FOLLOWING THE MONEY:
WHY BIG BUSINESS BACKS PIMA BONDS
By Albert Vetere Lannon
O what a tangled web we weave / When first we practice to deceive
--Sir Walter Scott
The Yes On Pima County Bonds Committee’s expensive website (http://www.yesonpimacountybonds.com/) states on every page, “Major Funding Provided by Diamond Ventures Inc.” Why is millionaire real estate developer Don Diamond so interested in the bond propositions to be voted on November 3? It may be the result of the “love fest” between Diamond and Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry (Arizona Daily Star, 5/18/14), or it may just be about money, politics and crony capitalism.
The Yes Committee is chaired by corporate lawyer Lawrence Hecker. Hecker has been involved in local politics for years, chaired the Bond Advisory Committee, and served as Governor Bruce Babbitt’s Chief-of-Staff when the National Guard was sent to Morenci with tanks to break the 1983 Phelps-Dodge copper strike.
The Yes Committee’s treasurer is retired Raytheon Chief Financial Officer Steve Eggen, recently chair of the TREO business group and now a “business consultant.”
The $816 million bonds include a number of gifts to the private companies and property owners these guys consort with: A Y for the Fortune 500 companies at the University of Arizona Tech Park, two business start-up facilities, and expansion of the University Medical Center, now merged with the private Banner Health Corporation operating 28 hospitals in seven states,
The largest single amount, $95 million, is for unspecified purchases of “open space.” Without a listing of the specific properties, it looks like a repeat of 2004 when bond money enriched some real estate speculators and took properties off the tax rolls, shifting the burden to homeowners (Arizona Daily Independent, 3/20/15).
There is also $5 million for expansion of Davis-Monthan. A few years ago the county bought some land to expand the air base from Don Diamond for 200 times its assessed value (Arizona Daily Independent).
THE ‘SONORAN CORRIDOR’
Chuck Huckelberry is a champion of the Interstate 11 “Intermountain West Corridor/Canamex Highway” and has proposed a 56-mile route through the Avra Valley west of Tucson. That would bring urban sprawl into a rural valley, families forced from their homes, traffic noise and air pollution and their effects on health, impacts on wildlife and archeological sites, potential groundwater contamination, loss of tourist dollars due to pollution and noise at Saguaro National Park, the Desert Museum, Kitt Peak, Ironwood Forest National Monument, etc., and the end of a peaceful way of life that has lasted for thousands of years.
While temporary construction jobs would be created, there would be a loss of permanent jobs along the existing I-10 corridor. According to ADOT’s numbers, it would also cost three times what double-decking a few miles of I-10 would cost to accomplish the same traffic ends.
Huckelberry inserted the “Sonoran Corridor” into the bond package and Senator John McCain, with the support of the entire Arizona Congressional delegation, introduced federal legislation to make the road an interstate highway.
Originally county maps showed the highway linking I-10 and I-19 west of I-19 as “I-11,” but that provoked a reaction from Avra Valley residents, hundreds of whom pledged to oppose any bonds with I-11 money in them. Most media attention has been directed to Phase 1 of the Sonoran Corridor, not-quite-linking I-10 and I-19 for the benefit of Raytheon, the UA Tech Park, and the Tucson Airport.
Phase 2, however, drops south right alongside a planned 3000-acre Swan Southlands housing development on land owned by Diamond Ventures. Phase 3 goes west to connect with I-19 – and Huckelberry’s proposed Avra Valley I-11 route. It also duplicates a long-planned El Toro Corridor ADOT and Sahuarita have been working on.
In preparation for Phase 1, Pima County has already bought 382 undeveloped acres near Raytheon from Diamond and others for $6 million (Arizona Daily Independent). Critics acknowledge the missile company’s economic importance to the area, but question whether public funds should be used to benefit a private corporation reporting billions in profits.
IT’S A SMALL WORLD
Huckelberry, as Pima County Administrator – at over $300,000 yearly the highest paid county employee -- has dealt with real estate powerhouse Don Diamond and his Diamond Ventures as both ally and adversary. Huckelberry and Diamond have served together in many civic groups. Huckelberry has been among the select few invited to Diamond’s exclusive birthday bashes, and has described Diamond as “extremely influential…he’s a smart, crafty and intelligent individual.”
The New York Times described Diamond as “Arizona’s answer to Donald Trump – an outsized personality who invites public officials aboard his flotilla of yachts (the Ace, King, Jack and Queen of Diamonds), specializes in deals with the government, and unabashedly solicits support for his business interests from the recipients of his campaign contributions.” Those include Senator John McCain (4/22/08).
Among Diamond’s legal counsel is the Tucson-based firm of Lewis & Roca. Real estate lawyer and L&R partner Si Schorr, who has worked for Diamond, chaired the State Transportation Board in 2008 when approval for a “major investment study” of an I-10 bypass through the Avra Valley was rammed through. According to Inside Tucson Business, Chuck Huckelberry supported Schorr’s bypass. Schorr now supports I-11. It’s a small world.
Wilford (Wil) Cardon is a multi-millionaire real estate investor based in Mesa. He ran unsuccessfully in Republican primaries for U.S. Senate in 2012 and Arizona Secretary of State in 2014. Prominent on his campaign committee were Don Diamond and Diamond Ventures president David Goldstein.
Cardon’s companies own large chunks of vacant land in the path of Huckelberry’s Avra Valley highway. According to Pinal County records, Cardon’s BOA Sorte Company owns 175 acres in the Casa Grande area, where Huckelberry’s highway would begin.
In Pima County Arizona Corporation Commission and County Assessor filings show that Cardon’s companies own at least eight parcels with over 1500 acres along various parts of Sandario Road – near Amway, Picture Rocks, Manville, Ajo and Valencia Roads. Clearly, Cardon stands to make a chunk of money if the Huckelberry Highway goes forward.
And it may be that the speculators, realizing that continuing drought will limit the projected 11 percent Pima County growth the bond proposals are based on, want to make sure they get a return on their investment now, before Colorado River water gets rationed. Future developments like Swan Southlands are worthless desert without water.
Cardon – Diamond – Huckelberry – Hecker – Eggen – Schorr – McCain – Sonoran Corridor - I-11 – Raytheon – Banner Corporation - Pima Bonds: It’s a tangled web, but the links are clear. It’s a shame that taxpayers are being manipulated into giving more of their hard-earned wages to keep the big boys laughing all the way to the bank.
Yes on Pima County Bonds: http://www.yesonpimacountybonds.com/.
Taxpayers Against Pima Bonds: http://pimabondfacts.com/stop_high_taxes.html.
Albert Vetere Lannon is a member of the Avra Valley Coalition opposing an I-11 route through the Avra Valley. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.