Skinny LOST HORIZON: It's one of those times we really hate to say we told you so--but we regretfully predicted about a month ago that the Urban Growth Boundary Initiative, which had scared the hell out of the Growth Lobby, was doomed, thanks to inept leadership. Last week, its supporters pulled the plug.

Unfortunately, most of the decisions concerning what could have been a major measure for controlling the growth battles in this state were made privately by a small group of environmental elitists who have proclaimed themselves the only leaders in the movement. Sure, they meant well--but they also screwed it up.

They dabbled far too long coming up with the final product, losing too much time needed to circulate the petitions. They squandered early money on a $25,000 survey to find out if it would win, something that could have been done for far less or not at all. They ran a late and pathetic fund-raising operation that could have worked if started effectively and on time. But their biggest problem was their failure to share the power they now no longer possess.

The same folks are making noises about coming back in 2000. We suggest anybody really interested in statewide growth control tell them to bug off until they both replace some of their existing incompetent leadership and decide to broaden the base of folks making the decisions. That's the only way the next operation will have any chance at success.

BUT, IN THE MEANTIME, WE HAVE THE FRAUDULENT SUBSTITUTE: That now-dead Urban Growth Boundary initiative so spooked the state's Growth Lobby that they wrote a counter-proposal, got Gov. Jane Dee Hull to carry the spear for it, and told their trained seals in the Legislature put it on the ballot. Designed to confuse voters, it was called the "Growing Smarter" proposal. Only problem:Seems the folks growing smarter are in the Growth Lobby, which is figuring out ways to keep raping the desert while pretending to do something to slow it down.

Parts of it are already law. Case in point: Communities already must have a comprehensive plan, a process that had been milked to death by developers and land speculators for years while neighborhood and environmental types constantly wonder why it never quite seems to work. And it also sets up a "study commissions" (one of Supervisor Mike Boyd's favorite tactics) dominated by the Growth Lobby, designed to waste everybody's time while the bulldozers churn.

The measure does call for $20 million annually for the next 11 years for open-space acquisition--an amount the Legislature has yet to budget. We submit that should it pass, they probably will, as long as there are land speculators and developers in this state who need a bail-out. Plan on seeing that money blown on overpriced land selected not for its environmental value, but to fuel the go-go-go lifestyle of some insider who wants to dump his dirt.

HOOTIN' AND HOLLERIN': Federal District Court Judge Frank Zapata issued his final ruling in the infamous pygmy owl trial last week, writing that the Amphi School District could build a new high school. But he kept an injunction against construction in place for 30 days to give environmental groups a chance to appeal to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Defenders of Wildlife and Southwest Center for Biological Diversity filed a notice of appeal within days and are expected to ask for the higher court to keep the injunction in place until the case can be heard.

"I am cautiously confident," said Bill Snape, legal director of Defenders of Wildlife in Washington, D.C. "I think we're in good shape. We'll lay out the case. We haven't had a fair hearing. We didn't get in our experts, (the U.S. Fish and Wildlife) is hiding under a rock and the Amphi board is using lies and deceit."

School officials, for their part, were upset by the 30-day delay, lamenting in a prepared statement that the district was "extremely disappointed and saddened by the result the ruling will have on the construction of its third high school."

Amidst the recent flurry of legal filings, the Defenders of Wildlife attached an affidavit from Michael Terrio, a surveyor who ridiculed his boss, Mary Darling, an Amphi consultant.

Surveys and searches for the pygmy owls were "less than scientific," done with "great confusion" and "best guesses," and inspired little confidence, Terrio said in a scathing assessment given under oath.

A former aircraft mechanic who did a summer internship last year with the Arizona Game and Fish Department, Terrio was hired by Darling Environmental & Surveying, Ltd., to survey for pygmy owls.

They surveyed the site on approximately 12 visits, totaling 30 hours, said Terrio, who notes that as an "avid wildlife photographer (I) have accumulated, more than any other person in Arizona, multiple photographs of at least 11 individual pygmy owls and several hours of videotape of at least six pygmy owls at more than five separate locations in Tucson."

Cactus cavity searches done on April 26 and May 30 "were performed in a less than scientific manner and the documentation of the results is questionable," Terrio wrote. "I did not then, and still do not have faith as to the accuracy of the map and data sheets and our interpretation of which saguaros actually had owl activity."

There was great trouble in finding saguaros on April 26.

"I remember at least one saguaro we could not locate, which added confusion as to which saguaro was which on the map. It was frustrating experience for me. The saguaros were numbered on the map and data sheet, and I distinctly remember changing numbers on the data sheet after we realized some errors were made. I also believe numbers and notations of which saguaros we found owl activity at were changed on the map during some of this confusion," Terrio said.

A return inspection on May 30 went no better, according to Terrio.

He said a search of a cactus cavity was "done in an unscientific manner without accurate documentation.... I do not believe that the nest cavity search adds any validity to Amphitheater's claim that there are no pygmy owls using the school site."

The group of surveyors was "not prepared on the May 30 visit, said Terrio, who portrays a bumbling group.

"We did not have an adequate mirror for inspecting cavities," Terrio said. "We attempted to use a rearview mirror that had fallen off a security guard's vehicle, but it was totally useless for our purposes. Finally, Mary Darling and Curtis Dees left the site to purchase a mirror and returned with a small dental-type mirror approximately an hour later. I believe that this mirror was also inadequate to inspect cactus cavities and I had a lot of trouble seeing inside the cavities with it because it was too small."

Given that Darling has a contract with Amphi worth at least $6,500, you'd think she could afford to buy decent equipment.

Terrio also said Darling's affidavit ommitted vital information.

"It is important to note that when inspecting saguaro 53 or 54, Mary Darling pulled her hand out of a cactus cavity and her arm was covered with what appeared to be lice," Terrio said. "The presence of lice can indicate that an owl recently used a cavity for nesting. Also, Mary Darling mentioned that there was nesting material in the cactus cavity.

"At saguaro 43, Mary Darling pulled out several owl pellets and dried lizard remains from a cavity," Terrio said. "A significant portion of the pygmy-owl prey base in lizards; this could indicate that a pygmy-owl had previously nested in this cactus."

WISDOM OF SOLOMON? Actual media coverage of what our legislators really do has gotten so abysmal that they escape press scrutiny for anything short of a DUI. Sen. Ruth Solomon, a Democratic who represents central Tucson's District 14, recently wrote an op-ed for one of the local dailies where she generally thumped the liberal Democratic tub and bemoaned the actions of the GOP majority.

Put a sock in it, Ruth--that act's for the rubes. Let's face it: Solomon used her position as Senate Minority leader to work in concert with the Republican leadership to help pass a whole bunch of stuff she now acts like she had nothing to do with.

Solomon took a dive and supported GOP Sen. Mark Spitzer's educational finance bill without ever making a real counter-proposal. She bought into the "Growing Smart" proposal and flip-flopped on that wretched downzoning bill, which couldn't have passed without her support.

All of those items were high on the agenda of the Republican leadership. Far as we can tell, Solomon got neither the Democrats she supposedly led anything in return, nor did she do much for Pima County.

Many of her Democratic colleagues aren't real happy with her and she can kiss her leadership post good-bye. But that's no big deal--Solomon runs up against term limits in the year 2000, so she's looking running for mayor right here in Tucson--which probably explains her adamant opposition to new incorporations . If she sucks up to current Tucson Mayor George Miller, maybe he'll get out of the way and support her

Observing Sen. Solomon's actions during this legislative session, we'd be hard put to attribute much of anything she did to belief in any fundamental principles.

AND SPEAKING OF SENATORS WHO TAKE DIVES: We caught Sen. Ann Day, the Republican who represents District 12, on Arizona Illustrated last week. She told us how sorry she was that the incorporation bill that would've saved Casas Adobes and Tortolita (both in her district) didn't get to the floor, and how hard she fought for it.

Excuse us, Senator Day, but every other senator knows you were trying to keep the bill from coming up and even urging others to vote against it if it did. While others may buy your phony cover story, we don't. And we will keep reminding everybody about your actions every time we catch you lying about them.

PROPS TO THE DEFENSE: Pima County Public Defender Susan Kettlewell showed class and humor in her budget presentation to the Board of Supervisors last week. She followed County Attorney Barbara LaWall and Michael Brown, king of the Judicial Branch. Both had charts to illustrate their points, but Brown and his minions went way over the top, usurping other departments' time with endless self-promotion.

Kettlewell called in a generic "Burden of Proof" chart when it was finally her abbreviated turn. "This has nothing to do with the budget," she cracked. "We didn't want to feel left out." TW

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