IN 2000, NOTHING in Arizona could match Florida's ballot-box brouhaha, but from rare birds to bankrupt ballparks, we sure tried. So whatever happened to some of those stories the Weekly covered for you in the past 12 months?
The $5.2 million debt of Pima County's Tucson Electric Park was the focus of an article in February. At that time, County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry said he hoped the ballpark would be out of the red ink within five years.
But in the following months, even though the weather was ideal for spring training baseball games, the debt continued to grow. To get the budgetary bleeding stopped, Pima County officials cut the park's operating expenses. They also have high hopes of increasing revenues at the southside sports complex, beginning with two gem shows to be staged there in the near future.
Another local sport industry losing big money is the City of Tucson's public golf courses. Six months ago we reported that the system was $2.5 million in debt but that the City Council had adopted a business plan to escape the deficit. Based on much higher winter golfing fees combined with lower-paid maintenance workers, the plan was intended to eventually eliminate the debt.
But a few weeks ago, the council learned that the financial performance of the city's golf courses for the last fiscal year was "disappointing at best." When originally adopted in late 1999, the golf business plan was supposed to require two years to reverse the losing trend. Now that looks overly optimistic.
Acknowledging they may not be able to turn the red ink into black, city officials are now reviewing several once-rejected options. These include the possibility of breaking their promise not to increase golf rates further until 2004, and perhaps selling off some golf course property to raise capital. The whole golf operation may be turned over to an outside entity.
Off the links and on the roads, Tucson transportation was a major theme last spring. After months of meetings on the Fifth/Sixth Street study described in a March article, planners are now focusing on two primary options: narrowing the street to one lane in each direction with a center turn lane, or leaving it at the current four and five lanes, but spiffing it up with some trees and decorative sidewalks. The 39-member committee overseeing the preparation of the plan will meet in a few weeks to work on these alternatives. One committee member says of the entire $600,000-plus process, "It is a great exercise in the obvious."
Further south, the Arizona Department of Transportation had million-dollar plans for preventing rock falls from reaching State Route 82 just southwest of Patagonia. In a March article, however, opponents cited statistics that showed large rocks had never been recorded as reaching the roadway, and complained that the proposed project would do irreparable harm to endangered birds.
Despite that, ADOT officials insisted the project had to be built and promised to present a final recommendation by summer. But now ADOT is working with local residents on an environmental assessment for the project, which is expected to be completed within the next few months.
Unlike this relatively new roadway controversy, the last leg of the Aviation Parkway project through downtown has been causing a stink for almost 20 years. An April article indicated that a drainage study that could significantly alter the phasing plan for the project was to begin shortly, that the $1.2 million snake-shaped pedestrian overpass across Broadway Boulevard near Euclid was supposed to be under construction by summer, and that work on a new Fourth Avenue underpass was scheduled to start by the end of 2001.
Eight months later, the drainage study is just about to begin, and officials now hope that the walkway over Broadway can be built starting in March. As for the Fourth Avenue underpass project, current plans still call for it to be under construction by next December, just in time for Christmas.
Another seemingly never-ending effort, reviewed in a July story, concerns the attempts to reach a final agreement between the University of Arizona and the residents of the Jefferson Park neighborhood over helicopter flights to University Medical Center. The university had proposed an agreement late last year that the neighborhood rejected. A few weeks ago the neighborhood countered with a proposal the university wasn't entirely comfortable with. One hopeful participant said, however, that the negotiations are close to conclusion.
Not as fortunate were the tenants of the university's Christopher City housing complex. In May the UA ordered them to clear out quickly, and in a July story we told you about the difficulty some students were having in finding new places to live. The article also described the controversial rezoning request the university wanted in order to replace Christopher City with 700 units of housing and a commercial corner.
Today, surrounded by a chain link fence, a vacant Christopher City looks like a prison waiting to be demolished. The potential rezoning is scheduled for a public hearing before the city's zoning examiner on January 11. Despite criticism from many neighbors that the property should not involve commercial use, the UA is pressing ahead with those plans. At a recent open house on the proposal, some of the neighbors remained adamantly opposed to the concept, but others were mollified by the architectural renderings of the project.
While the UA has big plans for the Christopher City property, it is also looking to update its 12-year-old campus master plan. In September we reviewed the planning process for this possibly contentious effort. To develop the revisions, the university has received proposals from 10 consulting firms, with a final selection anticipated by the end of next month.
Conflicts over the plan may loom in the future, but there's already trouble between neighbors and Pima County over Arroyo Chico south of Broadway. As the Weekly described in two stories this year, some residents fear that implementing a detention basin project along the arroyo could spread existing groundwater pollution. The U.S. Corps of Engineers and Pima County officials disagree.
Even though a citizens' committee raised several serious concerns about the project over three months ago, the Corps has yet to respond to them, but reportedly may do so next month. Meanwhile, Pima County will begin detailed design work for the project shortly. At the same time, the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality has installed nine monitor wells in the affected area to begin the process of determining exactly how much pollution exists.
Finally, in September we pointed out that the City of Tucson doesn't comply with its own Living Wage ordinance. Almost 1,500 city employees make less than the ordinance requires private contractors doing business with the city to pay.
To address our community's wage rate problems, in his State of the City speech on January 26 Mayor Bob Walkup will announce the specifics of his voluntary "Living Wage Club," and will list some of its founding members. Then in February, the City Council should receive a report on the impacts of the Living Wage ordinance. It remains to be seen if the council will direct that the city bureaucracy itself comply with the law.