Since starting my job at the Tucson Weekly, I’ve thought often of a longtime Seattle newspaper columnist, the late Emmett Watson.
It could be I see our own Jim Nintzel and Tom Danehy reflecting Watson’s own career as a tell-it-like-it-is newspaper man, although Nintzel and Danehy could use a few more years under their belts (and maybe less sunshine), or we need the ability to combine them genetically, if they’d agree to it. We could throw in Neto Portillo from the Arizona Daily Star for good measure.
Why? Because today, I decided we need an Emmett Watson in Tucson. Watson called everyone on the carpet, no matter what their political affiliation. He didn’t write feel-good pieces. He made many different people feel uncomfortable, and he created change.
I’ve been thinking of Watson for a term he created as Seattle began to grow with the influx of Californians moving to his beloved Northwest and native Seattle. He hated it and wrote about it, and said “KEEP THE BASTARDS OUT.” His movement was called Lesser Seattle.
And when I moved to Seattle via Los Angeles in 1992, I received earfuls from the Lesser Seattle apostles. I learned folks in Seattle aren’t too friendly, anyway: They are to your face, but there aren’t many dinner invitations cast to newcomers.
Now, as a fifth-generation Tucsonan, I’m wondering if we can start our own Lesser Tucson movement.
This previous sentence, however, is so hypocritical. I’ve been gone a long time. Just because my heart is here and always has been doesn’t give me special privilege to say, “I can move back, but you stay away.” Or worse yet, what I’ve also been thinking, “Why don’t you go back?” I’ve been thinking this about people who are in power in our regional governments that aren’t originally from here, the people I see at meetings who made their home here from someplace else-really, just like my family did more than 100 years ago.
As part of my job, I cover Pima County. I’ve been meeting county folks and activists the past two weeks--lots and lots of people who have been working the last 10 to 16 years in planning and policy. Meanwhile, I’ve been gone, working, writing and having a kid. I find myself angry--what have you guys been doing these past 16 years? This is not my grandfather’s Tucson, but you guys have been acting like it is.
If we can start a Lesser Tucson movement, how do we determine who stays and who goes? We are such a mutt of a city … should we leave it to the Pascua Yaqui and Tohono O'odham nations to figure out the problems we created?
The city and county have put projections out there that 700,000 people are expected here soon, so now we have to make room for them by creating a freeway system south of the airport; the city of Tucson has looked ahead to annex south; and the northwest is fighting about water … hell, we are all fighting about water.
But right now, we should be asking our city and county officials: Why are they rolling out the red carpet for 700,000 people? We should be talking about a moratorium and not be labeled anti-growth at the same time. The problems that come with 700,000 people will limit our economy and hurt our beautiful city. We’ll never be the same – just like Emmett Watson’s Seattle.
I’d like to think the Lesser Seattle movement had an impact, but it didn’t, because the attitude is that growth happens. Being anti-growth doesn’t mean you’re an anarchist, and this shouldn’t be a partisan issue. If your heart is in Tucson--if you’re Yaqui, a fifth generation or a transplant--now is the time.
I’m afraid; however, we’re just too busy being human. The reality: The red carpet has been out for a long time and may be stuck in place. It isn’t going to go away.
The other reality: We can all be an Emmett Watson. Lesser Tucson could become part of our city and county mantras. Emmett Watson could end up being a Tucson hero. We could end up being our own heroes. We don’t have to be mean or rude, but we can be progressive in our planning. These aren’t new issues. Other cities and towns are dealing with the same challenges, but planning is becoming more thoughtful. Don’t let them tell you anything differently. I don’t think we have to turn into Phoenix or L.A. I think we can have Lesser Tucson and grow in different ways.
I think we could come up with ways to KEEP THE BASTARDS OUT.