tucson's traffic problems are only becoming worse. If people believe they are immune to pollutants because they are in a vehicle, they best think again. My dream of clean air and traffic lanes full of pedal-pushing, friendly, happy people is too far away, so I call upon Corporate America: Cut us all a break.

--Karen Fox

Flying Blind

To the Editor,

The naivete of those complaining about KOLD-TV's helicopter purchase is amazing. Do they live under the assumption corporations exist to serve the public? Corporations reflect our nation's capitalistic system and capitalism serves only one master--profit. If those in control at KOLD thought they couldn't make a buck from this purchase, it wouldn't have happened, period.

The myth of a liberal or free press is simply that--a myth fostered to misdirect people. Freedom of the press belongs to those who own them. Those complaining may well get more mileage from their energy by questioning the owner and advertiser dominance over news personnel and editorial content, the planted and fabricated information and suppressed stories, and the clever use of language to frame and direct stories, issues and ideas.

Complaining about KOLD's purchase is as silly as complaining about U.P.S. painting their trucks. It's their right to do what they want as it is your right to not watch them, read them or patronize their advertisers. And that's the way it is!

--E.J. Doyle

Tibet Tussle

To the Editor,

James DiGiovanna's belated capsule review of Kundun is an odd mix of political diatribe and begrudging appreciation which I believe unfairly slights both the director Martin Scorsese and Tibet (Tucson Weekly, March 5). While there certainly does seem to exist some sort of "Tibet chic" fad in Hollywood at the moment, the film (including the writing of the screenplay by Melissa Mathison) was actually a project seven years in progress. As for Scorsese, his resume hardly identifies him as someone who has either jumped on any bandwagon in the past nor needs to at the present.

DiGiovanna's stab at Tibet is even more problematic in being both irrelevant to the worth of the movie and an unfair representation of a historical reality. DiGiovanna's quote closely mimics the Chinese propaganda concerning Tibet which came out at the time of the "liberation" of Tibet--how the Chinese army was welcomed with open arms by the poor, oppressed masses of Tibet.

There is no doubt that Tibet was not traditionally an egalitarian and democratically governed society. Looking at the world in general in the early decades of this century one would have found most of the countries of the world to share such a quality. What made Tibet unique was the fact that its religious and political structures virtually overlapped--the Dalai Lama was both the political and spiritual leader. With a young modern-minded Dalai Lama, Tibet at the time of the Chinese invasion (1949) was a country in transition, as were many countries in the post-war world.

My support for Tibet--and I believe the support of the famous and not-so-famous--is based not on any idealized version of a Shangri-La, but rather on an appreciation of the many unique and worthwhile features of Tibetan culture and a strong feeling of abhorrence at the unbelievable scope of the oppression and destruction wreaked on Tibet by China with barely a peep from the "civilized " world.

Whatever the negative aspects of Tibetan culture which may have existed prior to 1949, the historical record still shows Tibet to have been a nation whose people supported their leader the Dalai Lama and whose Buddhist faith permeated their everyday lives, which had diplomatic relations with its neighbors (India, China, Nepal, Sikim and Bhutan), and which for 1,000 years or more had a history of political independence within the shifting political alliances of the region. Nothing that came before comes close to justifying China's genocidal and ecocidal policies since 1949, which have included the killing by torture, starvation, and execution of over 1 million Tibetans, the destruction of most of Tibet's 6,000 monasteries, the forced sterilization of a large number of Tibetan women, the massive transfer of ethnic Chinese into Tibet, making Tibetans a minority there, and the large-scale deforestation of Eastern Tibet.

I have seen the evidence of some of this destruction with my own eyes. Lest DiGiovanna feel such claims come from that vicious Dalai Lama in exile in India, I suggest he consult the reports of Amnesty International, Asia Watch, or the numerous other independent observers.

Glib and fashionably iconoclastic assertions about Tibet such as DiGiovanna's are nothing less than historical revisionism a la "There was no Holocaust." Unfortunately, due to China's totalitarian grip on Tibet and Tibet's extreme geographical isolation (it takes more than a month to escape Tibet across the Himalayas into Nepal), it is difficult to speak directly with the Tibetan people and dig up the truth (both literally and figuratively). There is no large constituency of survivors or their relatives to raise their voices in outrage at such callous published claims. That is why we try to help Tibet.

Now that Kundun has come and gone, it is regrettable that the Tucson Weekly and DiGiovanna, both keen observers of the interface of political and popular culture, have missed the real hidden political story of the film. Why was it that a film by a major American director was initially shown in Tucson on only one screen, only at noon, and with virtually no advertising? What are the implications of a foreign country, China, being able to pressure a major film company, Disney/Touchstone Pictures, to censor the distribution of a film whose theme that country doesn't approve of?

All in all, once DiGiovanna's political views on Tibet are excised from his review of the film as an artistic venture, Kundun shows itself to have been an interesting and reasonably well made movie, one which unfortunately hardly anyone knew was playing.

--Steven Wind

To the Editor,

Regarding James DiGiovanna's capsule review of Kundun (Tucson Weekly, March 5): The most annoying thing about DiGiovanna's trendy secular cynicism is that it keeps him from paying attention to what is going on in his heart. Or maybe he just hasn't been informed as to its location. I am all for a good rip at movies now and then, even when they don't deserve it. Stacey Richter can really make me roll with her critical razor.

Intelligent criticism is one thing, very interesting. Humor is another thing, very funny. But what is this thing DiGiovanna did called? Slam-a-Lama? That hideous mentor of maniacal terror, the Dalai Lama is at it again, folks, and boy is he ever unfair to all of those dummies who love him. Be afwaid, be verry afwaid! DiGiovanna should stay awake when reviewing films so that he can review the film, not international politics.

--Jewell Starsinger

Write Stuff

To the Editor,

While plodding through all the long, boring Salpointe letters, there was one shining light. That was the one by B.W. Ewing, with wonderful lines like, "Vicki Hart is an invalid!!!" and "the Weekly is a trashy newspaper with trashy articles written by White Trash for White Trash!!!" Wow! What a hoot! Please, B.W. Ewing, write more letters!

--Richard Trible

Butt Heads

To the Editor,

I've lived in Tucson just under a year now, and have come to greatly appreciate your presence here as an alternative to the daily, so-called newspapers in this town. Therefore, I was tremendously disappointed to see you stoop to selling three full-page ads focusing on the use of tobacco in this week's issue! Have I simply been blind until now, or is this a new way for you to pay your bills? I have to wonder at what cost will this have to your quality of journalism--advertising does seem to influence the content of the media. I also wonder where you feel your responsibility lies with the health and well being of your readers, especially the younger people you appeal to. Your articles, so often, have concern regarding the health of our environment and lives, so how do you justify these ads? I'll be reading you with a greater wariness in the future.

--Karin Bartimole

Editor's Response: Karin, your concerns are certainly worthwhile. And, yes, this is a new way of paying our bills--previously we had rejected tobacco ads for just those reasons you've cited. Now, however, we feel it's more important to make money--lots and lots of money, so you're right to read us with greater wariness, as you should any publication which depends on advertisers, including the daily newspapers. American magazines, in particular, are currently a terribly stinky brew of advertiser influence on editorial content. As for the Tucson Weekly going easy on tobacco manufacturers, however, you can rest assured that will not happen too often--tobacco is a contemptible sissy addiction, and most of us on the staff are into crack and methamphetamines.

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