In her inaugural state of the city address, Tucson Mayor Regina Romero reviewed her first year in office, a time that has been largely defined by the ongoing pandemic.
Romero was sworn in as Tucson’s first Latina mayor Dec. 1, 2019. Before that, she served three terms as a city councilwoman, having first been elected to the council in 2007.
“A year ago to the day, I was sworn into office as the mayor of our beautiful and diverse city,” she said. “Since then, I have been hard at work to deliver on my promise to build a safe and sustainable city with economic opportunity for all. I ran on a bold platform to take our city to the next level of progress and prosperity.”
In prepared remarks, Romero highlighted the city’s strategies to mitigate the impact of COVID-19, improvements to the transportation system, the city’s public-safety initiatives and actions against climate change, and she reviewed some of her plans for the upcoming year.
Similar to other elected officials, not all of Romero’s policies have been met with open arms. In particular, the Democrat received backlash for her decision to institute a mask mandate for the city as coronavirus cases ramped up in June, as well as her decision to display a Black Lives Matter banner from City Hall.
In October, a right-wing group began an official effort to recall the mayor and is attempting to collect nearly 25,000 signatures by Feb. 27.
On the other hand, Romero has also been praised for her effort to combat the virus as well as her decisions to stand by marginalized communities. Even among these controversies, the mayor seemed undeterred Wednesday, highlighting the “resiliency” of Tucsonans when confronted with some of the most difficult circumstances.
“At the end of the day, no matter what difference of opinion we may have, we all have one common goal: to create a safe and sustainable city with economic opportunity for all. I am proud to report that the state of the city is resilient, and prepared to return stronger than ever,” she said.
Romero reviewed the city’s efforts to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus and assist residents in need during “the worst health crisis our world has seen in recent history.”
“It is undeniable that COVID-19 has tested our limits, and we are still actively fighting this deadly virus,” she said. “In Pima County, we have lost close to 700 lives to COVID-19. Each and every one of those lives is much more than just a statistic. They were parents, grandparents, sons and daughters, aunts and uncles, friends and neighbors. They were our fellow Tucsonans.”
The city received nearly $96 million in federal CARES Act funding, allocating more than half of that amount toward community grant programs and emergency assistance. This includes over $7 million for small businesses and over $5 million to workers and families. The council has also allocated millions of dollars toward COVID-19 testing, particularly in low-income areas.
“Early on in the pandemic, and in the absence of clear direction from higher levels of government, we had to make some difficult decisions to protect public health. We were proactive with our mitigation efforts — often several steps ahead of our state and federal government.”
Most recently, the mayor and council voted to establish a mandatory nightly curfew as coronavirus cases reach new highs throughout the county and state.
Starting Friday, Dec. 4, the curfew will be in place each night from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. through Dec. 23.
“Although it is difficult to see, the collective sacrifices of all of us have saved lives,” she said.
“I understand how exhausted and fatigued you are with this pandemic. I am too. But we need to stay the course. Brighter days are ahead. There is light at the end of the tunnel.”
The mayor also highlighted improvements that have been made to the city’s transportation system in the last year.
In particular, Romero said Proposition 101, a five-year, half-cent transaction privilege sales tax to fund street improvements and public safety investments, continues to deliver since it was approved by voters in 2017.
“To date, we have paved 670 miles of road in our main city corridors, and more than 225 miles in our neighborhoods and local streets,” she said.
Romero went on to discuss roadway projects that were initiated this year, including the Broadway corridor project, which will widen the boulevard to six lanes from Euclid Avenue to Country Club Road.
Environment and climate
During her mayoral campaign, Romero emphasized plans to reduce Tucson’s environmental footprint and to protect the city’s residents from the impacts of climate change.
“Planning for the future requires us to adapt to the unique challenges climate change poses to our city,” she said Wednesday. “This summer, we saw this front and center, with wildfires in our mountains, and 100 days of 100 degree-plus heat. This not only presents an existential threat to our globe, but locally, climate change has serious, real-world consequences right here in Tucson.”
The City Council voted in September to declare a climate emergency and initiated a plan to go carbon neutral by 2030. The plan also sets goals to transition away from fossil fuels by electrifying the city’s public transit, incorporate green infrastructure into community design, plant more trees, increase water conservation and work to eliminate 50% of waste by 2030.
The city launched its Tucson Million Trees initiative in collaboration with Trees for Tucson earlier this year and hired an Urban Forestry Program manager to support the effort. The council is also working with Tucson Water to ensure water security and improve the city’s water infrastructure.
Romero also highlighted efforts to support public safety, including facility renovations, equipment upgrades, body camera purchases for police officers and vehicle replacements.
In reference to the death of a Tucson resident in police custody earlier this year, as well as several police brutality incidents throughout the country, Romero pointed to steps that the council has taken to build trust between community members and law enforcement.
“This year, our city and our nation have been confronted with difficult but necessary conversations about policing, equity, and justice,” she said. “However, I believe what sets Tucson apart is that we have approached these conversations honestly, with a willingness to talk openly about issues of systemic racism and cultural bias. While we still have much work to do, we have made positive strides to improve trust and reimagine the role of our Police Department in providing public safety.”
The council voted earlier this year to create a Community Safety Pilot Program, which directed the Police Department to hire six additional social workers to manage mental health calls.
Plans for the future
The mayor said the city must continue to take steps to mitigate the spread and impact of the pandemic.
“We must continue to tackle the immediate health crisis brought on by the virus, but we must also plan for short-, mid-, and long-term goals and initiatives,” she said. “We have momentum to make this happen.”
In addition, Romero said she will work with the council and city manager to build a recovery and economic opportunity plan that will help pave Tucson’s recovery after the pandemic. This plan will likely include the recruitment of innovative businesses to Tucson, which will help create jobs, as well as the continued expansion of a citywide Wi-Fi project, which will help to address distance learning and the digital divide for children and families.
“My vision is to be a city that, at all levels, supports and leverages small businesses, start-ups, accelerators, and incubators to make Tucson a leader in creating green jobs, tech jobs, and the jobs of the future,” Romero said.
The city has put itself in a good financial position, Romero said, and for the first time will be able to put 10% of its General Fund into the Rainy Day Fund. Tucson also has approximately $2 million left in federal CARES act dollars.
“Tucson, we have so much to look forward to in the coming years,” she said. “Yes, 2020 has tested our limits, but we have proven our resilience, and positioned ourselves to come back stronger than ever.”
Photos: City of Tucson provides free masks to residents throughout city
Tucson’s streets have been less busy but more deadly during the coronavirus pandemic, police data shows.
Fatal car and motorcycle crashes have more than tripled so far this year compared to last year despite less traffic on the roads, Tucson Police Department statistics show.
Eighteen drivers and passengers have died so far this year in vehicle crashes other than motorcycles, compared to five such deaths in the same period last year, the data show.
Motorcycle fatalities, which are recorded separately, also have spiked within city limits to 17 deaths this year compared to five this time last year.
Traffic deaths were down slightly last year in Tucson from the previous year.
Meanwhile, pedestrian deaths have declined to 13 so far this year compared to 17 last year. And one bicyclist has died, compared to zero at this point in 2019.
Wildfires such as the Bighorn Fire north of Tucson leave the ground charred and unable to absorb water, which can increase flood risks. “Even …
Nearly a dozen U.S.states have seen death rates rise in lighter traffic, according to the nonprofit National Safety Council, though the increase has not been statewide in Arizona.
The Tucson trend came as a surprise to police Capt. Diana Duffy, the department’s traffic safety coordinator.
“I think we all expected accidents to decrease and deaths to decrease,” Duffy said in an interview. “Instead collisions are down and fatalities are up.”
It turns out that when streets are empty, some drivers tend to get lead feet.
“Excessive speed” was the top factor in most of the recent road deaths, Duffy said.
Impairment also was a factor in some cases, she said, and noted a national survey that found a 200% surge in alcohol sales this past spring.
TPD is aiming to curb the death toll by assigning motorcycle officers to patrol near crash-prone intersections, Duffy said.
It’s hard to say how much lighter Tucson traffic has become, though it “absolutely” is occurring, said Blake Olofson, a traffic engineer at City Hall.
A precise count would be expensive and impractical because a full-scale count typically is done once a year, he said.
But some trends emerged in the limited research that exists, a joint study between the city and the University of Arizona that used location data from smart phones to assess Tucson’s traffic capacity.
The research showed a noticeable decrease in traffic on Tucson streets when various stay-at-home orders were in place from around mid-March through mid-May.
The trend to higher traffic fatality rates does not extend to roads policed by the Pima County Sheriff’s Department or by Arizona state troopers, those agencies said.
Fatal crashes on county roads stand at 18 so far this year, about the same as last year, officials said.
Meanwhile, the Arizona Department of Public Safety, which polices state highways, has seen a steep decline in fatalities. The death toll so far this year is 160 compared to 200 in 2019, officials said.
At least 11 states from coast to coast have seen spikes in traffic deaths, the National Safety Council said.
The council released a preliminary estimate last month based on April data from all 50 states showing a 36% spike in fatality rate per miles, as the number of miles driven dropped 40%.
In a statement on the safety council’s website, the group’s president and CEO urged drivers to be civic-minded in the era of COVID19.
“Right now, in the midst of a global pandemic, we should take it as our civic duty to drive safely,” Lorraine M. Martin said.
“If we won’t do it for ourselves we should do it for our first responders, our law enforcement and our health-care workers who are rightly focused on coronavirus patients and should not be overwhelmed by preventable car crashes.”
Six sites throughout Tucson handed out masks to residents as a part of the citywide #MaskUpTucson campaign. Each site, located in a respective…
Contact reporter Jasmine Demers at email@example.com
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