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Pima County forms 'blue ribbon' jail commission: a new hoosegow in the offing?

The Tucson agenda

Pima County forms 'blue ribbon' jail commission: a new hoosegow in the offing?

Tucson makes strides in affordable housing, plus more in local gov't meetings this week

  • Pima County's adult detention center is facing staffing problems as population rises.
    Aengus Anderson/FlickrPima County's adult detention center is facing staffing problems as population rises.

Committees are being formed.

Repeat: Committees are being formed.

Oh yeah, Pima County is well on its way to maybe someday coming up with solutions to a couple of acute problems affecting the Tucson region.

First, the Board of Supervisors will vote on establishing a committee (a Blue Ribbon Commission, nonetheless) to assess needs at the county jail.

Back in December, Sheriff Chris Nanos explained how the number of people being held behind bars was up 30 percent but jail staffing was down 45 percent in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. This is a problem without any obvious solution. The supes are in a tight spot.

There's no national service requirement and the economy is rolling along at near universal employment. Pay corrections officers $200,000 per year, maybe. That's one way to do it.

Another option would be to release some of those now in custody. That, of course, would require progressives on the Board of Supervisors to go toe-to-toe with the Right in a political battle.

OK, Plan B. How about paying CO's $500,000 a year? I kid but the idea of the Left smartly engaging in a culture war with air cover from state and federal leaders is far less likely than making jail guards millionaires. 

People are already freaked out about crime.

The board is going to vote to establish a commission on how to address the challenges at the jail.

The membership is a who's who of local law enforcement and the state's incarceration-industrial complex. There's former Oro Valley Police Chief Danny Sharp, former Tucson Police Chief Roberto Villeseñor and India Davis, the former director of county adult detention. 

Only Jack O'Brien of the Pima County Public Defender's' Office and the Rev. Grady Scott represent communities who are ill-effected by mass incarceration. Note to the board: Tucson has a rich and diverse community of a variety of colors. Grady Scott – and no disrespect to a man of God – is not the only African American in Tucson who can serve on these commissions.

Somewhat ominously, Sundt Construction represents the business community on the board and that makes me think building a whole new jail is in the offing.

Also Tuesday, the board will get an update Tuesday about how efforts to address homelessness are going.

A committee of county and city of Tucson staffers have been formed to develop a strategy.

The city already has a plan, dudes. It's called the Housing Affordability Strategy for  Tucson. I've mocked it plenty but there's good stuff in there and they are making progress. They got a pretty good bureaucratic headbanger in Liz Morales trying to carry it out. Help her do that.

The council will also vote on spending American Rescue Plan money to help finance 322 new rental units. That's not a bad day's work.

Please don't make the city start over again because county supervisors only discovered homelessness in late 2022 when business complained about people without homes living outside.

If the HAST requires augmentation that the county can help improve, then do that.

In fact, the City Council is going to get an update on their progress during a Wednesday study session. Go check it out, supes.

Otherwise, the county can report that they are working with the city to provide businesses with lighting to keep the homeless away from the darkness. So quite literally, the lights are on but people aren't home, hence homelessness.

inoift67: Those are the characters struck by my forehead falling on the keyboard.

I like an awful lot of the stuff County Administrator Jan Lesher is doing but she does love her committees.

Supervisor Steve Christy is asking his colleagues to discuss the continued employment of Dr. Theresa Cullen as county health director.

Cullen got shafted by the Arizona State Senate. Republicans who run the body basically ambushed her nomination as director of health services because she dared to make recommendations that protected public health during a public health emergency.

Christy, a Republican, has been critical of Cullen's response, although not as obnoxiously as state lawmakers who nixed her promotion. He has said that the county should never do lockdowns again, no matter what the crisis.

I find this strange. The next item on the supervisors' agenda is Christy asking for an update on a toxic chemical spill on Interstate 10 last week that resulted in a shelter in place order.

He's concerned about public health all of a sudden, is he?

I guess hazardous materials don't engage in "woke chemistry" or follow the laws of "woke physics." Therefore, they can actually pose a risk.

I get that there's a certain amount of giving voice to Donald Trump supporters Christy must do as the one Republican on the board. But leave Dr. Cullen alone.

Housing boom

The Tucson City Council will get that update on fighting homelessness during its study session and vote on a couple initiatives during its regular meeting.

The city is making some progress on a number of fronts.

The city has secured nearly $10 million from a pair of grants to build five new housing projects. While $2 million of that is for "non-congregate shelter." Non-congregate shelter is how government says "people get their own place."

Both of these are good but $7.8 million for new housing units will build 52 homes if each costs $150,000. However, if say you can pay three months of rent at $1,200 a month, you can house 556 people and help them get a head start on a new life with $2 million. The trick is finding room at the inn.

That's where the Tucson Commission on Equitable Housing and Development comes in with recommendations to further address the issue. Each and everyone of them is worthy.

The commission wants the council to re-establish the  City's Housing Trust Fund, change zoning designations to allow for more affordable housing to be built, establish fast-track approval processes to get affordable projects built faster and perhaps bond to build more housing in the future.

And there are ways to do bonding to help pay off the debt. Local government does that stuff all the time for parking garages and water lines.

If the council is looking to streamline processes, it may want to check into how it's developing a single site for low-income housing at North 11th Avenue and West First Street. 

The project went for requests for qualifications a year ago. 

Over the summer, the housing commission agreed on a developer with the right experience and expertise to do the job. Wednesday, the council will vote on a pre-exclusive negotiating agreement with FSL properties. Then an exclusive negotiation agreement will be voted on in the future, which will include a neighborhood involvement process to develop a concept, concept plans and renderings. They will also have a better idea about the cost of construction and strategy to guarantee the long-term affordability.

All this time is money that the city or renters are going to buy. I'm gonna holler if the final cost is $20 million for 50 units.

Watery questions

Council members Kevin Dahl and Steve Kozachik are raising the question not a lot of Tucson's growth boosters want answered explicitly.

What the hell happens if the drought gets worse? What will the city have to do about it? Right now, Tucson is at tier 2 of its drought plan.

Dahl and Kozachik want the city to get more specific. Under the maximum drought, "tier 3" actions allow for the following: "If water consumption does not decrease as a result of earlier drought tier responses, mayor and council may consider water use restrictions for customers whose consumption continues to exceed their water use guidelines."

Don't know what that means? I don't either. Neither do Dahl or Koz. They want to know. It's worth discussing, but Tucson isn't at Defcon 1 yet.

The council will also get its quarterly PFAS update during the Wednesday study session.

Tucson Water is still monitoring contamination of Per- and Polyfluorinated Substances and has adjusted some standards to a lower threshold of exposure based on new federal guidelines.

There's a whole bunch of chemistry involved. Check it out if you would like but there are a whole bunch of compounds with abbreviations at parts per trillion.

The Pima Community College Governing Board will hold a study session to discuss how to move toward providing four-year bachelor's degrees.

A state law passed in 2021 declares community college districts in counties with a population greater than 750,000 shall provide four-year programs.

The law limits the total number of bachelor's degrees to 5 percent of the certifications the community college confers for the first four years and limits to 10 percent, thereafter.

Also, the degree programs offered must meet a demonstrated demand in the community and must receive accreditation by a regional board affiliated with the U.S. Department of Education. It's the Legislature saying "please, no 'woke'." In Legspeak, there are only two non-woke degree programs: Electrical engineering and telling students to "take a lap."

The board is so really early in this process staff is still asking the board to discuss a roadmap. 

Speaking accreditation, the board has been in dutch with the Higher Learning Commission for a decade now and is trying to prove the community college is still ready for prime time.

One of the things HLC is up and arms about is that the board interferes too much with staff.

So the board members will have a questionnaire asking if they are properly staying out of the college's bureaucratic machinations. 

I have a problem with some of them. One query asks board members to agree or disagree with the statement: "I believe the Board operates as a unit and honors the Board decisions once they are made." 

The board is elected. It's not supposed to "act as a unit." Disagreement and maybe acrimony should be a part of the program.  Given the board's acrimony, this survey could go sideways in a hurry.

Another asks if board members are limiting themselves to broad recommendations and letting chancellor to handle the how's and whatfors.

No, again, the board is elected. There's nothing wrong its members getting specific.

Zoning review

The Marana Town Council will take up a 165-acre rezoning as part of the 660-acre Stonegate masterplanned community east of Interstate 10, about a mile north of West Tangerine Road.

The property is currently zoned for agricultural and transportation corridor uses. If approved, the newest part of the rezoning would allow 777 homes on the property.

If this is all ag land, it's the opposite of environmentally sensitive and not likely to draw much public outcry. 

The developers have a good head start, as the rezoning matches the land use plan, which envisioned higher density development than is currently allowed.

The council will also vote on an update to its zoning law requiring a public input process. State law requires such a thing but the town's code doesn't currently provide for one.

The new ordinance will require notification of adjacent property owners and a public meeting to discuss public concerns.

Santa Cruz County supervisors will vote Tuesday to join a $20 billion settlement with major drug stores and pharmaceutical companies about the over-prescription of opioids.

The amount the county will receive still remains up in the air but for the settlement to take effect, enough state and local governments have to sign on to its provisions. 

The defendants include Walmart, CVS and Walgreens, in addition to drug manufacturers who pushed these painkillers.

Whatever money the county ends up getting will be used to address the costs incurred by the opioid epidemic.

Student honorees

Two boutique ("small" can come off as pejorative) local government boards have, like, nothing on their agendas. No new business, awards or contracts, no old business and not even a discussion of legislative priorities.

However, they do give shout out to students.

Sahuarita Unified School District Governing Board members will take time to applaud Leaders in Character. They've given me nothing else to write about so congratulations Axel Sarabia, Makayla Hogge, Payton Chastagner, Joseph Robles Suazo, Braydon Wood, Anaya Barry, Brooklyn Mortensen, Kiana Gardner and Kylaah Beltran. You are nobility among n-er do wells. 

Tanque Verde Unified School District Governing Board members will do the same but with a lot more kids.

I will take my point of personal privilege and mention the writers. Ryan Phoebe, Emery Rhoades, Noemi Celani, Nia Meredith and Gracie Kendle all won $100 and will be recognized next month at the Tucson Festival of Books.

Further point of personal privilege: $100? I didn't win that for my Arizona Press Club award.

This is not a shameless plea for donations... unless it works.

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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