By Brett Berry
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday, October 11, 2004
One of the most important propositions facing us in next month's election hasn't received much attention lately, what with all the light-rail plans and immigrant discrimination issues to face. However, Proposition 100 is likely just as important as the other propositions, requiring just as much scrutiny.
Here in Arizona, we've got a lot of public land. State trust land across the state is leased to ranchers and auctioned off to developers to provide for some much needed education funding. This is fine; but as this land is sold off to developers, our open space and other important ecological areas can be quickly and adversely affected.
With Arizona's booming population, it would be wise to be enabling ourselves to manage the growth, keeping it at a reasonable pace while not sacrificing our precious open spaces - preserving some of Arizona's beautiful landscapes for future generations. This being the case, deciding what to do with 9.3 million acres of trust land across the state is extremely important in determining what our wonderful state will look like in the future.
Illustration by Arnie Bermudez
On the surface, Proposition 100 seems like a decent idea. It allows for state trust land to be exchanged for other public lands so long as it protects military bases from encroachment or preserves open space. That sounds like a good idea. After all, the ability to swap state lands to protect open space around important or sensitive areas is a great tool for conservation of our ever-dwindling open space. Additionally, the proposition specifically sets aside some land for conservation, protecting it from development. That sounds great.
But there's something fishy about Proposition 100 - maybe it's the fact that it's a "conservation" plan that is supported by all the developers of Arizona. When it comes to protecting lands from urban sprawl, I don't think we should take the advice of the greedy people who would love nothing more than to see tile roofs installed from here to Phoenix.
In actuality, Proposition 100 may not be such a good deal. In fact, it's essentially the same bill that has been rejected by voters five times in recent years, except this one has a mention of "protecting military bases." It does little (if anything) to manage growth. Jack Simon of the Arizona Wildlife Federation has said that it actually "promotes growth." Susan Culp, a research assistant at the Sonoran Institute, calls Proposition 100 "a developer's dream come true."
Why? Of the 9.3 million acres of state land in question, only 70,000 acres will be initially set aside for conservation. Theoretically, that amount could reach 279,000 acres protected, but that's it. There is a cap of how much land and open space could be conserved: only 3 percent of the 9.3 million acres would potentially be preserved; all other land would be open to possible development.
And 9 million acres means lots of houses - miles and miles of cookie-cutter houses with stupid development names like "Anthology" and "Desert Rose Ranch." By the way, why don't they name one of these new developments in a way that really captures the essence of the houses there? Something like: "Stucco Village: A manufactured community offering ant-like conformity for a reasonable price." I just think it'd be nice to know what you're really getting - but back to the proposition.
Though the conservation of land is limited, the idea of land exchanges in the proposition is a good one. The ability to swap public land is a good way to protect certain areas while still allowing for development to occur. But a closer look shows that there may still be problems.
Barbara Becker, director of the recently saved and highly regarded planning department, said, "The wording in this proposition does not guarantee that lands traded would necessarily be held for open space." That defeats the purpose of swapping land to protect it.
Another problem with the land exchange is that it swaps land parcels only of roughly equal appraised value. In many cases the appraised value of the public land being traded would be much lower than what the state could receive from auctioning the land off. That means less money for the education department. But of course if the land is preserved as open space, then no money goes to the kiddies either. It's kind of a no-win situation.
Ultimately, we need to do something about managing growth in Arizona. Continuing to allow out-of-control growth precipitated by greedy developers will hurt every citizen and every community within the state. Something needs to be done, but Proposition 100 is not the answer. We need a real land conservation effort in this state - not some misleading plan that actually helps developers.
Brett Berry is a regional development senior. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.