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The Tucson agenda

Tucson mulls affordable housing & pot-license incentives, Sunnyside students go walkabout

The Tucson City Council will vote on an affordable housing subsidy to eliminate impact fees to keep new projects affordable to the typical household.

As a part of the waiver plan, to be considered during the council's regular meeting Tuesday, developers would get to zero out up to $150,000 in impact fees if they guarantee the project will include homes affordable for a family earning the median income. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development maintains salary statistics that will be used for this ordinance.

Each home in a project receiving the waiver would have to be guaranteed affordable for 20 years. If during that time, a homeowner sells their property for more than what the median-income-earning family can afford, the impact fee waiver must be paid back.

Housing affordability in the Tucson area is cratering under existing interest rates. As interest rates rise to cope with inflation, affordability will worsen.

The Tucson Association of Realtors tracks affordability. In 2012, the area median income was 2.5 times what was required to afford a median-priced, single-family in the Tucson market. In February, it was just 10 percent more than was needed.

The problem is housing stock. According to the city's own affordable housing plan,  2.5 percent of the homes available in the Tucson area were built during the 2010s. While 37 percent were built between 1970 and 1989.  Consequently, the number of homes on the market have fallen by 75 percent since 2015 to below 1,000 in February.

Any little bit of affordable housing stock helps, but the market is in desperate need of inventory in general.

Also, forbidding home owners from cashing in on rising home values means people who need help today will be hamstrung during the next 20 years from building wealth like their neighbors. If these folks are people of color, then an effort to help will be an equity issue in 2040.

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I strongly suggest adding some language in there to let people off the hook if the market stabilizes and affordability improves.

Water, COVID and Roads

The rest of the action is on the council's study session agenda. Study sessions are for getting caught up on issues facing the city but not for passing ordinances or taking official action.

Water harvesting is the process of keeping for reuse rainfall that drops on a property. Tucson's Commercial Rainwater Harvesting Ordinance demands that half of a new commercial development's water use be recycled.

It was a good idea on paper and remains a good idea in fact. A million people live in a desert, after all. Deserts are known for lacking sufficient water to sustain anything but the most durable life. Birds and lizards adapt. Mattress Firms and Safeways can do the same.

City Manager Mike Ortega reported in a memo to the council the city staffers didn't know what to do or how to enforce the ordinance, a problem compounded by developers not knowing what was expected or how to get it done. 

"Commercial rainwater harvesting is complex. It requires coordination between civil engineers, landscape architects, City staff, hydrologists and commercial business interests and property owners. It requires complex math, hydrologic knowledge and attention to detail. The technical nature of the program requires specialized review, inspection, and long-term maintenance and reporting."

Proposed changes are basically a list of ways to create better communication and coordination between city staff and developers' teams.

The city tried something and failed. Good. They tried something, failed and are still learning a bunch. 

We want city staff to learn and adapt to changing realities, rather than say "that's just the way we've always done them." I've been on a kick about this lately because when accountability becomes that which government staff must avoid, elected officials start confusing "action plans" with accomplishments.

They are not the same thing. 

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The council will also discuss the city's assigned personnel to the Regional Transportation Authority's technical team ahead of a push to renew the county-wide program after it expires in 2022.

Tucson membership in "RTA Next" (as they insist on calling it) remains a bit tenuous. The City Council has demanded proportional voting to expand Tucson's power on a board overseeing projects Tucsonans largely fund. That's proven a non-starter with RTA partners representing smaller jurisdictions and will likely run a-foul of the Arizona Legislature. 

On the other hand, Tucson staff getting an expanded role in developing program could alleviate a lot of the city's concerns.

Pot equity

The work session will include a discussion about the lack of social equity in "Social Equity Licenses" for marijuana distributorships established when voters approved Proposition 207 in 2020.

The citizens initiative required licenses for distribution be handed out in a way that helped the communities marijuana laws seemed to crack down on. It was up to the Ducey administration to figure out how to do that and, shocker, progressives don't like the plan the Department of Health Services has concocted to meet the requirement. 

Among the concerns are the $4,000 application fee and how 26 of these licenses will be granted   without regard to geography. They don't have to be spread around the state. 

So Mayor Regina Romero wants the city staff to figure out if they can help equalize opportunity through local rules.

Also the council is going to discuss, as always, mitigation measures to coronavirus.

It's probably time for the council to go back to in-person meetings, with some safety precautions.

Dealing with COVID is probably going to be like dealing with the weather. When it's nice out, no one needs a jacket. When it's cold and rainy, put one on. If there's a lull in cases, meet in person. When cases spike, hold them remotely. 

Can you spare a council member?

Meanwhile, down in Sahuarita, the Town Council will hold their own study session to discuss concerns about panhandling. 

I talked to Mayor Tom Murphy about this last week and he explained it as a chance to get a rundown as to what can and can't be done to address the growing concern among community members.

The council may have a desire to do something about it, but there are limits to what can be done. For instance, there are certain constitutional freedoms associated with public rights of way.

The council will also say farewell to Council member Gil Lusk, who is resigning because he is moving outside of the town limits to live in Green Valley. They will discuss how to come up with a replacement.

He's the second council member to resign in the last month, after Melissa Hicks quit in February.

That's just capital

The Marana Town council has what looks like an agenda for a fast Tuesday special meeting. The big specific item is an updating on their draft capital improvement plan.

A capital improvement plan is like what you need to do with your house over the next five years. You'll need a new refrigerator in the kitchen, you have an idea that you'll take out grass and add xeriscaping and you'll know a new car is coming. So how do you plan all that financially to make it work?

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The town staff isn't including specifics, but the plan will run from 2023 to 2027 and will almost certainly include things like road work, water, police cruisers, fire trucks, maybe some expansion at city hall, some work upgrading parks as well as water and sewer line expansion. If they include raises, scream bloody murder. That's not capital. That's operations.

The council is also set to approve three topics for an upcoming community forum and of those three topics another group of community members will select the one for the community to discuss.

The council is considering the following subjects: How to facilitate green construction; ideas for building stronger community partnerships; ways to better promote Marana Regional Airport; a youth jobs program for teens and improving outdoor recreation and tourism.

Gonna go out on a limb and say "green" anything other than camouflage isn't going very far in Marana. That seems more like eight-cylinder carnivore country to me.

Audits and Atlanta 

The Amphitheater Unified School District will get a rundown on its annual scores from the Auditor General's office.

By state law, the Auditor General combs over every district's finances to determine the percentage of money going into the classroom.

It's a deflection by the Legislature to steer attention from how Arizona spends bupkiss on schools overall. That way Legislative tightwads can whine and complain about how districts spend their dog leftovers, rather than give them an actual meal. 

Look at it this way: If a state ranks 49th in classroom spending and 41st in facilities — facilities' costs look bloated by comparison. They're not. 

That's not to say the audits can't be useful, if the reader keeps in mind that it was meant to be a way to change the subject. 

Amphi's audit shows absolutely nothing remarkable or even slightly newsworthy. That might be the news. The district is right in line with state and peer averages across applicable categories like administration, food serve, transportation, student support and instruction.

Amphi spends 68 percent of its budget in the classroom, largely because the average teacher earns $7,500 more than the state average.

While 10 percent of its budget going to administration seems high, that can be a lot of things like recruiting or maybe administrators are spending money on professional development or better computers.

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It's hard to tell with one year's worth of data.

Desert View High School kids are going places. By that I mean the Atlanta Marriott Marquis in the downtown Hotel District not far from Peachtree Center.

Six students from the the school's DECA club (a pack of teens learning business leadership)need the Sunnyside Unified School District to sign off on travel to Hotlanta for the International DECA competition in April. They'll be there with with 20,000 other high school students.

What could go wrong?

The country might be knee deep in an another COVID outbreak coming in from China and Europe but Americans have pretty much given up on trying to get their neighbors to take it seriously — might as well live a little.

Desert View students are all set to hit the open road. The Robotics club is seeking approval to go to Flagstaff. The baseball and softball teams want permission to go to Chase Field in Phoenix for the Chase Your Dreams awards ceremony. And a group of kids in a college readiness program called AVID-11 want a tour of Grand Canyon University.

Fly away little birdies, fly away!

The money comes from club and district funds plus the Joint Technical Education District (the county's vocational program). 

This mention goes out to any Tucson Unified School District student who ever had a teacher get on them about procrastinating.

The district governing board is going to vote on a contract for up to $1 million for on-line firewall protection. In fact, they have no choice. 

If the district wants to get "E-Rate" discount prices through the Federal Communications Commission, then they must have the application in Tuesday at 11:59 p.m. The meeting is at 4 p.m. that day.

As a lifelong procratinator, I just want to type: "Mwah, hah, hah ... Haaaahhhhh."

The service is necessary given the amount of online mischief caused by hackers in countries like, oh, I don't know, Russia? Anything happening that might make them feel like they need to do some ransoming?

The district is also going to maintain it's coronavirus policy of requiring masks for large gatherings and testing for unvaccinated personnel.

The county's threat level from the virus is still at "medium." So steady as she goes.

The school district will also present the board with a $20 million capital project request and $11.5 million of it will go to restrooms.

Who's gonna complain about that?

Information, not included

The Marana Unified School District will hold a special meeting, and vote on the appointments of principals to both Marana and Mountain View high schools.

Marana didn't include the names of frontrunners in the supporting material. Then again, they aren't including much supporting material at all. 

The meeting isn't until Thursday, so they've got time, and I'll try to find the principal candidate names before then. 

There's just not a lot to go on anywhere on the agenda. 

Under the heading study items. It includes only the following:

Information will be shared on the following items:

  • Bond Analysis Presentation by Stifel Capital 
  • Updates / Silverbell Property
  • CAPS (Centers for Advanced Professional Studies) Programs /Network

Golly, thanks. That makes total sense. I feel so informed.

Conversely, Pima County supervisors typically would include the power point for the bond analysis, charts and schematics relating to the capital updates of the Silverbell property and at least some indication as to what in the name of Miss Beatle (shout out, "Little House") Centers for Advanced Professional Studies programs might be.

Again, the meeting is not until Thursday and the district has until 4:59 p.m. Wednesday to get the full agenda posted to follow the letter of the law. The spirit of the law, though, is to let the public know what the school board is doing.

The winner requires a callback to TUSD. Apparently they have a new teacher salary contract ready for approval. But the best Superintendent Gabriel Trujillo will give us about the cost on the agenda is in the heading of the item that goes — "Fiscal Impact: Yes; Budgeted: No."

I'm really hoping this isn't skullduggery but simply a matter of the contract having just been completed and the district still sorting out the numbers.

Hey, the Vail and Tanque Verde unified school districts don't have their agenda up so parents and voters can responsibly take part in how the school district is run. 

This is how parents can get the idea that school district leaders really just want the community to go away and the board to rubber stamp what's put before them.

Not saying it's happening here. It's just I've caught that distinct scent wafting off school districts in the past.

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Christopher Carter/TucsonSentinel.com

Prop 207 legalized marijuana in Arizona and called for social equity in licensing sales. Mayor Regina Romero isn't happy with how equity is playing out.

The Tucson agenda

Public meetings this week:

Sahuarita Town Council

Tucson City Council

Marana Town Council

Tucson Unified School District Governing Board

Sunnyside Unified School District Governing Board

Amphitheater Unified School District Governing Board

Marana Unified School District Governing Board

Vail Unified School District

  • Tuesday, 7 p.m., (no agenda but check here)

Tanque Verde Unified School District Governing Board

  • Wednesday, 6 p.m., regular meeting (no agenda but check here)

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