A breakfast meeting cosponsored by Hadassah Southern Arizona and the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Foundation of Southern Arizona, “Views on Recovery and Progress: A Conversation with Tucson City Council Members and Pima County Board of Supervisors,” held at the Tucson Jewish Community Center on April 29, quickly turned to criticism of the Arizona State Legislature. “We now have a common enemy, and that’s the state legislature,” said County Supervisor Ann Day in her first comment to the audience of around 50 people.
Day, who served 10 years in the Arizona State Senate, continued, “they’re passing ridiculous bills with no hearings, not bringing people together.” City Council member Regina Romero concurred, adding that “the state of Arizona is in a deplorable situation. The state legislature is attacking education, minorities and immigrants, local jurisdictions.”
The event was an opportunity for the Jewish community to hear what elected local officials consider our most important municipal challenges. Following introductory remarks by each of the officials, the discussion focused on questions from the audience.
All the panelists joined Day in voicing disdain for the state legislature, while most expressed support for solar energy and high-tech jobs for the region. Prior to “the economic mess that started four years ago, our economy was driven by development,” said County Supervisor Richard Elias. “We need to retool how we do business so that our children can stay here with their families. We must think of new ways to survive here, [such as] eco-tourism and solar power,” he said, adding that “we must also question land use. Our environment is very fragile in the lower Sonoran Desert. We need to figure out how to have a more sustainable economy.”
Water was another topic that came up repeatedly. “I no longer believe we live in a copper economy. We live in a water economy,” said County Supervisor Ray Carroll, speaking of his disapproval of the proposed Rosemont Mine in the Santa Rita Mountains.
City Council member Shirley Scott discussed “coupling water planning with growth. We’ve never done water planning and development planning together. Now,” she noted, “we want to be able to direct development in less environmentally sensitive areas.” In 2009, a gray water ordinance was passed by the city council, said Romero.
Council members also expressed concern about helping small businesses. If a Tucson business presents a new project to further its growth, explained Scott, the council can now delay payment of an impact fee instead of requiring the business to pay up-front. “As the project becomes successful,” said Scott, “the business begins to pay the fee.”
Has SB 1070, the anti-immigration law, hurt business in Arizona? “The National League of Cities, which I’ve sat on the board of,” said Scott, “debated for four hours whether to come to Arizona because of all that’s happening here.” The organization opted to hold their gathering in Phoenix, and, she added, “they’re sending a mobile unit here to see what a fabulous community Tucson is.”
Day encouraged attendees to get involved with Imagine Greater Tucson, a grassroots organization involving citizens in shaping the future. Meanwhile, said Romero, “the City of Tucson has always had an ethic of helping nonprofits like the Primavera Foundation. We’ve had to cut that funding by 60 percent to domestic violence shelters, the homeless and others.”
Although progress has been made to help homeless families, “especially with getting kids back to school,” said Elias, “it’s shocking, surprising and quite horrible how many veterans are homeless.”
Responding to audience questions about potholes that go unfixed and other services being severely cut, County Supervisor Sharon Bronson, an accountant, pointed out that in a false attempt to balance the budget, the “state legislature asked us to write a check for $55 million. That’s a real assault on local control.”
As for the panelists’ constituents, said Romero, “We have a responsibility to stand up for the most vulnerable in our community.”