Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Guest View: Diane Peters ~ Planning Department enters the Circle of Deceit. Part 2.

You can read Part 1 HERE

Below is the speech that I gave before the P&Z Commissioners:

Point #1: There’s a document in the P&Z Packet that describes the surrounding neighborhood land uses. It describes the neighborhood EAST of the property as being “single-family residential 7000 and 10,000 sf lots.” This is false.

A map that I obtained from the Town shows that it was actually zoned for a minimum lot size of 10,000 square feet (not 7000 sf)…and more importantly, although that parcel was zoned for 10,000 sf minimum lot sizes, it was not developed that way.

The majority of homes in that neighborhood (Ironwood Canyon) are on lot sizes between 16,000 and 19,000 square feet. The smallest lot is just under 15,000 sf and the largest lot is 33,000 sf. There are a total of 65 homes and 22 of them are on lot sizes of over 20,000 sf.

The developer (WLB Group) is asking to build 167 homes on lot sizes of 7000 square feet and less with only 11 lots of 16,000 square feet, meaning that the average lot size will be way under 15,000 sf. This means that the entire buildable portion of the property will be mass-graded. (When the average lot size is less than 15,000 sf, the developer is allowed to mass grade the entire property). This not in harmony with the surrounding neighborhoods as the developments directly to the east and to the north were not mass-graded.

Point #2: The Staff Commentary (in the packet) states that this proposal conforms with the General Plan because it will provide housing for employees and students of the adjacent schools.

Those schools have been there for years and the employees and students haven’t needed housing in the immediate area in all that time. Why do they suddenly need it NOW? We already have 570 new homes planned at Capella…right next door.

What did the applicant present to the staff that supports the housing need for employees and students of adjacent schools? Where are these people and how many of them are there?

In 2014, the surrounding neighbors agreed to a rezoning request on that parcel to allow 118 semi-custom homes on lot sizes ranging from 1/3 acre to 1.5 acres. What significant change has taken place in the last 4 years to support this new proposal?

Point #3: The documents state that, “Staff recommends approval.” Well, they also recommended approval of the original plan that was presented for this property in 2014 --- 118 semi-custom homes on large lots with no mass grading and no connecting walls. So does this mean that the staff was wrong when they recommended approval of that project in 2014? And if they were wrong in 2014, why should we trust their judgment now?

I want names
A few days later, I contacted the Town and asked for the names of everyone involved in compiling the informational packet for the P&Z commissioners and the Power Point presentation and reviewing it for accuracy. I was provided the following names:

Bayer Vella (Planning Manager/Planning & Zoning Administrator)
Michael Spaeth (Principal Planner)
Rosevelt Arellano (Senior Planner)
Milini Simms (Planner)

Getting into the weeds
So that’s FOUR Town planners who worked on this who either didn’t know that the information they provided was false (incompetence) or they knew but their number one job is not to tell the truth, but rather to do the mayor’s bidding by pushing through new developments as quickly as possible. Either way, the citizens are not being properly represented.

Mayor Hiremath always says that he doesn’t “like to get into the weeds” but shouldn’t the staff be getting in there? The staff should be visually inspecting the neighborhoods adjacent to the subject property to ensure compatibility and not just assume that the developer’s submittal and Town documents are accurate.

Since P&Z and the Town Council base their votes on the information provided to them by staff, that information needs to be accurate and up-to-date.

The Vote
The initial vote was a 3-3 tie with one commissioner absent. 

Voting YES to approve the rezoning were Chairman Charlie Hurt and Commissioners Tom Drzazgowski and Don Cox.

Voting NO were Vice-Chair Melanie Barrett and Commissioners Thomas Gribb and Bob Swope. (Commissioner Gribb mentioned my speech as his reason for voting no.)

They reworded the motion and voted again.  The second vote was 5-1 to DENY the rezoning.  Commissioner Tom Drzazgowski was the lone YES vote.  It will still go before Council, but with the caveat that P&Z does NOT recommend approval.

Once again, town staff controlled the message and the message was false.

Below is the erroneous information that was included in the P&Z packet and in the Power Point presentation. It appears in Row 3 where it describes the zoning to the east of the subject property.

Below is the false statement made by Planner, Milini Simms, during the Town’s presentation in support of the Saguaro Viejos rezoning:

“The existing zoning is 20,000 square feet and the applicant is requesting to rezone the property to 7000 sf lots…..I do want to point out that at 7000 square foot lots, it is located to similar sized lots especially to the east and to the south.”

As you can see, if I hadn't spoken up, the P&Z Commissioners would have assumed the information in their packet was correct and they would likely have approved the rezoning. You have to wonder how many other times they have unknowingly voted to approve a rezoning based on false information.

Diane Peters has lived in Oro Valley since 2003, moving here to escape the humidity of the East Coast. She’s been involved in OV politics and development issues since 2006. In 2014, she organized a citizens group, Citizen Advocates of the Oro Valley General Plan, who over a 9-month period, successfully negotiated a controversial 200-acre development project. In her past life, she worked in medical research at various University Hospitals in New England. Her interests include reading, writing, nature photography, travel, art galleries, museums, and politics.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Guest View: Diane Peters ~ Planning Department enters the Circle of Deceit. Part 1.

Major Town decisions that affect us all, from how much we pay in sales taxes to the quality of development in our neighborhoods, are often being decided based on false information.

In two LOVE articles last week (Oro Valley Government lies to the citizens and Troon Enters the Circle of Deceit) you learned of the many falsehoods being disseminated by the Town of Oro Valley. Whether it’s deliberate lying on their part or just plain incompetence remains to be seen (but either way, it doesn’t serve us citizens well).

A presentation given by a town planner at last Tuesday’s Planning and Zoning meeting was the latest example.

The March 6th P&Z Meeting contained an agenda item for a rezoning of Saguaro Viejos, a single-family residential development on the west side of LaCholla between Glover Road and Lambert Lane. This 85 acre parcel is currently untouched pristine desert containing numerous saguaros and an abundance of mature desert vegetation that is home to a variety of wildlife. It’s one of the most picturesque desert landscapes left in Oro Valley.

History of the parcel
When I moved to Oro Valley in 2003, that parcel was zoned for rural residential, one home per 144,000 square feet (3.3 acres). In 2007, it was rezoned down to 20,000 square foot lots. The same developer (The WLB Group) who requested that 20,000 square foot rezoning, has now come back requesting another rezoning down to 7,000 square foot lots.

They poked the bear
Since 7,000 square foot lots are not compatible with the surrounding neighborhood, I was curious as to what justification the developer had given the Town for requesting this rezoning.

A few days prior to the meeting, I researched the P&Z packet on the Town website. These are the documents that P&Z Commissioners review prior to the meeting to familiarize themselves with the proposal. The packet was compiled by staff members in the Town Planning Department.

A glaring error
While reviewing the packet, I discovered a glaring error regarding adjacent lot sizes which prompted me to show up at the meeting and speak during the Public Hearing portion.

Prior to the Public Hearing, a Planning Department staff member (Milini Simms) gave a presentation on the proposal. The erroneous information that I found in the packet also appeared in her Power Point presentation and she verbally repeated the false information during her presentation. Between the packet, the slide presentation, and her speech, the P&Z Commissioners had now seen or heard the false information THREE TIMES…false information that they would then use in formulating their decision to approve or reject the application.

And now I was loaded for bear.

Part 2 will be published on Wednesday and includes the speech I gave before the P&Z Commissioners, the false information that was disseminated by the Town, and the results of the vote.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Candidate Handbooks now available for 2018 Oro Valley Town Council election

[From the Town website]

Any qualified Oro Valley resident interested in running for Mayor or Town Council in the fall of 2018 may now pick up a Candidate Handbook in the Town Clerk's Office at Town Hall, 11000 N. La CaƱada Drive.

Three Council seats and the Mayor’s seat will be filled in 2018, and newly-elected members will assume the duties of office at a regularly-scheduled Council meeting following the canvassing of votes cast at the General Election on November 6, 2018.

A candidate for Council must be a qualified elector at the time of election, be 18 years of age or older, and have resided in Oro Valley for at least one year preceding the election.

Filing the nomination papers and securing the required number of signatures on a nomination petition enables a resident to run as a candidate in the Primary Election, which will be held August 28, 2018. The number of signatures required is at least 345 and not more than 689.

Candidates may turn in nomination papers from 8 a.m. on April 30, 2018, to 5 p.m. on May 30, 2018.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Guest View: Mike Zinkin ~ Troon enters the Circle of Deceit

In yesterday’s article, “Oro Valley Government Lies to the Citizens” we offered numerous instances in which the Town Staff lied to the citizens in order to paint a rosy picture of what would happen if the Town purchased the El Conquistador Country Club with the intent to turn it into a Community Center for Oro Valley residents. Today’s article discusses how Troon also lied in order to seal the deal.

During the December 17, 2014 Town Council discussion on the El Conquistador purchase, it was a given that Troon would hold the management contract for golf, tennis, food and beverage. The purchase agreement with HSL Properties mandated that Troon must be the management company. Troon became part of the "pitch" that perpetuated the lies that Town Staff was giving the Council.

Here’s what Troon told the Council
Troon told the Council that their projections showed that in FY 2015/16, the Town would incur a $1,169,842 loss. In reality we lost $2,567,385. (Troon’s projection was off by $1,397,543).

Troon also stated that in FY 2016/17, we would lose $637,517. In reality, we lost $2,512,938. (Troon’s projection was off by $1,875,421).

Troon further stated that in In FY 2017/18, we were only going to lose $151,120. As of December 2017, we have already lost $1,257,785. (Troon’s projection is already off by $1,106,665).

Additionally, Troon stated that in FY 2018/19, the Town was going to MAKE $217,049. Keep in mind these numbers do not include the needed capital improvements we discussed yesterday because those improvements are the Town’s responsibility, not Troon's.

So far, Troon's projections have been off by over $4.3 million.

[Below is the slide showing Troon’s projections from 2015 through 2019. Click to enlarge.]

During the first year of Troon's contract with the Town, they admitted their error in the projections and offered to reimburse the Town for their last 3 months of management fees ($36,000) which the Town gladly accepted. This has not happened again. Troon continues to misrepresent the truth, and, more important, they continue to get praised by the Council. With this trail of untruths, how does Troon keep their job?

To sum up the last two postings:
• In order to please the Council majority, Staff lied to present a rosy picture of the HSL purchase.
• Staff did not even budget their own projections for capital outlay.
• Troon, in concert with Staff, made outrageous projections about golf revenues.

More lies on the horizon?
The current Town Manager, Mary Jacobs, has now inherited this mess. Her idea is to continue 36 holes of golf despite millions in losses and to incur a debt service to make up for all the previous lies. She has never considered discontinuing golf or at least reducing it to an 18-hole course in order to stop the bleeding. Remember, the Town Manager works for the Council majority and it’s in her best interest to tell them what they want to hear. So…will she also lie in order to keep her job?

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Mike Zinkin 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. He was a commissioned ensign in the United States Navy Reserve in 1969. He worked as an Air Traffic Controller for 30 years. He and his wife moved to Oro Valley after retiring in 1998. Mike 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. During his time on council, he was named as one of 23 Leadership Fellows for the National League of Cities University, he was a member of the National League of Cities Steering Committee for Community and Economic Development, and a member of the Arizona League of Cities Budget and Economic Development Committee.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Guest View: Mike Zinkin ~ Oro Valley Government lies to the citizens

Those who saw the movie, "The Post" learned that the "Pentagon Papers" were a classified government document that showed that every presidential administration from Eisenhower to Nixon lied to the American people about what was going on with the Vietnam War. Although not of the same scope, something very similar is happening in Oro Valley.

Town Staff Controls the Message
When one attends the Newly Elected Training Session (for new councilmembers) presented by the Arizona League of Cities and Towns, one learns (among other things) about the Open Meeting Laws, how to work with the media, and that Town staff controls the message.

Governing boards, whether they be City Councils, School Boards, Boards of Supervisors, etc., are made up of ordinary people. They are not Planners or Civil Engineers or Public Safety experts. They are laymen that are interested in their communities and have a desire to help establish policies. As a result, they depend on the information provided to them by their staff.

Staff works for the Town Manager, who works for the majority of Council. During my four years as an Oro Valley Town Council Member, I was told on many occasions by former Town Manager, Greg Caton, that, "I do not work for any individual Councilmember, I work for the Council majority."

Why is this the case? Because if the Town Manager does not please the Council majority, the Town Manager will lose his/her job. As a result, the message that the Town Manager gives to the 7-member Town Council is manipulated to please the 4-member Council majority. It’s in the Town Manager’s best interest to tell them what they want to hear.

This happens all the time, but on December 17, 2014, the night the Council voted to purchase the HSL property (the Community Center plus Golf and Tennis), the staff controlled the message to show that the purchase was desirable for the Town because that’s what the mayor and his Majority-4 cohorts wanted to hear.

The Message was a Lie
Now that we have almost three years of financial data as evidence, we can see that the message was a lie.

The message was that all expenditures, including the needed capital improvements, would be covered by the dedicated increased sales tax plus the revenues derived from the facility and that no money would be taken out of any other Town funds to supplement Community Center/Golf expenses (other than for the initial transfer of $1.2 million from the General Fund to the Community Center Fund which would be paid back at $120,000 per year for 10 years.)

The Power Point presentation provided to the Council shows that in the area of capital improvements for both the facility and golf, they would spend the following:

$810,000 in FY 2014/15      (including $50,000 for golf improvements)
$1,860,500 in FY 2015/16   (including $1,310,500 for golf improvements)
$1,772,500 in FY 2016/17   (including $1,282,500 for golf improvements)
$596,000 in FY 2017/18      (including $130,000 for golf improvements)

And between 2015-2018, they were going to spend:

$1,037,000 for "ADA and Code Compliance Life Safety Issues"
$522,000 in "Facility Restoration"

These two slides show what they were planning to spend on golf improvements, ADA compliance, and facility restoration in each fiscal year. [Click to enlarge]

With this information, the Council majority (Mayor Hiremath, Vice Mayor Waters, Councilmembers Hornat and Snider) voted to purchase the property. However, it now appears that the staff lied in order to please the Majority-4 Councilmembers.

The Budget was a Lie

In fact, after the purchase was made, staff only budgeted the following:

$1,115,000 in FY 2015/16    (NOT the $1,860,500 that was promised)
$527,200 in FY 2016/17       (NOT the $1,772,500 that was promised)
$94,250 in FY 2017/18         (NOT the $596,000 that was promised)

How much did they actually spend?

The real story lies in what they promised vs. what they budgeted vs. what they spent.

In FY 2014/15, they spent only $37,873 of the $810,000 they promised. I’ll give them a pass on this due to the 2015 referendum which delayed the purchase until May 2015; however, the promised capital improvements were not carried over to the next fiscal year.

In FY 2015/16 the total capital outlay was only $499,744 of the $1,860,500 they promised.

In FY 2016/17 the actual capital outlay was only $72,414 of the $1,772,500 they promised.

Half-way into FY 2017/18, the capital outlay is only $29,464 which is a far cry from the $596,000 they promised.

The promise that no money would be taken from any other Town funds was a Lie
Remember that all this money was going to come from the sales tax increase and revenues from the golf and community center. There was not going to be any more money taken from the General Fund (other than the $1.2 million to start the Community Center Fund).

Here’s what actually happened. In June 2017, the Town Council voted to transfer an additional $350,000 from the General Fund to the Community Center Fund. Later in 2017, the staff took $21,323 from the Bed Tax fund (hotel room tax) to cover the overage from tennis court improvements.

Now the Town Manager and Council are discussing the potential of bonding (incurring a debt service) for the continued improvements required for the Community Center facility and Golf courses.

They lied. It’s clear that there was no way the needed capital improvements and the required Operations and Maintenance for the purchase would be covered by the sales tax increase. They didn't even budget for the promised improvements in the subsequent budgets. They promised there would be no debt service (bonding) but now they’re discussing bonding to pay for Community Center expenses. They lied.

You think this is bad? Part 2 will discuss Troon’s lies.

[Slides provided in this article are from the December 17, 2014 Power Point presentation]

Part 2 will be published on Thursday.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Important Planning and Zoning Meeting tomorrow (Tuesday)

Tuesday, March 6th at 6 PM
Town Council Chambers
11,000 N LaCanada Drive

If you live in the LaCholla area between Glover and Lambert, there are THREE agenda items scheduled for Tuesday's P&Z meeting that affect your neighborhood.

This is for the proposed REZONING for the Major General Plan Amendment that was approved in 2015. The applicant, Paul Oland of the WLB Group, has stated that this is just the continuation of the Major General Plan Amendment and that nothing has changed. But we all know that deals are made when no one is looking, so if you live in this area, you might want to plan on attending.

Items 4 and 5: SAGUARO VIEJOS
This is the residential development slated for the area on the west side of LaCholla between Glover and Naranja. See the history of this parcel below.

History of Saguaro Viejos
This parcel was already rezoned from 144,000 square foot lots down to minimum lot sizes of 20,000 sf in 2007. In 2014, The WLB Group submitted an acceptable plan for custom homes on lot sizes between 16,000 sf all the way up to lot sizes of 1.5 acres. This plan involved no mass grading. Each lot would be custom graded.  Surrounding neighbors agreed to this plan back in 2014.

(They could go down to 16,000 square foot lot sizes despite the minimum lot size being 20,000 sf if they left open space in other areas, which they were planning to do.)

Fast-forward to 2018.  NOW they are coming back requesting to scrap that plan and rezone the eastern portion of this property again, this time from 20,000 square foot lots down to minimum lot sizes of 7,000 square feet!!!! This will include mass grading of a large portion of the 85 acres followed by the building of cookie-cutter homes with connecting walls. This is unconscionable considering that surrounding homes are on lots sizes of 1/3 acre, 1/2 acre, all the way up to 3 acres and include custom and semi-custom homes and no connecting walls.

In less than ten years, that parcel has gone from a plan of approximately 25 homes on 144,000 sf lots (3.3 acre rural residential lots) to 118 homes on 20,000 to 63,000 sf lots, and now they are requesting 178 homes.  Of those 178 homes, 103 homes will be on 6,500 sf lots and 64 homes will be on 7,000 sf lots (for a total of 167 homes on postage stamp sized lots).  Only 11 homes will be on 16,000 square foot lots.

How does this proposal meet the below criteria in the General Plan?
- Promote land use development practices that conserve and minimize impacts to natural and cultural resources
- Maintain the small-town, neighborly character and improve the design and safety of the built environment

You can view the agenda HERE

Monday, February 26, 2018

LOVE is on vacation this week. Our next posting will be on Monday, March 5th. In the meantime, we recommend that you visit the website TakeBackOV to stay on top of the grassroots efforts of a newly formed citizens group in Oro Valley.