GRANT APPLICATIONThe Regional Transportation Authority is giving thanks that local jurisdictions have been giving a big thumb's-up to their new transportation plan. Last week, it was unanimously approved by the Tucson City Council, the Pima County Board of Supervisors, the Marana Town Council and the Oro Valley Town Council. Earlier, it had already been OK'ed by the Sahuarita Town Council, South Tucson City Council, the Pascua Yaqui Tribe and the membership of the Tucson Racquet Club.
Just kidding about that last one! They don't vote until next week.
Barring any last-minute surprises, the RTA Board is scheduled to have a final vote Wednesday, Nov. 30, to forward the plan to Board of Supervisors, who--if all goes according to plan--will agree to put the plan on the ballot next May. And then, dear readers, it's all in your hands.
The Tucson City Council's rubber-stamp was a disappointment to a handful of people in the audience, including persistent RTA critic Ken O'Day of the Campbell-Grant Neighborhood Association, who continues to tilt at the RTA windmill in an effort to put off the vote until November to allow for more public input. O'Day also wants the RTA to give up plans to widen central-city roads, dump plan for a streetcar, lobby the Arizona Legislature to restructure the RTA governing board and spend more money on road maintenance. We're sure RTA boss Gary Hayes will get right on that.
O'Day remains particularly disturbed by plans to widen Grant Road to six lanes between Swan and Oracle roads. He said last week--much to our surprise!--that he expects to oppose the plan as it heads to the ballot next May.
To counter O'Day's rabble-rousing, the RTA has sent out two neighborhood-friendly members of its citizen committee, mass-transit booster Steve Farley and Sonoran Desert defender Carolyn Campbell, to tamp down opposition to the plan. The dynamic duo has been meeting in recent weeks with folks who are fretting over the nightmare scenario of widening Grant.
Farley, who opposed the city's 2002 transportation plan and headed up the light-rail initiative that failed in 2003, says the RTA plan doesn't necessarily mean that Grant will be widened to six lanes. He suggests the $170 million or so targeted for widening Grant could be used for a kinder, gentler rehabilitation of the corridor.
"I think everybody--the neighbors, the businesses--agrees that Grant as it stands today is ugly and dangerous," Farley says. "If we don't do something to fix it in the next 20 years, it's going to be to the point where it keeps going downhill, and eventually somebody says, 'Hey, what a perfect place for a freeway.'"
Because the City Council and Board of Supervisors last week agreed to include citizens in all road-widening planning efforts, including the businesses and neighborhoods directly affected, Farley has adopted the wildly optimistic view that "we'll end up getting the road we want with this pot of money."
Steve Taylor, who owns the Globetrotter Imports and the Antique Presidio at Grant and Country Club Road, isn't buying that spin.
"I sense they want to make Grant Road the east-west through-way," says Taylor, who was hanging with O'Day at the council meeting last week. "They're not going to have that by doing intersections only. If they get the community to approve the six lanes, why would they just do intersection improvements?"
Taylor, who gave council members a petition with more than 100 signatures from upset business owners, employees and residents along Grant, was bummed that city officials didn't have much interest in hearing from him.
But Taylor says he probably won't be campaigning against the proposition.
"I'm not against the half-cent sales tax," Taylor says. "We do need improvements throughout Tucson."
Taylor's main concern: Making sure that business owners who have to relocate as a result of widening get fairly compensated.
"I will fight for equity to make sure that if a business is going to be taken out, that we get fair market value and the true cost of moving," he says.
TAKING OUT THE TRASH FEEOnce Democrats Karin Uhlich and Nina Trasoff are sworn in to the Tucson City Council next month, one of the first orders of business--after, y'know, driving out the special interests and restoring Tucson values--will be a discussion about the $14-a-month trash fee.
We count somewhere around five votes to reduce and/or dump the fee, which is evidently an intolerable financing mechanism within the Tucson city limits, even if nearly everyone else in the Western United States has to pay to have their trash hauled away. Even though she doesn't have to pander after getting elected, Nina says she still wants to do away with it through a gradual reduction; Karin thinks we ought to have some kind of fee, although she has said that $14 is too high; Shirley Scott says she promised long ago never to vote for budget that includes a trash fee; the last time we talked to José Ibarra, he said it should go, although he said it was premature to talk about cuts to balance the budget (Hey, he's only been on the council for decade; who would expect him to know something about where to trim fat?); and Steve Leal thinks the whole budget needs to be re-evaluated.
The problem: Getting rid of the fee blows a $20 million hole in the city budget--unless Nina succeeds with her recently announced plan to persuade the Arizona Legislature into allowing the city to adopt a tax on cigarettes and booze. Which will happen right after lawmakers abolish the death penalty, provide all Arizonans with health insurance and hand out welfare checks to illegal immigrants.
So what's City Manager Mike Hein to do? Look for Hein to start budget planning as soon as next month, with a focus on developing a long-term vision of council members' priorities in areas such as transportation, public safety and Parks and Rec programs. First, he'll let the council lay out their shopping list; then he'll go back to find out how they'd like to pay for it.
We're betting we're going to shelling out for that trash fee for a long time to come. Do you think Democrats will draw straws to decide who's going to flip on keeping it around?
COMING AND GOINGYou may have noticed that Benny Young, who was working as an assistant city manager, has demoted himself to a lower spot in the bureaucracy.
To take over Young's responsibilities, City Manager Mike Hein has hired Karen Masbruch, a former bigwig in the Environmental Services Department, which used to be the Solid Waste Department before someone decided it needed a green makeover.
Downtown tongues are wagging that the next to go is Assistant City Manager Karen Thoreson, who oversees downtown revitalization, Tucson-Mexico trade relations and economic development.
But The Skinny isn't only around to spread rumors; everyone once in awhile, we debunk 'em, too. For example, Democrat Karin Uhlich, who will take over the Ward 3 office when she's sworn in next month, tells us there's absolutely no truth to stories swirling around City Hall that Jerry Anderson, who held the Ward 3 office between 1997 and 2001, will be coming aboard as an aide.
MISTAKES WERE MADELast week, The Skinny reported that the GOP only spent $25,000 on the get-out-the-vote effort. Party chair Judi White tells us it was actually $50K.
If you ask us, the Republicans could have spent a half-million, and it wouldn't have made a difference. In this Democratic town in this year of the Democrats, Republican candidates Fred Ronstadt and Kathleen Dunbar were simply doomed from the start.