This week, it's time for the smacking around.
Imagine, if you will, being given the ability to gather up everything about Tucson that drags the place down. Then, imagine the ability to strap all of these people, these businesses, these things, to specially fashioned, environmentally friendly saguaro rockets. Finally, imagine lighting up these rockets and waving a not-so-wistful goodbye to Tucson's worst.
Welcome to our fantasy world. And welcome to our third annual Get Out of Town! issue.
Barking Dogs (and Their Owners)The day starts before dawn in my neighborhood, when one neighbor tosses his little dog out into the cold, dark backyard. Forget about taking the poor pooch for a walk. This dog is on his own, and he lets the whole world know it, via a sequence of high-pitched yelps that go on nonstop. They jolt me out of my sleep, and I'm not the only one. All the canines in the vicinity--and probably most of the other humans--are roused by this early riser.
Out back, on the other side of the alley, behind a chain-link fence, the two pooches imprisoned by a bunch of negligent students get going with barking keyed to mid-pitch. (These are the same two who nearly have heart attacks every time I take out the trash.) Then the vicious guard dogs jailed in a backyard on the next block join in. These scary monsters take the basso profundo parts in this cacophonous chorus.
And so goes the rest of the day. Intermittently, these dogs yelp, whimper, screech, bellow and bark all the livelong day, and sometimes into the night. I'd like to ship every last one of them way, way out of town, to some doggy paradise where they can roam the fields whenever they want and bay at every sound they choose without bothering anybody.
As for their neglectful owners? I'd report them to Pima County Animal Control (743-7550) and then ship them all out of town to an outdoor prison reserved for people who are cruel to helpless animals. Let them see what it's like to be caged, cold and alone.
Then let 'em howl.
Beige HousesTucson boasts a vast canopy of blue skies, purple mountain majesties, glorious sunsets and lush desert landscapes. Compare that to Cleveland, and we're a painter's paradise palette.
But drive out to the northwest, the far eastside or that unsightly architectural mumbo-jumbo at Columbus Boulevard and Fort Lowell Road, and your vision blurs from yucky beige houses all in a row as far as the eye can see.
Nothing should really be beige except the oatmeal in your bowl and whole-wheat bread. Beige is BOR-ING and depletes energy and personality. It's not even on the color wheel. Red, yellow and blue make up the color wheel, and they make up the rest of the colors. Mix red and green to make brown, then add white, and there you have beige ... three steps removed. It's sort of like that distant cousin whom everyone maliciously gossips about.
Drive along Rancho Vistoso Boulevard, and a feeling of ennui overcomes. Real estate agents may wishfully describe it as neutral, but Switzerland has been politically neutral for decades, and what a lively place it is. My friend Lora lives in one of those beige Oro Valley subdivisions, and when she tried to paint her front door turquoise, the homeowners' association cited her.
I dream in Technicolor; shouldn't you?
Bicyclists on Cell PhonesWe've seen something disturbing around the UA campus, and this time, it isn't girls wearing UGG boots and designer sunglasses.
Cell-phone conversations and bicycling just don't mix.
We tend to think you can't give cycling the attention it deserves when you're wrapped up in a call. This is especially true when you consider how phenomenally absorbing some of these conversations are. And then there's the whole "steering the bike" mess. How inconvenient.
We also tend to think there are a lot of careless bicyclists out there. Plenty are alert and follow the law; we're grateful for what they do for the environment. We also don't want to minimize the generous contribution Tucson drivers make toward keeping the streets dangerous. But the bad bicyclist is still all too common. They ride against the flow of traffic; they ignore traffic signs and signals; and they act erratically--and this is without cell phones.
So you understand our fears when the two activities are combined. Using a phone while driving a car is bad enough, but at least an automobile has a protective outer shell to give you a sense of security. Doing so on a bicycle seems transparently foolish for so many painful reasons. It also gives Tucson cyclists a bad name, and they don't deserve that.
BoostFlash back to July and August of this year, when Mayor Bob Walkup was tripping over himself to get Novartis, an enormous Swiss pharmaceutical company, to bottle its product Boost here. For those of you unaware, Boost is one of those nasty-ass nutritional-shake-drink things. Anyway, the plan was for Boost to take the place of Slim-Fast, another maker of nasty-ass nutritional-shake-drink things, after Slim-Fast gave Tucson the middle finger and ditched its Rita Road facility.
After the City Council in July approved a posh deal 6-1 that would have given Novartis $3.5 million in tax breaks, some city officials started growing increasingly apprehensive about the deal, and for whatever reason, in August, Novartis decided to take its business elsewhere.
While we've raised qualms about the city's handling of the debacle, the fact remains that Novartis dissed Tucson. Maybe they had their reasons, but the fact that we were rejected gives us a reason to reject Boost. So, we hereby kick this drink out of town.
And if you're a fan of those nutritional shake things ... well, you still have a bunch of disgusting options, even after shunning Boost and Slim-Fast. Enjoy!
Brush CeramicsOK, here's what we know: Brush Ceramics has a plant in Tucson, just off Tucson Boulevard, north of Valencia Road. They make stuff there using some pretty nasty materials, including beryllium. At least one worker at the plant has died from chronic beryllium disease, and several dozen more have been diagnosed with the disease during the last 2 1/2 decades.
Meanwhile, the area around the plant continues to grow. About a half-dozen schools are located within a mile of the plant, and now there's a big-ass housing development going in right next door.
Brush Ceramics insists everything is hunky-dory, that basically no beryllium's escaping into the air from the plant. But Sunnyside School District representatives say a wipe test last December found higher-than-expected levels at their high school's administrative building. On the flip side, air-monitoring tests seem to back up Brush's assertions that nothing bad has been found, beryllium-wise, in the air--and Brush has powerful folks on their side, including state Rep. Linda Lopez and radio blowhard/whore John C. Scott.
Oh, and we also know that Brush's parent company has lobbied for lighter beryllium testing standards at the federal level, including, according to The Washington Post, asking "that workers should be screened only 'if they have developed symptoms' of chronic beryllium disease--rather than recommending tests for a much broader group."
So, what's the truth? In our eyes, it doesn't matter. While we can point fingers all day, the fact remains that in the middle of a growing area of Tucson sits a plant, producing some nasty, deadly crap, that's run by a company that can't necessarily be trusted.
While it would truly suck to lose the jobs that Brush Ceramics offers, for the good of the community, we'd be better off if Brush Ceramics left its southside plant, once and for all.
Businesses Seeking Government HandoutsTucson's record for subsidizing freeloading companies isn't good. Too often, the companies take the money and run.
Slim-Fast quickly got out of town, Weiser Lock left after only a few years, and Microsoft never even came here despite being offered a king's ransom of taxpayer assistance.
The Arizona Diamondbacks and Chicago White Sox stayed after lobbying hard for the public financing that built them a spring training facility. But Tucson Electric Park has been a monetary drain on Pima County taxpayers ever since it opened.
Raytheon also remained in town, but why did the city give the super-rich company backing to begin with?
Ignoring the usually poor performance record of companies receiving local public assistance, some businesses continue to seek government handouts. From retailers in Oro Valley to downtown restaurants, the welfare dole is still attractive to many so-called free-enterprise firms.
What's wrong with the marketplace operating the way it is supposed to, without any government intervention? Why not have real competition instead of a fixed field on which to play?
If companies say they won't come here without getting a public subsidy, let's tell 'em we can live without them. And for those business people who come with their hand out looking for monetary help, and to those politicians who give it to them, we declare, "Get out of here!"
Christmas Day Dining Options (or the Lack Thereof)Another year, another Dec. 25. Not everyone in this town celebrates Christmas, you know.
Let's see ... the last Census accounted for about tens of thousands of Jews, and then there are the atheists, agnostics, Buddhists, Muslims, bah-humbugs and people who don't have any local family or friends to celebrate with--or who, after maxing out their credit cards on gifts, must eat for less.
Have you ever tried to go out to eat on Christmas Day? The choices are limited to over-priced bodacious hotel buffets or celebratory upscale restaurants where Grandma dons her velvet, Granddad wears a tie, and the kids look mighty uncomfortable in their holiday finery.
In major metropolitan cities, Chinese restaurants are not only open, but thriving. For my first Christmas here, three friends and I cruised Broadway Boulevard in search of food. The parking lot at TGI Friday's was jammed, and the wait time was more than two hours. We continued driving and settled on our only other choice--Seri Melaka, a Malaysian restaurant.
The following year, it was back to TGI Friday's, where the wait was again long, but we sat at the bar drinking festive cosmopolitans and ate a hamburger that never tasted so good.
If you know of a restaurant that is open Christmas Day serving food at everyday prices, send the info to
email@example.com before Dec. 18. You might be mentioned in the paper, and hundreds of people just like me could possibly show up hungry.
Another tip: Time to unplug the Christmas music.
Fish and Wildlife ServiceThe poor pygmy owl has been battered by every kind of mouth-breather, from rednecks and yahoos to the Flowing Wells School District. But we never thought we'd see the day when the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service joined the herd.
Then again, these are the Bush years.
Agency malfeasance hit a fever pitch recently, when pro-wildlife groups got their hands on an interesting document from the agency. The research paper grew from a court case a couple of years earlier, when a federal judge called the owl's original 1997 endangered listing "arbitrary and capricious." Agency biologists hadn't proved this bird to be significantly distinct from its more numerous cousins in Mexico, said the judge.
That sparked bliss among the blade-and-grade crowd. Finally, they could slap ticky-tack homes all across the great Tucson northwest, owls be damned. But a couple of FWS biologists felt otherwise. So they set out to prove that the Southern Arizona's owl deserved protection--and their rapidly compiled research paper did just that.
But top regional agency officials quickly sequestered that paper, and kept it under wraps. That's until some conscientious employee smuggled a copy to the Center for Biological Diversity.
Despite this forceful argument for continued owl protection, agency ideologues wouldn't budge. Instead, the FWS is now arguing that endangered species protection for the owl be abandoned.
It seems that squashing bothersome species is now key to rising through USFWS ranks. As Southwest Region director, Dale Hall engineered the owl's demise. And President Bush soon rewarded him with the agency's top job.
This entire saga is shameful. And that's why Fish and Wildlife muckety-mucks--and especially Hall--should get their butts outta town.
Barbara LaWallIt seems we have Leave It to Beaver and The Andy Griffith Show to thank for helping shape Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall's worldview, according to her profile on the National District Attorneys Association Web site. Alas, the news coming out of her office seems more in line with a gritty crime drama than the goings-on in sleepy Mayberry.
In January, a disturbing Jeffrey Toobin article in The New Yorker described how a Pima County prosecutor fabricated evidence to secure death-row convictions. Ken Peasley was disbarred, and the Arizona Supreme Court noted that his actions "could not have been more harmful to the justice system."
An August article in the Weekly raised questions about the globetrotting LaWall's publicly funded travel expenses. Pima County Supervisor Ray Carroll said that after the Toobin article, he could see why LaWall would want to skip town. But he questioned her use of funds seized from criminals to pay for travel, instead of reinvesting it in efforts to combat "narcotics and gangs."
LaWall seemed to make a U-turn in September after the widow of Dr. David Brian Stidham filed a lawsuit against her, the county and some deputy prosecutors for not doing enough to save the life of her husband. At first, it seemed LaWall agreed with Daphne Stidham that prosecutor Paul Skitzki, whom she fired, sat on information that could have prevented her husband's murder. But her position appeared to change in the statement prepared by her lawyer in response to the lawsuit.
LaWall said in her NDAA profile that the media are out to portray prosecutors as "the bad guys," but it seems her office has been doing a good job of that already. Perhaps it's time for a fresh start--in Mayberry.
Local ScenestersFor the initiated, there are two types of people who attend small, indie-rock shows: There are those of us who enjoy life, and the others are local scenesters.
Now, to be fair, all local scenesters aren't jackasses--just the majority of them.
Tucson happens to be blessed with a great music scene. This year alone, Tucson was host to national acts like Arcade Fire, The Hold Steady, Sufjan Stevens and The Decemberists, to name a few. Yet, for local scenesters, the good-music drought appeared to continue.
You may ask: Who or what is a local scenester? They're the person near the back of the club looking bored in a cross-armed stance while the eight members of Architecture in Helsinki constantly swap instruments and play their hearts out on Solar Culture's tiny stage. Or, they're the guy/gal who keeps telling their friend, "I don't see what the big deal is" as Spoon shakes up the house at the Rialto. So, basically, they're the person who has to attend every marquee indie show in town simply to show other attendees how disgusted they are that they nearly spent a Hamilton on the proceedings.
Last time I checked, attendance wasn't mandatory at any of these shows. Besides, if I wanted to hang with the living dead, I'd party at a cemetery. Even though I'm sure you're too cool to care: Adios, local scenesters.
Sen. John McCainCriticizing John McCain is like a lemming that clings to the cliff: Vistas are uncluttered, but lonely as hell. Nonetheless, here goes: John McCain is a windbag of heroic proportions, with an ego so voracious that he'd eat crow until doomsday to sate it.
Now, of course, the senator is a genuine war hero. And, sure, like so many others, he was lathered by the Bush smear machine. But he's also so hungry to be king--or at least president--that soon, he was also sucking up to that self-same slime-meister. It was downright creepy to witness those dainty hugs he started giving GW on the 2004 campaign trail. Indeed, such physicality seemed to shock both men; lord knows, one doesn't picture Barbara B. as a huggy mom. And all the while, McCain wore that tight-ass grin which either said "Major Hemorrhoid Flair-up" or "Yeah, but I still hate the bastard."
So who's the senator sucking up to these days? None other than the wacko Christian right. To wit: In an interview with the Arizona Daily Star, he actually advocated teaching crap like "intelligent design" in schools. "I think that there has to be all points of view presented," he told the Star in August. "But they've got to be thoroughly presented. So to say that you can only teach one line of thinking I don't think is--or one belief on how people and the world was created--I think there's nothing wrong with teaching different schools of thought."
And he's come out in favor of the awful proposed amendment that would ban gay marriage and all domestic partnerships in Arizona.
Obviously, McCain feels he must support the sanctimonious fringe if he's ever to reach the White House. But en route, we say he should get out of town.
Meth HeadsWe despise poor oral hygiene. But that's not the only reason we're taking meth heads and their rotten teeth to task (for the second year in a row; we have a policy against repeats, but we're making an exception here).
We're also a bit peeved that they've given law enforcement another funding stream.
Remember the crack crisis? Well, it's back with a different name--and government agencies are playing it to the hilt. Now, we ain't saying meth junkies are swell folks. We live here, too, and we've had them vandalize our cars, burgle our casas and our swipe our identities. But adding insult, these addled turds have also breathed new life into the War on Drugs, with all its endless bullshit.
So smelly is this baloney that even the Bushies are rolling their eyes: According to Newsweek, one administration official says opportunistic politicos are "crying meth because it's the hot new drug."
Rather than a surging epidemic, however, meth use is apparently declining. Studies show that the number of meth-smoking high school students has fallen from 4.7 percent in 1999 to 3.4 percent in 2004. Meanwhile, only 5 percent of Americans report even trying the drug; only .3 percent admit using it in the last month; the national rates of property crime--typically blamed on meth addicts--are falling as well.
So why all the hype, despite evidence to the contrary? Money. In a poll of 500 law enforcement groups by the National Association of Counties, some 58 percent of respondents called meth the nation's drug problem Numero Uno. But heck, could it be mere coincidence that law enforcement agencies are also scrambling against sharp federal budget cuts to anti-drug task forces?
Either way, that's why we think meth heads--and the range of problem they create--should blow outta Dodge.
Payday Loan BusinessesIn theory, payday loan businesses sound like a good idea. If you are living paycheck to paycheck, and you have a financial emergency such as a broken-down car or large doctor bill to pay, you can go to your nearest center and get a cash advance. You only need a checking account and steady job to quality for a short-term loan.
But everything isn't as rosy as it appears.
The interest on a two-week loan can cost equivalent of an annual interest rate as high as 460 percent, according to a report published in The Arizona Republic in September. The Republic projected that Arizonans will pay these lenders at least $165 million in interest this year.
In Pima County alone, there are more than 100 payday loan offices. Check a nearby street corner, and you're sure to see one.
With such high interest rates, these businesses prey upon the misfortunes of the poor. It's almost as if they are a new version of the neighborhood mafia, shaking down businesses for money. But instead of business owners, they hit up working consumers who are between a rock and a hard place.
The good news is Pima County recently imposed zoning and permit restrictions on new payday loan centers. This will restrict the location of new offices so they are not clustered together. That, at least, is a start in the right direction--the direction out of town.
Self-Service CheckoutsWhat an outstanding offer some major retailers have for their customers. It's a fantastic promotion that can't be beat: Shoppers can work for the store for free, while also helping to eliminate the jobs of the regular employees.
Why anyone would become a short-term slave to these "master" self-service checkout machines is baffling. It can't be to save time, because the inevitable screw-up almost always slows things down. It can't be because people like to check and bag their own groceries, because if they did, they could try and get a job with the store.
It also certainly can't be that customers want to help get rid of the very store employees they may frequently socialize with. These are people who are paying their bills and feeding their families with the paychecks they receive for checking out customers. But continuing to use self-service checkout contraptions will certainly lead to many store employees either losing their jobs or having their work hours substantially reduced.
People shouldn't be naive and think store management installed this equipment because they care about their customers. They just want to save money in order to fatten their own wallets.
Do something for your fellow working stiffs and stop using self-service checkouts. And if you don't, leave town, and take the electronic gizmos with you.
Greg ShelkoAnybody with half a brain--and we should note that this group includes at least several local elected officials--wants Rio Nuevo to succeed. After all, we've poured a lot of money into it already, and a vibrant, healthy downtown can only make Tucson more kick-ass.
But anybody with half a brain would also have to agree that it is very, very bad to have Rio Nuevo officials putting the interests of local businessmen--with deep pockets--ahead of the interests of the public and its elected officials.
That's exactly what Greg Shelko was doing this year when he basically started running public-relations efforts for Bob McMahon and Don Martin. You may recall that the two kajillionaires were pitching a new downtown high-rise on the grassy area outside the library.
The late, great Weekly reporter Chris Limberis dug up several memos between city staffers in which Shelko, to use Limbo's words, "comes off more like a consultant to Century Tower promoters Bob McMahon and Don Martin than a city official demanding the project be solid and viable."
Let's let Shelko speak for himself, shall we? "They need to really polish the presentation in all respects, and I'll work with them on that," Shelko e-mailed Assistant City Manager Karen Thoreson on June 2. "They need to thoughtfully walk the M/C (mayor and City Council) through the project details. They should also address some of the other benefits to the City and the community, e.g., increased tax base, construction and permanent jobs, alternative to sprawl and all its ills, etc. ... They need to get downtown commercial property owners, businesses, downtown neighborhood folks and the TDA (Tucson Downtown Alliance) to step up to the mike and to write."
This blatant flacking on behalf of the project upset some local officials, including City Councilman Steve Leal, who told the Weekly that Shelko had "crossed the line, again."
Shelko defended himself, wrote Limberis, by claiming that "he is not advocating for McMahon and Martin, but rather demanding that the two provide the best information in the clearest, most understandable manner."
We don't buy it. When city officials are counseling for-profit businessmen on how to sell stuff to the public and the City Council itself, that's a step or two or 27 too far.
Time to pack up, Greg. And while you're at it, please take with you ...
Karen ThoresonShelko's inter-office pen pal almost left the Old Pueblo earlier this year, when she was a finalist for the city manager gig in Greeley, Colo. But the good folks in Greeley decided to keep their interim city manager.
Rumors are running rampant that Thoreson's time here is running short, and we're OK with that. We'll gladly give her a li'l shove out of town based on the crap she and those speaking for her fed the folks in Greeley.
She was quoted as telling the Greeley Tribune: "My whole career has been about trying to make a difference. And, I make a lot of difference here (Tucson) and I made a lot of difference in Boulder, and I've hired a lot of good people here. ... I feel like there might be one more big difference I could make."
Wow. She's a modest sort, ain't she?
And look what else the Tribune had to say about her, obviously buying into her sales pitch: "(Thoreson) would bring a rich background in housing and downtown redevelopment. In Tucson, she has been responsible for the $120 million Rio Nuevo downtown redevelopment program that resulted in $500 million in private investment."
She has? Really? Where?
With an ego that big, Thoreson doesn't even need one of these spiffy saguaro rockets to escort her out of town. With all the hot air and her huge head, she can just float on out of here.
"W '04" Bumper StickersReflecting on the events of the past 12 months in Washington and around the world is a truly depressing nightmare.
Thousands of innocents have died in Iraq. Initial denial over Hurricane Katrina was followed by a totally botched relief effort. Budget deficits are going through the roof with no end in sight. There was gross mishandling of a Supreme Court nomination while a senior White House official stands indicted. Social Security reform is dead before it was officially proposed, and the White House even appears to tolerate torture of prisoners.
The dreadful list just goes on and on. As a result, George W. Bush has poll numbers shrinking to Richard Nixon-like levels.
Despite having a terribly dismal record of failure, some Tucsonans still admit they supported the re-election of the president last year, and appear proud of their votes. With hideous "W '04" bumper stickers, they continue to display that mistaken pride on their usually huge, gas-guzzling SUVs. To them, we say: Either remove the political logos, or hit the road, folks, and don't come back no more.
Vernon WalkerAs a journalist, once in a while, you come across a candidate with a spotty voting record. Once in a while, you find one who has dodged his taxes, or had some legal problems, or owes someone money, or has trouble with the truth.
But when they all come together in one guy--and the plaintiffs chasing him to recover money include the Tucson Association for the Blind and college girls who just want to get their rental deposit back--you have the perfect storm.
Despite a legal record that would, in my opinion, make a New York slumlord blush, Republican Vernon Walker let himself be talked into running for the Tucson City Council against Democrat Steve Leal.
We're not going to get into the sordid details (you can see 'em yourself by reading "Meet Vernon Walker," Aug. 25, and the two subsequent follow-ups), but we remind you that Vernon's explanations were tough to swallow.
Take, for example, Vernon's preposterous story about why county records showed that he'd hadn't voted since 1986.
Vernon said he'd voted by mail in every election, but county officials must have tossed his vote out because he refused to sign the outside of the envelope; he claimed he was worried people would know how he voted.
"I voted and I know I did," Vernon insisted back in August. "I'm not backing down on that."
The only problem with his explanation: There's no record of him ever asking for an early ballot, either. (And by the way: Wouldn't the obvious solution to worries about secret ballots be voting on Election Day instead of voting by mail?)
A week after our story ran, Vernon quit the race, with a hysterical claim of a death threat. A few months later, he penned a "dear supporter" letter in which he tried to debunk the Weekly's exposé, saying it was close to slander. Except, of course, that it's not slander if it's true.
Vernon, you did the right thing by getting out of the council race. Now: Get out of town!