Friday, June 5, 2020

Council To Lead Effort To Create Vistoso Golf Course As Green Space

The Oro Valley Town Council has moved to resolve the challenge presented by the closure of the Vistoso Golf Course. The owner, Romspen Mortgage Co, a Canadian firm, has applied for a general plan amendment that would convert the property to residential use. Residents are vehemently opposed.

Wednesday evening, Vice Mayor Barrett revealed that both she and Mayor Winfield, at the request of the group, Preserve Vistoso, had met on May 27, to listen to a discussion with of what can be done to preserve the property. The Conservation Fund, a non profit organization, was in attendance. The fund purchases property that they believe should be conserved and then, after considering alternatives, gift it to a third party for maintenance in perpetuity.

Wednesday evening the town council unanimously approved a motion that directs Town Manager Mary Jacobs to work with the Conservation Fund and Romspen Mortgage Company on the potential preservation of the open space; and to work with the Conservation Fund to help identify possible funding, including grant funding to acquire the property for a green space to be gifted to the town.

This is a huge step forward that will one day provide certainty to the residents on how that land will be used and provide a wonderful green space to the community.

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Guest View Mike Zinkin: The Ongoing Saga of the FY 2020/21 Budget

This article continues my review of the 126-page 2020-21 Town Manager’s Recommended Budget (TMRB). The “onion skin”, comparative line item detail by expense category, that I mentioned in that article was not in the submission. It will be forthcoming due to the action of some of our more responsible Council members. Until that happens, there are many more stories to be told with the information we have already.
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Town Manager Jacobs wants to remove restrictions on Bed Tax Revenues
On page iii of the Town Manager’s Recommended Budget (TMRB), Town Manager Mary Jacobs states that she will be asking the council to remove the restrictions on the Bed Tax revenues. Since bed tax is derived from hotel/motel stays, a certain percentage of the revenue is restricted to be spent on tourism projects (e.g. Visit Tucson). Bed tax should not be spent on general fund expenditures. It is a specific tax used for specific purposes.

Jacobs states: “This change results in the availability of $1.6 million of additional unassigned fund balance (above the $3 million mentioned earlier) that will strengthen even further the availability of reserves the Town can use to get through this crisis.”

Here’s an idea. How about responsible spending and reduced expenditures to get us through this “crisis?”

Paid employee health insurance for all town employees
On page iv of the TMRB, Jacobs recommends that since Town employees are not getting step/merit increases this year, that the Town should pay 100% of the premium for those employees who choose the high deductible health insurance plan. Page 18 of the TMRB shows that the plan is for the Town’s contribution to be $3.2 million and the employee’s share to be only $571,059. Question: How many employers in today’s world pay 85% of the employee’s health care? Answer: Very few.

Community Center upgrades take a backseat
On page 112 of the TMRB, she plans to spend $400,000 on the multi-use path around OV Marketplace. On page 114 she plans to spend $550,000 to restore the garage at Steam Pump ranch to be used as an employee office for the Recreation and Culture division. All this while not one penny is being spent to make the Community Center (a building we have owned for over 5 years) ADA compliant. Is it really more important to have more employee office space than it is to assist our handicapped citizens?

This is YOUR money. Shouldn’t your money be spent helping YOU?

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

The Solomon Chronicles. Part 1. Favoritism.

With the Town Council election on the horizon, LOVE will be presenting a series of articles entitled, “The Solomon Chronicles,” highlighting the abysmal record of Councilmember Steve Solomon who is running for re-election. This weekly series will highlight his 4-year record of incivility towards Oro Valley residents and his interdependent relationship with local developers. This series was written by a LOVE contributor and contains a synopsis of previous LOVE articles plus new information.
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April 5, 2017 Town Council meeting
A $17 million bond for sports fields at Naranja Park was on the agenda, however, there was no Public Hearing scheduled for this item. As you continue reading, keep in mind that Solomon was in favor of this bond.

With no Public Hearing scheduled, two residents who wanted to speak on this issue, chose to do so during the Call to Audience. Most likely, neither were aware that you are not allowed to speak during the Call to Audience regarding an item that is on the agenda.

The first person to speak (Oro Valley resident, Karen Stratman), was opposed to the $17 million bond and the secondary property tax to pay for it. She stated that if ball fields were wanted by our residents, then they should have been a priority rather than the Town purchasing 3 golf courses.

Solomon calls a Point of Order
Ms. Stratman was quickly interrupted by Councilmember Solomon who called a Point of Order, stating that she was not allowed to speak on an agenda item during the Call to Audience. Solomon addressed the Town Attorney stating that, “She specifically mentioned the bond issue that’s on the agenda.”

Although he was correct that discussing an agenda item during the Call to Audience is not allowed, it’s what happened next that revealed his true intention in stopping her speech…and it wasn’t because he’s a stickler for enforcing Parliamentary Rules.

Solomon’s True Intentions
The next person to speak (Oro Valley resident, Ben Baker) was in favor of the $17 million bond. He opened his speech by instructing the council on the best way to convince people to vote to approve the bond, including giving specific examples of how to entice residents into voting YES.

Solomon was silent. He never interrupted this speaker. He never called a Point of Order and Mr. Baker was allowed to present his entire speech unimpeded, despite speaking on the same agenda item that Solomon had just prevented Ms. Stratman from speaking on.

Why was Solomon not consistent in asking the Town Attorney to enforce the rules? One can only conclude that it was because Mr. Baker was in favor of the $17 million Naranja Park Bond (as was Councilmember Solomon) and Solomon wanted to make sure that that speaker’s voice was heard!

This is Councilmember Solomon in action. To him, Parliamentary Rules should only apply to those who disagree with him. If you agree with him, he’s just fine with suspending the rules for you. Councilmember Solomon has never understood the simple fact that he is supposed to be a councilmember for all and not just for those who agree with him.

Appointed his crony to Planning & Zoning
Solomon also voted to appoint Don Cox to the Planning & Zoning Commission despite the council receiving letters of concern from multiple residents about Cox’s repeated inappropriate and unprofessional behavior while serving past terms on P&Z. Cox had already been reprimanded twice by the Town Attorney for his inappropriate behavior and for violating the rules for Board and Commission members. (NOTE: Cox was a vocal supporter of Steve Solomon during the 2016 election and formed a PAC that endorsed Pina-Rodman-Solomon for election. Quid pro quo?)
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The Solomon Chronicles: Part 2. “Voting Record” will be published next Wednesday.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Candidate Bohen Aims To Finish The Job

Finish the job
Town Council candidate Tim Bohen wants to finish the job that the voters started in 2018: The job of increasing resident input on council, removing special interest control that dominated the town from 2010 to 2018.

"I am very grateful for what the challengers did in 2018. They turned over our council. They changed the direction of our town."

Bohen steps into the void
"I think a lot of us were hoping that people would come out to run in 2020 to finish the job." In February, Bohen realized that Bill Garner was the only one who stepped up for the challenge. It is a huge challenge that most won't consider. Given Bill Garner was the only one, Bohen decided it was his turn to serve the community.

Bohen values Oro Valley's uniqueness
Bohen sees Oro Valley as a unique community. He wants to keep it that way. As he explains in the video at right, generic solutions don't fit Oro Valley.

The town's location, its geography, and its history demand solutions that fit what the town is and what the town can be.

Wants developments that make sense for Oro Valley
Bohen believes that the town doesn't push back enough on developer requests. According to Bohen, you have to challenge the applicant to develop a proposal that actually makes sense for Oro Valley. “You push back to get to a mutually beneficial result."

One example is the abandoned Nakoma Sky project. The land sits on the north side of the wash behind Home Depot. Bohen believes that the land use changes that enabled this project should never have been approved by council. “I'm just amazed at how we buy the Developer’s projections on the future on everything. The Council should have asked a simple question: 'Do they have the financing in place?'" Apparently Nakoma Sky did not.

Now the land is bladed and abandoned. “I look at that as a failure of the town council to not look deep enough. Either that applicant was naive or they were lying to us about it. That shouldn’t happen. Who is actually looking out for the interest of Oro Valley? Nakoma Sky never should have got going. It was clear that there was a very high risk of failure and no one asked the right question.”

The bottom line for Bohen:  “Oro Valley being a tough town to deal with is a badge of honor.”

Ready to dig in
Bohen is prepared to dig in the moment he takes office. He has been participating in town halls and viewing town meetings. He has been active in Oro Valley for years. You can read his LOVE posts here.  Knowing this, we asked him his thoughts on two Oro Valley "hot topics":

2020-21 Budget
In terms of dissecting the town manager's recommended budget, Bohen's focus is on identifying items that seem to have an eternal life.

There are items in the budget that are simply carry-over expenditures from year-to-year.  "You have to take a look at things that you thought were one off and make sure that they don’t become fixtures.”
2020 Parks and Recreation Master Plan
Bohen watched the special session on the outside consulting study. The consultant presented their findings. "I think there was far too much selling of their findings versus presenting their findings…'This is the way you should go' rather than 'here’s the data.'.  Nobody knows Oro Valley better than we do."
Vistoso Course
Bohen is following developments regarding the Vistoso Golf Course. One way or another, this thing needs to be settled for the benefit of the residents and the town. “Rompsen bought a golf course and they should have made it work as a golf course.” They closed it. “It is a less than satisfactory situation. If golf is not sustainable, then we have to come up with a sustainable solution." Bohen recognizes that there has to be closure on this. He cautions: "The progress on these things takes years.”

A "hands-on" person
On council, Bohen plans to get all the facts before making a decision. “Town council has to insist that they have the most complete and most accurate data” when making decisions. This includes data on water, development, pensions, and revenue sources, “Because town council owns the decision.”

Getting the data, sorting through it and interpreting it is going to take effort, an effort that some past council members simply did not want to make. The didn't want to get into the "weeds". Their attitude was that the town hired professionals and that council should listen to them. The defined any questioning of staff to be "meddling."

Tim Bohen's approach will be the opposite of those council members. He is a "hands on" person.  He plans to work tirelessly. He told us that when he looks back after serving on council he will be happy as long as he can say he gave the job his best effort. Somehow, we think he will do just that.

Monday, June 1, 2020

LOVE Exclusive: How Special Interests Can Corrupt Oro Valley Politicians

This is the first of a three part series on the influence of developer and contractor donations on Oro Valley politics
Satish Hiremath introduced big money fundraising in 2010
Satish Hiremath introduced Oro Valley to the power of money in small town elections in 2010, He funded his campaign at a level five times greater than his opponent. Hiremath raised more than $45,000:

  • $20,000 from personal loans, which his PAC later repaid
  • $13,000 from special interests contributors
  • $12,000 from family and individual contributors

  • Hiremath won the election by less that fifty votes.

    2013: First time HSL donates to Hiremath campaign
    Many more donation were to follow.
    2012: End of Innocence
    In 2012, Hiremath got a taste of developer money as Diamond Ventures entered the scene.

    In 2013, HSL Properties jumped on board (panel right).

    This was the beginning of the end of innocence in Oro Valley fund raising. What was once a very pleasant, peaceful community was about to become a Developer paradise. Every general plan amendment and just about every zoning change was approved by council from 2010 through 2018.

    $59,300 in developer money bought the 2014 election
    In 2014. Mayor Hiremath and incumbent council members Hornat, Snider and Waters practiced the big money campaign finance model. This time special interest contributors kicked in $59,300. This was a four fold increase from 2010.

    2014 Donations to Hiremath Majority
    The top five donors (panel left) pumped $59,300 into the campaign of the incumbents. This is 76% of all contributions from individuals.

    They did this at a time when these donors had continuing business dealings with the town, dealings that required council approval.

    Here's the big one....

    August 2014: Hiremath extols concept of community center... HSL becomes a "community partner"
    On August 7, 2014, during a 2014 candidate forum, Hiremath extolled the virtue of Oro Valley having a community center.

    At that time, LOVE asked if Hiremath had an epiphany. Up to then, the only council member who had even mentioned the need for a community center was current council candidate, then council member Bill Garner.

    We reported in 2013: "Council Member Bill Garner has been advocating for a community center for years. His calls have been ignored by the Majority-4. 'I've been investigating a public/private partnership that could put a community center at Steam Pump Ranch,'" 

    Now, suddenly, a community center was Hiremath's idea.  According to Hiremath speaking at the forum: "I'm in dialogue with other community partners about maybe doing something of a community center." (Source: Greater Oro Valley Chamber of Commerce Candidate Forum) "

    The HSL Community Center
    The "other community partner" to whom Hiremath had referred was HSL Properties. HSL was negotiating the purchase of the El Conquistador Resort. They needed to shed the golf courses in order to make the deal financially advantageous for them. At the same time, they wanted to retain five-star resort status. This meant that they needed to be able to offer golf.  The deal they cut with the Town of Oro Valley gave them both.

    What Hiremath did not say at that forum was that the "community center" was a clubhouse that served the El Conquistador Country Club, that  the country club was part of the deal and that the seller was his biggest campaign contributor. He also failed to share this salient information during LOVE's September interview with him.

    The result of all of this was a 2015 Recall Election and even more special interest money. That's our story next time.

    Friday, May 29, 2020

    Bits and Pieces

    Daily public access to Steam Pump Ranch in the offing
    Town Manager Mary Jacobs is hopeful that the Steam Pump Ranch will be daily Oro Valley attraction. This after the town renovates once renovation of the garage on the property is done. She has included $550,000 for that. Once completed, staff will work from the facility. You can read more about this and other items in the TMRB here.

    July 4th fireworks at Community Center
    The town has cancelled its July 4 celebration but not the fireworks. “The good news is that we are still planning an epic fireworks show from the Community and Recreation Center. We will be using larger shells that will soar higher into the night sky,” said Parks and Recreation Director Kristy Diaz-Trahan. “We really wanted to host a July 4th celebration this year. This community needs it, but ultimately the decision is about public safety.” (Source)

    Need sandbags for the monsoon?
    "Beginning Monday, June 15, the Town of Oro Valley will provide free sandbags to residents who may need to protect areas of their homes from storm runoff during monsoon. Sandbags can be picked up [at Naranja Park] beginning Monday June 15, through the duration of the 2020 monsoon. Due to a limited number of supplies, only Town of Oro Valley residents are eligible, and there is a limit of 10 sandbags per vehicle. Sandbags are self-service; you will need to bag and load your own sand." (source)

    Community Center and Aquatic Centers open Monday
    "The Oro Valley Community & Recreation Center and Oro Valley Aquatic Center will be reopening on Monday, June 1, 2020." Doing this safely will be of primary importance. The town will be following county reopening rules.

    The bad guys are back
    One of things Chief Riley told us in our interview a few weeks back was that she expected shoplifting to be center state as retailers re-opened. KGUN9 showed a video of bad guys doing just that at Walmart this week. Take a look. Call the cops if you know these guys. Crime never takes a break.

    Ben Coronado, Oro Valley resident, appointed Civilian Aid to the US Secretary of the Army
    He was appointed on May 14 at Ft. Huachuca. "CASAs, a vital part of the Army, promote good relations between the Army and the public and advise the secretary on regional issues." Read about him here.

    Thursday, May 28, 2020

    Oro Valley's Parks and Recreation Random Survey Missed The Mark

    Last week, The Oro Valley Town Council held a special session to review to Phase 1 Parks and Recreation Master Plan study. This session was dedicated to understanding and asking questions regarding the study we reported last week. This study focussed on what residents say they want.

    Mike Svetz, project leader for Pros Consulting, the firm retained to do this study, emphasized that the goal is to develop master plan that is “realistic, implementable and financially sustainable. Anything that you build has life cycles to them… need to insure that you have the operating and maintenance dollars to maintain and replace things as they age. The plan needs to consider both the short term investment and the ongoing cost.

    Svetz observed that the town should develop a plan  that meets the needs of all residents, not simply the needs of one dominant population segment. In Oro Valley, that would be senior and retirees.

    Svetz: People don't know what we have
    The study of wants highlighted paths and walking trails as a must investment. Svetz stated that these were not new trails, but the upkeep of exiting trials plus the creation of some loop trails in park areas. Council Person Solomon observed the the town has 54 trail miles. He wondered if residents knew that. Svetz stated that they did not know but he had not basis for this statement. The study did not "test" people on their knowledge of what Oro Valley has. It asked only what they wanted.

    The devil is in the detail and the detail is missing
    Responses specific to location
    Council Person Barrett wants more detail of information by area of the town. For example, the stated need that town needs more restroom facilities most certainly does not apply to the town's parks. Each has restrooms. However, the many HOA parks don't. Those would be the responsibility of the HOA and not the town. Thus, the need for more restrooms is not a town challenge.
    The bathroom puzzle
    While the study is able to segment results by age group it is not able to do it by geographic location. According to Svetz, the statistically valid survey, a survey of xxx people, was geographically representative of the town's population locations, but Pros Consulting never associated a response with the geography. Thus, the study does not tell what people in, say Rancho Vistoso want versus what people in the original section of Oro Valley want. This seems like a very significant oversight on the part of the town and study designers. Barrett wants that information so the "the town can invest strategically."
    What kids want
    Mayor Winfield observed that detail is needed regarding what Oro Valley's kids want. The survey did not include them, It included their parents who, according to Svetz, were supposed to respond to questions with the whole family in mind.  This really is not a valid gauge even though Svetz plans to provide responses based on family demographics. Given the methodology, we now understand why Baskeball Courts (Oro Valley has one) or new fields, items that were important in the last survey of 2014, suddenly dropped to low priority. Youth baseball and little league, a big concern a few years ago, fell of the chart. Other then refurbishing four of the five fields at Kreigh Park, nothing has been done. Pickleball Courts, on the other hand, jumped from the bottom in 2014 to near top. This, after the town has added pickleball facilities.

    Town on its own?
    The town plans to reduce the use of an external consultant in completing the master plan, spending no more than $30,000. According to Oro Valley Parks and Recreation Director Krisy Diaz-Trahan, "We have a meeting with Mr. Svetz scheduled to determine where the greatest talent pool exists" to do each one of the remaining steps to complete the master plan.