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Arizona Republic Gives Sal DiCiccio a Free Pass on South Mountain Freeway

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We've been known to scratch our heads at the Arizona Republic's unwillingness to call a spade a spade -- or even refer to said spade with a polite euphemism. But a recent editorial in the paper's Ahwatukee community edition may take the cake as the daily's most misguided, misleading, and downright baffling opinion piece ever.

New Times broke the story that Phoenix City Councilman Sal DiCiccio stands to benefit if the Loop 202 is extended through Ahwatukee. The councilman, we reported, is also a developer, with a lease on 150 acres of tribal-owned land on the Gila River Indian Community. DiCiccio's commercial development prospects would surely brighten if the controversial freeway extension is completed.

As we reported, DiCiccio has been using his council bully pulpit to push for just that. He even sat down with Congressmen Harry Mitchell and Ed Pastor to talk about the project, never disclosing his development interests.

But, go figure: Arizona's largest newspaper thinks that kind of activity is a-okay!  

When the paper finally got around to acknowledging DiCiccio's work as a developer last month, it was in a dumb he said/she said story about the "nasty" reelection race.

Then, last Friday, the Republic's editorial board took their myopia even further. They actually wrote an editorial calling for DiCiccio's continued involvement!

Newspapers are generally perturbed by public officials who don't recuse themselves from matters in which their interests conflict with those of their constituents. The Republic, for one, has claimed Sheriff Joe Arpaio has a conflict in investigating Supervisor Don Stapley because the men have clashed politically. (We happen to agree with them on that one.) They've reported that former legislator Bob Stump may have had a conflict of interest because he solicited donations for a school trust organization even while running for office.

Yet the Republic keeps claiming there's no conflict with DiCiccio pushing for a freeway that would benefit his commercial development?

Last week's bizarre editorial refers only glancingly at DiCiccio's major, major conflict. "DiCiccio ... has dealt extensively with GRIC officials over the years as a councilman and developer," the Republic notes. (At New Times, we might have written, "Of course DiCiccio knows the players -- he's spent four years trying to develop GRIC-owned land.") The Republic adds that "DiCiccio has forged a relationship with tribal officials based on mutual respect." Or is that development interests??

Perhaps because it's such an embarassment, the editorial appears nowhere on the newspaper's Web site. We obtained a copy only because DiCiccio emailed it to his constituents.

Really, we can imagine how the whole thing went down. We've been hammering DiCiccio for his conflict of interest, and the attorney he supposedly got clearance from -- City Attorney Gary Verburg -- isn't talking. It might look bad if DiCiccio starts pushing even harder on the freeway's completion now that he's been reelected.

But DiCiccio surely wants that freeway completed: Millions of dollars are at stake.

What to do?

We're guessing -- and this is just a guess, folks -- that one of the councilman's PR consultants paid a visit to the Ahwatukee editorial board and made the case for DiCiccio's involvement. The paper regurgitated the talking points for its readers, and then DiCiccio emailed it around as if to say, "Hey, it's totally cool if I use my council office to get this for my development. The Republic says so."

Pretty neat trick. Too bad the editorial is so stupid: The neighbors we heard from were too busy laughing to feel particularly persuaded.

Here's the complete version that DiCiccio emailed around last Friday:

DiCiccio must be involved in freeway meetings

Rapport with tribe could facilitate agreement

When City Councilman Sal DiCiccio revealed last month that state and Valley officials had never made a formal proposal to the Gila River Indian Community to locate the South Mountain Freeway on tribal land, eyebrows shot up across Ahwatukee.


How could that be?  If there was no formal proposal, why had the tribal council voted twice against allowing the controversial freeway on the reservation? 


Then a GRIC spokesperson confirmed that neither the Arizona Department of Transportation nor the Maricopa Association of Governments had made a formal proposal to the tribal council.


DiCiccio, who has dealt extensively with GRIC officials over the years as a councilman and developer, insists that a sincere and respectful overture from ADOT or MAG would be an essential first step in persuading the tribal council to at least revisit the issue.


ADOT officials now say they're prepared to meet with tribal officials and will enlist U.S. Reps. Harry Mitchell and Ed Pastor for the effort. DiCiccio also should be invited to participate.


As we've said repeatedly in this space, the South Mountain Freeway must be built to, among other things, relieve congestion on Interstate 10, but also that a route even slightly south of Pecos Road would be preferable because it would lessen impact on existing neighborhoods and South Mountain Park.


A southern route also could enhance the economic potential of GRIC's Wild House Pass Development.


But state and regional transportations officials have not disguised their impatience with this controversy, which has dragged on for more than two decades.  They finally have the $1.9 billion to build the freeway and have made it clear that preparations to begin construction will move forward.  They've even suggested ominously that rerouting the freeway farther south could add $500 million to its cost.


Perhaps. Surely, GRIC will want something of value from any prospective freeway deal. But moving the freeway from some of the most valuable real estate in the Valley will surely save a hefty sum. Not having to blast through part of the mountain also would save money.


Clearly, pursuing a potential agreement with GRIC is in the best interests of the people who will be most directly affected by the freeway - Ahwatukee and GRIC residents. If a win-win deal for both communities is possible - and it appears to be - then it needs to be pursued diligently and in good faith.


Just as clearly, a take-it or leave-or-leave-it approach by state and regional officials impatient to get the freeway built probably won't sit well with GRIC officials, who are still waiting for the state to deliver on promises made when Interstate 10 was built through the reservation decades ago.


That's why we'd like to see DiCiccio at the table, at least during the initial meetings with GRIC officials. DiCiccio has forged a relationship with tribal officials based on mutual respect, which can be invaluable as this volatile issue comes to a head.


Excluding DiCiccio now would be a huge mistake.


Really great journalism, eh?


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