Friday, February 17, 2012

Attack of Return of the Son of Painted Hills

Just when we thought it was safe to venture into the desert west of downtown Tucson --- the Dallas Police and Firefighters Pension fund has found a new ally to support their plans to develop "pristine" desert in the shadow of downtown Tucson and at the doorstep of the mighty Tucson Mountains Association.  They have gone to our friends in the state house up in Phoenix for a quick legislative fix to their problem of Tucson Water not wanting to supply the wet stuff to the houses they wish to build.  This was a big deal around these parts back in 2010 - I posted on it a couple of times back then.

Then it sort of went a way for a while.  That was because the issue was tied up in the courts.  The developer sued the city, trying to say the city had already promised them water and anyway had a legal obligation to provide water service because the land they were developing was surrounded by lands served by Tucson Water.  But the courts didn't see it that way and pretty much shut down every argument presented by the developers.  This gave the city some pretty good leverage to negotiate with them for preservation of the land.

Now if you go back and read my previous posts, you'll note that I thought the city should work out a deal that permitted some development of the land but preserved the bulk of it for open space - something along the lines of the last development proposal put forward by the landowner.  But that was based on my (now clearly erroneous) belief that the developer could cause the city some large headaches in long, drawn-out court battles, coupled with my frustration that the only reason the city was being pressured to deny water service and shut down development on this parcel was because the neighbors protested very loudly that this development was not compatible with the sort of development where they all lived (which wasn't really compatible with the open desert that previously existed) and (mostly) would prevent their property from appreciating in value as much as they thought it should.  But especially because the county had been asked to purchase this property and set it aside as open space many years prior and had even issued bonds to pay for the land, but then failed to follow through because they thought they could negotiate a better deal by holding out.

So up steps Rep. David Stevens (R-Sierra Vista) who just wants to help boost employment in the Tucson region, I'm sure, by allowing this development to move forward.  He says he doesn't care if the developer makes money, he just thinks Tucson is being unfair.  And he feels it's his job to right that wrong.  The proposed legislation, as written, would apply to all cities in Arizona and they all stepped up at the committee hearing to say that this was a really bad idea.  So Stevens openly admitted that his only intent with the bill was to force Tucson to serve water to this one parcel of land.  I'm curious to see how he will amend the legislation to have it only apply to one parcel of land - and make it kosher, constitutionally.  I suspect it will end up applying only to Pima County or to Tucson.

But that still potentially opens up some big problems.  I just finished participating in a stakeholder process with Tucson Water to update the policy they developed back in 2010 to set the boundaries for where the city will serve water in the future.  There are many parcels just outside that boundary that would love to have legislation that requires the city to provide them with water.  The problem is, the city has a finite allocation of renewable water that may or may not get larger in the future.  And they need that water (and then some probably) to provide service to all the area they are currently legally obligated to serve.  Opening the door to numerous other parcels of land, that have development rights associated with plats approved by the county for who knows how many houses to receive water from the city's entitlement is not a path that any water planner wants to go down.

It's very clear.  Our state legislature will take any opportunity they can to stick it to Tucson and Pima County because our local political leaders are largely democrats and they don't bow down to the overlords from Maricopa County, most of whom happen to be republicans.  They have tremendous contempt for the law and judges, who keep telling them when they overstep their constitutional bounds, but they turn around and proclaim loudly that the constitution is the law of the land and Washington better butt out of our local affairs and limited government is better government.  Meanwhile, they just can't stop themselves from meddling in municipal and county affairs when they see fit or see an opportunity the help out a well-placed friend.

Well I hear there is some CAP water that Arizona Department of Water Resources might be reallocating in the next few years.  How about if the Dallas Police and Fire Pension fund obtains a subcontract to some of that water, dedicates it to the city of Tucson, along with at least 200 acres of open space.  Then we might be in the mood to talk about providing water service to their development.  And if there's any water left over we might send some to Sierra Vista - not for economic development, but to dump in the San Pedro River for habitat restoration.  Suck on that Rep. Stevens.

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