Steller: Here's a good one — a Phoenix pundit says we're the ones living in hell

2014-03-19T00:00:00Z 2014-03-19T00:10:05Z Steller: Here's a good one — a Phoenix pundit says we're the ones living in hellTim Steller Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Most of you were probably too busy outside, enjoying a beautiful Sunday in Tucson, to get the word from a Phoenix pundit that you were actually in hell.

That’s the word Arizona Republic columnist Doug MacEachern used to describe Tucson in an out-of-nowhere condemnation of the Old Pueblo.

I hesitate to dignify a piece that read like the sudden resolution of a long bout of constipation, but here’s his precise wording:

“Once you force yourself to come down off picturesque Ina Road and Skyline Drive up in the Catalina Foothills, which is where all of Tucson’s most well-heeled liberals live, you must drive downward into, you know, hell. Which is to say Tucson proper. Which in nearly every respect is a basket case, especially financially.”

The place in hell I was enduring Sunday when this piece came out was the Tucson Festival of Books on the UA campus, where I volunteered at the Star’s tent and wandered around with my family among tens of thousands of other Tucsonans. The 100,000-plus attendees surely found the experience unbearable.

What’s so peculiar about MacEachern’s piece is the contortions he goes through to make the broader point that Tucson sucks — a point too many locals seem eager to embrace these days.

He starts by calling Speedway “the ugliest main drag in America.” This appears to be a reference to Life Magazine’s infamous, 1970 description of Speedway as “the ugliest street in America.”

But no, when I spoke with MacEachern Tuesday, he told me he was referring to his own, more recent experiences on Speedway and judging it based on its being Tucson’s “main drag.” Now, I don’t think Tucson really has a main drag, but whatever Speedway is, it’s just not that ugly. It’s a normal commercial artery of which there are hundreds up in the Phoenix area and dozens here.

Next, MacEachern says how terrible our traffic is: “Tucson is a community that somehow created for itself a suffocating, twice-daily, rush-hour gridlock without actually having a lot of cars or places for people to work at.”

Ignore that dangling preposition and ponder that a person from the Phoenix area is saying how terrible our traffic is in Tucson. Yes, our traffic and lack of freeways can be frustrating, but compared to Phoenix? MacEachern told me that his experience is that whenever he drives into Tucson, he runs into tangles of traffic congestion.

OK, what do the facts say? There’s no single measure of one city’s traffic versus another’s, but the Texas A&M Transportation Institute creates an annual report on traffic and congestion nationwide that gives some insights. For example:

  • The Phoenix area has five congested hours (rush hours) per day, versus 2.5 hours per day in the Tucson area.
  • In a measure of congested travel — the percentage of miles traveled at peak hours that are congested — Phoenix had more congestion, 71 percent, than Tucson, 61 percent.
  • A measure of total annual traffic delays per commuter shows Tucson’s peak-hour commuters lost more time to congestion, 46 hours per year, than did Phoenix commuters, at 35 per year.

Those complaints, valid or not, are really just an appetizer to the main course of MacEachern’s column: Critiques about Rio Nuevo and Mexican American Studies. Those issues again? Yes, some people — especially ideological conservatives here and in Phoenix — are desperate to hold onto them as examples of the hopelessness of Tucson and Democratic rule.

“In Tucson,” MacEachern teases, “ ‘Rio Nuevo’ is Spanish for, ‘Where did my freaking $230 million go, you incompetent thieves?’”

Of course, he’s right that we squandered an unacceptable amount of money in Rio Nuevo, and people have a right to be angry about it. But he cites a 2011 audit to prove his point about the waste and the 2012 decision not to prosecute anybody in concluding, “Welcome to Tucson, where incompetence isn’t an indictable offense!”

Look, it’s 2014. Rio Nuevo has an independent board, and its finances are available for viewing online. It’s time that MacEachern and others move forward and at least find new examples.

But that would be expecting too much. MacEachern, who was obsessed with the debate over Tucson Unified School District’s Mexican American Studies program, insists on going back to re-fight that favorite battle and updating it with some sinister plot lines.

“Earlier this month, administrators at TUSD’s Davis Bilingual Magnet School held a schoolwide rally, ostensibly to honor the late labor activist Cesar Chavez. But really, as it turned out, it was to get the kids charged up for demonstrating at that evening’s Tucson City Council meeting, where the council would consider adding a new paid employee holiday honoring Chavez.”

His sources for this information are vague. So I asked our City Hall reporter, Darren DaRonco, if any kids were at the council meeting when the holiday was approved. He said no, and certainly none demonstrating.

What MacEachern’s complaints seem to boil down to is that he thinks Tucsonans are self-important about their city, when it is actually poorly governed by ostentatious progressives.

“That’s exactly the self-inflated bubble I wanted to burst,” he told me. “Tucsonans have an image of themselves as more righteous than the Philistines on the other side of the river.”

Living up there, he may not realize that while Tucsonans can come across as self-righteous, we also have an inferiority complex and a penchant for self-criticism that borders on self-loathing. We know our problems — bad roads, excessive spending, poor job prospects — and are trying to work on them. We don’t need a factually challenged Phoenix pundit to rise up from his own ideological hell to remind us of them.

Contact columnist Tim Steller at tsteller@azstarnet.com or 807-7789. On Twitter: @senyorreporter

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