Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Guest View-Don Cox: Council Inaction on Growth-“Lean Years Are Coming”

A friend forwarded a copy of a recent post on this blog. After reading it, I felt compelled to submit some thoughts of my own about the post and the Town of Oro Valley in general.

That post was penned by Mike Zinkin. If you have been around the Oro Valley for 20+ years, you probably know that Mike and I have had a few differences over the years. What may surprise you is that in the past couple of years, we have discovered that we agree on many issues. In fact, he and I have been featured jointly on the Jim Horn’s Oro Valley Podcast” in recent weeks. So at this time, I want to ‘dovetail’ on some of his commentary.

In the past 5 years, the governance of Oro Valley has taken a well oiled financial machine, the envy of the vast majority of the municipalities in the United States and placed it on the road to financial failure. Unfortunately we have now moved into the fast lane of that road.

The current Town Manager’s proposed FY 2023/2024 budget is nothing more than documenting the stated desires of the Town Council in writing, and then assigning a cost to it. It does not address the needs of the town. Rather, it reflects the personal desires of the town council members. A “splash pad” did not come from the residents. it came from Vice Mayor Melanie Barrett. A “Pump Track” did not come from the Town residents. It came from, Councilman Josh Nicholson. 

About 3 or 4 months ago you were given a clear ‘red flag message’ when the Director of Public Works, Paul Kessler, announced at a Town Meeting that the estimated cost of the ‘projects’ on the Town Council wish list, which was to be paid for by that $50 million non-resident approved bond, was closer to $100 million. How does Winfield and crew, make a $50 million error on a $50 million bond? The answer to that question is simple. It’s fiscal irresponsibility!!

I have spent a great deal of time examining the Oro Valley proposed FY 2023/2024 revenue budget. It’s available on the Town website for all to see.

Here are some direct quotes from the Revenue Summary: 

“Local sales tax is expected to show gains over the FY 22/23budget, but a slight decline when compared to with the FY 22/23 actual revenue.”
Translation: Our sales tax revenue is going down

“This is largely attributable to construction sales tax, as permitting activity has slowed from the highs we saw during the COVID -19 pandemic.”
Translation: We are building fewer homes. Where have you heard that before? Yours truly!!! 

“The Town is projecting 119 single family residential (SFR) permits for FY 23/24 compared to the 171 SFR permits budgeted for FY 22/23. Commercial development revenues are expected to decrease based on projected building activity.”
Translation: “Commercial follows residential.” We have no residential growth therefore we have no commercial growth.  

Now my friends, is the 1600 hundred pound elephant in the room
The current Town Council majority has not approved a single residential development in Oro Valley (with the exception of a 64 +/- project that was already approved by Pima County before it was annexed)! No new commercial development has been approved in the same period. The exception to the latter statement is the Marketplace re-development which they gutted for no logical reason. The 2018 campaign promise of a “Moratorium on Growth”, which was later denied by Melanie Barrett, has become a reality.

From the time of Council approval, it takes an average of 3 years for projects to start generating construction sales tax. Construction sales tax is currently running about $6,000,000 a year. Translation: This Town Council majority has created an eight year void in the Construction Sales Tax pipeline. That’s $6 million a year that is going away for a minimum of 8 years. And that money is not replaceable.

Prepare yourselves for some very lean years in our immediate future if we don’t come up with a way to generate more income for the Town.
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Don Cox moved to Oro Valley in 1997.  He has served on various town committees including an extended stint as a chair and vice chair of the Planning and Zoning Commission.  He is a member of the Oro Valley Optimist Club and the Arizona Youth Partnership.

Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Still No Short Term “Fix” Announced For Pedestrian Safety At Naranja Park Entrance

Long term solution in sight… but no short term fix
Tomorrow night, the Oro Valley Town Council will approve an agreement that should be a long term fix to the problem of pedestrian safety at the entrance to Naranja Park. The plan is for that solution will be in place by the fall of 2025. In the meantime, despite the concerns of many, the town has announced nothing to improve pedestrian safety from now until then.

ADOT will build the path
The long term fix is an agreement with the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) to build a ten foot wide multi-use path (MUP) on the Northside of Naranja Drive. The two mile path path will run from LaCanada to First Avenue. Pedestrians using the path on that side of the road will be relatively safe. Hopefully, there will be some sidewalks and pedestrian controlled traffic lights so those  on the south side can safely cross to the MUP and the park walk-in entrance.

No cost to town
"The total project cost is estimated at $3,656,434 and is funded by federal Regional Transportation Alternatives Grants (RTAG) in the amount of $3,448,017 or 94.3% of the total project cost. The required local match will be funded by the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) funds in the amount of $208,417 or 5.7% of the total project cost." (Source: Staff Request to Council, 6-7-23) The council approved a resolution last November to receive the RTA funds. It is because of a federal funding requirements that ADOT will build the MUP.

Project has started but completion is a long way off
“ADOT advertised for a design consultant on May 8, 2023, and anticipates making a selection by May 29, 2023. The next steps will include a Project Assessment or Design Concept Report, clearances for environmental, right-of-way and utilities, and 30%, 60%, 95%, and 100% design submittals (as applicable). The schedule estimates that construction will be advertised in mid-August 2024 and start in November 2024. Construction is tentative to be complete in the summer to early fall of 2025.” (Source: Staff Request to Council, 6-7-23)

No fix in the works to improve pedestrian safety has been announced… one is in the works
The town has not announced any plan to improve pedestrian safety in the area.  However, we have learned that there is plan afoot to do something. We will inform you of this as we learn more.
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Thursday, June 1, 2023

Bits and Pieces

New segment of The Loop adds safety, recreation connection in Oro Valley
"Oro Valley has a new half-mile multiuse path segment of The Chuck Huckelberry Loop that provides a quick and safe connection to the regional trail system. In partnership with the Pima County Regional Flood Control District, the new segment, which is north of the Oro Valley Hospital, extends the pathway further north and connects to Rancho Vistoso Boulevard. Previously, users had to cycle or walk along Rancho Vistoso Boulevard and through Big Wash, traveling over dirt sections, to directly connect to The Loop. The new segment is now paved and striped, separating users from the road." (Source: Town of Oro Valley Media Release)

Planning and Zoning Commission considers general plan amendment next week
The Oro Valley Planning and Zoning Commission will consider a general plan amendment and two zoning changes for a parcel in Rancho Vistoso. The hearing is scheduled next Tuesday at 6pm in town council chambers.  The parcel is located south of Moore Loop Road. It is on the west bank of Big Wash. The land is designated in the 2016 General Plan for a school. However, the Amphi School District has concluded that one is not necessary. The land is now under the control of Vistoso Partners. The request is to rezone the land for medium density residential, the land designation prior to it being designated for a school. The plan is to build 59 homes on the property. Read more about this request here and here. This is yet another Paul Oland project.

Jacobs received compensation for 2022-23
Interim Town Manager Chris Cornelison, responding to a question at the 2023 Town Manager Recommended Budget session in May, noted that former town manger Mary Jacobs has been receiving compensation from the town for the full year.  Jacobs left her post at the end of September.

New town manager Jeff Wilkins is expect to start mid month.

Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Guest View-Tony D'Angelo: Golf Should Be Treated Like Any Other Town Parks Amenity

I think we can agree that it is very difficult to understand the numbers the town posts for a number of things it operates
When it comes to golf, I also agree that when the town first acquired the El Conquistador operations, the amount it cost to operate golf was out of line with what it was contributing to the town. The good news is that Indigo Golf is doing a much better job today.

The challenge now is to decide how to look at municipal golf in comparison to other town provided recreational amenities
I believe we need to separate capital requirements from day to day operations. Municipal golf should not be judged by profit or loss, it is a town amenity similar to our various parks, the community center and the nature preserve. The measurement should be more linked to user fees as a percent of operating expenses. Attached is my best attempt to look at operations of the three entities that report numbers - the town managed community center operations (now including Vistoso Trails), contract managed operations (golf and the Overlook), and Parks and Recreation (aquatics, ball fields, concessions). Fees from golf is now consistently contributing a high percentage to the costs of operations. Fees from the others are now decreasing in their contributions to offsetting costs. This is not necessarily a bad thing if this is what the public wants from the town for the taxes paid.

With regards to capital investments, these will always be required for town amenities
The question is whether the investments assure town amenities can reasonably meet resident expectations over their life expectancy. With regard to the irrigation system upgrades, it is hoped that they will last at least 30 years. The ones they are replacing were over 40 years old. If the new systems last 30 years and golf on the 36 holes continues to average 80,000 rounds a year, the $9,000,000 investment will be allocated at an average of $3.75 per golfer who plays. Again, by comparison, the new playground at JDK Park cost $416,000. This was replacing a 20 year old playground. There is no user fees for maintenance and that’s okay. If we use the same $3.75 per user, we would need to average 15 kids playing each day for the next 20 years. That may be high or low but my point is we should look at all town amenities in a similar light and not single golf out as a profit center or expect a financial ROI.

This season on Pusch Ridge Golf we increased play by 8% over last year. A large number of this growth came from families - kids were free after 2:00 PM with adults. Green fees therefore did not grow as much as rounds did and again, that is okay if it is serving a broader community need.

No one wants to see golf lose money at the expense of other town needs. I think golf is a valuable amenity that contributes to what Oro Valley is as a town. It looks like it is on the right track by breaking even or at least coming close.

Tony D'Angelo
Friends of Pusch Ridge Golf
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Ed note: The primary reason that the community center and municipal golf are separated from other town parks and recreational activities is because both are funded by a designated portion of the sales tax. It is, therefor, a separate fund. It is accounted for as such. Also, a portion of these designated sales tax revenues are pledged for repayment of the $25 million parks bond that the town issued in 2021.
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Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Town Council Will Soon Consider a Multi-Million Dollar Agreement with Town West on the Oro Valley Village Center

Oro Valley to invest millions and counting in the Oro Valley Village Center
In the near future, the Oro Valley Town Council will meet to discuss and then likely approve an economic development agreement (EDA) with Town West, the company that wants to reimagine the Oro Valley Marketplace.  The agreement will cost the town tens of millions of dollars. It's a bet on the part of the town that the Oro Valley Village Center will be successful. The cost and details of the town's investment are not known. They will discuss it in an Executive Session. Residents will only know about it once it is a done deal.  We do know that the town has been working on this agreement since at least January of 2022  (as reported in LOVE) and that the cost will be at least $10million, but likely more.

The town's investment will occur before the Oro Valley Village Center is built
We believe that the town will be building the infrastructure to make the center's entertainment center a reality. Oro Valley will get a park to maintain, and yet another splash pad, so that Town West can meet recreation requirements for the apartments and hotels that have been approved to build. The town will likely be making its investment before Town West builds anything.

There is a project similar to the Oro Valley Village Center that is being built nearby
Construction has begun on Uptown, a reimagined center on the site of the former Foothills Mall. The Uptown vision is impressive.  It's a 51-acre development located on the site of the Foothills Mall. It is  being built by the property owner, Bourn Companies. Uptown will have shops, restaurants, apartments, a hotel, an entertainment stage, an event lawn, a splash pad, video screens, and a public market. It is being marketed as a lifestyle experience. It is entirely privately funded. The County and its residents are at no risk.

Council is between a “rock and a hard place”
Unlike the County and the Uptown Project, the Town of Oro Valley is at risk regarding the Oro Valley Village Center project. Rather than letting free market forces play out, the Winfield-Barrett Council agreed in November with Town West that some level of town participation ("funding") is needed. Since then, town staff has been working on this EDA.  Also, since then, Uptown was announced and started.  The council is stuck. They agreed to fund something at some level; but they did so before Uptown was announced and started. The town will be putting money into a venture that may fail or that may never really happen. Uptown will be done long before anything significant happens at the old Marketplace. The council can not back away from an EDA. Or can they?

Will this EDA be like "The Outrageous Giveaway"… sinking money into a rathole?
The town went down this road some  years ago when it comes to that property. The town invested $15million in refunded sales tax dollars in the Oro Valley Marketplace. The town was promised much and got little. As we wrote on our fifth anniversary in 2012:

The "Outrageous Giveaway" is an agreement between the Town and a Developer where the town gave away half of Oro Valley's sales tax revenues to the Developer for 20 years in return for having an upscale shopping center.  The Developer, Vestar, had mailed thousands of glossy, expensive postcards (like Steve Solomon's expensive postcards) which purported benefits that turned out to be lies (like Steve Solomon's expensive postcards).   Voters, giddy with the prospect of a beautiful upscale center and a movie theatre, approved the agreement.  Instead of LaEncantada, however, the voters got the Foothills Mall!"

We fought against this EDA. We took it to court. We took it to the voters. We lost the vote. But, at least, the EDA was fully vetted with the residents.

Residents will have nothing to say about it this EDA...
Unlike then, residents won’t know to what the town commits via the EDA until the council has approved it. Residents will have no input. This is because the Winfield-Barrett Council will discuss this agreement behind closed doors. They are not required by the open meeting law to do so. They are merely allowed by the open meeting law to keep their discussion secret if the matter involves negotiations.

…unless the council holds a hearing to get public input… which they can do if they so wish
The council has the option of holding a discussion of the EDA in public; of seeking, via a hearing, the wise advice of the many who live in the community who have experience in this field. Then, the council can adjourn behind close doors to deliberate or not, as they wish.,
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Note: Though the voters on the Oro Valley Marketplace approved the sales tax dollar giveaway, such deals were later declared unconstitutional by the Arizona State Supreme Court. Under that ruling, however, existing EDAs that gave away sales tax revenues were allowed to continue. 

Thursday, May 25, 2023

Bits and Pieces

Henry Zipf, great-grandson of the Pusch Family has died
"The Oro Valley Historical Society Board members are saddened to announce the passing of our President Henry K. Zipf. Henry was the great-grandson of George and Mathilda (nee Feldman) Pusch, grandson of Gertrude (nee Pusch) and Henry W. Zipf, and son of Henry (Hank) G. and Ann (nee Lourie) Zipf. Henry is survived by sons Nolan and Stephen and his partner, Debra. 

The Pusch/Zipf family has long historical roots in both the Greater Tucson and Oro Valley areas. Henry was an active member and board member of the Society for many years. He dedicated much time and many resources to the organization. He had a great deal of local knowledge of Oro Valley’s early years. Henry was full of entertaining stories that included ranch life and his lifetime in the Tucson area. Henry could “spin a good yarn” and his chuckle was infectious!" (Source: Oro Valley Historical Society email)

Summer "Disc Golf" at Pusch View Course
Town of Oro Valley is offering disc golf on he Pusch Ridge Golf Course from June 6 through September 30. Tee times be begin at 7am and players will be able to play until 7pm.  There will be no conflict with regular golf as there will be time sufficient to overseed prep the course for its November 1 opening. The group Friends of Pusch Ridge Golf would like to see the course offered as a year-round traditional golf course. (Source: Friends of Pusch Ridge Golf Newsletter)

Crimefighter Newsletter focuses on Phone Scams
This month's issue of Crimefighter, a publication of the Oro Valley Police Department, focuses on phone scams. It details four scams. The article links to some fraud prevention tips. Both the newsletter and the tips are worth reading. One scam they did not list is the "pays us with a visa debit card" scam.  This is where the scammer wants to you to send the money through your purchase of a debit card. These cards are not traceable, thus they are ideal for scammers  By the way, there is no reputable organization that would request you to do so... so don't fall for this one.

Don't forget to take the town's housing survey by May 31
The town is conducting a housing survey.  You can complete the survey online. You can do this as many times you wish with as many different answers as you wish.  To date, there have be almost 1,000 responses. The town's Phoenix-Based consultant on this project, WestGroup Research, is using phone calls to conduct a statistically valid survey.  There have been 350 of these to date.  (We wonder how this works given that most people use cell phones as their primary contact and there are no cell phone directories. Also, many phone cell users do not answer calls from anyone they don't know.) There is also a survey of business owners on this matter. 75 have responded so far.

Some consider this to be a  biased  survey of housing needs. 

The result of the survey matters because they will be relied upon in the building of the 2026 General Plan. Also, developers and town staff will use the results to assess economic development requests.

Community Center "silver sneaker" members disadvantaged if they want to be premium members
There are two memberships to the community center: Regular and premium. Members use the senior sneaker program, a program that some health care insurance providers offer, can get a"paid for" regular membership. However, they are not allowed to be a premium member unless they pay the full fee. If they do so, they forego the "silver sneaker" benefit. The town is looking in to this.
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Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Guest View: Mike Zinkin – What Happened to the Founders’ Vision?

The Founders' Vision has been lost over the past 12 years
The reason the people incorporated Oro Valley was because they did not want to be governed by Tucson or Pima County. They wanted to protect the views, avoid traffic and pollution problems, prevent congested development, and preserve the small town feel. However, this has all but become history.

Look at how much has changed regarding allowances for developers and business establishments
We now have a 7-story retirement community under construction, a plot of land (the Marketplace) that will soon have numerous hotels and apartments, we have pre-graded lots that will be “shovel ready,” and a Council majority that doesn’t appear to adequately study the issues and simply follows staff desires, thereby disregarding the people’s wishes.

I was on the Developmental Review Board when we refused to allow In and Out Burger to have their crossed palm trees (the Council supported our decision). We did not allow the Target store to have a red “Target” sign (their trademark target could be red, but the store name had to fit the color palette of the shopping center). The blue wedge in the Best Buy store was reduced in size. There were no flashing signs allowed in store windows. A lighted sign could say ”Open” but it could not flash. A-frame signs were not allowed.

Look at how much has changed within the town council
The Vice-Mayor position used to be a ceremonial role that rotated among the existing council members. Now the Vice-Mayor serves a 4 year term that does nothing in my opinion but fulfill the ego of the individual.

We used to have Council on Your Corner meetings which allowed for two-way communication between the public and the council, instead of the council hiding behind the dais and limiting public speaking time to 3 minutes with no interaction. I remember having these meetings during the budget process to gauge the desires of the people. It now seems that the Council does not put forth any effort on the budget. They simply give staff what they want.

The Council used to care and consider the results of valid surveys. They used to ask questions of staff during budget study sessions, rather than being lectured by staff about their wishes. The Aquatic Center was a result of this belief, not splash pads and BMX tracks, which have very little constituent support.

The current Council liaison to the Amphi School Dist. does not fulfill the responsibilities put forth in Town Policy 9. When I brought this to the attention of the Councilmember, the response was, “I have not nor plan to ignore my responsibilities as Amphi Liaison. Covid has redefined this responsibility and relationship. I am requesting that the policy reflect those changes. I continue to receive and review the monthly agenda for both the Executive and General Meeting and attend as needed.” However, there has been no change to the current policy.

The Vice-Mayor voted no on an allocation of funds to support the State mandated General Fund. She said she was a “protector of the People’s money” yet insisted on a Splash Pad at Naranja Park.

Town leaders don’t seem to care about the Town’s waste of water
The Mayor refuses to realize there is a water problem in Oro Valley, as well as the Nation. Not one penny in the FY 2023/24 recommended budget is allocated to reducing the Town’s wasteful use of potable water on it properties (such as James Kriegh and Riverfront parks and the Pusch Ridge golf course.)

Major agreements with developers are not disclosed to the public
Some of you may criticize me regarding the El Con golf courses purchase in 2014, however, remember that it was a 4-3 vote. Now we have mostly 7-0 votes. The re-elected majority usually votes as a block. They allowed the former Town Manager to spend money without Council authority, as well as enter into agreements without Council oversight. There is an Economic Development Agreement with Town West that has never been made public and there is a lack of transparency. Agreements made with the developer of the high-density development in the Vistoso Preserve were also never disclosed to the public.

We’re heading in the wrong direction
Oro Valley government used to care about views, traffic, the environment, and appropriate use of monies. Now we are no different than Tucson and Marana.

Mike Zinkin and his wife have lived in Oro Valley since 1998. He served on the Oro Valley Development Review Board from 2005-2009, the Board of Adjustment from 2011-2012, and the Town Council from 2012-2016. He was named a Fellow for the National League of Cities. He was a member of the NLC Steering Committee for Community and Economic Development and a member of the Arizona League of Cities Budget and Economic Development Committee. He was an Air Traffic Controller for 30 years. Mike has a Bachelor’s degree in history and government from the University of Arizona and a Master’s degree in Social and Philosophical Foundations of Education from California State University, Northridge.