Council may seek solar microgrid for Midtown Tucson, Oro Valley's 50th birthday party set

Tucson is acting like a city that’s serious about tackling climate change.

During a study session set for Tuesday afternoon, the City Council will take up the idea of creating a solar microgrid.

The meeting will include interlocking discussions about climate, transit, and transportation and how they all fit together.

What is a solar microgrid? I had the same question. Turns out it’s just a highly decentralized power distribution system. A whole bunch of solar generating stations would be set up to provide a given part of town access to energy.

By contrast, Tucson Electric Power offers a centralized system where electricity is generated at big power stations and then transmitted to homes across wires radiating out from a single source, often far away.

The microgrid the city is now discussing would broadly follow the path of a proposed high-capacity transit route from Tohono Tadai, up near North Stone Avenue and East Wetmore Road, down to Tucson International Airport.

The grid would follow the transit’s proposed path down North Oracle Road, South Sixth Avenue and South Park Avenue.

The Council will also get an update on efforts like the one to put in place the Resilient Together Tucson climate plan.

One of the highlights of the update is the city’s $90 million in grant applications that are now in play. Those grants are mostly small-dollar compared to a single application of $70.7 million from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. The money would pay for a water purification system.

Additionally, the city has set up a 16-member climate action team among various staff members to meet monthly and figure out how to turn Resilient Together Tucson’s ideas into policy.

Climate will also be part of an update to the Council on the city’s major streets plan.

Plotting out the city’s major thoroughfares and their proposed widening will help the city guide growth.

This major street plan was first established in 1982 and was last updated in 2016. Since then, the City Council has created a transportation plan called “Move Tucson,” approved its “Complete Streets” plan and established “Resilient Together.”

So the city staff is proposing a major update to its major streets plan to adapt to major changes in city policy in a major way. To do anything less would be minor league.

The city took a while to get going on climate but seems (note the hedge) to be working up a host of ideas they are trying to turn into action.

Maybe the sun got to them.

The Council will also hear about economic development initiatives in town.

One is a Small Business Navigator Program, which works in retention and expansion. REX, has it has been called, is the yin to attraction side’s yang. Keep 10 businesses open and if they average 20 employees, then 200 more people are working than if the city did nothing. Help 50 businesses expand and hire four workers, that’s also 200 jobs added.

It’s usually a heck of a lot cheaper than offering a $200,000 in sales tax abatements to get a company to move to town and hire the same number of workers.

City officials will also discuss the trade program to attract foreign-owned businesses to Tucson. A report to the Council claims these business pay better and are better able to withstand recessions.

The staff report explains that the trade programs works to “attract businesses to Tucson by engaging in international trade shows, hosting international visitors, and creating new internationally focused collateral materials.”

It does not say how many businesses has beensuccessfully attracted.

Meanwhile, during the 5:30 p.m. regular meeting, the Council will vote on providing a sales tax break to Denver-based MicroStar Logistics, which plans on opening a warehouse to clean and refurbish kegs for beer.

The 150,000-square-foot warehouse will cost $42 million and add more than 200 jobs in exchange for a $322,000 tax credit.

Bridge, new union and crime guns

The members of the Council will vote on an intergovernmental agreement with the Arizona Department of Transportation to build a $15 million bridge extending Drexel Road over the Santa Cruz River, connecting neighborhoods separated by the streambed and Interstate 19.

Under the terms of the deal, the city will be responsible for designing, building and maintaining the bridge and ADOT will kick in the money.

The Council will also consider a new ordinance allowing it to recognize a labor union of city workers.

AFSCME reorganized itself and Local 449 is now Local 905. The city’s current labor deal is with 445 and 905 wasn’t created by holding an election. The law doesn’t allow the city to recognize a local that hasn’t had an election.

So the Council wants to give itself power to change that.

The city’s elected leaders will also accept a $699,000 grant to establish a crime gun processing lab for the Tucson Police Department. Police now have to send guns involved in crimes out to other agencies for examination. The U.S. Department of Justice grant will let TPD do it themselves.

A deal between the Federal Emergency Management Association, Pima County and the city looks set to be extended to Dec. 31, 2023, and the amount expanded from $4.2 million to $5 million. The money would be used to help house and transport asylum seekers flooding into the city.

One might point out, that if immigration was “regularized,” corporate America would set up shop at the border and handle all of this with recruitment centers filling any of the 10 million jobs the U.S. labor force won’t take.

Because we treat immigrants like they are suspect or criminal, the job falls to government.

The crap we do to satisfy our fear of skin tones that evolved to adapt to sunny climates…

What Nanos’ people knew …

During the Pima County Board of Supervisors regular meeting on Tuesday, Chairwoman Adelita Grijalva will ask for a clarification on a vote taken two weeks ago that asked an outside agency to investigate Pima County Sheriff’s Department employee actions during an alleged sexual assault of a female deputy.

Former Deputy Ricky Garcia is set to stand trial for the alleged assault, which is said to have happened during a Christmas party. The Pima County Deputies Association claims another deputy at the party called his captain during the assault and a lieutenant responded but did nothing while awaiting further orders. 

Garcia has been fired from the department.

Supervisor Sharon Bronson asked the board in September to request an outside investigation as to why the Sheriff’s Department failed to start an internal investigation into the alleged assault and possible lack of action by PCSD staffers.

Supervisors Matt Heinz and Steve Christy joined Bronson in asking either the Arizona Attorney General’s Office, the Department of Public Safety or the Pima Regional Critical Incident Team to look into why Sheriff Chris Nanos isn’t asking more questions of his department.

Grijalva and Supervisor Rex Scott voted against the inquiry because pending the results of the criminal case and a lawsuit filed against the county by the alleged victim.

Nanos denies that the lieutenant stood outside and waited for more than an hour while the assault was taking place, saying he did what he was supposed to do in the matter.

Now, Grijalva wants clarification on the issue.

Also, Christy wants the board to publicly disclose a Sept. 22 memo it received from its legal team related to the case. That would require a vote of the board.

Countdown to Vail

Coming up, Vail residents will settle an election to decide if the Southeast Side neighborhoods should incorporate into a town. 

County Administrator Jan Lesher wants the supervisors to be ready.

The Board of Supervisors would be responsible for appointing an interim seven-member town council and Lesher is asking for permission to get a jump on the possible incorporation and set an Oct. 20 application deadline to join the council.

That’s 18 days before the polls close but OK. Early birds and worms and all. 

Applicants would be asked to submit, to the clerk of the board, proof of age, voter registration and a year’s worth of residency within the town’s boundaries.

The board will also ask for a letter explaining qualifications and financial disclosures, which would be reviewed by the Clerk of the Board. 

Supervisors would then vote on the new council by Nov. 21, when the final election  canvass is approved. If voters nix the idea, oh well, whatever, never mind.

The supes will also vote to approve a $26 million mortgage revenue bond, which they need more of.

These bonds will be issued by the Pima County Industrial Authority and will be secured by the mortgage payments of the home owners whom the program will benefit. When they pay their mortgage, they help pay off the bond, which should help some with the housing crunch.

Bondholders won’t have to pay taxes on the interest, so it’s a good deal for them.

A typical single family home costs about $200 jper square foot to build. So this will put about 100 new homes on the market. 

Home buyers are eligible to receive downpayment assistance in the form of a “forgivable” second mortgage of either three or 30 years. These people must fall within certain income limits and have a minimum credit score of 640.

Local governments use similar bonds called certificates of participation to build things like parking garages. They issue bonds to build the structure and then use fees generated by drivers, who use the garage.

The board will also vote on three items helping asylum seekers.

It will approve the contract with the city discussed earlier, another $3.3 million contract with Catholic Community Services and $67,000 to the Inn of Southern Arizona. Each of these grants originate with FEMA to provide asylum seekers with emergency food and shelter.

Update on Hermosa Mine permits

The Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors will receive a presentation related to the permitting of the proposed Hermosa Mine.

A senior administrator at the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality will provide the overview of state’s permitting process.

Australian mining company South 32 won approval in March 2022 of a renewed water discharge permit but the Patagonia Area Resource Alliance appealed the decision to the Water Quality Appeals Board.

ADEQ is now reviewing its decision after officials realized they misunderstood a ruling handed down by the Arizona Court of Appeals involving Resolution Copper in Gila County. A three-judge panel ruled in 2022 that ADEQ first had to establish “maximum loading limits for impaired water” before issuing a permit.

At first, ADEQ’s attorneys argued the decision didn’t set a precedent. Then they realized it did.

So ADEQ has pulled its approval and is reassessing South 32’s application.

South 32 has proposed the mine for the Patagonia area and hopes to dig out silver, lead, manganese and zinc. These materials are necessary for, among other things, solar panels and batteries for electric vehicles.

The board will also vote on sending a letter to the county’s congressional delegation asking for assistance dealing with asylum seekers.

One of the board’s chief concerns involves the feds decision to redeploy border agents away from processing at ports of entry and out into the hinterlands:

“This mandate has had a detrimental impact on our border communities. Lanes have been closed at the ports of entry, border crossing times have dramatically increased, and we are starting to hear of a decrease in business in many of our retailers. Yet our ports of entry must continue to fulfill their mission of protecting the homeland against such national threats like narcotics, human smuggling, and additionally to facilitating trade and tourism.”

The letter states that the board is more than willing to be helpful partners in border security efforts but wants Congress and the Biden administration to consider the concerns of local communities when making policy in Washington.

The Nogales City Council will also hold a discussion about the migrant situation.

What’s interesting is that these two jurisdictions are most squarely in the path of the migration of asylum seekers, being right at the border. This is the first time in years both are sounding the alarm at the same time.

The council will also vote on an extension of its deal with the Nogales Police Officers Association. They are currently operating under an agreement that expired in June. 

The previous union president did not negotiate a proposal and has since left the city. Now the council wants to continue under existing terms.

Oro Valley turns golden

The town of Oro Valley is going to celebrate its 50th birthday in 2024 and have a whole bunch going on to mark the occasion.

Plans are in the works to rebrand the town as being a half-century old and do so across “all appropriate channels” like its website, social media accounts, newsletters, press releases, etc.

There’s also an effort underway to tell the story of Oro Valley through the folks who have been there since the beginning. Y’know: Ye Olde Tymes … 1979. That was back when the lava was cooling and the mountains were rising from what had been a shallow inland sea. People can recall how there were once phones plugged into walls and cars had CB radios, idled once drivers realized saying “10-4, good buddy” wasn’t quite as cool as when Burt Reynolds did it.

The council will hold a study session to discuss a nine-page PowerPoint presentation full of ideas and ways to spend $10,000.

The town even might hire a consultant because consultants can get their mitts on the community chest in any number of ways.

I mock but if there’s funnel cake, I’ll be there.

The council will also vote to accept a $1 million Arizona State Park Land Water Conservation Grant for the Naranja Road Skate Park and Pump Track. Wikipedia defines a pump track as “a circuit of rollers,(a) banked turns and features designed to be ridden completely by riders ‘pumping’—generating momentum by up and down body movements, instead of pedaling or pushing.”

So wait. The state won’t spend money on schools but will drop a million bucks on that. I know it’s different money but there’s a principle involved.

The Marana Town Council will vote Tuesday on forgiving $500 in park rental fees for a sand volleyball tournament held in August for the benefit of women’s shelters. 

It will also get an update on what is going in where, as far as new construction in town is concerned. Some of these projects, like Dove Mountain Church at the intersection of West Desert Falcon Lane and West Twin Peaks Road, are still in the review phase. Others like Maverick Marana fuel station have been fully permitted and are awaiting construction.

 These projects are still in the review phase