Monday, March 18, 2019

LOVE is on vacation

LOVE is on vacation this week. We will return on Monday, March 25th.

If you find yourself having "LOVE withdrawal symptoms" and you need your "LOVE fix" just scroll down and read one of our older articles every day. That should do the trick!

You can also find older articles by typing keywords into the Search Box in the upper left corner of this page.
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Friday, March 15, 2019

Bits and Pieces

Reminder: Town Centre Zoning Amendment Is Not Dead
We saw a posting on Nextdoor.com celebrating the fact that the zoning amendment to Town Centre was not passed by council. The posting seemed to feel this defeated the amendment. The amendment was not defeated. It was continued.

As we reported last week, the amendment will be heard again on April 3 and it is very much alive. Mayor Winfield proposed that the hearing be continued because, as he wrote us: "I thought the proposal could be improved and the proponent seemed willing. We'll see what they present April 3."

So, if you are interested, you should mark the date on your calendar and be sure to be there.

Resident Don English: "Flat out say no.." to Town Centre Amendment
Resident Don English made a compelling case to not approve the rezoning of Town Centre. He eloquently covered the issues he sees them. You can watch is remarks here. He speaks at about the 2 hour mark.

English ended his comments with his reflection on what the August election of a new mayor and 3 new council members meant to him:  "We had an election. A new leadership. A new direction. You promised to take a harder look at rezoning. Here is your chance to let the 'rubber meet the road'. Here is a chance for you to do that. Take a harder look and really put a moratorium on this or just flat out say no."

Sometimes it is important to remind those we elect why we put them there. That is what English tried to do.

Kreigh Park renewal continues to late summer
The 5 ball fields at Kreigh Park plus a portion of the park adjacent to the fields have been out of service since September. Only the play area, pet area and Oro Valley pool have been usable. The renovation includes new irrigation, new grass, laser-leveled fields, new fencing, dugouts, and upgraded restrooms.

Piece by piece it is coming back. The three baseball fields will open later this month and the softball fields will open early summer. Between July and September, the town will be working on improving the older north restroom, adding shade structures and installing lighting under the play structure.

"The sport field improvements completed this fiscal year cost $340,000 and $200,000 next fiscal year for the restroom, shade structure and lighting improvements. We were awarded a $200,000 grant from State Parks (pass through from the Land and Water Conservation Fund) to be applied to this project." (Source: Jessica Hynd, Town of Oro Valley)

Power outage on Oracle corridor... Again
Tuesday night, the electricity was down along the Oracle corridor. The area was bounded by Linda Vista, Desert Sky, Tangerine and the Catalina Mountains. Many homes and business were without power for about an hour. This is the second time this year that power has been lost in this area. This is the older section of town that has undergone growth. We wonder if the growth has exceeded TEP's ability to provide reliable power service.

This is the second major outage in two months. The other was on January 16. In addition, there have been numerous other breaker interruptions. These generally last long enough for you to have to reset you clocks but not more than a minute or so. TEP tells us that these interruptions happen when there is an imbalance between power coming in and power going out.

Regardless of why it happens, it seems to us the the Oro Valley TEP power supply in the older section of town is simply not reliable.
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Wednesday, March 13, 2019

The Watchdog Report: Half way through the Fiscal Year

The December 2018 financials have been posted. This marks the halfway point of the fiscal year (July 1 through December 31). This also gives us an indication of the success of the holiday shopping season.

In December 2017, the sales tax revenues posted in the Community Center Fund (CCF) showed a gain of $206,132. The gain in December 2018 was $224,773. This is a gain of $18,641 in 2018 holiday shopping sales tax revenues. That’s the good news.

The bad news? Remember that former Town Manager Greg Caton and former Mayor Hiremath told us that the sales tax increase would bring in revenues of $2 million per year and that this would sustain the CCF. The sales tax revenues are projected to be $2,384,558 for FY 2018/19 but the CCF ended December 2018 at $221,389 in the RED. So much for Councilmember Solomon’s claim that we are “breaking even.”

December is one of the prime months for golf. The courses posted 2,748 non-member rounds on 45 holes of golf. To put this in perspective, a public golf course within 5 miles of the El Con posted 3,320 rounds on 18 holes of golf. That is 612 more rounds on 27 less available holes.

Mary had a little…plan
As of December 31, 2018, Troon has lost $1,175,440 of your money. We have shown that, from the start, Troon has done nothing but lose money since the golf courses opened in May 2015, yet Town Manager, Mary Jacobs, extended their contract an additional 6 months.

One of Ms. Jacobs’ essential functions is to: “Provide oversight and assist Departmental Directors in analysis and resolution of problems…” Another function is to “Respond to citizen complaints.” If you agree that extending the Troon contract was in conflict with one of her essential functions, you may write her at mjacobs@orovalleyaz.gov. If you do, please inform LOVE of her response.

In other good news/bad news
With all the rain, the frosts, and even the recent snow we’ve had this winter, the utility (water) costs for the golf courses should be reduced. However, this wet weather will also adversely affect the golf revenues which will be revealed in upcoming Town reports.

Another interesting number on the December report was a capital outlay of $2,633. When I asked the Town what this was for, the reply was, “minor reconfiguration of the parks administrative office.” Apparently this is more important than making the Community Center facility ADA compliant.

There was also a transfer out of the CCF of $133,999 to the Debt Service Fund to pay for principal and interest on the Energy Efficiency Bond. You see, we already have one bond dedicated to the CCF.

The Overlook lost $4,059 in December 2018, bringing the total losses to date $66,384.

Ending on a positive note, the Community Center (fitness, tennis, etc.) has made $8,548 through December 2018.

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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. He was an Air Traffic Controller for 30 years. He and his wife moved to Oro Valley in 1998. Mike served on the Oro Valley Development Review Board from 2005-2009 and the Board of Adjustment from 2011-2012. He served on the Town Council from 2012-2016 during which time he was named a Fellow 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.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Highlights of the February 20th Town Council "Listening Session" regarding the golf courses

El Con Golf Members and residents living along the town-owned golf courses spoke during the Listening Session at the February 20th council meeting. Below are some highlights of the arguments they presented for why they believe that the Town should not sell any of the golf courses or repurpose them into green space and walking trails, etc.

Comments were strong on emotion and weak on facts.

“A lot of people who moved here are retired and they need a golf course…The point is, we bought it and the majority of people wanted the golf course. If we’re going to kill it or change it materially, I think you should put it back to a vote of the public at the next election and let it be decided by the voters because we voted for it.”

Fact: No one “needs” a golf course. A golf course is a want, not a necessity. Additionally, the majority of Oro Valley residents did not want these golf courses. When the Town surveyed the residents in 2014 about what recreational amenities they would like the town to provide, golf came in #33 out of #34 possible choices.

Fact: The citizens did not vote to purchase the Community Center and Golf Courses. The “vote” was made by just four members of the previous Town Council; Mayor Hiremath and Councilmembers Hornat, Snider, and Waters.

Fact: Many citizens voiced their opposition to the purchase of the El Con Community Center and Golf Courses in letters to the editor, in emails to the former council, and in speeches they gave at the podium during Town Council meetings prior to the vote being taken (see below). The Hiremath Majority-4 did not listen.

Fact: On December 17, 2014 (the night the vote was taken to purchase the El Con property), 39 residents spoke at the podium and 65% of them were against the purchase. Additionally, 75-80% of the emails received by council in the week prior to the vote were also against the purchase.

”Do the due diligence. Look at what may happen to property values should you sell both courses.”

Fact: Hiremath and his Majority-4 council did not do their due diligence prior to voting to approve this purchase. They voted to approve the purchase without ever even seeing the contract between HSL and Troon, a contract which the Town would inherit upon purchase. The Town Council did not receive the 90+ page appraisal until about 4 hours prior to the meeting. They also never saw the rounds that the Hilton had experienced and they never saw the purchase agreement until after it was signed.

“Whatever you choose to do, you have to include input and participation from the homeowners, not just some group that represents them, but you need to talk to every single one or you really haven’t done what’s right…You already have a source of revenue. It isn’t that you’re going to run out of money.”

Fact: The Town has already held two private meetings for residents living along the golf courses and one private meeting for the Golf Members.

Two Special Meetings for Residents living along the golf courses

May 4, 2017: Q&A Session/Workshop at the Gaslight Theater
December 12, 2017: Town Council Chambers

One Special Meeting for Golf Members

December 13, 2017: Sunset Room of the Community Center

Fact: The revenues are not meeting the expenses.

“I believe that the golf course and community center adds value to our properties, it adds value to the community, and it is a justifiable expense…If we get rid of the golf courses, the property values will fall for the [home] owners. And of course, if that goes down, then the property taxes will go down. The revenue will go down on these houses for the town.”

Fact: Oro Valley does not have a property tax. Our property tax is paid to Pima County. If a person’s property tax goes down due to their home value going down, it will not affect Oro Valley’s revenue. Our revenues are derived from sales tax, State shared revenues, utility tax, franchise tax, bed tax on hotel rooms.

Fact: There is a misconception that property values will decline if golf does not continue. Green spaces and linear parks will not reduce values. A home's value is actually based on many things. In fact, university researchers have found a number of variables that affect home prices.

Proximity to Parks & Open Spaces ranked as number two. A desirable public park or other recreational open space boosts the property value of nearby homes by 8%-20%. One study looked at 16,400 home sales within 1,500 feet of 193 public parks in Portland, Oregon and found the following boosts to home values:

Natural areas:      $10,648
Golf courses:       $8,849
Specialty parks:   $5,657
Urban parks:        $1,214

(Source: Realtors Houselogic and Take Back OV)

"I believe the benefits of the golf course to the community outweigh these relatively small monetary costs."

Fact: $10 million in losses is not a relatively small cost and these losses do not include the much needed capital improvements, including making the Community Center ADA compliant. There have been at least $6 million in “promised” capital improvements that have yet to be implemented. Due to the continued losses, the Town is now considering bonding to make these improvements.

"I am in favor of keeping all 36 holes. We require all 36 holes in order to make the money that we need, especially Amphi [schools] to put on their Project Grad."

Fact: Project Graduation is a valuable program, but taxpayers shouldn’t continue to suffer millions in losses for the sake of one tournament. The Project Graduation golf tournament can be held utilizing one course (144 golfers). If more money is needed, they can have another type of fundraiser and more local businesses can be asked to contribute.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Town Council "Continues" Town Centre PAD Amendment Hearing

Last night, the Oro Valley Town Council continued the Town Centre PAD amendment we wrote about yesterday. The vote was 4-3. The Hiremath-3 (Pena, Rodman, and Solomon) voted against continuing the item because they felt that the amendment should be approved as is.

Council member Pena believed that the amendment was consistent with the general plan. Council Member Rodman felt that process of getting the project to the hearing stage had resulted in great compromise on the part of residents, town staff and the developer. Solomon felt that the council to follow the unanimous decision of the Planning and Zoning Commission that approved this plan.

To that, Mayor Winfield observed. "I am not a rubber stamp Mayor."

Mayor Winfield, Vice Mayor Barrett and council members Nicolson and Joyce-Ivey voted in favor of continuation. Each raised concerns regarding the property. The issues included:
  • How does this project fit in with the plans of the other PAD's in Town Centre?
  • Is 5 feet between homes appropriate? 
  • Some hillsides will be graded by 20 feet.
  • Noise will be a problem for the houses built close to Oracle
  • Traffic will increase at the intersection
  • Water use could impact the residents of neighboring developments
  • Erosion may be a problem
"It is a good project," noted Mayor Winfield. "It can be a better project."

The developer, after hearing these and other concerns, told council that he preferred a continuation versus an "up or down" vote.

The proposed PAD amendment will be heard at the April 3 council meeting.

If changes proposed to mitigate the issues raised are significant, then the project will return to the public hearing phase. It will then be reheard by the Planning and Zoning Commission. Whether the changes are significant will be determined by town planner, Bayer Vella.
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The Watchdog Report: There are several ways to cut the losses at the Town-owned golf courses

Over the past 4 years, many people have asked me what I thought the alternative was to the current golf situation in Oro Valley. As a council member, I often answered, “It doesn’t matter what I think, it matters what the People think.” Since I am no longer on the dais, and after watching this situation unfold all these years, I will now share my complete opinion.

You already know that I was never a supporter of the El Con golf courses purchase from HSL. However, we now own it and we must figure out how to reduce the financial drain that this purchase has saddled on the community. My comments will only deal with an alternative to golf, as I have never been opposed to the Community Center part of the purchase.

Whether we like it or not, we own the acreage and need to decide what to do with it as the current model has a proven history of not being sustainable.

Path to Sustainability
I believe that we need to return to the original 18 holes of golf and become strictly a municipal facility. Stop all monthly deposits made from members and make all golfers pay for the driving range. Paying for the range can easily be accomplished by purchasing a vending machine that dispenses both a large and small bucket of balls. Tokens for this machine can be purchased from the pro shop.

For those existing members who currently own golf carts, the Town can offer the following: For the first 12 months after becoming a municipal course, offer a reduced green fee ($10.00 - $15.00) to all those individuals that currently own carts if they chose to utilize their own cart.

Being a public course doesn’t prevent the current members from starting a “Private Golf Club.” Many other courses currently foster their own clubs. Being a member of the club will allow you to play with the club on certain days and get prime tee times. For example, let’s say the club plays on Mondays and Thursdays. The club’s representative would contact the pro shop 2 weeks ahead of the day and have them set aside x number of tee times (for example 16 tee times). The El Con would reserve 4 tee times (4 golfers per tee time) during a peak time. (Times would change depending on the season).

Having only 18 holes of golf will drastically reduce the water usage, maintenance requirements, and equipment leases. Try this for 12-18 months and see if the Town can sustain the losses.

There are a few additional items that should be considered
The Management contract must be re-bid. Troon is not in the municipal golf course business. Find a “National” firm (as required by the purchase agreement) to manage the course.

Close the Overlook Restaurant. The Garden Café and the beverage carts can meet the food/beverage needs of the golfers.

The holes not included in the original 18 would still have to be maintained in a manner that would not reduce the property values for those citizens that live along the courses. They would not have to be “over-seeded” in the winter, thus saving water, and very little maintenance would be required as cutting the grass would not be necessary in the winter. The Town should continue to fertilize and mow the acreage during the warmer months.

There will be a monetary cost in re-purposing the remaining holes to rid them of the sand traps and greens. This can be accomplished with Town personnel.
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Editor’s Note: LOVE also received the following idea from one of our readers.

The answer to solve the money problem and keep all the neighbors happy is to simply lease one 18-hole course to the Men's club. They could set the annual dues to cover all the operating and capital improvements. In return, they have a private course with unlimited play and anytime access to tee times. Additionally, all property owners would continue to see a beautiful, well-manicured golf course. This could be a Win-Win for the Club, the adjacent homeowners, and the Town.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Editorial: More Housing Density? You Gotta Be Kidding!

On Tonight's council agenda:
Request to increase housing density at Town Centre
Item 2 on tonight's Oro Valley Town Council Meeting Agenda is a request to increase the allowed density of property on Oracle. It is south of Panera Bread, Mike's, and the bedding store on Oracle. It's part of the Town Centre PAD.

The reason given for the density increase is "market demand."  Could it be that there are more people who want to live within a few hundred feet or Oro Valley's noisiest high density traffic area so they can walk the length of 4 football fields in 105 degree heat to go to Target or Frys?

The request is such a patently ridiculous idea that we find it hard to believe that it actually made it on the agenda of this council
The request is ridiculous because it creates more cluster zoned homes crammed on small lots along the scenic Oracle Road corridor. This after the voters asked for a pause in the ever increasing assault of development in our once peaceful town.

As one of our readers wrote to us:

"This item is another attempt to continue the ravishing of Oro Valley. This item, if approved, will increase the number of lots the owner is now entitled to from 65 to 82. In order to do this the minimum lot size will be reduced from 15,000 sq. ft. to 6,000 sq. ft."

Just what Oro Valley needs. More small lots dumping more cars directly onto Oracle Road in an area known for congestion during rush hours.

The request means more mass grading
While there are a number of problems with this request, the worst is mass grading. The smaller lot sizes will allow mass grading on land that abuts Oracle Road. If you don't know the damages of this, you need to take a drive on 1st Avenue to see the ravishing of our beautiful town. The Villages of Silverhawke development, north of Palisades, shows the ugliness of cluster zoning and mass grading all too clearly.

Was the Planning and Zoning Commission bamboozled?
What surprises us is that the new Planning and Zoning Commission voted 7-0 for this change. We think there were some shenanigans going on.
  • Why did Planning Manager Vella place this complicated issue on the agenda for their very first meeting of new members? 
  • Why did he make it even more confusing at the meeting by allowing the applicant to withdraw a portion of the amendment request at the last minute, creating confusion over what was being removed and what was to remain in the plan? 
  • Why weren't the applicants required to provide updated documents?
  • Why weren't the commissioners allowed more time to study this prior to voting? 
Clearly this application should have been held for a future Planning meeting. Blanket approvals are no longer acceptable in Oro Valley.

The people spoke in the last election: No more density
The people replaced the former council because they do not want more housing density. Cluster zoning on small lots is essentially all that was approved by the former Town Council.  Oro Valley does not want more dense housing.

This move to change the PAD zoning should be rejected. Let the applicant build under current zoning allowances and actually offer some "diverse land use" as required by the General Plan.
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Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Johnston Brings A Focused Approach to Oro Valley Economic Development

Johnston brings fresh approach to Oro Valley economic development
With council approval, Oro Valley will head in several new community and economic development directions. Oro Valley's economic development plan for the past eight years was what LOVE termed "The Rooftops Strategy." Build as many rooftops as possible to so that business will come to Oro Valley. Business will generate sales tax revenue.

Residents saw the result of this policy. The rooftops were built. Lots of rooftops. Even today, there are many more rooftops coming, rooftops that were approved by former Mayor Hiremath and his council majority, which includes current council members Pena, Rodman, and Solomon.

Perhaps sensing that Oro Valley needs to move in new directions, Town Manager Mary Jacobs hired now town Development Director J.J. Johnston last May. Johnston, a long-time economic development professional brought public sector economic experience in the West. He interviewed more than 90 people and spent more than 450 hours identifying and laying our possible future directions in a draft comprehensive economic development strategy. We spoke with Johnston last week about his strategy.

Oro Valley needs "smart" economic development
Johnston believes that “It is incredibly important to get this right. To get as close to as we can to having a smart plan that is very focused on protecting the environment, protecting all of the community assets and adding value to those.”

The challenge as Johnston sees it is that “We have some great employers here already. We just don’t have enough diversity. If we did we wouldn’t have 13,000 adult workers who live in Oro Valley driving out of our community every day to work somewhere else.”

Last week, we listed 11 economic development focus areas that his plan identifies. All are worthy of discussion, but three strike us as particularly creative. Here's the first.

Battle empty storefronts with a "smart retail plan"
Johnston believes that Oro Valley needs to attract retailers who target the demographics of the community. He terms this a "smart retail plan."

"Every retailer has said we need three things to exist: Density, traffic and household income. We’ve got one of the three in spades. We have a very high disposable income. We just don’t have enough people spending the dollars in our stores and there’s Amazon and other things."

Johnston would like to retain consultant to define the smart plan.

The consultant will identify the types of retailers that fit Oro Valley's demographics. Then, the town can use this information to create materials for discussion with lessors and others to encourage them to seek out these types of retailers.

It is Johnston's way of battling the increasing problem of empty storefronts in Oro Valley.

The consultant will also examine other factors that may be causing empty storefronts. "Are our lease rates too high? Is that one of the factors..." causing empty storefronts? "We want an expert to come who has deep experience and understands the thought process..." that lessors and lessees use in making their decisions.

Johnston's approach is proactive and not reactive
Once the consultant completes the work, Johnston will meet with key players in Oro Valley's retail space. This would include Oro Valley Marketplace owner Vestar. "We're preparing for a meeting with Vestar after we have a consultant come in and give us a hard look on where our challenges and where our opportunities are. We very much want to. Mary, in particular, needs to be in front of their executive team."

They have already had conversations with other important players in Oro Valley's retail space, including Neil Simon of Venture West. According to Town Manager Jacobs "We work with him all the time." Simon's company operates the center on the southeast corner Oracle and Magee. They have been successful in attracting tenants. Simon "...is one of the 90 people I interviewed early on... We consider him a great partner."

Next Up: The Oro Valley Innovation Lab
Venture West owns innovation park, a key subject in our second very economic development focus area. Innovation Park is going to house: The Oro Valley Innovation Lab. We'll discuss it in a future posting.
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