It’s a shame Oro Valley has come to reflect the nastiness of national politics.
That’s what Mayor Satish Hiremath offered up when I sat down in his dental office Tuesday to talk with him about Prop. 454. If passed, the proposition would allow the town to float up to $17 million in bonds for adding sports fields, bathrooms, ramadas, trails and parking to Naranja Park.
“It’s very disheartening, to be honest,” Hiremath said. “You see it play out nationally. You’d think it wouldn’t play out locally.”
But the truth is, Oro Valley’s politics have been disproportionately nasty for a long time, maybe even longer than have our national elections. OV politics feature recall elections every few years, bitter taxing disputes and yes, that crime of election passion, sign-stealing.
We’re in that season again. You may have seen the black-and-white image of a goateed man skulking about a political sign earlier this week. Oro Valley police said he defaced a sign at North First Avenue just east of North Oracle Road.
When I visited the site Tuesday, the sign was still there. It’s next to a commercially printed sign by the opponents of Prop. 454, which uses the slogan “Axe the tax.” The sign that the goateed man tampered with is hand-painted with red paint and says “Why ax kids sports?”
The sign, to be clear, may be illegal under state law. It does not say who is responsible for the sign or give a phone number as required.
But it isn’t the only one to be reported vandalized. At least 20 have gone missing, most of them from the pro-Prop. 454 side, Oro Valley police Sgt. Troy Kranz said.
Much of the passionate opposition to Prop. 454 seems to come from the same broad group that opposed Oro Valley’s purchase, in early 2015, of three golf courses and a golf-club building that previously belonged to the Hilton El Conquistador. That purchase also came with the imposition of a half-cent sales tax and drew what I thought was the rightful ire of many, including then-council member Mike Zinkin.
I didn’t like how the town essentially relieved HSL Properties of the money-losing assets that the company was acquiring with its purchase of the Hilton El Conquistador. But Oro Valley voters had a chance to recall the three council members and the mayor, Hiremath, who supported the purchases and tax increase, and the voters supported them instead. They rejected the recall.
Now, the town is proposing to impose a property tax for the first time ever. It’s a concept Hiremath himself opposed publicly as recently as 2014. And it undermines one of the early promises of Oro Valley — that it would be a low-tax town that made it easy to retire there.
So no wonder Zinkin, who lost re-election last year, and others are questioning the need for what could amount to nearly $30 million in spending over 20 years, once all the principal and interest is taken into consideration. He and other opponents are questioning whether there isn’t a secret agenda of promoting sports tourism, rather than local play, and of creating further costly park development once this proposal is approved.
Instead of incurring bond debt, Zinkin said, the town should “do it pay as you go, which is historically how Oro Valley has done everything.”
I spent time driving around Oro Valley with Zinkin on Tuesday, looking at signs and the park, and I spoke with a half-dozen residents of one of the prominent developments, Sun City Oro Valley. Predictably, only one of the Sun City residents favored the project. As several pointed out, they have no need for the park’s amenities: They have everything they need in their little slice of retirement heaven.
“I just don’t think it’s necessary,” Henry Sheets told me. “It’s for kids. There’s nothing there for seniors. When I was a kid, we had to play in dirt fields.”
Some were more specific in their critiques. Joan Kelley told me that “$17 million for a park is ridiculous.”
In the past, these voices could be counted on to dominate the debate of what used to be a retirement town. But now, the town is different: 72 percent of residents are 64 years old or younger. The younger demographic, in combination with developers’ financial support, has fended off the anti-tax element.
The companies that have underwritten the pro-454 campaign are a who’s who of homebuilders and developers, including four separate HSL companies, Stone Canyon Fairfield Homes, Mattamy Homes and others, as well as Cox Communications and Unisource Energy.
But the campaign is being carried forward by Brian Mitchell, a relative political novice who says he simply wants more parks for the various sports leagues in town. He’s been both a coach and a parent and has seen the need, he said.
“Oro Valley is no longer a retirement community,” Mitchell said.
But it is still politically nasty, maybe more so as its transition into a younger, family oriented community continues. Mitchell said the anti-454 campaigners are a small, loud group whose behavior has been “despicable.” He sent me some Facebook posts by opponents of the proposition that included the argument that proponents’ kids “are NOT going to get an athletic scholarship!!!! So, please stop asking me to pay for your parental fantasies.” Despicable indeed.
“They see no benefit for themselves,” he said, calling the opponents “selfish.”
If trends continue, though, the nastiness will lead to a familiar result: Higher taxes to pay for new amenities that most of the new Oro Valley seems to want.