When it comes to regional planning, the answer all too often seems to be that we cannot – or that we do not. Witness recent squabbles between Tucson and Pima County related to roadway capacity, design and annexation.
In its 2030 transit plan, the county had $73 million budgeted for the segment of River Road from Pontatoc to Sabino Canyon roads.
In its 2040 plan, that project had disappeared, despite the fact that no work had been done to alleviate the undeniable capacity issue that exists on that stretch of roadway. The stated reason for the removal was that other projects were of a higher priority. The suspected reason is that the decision could be used to leverage opposition to annexation of a part of the segment.
Finding himself unable to get permits from the county for a sizable development in one corner of the intersection of Craycroft and River roads, a developer turned to the city and offered to be annexed in exchange for construction permits.
So last month, the city council voted 6-1 to approve annexing the southeast corner of that intersection. Mind you, we did not annex any portion of River Road. We took the developable property and left the transit issue to the county to figure out.
The losers are the residents who live in the area, and who travel that stretch of road. They were not served well by the vote to annex, nor had they been served well by the failure of the county to have earlier addressed the issue of gridlock along that roadway.
Now a similar situation is playing itself out in the Kolb-Valencia roads area. The county is considering transit solutions to a capacity issue that are at odds with the proposed development of a retail and housing project there. The developer is considering annexation simply to avoid having to work with the county. The city will again have an opportunity to either pick up some taxable space and leave the transit issue to the county to figure out, or do the right thing and begin to work corroboratively across jurisdictions and sort out the issue prior to annexing.
These are just two examples of where Tucson and Pima County — and toss in the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) for good measure — find themselves at cross purposes, unable or unwilling to sort out differences that would reflect a good greater than their own parochial interests. This speaks to the inability of our jurisdictions to come together and work out issues that have regional implications.
The Craycroft-River vote was viewed by some as a victory for the city over the county. The criticism I received from some locals who are invested in the results of this year’s Board of Supervisor elections was quick and openly political. I had supported the county. How dare I?
That reaction speaks to the fact that far too often our decisions are motivated not by the desire to drop labels and work for broad solutions, but reflect a zero sum opportunity to win one. When that motivation carries the day, taxpayers lose.
In reaction to the Craycroft-River annexation, I have invited members from county and city governments, the RTA, the developer, surrounding residents, two supervisorial districts and one council ward to come and break bread together to work towards a solution that will hopefully serve as a model.
What will we be modeling if the meeting is a success? The ability to set aside differences that too often leave one jurisdiction or the other cleaning up a mess created by pure political maneuvering. We need to be better than that, or the community loses.
That meeting will be held beginning at 4 p.m. Thursday (Aug. 16) at the Tucson Ward 6 Council office, 3202 E. First St. The affected residents already plan to come out in force to show the electeds and staff they’re tired of the inability of pols and bureaucrats to find solutions. Join us if you’d like to. The words of Rodney King — Can’t we all just get along? —will be the basis for moving the dialogue forward.
Contact Tucson City Councilman Steve Kozachik, who represents mid-town Ward 6, at firstname.lastname@example.org or (520) 791-4601.