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Tucson mayor's first state of city address focuses on pandemic, economy, public safety
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Tucson mayor's first state of city address focuses on pandemic, economy, public safety

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.

Public-health crisis

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.

The Pima County Health Department, Pima Community College and Arizona State University (ASU) are opening three new COVID-19 testing sites over the next few weeks. The PCC-West campus site is open on Mondays, 9:00a.m. to 1:00p.m., starting Nov. 16, 2020. Two other sites, at PCC-Desert Vista campus and PCC-East campus, will open as soon as Dec. 2. Advanced registration is required. Go to for more information.

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.”

Transportation improvements

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.

Public Safety

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.”

Contact reporter Jasmine Demers at

On Twitter: @JasmineADemers

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