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The Tucson agenda

Fun with meetings: Tucson City Council takes up 'casitas,' Pima Supes select lawmakers & more

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

There are some interesting things percolating in those soporific local government meetings that are usually only watched by weary reporters and over-eager gadflies. So, I'm going to brief you about four meetings of our various elected officials as they discuss the important — and the weird that could become important.

The Pima County Board of Supervisors will be holding a virtual meeting at 9 a.m. Tuesday and will play the role of the electorate in choosing two new Arizona lawmakers to fill a pair of openings. The meeting will — as always — be streamed live.

The Tucson City Council will be meeting at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday and can be watched live online. They have what I call a "Casita" ordinance (city staff insists on calling them Accessory Dwelling Units) on the agenda for the public meeting.

The Amphitheater Public Schools Governing Board will hold a live, in-person meeting that begins at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at the district’s Leadership and Professional Development Center, 701 W. Wetmore Rd. The board has a light workload but there’s an issue that makes me want to rant.

And a little tidbit from the Marana Town Council, which will hold an in-person meeting 6 p.m. Tuesday at 11555 W. Civic Center Dr., which can be watched online, where they will discuss a small exception to involving an issue that could become the coronavirus of the later part of the decade.

By and large, these are the sort of light agendas that often happen during the holidays.

This advance look is not exhaustive but it's a few of the things this week that make me go "Oh," "Huh, check that out" and "Are you absolutely kidding me?"

To grow inward

The Tucson City Council is taking another look at an ordinance that allows casita-style guest houses to be built on residential properties. This is a measure that got approved in October, but is coming back for reconsideration after a vote last month. So there's a public hearing set for Tuesday.

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I like this idea but I’m wondering how the hearing will go. So far, the city staff and community volunteers working on the idea have found ADUs to be popular.

In my experience, new rules can get to shot to hell when they enter the public hearing phase, especially a second time around. Opponents tend to show up in bigger numbers than people who think the idea is just swell.

Today, homeowners can build a separate spare bedroom without kitchen on land zoned R-1, R-2 and R-3. That’s just about every home in Tucson. The new rule would allow homeowners to build what is essentially a guest house with a full kitchen on their property. The unit's size could be no more than 1,000 square feet. And each would have to be built on permanent slabs.

The point is to build in and up, rather than accommodating growth by sprawling outward. That’s how we handle a bigger population without plowing up the desert.

This proposal (officially and boringly referred to as the Accessory Dwelling Unit ordinance) has found some resistance among neighbors in and around the university fearing a return to mini-dorms.

Councilman Steve Kozachik has problems with parking, traffic and occupancy levels. These are legit sticking points. Kozachik doesn’t usually bitch just to gripe out loud. (Usually.)

The new rule could create a bunch of new rental units and state law forbids the city from limiting the ordinance to owner-occupied homes. So it could have some effect on the nature of neighborhoods.

The truth is, that where this has been tried, it hasn’t been instantly embraced. So it’s not like every neighborhood would slam-bang turn into something new.

Before they get to that, the Council will see a new member sworn into office on Monday, with newly elected Kevin Dahl being inaugurated along with the reelected Democrats Richard Fimbres and Kozachik.

Two board elections

The Pima County Board of Supervisors will fill two legislative vacancies left by Democrats who resigned their positions to run for Congress in hopes of succeeding U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick.

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Former LD 10 Representative Kirsten Engel is still in that congressional race but District 10 former Rep. Randall Friese dropped out of the federal primary contest. Their old jobs in the state Legislature are now available.

The supervisors have to replace both Democrats with Democrats because that's the law, but they don’t get to just pick a name from a list of applicants. The Arizona Democratic Party held an internal primary of sorts to hand the supervisors three finalists for each post.

I tend to view candidates for office with a forgiving eye. Anyone who wants to be in charge has at least minor psychological issues. They are going to learn so much after they take their oath, that I kind of see it a military-style service. Others in media have a very low threshold for 4F. To me, the candidates are all 1A. They seem fit to serve.

The LD 9 choices offer an interesting mix of street-level political grit, party-level political know how and then there’s Chris Mathis.

Mathis worked in the U.S. House of Representatives, the Illinois State Legislature, as health care adviser to former U.S. Sen. Chuck Hagel and on the staff of the powerful Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. He’s got two master’s degrees from … what’s that dime-a-dozen, diploma mill? Oh. Harvard University. If that wasn’t enough, he also worked in the British Parliament.

Are you seriously kidding me? Mathis wants to be a part of this Legislature? This one. The one in Phoenix. Really?

Anakarina Rodriguez has worked as a political organizer and in the office of Mayor Regina Romero. She’s got the grass-roots, ground-up experience working on immigrant rights and Latinx political empowerment. She might annoy her potential colleagues with social justice mischief, but I say good for her.

Nathan Davis is a teacher and businessman who worked in former U.S. Rep. Ron Barber’s office, who was elected first vice chair of the Pima County Democratic Party. He brings operational chops and party organizational chops to the decision.

Meanwhile, over in LD 10, three distinct choices are up for consideration: An old hand, a young mover and a veteran musician.

Tom Chabin already served in the Arizona Legislature and on the Coconino County Board of Supervisors, representing tribal communities. I knew him in Flagstaff. Good guy. He's a more than qualified public servant.

It's not that I want to punch Morgan Abraham in the mouth. It's that he's too young, too good-looking and too successful for me to see my 20s as anything other than a failure. He’s a serious up-and-comer, who served as president of the Associated Students of the University of Arizona and is a commissioner on the city's Metropolitan Housing Commission. Abraham is also a real estate investor. He seems to actually be the sort of guy that Rodney Glassman likes to dream he is. He’s also been in U.S. Army Intelligence. 

A third finalist is named Mitzi Cowell. I'm assuming this is the local musician but the LD 10 candidates didn't provide personal statements and the Pima Dems have been slow off the mark in giving me some confirmation. How many Mitzi Cowells are there in Tucson?

We could use a diversity of experience at the state Capitol, and a right-brained musician would provide that, in case lawyers and business owners are in short supply in legislative chambers.

The supes are also set to fill a sort-of vacant seat, with Chair Sharon Bronson proposing the appointment of Jan Lesher, now the chief deputy county administrator, as the acting county administrator, while decades-long honcho Chuck Huckelberry is still recovering from having a vehicle crash into him while he was riding his bike. The move is a pretty strong signal that Chuck won't be filling up his Dictaphone with 137-page memos any time soon.

In addition to a new title for her, there's a little thing buried in the agenda where Lesher's seeking the board's OK to fire a few hundred county workers who have refused to get their COVID-19 vaccine shots — with the largest group being the guards at the county jail.

Provoking a rant

Meanwhile, the Amphitheater Public Schools board has something going on that is no big deal, but still has me thinking.

The board is going to vote on a series of policy updates that includes “parental involvement,” reasserting that parents are full partners in the education of their children.

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All the board is really doing is affirming existing policies and a new state law that requires all textbooks to be available for parents to review prior to the school year.

The issue has been in the news lately and I just want to make a point that is often forgotten when we discuss public education.

Parent involvement shouldn’t just be welcomed but it should be sought. Kids tend to succeed when parents put an emphasis on the importance of their success. It’s a job of a parent, like feeding and clothing and providing shelter.

Parents are legal guardians of their child which affords them primacy in sculpting the child’s future.

But parents can also abuse their kids.

Arizona courts have ruled that education is a “fundamental right” in this state. It’s a right that belongs to the kid and not the parent. This isn’t day care. And nowhere in any constitution are parents conferred the right to make damned sure their kids never learn more than they did.

Parents aren’t qualified to decide which chemistry book should be taught in a kid's class. Sometimes their kids are even going to learn something that offends their political sensibilities.

I’m talking to you, liberals who want market economics taught as if they are a Euro-centric patriarchal attack on social virtues.  Markets are simply a function of cause and effect. And yes, atheists, your kids might have to learn about religions to be culturally competent.

And I’m talking to you on the Right, schools should not teach “Happy Slave Theory” to prove that you are not racist or haven’t benefited from white privilege. Parents might prefer or insist on abstinence as the only form of birth control but the kid has a right to learn about other forms (though not in Arizona, where kids must have written permission).

And if you disagree with me, I find you guilty of heresy in the name of Blakeism and sentence you to one term on the school district governing board nearest you. That’ll learn ya.

Little issue, big future

Which brings us to water. The Marana Town Council will consider providing a waiver to their “water wheeling,” policy to a specific development at the corner of West Twin Peaks and West Tangerine roads (yes, both wests intersect out yonder someplace). Does’t sound like a big deal and it’s just for residents on a small section of land.

No big, Right? Well, this is water so it’s always a whole ‘nother thing. Water seems to always have a “how-do-two-west-roads-intersect?” quality to it. You gotta check the map and make 20 phone calls.

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Water in Arizona has a convoluted history and a language all it's own. So let's keep this so simple even I can understand it.

The Central Arizona Project has a policy that meant to prohibit the CAP’s water distribution system from being used for distributing non-CAP water. The policy is meant to protect groundwater.

The city of Tucson and the town of Marana have entered into an agreement to let Tucson Water provide the town with CAP water. As part of that deal, developments within Marana town limits must be hooked up to Marana Water. Any waiver must be approved by both Tucson Water and Marana Water.

There's one developer who was in negotiations for such a waiver while that inter-municipal deal was being hammered out. Marana town staff is giving a nod to the deal, assuming the project can win support from Tucson Water.

Why am I confusing you with this stuff about a small project out in at an improbable intersection in Marana?

Lake Mead is evaporating so much it’s about to be Mead Pond. Tucson and Arizona have been left to live blissfully unaware of what this might mean for our area’s future.

Little projects in the middle of nowhere seeking exemptions from water policy are going to be a big deal, should we face water rationing. As we as a society have proven ourselves wanting when it comes to deciphering complex issues, I’m sure we’ll figure out how to blame the water woes on immigrants in about 4.2 seconds.

I’m just whetting your appetite for the hell that might be right around the corner.

Enjoy your democracy!

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. Now he’s telling you things that the Devil won’t.


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Local governments are set to tackle casitas, text books; and water-wheeling this week.

The Tucson agenda

Tucson City Council

Pima County Board of Supervisors

Marana Town Council

Amphitheater Public Schools Governing Board

Marana Unified School District Governing Board

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