By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
Lots cause: Jeremy Voas has done New Times and its readers a great disservice through his May 3 piece, "Growing Smarmier." I understand that reporting will at times reflect some bias, but there was no journalism practiced in his column. Voas ranged from seriously misleading, to wholly inaccurate, to unprofessionally petulant (not only was the "Anable the Cannibal" reference to the Land Commissioner juvenile and banal, it was also painfully unoriginal).
First, Voas attempts to advance the factually ludicrous notion that there's some sort of fire sale of State Trust land for development going on. Here are some facts Voas didn't want spoiling his agenda. The Land Department has retained 88 percent of its original federal land grant (received at statehood). That's a higher percentage than any of the other 22 states receiving such grants. In the last 10 years, the department has sold or exchanged an average of just 4,600 acres per year for development, municipal and other uses, while at the same time selling or exchanging an average of 15,000 acres per year for open space.
Voas misused numbers to advance his "in bed with developers" accusation. He said the department sold 2,469 acres so far this fiscal year. (Actually it was 2,533.) What he didn't tell you is that 1,114 of those went for open space (including 732 acres under the Arizona Preserve Initiative). He said the department was "manic" the previous fiscal year, quoting a figure of 4,662 acres sold. Close enough; it was 4,253. The real problem, again, is Voas doesn't say 2,583 acres were auctioned for municipal, open-space and school-site uses, with only 1,670 for residential and commercial development. As for his ranting about competitive bidding, it's true, many times auctions dominated by open-space, municipal and school uses don't inspire a bidding frenzy. But last month an auction for a master-planned portion of Desert Ridge in north Phoenix saw 76 competitive bids made before earning $53 million for public schools, and last year U.S. Home outbid several others for Section 16.
Voas shamelessly panders to a few self-interested homeowners adjacent to the Section 16 property. He shares their "outrage" over the sale of a 608-acre parcel already surrounded by development which is sold for a use consistent with Phoenix planning and zoning, yet apparently doesn't care a whit about the more than 10,000 acres of State Trust land just two miles to the west that was reclassified for preservation at about the same time. The fact is, open space matters a lot to the Land Department, and the proof is included in every master plan it is involved with and the 20,000-plus urban acres reclassified for preservation under the API -- with tens of thousands more on the very near horizon.
Voas talks a lot about Cave Creek schools in his story, but never mentions that in 1993 the Land Department sold the district a 16-acre school site in the northwest corner of Section 16. The Land Department doesn't have the legal ability to donate land for school sites and Voas never checked, and therefore doesn't mention, that no application was made by the district to purchase land in Section 16 beyond the previous 16 acres. The department continues to work with the Cave Creek School District to address school-site issues. In a more global context, it's important to note that over the next decade the management of State Trust land will contribute approximately $650 million directly to public school classrooms -- that's on top of about $750 million to school construction over that same period.
Manager, Communications and Legislative Affairs
State Land Department
Jeremy Voas responds: Mr. Simonetta's denials of a fire-sale mentality belie actions and statements by his own boss, Mike Anable, who in the face of developer angst over pending growth control initiatives set a goal of selling nearly 23,000 acres of land by this July 1. "Yes, there are some parcels we are in a rush to sell," Anable said in December 1999. As for Section 16, the fact that politicians from Phoenix, Scottsdale, Cave Creek and Carefree and the Cave Creek School District were unanimous in trying to stop the auction of Section 16 speaks for itself. While the school district may not have made a formal application for a new school site on Section 16, it did ask City of Phoenix planners to reserve a site on that land -- a request the Land Department obviously did not heed.
Clearing the Air Bag
Once again I am grateful for First Amendment rights and for those journalists and editors who exercise those rights and bring to public attention problems caused by industrial giants.
I would also like to thank the readers who responded with such overwhelming support and interest in the article and for their offers of help.