Why Growing Smarter Will Grow Old Fast

The so-called Growing Smarter measure would prevent the state from enacting strict growth controls. At the same time, however, it would free up $220 million for land preservation.

At the same time the legislature was approving the Growing Smarter Act, lawmakers created Proposition 303--also known as the Preserve Arizona Initiative, which will appear on the November 3 ballot.

Proposition 303 is a classic carrot-and-stick proposal. The sweetener is $20 million per year for 11 years in state funds to purchase open space from the state Land Department for conservation. The stick is draconian language that would prohibit the state from requiring cities and counties to create urban-growth boundaries, thus preserving the free-for-all development mentality that is Arizona's hallmark.

Proposition 303 also contains a "poison pill." The development community so despised the rival initiative that Proposition 303 states that the $20 million per year for land-acquisition purposes would go away if the citizen's growth-control-proposition also passed.

The pill will never be swallowed, however.
Environmentalists pushing the CGMI made a dreadful mistake. They miscalculated how much it would cost to gather signatures, and were unsuccessful in placing their initiative on the ballot.

"It was a strategic error on our part," says Sierra Club conservation coordinator Sandy Bahr.

If Proposition 303, conceived to combat the citizens' initiative, is approved next month, the environmentalists' monumental blunder could make it far more difficult to enact tough, statewide growth controls down the road.

Proposition 303 is well-financed by the development lobby and has raised more than $535,000 so far from corporate heavy hitters like Homebuilders Association of Central Arizona ($100,000), Bank One ($50,000), Bank of America ($50,000), Circle K ($50,000), Arizona Public Service Company ($50,000), Wells Fargo ($50,000), DMB & Associates ($25,000), Del Webb ($20,000), Arizona Association of Realtors ($15,000), the Arizona Diamondbacks ($12,500) and the Phoenix Suns ($12,500).

Along with money comes expertise.
The Proposition 303 campaign is being orchestrated by Chuck Coughlin, once a political aide to former governor Fife Symington. Coughlin has created slick brochures, enchanting television commercials and ubiquitous campaign signs.

The Sierra Club has launched a feeble counterattack, with about $30,000 at its disposal.

The carrot offered by Proposition 303--$220 million over 11 years for preservation of open space--has split the environmental community.

Groups narrowly focused on obtaining and preserving open space, such as the Superstition Area Land Trust, want to tap the $20 million per year to buy state land, and are supporting the measure. Environmentalists with a broader agenda see the proposition as a blatant greenwash bribe.

Proposition 303 also has provided a clear difference between Governor Hull, who strongly supports it, and Democratic rival Paul Johnson, who calls it a fraud.

Whatever the outcome on Proposition 303, there is no doubt the debate over growth management in one of the fastest-growing states has finally taken center stage.

The Sierra Club vows to come back with another version of its CGMI for the 2000 election. This version could supercede Proposition 303 and do things like require cities to set urban-growth boundaries.

The environmentalists also might have their new initiative amend the Arizona Constitution and allow the state Land Department to set aside up to 10 percent of its 9.4 million acres of public land for conservation--including 500,000 acres in urban areas.

Such an amendment would revolutionize land management in Arizona and provide a powerful planning tool for cities and counties.

But the presence of Proposition 303 on this year's ballot will make it more difficult for the CGMI's backers in two years. They will face an uphill battle and the vehement resistance of developers and their political allies.

Jane Hull says her interest in the "Growing Smarter" campaign preceded any effort by the Sierra Club to place the ill-fated CGMI on the ballot.

"One of my first priorities was that growth was a major problem and we needed to address it," Hull says.

While that may be true, there is no doubt that Hull's Growing Smarter bill and Proposition 303 would have faced steep odds in the legislature if it hadn't been for the prospect that the CGMI might be on the ballot.

Steve Roman, a Bank One vice president and spokesman, says the environmental initiative forced legislators of every stripe to begin seriously discussing growth management, or, at least, ways to defuse the citizens' initiative.

"We have to do something for this state in terms of making sure of how we grow is appropriate, but at the same time, we don't want to sacrifice the state's economic environment as well," says Roman, who also serves as Proposition 303 finance chairman.

Hull ascended from her secretary of state post to the governor's chair after Symington resigned in September 1997. Within weeks, Hull says, she and her staff met with developers, farmers, ranchers and environmentalists to discuss growth issues and develop a plan to address sprawl and the loss of open space.

Environmental input came primarily from groups that specialize in purchasing land for open space, including the Nature Conservancy, the Superstition Area Land Trust and the Desert Foothills Land Trust--all of which salivated over the prospect of a $220 million pot that could be used to purchase environmentally sensitive property owned by the state Land Department.

"We tried to take the people who would sit at the table and say, 'How do we really want to approach growth and how do we want to manage it?'" Hull says.

Hull says players like the Sierra Club and David Baron are concerned with broader environmental issues, including air and water pollution, and weren't interested in talking under those conditions.

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