Tucson is stepping into the tomato imbroglio.
The City Council voted 6-0 Wednesday to implore that the U.S. Commerce Department reverse its October decision to consider terminating a trade agreement with Mexico.
For 16 years, Mexico has been allowed to freely export cheap tomatoes into the United States, which has kept prices low and allowed store shelves to remain stocked year-round with fresh tomatoes.
But some U.S. farmers say they can't compete when Mexico is dumping tons of below-market-price tomatoes into the market.
So recently, some Florida-based tomato growers successfully petitioned the Commerce Department to commit to removing the agreement from the Federal Registry. The department must now make a final decision within nine months.
Councilman Richard Fimbres brought the issue to the City Council because he said it could damage our region's economic relationship with Mexico.
"Mexico's trade with the United States and Arizona is important, and if this agreement is terminated, the price of goods, let alone tomatoes, could be raised through tariffs," Fimbres said. "In 2011, Arizona alone imported $6.2 billion in produce and goods from Mexico. If this agreement is suspended or revoked, it could do harm to the economies on both sides of the border."
Mayor Jonathan Rothschild said if Commerce follows through with its plans, it would hurt consumers, reduce jobs and could ignite an ugly tomato war with Mexico.
The city now joins Arizona Sens. Jon Kyl and John McCain and U.S. Reps. Raúl Grijalva, Ron Barber, Paul Gosar and others in denouncing any decision to end the agreement.
In other city news, the council received an update Wednesday on Tucson Water's various conservation programs as the city considers which programs to fund and at what amounts for the fiscal year 2013 budget.
Tucson Water Director Alan Forrest discussed some of his department's hits and misses when it comes to prodding Tucsonans into conserving water.
Forrest said residents have enthusiastically responded to the utility's new rainwater-reclamation program. The program began last June, with residents receiving up to a $2,000 rebate, depending on the type of harvesting equipment they install.
Forrest said already around 800 people have enrolled in the prerequisite classes to qualify for the rebate.
Other popular programs involve free low-flush toilets for low-income residents and a toilet rebate for single families, Forrest said.
Over three years, the program yielded 9,487 installed toilets and saved an estimated 95 million gallons of water annually.
Some of the less well-received programs include a 33 percent rebate for businesses that install high-efficiency urinals and a commercial irrigation rebate program.
Only a handful of folks signed up for either program.
The high cost of purchasing the equipment could have dissuaded businesses from participating, Forrest said.
Forrest said Tucson Water will work on reconfiguring those programs and others to see if they could be more effective or should be abandoned.
The council will vote on the conservation budget at a later date.
Contact reporter Darren DaRonco at 573-4243 or firstname.lastname@example.org.