Tucson Council to discuss CAP water, RTA future; School boards all back at work

Regional transportation and water will dominate the Tucson City Council’s study session on Tuesday.

This is the part where I’m supposed to figure out which is more important but they are both pretty vital to the city’s future. Let’s start with the straightforward one.

I slay myself because water is anything but straightforward. The council’s business on Tuesday, though, sort of is. City Manager Mike Ortega has recommended that neat year the Council resume taking every bloody pint of Central Arizona Project water we are freaking entitled to get.

The Council had previously agreed to forego 60,000 acre-feet of its 144,000 acre-foot allotment. Tucson had been recharging much of our take anyway and hadn’t really needed it. Lake Mead was shrinking to an oversized puddle and needed it more.

This week, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation cut Arizona’s total allotment by 592,000 acre feet. 

Generosity suffers in a shortage. 

To be fair to Ortega, the Council’s giveback plan was contingent on negotiations with the city’s CAP partners, which has not yet been completed. 

The several states getting Colorado River water are about to ramp up some heated negotiations and it’s not hard to see the wisdom in hoarding assets heading into those talks.

The future of water in Tucson is the future of Tucson. Tucson can survive the loss of Raytheon and Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. Nothing lives without agua – caliente or fria.

The Regional Transportation Authority is set to expire in 2026 and re-upping that agency will require another agreement among local governments and a plan to take to voters for approval.

It’s been a dicey proposition because Tucson has wanted a larger say than a single vote among many in steering the transportation improvements. Right now, Tucson’s vote counts as much as Sahuarita’s or South Tucson’s. 

The smaller jurisdictions haven’t wanted to give up cede power to Tucson. 

Tucson could pull out of the agreement, leaving a giant hole in the regional transportation plan. Yet even if Tucson gets some form of “proportional voting,” the Legislature would almost certainly execute its veto (assuming the Republicans still control it in 2023) over such a victory.

An agreement was reached to keep the process alive. The city would get more of a say on a technical advisory of engineers and player role in the input, rather than controlling the output.

The RTA Technical Advisory Panel has completed its initial round of goals a second RTA should achieve. The Council will now see if the compromise lead to satisfactory results.

The recommendations are working their way up the Pima Association of Government’s various teams and councils before going to the full Regional Council later this year. Ortega listed the date in his memo as “[blank space] , 2022).

Most of them are boilerplate considerations for a transportation plan. I’m talking about better mobility and land use.

Three recommendations stand out, though: One calls for climate change considerations to help shape the final plan. Another calls for equity related to historically screwed-people. Climate and equity are two trigger words for more conservative constituencies. At the national and statewide levels, the right sees climate mitigation and racial equity might as akin to surrendering to the terrorists. They are likely “must-haves” for the progressives running Tucson and Pima County. 

We’ll see if the toxic national political environment has seeped to the local level.

Also, Tucson wanted to make sure that plans agreed to prior to an RTA election could change if traffic predictions and cost projections dictate a voter-approved project be changed or discarded. That’s in there, too.

We’re about to find out if the RTA is going to proceed with broad support across the region.

Green stuff

The City Council will get an update on its Climate Action Plan.

I’ve mocked this plan as unnecessary and time-consuming but I’m willing to give it a chance. The consultant just doesn’t make it easy on me when it took six months to reach three findings. Among these are: “The key to reducing emissions will be decarbonizing energy sources and transforming how Tucsonans move.”

Really? It took Buro Happold six months to learn what a five-year-old could have discovered by asking Siri?

Let’s see what they come up with.

During the Council’s regular meeting, they will consider electric vehicle requirements for new multi-family, retail and office developments.

One consideration the city will deal with is a request by retail developers for more flexibility in providing outlets as opposed to charging stations.

Either way, it’s action. It’s not a “a stakeholder-driven deep dive to ideate certain synergies and architect real win-wins that move the needle without pain points of adverse disruption.”

The Council will also vote on an accounting move to properly document “involuntary tort judgments.” The city has already paid out $1.1 million in lawsuits but now needs approval to submit the withdrawals to the Arizona Attorney General’s office so the city can recover those losses with property taxes in fiscal year 2023/24.

Finally, the city’s elected leaders will get an update on actions Tucson Water has taken relating to the presence of polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has put an advisory on specific types of PFAS. 

Tucson Water has already taken action to fold into its own standards the EPA advisory.

The city has taken a range of other actions, including removing existing PFAS from the water system.

New rules at TUSD

Tucson Unified School District’s Governing Board will consider  changes to district policy when it comes to student searches on cell phones.

The new policy would allow for searches relating only if there is a reasonable suspicion that the search will discover violations of student conduct. 

The new policy has been practice at TUSD but the board is being asked to make it official policy.

The district will also take up on Tuesday revisions to the public participation at board meetings.

The policy includes the following language: “Speakers are expected to conduct themselves responsibly, civilly, courteously and with due respect, and should refrain from personal attacks or complaints unrelated to TUSD operations against Board members, district personnel, or others, whether they are in attendance or not.”

That’s fine. But there’s another provision that allows the board president to end a speaker’s turn if they are saying the same thing someone else has said previously during discussion.

Well, hell, “everything’s been said but not everyone has said it” is a time honored tradition at every public meeting since the first Cro-Magnons gathered around a fire. 

I get the inclination but this smells of overreach.

To comply with new Arizona state laws, TUSD is considering a couple of changes to policy that allows for the culture wars to be visited upon schools.

The first would allow parents of current or prospective students to sit in on classes.

The idea is that parents shouldn’t have their kids indoctrinated by “woke algebra.” The parent is only supposed to observe and permission can be revoked if they get disruptive.

Maybe some parents will show up and learn a couple things. 

Here’s to hoping parents certain parents sit in on the science classes when the teacher explains the physics behind greenhouse gasses. 

Let’s just hope that Arizona kids’ education isn’t dictated by the most ignorant parent of a classmate.

There’s also a policy update on tap to post the Constitution and Bill of Rights in classrooms.

Fine. Maybe the parents can read it while they are there observing.

The board will also vote on a new incentive of sorts to get teachers to stand in as substitutes in difficult-to-fill classes.

The district has 19 schools that are having a particularly hard go at filling these short-term needs. The proposal is to offer $500 per semester to 14 exceptional education (ExEd) teachers to fill the gaps.

Assessments, tax and otherwise

The Amphitheater Unified School District Governing Board will review its property tax rates, which remain unchanged. A single-family house with a full cash value of $167,674 will payAmphi $534.02 in taxes. 

By the way, one property I found online is assessed at $167k but is listed for more than $360,000.That’s how out of whack property taxes are with property values because real estate prices have risen so fast.

The board will also conduct – during closed-door portion of the meeting – something of a performance review for Superintendent Todd Jaeger. The city of Tucson will also be doing one for Ortega during the executive session of the City Council’s meeting.

Did Jaeger have to rank himself on a one-to-five scale on how well he executes a litany of job duties? How are Ortega’s phone skills?

These top government dogs (and I did have a dog named Jaeger) should conduct full self-appraisals and then post them on a public website.

Catalina Foothills Unified School District Superintendent Mary Kamerzell must make her performance goals public. 

In fact, her goals are up for approval at the CatFoot Governing Board’s meeting.

Blinded me with science

The Flowing Wells Unified School District board will discuss a plan to increase the pay for Teacher Assistance Team coordinators, who evaluate students with academic and behavioral problems.

They now receive a base pay of $814 for 20 meetings concerning elementary and middle school students $1,642 for 50 meetings. They would get an additional $30 per meeting with each student under the proposal before the school board.

The board will also vote on a contract with Jewish Children and Family Services of Southern Arizona to provide anti-bullying training. The training would take place at Homer Davis Elementary School and would be attended by a faculty member.

And the board will vote on continuing with participating in Pima Community College’s Upward Bound program.

The college readiness initiative provides tutoring, support and financial aid services to 23 students recruited from the district.

Smoke gets in your eyes

The Sunnyside Unifed School District Governing Board will consider hiring an attorney in an effort to join other school districts in litigation involving e-cigarettes.

Last year, Attorney General Mark Brnovich’s office reached a settlement with the e-cigarette manufacturer Juul for $14.5 million.

Individual districts have also been launching their own lawsuits.

The board will also consider a contract with Chicanos Por La Causa to provide health and wellness workshops at schools.

The board will also consider an agreement to continue with the Mathematics, Engineering and Science Advancement program for low-income, minority or first generation college-bound students.

It’s available for $600 for students wishing to tackle the whole program of $75 for an “a la carte” version.

Safety and character

The Tanque Verde Unified School District Governing Board will get an update on school safety measures.

The district completed a safety plan during the 2010s. The goal for the 2022-23 school year includes training to stop heavy bleeding, focus on fight and flight training and practicing evacuation of campuses.

The Vail Unified School District has been dabbling in character education while trying not to offend certain people or groups. A cadre of district parents, community and faith leaders met over six months in 2021 to find common ground about what constitutes good character.

Nothing earth-shattering. Be responsible and don’t be a jerk. Do I get a consultant fee?

The district’s document is here. Curious how it took a group of community and faith leaders to take six months to come up with that. Maybe Buro Happold ran it when they informing the city of Tucson about CO2 emissions had something to do with climate change.

Slow end to summer vacation

Down in Sahuarita, the Town Council and the school district governing board took the summer back  but are getting back to work… slowly.

The Sahuarita Unified School District Governing Board will meet Wednesday but haven’t posted much anything on their agenda other than vague phrases. The most interesting item on their agenda reads “Intuition Wellness Center Memorandum of Understanding” and that’s it.

That’s the full language of the agenda item. No background material. No nothing.

Some public bodies see the public meeting law as a call for informing the public about what they are doing. Others seem to see it as a minimum threshold of compliance to satisfy an obligation to a community they’d rather with as little as possible.

The Sahuarita Town Council is easing back into business.

Council members have a contract to approve with the county to jail folks arrested by town cops. They have to decide whether they are going to reappoint Town Magistrate Maria M. Alivez, whose contract ends at the end of the year.

Blake Morlock is an award-winning columnist, who worked in daily journalism for nearly 25 years and is the former communications director for the Pima County Democratic Party.

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