Pima County Supervisor Sharon Bronson is facing a challenge from fellow Democrat Donna Branch-Gilby in the Sept. 2 primary. In this interview with Tucson Weekly staff writer Mari Herreras, Bronson talks about growth and the environment. Learn more about the race here.
When you first ran 12 years ago your platform focused on growth issues and the environment. How do you see growth and environment issues today?
Lots to be done. The conservation plan was a great first step in managing growth. We’ve covered about 26,000 acres of critical habitat and another 130,000 acres of habitat through acquired ranch lands. So we’ve made some critical important steps. But there’s always much more to be done in terms of habitat protection.
What do you see doing the next four years?
In the next four years, I’ll be putting an emphasis on regional planning and water. When I came on board I was the critical vote on impact fees. Growth has to be sustainable. Our economy has to be sustainable and equitable for all our citizens. Our natural resources and water have to be sustainable. And certainly our Sonoran Desert eco-system.
Taking the first step, we’ve formed the Southern Arizona Four County Consortium to talk about regional growth management. We’re moving forward on that level. I was the founding member of the border county coalition, because as we grapple with the challenges of the 21st century the border is the biggest challenge. The 24 border counties along the US-Mexico border now speak to each other. Lots to do, but plenty of opportunities.
How does zoning and planning really figure into growth issues?
There are 15 counties in Arizona… we are weak sisters to the state. The powers we derive come directly from the state. We cannot enact any legislation that is stronger than the state. That just gives you an example of the box of which we have to operate in. Working within those guidelines, the only impact fees we can adopt for example, are for transportation and parks, and we’ve done that. We can’t go any further than that. Prop 207 put even greater constraints on us. We’ve got to come up with creative ways to deal with regional land use.
I think the conservation plan is one of those ways. It tells you where we shouldn’t grow. Much of what I inherited in the growth you see today was zoning that took place in the 1980s, 1970s and in some cases in the 1950s. It is ordinanced in at this point. There is no going back. We simply don’t have the statutory authority at this point. So we have to then put something on the ballot. At this point, the existing zoning is not going to go away.
That’s why I formed the four-county consortium. Most of the growth is going to take place along the county lines. Pinal County will pass us in the next decade in terms of population. Same thing with Santa Cruz County. The growth pressures are going to those borders. That’s why it’s important to really start talking regional planning.
The Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan defines our growth boundaries. Now it is up to our counter parts, the cities and towns within Pima County, to start doing some sound planning. We breathe the same air, drink the same water, and roads don’t stop at jurisdictional lines. Neither do watersheds. So if we’re going to have a livable community and a livable region… we’re only going to have to do this together. Cooperative regional land use planning is going to be key to our success.
Your opponent says the supervisors need to meet in study sessions, which are always cancelled each month. Would you want to bring study sessions back the job?
We communicate at board meetings whether a study session is cancelled or not. That’s how we communicate and that’s how we communicate effectively. That’s when we set policy, so I think we’re doing that. We have a number of boards and committees that we’ve identified as critical to the success of the county. The planning and zoning commission is one, and this month we’re forming the election commission. We’ve got various boards, like the board of health, animal care, parks, we have, if I recall, well over 50 boards, commissions and committees. Many policy recommendations come through them. Every board meeting is in fact a study session where we can bring up issues and have discussion.
Border issues are particularly important for your district. Anything changing the next four years?
There’s a 130-plus mile border with Mexico—the largest of any of the 24 border counties. It’s a huge burden on tax payers. We know for a fact that federal policy is costing border tax payers. Again we formed our organization in 1997 before it was the topic dejour. We know that last year the cost to our tax payers was $15 million. That’s more than the budget for our parks. We have to continue to take our concerns to our reps in Washington and the administration in Washington. This is a burden that should be shouldered. If we were to take those counties along the border and crate a new state it would have the lowest medium income, lowest in academic achievement, and the highest crime rate, because those areas are forces to put more and more of it resources toward border issues in what is essentially a federal responsibility.
Hopefully with a new administration in 2009 we’ll see that change.