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El Rio for all, not 'for sale'

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Guest opinion

El Rio for all, not 'for sale'

Keep open space on West Side

  • ElRioLIB/Twitter

Dear Councilmember Regina Romero, Mayor Jonathan Rothschild and Council Members,

Regina, this message is mostly for you. However, I am copying the mayor and the rest of the Council members since I am requesting a response from them as well.

I apologize in advance for any errors as this letter was written in haste due to the fact that consideration of selling public land to Grand Canyon University was placed on the Mayor and Council agenda as an addendum to Tuesday's meeting. To be clear, this will take place on the first business day of the unofficial start of summer in Tucson. That alone is of great concern to me and to may residents who are interested in this issue.

To the point of my letter: I am strongly opposed to your proposal to sell or lease the El Rio Golf Course to the private Grand Canyon University (GCU).

As you know, my family and I are residents in the ward you represent (Ward 1) on the West Side of Tucson. And I also know you are very aware of the fact that West Side residents have just recently suffered a great loss, with two schools closing. In addition to that, Pima College is on the brink of losing its accreditation. Educational options for my family and neighbors have diminished greatly while opportunities for others from outside of our community will increase with your proposal.

Meanwhile, Joaquin Murrieta Park and El Rio Neighborhood Center continue to burst at the seams as they serve our youth and growing population on the West Side.

I was shocked to recently read in the Arizona Daily Star that you are leading the way in selling city open space (El Rio) to a private university. You are now aggressively pushing for this even though that was never the dream or vision for that space advocated for by the west side community over several decades. Therefore your vision and actions for El Rio are extremely disappointing to me.

In addition, for a while now, you and your staff have clearly used historic messaging that made residents believe that you were sincere in wanting to "complete the dream..." for El Rio. This dream did not involve a private university. You know this yet you and your staff continued using this kind of rhetoric to appeal to peoples' emotions. That is very disappointing to me especially since now it appears that you and the Mayor and Council are rushing to discuss this drastically different vision for our community during a hastily planed executive session tomorrow.

This is why oppose your vision:

The city has limited open space. Selling El Rio sets a bad precedent for the sale of other open space. How would residents of Reid Park feel about a portion of their park being sold to a private entity? If it is not acceptable to folks living there, why would you think it is ok for us on the West Side? We have many other empty lots around town where we can encourage development with better jobs. There are many areas that are better suited for GCU rather than our precious, limited, open green spaces.

We need high paying, good jobs! Many of the jobs GCU is expected to bring will not be the jobs our West Side kids and adult residents will have access to. We can do better. Our community deserves better. In fact, we should focus on serving our current business owners and entrepreneurs before helping outside interests.

The West Side should not be the "grand experiment". While I appreciate your past questioning of city subsidizing of golf courses as well as high water use, we expect solutions that do not harm residents. My understanding is that this will be the first attempt at addressing our challenge with city golf course property. We should get it right the first time. Your current proposal is lacking and should be further thought out. Experimentation on grand budget and water savings should not be conducted on the backs of your Ward 1 residents that have already endured school closures.

Joaquin Murrieta Park needs to be expanded, not polished! If you have been to this park recently, you know that it is highly used. I often attend with my family and/or drive by and have noticed that it is just filled with West Sdie residents. While we would appreciate improvements, we would rather have more space! No matter what you do to a small closet, it's still a small closet! We deserve more and do not appreciate being offered only a portion of the collective vision of El Rio. I love dogs, but a dog park built on an already crowed park instead of expanded onto El Rio is just insulting to me.

The economic and quality of life impact on long time families living in Barrio Hollywood, Jollyville and El Rio has not been considered. What will happen to viejitos that won't be able to afford the property taxes. How will longtime families deal with the inevitable student housing that will pop up next to them and around them? Was this thought out?

Our surrounding locally owned businesses should not be offered empty promises - they deserve real assistance now. I am sure that you will be making the argument that they will now have more customers with GCU. I am not so sure that is entirely accurate or a sustainable promise you can keep for local businesse. It has been the West Side customers who have supported these businesses during all these decades, so we need solutions that involve everyone.

Again, what our businesses want is support now. Long-time, locally owned businesses need the city to invest in them now. Our businesses need deals struck for them, not for the private, out-of-town GCU. Instead of providing deals for GCU, they should instead be offered to the local business that are here now.

We should not be doing business with an outside company with a difficult past. As recently as last year, GCU refused to pay for its impact on a community due to a proposed development even after having the land offered to them as a donation. If the city has lost hundred of thousands - if not millions - of taxpayer money on subsidies to golfing at El Rio, why would we enter into yet another arrangement that would again end up being a losing deal? If the problem is taxpayers losing money, how is it a solution to have them lose even more money?

The First Tee Program should be protected. Instead of reducing opportunities for youth, we should increase them. If you look at that stretch of Speedway, you will notice one thing most of that area has in common — family amenities. Along that corridor you will find the Arizona Schools for the Deaf and Blind, El Rio Neighborhood Center, First Tee, a grocery store and many local shops and Joaquin Murrieta Park. By adding a huge, private university campus, the contiguous nature of that corridor will be permanently altered. At least with golfing we can keep a sense of public, open space and local golfers can continue to have access. Has this been thought through?

Regina, we can do so much better. Speedway is an important corridor that leads to our beautiful Tucson Mountains, to our nationally recognized Arizona Sonora Desert Museum and Saguaro National Monument. Speedway leads to the essence of some of our most beautiful desert land. Why not be creative and make El Rio the gateway to this area? Why not create a park that caters to all these tourists and out-of-town cyclists? We could certainly plan for more sustainable development that includes park amenities for cyclists and grow small shops surrounding El Rio (that do not encroach onto park land) that cater to those folks. That is the kind of economic development that involves and benefits everyone.

Grande Avenue would be a perfect corridor to develop along with a beautiful park of this kind near by. Everyone would win this way — more jobs, appropriate traffic impact, more homegrown entrepreneurs supported, more branding for our Tucson Mountain gateway, healthier families exercising and enjoying time together, more opportunities for generations of families staying in their communities rather than being uprooted.

What Grand Canyon University offers does not come close to what we can come up with as a community. The funding solutions that surprisingly came up to pay for a pretty closet-sized version of Joaquin Murrieta Park should be used for the version of El Rio I just described — or something else we can come up with collectively.

In short, Regina, we want you to stick to El Rio for the people — not El Rio for some people.

I would a appreciate a response from you, the mayor and the rest of the City Council.

More by Miguel Ortega

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