Bog Notes 9/18/20
PLEASE JOIN US! — the Barrio Neighborhood Coalition, the Pima Area Labor Federation, and Casa Maria Catholic Worker House —
next Tuesday morning Sept 22nd, at 8 AM (early and cool!) at Pancho Villa’s (Veinte de Agosto) Park downtown to continue our protest against the expansion of the Central Business District and tax abatements (GPLET’s) for developers at the expense of our traditional neighborhood!
Bog Notes is published by Barrio Hollywood resident Scott D. Egan who is solely responsible for the contents which does not necessarily reflect the opinions of any organization or individual listed herein. If you wish to be removed from future posts please respond to this email with “unsubscribe” and we will remove you from all future posts. Thanks!
— The Bogman
1. THE EMERGENCY: CLIMATE AND OUR NEIGHBORHOODS
On September 9th he Tucson Mayor and Council recently passed a “Climate Emergency Declaration” to implement a “10-year Climate Action and Adaptation Plan through an inclusive community engagement process” in hopes to “identify climate adaptation and mitigation strategies that are people-centered.”
The Resolution (#23222) commits the city to “inviting and encouraging such communities to actively participate in the development and implementation” and promising “full participation, inclusion, support, and leadership of community organizations.”
It pledges to a “holistic planning” which they asserts will be “ensuring affordable housing units are available for vulnerable communities” with the creation of a “blue-green alliance of labor unions and environmental justice groups.”
A great example of such an existing alliance could have been seen in the week leading up to the adoption of this resolution, when a diverse coalition of labor unions and justice groups picketed each council office leading up to the Council meeting. We were protesting an item listed right next the emergency declaration: the proposed expansion of the Central Business District and the continuing tax abatements generously granted to real estate developers by this city council.
While many of us can appreciate the existential threat of climate change, many of our fellow citizens face an equally immediate threat to their lives through evictions and gentrification which this Mayor and Council continue to refuse to address in any meaningful manner. There were many promises made before the last election about “full participation and inclusion” of the most vulnerable neighborhoods, and for over a year nothing has been done. Our request for a citizens task force on gentrification was denied, while the Mayor and Council sit as officials of their own Housing Commission without any public oversight or transparency in their decision making.
For example, at the same council meeting in question, a “monthly report” on housing was quickly and unanimously voted on without any discussion. One might understand why the item was quickly passed without a comment. Page three of the report shows a waiting list of 16,000 Tucson applicants for public housing (yet the number of people determined to be eligible on that list for April and May has been completely blacked out). In the month of July, 12 families were deemed eligible, while zero were determined to be ineligible. Even with the portions intentionally blocked: only 12 people out of 16,000 were eligible? And none were ineligible? This is the state of Tucson’s housing crisis: thousands of families on a list who will never even be considered for public housing.
How serious should anyone take the city on a climate declaration with a “people-centered” strategy when you look at how they operate? How much are they really “inviting and encouraging communities to actively participate” when it comes to the survivability of our traditional neighborhoods and the residents being priced out of their homes by the economic policies promoted by this council? How, specifically, are they going to honor the climate emergency declarations intent to “ensure affordable housing for vulnerable communities” when they continually shut the door on our faces and reject participation to those most vulnerable?
Mayor Romero, employed by the Center For Biological Diversity, and Carolyn Campbell, of the Sonoran Desert Conservation Coalition (and perhaps more significantly the co-chair of Mayor Romero’s election campaign), compiled important information to push the resolution through, including the fact Tucson is the third fastest warming city in the U.S. A highlight not mentioned is that Arizona has one of the highest housing losses in the nation, according to a national study by the New America Foundation, which predicts a “tsunami of evictions” in our communities once the eviction moratorium is lifted.
The reports states that “housing loss is really are amplified by the current pandemic” and their recommendations to address the problem include “expanding affordable housing options, improving tenants’ rights and getting the state to work proactively to prevent housing loss.”
Attached to the city’s climate resolution was a letter in support signed by many concerned Tucson residents who called for a community response which included the need of “ensuring affordable housing units are available for vulnerable communities.”
We should all support this, but wouldn’t it have been appropriate for the Mayor and Council at their meeting to at least discuss these issues and the long-term solutions to our housing problems as they do other important issues? Instead, they punted the issue until their next meeting.
Let us all hope that the signatories of the letter in support of the climate resolution see their dreams come to fruition, but many of us have been promised “inclusive” community engagement “processes” before — only to be excluded and ignored. Whether it be the proposed sale of our public parks to private developers, unjustified GPLET tax breaks to developers (cross-check names with campaign contributors), or just establishing a simple community task force of those affected most by gentrification, the city has been a closed door. While they “delayed” the business district expansion at their last meeting due to public pressure, there is no indication that they plan to change course when the topic is again taken up at their September 22nd meeting.
One only has to look at the ravaging fires throughout the west, the massive coastal storms to the south, and our own two months of unprecedented record-breaking heat, to appreciate the concerns reflected in the adopted climate resolution. Let us hope that this time — for a change — the Mayor and Council actually do what they promise on climate because they certainly have not honored their commitments when it comes to the housing crisis and the planned gentrification of our most vulnerable neighborhoods.
An Open Letter to the Mayor and Council, City of Tucson regarding the expansion of the “Central” Business District
In attempting to justify the expansion of the Central Business District (CBD) to be considered at your September 9th meeting, the City of Tucson’s Office of Economic Initiatives issued a report (8/11/20) which claims the targeted area meets:
“the criteria of slum and blight as defined by ARS 36-1471” where “public health safety or welfare is threatened because of dilapidated, deteriorated, aging or obsolescent buildings” with “conditions that endanger life or property by fire or other causes.”
Anyone seriously looking at the targeted 3,623 acres would have to be looking through two fully jaundiced eyes to believe this “district” is a blighted slum that endangers people’s lives.
The area extends from Prince Road in the northwest to southeast of the City of South Tucson. It’s western boundary cuts into Barrio Hollywood and reaches south-east to near Kino Parkway. There are many large pockets left out of this scatter-shot projection, which looks like a psychotic gerrymander for crony capitalists.
For example, look at how the CBD affects Barrio Hollywood (the neighborhood where I live). The district’s crazy jagged edge pierces through the north and south sides of St. Mary’s Road but does not include Grande Avenue where many small family business have been run for years. There are great family businesses on St. Mary’s (along with several national franchises) — but why is St. Mary’s Road designated as a blighted “slum” but Grande and the rest of the neighborhood! are not?
These nonsensical configurations can be found all over the proposed district. Oracle Road is covered, but a few blocks over on North 6th Avenue is not. 4th Avenue north of Congress is covered, but 4th Avenue south is not. Clearly the city is picking and choosing specific areas they want to be developed, but because the entire district must be contiguous they have stretched the lines to create a surrealist hodgepodge of a map.
The report claims a “continuing need to attract development and investment activity to the Downtown and surrounding area” by expanding the CBD to over 2% of the Tucson area.
Taxpayers should challenge how beneficial these city policies have affected gentrifying neighborhoods before expanding to new development plans. In addition, is the lack of public process in developing and implementing these plans should certainly raise concerns from all residents.
The report attempts to explain how sections of neighborhoods are gerrymandered:
“The American Community Survey (ACS), for which data became available in 2004, now provides the socioeconomic data utilized in the Indicators of Stress. The 2014-2018 ACS provided data at the tract and block group level for the first time. Variables were selected that were consistent with previous studies. The geographic scale chosen was census tract rather than the former use of census block groups, due to sampling error. The indicators measure census tracts against the average condition of the City as a whole. The statistical method used measures areas in standard deviation units from the mean of the city. Each variable contributes equally to the overall composite score, since there is no credible basis for differential weighting..”
Explain again why Mariscos Chihuahua, Taco Giro, Tania’s and Pat’s are OUT of the business district loop, but right around the corner and within the same neighborhood are La Fresita, Viva Burrito and St. Mary’s Mexican Food who are all IN? Was there another “sampling error” at play in this decision? Could the preferential benefits be based on campaign contributions? Maybe a council member had a bad meal at one of Hollywood’s restaurants? (Sorry, the last preposition is nearly impossible). No matter…
Already, due to political pressure, it appears the city is now “revising” the proposed district even before the public council meeting. Are these proposed changes based on some new data — or just grease for the loudest squeaking wheels? Is there a newly uncovered “standard deviation unit” now at play? Or do certain neighborhoods have more “juice” when it comes to influencing city decisions?
I can certainly understand why Armory Park neighborhood does not want to be labeled a “blighted slum.” The question is, why does the City of Tucson think other neighborhoods are ok with such a designation? Particularly while you provide beneficial tax exemptions for select businesses while raising taxes on everyone else and ruining traditional neighborhoods with the corresponding gentrification caused by such policies.
Perhaps the Mayor and Council and the City Manager should first justify to residents how effective your economic plans have been — such as your terrible GPLET tax abatements for developers — before you expand such a problematic program any further. Until then, the Mayor and Council should reject any expansion of the Central Business District and the awarding of any new GPLET’s to favored developers.
PS: The report by the City of Tucson on CBD expansion can be found at:
What in heck are “GPLE’T’s” and why should we oppose them?
(Hint: a “GPLET” is not something you stuff in a turkey on Thanksgiving!)
GPLET means Government Property Lease Excise Tax. As the name implies, it is the leasing of government property to private corporations. The advantage of this is that the private investors do not have to pay property taxes as the property technically remains public and the property stays on the government roles. It is supposed to help encourage investments in areas that are deemed “blighted” and which would usually not receive much investment from private developers.
This incentive is available for projects located in the Central Business District that (hopefully) result in a property value increase of at least 100%. The amount abated cannot exceed the economic benefit created by the project. To become “government property” the City will take ownership of the property for the duration that the owner wishes to be relieved of tax obligations.
The use of GPLETs has been studied by the Goldwater Institute, which has indicted in a 2010 report that special exemptions for developers have provided:
“more than $2 billion worth of developments are exempt from property taxes throughout Arizona under GPLET deals… projects would otherwise generate about $31 million annually in property taxes.”
“It’s easy for cities to hand out GPLET deals because cities themselves do not rely much on property taxes. Sales taxes are the main source of general fund income for cities, and they rake in millions from construction of mega-properties, as well as any retail sales and hotel room bookings the project ultimately generates.
School districts, however, rely largely on property taxes and state aid that is tied to property values. About 60 percent of the money raised through property taxes normally goes to local schools.”
“The beneficiaries of GPLET deals pay an alternative tax meant to offset the loss of revenue to schools and other governments that rely heavily on property taxes. However, it amounts to only a small portion—typically less than 10 percent depending on the terms of the deal—of what would be paid in property taxes over the life of the project, according to legislative studies and reports on individual projects.”
“Aside from putting cities in the position of picking winners and losers, GPLET artificially inflates everyone else’s taxes.”
In May 2008 a study by the Arizona Joint Legislative Budget Committee (JLBC) concluded GPLET deals create a substantial tax shift to surrounding properties in the downtown Phoenix area where they examined 14 properties in the area and concluded:
“those properties would have paid an additional $14.7 million annually without the GPLET exemption, or a total of about $17.1 million in annual property taxes. Instead, they paid about $2.38 million in alternative GPLET taxes, according to the study, which was based on the 2007 tax year.”
CITY OF TUCSON
The City of Tucson has listed 16 projects listed under GPLET, 12 of which were initiated since 2014 (although again, the council has approved more than what is listed).
In some of the deals the developers are asked to pay only ten bucks a year with tax exemptions lasting for decades. (GPLET projects are now restricted by the Arizona legislature for the maximum 8 years, but others have been grandfathered in for many decades).
The city claims that “independent” financial analysis is done on each project that needs to show that “the Project will generate revenues to the City, County, schools and State which will exceed the value of the property taxes forgone during the the term of the GPLET abatement, and the Project improvements will result in an increase in property value of more than one hundred percent,”
Several questions arise:
1. How much investment is needed before an area is no longer considered “blighted” and therefore no longer qualified to receive the tax abatements? (Can downtown Tucson today still considered “blighted” and in need of more public subsidies? Who determines this?).
2. GPLET’s are supposed to be governed by financial evaluations (tied to the Constitutional Gift Clause) to ensure that the city is not giving greater benefits than the project will return to taxpayers. How are these incentives and tax give-aways being independently monitored to insure the promised benefits? Who checks that the evaluations are legit?
3. Are there any qualification on GPLET tax abatements and subsidies that insure any allocation for affordable housing? Are there any mitigation plans to deal with the gentrification and displacement these projects may create?
“I believe that the City of Tucson needs to restructure the economic initiatives available to private developers. The GPLET, which was designed to bring development to “blighted” areas, no longer serves this purpose in our thriving downtown. This means we are due to revisit the incentives and assess whether they are serving the people of Tucson as well as those moving to Tucson. This can be done in several ways: community benefit agreements, public health assessments, minimum sustainability requirements and incentivizing affordability.”
Regina Romero, Mayor
I have already put an item on an upcoming study session to re-look at the structure of the GPLET incentive, which has been used by many developers near Downtown. Among the changes I’d like to see are ones that would not only encourage affordable housing, but that would keep existing families in neighborhoods.
Paul Cunningham, council member
It is important that we consider the implications of new developments on gentrification and the potential displacement of individuals from their neighborhoods. As a City Councilmember, I will work to develop policies in partnership with our communities to counteract these potential consequences.
Nikki Lee, council member
THEN WHY IS THE MAYOR AND COUNCIL NOT ONLY CONTINUING USING GPLETS, BUT ACTUALLY EXPANDING THE AREA WHERE THEY CAN BE USED?
SHOW UP THIS TUESDAY MORNING AND DEMAND THAT THEY KEEP THEIR CAMPAIGN PROMISES AND STOP THE USE OF GPLET AND THE CONTINUED EXPANSION OF THE CENTRAL BUSINESS DISTRICT!
TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 22,
PANCHO VILLA PARK (Veinte de Agosto)
SAY NO TO THIS GERRYMANDERED NONSENSE!