Tucson annexes taxes not voters

For many years, the City of Tucson has had to weigh the costs and benefits of annexing the Catalina Foothills area. The Democrat controlled City’s calculation included weighing the increased revenue gained, against the increase of registered Republicans.

So, the City has come up with a creative solution; grabbing commercial land for more revenue, without the pesky voters. They are annexing and rezoning 91.5 acres along Craycroft Road up to River Road, while avoiding large pockets of residents.

Tucson’s new Mayor Jonathan Rothschild ran on annexing land to generate revenue, and he is keeping his promise and the Democrats will keep control. It is a “win-win” for everyone except, that is, the Pima County taxpayers along the River Road corridor who will live without representation.

The thousands of people in neighborhoods north and south of River Road will still be County residents. However, they will not have, and have not had a voice or ear on the City Council. Yet, City Council decides their future, and decides whether they face a tax hike in the County to pay for road improvements caused by City decisions.

The City’s dismissive treatment has been the most frustrating part for those living near developer, Joe Cesare’s, 65 acre development. The traffic created by all of the new development on the corner and the impact on the riverbed are their biggest concerns.

A pre-annexation and development agreement signed between Cesare, who is no stranger to controversial development, and the City of Tucson, not known for transparency, was approved by the City Council. They were raced through the City’s normally interminable re-zoning maze, with an emergency clause in its March 2012 resolution.

The City refused to respond to requests asking for an explanation of the “emergency” nature of the resolution. The Resolution stated that this annexation and re-zoning was “necessary for the public safety and welfare”….but where is the emergency in vacant land?

In an email dated June 15, the City Clerk’s Office responded to Friends of River Road Communities, the citizens group representing area residents:

“You requested copies of e-mails, communications, meeting minutes, etc., setting forth the reasons for the use of an emergency clause in the March 2012 resolution regarding the Rio Verde Village annexation and PAD rezoning. The emergency clause is regularly included in our ordinances and resolutions as drafted and proposed, and its inclusion or exclusion in any particular case is a legislative decision made by Mayor and Council at the time of adoption. That being the case, there will not be any specific materials giving reasons to (sic) its inclusion in the Rio Verde Village resolution. Therefore, we consider this request closed.”

In other words, the word “emergency” has little or no meaning. In this case it is simply a term of art; the art of avoiding public meetings and taxpayer input.

According to the Goldwater Institute the abuse of “emergency” resolutions by city and county governments allows them to bypasses some of the usual public hearings and other processes normally “open” to the public. The legal device is effective in pushing through actions to which the pesky public might otherwise object.

It is not just the little guys who are getting the bum’s rush. County Manager Chuck Huckleberry is concerned about the City’s methods and plans.

“The city is proposing and fostering the annexation for revenue, but all of the public costs get shifted onto somebody else, either the county because of the road improvements or the flood control district for the bank protection,” Huckleberry told the Arizona Daily Star, “and the city doesn’t have to pay for that.”

As far as the roads go, the City is using out-of-date traffic information, according to Linus Kafka the City’s own zoning examiner. Citizens opposing this project consistently and factually pointed out the traffic dangers, the flaws in the developer’s limited traffic studies (see website below for these documents), and were upset that the Zoning Examiner simply “punted” these serious issues and said he couldn’t address them.

The County is concerned that the developer’s zoning plan does not take into account the roadwork required of a project of this size and place. The County would be stuck with that bill under the current plan. As it stands now, the City is not requiring the developer to build median curbs to prevent unsafe turns from the project onto major county roads.

The development is planned along the River Park Trail system. The County had planned to extend the River Park Loop Trail an additional 2.5 miles along the Rillito River from Craycroft Road to Sabino Canyon, but has been stymied in this effort by the developer’s refusal to date to dedicate the land for the Trail.

Cesare says he is willing to donate the stretch of land to the River Park project, but only if the County picks up the cost of the erosion hazard- protection projects. “To put up a multistory building next to the river, he’s going to have to do that,” Huckleberry told the Star. “That’s a development cost, and he’s trying to unload a development cost on the public.” The cost to the public is estimated to be $4 million.

Recently a developer working with the County unconditionally and voluntarily dedicated his river bend land.

As per statute, there is little the County can do in annexations. The County Administrator and Planning officials have written numerous explicit letters to the City detailing their concerns with NO response from City officials.

One long time City Hall observer said of the situation, “Can you imagine how the residents must feel when even Huckleberry gets ignored?”

A formal public hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, July 10, at 5:30 p.m. in Mayor and Council Chambers of City Hall, 255 West Alameda. People are encouraged to attend and express concerns.

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