B y E m i l F r a n z i
AT THE HEIGHT of the British Empire, Queen Victoria could enter a room at the Foreign Office and gaze at a huge map of the entire world covered with pins indicating her extensive holdings. We suspect there's a similar room somewhere for legendary land speculator Don Diamond, featuring a big map of his Pima County empire.
Diamond owns, or owned, or influences so many things in this valley that we feel it's time to illustrate exactly how far his empire stretches--something the daily press has studiously ignored over the years. Of course, we doubt if anyone, including the U.S. government, could locate all of Diamond's vast holdings on a given day, but the following items have been selected as just a sample of how much power and influence one man can accumulate. Please remember, for the most part these are only Diamond's controversial holdings:
In December 1990 the Pima County Board of Supervisors granted Diamond a massive and controversial rezoning on this vast acreage under the eastside Rincon Mountains. Opponents filed sufficient signatures to place the decision on the ballot, but their effort was ultimately thrown out in court due to a flaky petition passer.
The supervisors approved the proposed development on the condition that Diamond and his co-investors construct the massive infrastructure needed for the billion-dollar project.
But Diamond has since tried to weasel out of that commitment by pushing for annexation into the City of Tucson, attempting to stick the taxpayer with the multi-million-dollar infrastructure bill, or by using the financing device called a Community Facilities District, which would fund that infrastructure through private bonding with certain governmental guarantees.
Also, Diamond was able to sell a portion of the Rocking K--mostly land that wasn't useful for development--to the federal government to expand Saguaro National Monument. Ever alert for extra cash, he did this after the land had been rezoned, thereby raising its value. Which means as soon as the purchase winds it way through the appropriations process, he makes a bundle without ever building anything, and the tax payers get the bill.
The 440 acres at the mouth of scenic Pima Canyon had already been zoned at one house an acre by an ecologically ignorant Board of Supervisors. But Diamond got the always-pliant supervisors to rezone this parcel for a high-end resort. Then the resort deal fell through, so he came back and got them to return the zoning to one house an acre. In the second process, he reneged on some of the commitments he'd made concerning certain amenities he was to leave intact to get the first zoning, so things like trail and hiking access will be adversely affected by the latest configuration. And he wouldn't cooperate with a group of citizens who made a gallant attempt to purchase this environmentally sensitive property, refusing to so much as tell them how much he'd take for it.
Please note, the next time you drive on Ina Road near Sunrise, the massive road improvements the taxpayers financed--improvements based partly on the traffic needs of that resort Diamond told us he was going to create.
This once-popular movie location and theme park is part of Tucson Mountain Park and is owned by Pima County.
But Diamond and close attorney buddy Don Pitt acquired the lease for Old Tucson in 1985--a lease that had 12 years to go. The Pima County supervisors extended it for another 25 years, giving Pitt and Diamond a hold equaling the amount of time Fidel Castro's had on Cuba. And they're negotiating for another extension. The supervisors have allowed Diamond and friend generous terms in the lease (which has now been transferred to Diamond's daughter).
Of course, Old Tucson needs a bit of improving, since arson burned about half the place to the ground earlier this year. During the spectacular blaze, we discovered the training in fire protection given Old Tucson employees had not been maintained and that the pump for the water system was down and awaiting a part. It was painfully obvious Pima County officials had committed nonfeasance at best, as had the state fire marshals--neither had done a thing about inspecting this property that taxpayers own.
Diamond bought the downtown La Placita office complex for $3 million. He currently rents much of it to the federal government, mainly for court-related functions. Thus it's no surprise Diamond has been a vigorous opponent of the proposed construction of a new federal courthouse for Tucson, because it would cost him the rent he currently collects when those tenants move out.
Diamond has lobbied far and wide with various senators and congressman to kill this project. To his credit, it was U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who most vociferously complained about Diamond's self-serving actions.
The courthouse affair illustrates what's really wrong around here:
The Tucson Weekly recently attempted to report all of the contributions to federal office holders of both parties in both houses Diamond and his assorted satellites made in 1994--something the establishment media has consistently failed to do. We listed more than $60,000. But for argument's sake, let's assume we missed some, and the real number is a hundred grand.
Can anybody tell us any place in America where one guy can come close to blocking the construction of a federal project for a lousy hundred grand? Chicago has 50 aldermen, and you couldn't get any of them to take a dive this big for under a hundred grand each. The problem with Tucson is, we let guys like Diamond bully everybody for peanuts.
Fortunately, thanks to McCain and Congressman Jim Kolbe, it didn't work. This time.
Diamond owns the vacant land that formerly contained Tucson's largest public housing project, La Reforma. Somehow, the city lost title to this piece of land they'd owned for years. This 15-acre parcel was appraised by the city at $120,000. Only Diamond had an appraisal that said it was really worth $415,000, and city bureaucrats were ready to roll over and give it to him. Whoops! Bad appraisal. So bad the appraiser lost his license. Now City Manager Mike Brown is ready to recommend Diamond get $300,000 to $350,000. Note: Elected pols are not the only people Diamond cowers--city bureaucrats roll over for him with equal precision.
This one proves Diamond bluffs so well he can get away with controlling property he doesn't even own, but merely has an option on. Diamond basically began managing the ailing mall via surrogates before he ever closed the deal--and ran off both anchor stores, Foley's and Dillard's. Nevermind that he destroyed several hundred jobs in the process.
Also, after one phone call, Pima County revoked a permit that had already been issued to radio station owner Tom Hassey for an antenna on mall property for Hassey's Oro Valley radio station, KCDI-FM.
Permission had been granted by the property's real owners, who hadn't yet closed the deal, and the permit was already in place. Diamond is not fond of Hassey because Hassey's lead talk show host, John C. Scott, has been highly critical of Diamond's activities.
Diamond paid $4 million for Foothills Mall and owned it for about a minute and a half before selling it to an apparently not-very-bright out-of-town car dealer for $5.8 million. And Hassey's suing Pima County for $800,000 for jerking his antenna permit, so the taxpayer may once again have to cough up for Diamond's actions and the public payroll lackeys he controls.
Diamond owns a 430-acre parcel near the scenic canyon's entrance, which is being developed as Madera Reserve. He'll sell the lots off to various builders. Contained on that property is the rare Pima Pineapple Cactus, which could have caused Diamond & Co. some environmental problems. But the great philanthropist donated enough money to the University of Arizona for experts there to study just how well the cactus survives when it's transplanted--so most of the spiny little plants were removed to the UA School of Renewable Natural Resources. Thanks, Don. And isn't it great you won't have to include those pesky cacti on an environmental impact study?
Guess UA bureaucrats roll over for him, too.
This is Diamond's latest big rezoning project--94 acres. On a 3-to-2 vote, the Pima County supervisors raped a quiet neighborhood by granting Diamond 950 apartments and 160 homes, thus greatly increasing the value of Diamond's land at the expense of everybody else.
Amphi School District officials--another group of bureaucrats and elected officials who are supine for the Big D--somehow think there will be enough tax revenue generated by this fiasco to compensate them for all the kids they'll have to handle. But Lulu Walker Elementary is already filled up, and Amphi taxpayers have already maxed themselves out to bond the last wave of growth on the district's far north side.
Remember this one when Supervisors Mike Boyd and Ed Moore tell you they're sensitive to neighborhood concerns. And keep it in mind when Amphi School Board member Vicki Cox Golder tells you she's the "alternative" to Moore among District 3 GOP primary candidates. Same organ grinder, different monkey.
Catalina Foothills at the end of Alvernon, 160 acres. This is the lot Diamond himself lives on. He's subdividing it. And now that he's breaking it up, the Pima County Assessor's Office has--dig this--reduced the taxes. County Assessor Rick Lyons says it was in the works before he got there. We just love public officials who always have an excuse, Rick.
But here's the real fun part: That 160 acres is currently in the Amphi School District. Diamond wants it moved into the Catalina Foothills District--a more attractive choice for potential buyers now that Amphi will face overcrowding and higher taxes brought on by the activities of folks like himself.
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