The Blueprint For Greater Tucson's Growth Reads Like A Plot For The Worst Movie Ever Made.
By Emil Franzi
THE CHAOTIC CONDITIONS in Greater Tucson are getting worse. Clogged streets, overcrowded schools, more crime, higher taxes, and a deteriorating environment and quality of life are obvious to even the most militant pro-growth cementhead.
Many people believe the problem was caused by a lack of planning. Wrong. What we're experiencing now is exactly what was planned.
It hasn't been that long since Arizona was mostly wide-open spaces. The consensus back then was that we needed more folks, and policies were designed accordingly. We never changed those policies, nor did we ever question the fundamental premise upon which they were based--that population growth was inherently beneficial. In fact, we evolved a determinist corollary that says growth will always continue and we are powerless to stop it or even slow it down.
The Arizona Constitution specifies that millions of acres of state land be held for development. Tax policies allow developers to pay literally nothing on rezoned land up to the moment of construction as long as they comply with some loose rules for "agriculture." County zoning codes classify even the most remote areas as "reserves." Reserves for what? More people.
Furthermore, Arizona lacked a planning-and-zoning process until the mid-1950s. There weren't any Sierra Club types lobbying the legislature back then, and the impetus for zoning came from the developers the process was supposed to regulate. Whenever they spoke about "controlled growth," what they were really talking about was who got to control it.
Since that time almost all our growth decisions have been based on a single premise: If nobody who lives near a proposed project objects, the project will be approved. This has caused most new growth to be planned far away from population centers. Leapfrogging was part of the system.
Over the years, when those in the area objected, we saw massive political brawls over proposed developments. Although politicians sometimes decided in favor of the neighbors, they allowed just about anything to get on the books where there were no neighbors.
Neighborhood groups liked this. Some even posed as environmentalists, but the saguaros and ironwoods they cared about were the ones near their houses. Screw the ones farther out.
The developers and planners caught on. They kept shoving new construction farther and farther away, where nobody noticed. A whole series of area plans were passed, and then amended on an almost weekly basis with hardly a thought. Hey, growth was both inevitable and good for us--and nobody bitched.
Only nobody ever asked what would happen when all that stuff finally got built. Where are the roads, schools, sewers, cops and other infrastructure supposed to come from? Everybody just imagined the voters would acquiesce with some new taxing method, or perhaps there'd be enough taxes generated by all those new homes and businesses to pick up the tab.
That was the plan--and it worked. Today we have plenty of people. And now we're paying through the nose for that plan and the philosophy behind it.
If we continue on this course, there's no way the transportation needs of this now far-flung valley can be met without massive tax increases and a further destruction of our quality of life. And there are--and will be more--gigantic infrastructure needs--schools and sewers and jails and courthouses.
And today our planning process has some new players. Towns like Oro Valley, Marana and Sahuarita all have enough hard zoning on the books to cram in a lot more people. The Marana Town Council brags that its 70 square miles could take a population of more than a million in the next 25 years. Sahuarita just approved one development that will put another 30,000 folks in its nine square miles. Oro Valley's current leaders are backing off the growth Ponzi scheme, but they're also stuck with the zoning decisions of their predecessors. Nobody has a clue about how to pay for all this growth or alleviate the chaotic conditions.
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