Tucson, City Council haven't been transparent on El Rio Golf Course plans

2013-06-17T00:00:00Z Tucson, City Council haven't been transparent on El Rio Golf Course plansCecilia Cruz-Baldenegro Special To The Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Although Ward 1 Councilwoman Regina Romero has dropped her plan to allow Grand Canyon University to destroy El Rio Golf Course and GCU is pursuing other sites, we expect Tucson's mayor and City Council to engage in open and honest dialogue regarding El Rio's preservation.

The El Rio Coalition II's actions regarding the proposal to sell El Rio to GCU were not about being against jobs or economic development. In fact, we have discussed with Mayor Jonathan Rothschild our planned West Side Economic Development Task Force that will promote sustainable, neighborhood economic development and job-creating projects.

The El Rio Coalition II's campaign is about 1) preserving a historic cultural and environmental landmark; 2) assuring that residents impacted by neighborhood-altering development projects are consulted; and 3) insisting that city government be transparent and honest.

The prospect of the city selling a facility that is currently being used to a for-profit entity is unprecedented and troubling. Having just signed a multiyear contract with the Conquistadores' El Rio First Tee program, the city has a moral and legal obligation to the First Tee children.

The city unfairly compares El Rio to other courses and does not reveal that El Rio pays more for water than other courses (Silverbell Golf Course gets free water). Other such inconsistencies make the comparison of El Rio to other courses invalid.

Our coalition consists of many neighborhood associations and organizations that have joined area residents because they value history and know the negative impact the destruction of this open green space would have on the neighborhoods and on Tucson.

They know that studies show that green space such as El Rio-with its 719 trees and diverse wildlife-promotes health and complements economic development in a city. Reports also highlight Tucson's lack of public green space.

It seemed that the mayor and council understood that. On Oct. 23 they unanimously passed a resolution that kept El Rio open as a combination golf course, park and youth learning center.

On Jan.16 at a meeting about El Rio Golf Course, Romero told area residents the city was not out to close El Rio but "to save it."

However, on May 8, this newspaper reported that the mayor and council had offered El Rio Golf Course to Grand Canyon University.

In a Feb. 27 email, Chris Kaselemis of the City Manager's Office told other members of the manager's office that all council members were advised about the city's preferred site for GCU and that there was, "No opposition. … They will take Ward 1's lead."

Then on a last-minute added item to the study session agenda of May 14, Rothschild and council members Romero, Karin Uhlich, Shirley Scott and Paul Cunningham voted against council members Steve Kozachik and Richard Fimbres to pursue leasing or selling El Rio to GCU.

Pursuant to A.R.S. 39-121, which requires the city to release records to the public, our coalition submitted a public records request to Tucson regarding the El Rio-GCU matter, specifically seeking cost-benefit and economic-impact analyses. We also submitted a public records request to the Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities Inc. TREO, which has received $520,000 in past city funding, was the city's agent in this matter.

Citing "confidentiality agreements," Tucson and TREO refuse to release any documents.

The public has a right to reports regarding generation of jobs, economic benefits vs. costs of infrastructure and mitigation, tax breaks and other incentives being offered when the city is doing business. Deception and lack of transparency by our city elected officials and public servants is all too common.

We're planning a Community Day at El Rio soon. Join us and see this cultural, historical and environmental treasure that must be preserved.

Cecilia Cruz-Baldenegro is a retired city of Tucson principal planner, longtime community advocate, west side property owner and is the chairwoman of the El Rio Coalition II. Email her at cecicruz1@msn.com

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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