Dr. Strangelaw or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bond

Question One: Sonoran Desert Open Space and Habitat Protection; Preventing Urban encroachment of Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.

Wait a minute, this is just a gift to the environmentalists – I mean ranchers – no, I mean the developers – uh, maybe the central planners? What is this bond, and how did it get on my ballot?Good questions all. Some answers may be found in the evolution of the Bond Beast, which has its roots in the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan (SDCP). In 1998, the Pima County Board of Supervisors created a Citizen Steering Committee, a “90 member group of individuals who represent the full spectrum of interests within Pima County” to provide input. Attendees of these committee meetings tell me that the members fell into three camps: 1, environmentalists; 2, ranchers; 3, developers. They all disliked and distrusted each other. Most of the committee’s time was spent with each group staring steely-eyed at each other like Blondie, Angel Eyes, and Tuco in “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”. In the end, they managed to agree on some general recommendations which were passed onto the supervisors. Although essentially window dressing, the committee did contribute to the image of a Board of Supervisors that really wanted input from the citizenry (yuk,yuk), and a consolidation of interest groups into camps to which the supervisors would make their appeals for passage of the Bond Beast.

One entity pointedly ignored in all the bone throwing is the City of Tucson. This comes as no surprise, in light of the relationship of City and County – which is similar to that of twin sisters vying for a date with the same guy. One might recall the 1997 bond which promised funding for transportation improvements within the City, specifically, to 22nd Street and Broadway. After the bond passed, the County decided that the money earmarked for 22nd street would be better spent elsewhere. The fur really flew over that one. Councilman Ronstadt took to the media and howled about what a bitch the County was being in doing this. Regarding the current Bond Beast, the County has deigned to allow the City to offer suggestions and share ideas with county staff – but the city is having none of it. Showing a surprising ability to learn from passed mistakes, City Manager James Keene, in a letter dated February 6, 2004 to Chuck Huckelberry, Pima County Administrator, demanded a legally binding contract:

“It is critical that we have an agreement more binding than the bond implementation ordinance, so that the debacle of the 1997 county bond vote and program is not repeated. I propose that this agreement form the basis for subsequent intergovernmental agreements on specific projects.”

As in Jazz music, periods of silence can express as much as periods of sound. The following is from a letter dated March 3, 2004, from Mr. Keen to Mr. Huckleberry:

“ To date, almost a month later, I have received no response from your office. In my earlier letter, I indicated that the exchange of memoranda and letters is not the vehicle to generate a cooperative agreement…Valuable time has been lost already…”

Note to Mr. Keene: You are being told to go play in your overused, under-maintained streets.

On the other hand, it is certainly appropriate to question why the City thinks it ought to include everything from “Intergenerational Centers”, to the “Wilmot Branch Library Relocation” to Davis-Monthan Environs Land Acquisition” in an open space bond. My friends in the environmentalist camp were slack-jawed when they read Question One, with its specific reference to the Davis-Monthan Air Base buffer. “We never discussed this in the Steering Committee”, said one friend. Perhaps Chuck Huckleberry put it best in a letter to the Tucson Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce dated February 13, 2004:

“It is worth remembering that a small bond question for Davis Monthan of $1.5 million was defeated by an 83 percent “No” vote from Tucson Voters in 1994. This at a time when this bond question was only one of a number of steps being taken to secure Davis-Monthan against base closer (sic). Past open space bond questions, however, have been approved by wide margins.”

So the Davis-Monthan addition is a way for our public servants, the supervisors in this case, to pass a project that they know the people do not want. Well, it looks like we are going to get what’s good for us whether we like it or not.

The environmentalists are getting the obvious – choice chunks of land set aside through easements or outright purchases on someone else’s dime. No one has yet to explain to me how State Trust Land will be safer from development in the hands of the supervisors, than in a trust that was established as part of the enabling act of the State of Arizona. I suppose that, like a second marriage, open space bonds are a triumph of hope over experience.

What about the ranchers, you ask? What’s in it for them? For the most part, in southern Arizona, ranching is more of a lifestyle than a going concern. With the threat of expanding development, the changing rules regarding State Trust land, there is little security for local ranchers. Would it not be wonderful if they could, say, sell a usage easement to Pima County, while at the same time the County purchases similar easements to adjacent State Trust Land? Why, these Hobby Ranchers could have their lifestyle in perpetuity, and a wad of cash to boot – enter the Bond Beast!

How about the developers? They are getting the short end of the stick, right? Well, not exactly. Aside from some whining from the Tucson Chamber of Commerce, the developers are keeping their guns holstered, because the Bond Beast serves them. That’s right, if the plan goes through, Pima County will obtain a Section Ten Permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service which will provide many exemptions for the entire jurisdiction. No more environmental or endangered species problems. No more pesky spotted owl suits from the Southern Arizona Center for Biological Diversity – or anyone else for that matter. I do not know if Don Diamond smokes cigars, but if he does, he ought to smoke a genuine Cuban Cohiba if the Bond Beast prevails.

Goodness! Whatever is a voter to do? One thing is for sure, if you believe that providing nice views for upper-middle class homeowners, subsidizing hobby ranchers, and clearing the way for developers fall in the realm of the duties of the Pima County Board of Supervisors, vote “Yes”. If you believe that the supervisors are worthy of the massive control this Bond Beast will give them, control not seen in this country outside of Portland, Oregon, vote “Yes”. However, if you are uncomfortable reaching into other people’s pockets, if you believe that the supervisors are only human, if you have concerns over converting land from the private sector to government control; then send fifty bucks to the Nature Conservancy and vote “No”. Tell the Pima County Board of Supervisors that you want them to stop concerning themselves with amassing power and control, and to start concerning themselves with transportation, and other basic services.

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