Land Of The Lost

To the Editor,

As much as I enjoy your paper, you people are just as guilty of one-sided journalism and superficial coverage as the mainstream media you have so often blasted. You have covered these recent land-use issues as a developer-vs-environmentalist issue (at least what little you have covered), and this is not true at all. The loudest voice, and the most affected by these ordinances, are the landowners with 3.3 acres or more. The big developers, the true levelers of the land, have said little or nothing about any of this, while landowners such as myself are waging political war against a corrupt county government seeking to rob us of our property values and use of our land. There are over 10,000 landowners in the county--hard-working people, most of whom bought their land to preserve it, retire on it or leave it to their children, not bulldoze it. We are the people most affected by these proposals. The developers have the zonings they want already, and the new ordinances will not stop the true rape of land at Rocking K, Antler Crest, Canoa Ranch or anywhere else they plan to build.

Mailbag The most popular misconceptions about the opposition to these ordinances is that the big-money developers control them. This is absolutely not true. The Pima County Property Rights Association is composed almost solely of small landowners whose properties are threatened by government controls. These people have worked hard for their properties, and do not want to see their dreams diminished. No large-scale developer has even expressed an interest in belonging to this association. How would you like it if someone told you that you could use your house, but not your front or back yards, because they have to be left as open space? The concept violates the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and is definitely immoral in America, where private property ownership is one of our most sacred rights.

Small landowners prevent land speculators from buying large tracts of vacant land for high-density development, thus preserving more of it, not destroying it. We are not enemies of the desert, we are stewards of our land. We do not need government cramming restrictions down our throats to do what's best.

--Michael J. McGee

Editor's reply: Ah, the screwing of the little guy. This is indeed a thorny problem. Some thoughts on your statements:

  1. We make no bones about being one-sided. The daily media, on the other hand, pretend to be "unbiased," but only within the context of the dominant growth paradigm. It's a goal to which we do not aspire.

  2. Doesn't the term "landowners with 3.3 acres or more" include those who control vast tracts?

  3. We hardly think placing environmental standards on undeveloped land "robs" you. Certainly it may prevent some people from wringing top dollar from their dirt, however.

  4. Not all owners of relatively small parcels are hard-working; nor do they all share similar, noble, goals.

  5. The proposed ordinances do not affect existing "backyards."

  6. Neither do the ordinances represent a "taking" without just compensation, as defined by the Constitution and interpreted by the courts. If they did, we'd all be entitled to a butt-load of money for putting up with zoning laws, instead of enjoying the unfettered freedom to sell our backyards to, say, a corporation pushing franchise whorehouses, or worse, yet another mall.

  7. Small landowners frequently sell out to the highest bidder. Isn't that why many people invest in real estate in the first place?

  8. Finally, your "we" can also be "the government" if "you" people have enough gumption to get out and vote.

BID Not Bad

To the Editor,

Regarding Margaret Regan's "BIDness as Usual" and "Sealed BID" (July 22): As co-chair of the Tucson Downtown Alliance, the nonprofit corporation formed to manage the Downtown Business Improvement District, I applaud the Tucson Weekly for its continued coverage of downtown issues. Revitalization of the downtown should be a top priority of our community. An active, vital downtown will highlight our multicultural heritage, showcase our present strengths, contribute to infill and assist in economic development. Bringing action and resources to this endeavor is the mission of the Alliance.

One should have no quarrel with The Weekly's approach of enlivening public issues by focusing on the controversial, and mixing a heavy dose of editorial viewpoint into its "reporting." The result is a very lively publication, even if it is negative in tone. However, to keep the discussion on the downtown going, I thought I would attempt to provide some background to issues with which Regan has complaints.

Of most substance, Regan does not appear to like the composition of the Alliance's board of directors or the manner in which it was formed, noting that the board was "self-selected" and "heavy on corporate types." In fact, the selection process worked quite well. Responding to the suggestions of numerous people, including small merchants, the BID organizers created a very diverse and strong board of directors. Approximately one-fourth of the board is Hispanic; my co-chair and approximately one-third of the board is female. Not perfect, but a decent beginning. Indeed, the board reflects an almost schizophrenic mix of interests, including persons associated with rock venues, banks, office towers, an art gallery, a Mexican restaurant, storefront property owners, a theatre company, an alternative clothing store and numerous other endeavors. There are representatives from the south, east, north, west and central parts of the downtown. There are prominent citizens and virtual unknowns, like myself. Most importantly, the Alliance's board members are strong leaders, who are committed to getting things done.

Ironically, the selection process benefited the small merchants, artists and nonprofits in the downtown, and worked against the "corporate types" who foot the vast majority of the BID's annual assessment bill. For example, five of the Alliance's 29 voting board members are associated with Congress Street properties east of Scott Avenue. The annual assessment of all such privately owned properties, many of which are vacant, aggregates to only approximately $15,000 of the BID's $740,000 annual budget. Thus, a segment of the downtown responsible for only 2 percent of the aggregate assessment gets 17 percent of the board's voting power. Not faring so well are corporate interests, such as Reliance Corporation ($45,000 annual assessment but only one seat i.e., a 6 percent assessment getting only 3 percent of the voting power), and large properties, such as La Placita and Bank of America Plaza ($30,000 and $14,000 assessments, respectively, but only one seat each). To date, the "corporate types" have been willing to compromise and accept this very substantial imbalance, given the importance of Congress Street's revitalization to the revitalization of the downtown as a whole. However, a fair response to continued concerns about balanced representation (or a move to "democratic" open elections by all assessment payers) would be to increase the percentage of board seats filled by "corporate types," be they major property owners, or the attorneys, accountants and professionals who constitute the bulk of the tenants within the BID's boundaries.

Of far less substance, Regan objects to the way the Alliance conducts its meetings, advocating that we be subject to the public open-meeting laws. However, as Regan admits, as is crystal clear legally, as is extremely common, and as is totally appropriate, the Alliance is not subject to the public open-meeting laws. As a nonprofit corporation, the Association has no power or ability to formulate or implement government policy or activities. Although it receives funds on a pass-through basis from the city, these funds are raised solely for BID purposes from private property owners within the BID boundaries and from government entities that have voluntarily agreed to be treated like such private property owners. By statute, such funds could never be used for general fund purposes. Nonetheless, the Board of Directors of the Alliance may choose to follow the spirit of the open-meeting law, by opening appropriate parts of its meetings to the public, as it has done so far. Doing so is in our interest, because we want to inform our community about the downtown.

However, following the spirit of the law does not mean slavish adherence to the technical requirements of open-meeting laws, which Regan advocates by nitpicking on when exactly the vote on our executive director was held. Indeed, I believe it would be highly irresponsible for a corporation to subject the validity of its corporate acts to strict compliance with the technical requirements of the open-meeting law, thereby exposing its directors to potential personal liability for corporate acts. For example, should the election of our executive director be invalidated because the vote itself was taken in a closed rather than public session, or because the notice of the meeting was posted an hour late? Such an approach would be absurd, demonstrating a commitment only to political infighting and procedural haggling (qualities unfortunately associated with government bodies), instead of getting things done.

Of practically no substance is the fact that Julia Latané did not meet the requirements to hold the seat she had requested--a position on our Property Owner Council (which requires one to be or work for a property owner). When she and her husband, James Graham, asked to be placed on the board, they requested seats on the Property Owner Council, noting that they were about to close on the purchase of the property where their restaurant is located. (Incidentally, James asked that they both be on the board, taking over-representation to new extremes--two seats for a $1,700 annual assessment; by this reckoning Reliance should be entitled to over 50 seats). Thus, as all parties understood at the outset, Julia's appointment to the Council was contingent on the closing, prior to the Alliance's July 15 meeting. By the time of that meeting, however, there was no indication that the closing would occur in the near future. For this reason, the Board decided that the contingency to Julia's board appointment had not been met. Because James and Julia are creative and energetic individuals, the Alliance told Julia, both before and at the meeting, that she would be considered for another board seat if she desired. That offer is still outstanding. If we do not hear from her soon, however, we will want to fill her position with another merchant-property owner.

The Alliance looks forward to your continued coverage of downtown issues. Over time, we are confident that downtown stakeholders will find common ground and join in action to achieve a goal shared by Tucsonans through the valley--the revitalization of our historic downtown. Our new executive director, Carol Carpenter, has developed a 90-day action plan, designed to put the BID's services on the street as soon as possible. These services will not be a panacea for the downtown's problems, but I think that downtown businesses, including large properties and small merchants, will be pleased to finally have a well-funded organization that has only one priority--addressing specific business problems, such as sidewalk cleaning, graffiti removal, security and marketing, and improving business conditions downtown.

--Thomas E. Laursen

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