Sept. 22, 2004 - Abiding by a commitment to dialog that critically examines growth issues and their impact on the community, the Metropolitan Pima Alliance is playing a major role in helping erase the development community's image as the "bad guys" they are often perceived to be.
In the past two years alone, the group's membership has grown from 48 to more than 140 corporate members, due in large part not only to the dialogue it's encouraged, but the diversity of that dialogue. Membership fees range from $200 a year for a sole proprietor of a business to $500 annually for builders and developers.
"You'll recall that in the mid to late '90s our (development-oriented) organizations were taking a lot of heat for everything," said Patty Richardson, senior vice president for public policy with the Tucson Association of Realtors and an MPA board member since the group's founding in 1997.
"We were always looked upon as the bad guys," Richardson said. "We were seen as growth at any cost, you just have to build everything groups."
To erase that impression, group founders began looking for a model organization that would give a voice to the broadest range of community interests, not just Realtors and homebuilders. Founders discovered their model in the Valley Partnership, an organization established by the Phoenix development community in the mid-1980s, Richardson said.
"I don't think we've taken any stance that hasn't been anything but positive for the community," she said. "Our focus is to get dialogue going where there is disagreement so we can come to some kind of consensus on an issue, whether it's impact fees or whatever. That is what we want to do, make sure there is good dialogue, whether it's between the city of Tucson and Pima County, the city and builders, whatever, so we get a good product in the end.
"So often the arguments you hear at a public meeting are because people haven't tried to understand both sides of an issue. What we try and do is see that both sides get together," Richardson said.
"We are more of an issues development group," said Kathleen Longnecker, the MPA's executive director and owner of Platinum Management, a homeowner association management company. "We are concerned about growth. And although that became a dirty word in Pima County three years ago or so, I don't think it's as bad anymore.
"I think you can say growth today and it doesn't necessarily have a negative connotation. There aren't too many people who live here that don't understand that growth is driving our economy at this point, and that if we cease to build more houses or develop more shopping malls and retail stores, then there would be a lot of people out of work in our community since 35 percent of the people who work in Pima County work in construction or construction-related industries."
Among the things that sets MPA apart from other groups is that it doesn't endorse political candidates and its 18-member board only takes stands on issues it feels it has something to offer.
MPA's board has taken favorable stances regarding Pima County's $732 million bond election, sided in favor of the sale of $174.3 million in bonds to purchase open space and provide for habitat protection, been deeply involved in shaping an environmentally sensitive resource ordinance, county parks and recreation ordinances adopted by the Board of Supervisors last year and supported the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan to protect nearly 6 million acres.
More recently, MPA has led discussions on Tucson's proposed impact fees and supported commercial aspects of the plan while opposing residential elements on the grounds that the fees aren't where they need to be to avoid a negative impact on the homebuilding industry, concerns about when the fees would go into effect and whether projects already in the pipeline would be exempt.
"There isn't an environmental issue that I'm aware of right now where there aren't people from all sides sitting at the table and talking about it," said Richardson. "I think we're beyond the point where it's environmentalists versus builders. Everybody understands that in order to get anywhere we all need to sit at the table and talk about what our issues are and then reach a reasonable compromise."
Asked what makes her think MPA is accomplishing what it set out to do, Richardson said "Well, we're all at the table. That tells us that we're doing what we need to do."
Neither Longnecker, Richardson nor fellow Boardmember Jim Tress, a principal in Westland Resources Inc., a consultant to companies seeking advice on complying with environmental regulations, could cite the name of any environmental group member other than the Sonoran Institute.
Representatives of the institute were unavailable for comment.
The Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection also has been invited to join but thus far has declined because of concerns related to its own alliance, said Carolyn Campbell, director. Even so, the coalition has been pleased with recent progress made by MPA in terms of its stand on growth management, she said.
Addressing the issue of development "is no longer a matter of growth versus no growth," said Tress. "It's a matter of objectively reviewing what the consequences of that growth are going to be and can we maintain the area as a great place to live. It's a complex issue with plenty of room for divergent views to be heard."