There is no formal, organized opposition to the city-backed plan to spend $225 million on parks and trails over the next decade.
Roughly six weeks before the general election, Tucson’s Proposition 407 flies under the radar in a white-hot political season as various political groups focus on federal and statewide races.
City leaders are quietly optimistic about the proposal, fueled in part by the public support for two city proposals that successfully came before it: 2012’s Prop. 409, a bond for road repairs, and last year’s Prop. 101, a temporary sales-tax increase to pay for road repairs and public safety equipment and facilities.
However, Prop. 407’s greatest selling point may be what it isn’t promising to do — fix the entire city’s parks and recreation system. Because of the bond package’s limited size, it won’t raise taxes.
The $225 million simply isn’t enough to bring improvements to all of the city’s 128 parks, would only reopen two of the city’s closed pools and would not address massive and entrenched problems with city golf courses.
The reason for this specific price tag is the limit on how much the city can sell in bonds over the next nine years without having to raise the city’s secondary property tax rate. If the measure passes in November, the new debt would be sold as the city pays off old bonds.
The $225 million contains a list of projects that would be spread throughout the city, making big changes to some parks as well as building new paths for pedestrians and bicyclists.
Where the $225 million would go
Prop. 407 calls for nearly $128.2 million to be set aside for aquatic facilities and for park improvements to recreational centers, sports fields and lighting.
Another large section of the bond is for linear parks, with the city proposing to set aside $24.6 million to build elongated parks, designed for cyclists and pedestrians, that connect parts of town.
For example, the proposed 9-mile corridor that constitutes the Alamo Wash Greenway would connect Kolb Road to Rillito River Park. The Arroyo Chico Greenway, penciled in to cost $4.4 million, would connect Reid Park and downtown Tucson.
Plans also include $67.1 million for what the city calls “connectivity” — which includes items like new bike boulevards, pedestrian safety improvements and protected bike lanes.
Another $5.2 million would be set aside for minor improvements to the Randolph Park and El Rio golf courses.
Brent Dennis, the director of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, acknowledges it won’t fix everything.
For example, the creation of three new parks does little to meet a goal of having a park within walking distance for all Tucsonans.
Prop. 407 was born out of the city’s Parks Master Plan, which was adopted by the City Council in 2016. It is the culmination of dozens and dozens of master plans for individual parks, crafted with varying degrees of public input and written, in some cases, by outside consultants.
Another issue is that some plans were more than a decade old.
But those plans are beginning to evolve as neighborhoods start to contact the city, with Dennis noting that he has met with several groups already.
“When you have neighborhoods that care, sitting at the table and looking at the footprint of the park, you start to develop a master plan that reflects what they want to see developed,” Dennis said.
The decisions on which parks and projects were cut is complicated, but Dennis said some city parks are in relatively good shape as neighborhood groups or homeowner associations opt to help pay either financially or with donated labor for park-specific upgrades.
At the height of the Great Recession, Tucson closed some parks — including city pools — rather than spend the funds to maintain them.
Some projects were too far gone to be saved, notes city spokesman Andy Squire.
Several pools, for example, just were either too small or too expensive to fix.
A pool at Reid Park, for example, won’t reopen and will be replaced with the mother-of-all-splash pads that city officials are affectionately calling “El Gigante.”
Splash pads are cheaper to maintain, use less water, accommodate more people and, unlike swimming pools, do not require a lifeguard on duty, Squire said.
Promises made, details can change
Officials quietly concede that voters are well aware of the massive delays that have hampered other voter-backed initiatives, including the city-backed widening of Broadway or the Regional Transportation Authority’s plans for Grant Road.
More recently, cost overruns have led to delays on the project known as Downtown Links, which will finally link Barraza-Aviation Parkway to Interstate 10.
City Manager Mike Ortega says while city planners worked nonstop this summer to best sketch out how much individual projects would cost and where the money would be spent, there is only so much that the city can do to predict the costs.
For example, city officials have penciled in $10.7 million for Joaquin Murrieta Park. As proposed, the city would revamp the west-side park with a full-sized baseball field, two fenced-in slow-pitch softball fields, additional fields for Little League baseball, a new pool and a splash pad as well as a new dog park.
However, Ortega says, there is still some wiggle room in the process if either the nearby neighborhoods no longer want slow-pitch softball fields or if the costs for concrete make a new swimming pool too expensive.
Depending on the size and the scope of the issue, solutions can be decided by an independent citizen-run bond oversight commission, by the City Council or, if necessary, by the voters.
With the commission, the city can tackle unforeseen problems, Ortega says, while keeping its commitment.
“To me, that builds in flexibility, which is important, because again (some projects) are nine years from now,” Ortega said.
Community wants reinvestment
Mayor Jonathan Rothschild has spent the last few weeks asking business and community groups to support Prop. 407.
“We have 128 parks in the city; we are going to touch 100 of them, we are going to touch every pool, every tennis court, and we are going to add new playground equipment across the city,” Rothschild said.
Lights are also a big selling point for Rothschild, who says the newly lighted fields — which wouldn’t be completed in some cases until 2028 — would add 80,000 hours of playing time for youth sports.
The city would also invest tens of millions of dollars to build protected trails —called greenways — specifically for bicyclists and pedestrians.
“We have The Loop, but we are going to put spokes on that loop,” Rothschild said.
Community groups have lined up to back the measure, including the Tucson Association of Realtors, the Southern Arizona Home Builders Association, the Southern Arizona Leadership Council and local car dealer Jim Click.
Rothschild said it is an easy sell.
“There is no hesitation; it is a ‘yes,’” he said.
“No one likes seeing their pools closed, no one likes seeing playgrounds that they don’t even feel like they want to put their children on the equipment,” Rothschild said. “People have been positive.”