Saturday, February 23, 2019

Bits and Pieces

Council appoints 5 member Finance Commission. 
Last week the town Council appointed a five-member budget committee. The members are:
Cathy Solverson for a term expiring December 31, 2020
John Latchford for a term expiring December 31, 2020
James Beasley for a term expiring December 31, 2020
David Newell for a term expiring December 31, 2021
Susan Rosenberg for a term expiring December 31, 2021

All have at least some background in accounting and finance. Four the five have lived in Oro Valley for five years or less. One has been a resident of the town for 20 years. None have attended the citizens Academy. Their job will be to take a hard look at the 2019-20 budget that Town Manager Jacobs will submit later this spring. They will provide their input directly to counsel.


Thursday, February 21, 2019

Does the Town care about Town Policies?

Oro Valley has adopted 11 Town Policies (Policy 1 was rescinded in 2005) but one might wonder if anybody at the Town cares about them or is even aware of them. Examples of three of these policies being violated or ignored are discussed below.

Town Policy 2 ~ Council/Staff Relationships
“The Council should give instructions to the Town’s staff in a manner according to the principles of the council/manager system. For example, assignments should be directed to the Town Manager and should originate from a consensus directive of the Council, not with individual council members. Council members should contact staff directly ONLY when the purpose is to communicate information; e.g. to report conditions, describe a problem, or request information. Council members SHOULD NOT contact staff with special project requests or utilize large blocks of staff time in order to pursue individual areas of interest.”

Potential violation: According to the Executive Summary on the February 20th council agenda, the town’s Legal Services Director, at the request of council members Rodman and Pina, undertook a review of the Animal Control Ordinance. This appears to be a violation of Policy 2 since two council members do not represent a consensus (a minimum 4-3 vote of the council).

The Town’s Legal Director does not work for the Council, he works for the Town Manager. If the Executive Summary is correct, why didn’t the Legal Services Director refer Councilmembers Rodman and Pina to Policy 2?

Town Policy 6 ~ Unbudgeted Expenditures
“All requests for expenditures not budgeted for in the Town’s budget, shall be forwarded to the Town Manager. Upon review, the Town Manager will forward said request(s) to the Town Council for approval. It shall be the decision, by way of a majority vote of the council, to either approve or disapprove said requests for expenditures.”

Potential violation: A few months ago, Town Manager, Mary Jacobs, chose to extend the Troon contract an additional six months (from June 2019 to December 2019). This extension is not budgeted due to the fact that the current budget runs out on June 30, 2019. The policy mandates the Town Manager to take the unbudgeted request to the Council. To date this has not been accomplished. Is the current Council mandated to approve this 6-month extension of the Troon contract in the upcoming budget?

Town Policy 9 ~ Council Liaison to Amphitheater School District Governing Board
Among other things, “The Council Member Liaison will meet quarterly with the Town Manager, the Amphitheater School District Superintendent, and President of the Amphitheater Board to discuss subjects of mutual interest, such as establish Intergovernmental Agreements if needed; promote joint-use facilities when possible…”

With the recent failure of Prop 454 (the proposed property tax to fund improvements at Naranja Park), do you think the previous Council liaison (former Councilmember Mary Snider) ever met with the above individuals to discuss the possibility of utilizing Amphi playgrounds during the summer months to expand the town’s playgrounds availability?

Awareness is key
One would think that all new Council members would be briefed by staff as to the Council policies. However, after observing the Town Manager violation of Policy 6 and the possible Councilmember violation of Policy 2, one wonders if anyone in staff is even aware of these policies.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

“Barking” Up The Wrong Tree?

On tonight’s Town Council Agenda (2/20/19) is a submission for a potential ordinance pertaining to excessive noise caused by animals (barking dogs) and birds. There will be a Public Hearing on amending the Town Code (Chapter 18, Articles 18-1 and 18-8, Excessive Noise caused by animals or birds).

The Executive Summary for this agenda item states:
“At the request of Councilmembers PiƱa and Rodman, the Legal Services Department undertook a review of the Town's Animal Control Code, specifically, relating to the article addressing excessive noise caused by animals and birds.
Excessive noise caused by animals or birds can be very disruptive to the peace and health of the Town’s residents. As such, the Town has a compelling interest in controlling such noise. In order to provide effective enforcement of the excessive noise section of this code, it is necessary to further amend the code to further define excessive noise by animals as well as the punishment for violating this section of the code. It is further necessary to add a section outlining the legal process which addresses enforcement of this updated code.”
The Town already has Noise and Nuisance Ordinances

Town Code 10-1 – Miscellaneous Offenses

Article 10-1-4: Noise – No person shall negligently make, cause, or permit unreasonable noise.

Article 10-1-5: Nuisances – It is unlawful for any person to maintain a public nuisance… anything which interferes with the comfortable enjoyment of life or property by an entire community or neighborhood or by any considerable number of persons…

Town Code 18 – Article 18-8: Excessive noise caused by animals or birds

Article 18-8-1: Civil Infraction - It is a civil infraction for anyone to own, possess, harbor and/or control any animal or bird which frequently or for continuous duration howls, barks, meows, squawks, or makes other sounds, if they are clearly audible sounds beyond the property line of the property on which they are conducted and they disturb the public peace, quiet, or comfort of the neighboring inhabitants.

LOVE wonders why we need a new ordinance or an amended ordinance if the above ordinances were already being enforced…or were they? And if they weren’t, will a new or amended ordinance make any difference?

Councilmembers Pina and Rodman may have violated Council Policy #2
Council members are not allowed to issue directives to a staff member, however, according to the Executive Summary (above) it was Councilmembers Pina and Rodman who asked the Legal Department to review the Town’s Animal Control Code.

The possible violation of this council policy (and others) will be discussed in a separate article that will be published tomorrow.
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Tuesday, February 19, 2019

CAP Water Restrictions Should Have Minimal Impact On Oro Valley

The Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) has an agreed upon plan to reduce Arizona's annual allotment of Colorado River Water from Lake Meade.  Under the plan, various classes of CAP water users be allotted less water.  One class of users, Pinal County farmers, will be hard hit. Residential and industrial users, like Oro Valley, will see minimal change in their annual CAP water allotment.

CAP water restrictions: Minimal impact on the Oro Valley
The potential reductions in CAP water availability will be trigged by the level of water in Lake Meade. The level that triggers the reduction is expected to occur in several years.

When this happens, the reduction in CAP water should have minimal impact on Oro Valley, according to Oro Valley Water Director Peter Abraham. "I'm planning for a reduction in CAP water," Abraham told us in during our interview with him last week.

Source: Town of Oro Valley
The reason that the ADWR plan will have minimal impact on Oro Valley is that the town now maintains its sustainable water supply by using 72% of its CAP water allotment. The state's plan reduces Oro Valley's allotment to 93% of the current CAP water allotment.  Oro Valley will use less than 80% of this new, lower allotment. Thus, Oro Valley's wells will be replenished in the same quantities tomorrow as they are today.

The impact Oro Valley will see is a reduction in the credits, called storage credits, the town gets for the CAP water it does use. That's currently about 2,200 acre feet (AF) per year. Under the ADWR plan, Oro Valley will get credit fewer storage credit, about 1,500AF.  That's not much of an impact, even in the long run. Oro Valley already has 22,000AF storage credits on the books!

No impact from Pinal County farmers
We also leaned from Abraham that Pinal County farmers draw from an aquifer that is not connected in any material way to the aquifer that supports our groundwater supply. There will be no impact on our water supply even if the Pinal County farmers drain their wells dry.

CAP water will cost more
The problem for Oro Valley residents, Abraham observed, "...is that water is going to be more expensive... The same fixed cost. The same infrastructure." Less water taken means greater cost per AF.
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Monday, February 18, 2019

Guest View: Robert Peters ~ Cresta Morado General Plan Amendment and Rezoning Draws Ire From Neighboring Residents

Background
This 22-acre property at the NW corner of La Cholla and Tangerine is currently owned by Episcopal Church of the Apostles. Neighborhood meetings revealed that the church is having financial difficulties which has led to their decision to sell the land surrounding the church. The presenter, Brian Underwood of The Planning Center, stated, “We started this project because the Episcopal Church of the Apostles was in the hole.”

The General Plan Amendment is to change the land use from Public/Semi-Public to Medium Density Residential. The Rezoning request is to rezone from R1-144 (144,000 square foot lots) to R1-7 (7,000 sf lots).

The third Neighborhood Meeting for Cresta Morado was held on February 7th. There were approximately 40 attendees. I did not see any council members in attendance. However, Councilmember Rodman attended the first two neighborhood meetings in January and October 2018 and Vice-Mayor Barrett attended the first neighborhood meeting in January 2018 while a member of the Planning and Zoning Commission.

Town documents reveal the following concerns of adjacent neighbors:

• the request is not consistent with the vision, goals, and policies of the General Plan
• water issues -- nearby wells are declining
• 2-story homes will obstruct their current views of the Catalina Mountains
• light pollution impacting the existing rural character
• negative impact on wildlife
• they do not support any access via Como Drive
•7,000 sf lot sizes and 2-story homes are not compatible with the rural character of the surrounding area

The tension was palpable
When I walked into the Neighborhood Meeting, I could already feel the tension in the room. This “ambience” would soon deteriorate even further into skepticism and distrust for the presenter who apparently had nothing more in mind than to convince the crowd that this was the best deal that they could expect.

The presentation was given by The Planning Center. (Yes, for once it wasn’t The WLB Group). They, as all other planning groups do, glossed over the impact of this rezoning while patting themselves on the back for moving the recreation area to the west side of the property and reducing the number of lots from 54 to 47.

The discussion grew heated in a short amount of time. Some highlights are below:

• A resident asked why they had to go from the lowest density (R1-144) to the highest density (R1-7). The presenter advised that the builder (Richmond) would probably drop out if the lot sizes were any larger than that.

• A resident complained about the recreation area being moved to the west side of the property. This recreation area would now border the large lot homes on the west side. Surrounding residents want the recreation area located away from their homes.

• Why didn’t the church add this rezoning to the 2016 OV General Plan? The presenter advised that the property wasn't on anyone’s radar prior to 2016 and that the church’s financial problems arose after the 2016 General Plan was ratified.

• A homeowner stated that, “The church’s financial mistakes are not my problem.”

• The presenter advised that they don’t consider the homeowners group as a hostile element, to which one homeowner responded, “You can consider me a hostile element.”

• The discussion finally evolved into a look at zoning for the overall Tangerine/La Cholla area. One homeowner noted that it had been understood when they all purchased property in that area (some residents have lived there since the 1980’s) that the land north of Tangerine would always be zoned low-density and the land south of Tangerine was for medium and high density housing.

The transitional lot sizes and buffer zones are inadequate
This property is surrounded by very large rural lots (rural low density residential) including a 50-acre rural property immediately to the north of the proposed development. The “transitional” lot sizes adjacent to this 50-acre rural parcel are just half-acre lot sizes. This is hardly an adequate transition.

The north side of the property (abutting Limewood Drive) shows a buffer yard of just 10 feet plus a 30 foot conservation easement, for a grand total of 40 feet of buffer between a 50-acre rural lot and this medium density development.

The west side of the property (abutting Como Drive) shows a buffer yard of just 30 feet. Granted, this is double the 15 foot requirement but it’s still not nearly enough of a buffer to separate R1-144 zoning (minimum 3.3 acre lots) from R1-7 zoning (minimum 7,000 sf lots).

For comparison, during the 2015 “Capella” Major General Plan Amendment, neighbors living on large lots along Shannon Road (adjacent to the west side of Capella) negotiated a 200 foot natural desert buffer between their homes and the Capella medium density residential development.

Conceptual Site Plan


My opinion
This rezoning would set a dangerous precedent. We’ve all witnessed that after a rural low density area gets rezoned down to 7,000-10,000 sf lots, it sets the stage for all the undeveloped land surrounding that parcel to also be rezoned down to tiny mass graded lots (with 2-story homes and connecting walls). The developer uses the first rezoned parcel to claim that the parcel next to it should also be rezoned down to 7,000 sf lots in order to be “compatible” with the first parcel. And on and on it goes until there are no rural areas left, roads are widened to four lanes, traffic lights are installed, and the wildlife disappears.

It bothers me that one entity – one landowner, can disrupt so many lives with their development plan, especially in an area that was originally zoned for rural low density. The town has frequently given more consideration to one landowner than to all of the surrounding neighbors that these plans will affect. It isn’t right. But it’s done because greed takes precedence over way of life. It also happens because decision makers see Oro Valley as a building project rather than as a community. In this case, the community is rural residential with unspoiled desert surroundings and solitude.

Town Planner Michael Spaeth stated, “It’s the applicant’s job to demonstrate that what they’re proposing improves upon what’s there today.” Does anyone believe that this plan is an improvement?

The neighbors are justifiably upset.

Editor’s Note: This will most likely be the last Neighborhood Meeting. The proposal will be presented to the Planning & Zoning Commission for a vote. If approved by P&Z, it will be sent to the Town Council for the final vote.

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Robert Peters is an Army veteran who served in Germany and South Korea. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Russian and Eastern European Studies and a Master’s degree in Business Management. He relocated from New England to Arizona in 2003 and was employed by Raytheon Missile Systems for 12 years, retiring in 2016 after 50 years in the workforce. He’s been active in dog rescue organizations for the past 20 years. He’s also an avid reader and history buff who has traveled extensively throughout the U.S., Europe and Russia. A former hippie, he attended the 1969 Woodstock Festival in Upstate New York.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Bits and Pieces

Yogurt stores close
Two more of Oro Valley's what were four "smoothie...yogurt" places have closed: Blue Banana in the Oro Valley Marketplace, next to the theatre, and Planet Smoothie, on northwest corner of Oracle and Ina. Blue Banana cited "economic conditions" as their reason. That's code for: "Not enough business." After all, the economy is booming and there is no way that their business is negatively affected by the online shopping. These store closings follow the closing of Giovani's Gelato Cafe, which was on Oracle, next to the Fairfax Motel.

Looks like Oro Valley's "upscale shopping experience", the one LOVE fought against and lost regarding Oro Valley taxpayers subsidizing a private developer (Vestar) is turning into a ghost town.  Thank goodness for Walmart!

Skimpy Sandwiches at Baggins and at Mike's 
Speaking of Oro Valley eating establishments, we've noticed a decrease in the quantity of real ingredients ("meat") in the sandwiches at Baggins and Mike's East Coast. The amount of meat in a sandwich is just skimpier than they were when these chains first opened in Oro Valley.  Now, they are mostly bread. Not really worth buying.

Will Fry's charge for using "scan, bag and go"?
A while back, we wrote about Fry's "scan and go" program. You scan the item as you shop and then you only have to pay to check out. We noticed a new line item on our checkout receipt yesterday. It said: "Scan and Go" as a line item. There was no cost with it. But it's there, ready to go. Charging you for using a service that saves the retailer time and money would be like a self service gas station charging you more for using as self service gas pump.

El Tour de Tucson skirted Oro Valley for a reason this year
Want to know why the "El Tour de Tucson" bicycle race was routed around the western periphery of Oro Valley? It was because the town did not receive a requested "economic impact statement" from the sponsoring association. The town did spend $5,000 anyway. This KVOA report indicates that the likelihood of getting repaid is pretty slim.

Oro Valley housing market slowed in January
Fewer sales and more available inventory market Oro Valley's January housing market.
"In the Oro Valley area, January 2019 active inventory was 287, a 13% increase from January 2018. There were 45 closings in January 2019, a 22% decrease from January 2018. Months of Inventory was 6.4, up from 4.4 in January 2018. Median price of sold homes was $310,000 for the month of January 2019, up 7% from January 2018. The Oro Valley area had 100 new properties under contract in January 2019, up 6% from January 2018.' (Source: Long Realty Oro Valley Housing Report)