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Commentary: Do not let bureaucratic machine swallow conservation plan

Illustration by Cody Angell
By Kendrick Wilson
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday Mar. 21, 2002

On March 7, the Morrison Institute for Public Policy, an Arizona State University think tank, terminated its contract with Pima County to perform an economic impact study for the proposed Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan. The institute complained that Pima County officials were not supplying them with information they had requested. Pima County officials countered that the institute's computer software was not sophisticated enough to handle the information without it being reformatted.

This is exactly the type of bureaucratic infighting that could destroy the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan. Pima County must find a way to have the economic impact study completed so the plan can be moved forward as soon as possible.

Let's take a step back from current holdups and look at some of the reasons behind the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan. Pima County would have been better called "Rezoning County" several Boards of supervisors ago. There was a time when former Supervisors Ed Moore, Mike Boyd and Paul Marsh made up a Republican majority in this county where nearly 60 percent of registered voters were Democrats. The "big three," as I preferred to call them, granted nearly every land rezoning that came before the board. People began to distrust the county government when it came to land-use issues. The foothills were marauded by new growth and urban infill was not encouraged.

But, times changed. The days of carte blanche power for developers eventually came to an end. Ed Moore was unseated in a bitterly fought, three-way race. He changed parties to run as an independent, while developer princess Vicki Cox Golder ran as the Republican. Miraculously, conservationist Democrat Sharon Bronson (now the chair of the board) won. Paul Marsh was ousted in the primary by Republican John Even, who would later die of cancer and be replaced by the more moderate Ray Carroll. With big changes in the board's makeup, Republican Mike Boyd claimed to have seen the light and would no longer vote with the developers. He actually made good on this promise some of the time. I still remember the shock I felt when I read in the paper that Mike Boyd had moved to deny a rezoning!

With the greener board came fewer rezonings, but if any lasting impression would be made, deeper changes were needed. Thus came the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan. Developers were skeptical from the beginning, to the surprise of almost no one. Environmentalists and neighborhood activists cheered, although they later raised concerns that it wouldn't be strong enough. At any rate, few could deny that we had come a long way when a comprehensive growth plan for Pima County would be developed with the help of unbiased scientists and economists. Developer profits would still be taken into account by growth-oriented Board members, but they would no longer be the only factors considered. Critical habitats for wildlife, impact on existing neighborhoods, scenic areas and economic impact would all be analyzed and taken into account.

Any comprehensive growth plan will not be without its faults. But, the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan will be a step in the right direction for our entire community. UA students may not all care about preserving land on the outskirts of Tucson, but accessible hiking trails, undeveloped scenic hills and less crowded roads will help everyone in Tucson.

This plan has not only survived former Supervisor Mike Boyd's succession by Republican Ann Day (who turned out to be an even bigger conservationist than he) but has survived Democrat Raul Grijalva's (one of the plan's biggest supporters) resignation from the board to pursue a seat in Congress. It has survived changes in political winds, underscoring my belief that the people of Pima County strongly support this plan and very few politicians would oppose it. Now, it must survive the bureaucratic machine, which has proven to be its biggest threat.

"What I want to do is keep (the plan) on track," said board Chairwoman Sharon Bronson. We need this type of commitment, and action cannot wait. The Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan must be put together carefully, but time to waste is a luxury that many species and land parcels simply don't have. Astonishingly, developers seem to have either given in to the plan, or they have been relatively unsuccessful in their efforts to defeat it.

The people of Pima County must not allow Pima County's bureaucracy to do what the developers couldn't. The time has come to move forward with our best chance to preserve the reasons people moved to Pima County in the first place.


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