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Josh Brodesky: City needs to address W. University worries, regardless of petitions

  • Updated

First off, a correction and an apology. Sunday's column on the city's overlay zone just west of the University of Arizona campus had outdated information.

The nearly 12,000 signatures campus neighborhood residents submitted to the city were rejected late Friday. City officials said that because about half of the signatures were for a petition that did not include certain legally required information, they were invalid. That left about 6,000 signatures for the corrected petition, which were not enough. Campus-area residents needed nearly 8,500.

When I filed my column Friday night, I was under the impression the city would review the signatures early this week. I was notified about the rejection Saturday morning, but did not see the notice until Monday morning. I apologize about the error, and I certainly wish I had checked email on Saturday.

Still, the question remains as to what to do about those 12,000 voices. Will the city ignore them and simply move forward with the overlay zone between East Speedway and East Sixth Street, and North Euclid and North Park avenues? That zone will allow large-scale student-housing projects, including a 14-story tower proposed by Chicago-based Campus Acquisitions.

And how to make things right with campus-area residents who legitimately feel burned by the city?

Neighbors went to the City Clerk's Office to check the language on their petition in early March and even made some minor changes. City Clerk Roger Randolph acknowledged doing a "courtesy review" and notifying the campus neighbors of one problem in their petition, but he overlooked two other politically lethal problems, which didn't come to light until much later in the month.

"On March 16, 2012, you filed two versions of Referendum Petition 2012-RF01," a March 20 letter from Randolph says. "Upon review of this filing, we discovered two issues that need to be brought to your immediate attention."

These issues were in regard to a person's right to read the exact language of the proposed referendum, and language assuring the person signing is a city resident.

It took four days for the clerk to draft the letter. By the time it arrived, the neighbors had a week left to get new petitions printed and signed. They still scored roughly 6,000 signatures.

"It gave us a week, really, to recover," Chris Gans, president of the West University Neighborhood Association, told me. "We were just stunned, and we just hit the pavement."

Gans said he realizes "ultimately, it is the petitioner's responsibility to get everything right on the petition." But if the city had pointed out the deficiencies in early March, 12,000 voices would have a chance to be heard. Instead, they're effectively silenced.

City Attorney Mike Rankin told me the city gave residents example forms and encouraged them to work with a lawyer.

"The clerk did give them some comments," Rankin said. "It's true that the clerk's office didn't make any comment on the statutory language."

Gans said it is unlikely the residents will sue, although that remains an option in the near term. But the city could also revisit the Main Gate overlay.

City Councilman Steve Kozachik, who has had friction with the West University Neighborhood Association on this subject, said he would consider alternative plans if the neighbors can show him they are willing to compromise.

City Councilwoman Karin Uhlich said the volume of signatures shows a key voice was left out of the process. That should be reason enough, she said, to revisit the issue.

"As long as people feel they have had an opportunity to be heard, there is a willingness to move forward," she said. "But this didn't happen. It just didn't happen."

Valid petitions or not, the city has an opportunity to fix that.

Contact columnist Josh Brodesky at 573-4242 or

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