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The Tucson agenda

Tucson City Council to get update on Oracle Choice progress; School districts mull incentives

A quick look at what's planned for local government meetings

There are plans and there are plans.

What the city of Tucson is doing with the Oracle Choice Neighborhood revitalization plan is definitely a plan of the italicized variety. The city has hired The Planning Center, which has done a lot of work through the years with private developers, to come up with tactics and strategies to get this old Miracle Mile neighborhood thriving again.

The Tucson City Council will get an update – during its Tuesday regular meeting — on a concerted municipal effort to spiff up the neighborhood. 

What to call this part of town can be confusing. 

It's historically known as the Oracle Neighborhood and now the term used, for reasons passing understanding, is "Choice Neighborhood." The plan refers to it as Oracle Choice Neighborhood. 

Whatever we call it, it basically runs north of Speedway, east of Interstate 10, west of Stone Avenue and south of West Miracle Mile.

The Planning Center, a well-established urban design firm in Tucson, has completed an impressively thorough "physical assessment" of the neighborhood. This phase of the effort was paid for by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The work is meant to identify what's there now and what's missing. The public was involved with the plan, too, after a series of neighborhood meetings and public surveys were done.

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The city is spending $1.6 million to figure out how to coax federal grants and more private investment to the area.

One grant alone that the city is eying could pull in $30 million in federal spending. There are also tax incentives like opportunity zones meant to attract private investment.

The Planning Center's work is augmented by a market analysis by BAE Urban Economics, which found that the neighborhood demand could create as many as 771 new homes, and add 600 jobs to the Tucson labor market.

Costs pile up fast. On the other hand, an architectural report pegs the cost of renovating the 17-story Tucson House at $67 million.

The word “blighted” is a bit strong but it’s a part of town that time has dealt a serious blow since its growth as a motor court haven after World War II. Prior to the construction of Interstate 10, State Route 77/North Oracle Road was the gateway to Tucson for travelers coming down from Phoenix and east from California.

In other business, the Council will discuss renewing City Attorney Mike Rankin’s contract.

There are any number of jokes I could fire off about when Rankin will agree to renew the City Council’s continued employment … because I’ve long joked that the Council kind of works for him.

In local government institution, there’s a gravekeeper who knows where everyone is buried. In the municipal corporation that is the City of Tucson, that guy is Mike Rankin. He can be persnickety and annoying but it's good to have a Rankin around.

During the afternoon study session, the Council will also discuss possibly raising impact fees to provide money for affordable housing.

Impact fees are typically charges on new development to help pay the cost of increased services the project could create for the city.

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An affordable housing fee would be different because new home and commercial construction, doesn’t necessarily lead to bigger needs in affordable housing. In fact, the argument can be made that new homes are exactly what is needed to address affordable housing.

Already, the city collects impact fees to pay the cost of expanded services for streets, parks, police protection and firefighting services.

Incentives and curricula

The Sunnyside Unified School District will vote on posting a new curriculum for students from 2022 to 2028. This in compliance with state law allowing parents to offer their insights and/or objection to the detail about what kids in the district learn to avoid unwanted indoctrination in the schools.

What subject matter is open for review? Physics. 

I seriously question whether the parents of any school district can provide useful insights into explanations of dark matter and the strengths and weaknesses of string theory. OK, maybe the Los Alamos, N.M., school district in 1944.

Parents who can intelligently critique the physics curriculum may want to consider applying to Sunnyside for a district position teaching science because the board will vote on an incentive package to hire and retain teachers.

New science and math teachers would be given a $5,000 signing bonus to be paid over three years.

Current employees would get a $3,000 signing bonus to re-up their contracts. 

The incentive program would cost $6.6 million. 

The board will also discuss hiring principals at Lauffer Middle School, Rivera Elementary School, STAR Academic High School, Santa Clara Elementary School and Sierra 2-8 School.

The Marana Unified School District Governing Board will vote on a second $500 incentive package for its employees. In December, the board said OK to a $500 stipend to keep people working for them.

The districts are having problems hiring and keeping qualified teachers and Arizona has for years had a teacher shortage. The coronavirus pandemic has made the problem more severe.

In other business, the district will vote on establishing a Marana High School Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandise Student Club.

I don't know why this made me smile, all happy, but it absolutely did. 

Maybe it's the seeming contrast between the Marana countryside and Project Runway. I know, that's stereotyping about Marana but I say do it. Then I want to see the Gregory School rodeo club (not the Rodeo -- Ro-DAY-oh -- club, that's completely different). 

Important business

Meanwhile the Tanque Verde Unified School District Governing Board will get an update on how teachers identify students having problems learning a particular subject matter and then help the student learn.

I'm of the crazy opinion that figuring out how kids can learn better should constitute about ... oh, 174 percent of school board time and effort.

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OK, it's not mathematically possible to focus on learning 174 percent of the time (if you don't know why, please stay mum on what's wrong with Sunnyside's physics program) but I found it shocking how little "educating" actually occupies the time of governing boards.

The Amphitheater Unified School District governing board will conduct mostly pro-forma business but — sticking with the theme of why kids have trouble learning — will get an update on dyslexia and services available for kids who have this condition.

According to the Yale University Center for Dyslexia and Creativity, one in five people in the U.S., are affected by dyslexia, which represents 80 percent to 90 percent of all learning disabilities.

There are proven methods to deal with dyslexia, so it's a  matter of identifying it and destigmatizing it.

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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The Tucson House, originally built in 1963 as luxury apartments, dominates the view of the Oracle Choice Neighborhood south of West Miracle Mile. Those historic blocks may be set for some urban renewal.

The Tucson agenda

Public meetings this week:

Amphitheater Unified School District Governing Board

Sunnyside Unified School District Governing Board

Tucson City Council

Tanque Verde Unified School District Governing Board

Marana Unified School District Governing Board


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