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Tucson's homeless, migrant challenges back before local leaders

The Tucson agenda

Tucson's homeless, migrant challenges back before local leaders

Looking at familiar-sounding RTA plan; School expulsion rules cover 7-year-olds; More in local gov't meetings

  • Tucson and Pima County will take up several items involving people needing emergency shelter.
    Bill Morrow/CC BY 2.0Tucson and Pima County will take up several items involving people needing emergency shelter.

Tucson and Pima County will both take up measures and – let's face it – outright hopes and prayers about how to address the needs of people who need emergency housing.

It's a hell of a lot for local officials to get a handle on without help from further up the the stratum of government.

In the Tucson area, this includes both local people without places to call home, more transient residents without roofs, and migrants legally seeking asylum because their home countries have become failed states.

The Pima County Board of Supervisors will get an update from County Administrator Jan Lesher about how the county is balancing the needs of people seeking shelter as well as safety concerns of businesses and neighborhoods paranoid about how homelessness is affecting their communities.

The county is struggling to find room at the inn, as it were, for the people living without access to shelter.

Look, the federal government once built projects to fight homelessness. Then in the 1980s, they stopped for good reasons and bad. Instead they gave vouchers for homes called Section 8 (cuz that's how the government names things). Now landlords are increasingly refusing those vouchers. For all intents and purposes, that neuters the federal solution to homelessness. 

So the onus falls on state and local governments, which had been free to let the feds deal with it with those now near-useless vouchers.

People like Arizona as a low-tax, low-service state. Stuff comes at a cost. The cost is that people who call themselves "taxpayers" have to endure homelessness. I mean, it's not like they can expect to be free from tax burdens and simultaneously experience none of the social ills that go unaddressed, can they?

The bigger problem is that the homeless themselves have to actually be homeless.

If the Section 8 vouchers are being refused, then that's money that's not spent. Isn't their some way to turn these into a form of bond repayment program to finance new construction? The local government takes out a bond and pays it back with unspent Section 8 rental vouchers. I admit it, I'm spitballing.

As is Lesher, when she writes in a memo to the board: 

Although there are existing systems and structures in place that have been successful in addressing homelessness, it is clear that more needs to be done. Reducing homelessness in the county is highly complex and requires even greater collaboration between multiple jurisdictions, service agencies and community partners. Moving forward it is our intent to drive the development of a collaborative strategic blueprint with the city of Tucson that will facilitate a collective approach of new ideas to address this critical issue.

This is how a county manager says "I don't frigging know; we're gonna keep trying."

Meanwhile, the city of Tucson and Pima County will each vote on intergovernmental agreements to provide ongoing food and shelter for migrants in the custody of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The county is footing the bill, via the federal government's  $150 million assistance program for the border. Pima County gets $18 million of the total program. Asylum seekers get the service at no cost to them.

Again, 11 million unfilled jobs remain unfilled in the U.S., with the lowest unemployment rate in 50 years. Why not grant migrants asylum, hook them up with jobs and take a small part of their paycheck for a year to fund the people behind them as a way to pay for the inevitable migration when political upheaval hits another part of the world?

I'm just solving all our problems today.

Agenda on the agenda

The supervisors will also vote on a proposal to require their own agenda items be better fleshed out than is typical. Under the new plan, supes must include a full report on what they are proposing for consideration prior to the meeting. If they don't, the county attorney can nix the item until it's properly explained. This is Supervisor Adelita Grijalva's proposal and I say "bravo." 

These agenda items can be a bit sketchy, so it's hard for the public to know exactly what the board member has in mind when they put an item on the agenda for discussion or action. 

In fact, the new board chair's original agenda item was pretty darned vague as it decried the vagaries of agenda items.

Two members of the public did object to the law, arguing supervisors should have the ability to present information as they see fit and don't fix an un-broke policy. That's a reasonable point. It's just that their letters were absolutely identical, undercutting the grass-rootsy-ness of the opposition.

Land use

The board will also take up a number of rezonings. Most of them are small but one sticks out because it involves the Arizona State Land Department.

Developers are seeking a five-year extension of a 359-acre rezoning to build a maximum of 800 units on South Wilmot and East Sahuarita roads. The Land Department is the owner of an adjacent lot and was asked to weigh in and it did so in a strange way.

The state requested a provision of the rezoning requiring the developer to fix roads not be an "undue burden" on the developer. The Land Department operates with its own mandate to sell its land at the highest and best use and the proceeds go to an education trust fund. 

It's just rare for the state to protest how a neighboring developer is being asked to pony up community benefits to justify a rezoning that's almost exclusively at the whim of a local government.

Well, whatever. It may work. The county staff is recommending the extension strike the Wilmot Road component. 

There's also a 38-acre rezoning slated for South Camino De La Tierra Road and West Valencia Road that would change from low density to allow for up to seven lots per acres of single family homes and apartments or condos. 

And of course, there will be fireworks.

Westin La Paloma will shoot off 703 aerial effects for eight to 10 minutes on Feb. 14, beginning 7 p.m. 

So I know one dog who will spend a half-hour under the bed. Then again, if Netflix gets too loud, that dog ends up under the bed.

I remember that idea

The Tucson City Council's regular discussion about the next Regional Transportation Authority funding will turn to an very good idea.

The Council will get a rundown of the ever-moving target of funding priorities for the region but then move on to the idea of including $386 million in regular street repair in the RTA's budget.


A wise man once said this was a good idea:

The city and county should at the very least discuss turning road repair and preservation over to the RTA. Handing the job over to a regional board that can only spend money on transportation means road money can't be cannibalized for other worthwhile needs. The work will get done and the community will save money ... well ... down the road.

I wrote that in June 2018. Road repair tends to fall by the wayside during economic downturns and the cost of neglect piles up. Failing to resurface can require resurfacing a road and that's a lot more expensive. Cheap out on that and a road may need the enormous cost of a total reconstruction.

Getting that program out of local budgets means it's not competing for cash during lean times with parks, trash collection, social services or criminal justice. It just gets done.

Of course, this idea is only being floated and is not yet part of the official draft plan.

The Council will vote during its regular meeting on whether to write off $2.7 million. The bulk of it is uncollected city utilities like water and trash, ambulance transport fees (which are unbelievably insane) and sales, liquor and occupancy fees.

Together they account for $2.1 million of the outstanding and uncollectable fees. This is a regular part of the city doing business and a way to clear the accounting books. 

Drinking and smoking

The State Land Department will return, again in a strange place, as part of a move by Councilmember Nikki Lee to reconsider a liquor license to the hooligans (up to no good, I tell ya) at the Tanque Verde Schools Education Enrichment Foundation. 

Lee voted Jan. 24 to grant the liquor license for a Feb. 18 fundraiser at the Tucson Radio Controlled RC Flying Field, at 10801 E. Valencia Rd. However, Lee is raising an objection because the Land Department wasn't notified about the fundraiser and owns the land.

Still, City Manager Mike Ortega is recommending the Council forward the application to the Arizona Liquor Board for the final step of the liquor license process.

It's just weird seeing the Arizona State Land Department crop up in city and county meetings on the same day.

The Council will also discuss taking a tougher line on smoke shops.

The Liberty Partnership Kino Neighborhood Council is asking for time to present evidence of the effects of smoke shops on neighborhoods.

These tobacco-oriented stores are governed a typical retail outlet under existing zoning laws. If the Council chooses, it can take steps to establish either separation requirements demanding that smoke shops can't be located within a certain distance of each other. They can also prohibit these businesses near stores.

Honestly, my local smoke shop has a less troublesome clientele than my local Walgreen's and God knows there's one of them every eight feet. They're a veritable breeding ground for the likes of the Tanque Verde School Enrichment Foundation and their scruffy skullduggery. 

Junior expulsion

Speaking of which ...

The Tanque Verde Unified School District Governing Board will vote Wednesday on updating its policy on expelling student.

It's pretty standard stuff that includes due process and requires approval of the board to kick anyone out of the district.

The process also includes a weird path toward expelling children as young as seven. Seven. Seven years old. Born in 2016. Seriously?

For some reason, I just didn't think this was possible. 

The new policy is recommended by the Arizona School Board Association to comply with changes to state law.

Now, it's not easy to expel kids barely old enough to understand the nuances to the lyrics of "Baby Shark." For instance, state law says they can be kicked out of school if they are found in possession of dangerous drugs or dangerous weapons.

Do they understand the meaning of the term "dangerous?" Kids this age conceptualize the world in terms of "N'uh! Am not. You are!" Do they really understand the concept of mortality?

Then again... the new Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives ... 

And no, I'm not going to trash Republicans because the Marana Unified School District Governing Board will vote on adopting a new policy that will seek bids to provide electric buses. Guess who gave them this authority? The Arizona State Legislature.

Yep. The Legislature did that. Turns out running electric school buses is less of a tax burden than gasoline powered vehicles. Let's not curse the darkness. Let's just let the candle show us light.

The district will also vote on a proposed 2024-25 calendar. Classes would start Aug. 5 and end May 22, while having the appropriate patriotic holiday schedule. Christmas break would begin Dec. 23 and run through the week of New Year's Day until Friday Jan. 3 and get the following weekend off, as a bonus.

The schedule the terrorists and their boy-band allies prefer, of course, is to start the week before Christmas and put kids back in school on Jan. 2. 

Leaving for DC 

Down in Santa Cruz County, during a private meeting with lawyers, that Board of Supervisors will discuss a plan to hire an outside attorney to represent the Independent Personnel System.

That is a way to keep the review of county personnel issues (like firing someone) truly independent. It also removes authority from the people's representatives elected to the Board of Supervisors.

One of the more interesting things about Santa Cruz County supervisors this week is their plan to fly to Washington after the meeting to meet with elected representatives in Washington. Sit-downs with U.S. Rep. Juan Ciscomani and Raul Grijalva, as well as Sen. Mark Kelly are posted as a notice of a quorum. 

I'd be fascinated to know if U.s. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema has time for them at all, or if the board is delegated to an intern in the constituent correspondence corner of her office. I mean, they represent her voters, but they aren't part of the Davos Economic Forum crowd.

In Nogales, the City Council's regular meeting Wednesday is a series of uneventful votes but a study session prior to the meeting will see it discuss a border master plan (at least someone's got one), the council's goals with their fiscal year 2023-24 budget and how to spend the rest of the town's American Rescue Plan funding.

Blake Morlock is an award-winning columnist, who worked in daily journalism for nearly 20 years and is the former communications director for the Pima County Democratic Party.

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