It’s not often that a public park becomes fodder for heated political debates, but a proposed park in Oro Valley has become exactly that.
A group of townspeople banded together recently to form a political action committee in support of the $48 million Naranja Town Site bond election scheduled for November.
“In my mind, this park represents what the community wants,” said Susan Zibrat, a member of Citizens for Naranja Park Bonds.
The group, whose Web site, www.yesonparkbonds.com, touts the park plan, includes other notable Oro Valley residents like former Councilman Dick Johnson.
To Zibrat, the park would be an ornament to the town, adding to the quality of life she and others enjoy.
This November, voters in Oro Valley will have their say on a municipal bond election to fund a park at the Naranja Town Site. Accompanying the bond would be a secondary property tax to pay off the construction expenses.
Most of the park-bond debates have centered on the property tax — an important issue because part of the founding vision of the town was to be free of such levies.
But times have changed since the town’s 1974 founding and the town’s demographics likely have changed as well.
As recently as the 2000 Census, nearly 25 percent of the town’s 29,000 residents were older than 65.
Since then, the town has grown younger, attracting more families with young children.
While the exact demographic breakdown won’t be ready until the 2010 Census is complete, the annual count conducted by the Pima Association of Governments shows the town has swollen to 43,650.
Zibrat is one of those younger residents. She moved to Oro Valley with her husband and two kids in 1999.
Like many parents in the Northwest, Zibrat said she’s spent countless nights and weekends shuttling her kids to sporting events throughout the Tucson area.
A larger park that can support more youth and adult sports leagues built closer to home is something she’s hoped for.
“How nice it would be to have a park in our own community so we don’t have to drive to these other parks,” Zibrat said.
Her wish for more park space in the town would seem to be validated by the National Recreation and Park Association, a group dedicated to the promotion of increased recreation options.
According to measurements used by the group, Oro Valley has fewer recreation options than most towns the same size.
Across the country, the average park acreage ratio per person is about 10 acres for every 1,000 people, according to the association.
A town like Oro Valley with nearly 44,000 people should have about 440 acres of parks by that equation.
The 213-acre Naranja Town Site included, Oro Valley has 300 park acres, much of that in the form of open space.
“I can’t imagine being against it,” Zibrat said of the park proposal.
Of course, some town residents do oppose the plan, and vociferously so.
Oro Valley resident Art Segal has been a vocal opponent of the park almost since the start.
The East Coast transplant is an active figure in the town’s political scene through his Web site and blog, letorovalleyexcel.com, where he posts near-daily opinion blurbs and running commentaries on local issues. A stable of devoted readers also post comments to site.
“This park is not by any stretch of the imagination a necessity,” Segal said.
He points to the current economic downturn in the state and country as a major reason townspeople should vote against the plan.
“The timing to expend almost $50 million of the tax payer’s money, in these economic times, I think wiser people wouldn’t do it,” Segal said.
Segal and his partner in commentary Richard Fourash, have targeted the town’s information campaign about the bond election.
Fourash, who posts a weekly video address on the site, frequently refers to the bond proposal as a “boondoggle” and the “Naranja Theme Park.”
Both have cast doubts on the secondary-property tax figures the town put on a Web site created to inform townspeople about the election and what amenities the park could hold.
Estimates on the town’s site put the average monthly tax for a home with a market value of $300,000 at $10.20.
Segal and Fourash claim the owner of a $300,000 house would see a tax bill more like $12 a month.
In a recent posting, Segal speculates that the park, if built, might become a haven for drug use.
“Perhaps it is not fair to relate the potential bond issue of the Naranja Park to the potential of even more illegal drug activities, but we believe the reality is — it certainly could be,” Segal wrote.
Zibrat agrees that the timing of borrowing money for a municipal park is a little off in light of the frequent talk of a national recession, but said the benefit would pay off in the long run.
“The enhancement that it will bring to the community far outweighs the cost,” Zibrat said.
The pro-park group plans to extend its campaign beyond the Web and try to reach more people in the community.
They hope to raise enough money to pay for a direct-mail operation and possibly commission a telephone campaign as the November election draws near.
Despite the politics and rumblings around town hall that a counter group will likely form to oppose the bond vote, Zibrat said she won’t take anything personal that comes out of the run up to the election.
“We know that when it’s over we still have to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with people,” Zibrat said.
Town asks for arguments
Oro Valley officials have sent out a call for pro and con arguments for the Naranja Town Site bond election that would accompany the November ballots.
They ask that writers limit their arguments to 300 words.
Arguments for and against the proposition must be in writing, and received at the town clerk’s office by 5 p.m. Wednesday, July 30.