The Feb. 10 Tucson City Council meeting was marked by wild Dem-on-Dem infighting over which councilmember actually first came up with the idea to put a moratorium on new-house impact fees to help stimulate the construction industry back to life. It was like a bunch of little kids.
I thought of it first!
No, I did!
Well, I did an eighth-grade project on it.
So? When I came through the dark tunnel and saw the bright light, my very first thought was, "We might someday need to put a moratorium on impact fees."
Well, if that was your first thought, it's probably a good thing that the doctor slapped you, because it's stupid.
Impact fees are a good and necessary thing. Among other things, they help make the knuckleheads who want to live ever farther away from the center of town help pay for the spiffy new roads that allow them to reach their exurb heaven at the end of a long day's work in town among the common folk.
Not that long ago, the economy was booming, and the "developers" (perhaps the worst euphemism ever!) were busy trying to pave over the desert from Nogales to Prescott. Nobody complained about impact fees then. Besides, impact fees generally end up running between 2 and 3 percent of the cost of a new home. If you can't afford a $300,000 home, what makes you think you'll be able to afford one that costs $290,000? Eventually, one will reach a point where the impact fee will be at a tipping point, but if the impact fee will make or break your buying a house, perhaps you should aim a little lower, and work a little harder.
And if (as some on the right claim) the economic meltdown was caused by too many people buying houses that they couldn't afford, then impact fees probably did us a favor by not having even more of those toxic mortgages on the books somewhere.
I've always chafed at the notion that "growth feeds my family." If our community's economic health depends on growth, then maybe we deserve to get sick every now and then. Growth for growth's sake might keep the economic engines humming, but it eats away at our quality of life.
Councilman Rodney Glassman was carrying the water for the Southern Arizona Home Builders Association, which originally came up with the plan. Glassman was criticized by Shirley Scott and others for what she considered grandstanding. She called it "governance through the media"; that's a pretty good line. Even some of Glassman's supporters thought that he probably should have run the plan by the rest of the council before going public with it. That way, they could have had their pissy little, "Me first!" arguments behind closed doors.
Regina Romero tried to have it "taken off the table," while Nina Trasoff and Karin Uhlich both jumped in against Glassman and his tactics. Steve Leal said something about the council having a good economic track record that doesn't always show up in the papers.
I swear, if the council added a black guy who talked like Jar Jar Binks, they'd have the cast of a Fox TV sitcom.
Lost among the acrimony over impact fees was the council's OKing the expenditure of $65,000 for artists in the so-called Warehouse District to write a business plan for properties in question. If you're not familiar with that area, let me say that you'd have to paint those buildings before you could condemn them.
The expenditure was handled rather sneakily, being placed on the agenda a few minutes ahead of the 24-hour deadline for public notices. It was put on the consent agenda, which generally includes items that are approved without discussion, like the Let's Beat Back Buffelgrass proclamation (true story).
We've had this discussion before, and we'll probably have it again: The idea of having the government subsidize art in any way should creep out the rational person, regardless of political leaning. Leni Riefenstahl, anyone?
Councilwoman Trasoff spearheaded the effort and was quick to note that the money came out of a particular fund that couldn't be used for any other project, like fixing potholes or keeping people from being laid off. I called her office to find out if it had passed, and the woman who answered the phone said that it had, and quickly added that "the money came from a special fund."
Trasoff, who recently announced that she's running for re-election, talked about how great cities with successful downtowns all have an arts district.
Well, I think the only great cities in the world are Jerusalem, Rome and Christchurch, New Zealand. I'm just kidding about Christchurch, which, by sheer coincidence, is the only one of those three that has an arts district.
I know that Renaissance artists all had wealthy patrons who paid for them to produce. That's fine; rich people can spend their money any stupid way they want. The government shouldn't. Not one penny of tax money should go to pay for painters to paint, sculptors to sculpt, or jugglers to juggle.
Where's Jar Jar when we need him?