Mark Twain once observed: “If we would learn what the human race really is at bottom, we need only observe it in election times.”
With the Naranja park bond issue thoroughly defeated at the polls, some Oro Valley voters wonder what lies at the bottom of this community and what form it might take in the future?
“It’s pretty clear that the park was starting to divide the community,” said Susan Zibrat, a supporter.
During the election Zibrat helped form a political action committee (PAC) in favor of the park bond.
With the election in the past, the question now remains: What should town leaders do with the property?
Nearly 60 percent of voters rejected the $48-million proposal that included a secondary-property tax to fund construction of and pay the debt for the 213-acre park.
Official estimates for the cost to residents averaged about $13 a month in property taxes. The tax would have expired once the 25-year borrowing period ended.
Zibrat and other supporters aren’t quite ready to give up on the park, but they recognize that they have to help town leaders find more creative ways to get it built.
“The next step is for us to sit down as a community, to come together and say, ‘Can we do it another way?’” park supporter Gregg Carroll said.
Instead of looking only at borrowing to build the park, Carroll suggested that the town create a public-private partnership.
He also thinks searching out the many federal grant opportunities could minimize costs to local taxpayers.
That’s exactly what Chet Oldakowski wants to hear.
Oldakowski spearheaded the efforts of a PAC that had opposed the bond.
The group’s argument against the park was twofold — the plan was too sports oriented and the costs too great.
“It’s time to start thinking creatively about other options,” Oldakowski said. “Let’s face it, the proposed park plan was one of a sports megaplex, not a family park.”
He suggested the town use part of the property as a tech park or office complex and reserve a smaller section for a park.
“It was too much, given the need of the population,” Oldakowski said.
Town leaders agree that they should seek more options, but want more information first.
“This early, there is still data that we have to get to understand why it lost,” Oro Valley Mayor Paul Loomis said.
The mayor said town officials would review the voting statistics and possibly invite residents to a series of discussions about future options for the property.
Zibrat said her group also would complete its own review of voting data.
“We are doing a post-mortem analysis,” Zibrat said.
As contentious as the park issue became this fall, it’s interesting to note that the original proposal called for a much larger, more expensive undertaking.
As originally envisioned, park costs could have topped $150 million as opposed to the $48 million that voters rejected.
Loomis supported the larger version, which included swimming pools, a community center and a performing arts arena.
That plan was similar to one advanced by the Naranja Town Site task force in 2002.
“I was hoping to go to the voters once, as opposed to piecemeal,” Loomis said.
But the town council in February opted for a scaled-down version.
Still, Oldakowski said the larger version would have been a hard sell to voters, especially the performing arts center.
He points to past troubles UA Presents has had with ticket sales and the uncertain future of the Tucson Convention Center as examples.
“Having something like that in Oro Valley, that is off the beaten path, when they can’t make it work in Tucson,” Oldakowski said, “How in world can we in Oro Valley?”
Whatever the cause, the prospect of the town’s first property tax proved too much for many residents. Nearly 60 percent of them voted against the plan, ending Oro Valley’s first attempt to bond a public project.
“I think there weren’t a lot of people against the park,” Carroll said. “There were a lot of people against the bond.”
Naranja-related costs to date
• $2.5 million for the land, using Pima County bonds
• $120,000 in consultant fees for master plan
• $18,000 for market analysis
• $297,070 for architectural design
• $2,799 in travel expenses for town leaders to visit a similar park in Denver
• $15,000 in engineering fees
• $174,000 for park fees assessment
• $12,320 for traffic studies
• $50,000 to market the proposal
• $70,000 in legal fees to get the park question on the ballot
• Total: $3,259,189
Source: Oro Valley