Water rates set to increase for Tucson businesses, Pima Supes review Israel support

The Tucson Water bills for commercial and industrial customers are likely to increase after a vote this week by the Tucson City Council.

The new rates are one of several water-related items the Council will consider Tuesday during a regular meeting and study session. As water goes, Tucson goes. So let’s dig in.

The increased charges for water used by businesses were first discussed back in the spring and a 60-day notice of intent to increase rates was voted on in May. Commercial and industrial rates are based on winter usage during the months between November and April. Then, a business is charged a premium rate for whatever amount of water is used in the summer, above its typical winter levels.

This is how Tucson Water manages usage. Some businesses and industries use a lot more water than others because more water is required. Flattening out summer spikes is less about a one-size-fits all rate and is more about restraining “discretionary” excess use in the summer compared to winter usage.

The proposal the Council will consider Tuesday, after a public hearing, is to shorten the “winter” to the three months of December, January and February. Necessarily, the summer season when business and industry pays a premium would expand to nine months. 

Under one option, winter rates would be cut by a few cents per hundred cubic feet during winter and then charge the current winter rate for water rates up to 100 percent of winter use.

Then rates would then jump more than a dollar per hundred cubic feet for summer usage between 101 and 145 percent of winter use and then a little extra for use beyond 145 percent.

The actual rates would be slightly less under the new plan but the summer period would be doubled, increasing revenues and encouraging conservation.

Water rate increases in Arizona must be directly tied to the cost of delivery and they hired Oregon-based consultants Galardi Rothstein Group to conduct a study that was finished in August.

If approved Tuesday, the rates would take effect Dec. 1.

The City Council will also vote to adopt its new water plan, One Water 2100. 

I might give this a deeper dive someday soon but Tucson’s water management has been pretty solid, even in times of drought. Not a lot is needed right now to address a crisis, which can not be said/written about housing and climate. 

Here’s something interesting I bet readers didn’t know: Since Tucson started taking Central Arizona Project Water and recharging it in 2001, ground water tables have risen by between 67 and 108 feet under central Tucson.

Meanwhile, water tables in Oro Valley have fallen by 40 feet.

The new plan doesn’t foreshadow need for radical departures or even big new ideas to be put in place three days before yesterday to cope with water. So the plan focuses on conservation and recharge efforts largely now underway.

The council will vote to accept a loan from the state’s Water Infrastructure Financing Authority to help the city comply with updated federal lead and copper rules.

The Environmental Protection Agency has updated regulations related to lead and copper in water systems to require more monitoring that could likely lead to more remediation. If they are looking harder, they’ll find more stuff.

The council already agreed to cap the financing at $7 million for lead and copper.

Finally, the Council will discuss, during the afternoon study session prior to the regular meeting, a possible pilot project establishing an irrigation discount to small commercial gardens of 3 acres or less.

The program would only be available to Tucson Water customers and would require a meter be installed to the garden portion of the land only. Financing would be available through the city to put on in place.

Those eligible would have to sell the harvest locally to outlets that take public assistance like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP — still known by many as “food stamps”).

The idea is to limit the scope of discounts to get a better idea about how it would affect the overall water system.

Gobbling up RTA

City Council members will take some time during the study session to discuss priorities for the next 20 years of Pima County’s Regional Transportation Plan.

The projected costs are in and we have a bit of a problem.

The city’s wish list costs out at $1.8 billion. That’s fine and all, but there are seven other jurisdictions taking part in the $2.3 billion RTA Next plan. The city wouldn’t be asking for much – just 78 percent of the total program meant for Tucson, Marana, Sahuarita, Pima County, Oro Valley and South Tucson, plus the Pascua Yaqui and Tohono O’odham tribal communities.

Clearly, Tucson isn’t going to take all of it. The RTA citizen’s advisory committee had put together a list that included $1.4 billion earmarked for Tucson. However, there was confusion and debate about whether the citizen’s committee or another proposal by the technical management committee’s plan should be endorsed by the whole RTA Board. Both committees are now trying to reconcile their differences with a new plan based on new cost estimates.

That the city’s priorities are priced so high probably has more to do with rising costs of construction material than it does with Tucson’s outsized appetites. The Council had come up with a list in 2022 and had to redo their estimates to reflect a new reality.

All jurisdictions are supposed to forward their estimates to the RTA’s committees so they can come up with its new draft in December.

The Council will  also review a proposal by an Oregon consultant to rejigger land-use designations to encourage affordable housing.

The city currently uses overlay zones, which provide alternatives to existing zoning designations as a way to promote higher-density use. 

ECONorthwest was enlisted to review the city’s zoning and found opportunities to expand overlay zone corridors throughout the city (sounds vaguely familiar to something a genius once wrote).

The corridors presented would track major arterials Broadway, Speedway and 22nd Street running east-west. The north-south corridors would follow along South 12th and South Park avenues, and North Oracle, Kolb and Craycroft roads.

That’s a whole bunch of Tucson.

The consultant also recommended the city match up lower-cost higher-density development with commercial uses in place already that have “high activation.” I think they mean “higher activity” in English. Higher activity uses would be supermarkets while “low activation” (nope, don’t like that term) uses would be car dealerships.

Finally, what I know people are going to care most about but probably has the smallest overall affect on Tucson’s health, safety and vitality over the next few decades.

Plans are in the works to establish “no-racing photo enforcement” along city streets.

Councilmember Nikki Lee has been working with the Tucson Police Department’s East Side team and the City Attorney’s Office to come up with ways to deal with illegal street racing.

They found a law passed by the Seattle City Council that allowed installation of speeding cameras at key intersections.

Proposition 205, passed by voters in 2015, allows photo radar to reduce speed-related traffic offenses by ticketing more of them.

Lee has been working on this independent of the rest of the Council and will present the item to her colleagues Tuesday, while Police Chief Chad Kasmar delivers his thoughts on the issue.

Help Wanted (maybe)

The Pima County Board of Supervisors will vote on a second recommendation about how to fill seats on an interim Vail Town Council if voters decide to incorporate the community in the election ending November. 7.

County Administrator Jan Lesher wanted to get going early, and start collecting applications last week and set a deadline for Friday. Supervisors would then appoint on November 21.

However, supervisors wanted to begin the process after the election. So the new plan is to open the application process Nov. 8, once an result is established (hehehehehehehe. C’mon, Arizona elections can take that long just to order a pizza for ballot tabulators). 

The deadline to apply would be November 13 (see above). Qualified council members would be at least 18 years old, be a registered voter, and live in the Vail’s new town boundaries for a year.

Supervisors will also vote on $5.8 million in contracts for behavioral health programs throughout the county.

The services include involuntary confinement and had always been intended to be three-year deals approved previously. However, a glitch in the system meant they were drawn up as one-year deals that require extension.

That’s being fixed Tuesday.

Solving the Middle East

Supervisor Steve Christy wants the county to express its support for Israel in the wake of the Hamas attacks.

Christy, of course, is the lone Republican on the board and some – a slight few – progressives have turned anti-Israel in the years leading up to the events last weekend.

He can support Israel without wanting to needle his Democratic colleagues and get them in dutch with their base. But he can also do both.

I don’t know how big of a deal this will be. There will be an amendment to the motion to support Israel and the people of Palestine who are not Hamas, and then Middle East peace will be the topic of a local government that should probably be more focused on how to keep its own jail safe.

During the run up the Iraq War, the Tucson City Council (at the time controlled by Republicans) decided to paint A Mountain red, white and blue to support the troops and with them the war in Iraq. 

It was “a whole thing” for about a week. Then everyone forgot. The ones who did the most forgetting were the people who thought the Iraq War was a good idea.

Regardless, I’m sure the Iranian ayatollahas are waiting with trepidation to hear what the Pima County supervisors have to say about the Middle East.

Pima County will also get an update on a lawsuit filed against the Vail Unified School District. I’m still tracking down what this is about.

The county will also vote on fireworks permits for Westin La Paloma set for Oct. 26 and Nov. 14 at 8 p.m.

Lastly, the county will vote to replace former state Sen. Steve Farley on the Pima County Animal Care Advisory Committee.

Farley was recently fired from his job running the Humane Society of Southern Arizona after 250 small pets (guinea pigs, mice, bunnies) were sent to a group associated with … are you ready for it? A reptile farm!

Oh dear God.

I’ve known Farley for years. I like Farley. He’s a good, smart guy. But dude … a reptile farm? 

That’s a far cry from being adopted out as pets. When a 14-foot python looks at a bunny rabbit and says “you’re so cute, I could eat you up” … he’s being literal.

The Humane Society is still conducting a full investigation trying to find the animals that were brought in from San Diego. 

In the mean time, Supervisor Rex Scott made the move to replace Farley on the committee with Lara Iacobucci, who has worked at the Animal Care Center.

Sick puppies

Pets will take center stage at the Marana Town Council meeting on Wednesday.

Council members will consider ordinances defining and regulating dog parks and another that will make it easier for the town to enforce pet store rules approved by the Legislature.

Dog parks would be defined as any enclosed area where dogs are allowed to run off-leash. 

Owners would be responsible for the dog’s behavior and must remove them if they act aggressively and would be required to keep them on a leash entering and exiting the doggie play area.

Meanwhile, the town council will include the term “pet store” in its building code. That will allow Marana to enforce state laws requiring pet stores to disclose information like the pet’s age and medical background to all prospective buyers. It also forbids the sale of a dog or cat with a communicable disease, instead requiring them to be quarantined.

The Legislature did that? I sense a lawmaker bought a dog infected with something because that’s usually the only time they find utility in regulation on business.

Riding developers to park

Look at Oro Valley getting all hippie.

The Town Council will vote on a new requirement on all new housing projects that need a rezoning to increase the amount of recreation space from 512 square feet per home to 900 square feet per home.

So if a developer needs a rezoning, they’ll have to kick in nearly 1,000 square feet per home of the project’s acreage for parks.

When developers need rezonings to build their project, they are operating outside their rights as property owners. Buying land means buying the rights to the land as they exist – not as owners would prefer them.

So in asking for a rezoning, a town, city or county is within its rights to ask “What’s in it for us?”

In fact, environmental groups began shaking down developers for big concessions.

Kicking in land for a park was long standard operating procedure. It was often part of an opening bid. 

So the town council just made it part of the code that all rezonings must throw in 512 square feet per unit. Now they are on the cusp of doubling what’s known as an “exaction.”

The code update will also allow a rezoning of more than one subdivision to consolidate their exaction into a single, larger park.

During a study session, the Town Council will discuss how to sponsor events. The town budgets $10,000 for community events and $30,000 for events that are deemed “tourist-related.”

However, the town lacks a coherent policy on what to sponsor and how much to give. 

Stay local

Down in Nogales, the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors will get an update on the status of South32’s proposed Hermosa mine in public, and then will get a private update from county lawyers during an executive session.

South32 is still in the approval maze of the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality and the EPA. However, because the mine will extract materials needed for clean energy, the Biden administration has fast-tracked it for approval.

The county doesn’t have a huge legal say in the matter. It’s the state and federal government making the decisions. Even so, the Australian mining company clearly wants the continued support of the Board of Supervisors.

For decades, the mining industry counted on local support to drive the approval process with the promise of jobs for these communities. “Local control” was a big deal back in the 1990s. It was the banner under which pro-industry groups like People for the USA used to operate.

However, that balance seems to be changing.

While no doubt popular in certain parts of the West, mines are now battling a perception that they will gouge out the land and bail, after wielding outsized political power over local policy. 

They don’t call it The Resource Curse for nothing.

In other business, the county supervisors will vote on a proposal to buy back employee vacation time on a voluntary basis.

Drama club

The Tucson Unified School District Governing Board may be weighing in on the drama happening at the Arizona School Board Association.

If approved, the board would send a letter to the ASBA, stating their concerns about Executive Director Devin Del Palacio falsely claiming to have a bachelor’s degree when he did not.

The letter states: “Such dishonesty and lack of transparency in the hiring process affects the credibility and effectiveness of ASBA’s leadership, and compromises ASBA’s ability to fulfill its mission and objectives that support our work as Tucson Unified School District Governing Board members as well as other member school boards of the ASBA.”

Last week, the Flowing Wells Unified School District Governing Board sought to look for an alternative to the association and discussed hiring what can only be called a Republican Party alternative.

TUSD isn’t discussing ditching the organization, which provides lobbying assistance and policy guidance to districts across the state. Board members will vote on registering their contempt.

Maybe jobs don’t require a college degree to simply be considered. If someone is qualified without one, that’s fine. Hire them. If not, don’t. Just don’t elevate applicants who drank a bunch  beer and skipped just enough classes to graduate with a 2.0 over someone who has rolled their sleeves up and did the work.

The school board will also discuss their continued involvement in the University of Arizona’s Camp Cooper. The camp provides students with education tied to the natural environment. 

New override coming for Tanque Verde?

A bond and override update is on tap for the Tanque Verde Unified School District during its Wednesday meeting.

The override was approved by voters in 2018 and is set to to begin phasing out in 2025, which means a new election is probably coming in 2024. The $2.2 million annual override was split among class size reduction (26 percent), K-6 special programs (23.5 percent) and full-day kindergarten (16.8 percent) and another third going to librarians, nurses and advanced placement.

The $6.2 million bond was approved in 2020 and last year 91 percent of the proceeds paid for new construction.

The remaining $762,000 will buy the district more technology, furniture, transportation and construction.

And the Pima Community College District Governing Board will hold a study session Monday to discuss the permanent chancellor search. Lee Lambert left the post over the summer and the board has been conducting a national search for his replacement.

Again, this is a study session so no one will be hired. It’s just an update.