In the upcoming election, Pima County voters will be asked to spend $10 million on renovations to the Canoa Ranch Museum and Orientation Center. The Ranch was purchased in 1997 when then Pima County Board of Supervisor Chair Raul Grijalva hoped to prevent development of 500 homes and a nine-hole golf course.
At the time, Raul Grijalva and his fellow supervisor Sharon Bronson, who opposed growth, surprised the owners of the property with their “suggestion-demand.” They shouldn’t have been surprised however, as “last-minute attempts to buy parcels slated for controversial projects are nothing new. Foes made similar, though largely unsuccessful, pitches to prevent rezonings such as Rocking K Ranch on the far Southeast Side and Pima Canyon in the Catalina foothills,” according to an article in the Tucson Citizen.
According to that article, Grijalva and Bronson prevailed and Pima County voters approved the purchase for $4.25 million in the May 20, 1997 bond election. Voters again approved more bond money for the Ranch in the 2004 bond election.
These details would surprise no one familiar with how business is done – or not done – in Pima County. It would surprise no one that history has been rewritten, and in 1997 Grijalva claimed he spent a few years at the Ranch as a child while his father worked as a bracero, and now it is sold as his birthplace. It would surprise no one that Grijalva’s family has confirmed that he was not born there, and the County’s crack PR team continues to perpetuate the myth.
What might surprise many people is that the Ranch, bought with public money, and maintained with public funds, is rarely open to the public. According to a Pima County Parks and Recreation employee, and the Stewardship Agreement that governs the property, the Ranch is control by Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry and the sole tenants of the property, stewards Scott and Cheri Raftery.
The Rafterys run their cutter horse training business on the property for a mere $100 a month. In exchange they are expected perform basic stewardship duties. According to the terms of the Agreement, the “stewards” agree to allow the County to stable up to two horse at the Equestrian Facility free of charge, provided the County notifies the stewards in advance of such need and such stabling imposes no hardship on the stewards.”
“If, during the term of this agreement, either party desires to make use of the Equestrian Facility for public events, the parties shall meet in advance to discuss the proposed event and reach agreement as to the terms and conditions of such a use.”
So it should have come as no surprise to the Green Valley and Sahuarita residents who were denied the opportunity to host an international rodeo on the grounds. Seeking to grow the area’s tourism industry, the group, which had support from various organizations in southern Arizona, was told if – and only if – they spent tens of thousands of dollars on studies and remediation would the County, and the Rafterys consider the proposal. Being business-minded, and keenly aware of the County’s character, the idea of investing that kind of money on the chance that they might have an opportunity to use the land was not something they were willing to do. Unlike the County, they had more respect for other people’s money than to risk it.
In the Canoa Ranch January 15 report, under the heading Public/Private Proposals, it is noted: “An initial review of the Green Valley Sahuarita Chamber of Commerce September 2015 – International Rodeo Event Plan has been completed. County staff are waiting for a response to organizational questions forwarded to organizers.”
Public private partnerships are only desirable in Pima County it seems when cronies – not the public -will benefit from the arrangement and there weren’t any deep pocketed cronies who would benefit from a rodeo.
According to sources, the group from the Chamber had discussions with Tom Ward (Ray Carroll’s Green Valley representative) and had a meeting with Sharon Bronson and County staff at the ranch. Later, the chamber members were told that “the best parcel for the rodeo wasn’t available due to environmental and archaeological reasons, a request for a complete business plan, insurance and a bunch of other stuff that would have cost tens of thousands of dollars. Then a piece of land that would work would require a ADOT approval for access off the I-19 frontage road which would take years and millions of dollars to get done. The reason for this requirement was that the Rafferty business is just inside the main access to the Ranch and allows no other access to thousands of acres of Ranch property. He wouldn’t permit the traffic going through his controlled land effectively giving him veto over anything taking place on the 4800 acre ranch.”
“I haven’t won a million dollars but my students feel like they have,” reads Rafferty’s website. Residents say that he may not have won a million dollars but he has almost sole access to millions of dollars of assets paid for by the public. A woman, who identified herself as Valerie, answered the phone when the ADI called the number provided by the County for the Ranch. When asked if the Equestrian Facility could be used by the public, Valerie responded that interested parties would have to call Mr. Raftery. “The control is all his,” said Valerie.
According to the Canoa Ranch report, dated January 15, 2015, only six presentations to the public were given during 2013 -2014. The number of visitors to the Historic Hacienda de la Canoa during the 2013 – 2014 fiscal year along with the number of donated labor hours by Tour Volunteers and Special Project Volunteers are listed below:
- Public/Tour/special event Attendance – 1338 (July 1, 2014 – December 31, 2014)
- Guided Tour Participants – 609 (July 1, 2014 – December 31, 2014)
- Walk-in Self-Guided Visitation – 301 (July 1, 2014 – December 31, 2014)
- Volunteer Tour Guides Hours – 312.5 (July 1, 2014 – December 31, 2014)
- Special Project Volunteer Hours – 221 (July 1, 2014 – December 31, 2014)
When one thinks of historic orientation and interpretive centers, they think of travel destinations in which one can see, and feel history in a way found only at that unique setting. From Colonial Williamsburg to the Fort Buford State Historic Site/Missouri-Yellowstone Confluence Interpretive Center, to Pima County’s Canoa Ranch, visitors hope to steep in the site’s history and community’s culture. While the public can do those very things at Colonial Williamsburg and Fort Buford, they can only enjoy a very restricted experience two days a week at Canoa Ranch.
In a county with thousands of acres of open quiet space in which members of the public can and do find solitude and silence, the Canoa Ranch Master Plan emphasizes the silence the site will offer visitors. The plan reads: “The public’s three most important evaluation criteria for a successful Master Plan, consistent with the preferences of the Canoa Ranch Community Trust / Oversight Committee, were:
- The experience is authentic,
- the sense of place and silence is preserved, and
- it teaches about conservation and sustainability, especially water.”
Not exactly a hot spot for tourists looking for the western experience. $10 million dollars to attract water aficionados? Perhaps the “geotourists” Huckleberry wants to attract will find silence a compelling attraction.
Like the members of the chamber, will the taxpayers be unwilling to gamble their hard earned money on the outside chance that silence sells? If Huckelberry’s crack PR team keeps it up, they will. Check the Arizona Daily Star in a few days to see what they come up with.