ORO VALLEY TOWN COUNCIL CANDIDATES - Tucson Local Media: Import

ORO VALLEY TOWN COUNCIL CANDIDATES

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Posted: Wednesday, January 16, 2002 12:00 am | Updated: 7:46 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

The Northwest EXPLORER's coverage of Oro Valley's March 12 primary election continues today with in-depth profiles of the council candidates. Profiles of the mayoral candidates will appear in the EXPLORER'S Jan. 23 issue.

PAULA ABBOTT WANTS TO FIND A MIDDLE GROUND IN DEVELOPMENT ISSUES

Paula Abbott, the youngest of the three Oro Valley Town Council candidates at 41, views Oro Valley as a town that in many ways has forgotten its children and would like to do something about it.

She also views herself as representing a middle ground between the development community and the Oro Valley Neighborhood Coalition.

"We're going to have development, it's just a matter of how one approaches it and making it work for our community," she said. "I believe in thoughtful growth. I believe that if you're going to have development, you've got to have adequate roads to support it. And that will be one of my main issues. Having crowded roads is just not the way you want to live."

Abbott said she would strive to create a more balanced community with less emphasis on building new homes and more on bringing businesses into town that would support that growth with increased tax revenues.

She's opposed to any annexations aimed merely at increasing the town's land mass so more building permits can be issued and sees that path as a "formula for disaster."

If it's done to provide sales tax revenues, then it's fine, she said. The same holds true if it's for health or safety reasons, such as bringing Wilson Elementary School and Ironwood High School into the town so better emergency services can be provided.

"If we're going to keep growing, we have to be confident that for the residents we'll be taking in we'll be able to provide adequate roads and other improvements," she said. "If we can't do that, we have no business annexing. To me, that's just wrong. If you keep expanding just because you need the permits, you'll crash and burn some day.

"The problem is that we are used to having excellent services and if we keep doing that we're not going to be able to provide residents the quality of life we've all become very accustomed to. We'll have to cut back on such services as police protection, which no one wants to do.

"I can't see us cutting back on any of the standard services we're all used to," she said. "We need to have planned growth. If you know you can provide for that growth, then it's OK to grow," she said. "But you have to plan for that growth. And when I talk about planned growth I'm talking about traffic issues, transportation issues, health issues, safety issues.

"You have to be able to provide everything for that development, otherwise it's wrong and you're just going to bring down your whole community because you're going to have to come up with that money from somewhere else," she said "And eventually you're going to have to take that money from somewhere you don't want to.

"I really believe in planning for our future. I think that's a key issue. That includes traffic, transportation and educational needs as well.

"We are going to need to attract businesses that are sales tax generating if we are going to survive as a town because right now our budget situation is not that great. We've just grown so much.

"We've just exploded in growth and we haven't been able to keep up as far as providing facilities for our children. I've been very active in Parent Teacher Organizations and my kids are in all types of sports activities and I just kind of see that even with the new Riverfront Park we're still behind in being able to provide field space for our kids and the needed recreational facilities.

"I'd like to see this made a more children friendly town," she said. "Somewhere along the way our children have been forgotten. We're behind the curve in providing facilities for them. I believe in having facilities to keep kids busy, like a recreation center to play basketball, an indoor basketball court, an indoor track, a racquetball court. Unless you belong to a country club, you don't have that here. Not for the regular families. I would like all people to have access to these types of facilities. This is a top priority and needs to be addressed. Lord help you if you just want to play with your kids on a Saturday.

"Investing in children is simply like investing in your future. If they're bored, and have nothing to do, they're just going to cause trouble somewhere," she said. "It's just part of growing up. There are recreational facilities all over Tucson but we have nothing up here. I would like to see that corrected."

Abbott said she's excited about prospects for development of the town's 213-acre Naranja Town Site where massive improvements in recreational facilities, including ballfields, soccer fields, tennis courts, a performing arts center, an outdoor amphitheater and many more amenities are being proposed at a cost some estimate could reach $40 million.

"I believe that will be the heart and soul of Oro Valley and the way we develop it will reflect how we really feel as a community," she said.

Such a site would go a long way toward meeting the recreational needs of the town's children, depending on how much athletic field space is put in, she said, adding that she'd also like to see an indoor recreational center developed there that would not be for revenue generating purposes.

She would also like to see developers include more park space in their development plans and identify areas for athletic fields.

Abbott fears that her age could work against her in the campaign.

"I'm hoping that the people in Sun City will be able to identify with me," she said. "I'm concerned that they may think I don't have the background or may not understand their specific needs when indeed I do.

"I probably have more direct knowledge as well as the educational background in terms of understanding what their needs are and I think I need to get that across to them that I can represent them," she said.

Abbott , a loan officer for Allied Mortgage, has a bachelor's degree in psychology with a minor in sociology from the University of Arizona and an associate of science degree in mathematics from Cochise Community College. She's been active in community affairs as the former president of the committee responsible for creating Wildlife Ridge Park in Rancho Vistoso, as a parent volunteer and vice president of the Parent Teacher Organization at Copper Creek Elementary School and as co-chair of a community group seeking an alternative site for Amphitheater School District 's Ironwood Ridge High School.

She is also a former member of the Oro Valley Neighborhood Coalition, a group she said she was drawn to because of its efforts in raising environmental concerns, particularly the protection of Honey Bee Canyon.

She said she "wasn't a very good member, attending only about five meetings over eight months because of time constraints related to attending Amphitheater School Board meetings and researching alternative sites for Ironwood Ridge High School during a time when construction was being threatened by the presence of the cactus ferruginous pygmy owl.

This is her first run for political office and she has pledged to limit her campaign spending to $500 or less, similar to fellow candidate Emily Smith Sleigh. The other candidate, Lyra Done, has made no such pledge and thus presents a serious challenge in terms of Done's ties to the real estate community as an associate broker for Prudential Aegis Realty.

Abbott moved to Oro Valley from Tucson's west side on the recommendation of her sister as to the quality of Copper Creek Elementary School. When her husband finished work on his master's degree and was offered a temporary position at Allied Signal, the couple decided it was a good time to move so they and their two sons, ages 14 and 10, could be closer to the school.

Abbott describes herself as a "health and safety issue person." She would like to see a good deal of the money raised from the fruits of promoting new business spent on parks and recreation facilities, especially as those new businesses will profit from a well-educated employee base as the 600 Oro Valley residents working for Raytheon demonstrates.

"We need to put together some type of committee that can promote Oro Valley as a place where businesses can be successful," she said. "I don't know if the chamber of commerce is doing a good enough job."

She was planning to meet with chamber officials recently to learn of the group's business promoting efforts and examine whether those efforts were simply too broad to be as effective as they could be.

Abbott said she believes what's really going to help the town is when Northwest Medical Center completes its hospital expansion plans, a move she expects will ignite interest from other medical related technology companies like Ventana Medical Systems.

"I think that's the direction the town will end up going in," she said.

Addressing the town's water needs, Abbott said she would like to see Oro Valley move toward bringing in Central Arizona Project water and effluent for the town's golf courses at the same time.

"This is a very important issue," Abbott said. "There's no need to wait years down the road. If you're going to dig things up (for the needed distribution systems) do both at the same time and save labor costs. To me, this makes sense. We're going to have to pay for it one way or another. The town has said we can't afford to do it, but we can't afford not to. To me it's just let's deal with the issue, let's get it done."

Abbott said she "would have "never, ever in my life allowed" Vistoso Partners to use ground water on its golf courses. "To me, that was just wrong. If I was on the council back then I would have made Vistoso pay for that system a long time ago.

At the time, however, Vistoso had its own water company and its permission to pump ground water came from the state. Oro Valley's hands were tied when it bought the water company. The town's only recourse would have been to close the golf courses, including Sun City's.

Paying for the CAP and effluent is something we're going to have to do in light of the town's subsidence problems, she said. "We're overusing our water and we've had a lack of planning so now we have to step it up."

Abbott is also concerned that the town isn't getting its fair share of state shared tax revenues and believes greater cooperation with leaders in Tucson, Marana and other communities, showing up en masse before the Legislature with lobbyists would benefit all interests. "Right now, everything's in their hands," she said of the Legislature.

With the growth Oro Valley has had, from a population of 6,670 residents in 1990 to a current population of 32,500, transportation also will be a key issue, so governments are going to have to start working closer together at the state, county and city and town level toward a redevelopment of an overall transportation system, Abbott said.

For Oro Valley that should include the use of a minibus system to get people to homes and businesses easier. Light rail may be the wave of the future, so we ought to start thinking about that now with a campaign to make people understand how they could benefit rather than causing further chaos when the time comes for implementing such a system, she said.

Abbott thinks the town has given up too much to developers and could have done more to protect Honey Bee Canyon from encroachment. She was among those who signed petitions challenging the town's annexation of Neighborhood 12 in Rancho Vistoso where it plans to build nearly 200 homes, including 88 casitas on 360 acres. The issue, which has halted development in the area, comes before voters in this election as well.

Abbott said she understands that to accomplish what she wants on the council will take patience, a vision, the persistence to stay on course and remember what drove her to run in the first place.

And that is a desire to give back to the community.

"This is just the next step in the progression of things," she said. "I've had more hands in more cookie jars, the Parent Teacher Organizations, neighborhood issues, a bunch of different things.

"Working with United Way really broadened my horizons, made me feel more appreciative. It made me want to broaden my ability to make a change, to help out. This is why I feel I'm giving back to my community."

EMILY SLEIGH IS READY TO FOLLOW THE WILL OF THE PEOPLE OF ORO VALLEY

Oro Valley Town Council candidate Emily Smith Sleigh, 54, boils down politics to its simplest elements: following the wishes of citizens, understanding their needs and voting the way they want you to vote.

"As a reporter, I know you'd like to pin me down on these things, but government is like a river," she said in a recent interview. "It ebbs and flows. And as a good politician when conditions change, you have to change. You have to compromise to get things done. That's what I want to be able to do. I'm not trying to be nonspecific. Things change as other things come up."

Sleigh makes responding to the changing currents of public opinion seem like an easy ride devoid of any treacherous rapids along the way.

She considers the main issues the town must address to be growth and a balanced budget, water and the Central Arizona Project, traffic and historic preservation.

Sleigh said she hopes the campaign ahead doesn't get rough.

"Sometimes political campaigns get rough, but I've never seen them get more rough than in Oro Valley," she said. "I hope this one will be civil, but there are a lot of things at stake."

Sleigh said she doesn't believe in "all-out growth." Rather, she believes in growth subject to town review and ultimately the consent of its residents, she said.

She described what she called no-growth supporters as "inflexible, unwilling to compromise."

Sleigh is running for the town council, she said, because she loves Oro Valley, believes it needs good leadership, believes that she's a good leader and is uniquely qualified because she's been involved in politics all of her life although she's never held public office. Her involvement has been primarily in assisting in the campaigns of other candidates.

This will be an especially difficult campaign for Sleigh. Her husband, Howard, a former college history instructor and retiree of the Social Security Administration, died of a heart attack at home Jan. 10. The two met while teaching college courses for the University of Kentucky at the Fort Campbell Army base. The relationship was forged by Emily always forgetting her classroom keys and Howard always having to open the classroom for her, she said. They married in 1995.

"Howard loved politics and would have wanted me to continue with my campaign, so I will be going forward with it," she said.

Sleigh lost badly in her bid for the council in 2000 but attributed that to having to spend so much time in the hospital with her daughter who was then ill with cystic fibrosis. The daughter died in June that year at 18.

She lists as her main goals listening to the concerns of the town's residents and respecting their wishes. She doesn't think the town's elected officials are necessarily doing that now and believes they could be doing it better. One way, she suggests, is for a community forum to be held at least once a year where citizen concerns could be heard by the elected officials.

Sleigh said she considers herself a "moderate" when it comes to growth. "I have a lot of experience in a university setting, I have degrees, I'm an educator," she said. "I believe I'm very capable of considering both sides of an issue and making an informed decision when a vote comes up."

Sleigh was asked in what way she would be more impartial than her opponents. She suggested the Honey Bee Canyon issue as an example with this to offer:

"When I first heard about Honey Bee Canyon, I thought it was a precious resource to the town and that it could be an asset as well to those who planned recreational and travel businesses," she said.

"I hoped in my heart that it would not be spoiled and to my regret it was developed around Honey Bee Canyon. I would like to see developers acknowledge it as a precious resource. I like the idea that they're proposing to bequeath that to the town. I would like to see lots there go to the high end development, to at least be large, but the ultimate decision is going to be up to voters in a referendum."

It is the type of statement that sometimes makes Sleigh difficult to follow.

A reporter pointed out that her perception of small lots being developed by Vistoso Partners in the Neighborhood 11 and Neighborhood 12 areas of Rancho Vistoso may be incorrect. This elicits an insistence on Sleigh's part that Vistoso Partners is "continuing to reduce the size of the lots to boost their profit."

The decision voters are being asked to make in this election regarding Rancho Vistoso is whether the town's annexation of Neighborhood 12 should be allowed so Vistoso Partners can continue with plans to develop nearly 200 homes, including 88 casitas, on 360 acres in an area currently designated as largely open space.

Asked what she would have done differently in terms of dealing with Vistoso Partners, Sleigh, who lives in Rancho Vistoso, replied: "Once in a while I would have said no." She also said she would have insisted on a higher quality of construction, implemented a tighter review process and placed more inspectors on building sites in the area.

Another important issue for Sleigh is the necessity of having a buildout plan for the town. "We need to know where revenues are going to go and where they're going to come from after buildout is completed," she said.

"Can the town continue to annex? Can we continue to provide the infrastructure for these annexed areas? The General Plan coming up now should cover those things and continue our buildout plan."

She said she would support annexations in order to square off the town's boundaries, but would oppose them if they involved huge expenditures with no return. "If we can't provide the infrastructure, then why do it," she said. "Annexed areas need to meet the standards of the rest of the community.

"Everything depends on our resources, on having a balanced budget," she said. "The bottom line is the bottom line. We can't achieve many of these things without a balanced budget, without revenues equal to the outflow of money. These things have to be considered when you say yes to developers or anyone else."

Sleigh said that in going door-to-door to gather signatures for her petitions residents repeatedly asked about Central Arizona Project water and when the pipes would be laid to get the water to Oro Valley and bring the effluent in to get golf courses off ground water, efforts she said could cost $50 million to $80 million for the town to complete.

She said she would seek to pay for those efforts by establishing a business district to bring in additional sales tax revenues, seeking government grants and working with developers to pay their fair share for the benefits such improvements would provide.

"It's going to take a lot of effort to raise this money," Sleigh said. "There's always bond issues too, but we're just about bonded out with debt payments of 24 percent. But getting this water to Oro Valley is more important than annexation which will require huge expenditures for infrastructure and services.

To help achieve fiscal sustainability, she'd stop the "money giveaways," such as the funds the council allots to the Greater Oro Valley Arts Council and other groups. "Too often when people come to the town appealing for money there's a knee-jerk reaction," she said.

Sleigh may be overstating the town's bonding debt problems based on numbers provided by Oro Valley Finance Director David Andrews.

According to Andrews, the town has issued $56.7 million in bonds since 1996 and $44 million of that total went to water improvements that will be paid for out of water rates and impact fees.

The remaining $12.7 million in bonds were issued to pay for land for the town's new library, land for the CDO Riverfront Park and the Naranja Town site. Those bonds are being paid for out of general fund revenues at a rate of just over $1 million a year, a figure that represents 6.6 percent of the town's annual general fund revenues, Andrews said.

Sleigh believes that because Oro Valley is such an attractive, high-end community it doesn't need to provide economic incentives for businesses to come here, and especially shouldn't be doing so for businesses such as the proposed Ritz Carlton Resort in Rancho Vistoso, which is now on hold, and the Sheraton El Conquistador Resort with their deep pockets.

"It doesn't make a lot of sense when we need water here so badly," she said. Such incentives may need to be provided if the town's financial situation worsens, but right now she doesn't think it's necessary.

In fact, she said she thinks the town may be overstating its deficit position merely to get voters to back Home Rule in the upcoming election, a measure that would allow the town to establish its own spending limits rather than have the state do so.

Asked if she was opposed to annexation, Sleigh answered "No, but there are revenues and costs to consider. If residents decide they want to be annexed, then I'm all for it."

Among the things she would do to manage growth, she said, is to make sure development applicants follow General Plan guidelines and understand town values. "When applicants come to the town they have to know our review process is set in stone and not alterable, that they can't manipulate it," she said.

To change the General Plan for a rezoning, Sleigh said, "it would have to be a really good one. I would be against changing the General Plan for rezoning in general. I would be able to say no and not blink my eyes because I wouldn't have the developers to answer to.”

LYRA DONE'S MAIN GOAL IS TO ENHANCE QUALITY OF LIFE IN ORO VALLEY

Oro Valley Town Council candidate Lyra Done, 65, describes herself as a "walking, talking chamber of commerce" for the town of Oro Valley with the experience to go with it.

That experience has taught her to be a somewhat cautious candidate in her first run at public office, guarding against the chance that sometime down the line she might be accused of promises never kept.

"The direction I will go in is the direction people want me to go," she said in a recent interview. Exactly where that will take her in terms of the town's growth she's not quite prepared to say, allowing that it will be the focus groups now reshaping the town's General Plan that will play a major role in her thinking.

All Done wants to do is to "make Oro Valley a better place in which to live, work and play," she said. "I love Oro Valley and I feel I can do a lot for it. All I want to do is make it a better place than it already is."

She plans to do that by "watching out for our environment, transportation, public safety and our lifestyle," she said. "And I think one of the best ways any person can do that who's dealing in this venue today is to be totally educated on whatever the issue is."

She is adamant in saying that she has no personal agenda other than "wanting the best for Oro Valley" overall. She stressed she would represent no particular sector knowing she likely faces attacks based on her status as a Realtor and real estate broker.

Done goes as far as saying she doesn't believe in controlled growth. "I don't like the word controlled," she said. "You can't even control your own children, how are you going to control growth in the town. Growth is going to happen. This is just too beautiful a place to live.

"But we've got to be cognizant of park areas as we're growing, our lifestyle, our views, the kinds of things that add up to our lifestyle," she said. "And work, of course. It all goes back to bringing in clean industries that go along with the atmosphere we're trying to establish in Oro Valley so we don't have to drive so far to go to our homes and work."

Additional retail businesses are needed because revenues from the development area will one day come to a halt, she said.

Done, who is serving her second term on the town's Board of Adjustment and is a member of the town's Budget and Bond Committee, said she doesn't think the town is growing too fast and she thinks town officials as well as the populous are doing a good job of handling that growth, noting that in the past six years less than half the amendments to the General Plan sought by various interests have been approved.

"There's nothing I would change now not knowing more than I already know," she said.

Done views one of her major tasks as a councilperson to simply "oversee the town's growth and manage it in such a way that everything fits together so Oro Valley is a better place to live, work and play."

She's supportive of efforts being made by the town to bring in more high-end retail business and to address its transportation problems through a number of road improvement projects soon to be undertaken.

"Many of the people living in town are not aware of what's going on," she said. "They're not aware of all the transportation issues that are on the table already. It's not like the town has been just sitting back and la la la la la. No, that's not the case. I just happen to be aware more than most people what those efforts involve because of going to town meetings and General Plan focus group discussions.

"My thrust would be in continuing the momentum the town has built up," she said. "I think I can move it along faster than it's already moving. How, I don't know. You don't know how you're going to do it until you get in office and have to deal with various situations as they arise that I can't even visualize at this moment."

One thing she would like to see the town do is to accelerate the processing of building permits, but in such a way that architectural standards are not sacrificed.

Done said she hasn't encountered much dissatisfaction while out on the campaign trail, but the one thing residents seem to want the town to do more than anything is to get the golf courses off ground water.

She lists bond issues, partnerships with businesses and the support of other local governments as the means by which the estimated $30 million to $80 million it will cost to build a Central Arizona Project water and effluent distribution system can be financed.

"We'll have to study that. There may be other ways, a lot of other things I don't know about any more than you or anyone else until you get into it and start looking at the possibilities of where you can go," she said.

She considers it remarkable that the town has come as far as it has on the water issue. Last year the town reached a settlement with Tucson of a 22-year dispute under which Oro Valley will pay $5.4 million to Tucson to gain access to an additional 4,454 acre feet of CAP water, supplementing its current 2,294 acre foot allocation and the right to have the city transfer to Oro Valley all the effluent the town produces.

Done noted that relationships between Tucson and Oro Valley had been strained for a long time until Mayor Bob Walkup replaced George Miller as mayor. That smoothed the way for talks between Oro Valley Mayor Paul Loomis and Walkup leading to the settlement, she said.

Even so, CAP water isn't expected to arrive in Oro Valley for as long as 10 years and it may be up to five years before effluent is available to get golf courses off ground water, officials say.

"What we will all be pushing for now is getting the water up here and paying for it," she said. "Is that a controversial issue? Well, yeah, I've heard people say that using ground water for the golf courses is. But we're all pulling for ending that. It's not just me that wants that or will work toward it. I think everybody wants that.

"I just feel I'm in a better position to help get that done. I plan to build my own personal relationships with the mayor of Tucson, the mayor of Marana. We all need to work together. This is how better things happen.

"I'm a very hands-on person so I'll constantly be studying all the ramifications, whatever the issue might be, how it affects the things I feel are important for the community," said Done who places a high priority on consensus building between Oro Valley and other communities.

She cites her role as vice chair of the Naranja Town Site land use task force executive committee as an example of her efforts in examining issues and listening to the public view. "I've attended every meeting so I can hear what the public wants and get it straight from their mouths, not from just reading some report, " she said.

Done said that while she, Paula Abbott and Emily Smith Sleigh, the other council candidates, probably want the same things for the town, her many years of business experience give her the edge in terms of the ability to get things done and to ensure the town's fiscal sustainability by bringing in clean industry and more retail business.

"Because we're all new to this situation, each of us is going to have our own individual idea of what we want to do and accomplish, but I think I bring with me a broader business perspective because of my many years in business, managing the financial side of a business, that sort of thing," she said.

"To run a town is just like running a business," she said. "It's just bigger business and you have a lot more people watching you all the time.

"I would like people to feel they can come and talk to me. I want them to feel I represent them," she said. "I think that would be a big achievement. I know you can't please people all the time. I understand that. I know how to face reality. But I want everyone to feel I'm working for them. "

She is likely to have a strong campaigning edge against her opponents since both Abbott and Sleigh have pledged to limit their campaign spending to $500. Done has made no such pledge and is expected to receive solid backing from the real estate community to raise the nearly $8,000 she estimates it will cost her to win, based on the professions represented by those who signed her candidacy petitions.

Done was named Woman of the Year by the local chapter of American Business Women for 2001, Realtor of the Year for 2001 by the Women's Council of Realtors and also has received awards from the Prudential Foundation and the Hearth Foundation.

On addressing the philosophical gap between environmentalists and the development community, Done expressed a sense of frustration.

"With each passing year more things come up from an environmental standpoint," she said. "It just seems like from the environmentalists' standpoint, they're never going to be happy. I think the development community has tried very hard to do things that are an asset to the community," things such as children's parks, she said.

"Today it's the pygmy owl. Tomorrow it can be a snail that doesn't even live here. It's just tough. You just have to take each individual situation as it comes up and judge it on its merits."

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