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Turning treated sewage water into electricity

(Posted Nov. 27, 2016)

The initial presentation to the City Council is HERE

The electricity staff report is HERE

The sewage water staff report is HERE

If all goes as projected, Casa Grande will be sending treated sewage water to a greenhouse plants company in return for discounted electricity created by that operation.

Final approval of the agreement is expected during the Dec. 5 council meeting.

It is not a one-for-one trade.

Under the proposed agreement, the city would send 300 acre-feet a year (or 97,755,426 gallons) of purified reclaimed water to the future nFlux Energy Products operation on 40 acres near Burris and Rodeo roads in return for electricity for the sewage treatment plant at a cost of 5.25 cents per kilowatt-hour. According to the staff report, the present market rate for electricity is 10.5 cents per kWh.

The report says the 10.5-cent rate is about $950,000 a year. Under the 5.25-cent rate it would be about $547,373 yearly, a saving of $402,627.

Under the agreement, nFlux would pay for the electricity and sewer piping infrastructure.

According to the staff report, nFlux “seeks to implement and operate energy ­greenhouse facilities that will produce low cost clean energy, increase food crop yields by up to 40 percent and with 10 percent of the water usage. They plan to use a CO2 fertilization process and heat from a generator, along with water from the city's wastewater treatment plant to produce vegetables.”

The operation and how it produces electricity is described in the above chart.

Once all permits are obtained, the company has said, it would take about a year to be into operation.

City Manager Larry Rains told the council that the equipment to be paid for by nFlux will include a system allowing the treatment plant to switch back to electricity from Electrical District 2, the current provider, if nFlux is temporarily unable to deliver. The plant also has a backup generator system, he said.

The 300 acre-feet is about 10 percent of the reclaimed water the plant has left over from present uses, such as for parks and for sale to an electric generating plant to cool turbines.

Initial approval of the agreements was unanimous, with Councilwoman Mary Kortsen on excused absence.

Hard-to-develop parcel at Kortsen/CG Avenue
will be rezoned to allow apartments complex

(Posted Oct. 23, 2016)

The P&Z Commission staff report, with background and graphics, is HERE

The P&Z Commission minutes are HERE

As presently zoned, the 3.77 acres at the southwest corner of Kortsen Road and Casa Grande Avenue would be a tough piece of property to develop into single-family residential homes.

That’s the reasons the owners, Phongduc Bui and Trang M Huynh, have asked that it be rezoned to R-3 to allow for multifamily, such as apartments.

The Casa Grande Planning and Zoning Commission sent a favorable recommendation to the City Council, which during its Monday night meeting gave initial approval to the request. Final approval is expected during the next council session.

In brief, these are the zoning classifications discussed during the meeting


The purpose of the R-1 Zone is to provide for the development of single-family detached dwellings and directly related complementary uses at a low density. The R-1 Zone is intended to be strictly residential in character with a minimum of disturbances due to traffic or overcrowding.


The purpose of the R-3 Zone is to provide for high density housing in multiple family structures and directly related complementary uses. The R-3 Zone is designed to allow highly economical use of land while creating an attractive, functional and safe residential environment.

Planning and Development Director Paul Tice showed the council several graphics illustrating the situation.

“You can see from those graphics that the surrounding land uses essentially are churches and then we have Kortsen Road, a principal arterial, to the north and Casa Grande Avenue, a major collector, on the east,” he said.

“It would be tough to develop this small site for single-family homes, given the constraints of the size of the site, the additional land that will have to be dedicated on the site for right of way for those two roads and the impact of those roads might have on new single-family development.

“So given that, from a compatibility standpoint staff found that the multifamily proposal would blend in well. It’s really an infill project, but we think it will be compatible with the surrounding land uses.”

Final approval by the council doesn’t mean that the project will be a go.

“The important point,” Tice told the council, “is we don’t have a plan for this today. The applicant really hasn’t presented anything, but it would have to go through major site plan review by Planning Commission approval prior to any building permits. That’s where we would look at the actual appropriateness of the design in compliance with all of our development standards.

“There will be a time of major site plan approval, including he additional right of way dedicated for Casa Grande and Kortsen Road, as well as we’ll look at how we might have to bring the Elaine Farms spur trail to the site.”

Elaine Farms is a projected residential development to the north of Kortsen Road.

Tice pointed out that the city’s General Plan requires determining if certain land classifications are needed to meet demand in the community.

“We really don’t have that much vacant R-3, or multifamily property, in the community that’s close in to the city,” Tice said. “There’s lots in the planned area developments on the outskirts, but close in is pretty limited sites, so we believe it’s an appropriate infill opportunity.”

Councilwoman Lisa Fitzgibbons asked if the major site plan would include traffic and road studies. “Those roads are so narrow,” she added.

That is essentially the case, Tice responded, then ran through the major site plan process for her.

“In a major site plan review,” he said, “we look to our Small Area Transportation Study to see what the cross section is for these streets, it’s already in there. Kortsen’s probably six lanes, 140-foot right of way; Casa Grande Avenue is probably four lanes with 80-foot right of way.

“So this property owner will be required to dedicate additional right of way from the center line in to achieve half-street right of way. And at the time of building permit, they would be required to make half-street improvements. 

“They will be required to do a traffic impact analysis that looks at where the entrance is located and how much traffic is generated.

“Typically, the TIA will tell us whether or not there needs to be a turn lane, any geometry other than the normal half-street improvements. But they always are required to make the standard half-street improvements and half-street right of way dedications.”

Councilman Dick Powell said he noted in the Planning and Zoning Commission minutes that a resident had told the commission that the apartments should be higher end as a benefit to the city.

“I think a higher end would definitely be (a benefit),” he said. 

“I talked to the person connected with Elaine Farms across the street and they expect to have a prestigious residential area. In keeping with that, they’d like to see a higher end, the apartment or whatever is going to be built there, that fits. The higher end of it they appreciate, so they think it will fit in fine.”

The council discussion included a public comment section, but no one spoke.

Initial approval was unanimous, with Councilman Matt Herman on excused absence.

A smoother traffic flow
Trekell/Florence concept plan discussed; Florence/Arizola also on list

(Posted Oct. 5, 2016)

The full presentation is HERE

The text explanation is HERE

There are always complaints to the Public Works Department about traffic signals in Casa Grande, especially at busy intersections.

As Traffic Engineer Duane Eitel told the City Council during a study session Monday night, two of those  intersections are Florence Boulevard/Trekell Road and Florence Boulevard/Arizola Road. More time is needed for left turn arrows is the main complaint.

This year’s capital improvements plan calls for designing improvements at both, he said.

Arizola Road will require additional work, but Trekell/Florence could be just a matter of restriping lanes.

Eitel’s presentation covered only Trekell/Florence. He made clear that at this time it is only a concept. The city will issue a contract request for a professional traffic flow designer to do the final plan for that intersection and for Arizola/Florence.

“The predominant traffic flow at Trekell and Florence is going southbound, either turning right or they’re turning left,” Eitel said. “There’s more right and left turns than there are through traffic.

“So we thought, well, maybe could do away with one of those through lanes, make that a left turn lane and fit everything in there and have dual lefts, one lane southbound right, one lane northbound. Up by Cal Ranch intersection we would taper back into the four lanes, with the two-way left turn lanes.

“Traffic capacity wise, we don’t need two lanes going through south of Trekell.”

That left the question of how to match up Trekell south of Florence, Eitel continued, “because you want the through lane to match, not necessarily go into two through lanes.

Road diet

“Well, with that thought we revised what is called a road diet, where you take a straight four-lane with no left turn lanes, no right turns lane and change it into one lane southbound and one lane northbound and a left turn lane in the middle and then we would put bike lanes on the outside edge.”

That would extend south on Trekell to about the elementary school, Eitel said.

“Now, what this does — it may sound odd — is the capacity actually goes up in an area like this where there’s a lot of left turns versus a straight four-lane,” he continued.

“What happens in a straight four-lane if you’re driving in the through lane going south, somebody in front of you decides they want to turn left, you have to slow down and quite often somebody maybe makes the decision, well, I’ll just zip over to the right turn lane and go around them, maybe somebody’s already there, they get over to the right turn lane and somebody decides to turn right and have to slow down there, they zip back over to the left.”

That can often lead to accidents.

“There’s been a lot of research on this, that a three-lane design where there are a lot of left turns there are somewhere between 20 to 40 percent less crashes than a straight four. And the capacity goes up.

“The capacity of a three-lane design can be anywhere from 10,000 to 20,000 cars a day, and on Trekell Road south of Florence we have 4,800 cars a day.

“In this case, it would be more bicycle and pedestrian friendly because we would have the bike lane on the outside edge and instead of having to across four lanes now you only have to across three as you’re walking.”

“With the four-lane divided you always have conflict points that occur," Eitel said, and the one on the right shows that a three-lane design is a lot less conflict, so a lot less chance to get into a crash.”

“This is over the last 10 years,” Eitel said. “I just picked out the crashes that had to do with going from a four-lane to a three-lane. As you can see, there’s quite a few crashes and some of the ones have a lot to do with left turns, the angle, left turn, sideswipe and so on are people that run into each other when they’re turning left or switching lanes.”

How it would work

“North of C-A-L Ranch is where we taper out of the existing four-lane, left turn lanes, still keep a left turn at C-A-L Ranch driveway and then we start dropping the lanes right after that so from there we go into the dual lefts, one lane southbound, one lane northbound,” Eitel said.

“The traffic north of Florence is higher than the traffic south of Florence, the traffic continually builds as you’re up to Cottonwood.”

Mayor Bob Jackson point out that under the present configuration northbound drivers try to make left turns into Pinal County Federal Credit Union. “Is that going to be a movement that you no longer allow?” he asked.

That needs more study, Eitel responded, adding, “The two movements I wish we didn’t have there are both that one and the one going into C-A-L Ranch. They both cause a lot of issues there.”

Jackson said that several years ago, McMurray Boulevard was changed from a straight four-lane to three lanes, one in each direction and a turning lane in the center.

“I think the thing that we didn’t anticipate very well was the right turn volume,” he continued. “And I’m guessing there’s a fair amount of traffic southbound at that intersection (Trekell-Florence) and with this configuration now everybody’s going to have to stop. The first guy in line wants to go straight, next five people want to turn right, so you’re going to stop that whole queue of cars. Am I understanding that correctly?”

That will happen, Eitel said.

Jackson continued that, “The flip side of that is, first guy in line wants to turn right and there’s a pedestrian in there, so you have to wait for that pedestrian to clear.

“I know you can’t solve every problem, but have we thought about trying to see if we can get some right of way from the bank for a right turn lane?”

Eitel responded that, “We actually have the right of way available to put a right turn lane in there. We could do that. This concept would be the most inexpensive way to do this, but when the bank was developed we got the right of way.

“These are just some concepts. We can put in the right turn lane. That was the original idea with the RFQs we’re going to put out for the two intersections. Kind of wanting to get everybody’s thoughts tonight.”

Councilman Matt Herman said one of his concerns about the Florence/Trekell concept is “you have these two southbound lanes coming up and then right at Eighth Street it just goes down to one straight south and then the left turn to east. How do you transition that? I see you can get to the left turn lane from the inside southbound lane but you still have that lane continuing and it just kind of funnels. I’m just afraid people are going to go and then have to a quick decision.”

Eitel responded that, “On the pavement we would say through traffic merge right, we’d have signs up. And there’s some stripes, we could stripe out some things, too, that would show.”

Councilman Karl Montoya asked how traffic would be affected south of Florence when a driver wants to make a left turn into that shopping area.

“That’s where traffic queues up and backs up,” he said. “Does that guy have to wait until the light clears? How much of a problem is that going to create for your intersection? It’s a problem right now and you’re reducing it from two lanes to one. Has there been much thought on that?”

Eitel responded, “One of the problems is, too bad that driveway’s there. It’s hard to pull into.”

But it is there, Montoya said.

Eitel replied, “We just didn’t feel in looking at the traffic counts, that right now the traffic’s going through, that that would be an issue where it would back up onto Florence.”

Montoya said he drives the route every day.

“I go south, and it is a big deal,” he continued. “I just feel that’s going to be a big bottleneck through the intersection, so maybe take a better look at that.”

Councilwoman Mary Kortsen said she would like to see it configured as two lanes with turn lane for the shopping area.

“I’ve never see more than three cars trying to turn into that mall at one time, so you could have something that would accommodate at least two vehicles to wait and then you don’t have that,” she said.

Eitel responded that, “This is just kind of a concept to show you tonight. When we hire the consultant to do the design they’ll look more at this, we can see the results.”

Planning doesn't run smoothly

Questions raised about industrial area across from The Cottonwoods

(Posted Sept. 12, 2016)

The Planning and Zoning Commission staff report, with maps and other details, is HERE

The P&Z minutes, with comments from residents, HERE

The City Council staff report is HERE

A list of zoning districts and what they contain is HERE

The entire city General Plan is HERE

As Shakespeare had Lysander say in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, “The course of true love never did run smooth.”

Neither does city planning.

A developer wants one thing, the city wants another, the neighbors many time are not sure what they want but it’s certainly not that, the City Council has its own ideas.

In this case, it’s some westside property south of Cottonwood Lane in the Shultz and Lewis streets area, west of The Cottonwoods development.

The request was hashed out during the last council meeting, no one from the public spoke and the matter was tabled indefinitely.

The developer, Gino Tarantini of Scottsdale, had approached the city with yet another plan to rezone the area, something that happened off and on over the past 30 years.

(A list of past changes, including The Cottonwoods, is in the P&Z staff report, above)

This time, the developer wanted zoning changed to multifamily north of The Cottonwoods, a business/commercial area west of Lewis just below Cottonwood and a heavy industrial area west of Lewis/Shultz.

That began about a year’s worth of discussions, negotiations and views from neighbors.

A compromise

“Although we were receptive to the reasoning for changing the zoning, we weren’t clear on whether or not the proposal was a good one or not,” Planning and Development Director Paul Tice told the council as the rezoning requests came before it during the last meeting. 

“We did hold a neighborhood meeting to talk about it. It was lightly attended, but the folks who showed up participated and expressed to us what concerns they had — noise, lighting and visual appearance, the traffic on Lewis street, negative impact on quality of life. We also did receive a petition at that time after meeting that had been circulated to the neighborhood opposing the proposed rezoning and under the same reasons.”

The city planning staff then began discussions with the applicant’s representatives, Tice said, “and suggested that a revision to the proposal would be appropriate and it also would be appropriate to develop some customized development standards that would go along with the zoning that were intended to address these concerns raised by the neighborhood and make sure that whatever future development happened here was compatible and did not have an adverse impact on the existing Cottonwoods residential.”

What resulted, Tice continued, was sort of a hybrid industrial I-2 zone that had several restrictions that make it actually less intense use than the I-1 light industry zoning.

“In our minds, staff’s minds,” he said, “there was an issue with whatever zoning happens here, there is an existing single-family neighborhood and we have to take steps to make sure that the future development of those properties  


In brief, these are the zoning districts referred to during the City Council discussions:


The purpose of the R-3 Zone is to provide for high density housing in multiple family structures and directly related complementary uses. The R-3 Zone is designed to allow highly economical use of land while creating an attractive, functional and safe residential environment.


The purpose of the B-4 Community Services Zone is to provide for land intensive retail, service, or manufacturing operations. Theses services should be located in concentrated service areas with good accessibility to the public but should be carefully buffered from other uses and visibly buffered from arterial streets.


(Fabrication and assembly of goods from previously prepared materials)

The purpose of the I-1 Garden and Light Industrial Zone is to provide for the accommodation of light manufacturing uses and warehousing in a comprehensively planned and attractive setting and in a manner which will not be detrimental to activities in adjacent commercial or residential neighborhoods by reason of but not limited to excessive noise, odor, smoke, dust, vibrations, fumes, or glare. Retail activity is allowed only as an accessory use and provided that the retailing is associated with the principal use at the site.


(Businesses that utilize raw materials in their manufacturing process)

The purpose of the I-2 General Industrial Zone is to provide for the development of industries which, because of the nature of their operation, appearance, traffic generation, or emission, would not be compatible with land uses in other zoning districts, but which, nevertheless, are necessary and desirable

does not have an adverse impact on that existing residential neighborhood.”

Some specific development standards were put in place for the first 200 feet of the industrial area. 

“For example,” Tice said, “it’s a 30-foot landscape setback versus our normal 15-foot landscape setback, with additional tree plantings all along the entire Lewis/Shultz streets frontage.

“There would additionally be an 8-foot block wall put on the back side of that landscape frontage, so as you are driving down Shultz Street and you enter into that neighborhood what you’d be seeing is some landscaping and some nice block wall behind the landscaping.

“There would be a height restriction on any buildings placed along Shultz, sort of the eastern boundary of the I-2, along the Shultz frontage. The height for those buildings within 200 feet back would be limited to 35 feet. Once you go past that first 200 feet, you get the norman height, which in the I-2 zone is 55 feet.

“From a site design standpoint, a good site designer is just going to put the parking and those kinds of things on that boundary and push the buildings back, anyway, which would be great from a visual aspect, visual impact aspect.”

Land uses were also modified.

“There are some uses in the I-2 zone which we did not think would be compatible with the existing residential,” Tice said, “such as a scrap metal yard, junk yard, some uses that could potentially add adverse impacts.

“We also have created some specific noise standard, the noise that the residences might be subject to, so we have some specific noise standards that would be measured at the residential boundary, as well, that are not in our normal city code.

“We limited the access for the industrial traffic and prohibited it onto Lewis and Shultz streets, so there’s no access allowed there for the industrial area. The access for the industrial area will come from Cottonwood, come from Thornton Road (the west boundary), will not come from Lewis and Shultz, other than an emergency.”

Reaction from council

“I hate this plan,” Councilman Dick Powell said.

“You don’t put I-2 next to residential, Paul. You don’t do that. You can try to buffer it, but you still can see it, it’s still there.

“How would you like to be out and look at the industrial park?”

Powell asked why there couldn’t be a buffer of the less intense I-1 industrial across from The Cottonwoods, with I-2 heavier industry below that.

“That way,” he said, “it would be a much cleaner view when they looked out. They had I-2 zoning anyway, it would still be industrially zoned, but it they went with I-1 and then I-2 further down for the heavy stuff, that would, I think, be such a much better plan for everybody involved, because I feel sorry for anybody that bought a home, lives there with a residential plat next to it and then found out, OK, guess what, they’re going to build I-2 next to me. 

“That’s wrong. And I hope we can discuss maybe using some garden industry to buffer. It’s pretty hard to drive through the industrial park and look at some of that stuff and think you would have a house close to it.”

Tice responded that, “I share your concern and at some level you’re exactly right. In fact, we discussed that with the applicant. We discussed having maybe the eastern half of this be I-1 and the western half be I-2. We did have that conversation.

“The problem with that is that when you’re in the site selection for industrial user, it really starts modifying what users might want that site, because if you have a user for 100 acres, you don’t have that site, you have two 50-acre sites. That’s limiting that.

“So it’s hard to know where to draw that line for how much for the I-1, how much for the I-2 and where that makes it marketable.

“What we’ve done as a compromise here is we have a hybrid zone. This zone, we’ve taken the I-2 and we’ve really made it even less intense than the I-1 along this whole eastern boundary, those noise standards, the buffer and the height. Now it’s even less intense than an I-1 along that frontage.

“If you do the I-1, you can get more intensive development with I-1 along that Shultz/Lewis frontage than this I-2 with these conditions that we’ve proposed.”

I-1 would be a buffer, Powell said.

No, responded Tice.

“My point is, if you went with I-1 it would be more intense than the I-2 with the conditions of record we’ve imposed.”

Powell said he believes it would be more intense.

Not so, Tice said, “because we have noise standards that we don’t normally have, we have height limitations that we don’t have with I-1 and we have a buffer requirement that we don’t have with I-1. So, we have introduced design standards to achieve compatibility that are beyond those even that are associated with I-1.”

Powell responded that, “I don’t recall any in town that are garden industry (I-1) now that have been problematic for anybody. The heavy industry is what’s the big problem. It’s the ones that are dirty, it’s the ones that have the big tanks, it’s the ones that have the big traffic coming through and those type of things.

“And I think if we could get a buffer of the I-1 and then the I-2 combined it would still be all industrial but it would be so much better for the people that live there. I just don’t think that new development should punish existing residents — and that’s what we’re doing here. We’re punishing these people that live there because they bought a house from this developer and it’s beautiful, it’s a neat place.

“To me, it’s wrong to say, OK, these people that live here, they’re residential and now you’re going to jump to an I-2 right next to them. That just does not seem right.”

At that point, Mayor Bob Jackson said the council should perhaps open the public hearing before going any further with discussions. The hearing was opened, but no one from the audience spoke.

Developer viewpoint

Powell then asked the developer’s representative if there is a chance the zoning request could be changed to put I-1 as a buffer.

“It wouldn’t have to be the biggest thing in the world,” he said. “It would come down and the rest would be I-2.”

Duran Thompson of D&M Engineering, representing the developer, responded, “Actually, the first proposal we had did have an I-2, B-4 (retail, service, or manufacturing) proposal across that area.

“As I recall, the real issue that (city) staff had with that was access to the area from Lewis Street. It’s a little difficult, in fact it would be impossible, to develop that as a separate zoning and exclude access from Lewis and it was thought that perhaps that would be important to achieve that isolation rather than develop that into the traffic and so forth that would be generated on Lewis to make a buffer type zone in that industrial zone.

“The restrictions that we’ve self imposed will accomplish that same goal and isolate the industrial use from the neighborhood so that we don’t have a mixed use there. That was the concept.”

Powell asked what “self imposed” means.

Thompson responded, “In that we’re proposing this as a solution to the problem of mixing the industrial and the residential zone.”

Powell asked if the proposal could be negotiated or if it is set in concrete.

Thompson answered, “Well, it was just felt by staff as we worked through and actually isolated the actual problems without a lesser solution than we have here is a better solution to the problem.”

Powell responded, “You think what we’re looking at is better? You think that whole thing being I-2 is better?”

Yes, Thompson said.

Powell said, “It’s better for you, maybe, but it’s sure not better for the people that live in the neighborhood.”

Thompson said, “What we’re trying to do is come up with a solution that would be better for the people that live there.”

Powell responded, “You know, you can build, you can put the trees in there and build the fence. If you have I-2 over there it’s still going to be a mess for these people.

“It’s a beautiful place and you’re moving I-2 right next to the people you sold homes to. Why can’t you take a strip of I-1 and come down through there, give them a buffer, because, my goodness, they’ve bought your homes, it’s a really nice development and they’re living there and let’s think about them a little bit.”

Thompson answered, “We thought about that. We thought about having it separate zoning and that. And the bottom line was that solution was not as good as the one that we came up with, in the estimation of staff, as well, in working to choose a solution.”

That led to this exchange between Powell and Thompson:

Powell: “The solutions that we’re talking about are good for you.”

Thompson: “No, I’m talking about good for everyone.”

Powell: “It’s better to have I-2? I don’t think anyone that lives there thinks that.”

Thompson: “I think if they understood the sacrifices to make to put the I-2 across there they would.”

Powell: “I don’t think so.”

Tice told the council that, “Mr. Duran’s right that initially when they had that neighborhood meeting we had B-4 along that whole Shultz/Lewis street, that’s what was there.

“The problem was, those would require a bunch of entrances for those businesses right off Schultz and Lewis, hindering our ability to create a nice landscape buffer.

“So what we’ve done is sort of internalized the development, taking it away from Shultz and Lewis, just gave the Shultz and Lewis a nice landscape buffer, wall, internalized everything, brought everything down along that whole edge, as well. So everything along that within 200 feet of that Shultz and Lewis frontage, not only are they restricted to these uses, they also are restricted in much other ways beyond I-1 or I-2, circulation, and the height.”

Councilwoman Lisa Fitzgibbons, noting that no area residents were there to speak during the public hearing, asked if the city had notified people about the compromise change.

Tice answered, “We sent at least two notices to them with the zoning graphics proposed, existing proposed and all the conditions of record regarding the uses, the noise and the buffering.”

Fitzgibbons asked if any feedback was received.

Tice said, “A number of people showed up at the Planning Commission public hearing, maybe five to seven spoke, there might have been more in the audience. So many did speak at Planning Commission. 

  (Those comments are in the P&Z minutes link, above)

“My sense is that after we presented what the buffers are, the conditions, it satisfied many of their concerns. I can’t tell you that it satisfied all of them. But my sense was that they understood that the conditions were structured in a way to protect their property and their quality of life.”

More information needed

Councilman Matt Herman said, “This is a tough situation due to the fact when the people bought their houses they were expecting houses across the street by the same developer.

“I appreciate the work that the planning department and the Planning and Zoning Commission went to, because reading through all the minutes there was a lot.

“I just would really like to see more specifics about what it is, to give more comfort with it. And this is really hard to read tonight, to be honest with you, on these screens up here.

“I’d almost be in favor of kind of tabling it to get some more comfort and talk to the talk to the people. You know, when you’ve got people that, at this point no one’s here tonight at our meeting, and I want to say maybe it’s a different meeting.”

Herman then moved to table the request. Approval from the council was unanimous.

No date for another meeting was set.

In summation, Mayor Jackson said, “Paul, I think you’ve heard what’s everybody’s concern and maybe we need to go back and reengage in the neighborhood and kind of see some examples of what that might look like from the neighborhoods with the restrictions. Not so much the cross section, but maybe some visuals looking at what a normal person’s house and what they may or may not see.”

OK, Tice replied.

Initial OK for companion Cottonwoods area rezones

(Posted Sept. 12, 2016)

Although the council tabled indefinitely a request for I-2 industrial zoning across Lewis Street from The Cottonwood development, two other zoning change requests by the same developer were given initial approval.

An area along Cottonwood on the west side of Lewis would be rezoned as B-4, or retail, service, or manufacturing operations. An industrial are would be to the south of that.

“We’ve heard council before mention that they prefer not to have I-2 along those gateway corridors into the city,” Planning and Development Director Paul Tice told the council, “so we suggested that the applicant rezone that to B-4, which allows some heavy commercial and light industrial, sort of a hybrid zone. We thought that was an appropriate zone district. It does comply with the General Plan land use category, so it implements that concern about the gateway image into the community.”

An area just north of The Cottonwoods would be rezoned as R-3, or multifamily housing.

“I think it’s about an 8-acre piece,” Tice said. “We felt that it was an appropriate zoning. It’s platted into a lot of little lots today. 

“One, there is not a big demand for new residential lots and, two, it’s tough to put residential lots when you have heavy industrial across Cottonwood in that case and adjacent to the arterial (Cottonwood).

“But, we also wanted to be sensitive to the residents on Saguaro Street that this property’s south boundary shares. We were concerned about how to treat that southern edge of that parcel so that it would not have any adverse impact on the lots facing on Saguaro.

“We did create a couple of development standards for that, that basically had to do with landscaping. There’s a condition of record that requires that there be a 15-foot landscape setback on the south property line, which is the standard width, but there is some more specific planting standards, the size of the trees, which is larger than normal, and the requirement for some of the trees to be evergreen so that we have a better, softer screen, because evergreens help soften the bulk and scale of buildings. 

“And that there be a 6-foot block wall put on the back side of the landscaped setback so that those residents on Saguaro when they come out their front door would be looking at landscaping and then the wall. And that there be no second or third story south-facing balconies along that south property line so there wouldn’t be any balconies overlooking the Saguaro streetscape.

“With those conditions, we do believe that the R-3 would be a compatible land use with the single-family that’s on the south side of Saguaro.”

The move to LED streetlights

A comparison of high-pressure sodium lighting, left, versus LED lighting.

(Posted July 27, 2016)

The staff report is HERE

The presentation is HERE

The financial breakdown is HERE

It won’t be quite the difference between night and day along city streets, but you’ll notice the improvements.

Casa Grande is entering into a contract to replace streetlights will LED fixtures, abandoning the high-pressure sodium ones that have been here for years.

There are more than 6,000 street lights in the Casa Grande, with electricity provided by Arizona Public Service Co. (most of the city at 3,867), Electrical District 2 and San Carlos Irrigation District (east of Interstate 10). This project includes only the lights powered by APS, which also includes maintenance.

Final approval for the project is expected during Monday night’s City Council meeting.

Senior Management Analyst Steven Turner told the council during the initial discussion on July 18 that, “The goal for the LED street lights is to improve energy efficiency and save energy and dollars through correct sizing and lighting levels.”

Eventually, he said, all lights will connected to a system that will allow dimming or brightening, depending upon a given situation.

Ameresco, the company working with the city and the one that oversaw solar lighting at parking facilities, has recommended that the adaptive lighting system be tested on 70 fixtures along the route of the annual Electric Light Parade 

Using that adaptive control system, Turner said, “we can dim the lights so people have a better viewing of the parade itself.”

In the future, he added, “All 3,867 fixtures will have the future capability to interface with the citywide wireless control. 

“That control system allows the different lighting to to be dimmed or brightened or turned off or on. It can also be used to brighten during traffic accidents or a during a lighting failure. If a pole gets knocked down we can brighten the lights next to that light to make there’s adequate light for that area.”

“When Ameresco did the study session a few months ago, they talked about the potential for better response of public safety, because if you’re trying to find a black car or blue car or green car, with the high pressure sodium they make look like the same exact color but with this LED street technology you’ll be able to differentiate the colors a little bit better.”

It’s a situation of both money and energy savings.

According to the presentation, conversion would cut energy consumption by 68 percent.

The cost now for electricity for the 3,867 streetlights is $307,016, the staff report says, and the cost of maintenance is $2.35 per pole per month, or $109,049.40 per year.

“The LED streetlights are 100,000-hour fixtures with a 10-year manufacturer’s warranty,” the staff report continues. “The expected life of each fixture is almost 24 years. The proposed project reduces the streetlight energy consumption by 68 percent and the billed utility costs are reduced by over 39 percent.”

The billed costs, Turner told the council, are lower than the energy savings “because there are some fixed costs that APS charges that we simply cannot avoid at this time.”

Turner added that, “over the first 10 years, they’re predicting 35 failures. That’s three and a half lights. We could look into providing the maintenance in-house and reducing the maintenance cost significantly.” 

The financials

The staff report gives this financial breakdown:

• Total financed project cost - $1,689,249.

• Estimated utility rebate - $215,726.

• Finance term - 15 years.

• Finance interest rate - 2 percent. (The earlier estimate in the presentation showed 3 percent.)

• 20-year benefit (energy and maintenance) - $3,139,589, broken down as maintenance benefit of  $2,035,884 and electricity benefit of $1,103,987.

• The city is paying for the project from the General Fund as a loan with 2 percent interest. The savings from the project in the Highway User Revenue Fund (which covers streets projects) will be used to repay the General Fund.


Dark sky

“The amount of light removed from the environment is over 65 percent and that’s because the light quality from these new fixtures is over 250 percent better than the high-pressure sodiums that we currently have,” Turner told the council.

“The LED street lighting has a color rendering index of 70. To gave a little perspective, on the scale of one to 100, with a 100 being full sunlight, the current streetlights have a color rendering index of 25, so it’s a significantly better quality lighting that we are proposing to change these fixtures to.”

Turner continued that, “With dark sky complaints, a lot of articles were put out … that talked about potential harm of changing to LED street lights. But both the International Dark Sky Association and the American Medical Association recommend using a 3,000 Kelvin color temperature to minimize potential harm to human health effects and also protect the astronomical community. And that’s what we’re proposing to use in our project as well.

“I also received an email from the Steward Observatory from the University of Arizona thanking us for considering the 3,000 Kelvin color temperature.

“It’s something that we’ve been mindful of. We want to make sure that we’re not brightening the sky or doing damage to our residents. We want to make sure that we are well within the recommendations of both the Dark Sky Association and the American Medical Association.”

In summation

As Mayor Bob Jackson sees it, “I’m old enough that I remember when they had mercury vapor lights and they converted them all to high-pressure sodium and they went through the same thing. And they paid for those conversions with the savings on the light. It’s just that technology has improved so much, the LED is the next generation.

“I know that we’ve got probably another 2,500 streetlights that we don’t own, but it would sure be nice if we work with those providers, be it ED2 or Hohokam or San Carlos, to see if they would be interested in converting those, as well, just so that there’s some continuity and maybe there’s some addition savings there that we could realize, even if we had to share it with them. I just suggest that, but see what we can do about it.”

Update on proposal for a major raceway project

(Posted July 16, 2016)

A letter outlining some of the elements of the project is HERE

Although it could be three and a half years before auto racing starts at the proposed 2,360-acre Attesa motorsport project south of Interstate 8, work continues behind the scenes to push the concept forward.

A brief update was given to the Planning and Zoning Commission by Planning and Development Director Paul Tice during Thursday night’s meeting, followed by additional information from one of the developers.

The proposed raceway would be just south of Interstate 8, with Hanna Road as the northern boundary, Bianco Road to the east and Montgomery Road to the west. South of the area is the Santa Rosa Canal and the Tohono O’odham Nation.

According to a letter sent from attorneys representing the developer, “The Attesa project itself will be a recreational motorsports destination that will … have two 2.6-mile road courses, a possible karting track, a driver experience center and a multi-surface track and event area. A small private airport with a 6,000-foot-long runway will enable patrons to fly in and out conveniently. Attesa also will include supporting 

residential, industrial and commercial uses. 

“In addition to the major motorsports facilities, the other development intended for Attesa will likely be automotive systems or component related. Examples of possible future land uses include automotive testing, racing systems development, autonomous technology as well as advanced drivetrain and battery systems. The goal is the establishment of a motorsports core (attracting events and tourists) surrounded by automotive related employment uses (and some complementary commercial and housing options).”

City involvement

At this time, Casa Grande is not directly involved with the proposal because the area lies outside the city limits. However, the city is working with the Pinal County planners on thoughts and proposals.

As Tice told the commission, “It happens to be that although the property is within the county, unincorporated area of the county, it is within the city of Casa Grande’s planning area. And if it’s within our planning area it’s also included in our General Plan.

“So what it means to be within our planning area is the vision is that ultimately it will be part of the city.

“It’s not eligible for annexation now, it’s three miles away from the corporate boundaries. The developer sat down with us and talked about annexation. We said, look, it’s not feasible for us to annex you at this time because we don’t have contiguity with the existing corporate boundaries and it’s a long ways off, three miles.

“We encouraged them to seek approval to build in the county, which is what they’re doing, but with the idea that eventually it will be part of the city in the future. Because it’s in our planning area, the county seeks our review and comments on this proposal.”

The Attesa developers are seeking a major amendment to the county’s land use plan. When the area is eventually annexed into Casa Grande, changes to the city’s General Plan would have to be made.

“In our General Plan it’s actually designated as agricultural, that whole area below I-8 is agricultural and rural, other than the frontage along the I-8 itself,” Tice told the commission.

“But I do note that although this type of use would not normally be allowed in our agricultural land use category, given the fact that it’s adjacent to Montgomery Road, which is the western boundary to the site, and Montgomery Road is an expressway north of I-8 and a major arterial to the south and Montgomery Road is identified as one of the potential I-11 corridor alternatives, it is logical that this kind of site might be located in that area, close to I-8, close to the commercial development on the south of I-8.

“If it was in our jurisdiction we would also have to be having to seek a General Plan amendment in order to build the facility.”

Tice said the developer’s proposal for a package sewer treatment plant at the site brought no objections from the city’s Public Works Department, “with the caveat that it is designed in a way that when we bring sewer the sewer system can be connected to our system and gravity flow into our infrastructure. And we’ve discussed that with the applicant. The project will be initially served with a package treatment plant but eventually will be connected to the city sewer system, long term.”

A question arose from the commission the effects of an airport in that area.

Tice responded that, “I think the concept is that some of these owners of race cars have private aircraft and they want to fly in to train their vehicles. And they would have a home here, a garage here and fly in to train, stay for awhile and then leave. That’s part of the concept.

“Obviously they had to go to the FAA for approval, right, to make sure that all works with air space.

“I don’t really think there’s much conflict. From a land use standpoint, the area was planned, for example, to be rural or ag, all rural and ag. We actually have no residential design out there. All rural or ag, other than commercial along the interstate corridor. There’s really no big residential planned area developments or anything like that.”

From the developer

Commission Chairman Mike Henderson said he believed the development would be similar to Stellar Airpark in Chandler, with homes that have small hangars.

Pat Johnson, one of the principals in Danrick Builders which is developing Attesa, said, ‘the development is, as the chair mentioned, very, very much like Stellar. In fact, that’s what we used as a model and in 1972 that was my first development client was Stellar Airpark. So I’ve seen that before.”

The airport runway will be east-west, Johnson said, adding that during discussions with the Tohono O’odham Nation just a half mile south of the project, “Their concern with the airport was that it not go north and south, which is perfectly understandable. There will be a restriction on arrival and leaving.”

If all approvals go as expected, Johnson said, “we should be able to break ground on an at-risk basis about 12 months from now and the construction then.

“We’re thinking that the first races are 42 months away from today.”

Johnson added that, “We already have a joint venture agreement for a 330-room resort hotel on the site for the conference center. That agreement has been made.”

He said 1,850 acres of the project has been purchased outright, with the remainder pending in escrow.

Planning to prevent downtown flooding OK'd

(Posted June 22, 2016)

The scope of work is HERE

The staff report is HERE

As longtime Casa Grande residents are aware, when the heavy rains come down the old downtown area is prone to flooding, snarling traffic and threatening businesses.

In the past, it was not unusual to see sandbags at the corner of Second and Florence streets, trying to keep water out of the CookEJar restaurant.

Nine years ago, the city began downtown streets reconstruction projects, revamping Main Street in the first phase and Second Street and others in the 2012 second phase.

Part of that second phase was to be flood control.

It didn’t happen.

As Public Works Director Kevin Louis told the City Council before approval Monday night of a $96,110 contract for a drainage master plan, his department looked at the design for phase two, which had a heavy drainage section, but decided to wait.

“When we looked at the improvements that were designed and the impacts it would have on the drainage in that downtown area based on the estimate, you would not even be able to tell we’d made any improvements with the amount of money at that time.

“So, staff decided to move forward — and City Council supported that decision — at the time to address drainage as a future phase. 

“We’re now at that point where we’re going to design the master plan for drainage in the downtown, identify which of those pieces need to be constructed with which phases as we go forward with future design of our next phase, which would be Phase III. This is the first step in that direction.”

Answering a question from Councilwoman Mary Kortsen about the project boundaries, Louis said, “Casa Grande Avenue would probably be the limits of drainage improvements on the east side and then going all the way to Highway 84, the underpass on the west side (where water would go into an arroyo).

“There will most likely be some improvements north of Second Street bringing drainage to south of Second, most likely to First Street, the most logical street to put a large conduit in and convey that water to the west.”

Councilman Dick Powell asked if all the streets would have to be torn up, including the ones already improved, and would the work wait until the other streets need repaving

With the exception of one intersection, Louis replied, “Our hope is not to have any improvement at any of the streets that we’ve made improvements to to date.

“No, we do not need to wait until the streets need to be repaved; they need to be repaved today. So that has already come and passed.”

What the master plan will look at, Louis continued, are “the total improvements that are needed to address the flooding issues in the downtown area, and we would look at different ways to convey that water from basically east to west on the north side of the tracks.

“The entire drainage basin is about one and a half square miles, so it goes much further than the historic downtown, but we need to catch those flows, channelize those and get them to the west side of the downtown area. 

“Currently, that is done on surface drainage and everybody who has seen the rain in the downtown areas knows how that impacts each of those businesses down there.

“It will be combination of improvements, and I can’t even speculate where we’ll see those improvements or what type they are until we finish that study, but I would envision some type of box culvert structure (below pavement) going down the middle of First Street, which is one we have not reconstructed.

“We will have to go through one intersection that was reconstructed, but we looked looked at that and really couldn’t do anything to put a conduit in place so that we didn’t have to tear that up. But that should be the only street that was reconstructed that will have to be impacted, is just that one intersection. Otherwise, we should be ready to go.”

Councilman Ralph Varela, noting that the scope of work list says the project has support of the city and other stakeholders, asked if that includes meetings with businesses in the area.

Louis replied that, “We’ll look at what the proposed improvements will be and then determine how best to make that outreach effort to the community. Of course, when we start any construction in the downtown area we’re going to have an extensive outreach project, we’ll have a project kickoff meeting prior to that. When we’re in design, we’ll be reaching out to the public getting their input on those different options so that we know what their issues are so we can try to address those through the design process, as well.”

According the the scope of work list, the contract calls for planners to report on each of three phases as the planning continues.

“The first phase will be a draft report after the existing conditions modeling,” it says. “This report will summarize the model results and will be presented to the city prior to the alternatives analysis phase for review and comment. 

“The second phase will be a draft report after alternatives analysis presenting the results of the alternatives development to the city for review and comment. The second phase draft report will be submitted prior to the public meeting. 

“The consultant shall prepare a final report incorporating all the findings of the project. 

“The final report will include summaries of the existing conditions hydrologic and hydraulic modeling, determination of flood prone locations, engineering analysis for flood hazard mitigation alternatives, potential utility conflicts and constraints, right‐of‐way constraints, aesthetic and environmental considerations, green infrastructure concepts incorporated into the alternatives, description of the three chosen alternatives, cost analysis of the three alternatives, results from the public meeting, evaluation criteria for the preferred alternative and implementation plan for the preferred alternative. 

“A draft report will be submitted to the city for review. The consultant shall address all city comments and submit a final report with the completion of the project.”

No estimate was given for when the planning will begin or when it will be completed.

Traffic signals bids higher than estimated

(Posted March 9, 2016)

The bidders list, with amounts, is HERE

Scroll to next item for original story

During an interview with CG News about Casa Grande hoping to obtain an adaptive traffic lights system that would bring coordination of seven signals along the most heavily traveled part of Florence Boulevard, city Traffic Engineer Duane Eitel said, “We’ll see what it costs per signal when we get the bid, but I’m thinking $250,000 for these seven, somewhere in that range.”

The bids came in much higher, ranging from $286,169 to $395,235.59 to $470,800.

It will now be up to city officials to consider whether there is enough money to cover the low bid and whether that bid covers everything needed.

A better traffic flow on Florence
Proposed system would link lights, coordinate side traffic, pedestrians

(Posted March 2, 2016)

The basic request is HERE

A promotional video from a company is HERE

   (Remember that this is a business promoting its own version)

A U.S. Department of Transportation explanation sheet is HERE

Controlling traffic slow on a major city street is a sometimes frustrating effort, through traffic often stopped by cross street drivers and pedestrians pushing crosswalk signals.

Over the past few years, Casa Grande has slowly improved the situation, running traffic counts several times a year and adjusting for changing flows, including cameras at intersections that detect approaching vehicles and a system that counts traffic and shows where there have been delays and at what time of day.

Now, the city is going one step farther, asking for bids on what is known as an adaptive traffic control system for the most congested parts of Florence Boulevard.

The proposed adaptive system would be installed on Florence Boulevard for these intersections:

• Trekell Road

• Pueblo Drive

• Colorado Street

• Pottebaum Avenue

• Peart Road

• Arizola Road

• Banner Medical Center entrance

Accord to the bids request, “The ATCS will adjust, in real time, traffic signal timings based on current traffic conditions, traffic demand and system capacity. This project requires furnishing all equipment, materials, supplies, and labor to make a complete and fully‐functional adaptive traffic control system specifically designed for the city. The system must include an upgrade of existing traffic signal controllers, 

adaptive traffic control system software, deployment and testing of the system and training of city staff on operation and maintenance.”

City Traffic Engineer Duane Eitel explained the concept of the system to CG News.

“We have progression along Florence Boulevard,” he said. “We timed all the signals, it changes different times of the day, depends on the traffic.

“However, you can drive down there and not make every green. Sometimes you can, most of the times you can’t.

“The main reason you can’t is pedestrians. When they push that button it’s got to give them enough time to get across the street. And that’s more time than we normally want to have on a signal.

“If we did progression and accounted for all the pedestrians, the side streets would be waiting two and a half, three minutes all the time.

“Well, that’s not acceptable, so rather than do that what we do is allow the progression to break down once in awhile on Florence Boulevard.”

In considering the adaptive system. Eitel said, “I was looking at what can we do to make that flow better, with the pedestrian issue."

Talking to other signals

“If you have two adaptive controllers in the signal cabinet," Eitel continued, " it can look at all the traffic, all four lanes. It’s talking to all these other signals. We have to have communication between the controllers.

“If a pedestrian comes up and pushes the button, the control now is smart enough to figure out when to allow that red so it doesn’t interfere with the progression. That’s the theory.”

In basic language, the adaptive system is smart enough that it could look at oncoming traffic, so that the queue is only five vehicles and let those go through before switching to red. If all does well, those vehicles should have a green light at the next intersection.

“The theory is it’s looking at all seven of these signals,” Eitel said.

Bids for the system are due March 8.

The future will depend upon how much the bids run.

“My thought was, let’s do the whole city that way,” Eitel said, “but we don’t have that much money. But we can eke out enough money to try on these seven signals. I think we had $250,000 to $500,000.

“We’ll see what it costs per signal when we get the bid, but I’m thinking $250,000 for these seven, somewhere in that range.

“We spend maybe $300,000 to $400,000 to build a signal. The one at Camino Mercado, was a little less than $300,000. It just all depends on what’s there, if you add lanes or anything.

“So for the cost of one traffic signal somewhere in town, we could maybe do this (Florence Boulevard). Seemed to make some sense.”


A fact sheet from the U.S. Department of Transportation says that across the country delays have been reduced by up to 30 percent or more.

“I doubt we’ll get those big percentages,” Eitel said, “because it’s not like we weren’t something already. But I think it will improve it.”

The city is also using enhanced tracking of traffic.

“We’ve got a system in some of our controllers that reads wi-fi as cars go by, be it your car or your phone or whatever,” Eitel said. 

(Note: the system picks up only a wi-fi searching signal, not personal information in the phone or other device.)

“It’s somewhere between 20 and 25 percent of the vehicles it catches,” Eitel continued, “so it can tell us and then have algorithms that can expand that into exactly how much traffic that equals. We have some of those on Florence right now so we can look at travel time now. It’s running all the time, 24 hours a day, so I can go pick any hour of any day since we turned it on and see what the travel time was, what the delays were at the intersections, how much traffic was going down there.

“So after we put this (adaptive) in, then we can go pull that and compare that before and after data and see just exactly what we did do.”

That’s a major improvement over the old method of driving up and down Florence to check travel time.

“The only way to do before and after is what I did when we timed Florence, was start out at Pinal and drive through in my car with a little stopwatch and keep track of how long it takes to go down one way and then turn around and go back.

“To be statistically significant, you’ve got to do about a hundred runs like that — which nobody has the time to do — but I did quite a few at different times of the day. If you hit all the green lights between there and and I-10 and you’re driving around the speed limit it’s about a seven-minute trip.

“The first ones I was doing before we did any progression was about 10 or 11 minutes, so it gives you an idea what you can save.

“Now, because it doesn’t work perfectly, eight or nine minutes to make that trip, and once we put this (adaptive) in it’ll probably cut it back down to seven minutes. You save maybe a minute, but if you multiply that by 30,000 cars a day driving down there, that’s a chunk of time.”

Other testing

That non adaptive detection system is also being tested at such intersections as Trekell and Florence, Peart and Florence, Arizola and Florence, Peart and McMurray, Cottonwood, going north to Kortsen.

The data is stored, allowing traffic personnel to go in and see how flows went, traffic snarls and delays.

Eitel called up Peart and Kortsen for Feb. 16-22 to check for delays.

“This is all four lanes,” he said. “A peak delay of a minute, 15 seconds or something once in awhile. For some reason there’s a big peak here. That would have been yesterday. You can look exactly what time it was, so something was going on at 6 o’clock in the morning, caused a bunch of delay there.”

Part of the data was picking up wi-fi signals.

Eitel said, “You might ask the question, well, what if somebody just parks over here on the phone? Well, it has an algorithm that times out after a certain amount of time. Or let’s say there was a high school trip and 50 teenagers are walking down with their cell phones. Well, it can figure that out, too.”

The trackers also show where traffic is headed.

Calling up another part, Eitel said “This gives you, starting at Trekell and McMurray, how many people from that point are going different places, origin-destination study. So 1,030 people are going (north) to Cottonwood and Trekell. You can kind of see where people are going.”

Eitel added, “This is a system that goes in the controller, not the adaptive. We’re going to use this for before and after to find out if the adaptive really works like it should.

“There’s a whole bunch of stuff you can do with it: travel times, origin and destination, delay on each leg of the intersection, you can get help with the signal timing, all kinds of stuff.

“Our plan is, if we get the adaptive signals, they’ll be hooked together by radios. We’ve got a room here (at the Public Works Department) where we’ll get started with a traffic management center. We’ll have a big TV and be able to look at the cameras on those intersections, the radio.

“It’ll be on 24 hours a day but there won’t be someone in there looking all the time. It’ll record the video. You could come back, if there was a traffic crash, with some crash and look at our data.

“This is in the cloud here, this data, so it’s stored on a remote server forever, more or less.

“So, we’re getting there, we’re getting there.”


• Trekell and Arizola 

Those two intersections with Florence bring the most complaints, Eitel said.

“The problem is there aren’t enough lanes,” he continued. “We do have a project in the capital improvements program to add lanes to both of those at Florence. More lanes on Arizola and more lanes on Trekell, so you could have maybe a dual left on Trekell.”

That CIP request has not yet been approved.

Many of the complaints about Peart and Florence are slower timing.

“Well, that detection, something can go wrong with it,” Eitel said. “Quite often, we don’t know until somebody complains. I don’t drive every signal all over town every day.

“We’ve had a lot of complaints about that one and we spend a lot of time watching it. As good as it’s going to get at the moment.”

That signal seemed to be faster before winter visitors and their traffic arrived.

“We have different signal timing for different times of the day and different times of the year, also,” Eitel said. There’s more pedestrians in the wintertime than there are in the summertime, so we have to take that into account, also.

Much the same holds true for Trekell and Florence, which at one time was letting only two cars go through for left turns. That has been corrected.

• Arizola to Henness Road

A complaint in the past about that area has been that eastbound traffic on Florence stops on the red at Arizola, moving on when the light turns green, only to hit another red light at the hospital entrance, then another red at Henness Road, slowing traffic and frustrating drivers.

“Well, we’ve got progression there if everything’s working right,” Eitel said. “One of the problems we’re having at Henness is we’re just continually having trouble with the detection there. We’re not sure, is it a sudden glare on the camera, what is it?  

“We had that same problem at O’Neil and Trekell when we put that signal in. It would turn green for cars on the side street when there weren’t any cars there. We spent weeks trying to figure out why it was doing that. It was some glitch in the programming.

“None of this works perfectly all the time.”

• Peart and McCartney

“Where do we need a signal now in town that we don’t have one?” Eitel asked. 

“There’s fewer places. 

"One is Peart and McCartney. It’s a four-way stop. But that’s not an easy signal, because of part of the road’s down, the other part’s up, there’s a drainage issue there, so we can’t just throw a signal in there like we did at Camino Mercado where everything was already built.

“It works pretty well, the four-way stop. Sometimes it’ll back up a little ways toward I-10.

“We figure somewhere around a million to a million and a half dollars to signalize that intersection.”

• Cacheris Court

Thursday night, the Planning and Zoning Commission will consider a resolution asking the city to move forward with a signal at Florence and Cacheris Court. That section along Florence has seen four pedestrian fatalities caused by trying to run across traffic lanes to get to convenience stores and other businesses on the north side of Florence.

Eitel said he will be at the meeting. 

“I’m making a little presentation about where we are on the design and construction of a pedestrian signal like is on Pinal (at the schools just north of McMurray),” he continued. 

“We’ve completed a study of where it ought to go. As soon as we get an intergovernmental agreement between us and the Arizona Department of Transportation  — they’re working on that right now — we’ll get the design started on it.”

That stretch of Florence Boulevard is no longer controlled by ADOT but coordination is necessary, Eitel said, because “what I did was went after federal money. And of course there’s all those little hoops you’ve got to jump through to get that.

“It’s about $300,000 to build that.

“I’m all in favor of spending federal money, but be selective of where you decide to do it.”

$35.8-million pension shortfall
City slowly chipping away at fire, police underfunding

(Posted Jan. 30, 2016)

Casa Grande is slowly chipping away at the $35.8 million needed to make its police and fire retirement plans solvent.

As outlined by Finance Director Doug Sandstrom during a Jan. 19 City Council study session, going into the new fiscal year the police retirement fund is short by $25.3 million and the fire fund by $10.6 million.

Although Sandstrom said the total shortage in the Public Safety Personnel Retirement System is $35.8 million, the charts that accompanies his presentation show it as $35.9 million, apparently from rounding off of some numbers.

Sandstrom did not cite figures for the Arizona State Retirement System, which covers the city's civilian personnel.

"The ASRS is a statewide system and generally better shape than anything that we see in the pensions, all the reform efforts that we're looking at and what the state is looking at," he said.

"For the public safety system it's two completely separate systems for the city. You've got the police system and the fire system.

"It is wholly owned and operated by the city of Casa Grande. That's the biggest difference when you look at public safety retirement compared to the ASRS, which is a statewide system where you're a city in the state, you belong to it and you're all in the same pool. Public safety is a separate system from every single agency."

However, the city police and fire systems are overseen by the state retirement board.

"A thing to note on this, this is a debt of the city," Sandstrom continued. "It is a contractual agreement that we have with our employees and based on the actuarial studies that is how much money we have to come up with over the next 20-some years to make sure that we can operate this pension system."

Projections are that it will take about 22 years to balance out the police and fire funds.

Although the state continues looking at pension reform, Sandstrom said, "Under the Arizona state Constitution you cannot change something that negatively impacts current employees. So it's something that can only happen for new employees. 

"The thing to always keep in mind is that has no impact on that current liability of $35.8 million … the only way that goes away is by paying it."

City rates rise

Under both the civilian and public safety personnel systems, both the employee and the city contribute an amount monthly.

"The state Constitution also restricts the amounts that our employees have to pay to 11.65 percent," Sandstrom said. 


For the fire pension fund in the new fiscal year, he said, the city will pay 29.92 percent of an employee's salary each month. 

"That 28.9 percent rate that we are currently paying (for fire) includes a portion for the current liability, to pay for our current employees today, and then a portion is paid to the unfunded liability," Sandstrom said.

"If this system was completely up to date, completely funded, what our annual employer contribution rate would be is 12.02 percent, so it would be a lot less than what you're seeing today.

"On an annual basis, what that means is over and above what our annual retirement contribution is, we are paying additional $755,000 annually towards that unfunded liability. That's built into that rate.

"So one of the ways to get rid of that unfunded liability is just to continue this higher rate that has the normal retirement built into it and the unfunded. 


"On the police side, you can see the exact same pattern, much bigger numbers," Sandstrom said.

"We've got our current rate at 42.1 percent on the employer side. It's going to go up in the next fiscal year to 45.4 percent. A 3.3 percent is a much better increase than what we saw last year where it jump up at almost 10 percent.

"That big jump is how they started really looking at that unfunded liability and figuring out. They changed certain methods of forecasting what it was, how much the 20-year cost of the system is, is what caused the state issue for us.

"With the employer contribution of 45.44 percent, if this was 100 percent funded our contribution would be 11.99 percent. About 33 percent is going toward that unfunded liability."

Overall cost

"Every year we spend about $2.3 million on the police public pension system, $1.8 million of that is going toward that unfunded liability," Sandstrom said. "Fire side, it was just under $800,00.

"A big chunk of our operational dollars are going to pay down that unfunded liability.

"One of the things we did for both fire and police this year, one of the recommendations out of the state reform committee system, is we took what our budgeted amount for retirement is on the employer side and we sent them all in one big chunk on July 1. Because the public safety retirement system can get a better return on the investment than what we do, it ends up making money to start chipping away a little bit at that. It's an amount of money that we're going to have to pay anyway.

"Anytime that we were to send additional toward that unfunded liability it does have an impact on that employer contribution and would decrease it."


As both Sandstrom and City Manager Jim Thompson pointed out, the $35.8 million shortfall statistics are as the situation stands based on the date the actuarial study was done.

"So tomorrow it might be different," Thompson said. "We have somebody leave our organization or we hire a new person, depending on the age, depending on their likelihood of staying here throughout the entire tenure, that will change these numbers.

"For an example, if in fact all the employees we have, we add none new, we don't make any changes to our current pool and we go through that period of time, yes, that's the case. But, we all know we've had turnover, retirements, other things occur, or we add additional staff, that then changes this number."

As Sandstrom put it, "It changes every year and that's why every single year you'll see a new rate, a new actuarial study done and the new contribution rate. That contribution rate is intended to get us up caught up by the time that 22-year period is over with, but it will change year to year to year."

Although the police and fire retirement systems are city-owned, they are part of the state's retirement system.

"Sometimes I think we lose sight of a number of things that will do something about it," Thompson said. "We don't control how the public safety retirement system is set. It's done by the state, so we're very limited to what they do and the actions that they take."

In the case of the high city contributions to the police retirement system, Thompson said, "That's driven us to start to think about do we go out and hire new employees or do we hire transfers, or laterals, from other departments. If you hire a lateral, your cost goes up substantially, because you're buying that into the system."

Overall, Thompson said, "We've seen this overall number kind of go up and down over a period of time. But it is evident that for the first time we finally have started to see the downward trend, because we're paying more into it than we have ever before.

"The state never used that option. Historically it's like here's your bill and you just pay your bill. You're going to pay your 28.92 percent for fire and the employee is going to pay the 11.25. 

"But now we're given the option to at least start paying it up front and doing some other things with the state which is allowing us to buy that liability down. Which is a great thing, which we haven't had some of those options in the past."

ADDENDUM: The reason for the police and fire pension funds shortfall was not mentioned during the presentation and no one on the City Council asked the question.

Chris Vasquez, now interim police services manager and a 20-year veteran of the Police Department, posted this on Facebook:

Body cams for cops
Approval to begin outfitting officers expected soon

The Police Department wants to begin providing officers with the Taser AXON Body 2 camera.

(Posted Jan. 14, 2016)

You'll find the presentation, including policies and costs, HERE

The manual explaining how the camera operates is HERE

Technical specifications are HERE

A New York Times newspaper feature about interpreting what a body cam sees HERE

Casa Grande is inching closer to begin outfitting police Patrol Division officers with body cameras.

As outlined during a City Council study session, it will be a multiyear process, buying 10 Taser AXON Body 2 cameras to start and more in future years as the budgets allow.

The timeline for approval is still uncertain, depending upon further review and completion of a department policy, but could be back before the council in a month or so.

" A body camera is basically a video/audio recording device worn by officers," Interim Police Services Manager Chris Vasquez told the council.

"It basically gives a perspective of how we (the officer) see it, not (people on sidelines) It's to give our viewpoint of what we see as an officer is out there conducting a traffic stop or a crime or a simple stop.

"We believe it will further enhance public trust. With everything going on in the country, Ferguson, St. Louis, the issues that departments are facing, we believe a good sound program, a good sound policy in how we do this will go to improve, or the maintain, the public trust that we currently have."

The body cams would be registered to individual officers, not shared during different shifts. That is to be able to accurately track use by an officer.

As Lt. Frank Alanis, commander of the Special Operations Division, outlined it, the video storage will automatically link to the City Prosecutor's Office and the Pinal County Attorney's Office through a web program known as, a free service that comes with the body cam purchases. As explained, that allows those offices to review the videos, selecting what evidence is needed, rather than have a Police Department employee having to answer all requests.

It was later explained that the City Attorney's Office would have to review the videos if a public records request from a citizen is made, determining what could or could not be included.

Council questions

Council members had several questions about the cams and their use.

• When the officer rolls up on a call, is he required to activate the camera himself or is it activated automatically?

"It has a feature where if you turn on your emergency lights and siren it automatically turns on camera," Vasquez responded. Otherwise, it is the officer's responsibility after analyzing the situation.

• When does it know to shut off?

"It's a little bit of common sense and little bit of what's going on," Vasquez said.

• If the camera has recorded, say, some kind of a mob incident is there the ability to blur out the faces of the innocent bystanders that are watching?

"Either blur out the entire thing, where you can still tell what's going on, or individual faces in it," Vasquez responded. "That capability is there."

• Could body cam footage be used for training classes, for disciplinary action or for performance evaluations?

"If an incident occurs and the training sergeant feels that training is relevant, they make a formal request to the chief," Alanis said. "They'll discuss the video, the value in that video, create a file within where we can keep that video and training officers can view that video for training purposes."

• What if the video shows something that is against department policy, an action that could be used for disciplining the officer?

"It's one of the conversations we've had with the department as it goes," City Attorney Brett Wallace said. "We're constantly, I think, evaluating that and asking them from a managerial perspective what do you want to do. 

"I think it's a very important question, because the officers are going to want to know and need to know if they're going to be disciplined because of something that was seen on the camera. That can be a tricky situation. 

"Certainly I think they will hold the officer accountable, they're going to have to deal with that, if they're not turning the camera on when they should, if they're not tagging videos. 

"Tagging videos is, frankly, my biggest concern and from a prosecutor's standpoint our biggest worries, one area that I think we're going to have to certainly focus on. I know the department will be focusing on it. 

"If they don't tag the videos we can't identify them, the evidence is potentially lost and that's chargeable against the prosecutor's office. So there's a lot of those policies I think will need to be evaluated. 

"I also frankly think that you're going to come out with the best policy that you can to start, and it'll be version 1.0, and if we're not on version 3.4 in a year I would be surprised, because it's such an area where you have to learn how the officers are using them, how the public is responding to them, any particular technology issues that you have. The policies, I think, are going to be changed a few times until you really figure out how they work in the city."

• What will it take to properly staff the type of records keeping involved?

"I think the with staff we currently have at the Police Department we're OK," Vasquez said. "Where it may become an issue will be Mr. Wallace, his office, when it comes to having to handle public records requests, having to redact these videos for release. He may need additional personnel. As far as us, at this point in time I don't see that as an issue. With the links allowing access for the county attorney, city attorney and city prosecutor, we don't need a PD person  to dig out video.

• The chain of use

Each time anyone accesses the videos, the log will tell who and what videos they called up.

• Will there be the ability to track whether an officer has turned on the camera, or has failed to turn it on, say, 12 out of 20 times?

"The only thing in the policy will be supervisory responsibility," Vasquez said. "Their responsibility will be to go through, not to view the video, but to make sure that all videos for that officer are there."

• What has been the reaction from police officers about the concept of body cams?

"It's very positive," Alanis said. 

Protecting officers

"The thing we really haven't talked much about, and I think everybody up here knows that," Mayor Bob Jackson said, "is the reasons we're looking at body cams right now is because of all the things that have happened where everybody has a cell phone with video camera in it and you don't see it from the officer's perspective.

"I think that more than any other reason, really, has driven this whole body cam concept.

"Who knows with the problems they've had in Chicago and Baltimore and Ferguson if body cams would have made it different? You've got a third party's perspective on a cell phone video that certainly it's like Monday morning quarterbacking. We all know what we should have done three days later, but when you're in the head of the incident it looks different.

"I think really that when we first started talking about body cams that's what drove the decision to at least start looking is that. We've been lucky here, we've not had any of those kinds of incidents, but if you have one it's too late."

As Councilman Dick Powell sees it, "I think probably 90 percent of the reason to do this is to protect the officers and our own Police Department and community and show in an incident what precedes and precipitates what actually happens, have the full footage on it.

"I think it's essential for their protection, also, to be able to record that. Someone says they did this, no I didn't, look at the video, I never did that. When you have three or four cohorts of a person standing around and they're the witnesses, you don't have the same validity that you would with that video. 

"It would certainly show up if we have misconduct of police officers and, of course, you'd want to know for sure.

"But I think in 90 percent of the cases it's going to be basically the fact that it protects. And it's a moot thing after someone looks at the footage and they walk away from it because they don't have a case."

Jackson added, "I think that's exactly the point. We had kind of a similar issue when we went to the cameras in the patrol cars, but I think it's very much about protecting an officer. It is easy to have a person's buddies take a picture of you as you're swinging at a suspect and don't see the 25 times he swung at you first."

The public's right to know

• Is there a policy that dictates how long before videos can be released? In a Chicago incident, it took nine or 10 months.

"That will be in that policy that we're developing," Vasquez said. "It goes to the city attorney and his office and  once he gives us the OK, yes, we will; if not, we won't." 

City Attorney Brett Wallace continued that, "Obviously we have to take a look, and the public record requests and the disclosure are going to be an interesting challenge as we go through. We're going to have to review, we have to redact. But with every public records request we do essentially fall under the public records laws and they favor disclosure.

"There are times if it would impede an investigation, if there's some other reason, but generally we try to release it very quickly. We do need to review the footage, though, in order to redact things. Sometimes personal identifiable information, addresses, other things that you're going to need to redact prior to releasing any of that information. That's what's going to take time."

• Can anyone request to see the footage or is it only those involved in the incident?

"With public records requests, people can ask for any information that they think is within the scope of the public's business," Wallace said. "They don't have to be personally involved. 

"Really, the only request we ask when we get requests is, is it for a commercial purpose. We ask that because it's different from what we can charge them. But ordinarily if someone asks for that information we may have to redact a good number of things that were a part of that (sensitive information), but we would make it available.

"The requests can be cumbersome, but the public records laws usually don't favor us saying, hey, it's just cumbersome. 

"But sometimes the public may have to understand that it could take a good deal of time to go through that, because when you do something like redact, let's say they have to review 20 hours of footage, you've got to review all of that footage and then you have to do the necessary redaction. So if someone makes a request for 20 hours of footage it's probably going to take someone an actual week's worth of work time in order to complete that.

"When videos first come online, people tend to be a little bit more curious and then I think most people's experience is that unless there's a incident, the further that you get on and you get used to the body cameras, there's fewer requests you're going to see. 

"You'll still see certain requests, especially if there's an incident or event going on in the city, people will go ask for those because they'll be interested in it. But as, I think, people get more used to the cameras and they see the data is not all that much information they can really get out of it, the requests would probably die down.

"The biggest issue, though, really is the redaction pieces, because body cameras are way different than the normal paper file we have, reading a police report or anything else."

Redaction is needed in some cases, Wallace said, because without it, "the video may show the layout of someone's home, may show where the security system is or the data, wireless phone, now I know what kind of phone they have. 

"People could pick up on those kinds of things, so redaction tends to be very, very important to try to protect the rights of the individuals, as well as certain aspects of the event that maybe involve the officers, as well."

What next?

"In this case," City Manager Jim Thompson said, "we're just trying to find that perfect mix, to also have policies in place. That's been the challenge, ensuring that we're all on the same page. There's an impact of Brett's office that's probably as great, if not greater, than on the department, because all the information's going to come from Brett any time there is a request. 

"Not a definite date for finish, but hopefully within a month."

Community center surveys results report due soon

(Posted Dec. 3, 2015)

Scroll to next story for views from a former Parks and Recreation Advisory Board member

Compiling of input from residents about what should be in a community recreation center is almost complete and should be presented next month during meetings of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board and the City Council, the parks group was told Wednesday night.

The city held three public meetings, had booths at local events and in the two libraries and had an online survey. 

Tiana Jenkins, a high school student, also did surveys at school about what young people would like to see in a center.

"All this data is currently being compiled by Joe Salvatore and the Architekton Group working with us on our ultimately putting together the survey and results of these outreach meetings," Community Services Director Bill Schwindt told the board, noting that attendance at the community meetings was "relatively light, and so we go with what we got at this point in time."

Schwind said that Salvatore is still comparing the latest results to the data from a 2012 survey "as well as trying to go back as far as 2006 and the bond election to see what's changed over the course of a decade relative to needs, wants and desires of the community.

"He's going to incorporate that all into his final report that will be presented to the advisory board at the January meeting and we are looking to then have that information then disseminated to the City Council. We're looking at the second council meeting in January for that."

Board member Donna McBride asked how the surveys taken by Jenkins at schools would be handled.

"What she put together was very different than what we were looking for on the online survey, because there was a whole different avenue she took versus that," McBride asked. "How is Joe going to be able to incorporate that, that we make sure that her information is included in that? How can we make sure that that's captured?"

Schwind replied that the Jenkins surveys is being incorporated into Salvatore's report.

"What you've got, at least in the initial draft that I was able to see today, an Excel spreadsheet where he's got all of the combined data, from inside recreation to outdoor recreation that was gathered through all of the surveys that were taken," he said. 

"He's got basically a picture window of that. And then he's got it separated out for indoor use and he's got it separated out for outdoor use. He's got all of the cards that we received at both libraries and the other dropbox locations that we had into an individual report. He's got the Jenkins report, all of that data collected into a picture window, as well. And so it's all spelled out.

"What they're doing now is looking at the programming aspect of what all that data means and how you fit that into a magical box of a recreation center. They're trying to determine how, based on square footage needs, to put the programming package together to ultimately present that to council.

"All of the activities, programming and those types of things will all be incorporated into the process of what our consultants believe we need as far as being able to pull this off within a recreation facility."

Many of the results from the Jenkins surveys are about activity program needs, Schwind said.

"And really, I call it the magical box," he continued. "It's nothing that we have to plan and prepare for on an ongoing, 365 days a year, but we can provide those activities on various weekends, there's activities, tournaments. Give us the opportunity to have the box and we can make it work."

When the report from Salvatore is received it will be given to the recreation board and the City Council, Schwind said, giving both a chance to review it before the next board meeting and a council work/study session.

The work/study session will not be final action by the council, Schwind pointed out.

"It's basically the findings of all the community (input) and I think they will also provide information based on what they feel is needed as floor plan, square footage and that type of thing," he said. "They'll do a program to accommodate what they feel the high priority needs are."

McBride asked if a short work/study meeting with the council before the main presentation would be appropriate.

"I know that they've done that on other things, other topics," she said. "I would really be interested to be there. I don't necessarily want Joe to feel like he has to come in and make a special presentation to us, but if they do some kind of work/study for those results and that, I'm certainly happy to be there for that."

Schwind said the council work/study session will be open to anyone in the community.

The board unanimously passed a motion to be part of the session.

Study past surveys, be aware, board told

(Posted Dec. 3, 2015)

Back in 2006 when a bond issue for a community recreation center was being discussed, Kent Taylor was a member of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, observing the process first hand.

Wednesday night, he told the board that what he experienced then is still applicable.

"I really urge you to be actively involved," Taylor, now director of the Pinal County Open Space and Trails program, said. "At the end of this, really, you folks are a valued opinion for the council. When it gets to that point, recommendations from this board, advisory commission to the council, are important.

"I really urge you to keep involved in the process and then prior to going to the council for the last and final decision that you're making some formal recommendation on the recreation center."

The board should concentrate on three areas, Taylor said.

"First, data," he said.

"I will tell you, this has got to be one of the most studied issues and projects in the city's history.

"In 2006, obviously there was public outreach and information put out and the bond issue won. 

"In 2009, there was a feasibility study done. You should see that and see the recommendations and the discussion that went on from that feasibility study. That study also included public outreach, probably significantly in excess of what you've seen today — school outreach, senior center outreach, public meetings. And it included, as a separate document, a statistically valid telephone survey.

"It's something that from 2009 should still weigh as the benchmark for those decisions you're going to make, what that comes from.

"In 2012, I know staff did significant research and outreach in conjunction with proposals at that time that involved, I think, the YMCA and some other possible service providers. I'm sure some of that research also includes what are the community needs."

Secondly, Taylor continued, the board has to consider what a community recreation center truly would be.

"That has got to include a full menu of opportunities for recreation," he said. "It's not one user group, it's not one age group. It's a community center providing services and programming across a broad spectrum of the community.

"It's going to include things for toddlers and seniors and everybody in between. 

"You've got to really look at the data that you have to determine what those uses are to fit that broad spectrum. That's what's going to make this facility successful for the city and make it an economic engine for the city."

The third point, Taylor said, is that "if this thing is programmed correctly, designed correctly, this is a recreation enhancement opportunity for the community. It's not a competitive, evil competitive thing for other businesses in the community. This is serving, again, the entire spectrum, full age groups. It's not a competitive feature, it's an enhancement of recreation opportunities in the community.

"And what I always go back to, the recent studies that have come out as far as child obesity, adult obesity, Arizona ranks terribly. As a community, we need to find ways for a lot of opportunities for additional recreation within our community. We need to try to fight that epidemic, and this is one way that we can effectively do that."

In summation, Taylor said, "Data, programming and getting full use of the building across the broad spectrum, and use that in your decision making process. Build on the information that you have, add this to it and you will be able to make a fully informed decision and recommendation to the City Council."

Youth opinions sought on proposed rec center

(Posted Oct. 24, 2015)

Yvonne and Tiana Jenkins posted this request on CG Chat, a community page on Facebook:

Attention all teens, youth pastors, boy or girl scout leaders, coaches, cheer instructors, JROTC leaders, 4-H members, teachers, parents, and any one else who is a youth or works with the youth of Casa Grande.

Please take a few minutes to have youth fill out this form. 

Completing the form will help for their voices to be heard by City Council regarding the new recreation center. 

Please drop off your forms at Supply29 (next to Fry's on Florence Boulevard), or email them to We will ensure they get to a member of the City Council. 

It is time to speak up youth of Casa Grande, let's hear your voice.

(CG News note: The city also has a survey that can be completed over the internet. The deadline for commenting is Nov. 13. You'll find it at

List of rec center meets may calm controversy

(Posted Oct. 8, 2015)

The press release is HERE

The issuing of a city press release Wednesday night listing times and places for input from residents about what they would like to see in the proposed community recreation center may calm speculation on social media and elsewhere that the city is going ahead with its own plans, not listening to the public.

When the City Council gave final approval to a contract for initial schematic design of a center, the council was told that there would be at least three public input meetings.

The city later issued a press release saying there would be three booth events at various functions where residents could leave input. 

The release did not mention community meetings, leading to complaints, questions and rumors that the booth events would be the only public sessions, going against the will of the council.

One booth sessions was held during the Silent Witness Anticrime Night event, the second was cancelled with no explanation given.

During Wednesday night's meeting of the Parks and Recreation Board, which included an update on the rec center situation, members were given copies of a news release that would be formally issued the next day listing times and places for three community sessions. A copy was also given to CG News. The Casa Grande Dispatch did not attend the meeting.

(The following story has that and other information)

Community Services Director Bill Schwind, referring to the controversy as "a rather warm subject," outlined for the board how the situation started and why the booth event at downtown's Oktoberfest last Friday was canceled.

"When the City Council authorized us to move forward regarding some community outreach and some schematic design work associated with community feedback and the like at a recent council meeting, they wanted us to do two or three community meetings," Schwind said.

"And when we took our notes back as staff and put a schedule together relative to community meetings we, I think, had a little bit of a misunderstanding or misinterpretation of what community meetings meant as far as format and style.

"We were trying to handle the community feedback in a way that we were taking our consultants to the people, as opposed to hosting a town hall style meeting where you invited people to come to you."

After the controversy began, Schwind continued, "we got educated on that and we have since put together a little bit more of a revised schedule, which you have now in your hands."

The booth events will also continued, Schwind said.

"We have another in the same format scheduled for next Wednesday at the Business Showcase and then due to some conflicts with our consultants that couldn't make it last Friday we kind of rescheduled the Main Street affair that we were going to have a booth to a Friday in November to make up for the night that we missed.

"We had some really unforeseen circumstances with our consultants and we just basically left it at that. There's a lot of social media and others that were making some assumptions based on thoughts and opinions as opposed to real facts. But the real facts were that our consultants were not available. And so that's the story behind that."

There will also be displays at both city libraries, Schwind said.

"We have about 13,000 people a month visiting each of those libraries," he continued. "There's a video that we put together, that is on the city webpage, that'll play in some kind of a loop format, just asking people for their feedback and information, and then there'll be little business cards there that people can pick up and that'll tell them how to find that online survey, or complete it there."

The survey is found HERE. The deadline to comment is Nov. 13.

As of Wednesday night, Schwind said, about 50 people had completed that online survey.

It may seem repetitive, Schwind said, to have more meetings, given that several input sessions were held after the bond issue was passed in 2006, "but that was almost 10 years ago. Since then we've done two feasibility studies relative to this community center and here we sit in 2015 and with the economic changes and the structural changes around Casa Grande, some of the businesses that now are in town that weren't in town then, the council wanted to get a little bit more of a current vibe as to the feelings of the community, what's needed, what's not. And so hence the direction to go out and get some community feedback."

Board member Donna McBride said she realizes that "we all have our agendas as citizens, but I also know that I'm a representative of the Parks and Recreation Board. I have been involved with this from the very first conception (the bond issue of 2006). I was at all the meetings, the quorums, and I know that I have very solid feeling about this.

"I have talked to citizens, obviously this is a big deal for the community. I have talked to a lot of citizens. Some say I would never use it but I think we need it; there are some that say we need it. There's a lot of opinions.

"And I think that as a member of this board it's my responsibility to get that information and to be at some of these meetings. And I know that everybody's schedule is really busy, but I think that this is our time as a board that we need to be serious about something tangible. And this is a big deal. And whether people want it or not, the City Council and this board and the citizens need to come together, because the last thing that we need to do is to have fighting and arguing among our community about something that's supposed to be positive.

"So I'm really glad to see that you have already scheduled some meetings, because I will be at those meetings."

McBride also urged other board members to attend at least some of the meetings.

She said she attended the Silent Witness anticrime event and was near the community center explanation booth.

"and I watched a lot of families going up and people being excited and taking those three little stickers and put them on where they wanted them. They were excited about being part of that. And I think that we need to do that.

"The bottom line is we want to do what's best for the city. We have a responsibility as a board to be more involved than we have been."

Session formats

Schwind said the booth presentations will remain the same. "The consultants will be there with their easels and the breakout of the types of programming that is potentially going to be ingrained into the facility. People put the dots on (what they like), communicate. Staff is there to answer some questions, as are the consultants.

During the community meetings, Schwind continued, a table will be set up for City Council members attending.

"I think staff will do a brief presentation as to why we're here and what we're looking for, as will our consultants," he said. "And then it's going to be open microphone for folks to approach the podium, address the council, express their pros, their cons, their desires, their not-wants so council can get it directly from them, as opposed to reading a report that I would write or (a staff member) would write or anything along those lines.

"Really, it's not so much a debate and conversation thereof. Council just wants to hear people's thinking.

They want to hear from the citizens."

Schwind said the two outside consultants for the project would probably moderate the public sessions.

However it is decided, McBride said, she feels there need to be meeting guidelines, such as time limits for public comments, allowing everyone who wants to speak the opportunity.

"I really thing that we need to be prepared to have that," she said, "so that we give everybody some time at the microphone."

McBride said she was not sure that it would be a good idea to have the consultants, who are working for the city, be the moderators.

"That's not to say that they can't be there in part of it," she continued, "but … I just think we need to have somebody that's neutral, that can keep the flow going, so that we don't want somebody to feel like they're being shut off because they're disagreeing with the city staff or consults. I just think we need to think that through a little bit."

Schwind said he was not concerned.

"The consultants are there for, I mean, they're the sponge," he said. "These are the folks that are going to do the schematics, they're going to do the programming scheming as far as listening to the public as to what they want and ultimately — we hope — design something with the cost structure of what we've got to play with, right?

"And these are very seasoned individuals. These guys have built things all over the world, they can build anything. But when you look at their resume of community recreation centers, they're very highly skilled. And so I have a lot of confidence in the folks from Architekton to be able to be that neutral voice that understands communities. This is not their first rodeo. They have been around, so I'm comfortable with it. I think if you introduce staff it can promote a little bit of controversy, because I think council really wants to hear the people's voice."

McBride said she was still concerned.

"They're going to be listening to the citizens and they're going to be pulling all that information in," she said. "I just think that sometimes it's hard to be a moderator and get that information in. I don't know. I'm concerned about that from, quite frankly, the way it will look. "And I think to be fair to the council, to be fair to the department and to them as somebody that's working for the city on that, I just think we need to think that through."

Schwind responded that he would take that under consideration. "Point well taken, thank you," he said.

Board member Garrett Powell said he believes the combination of public meetings, booth events and library displays will help get the message out that input from residents is wanted.

"It's proven on (local) social media and other things, people really do want to have input on this, it's important to people," he said. "I think it's really good that we are doing all these outreach events, I think they're great.  They're just a tool that we can add for when the council ultimately makes their final decision. And I think this is really positive, absolutely. I know I'll definitely be at these three meetings.

"Everybody feels strongly about it, it's a lot of different opinions, but it's all about moving forward and doing what's best for the community. I think it's only going to be positive from here on out."

Public meetings for rec center input announced

(Posted Oct. 8, 2015)

The full press release, originally handed out during Wednesday night's Parks and Recreation Board meeting, is HERE.

The city has announced dates and locations for the three public input meetings regarding the proposed community recreation center.

They are:

• Wednesday, Oct. 21

6:30 p.m.

Vista Grande High School auditorium

1556 N. Arizola Road 

• Saturday, Oct. 24

10 a.m.

Parks and Recreation building (Armadillo, Bobcat, and Coyote rooms)

404 E. Florence Blvd. 

• Tuesday, Nov. 10

6:30 p.m.

Casa Grande Middle School auditorium

300 W. McMurray Blvd.

"The meetings will consist of a brief presentation by the city and design specialists, Architekton, followed by the opportunity for the public to share their thoughts and questions," the press release said.

The press release said booth displays will be:

• Wednesday, Oct. 14

5-7:30 p.m.

Chamber Business Showcase

The Property Conference Center

1251 W. Gila Bend Highway 

(CG NEWS note: There is a $5 admission fee for this event.)

• Friday, Nov. 6

5:30-9 p.m.

Downtown Street Scene

Historic Florence Street Downtown 

The release also said that beginning in mid October, there will be displays at both city libraries with photographs of potential amenities that might be included. "Accompanying these displays will be a short video inviting the public’s input through participation in the online survey located on the city website," the release said. 

The online survey is found HERE. The deadline to comment is Nov. 13.

Powell protests manner of taking rec center input

(Posted Sept. 25, 2015)

City Councilman Dick Powell posted this today on his Facebook page and on CG Chat:

***A conversation with Casa Grande Residents***

I am a Casa Grande City Councilman but in regard to this conversation, I will be speaking only for myself and in no way represent the City or Council. There has been much interest and discussion regarding the Recreation Center. I’ve followed much of it on C.G. Chat which represents an appreciable segment of our community.

The Council approved an agreement with Architekton (architectural planners) to help plan the Community Recreation Center. Contingent with the approval was an agreement that the planner would conduct two or three well-advertised community meetings in a place big enough to accommodate a sizable crowd, at an hour that would allow most citizens to attend. The purpose being to listen to the community’s pros and cons, ideas and suggestions. 

Questions regarding cost information for residents and the additional secondary property tax increase is important. This allows Council to listen to the Community members we represent.

I was greatly disappointed to receive the following news release today:

“Architekton, in coordination with the City of Casa Grande and Haydon Building Corp, is requesting the community’s input regarding potential features and services for the new Casa Grande Community Recreation Center.

"The City is encouraging members of the public to participate in this process by attending one of the upcoming scheduled events. Each of the following events will contain a City of Casa Grande booth that will provide a schematic of the proposed center, sample photography of potential amenities and the opportunity for the public to provide invaluable feedback on what they would like to see included in the Community Recreation Center. Representatives from the Casa Grande Community Services Department and Architekton will be available to answer any questions. The comments and feed- back received during these events will be used to help identify the programming and features to be made available at the new facility.”

(CG News note: The events and locations are listed below and in the city press release, below on this page.)

This tactic of seeking public input is, in reality, just smoke and mirrors and often used by large political and commercial groups to avoid producing a group response by eliminating the ability of the audience to listen to all the questions asked and the responses. 

Groups that might want a pool, a fun room, laser tag etc. are not heard because each individual is heard only by the facilitator. There is no opportunity to build consensus. The Council will not hear community members directly as intentioned but instead read a report. 

This is not what Council requested. The change would seem to have come from the Mayor and City manager. If so, the autocratic abuse of Council’s directions is certainly problematic.

Comments from Powell's two social media postings:

Reaction to posting on Facebook

Reaction to posting on CG Chat

• Tuesday, Sept. 29

Silent Witness Anticrime Night

5:30-9 p.m.

Vista Grande High School

• Friday, Oct. 2

Downtown Street Scene

5:30-9 p.m.

Historic Florence Street Downtown

• Wednesday, Oct. 14

Chamber Business Showcase ($5 admission)

5-7:30 p.m.

The Property Conference Center

City clarifies press release about rec center input

(Posted Sept. 25, 2015)

Clarification was made today over a city press release not making clear that three community rec center input sessions during public events are not the public meetings earlier agreed upon.

(The press release is below)

The issue of public sessions was discussed during City Council meetings about the proposed center.

Haydon Building Corp., chosen to draw initial concept sketches, had indicated that it intended to hold another "visioning session" to update earlier ones.

"We anticipate this will be very similar to the first and occur over a three to four hour session," its letter said.

It was later decided that rather than a single three- or four-hour session, there should be at least two, perhaps three, shorter community meetings.

During council final approval of the agreement with Haydon, Councilman Dick Powell said, "I wanted to just confirm with the city manager that we were able to get a commitment for three community meetings at the start of their (Haydon) service they're going to do with the city."

City Manager Jim Thompson replied, "Yes, sir."

Today, Thompson told CG News that, "We will be having both; these (booths) are in addition."

No dates have been set for those public meetings.

(CG NEWS NOTE: As of Saturday, Oct. 3, the city press release has not been updated to show the clarification.)

SEPT. 29 UPDATE: A story in today's Casa Grande Dispatch has Deputy City Manager Larry Rains saying there will be at least one public meeting in October. That story is HERE.

Downtown booth event called off, no reason given

(Posted Oct. 3, 2015)

The city posted this notice on Facebook on Friday, Oct. 2:

Due to unforeseen circumstances, the city of Casa Grande will not be hosting an information booth at the Downtown Street Scene event on Oct. 2 as originally planned. 

This information booth was one of several outreach initiatives that have been coordinated to garner community feedback on the proposed community recreation center.

The remaining outreach events will still take place as previously scheduled, in addition to several new opportunities for the public to provide input. Ample notification and details of these additional events will be provided at a later date.

(NOTE: CG News was told that one of those public meetings will be sometime this month, but no date was given.)

The remaining booth event will be 

Wednesday, Oct. 14

Chamber Business Showcase

5-7:30 p.m.

The Property Conference Center

1251 W. Gila Bend Highway

(The chamber has a $5 admission fee for the event.)

The announcement said individuals who are unable to attend any of the events but still wish to provide feedback may do so online HERE.

Three booth events for input on proposed rec center

(Posted Sept. 24, 2015)

The city posted this press release today:

Architekton, in coordination with the city of Casa Grande and Haydon Building Corp, is requesting the community’s input regarding potential features and services for the proposed Casa Grande Community Recreation Center.

"The city is encouraging members of the public to participate in this process by attending one of the upcoming scheduled events in Casa Grande," the announcement says. "Each of the events below will have a city of Casa Grande booth that will provide a schematic of the proposed center, sample photographs of potential amenities  and the opportunity for the public to provide invaluable feedback on what they would like to see included in the Community Recreation Center.

"Representatives from the Casa Grande Community Services Department and Architekton will be available to answer any questions. The comments and feedback received during these events will be used to help identify the programming and features to be made available at the facility."

The events are:

• Tuesday, Sept. 29

Silent Witness Anticrime Night

5:30-9 p.m.

Vista Grande High School

1556 N Arizola Road

• Friday, Oct. 2

Downtown Street Scene

5:30-9 p.m.

Historic Florence Street Downtown

• Wednesday, Oct. 14

Chamber Business Showcase

5-7:30 p.m.

The Property Conference Center

1251 W. Gila Bend Highway

(CG News note: There is a $5 admission fee for this event.)

The announcement said persons who cannot attend any of the events but still wish to provide feedback may do so via an online survey HERE.

Where it stands now, where it is headed

(Posted July 27, 2015)

You can watch the discussion during the regular council meeting at, clicking on Item I

The city does not televise study sessions, even if they are held to discuss major issues or concerns.

Almost nine years ago, Casa Grande voters approved a bond issue for a community recreation center.

At the time, there were bond issues for other city improvements, including a new Public Safety Facility, upgrades to Len Colla Center, fire station and library work.

The city said the recreation center would be the last of the projects to be built.

The community is still waiting, with a 2017 construction deadline from donors of property.

Another remaining question is whether it should be a full scale recreation/community center or a place targeted more toward families.

During a City Council study session on July 20, Community Services Department Director Bill Schwind told the council that, "Back in 2005, there was a community interest survey, a bond election was held in 2006 which did pass, a Community Services master plan was done in 2007 and followed up by a couple of feasibility studies in 2008, approved in 2009, and about that time the economy took a tumble.

"We updated the facility feasibility study back in 2013. We looked at the various location sites about a year or so ago, looking at both the Peart Park facilities, looking at a recreational campus, we looked at the current facility that we're currently housed in as far as recreational services go, next to City Hall here, which is the old high school facility, and then also the donated site, the 10 acres by the Gilbert family (on Peart between Cottonwood and Kortsen). And due to a lot of infrastructure needs and what we were looking for at the time, the Gilbert property still remained the number one location for a potential new home for a civic center, community recreation center, and the like."

The study session preceded a council discussion about a $155,132 contract with Haydon Building Corp. for initial schematic plans that would show where things could go in the proposed center — 42,000 to 45,000 square feet — and what would be financially feasible.

The item was on the previous City Council meeting agenda but was taken off at the request of Councilman Dick Powell, who later told CG News he was unhappy because latest proposals for a rec center had not been discussed with the council and because the proposals still showed a fitness area, which Powell said would be using taxpayers money to complete with the private fitness centers in town.

"We have never discussed that as a council," he later told CG News. "If anybody is tasked with trying to represent the wishes of the community, it's the City Council and we haven't talked about it, even among ourselves, about the things that are on there, let alone heard anything. 

"I was shocked to see it come up, I was shocked that we were sending this off to be planned when we had never even talked about ourselves what we wanted to include. And that would have to be prefaced by a visit with the community and hearing what they would like to see happen and then us work those things out instead of spending all this money. And if we spent it, send to the company and say these are the items that we pulled out and we want you to price those so we know what it is going to cost and we can make a better plan financially of what kind of overhead we're going to have and that type of thing."

What follows is a recap of various meetings, discussions and presentations. Scroll down for areas of your interest. Charts and other information are at this time only estimates. Nothing has been formally approved.

The study session presentation is HERE

Major parts of presentation at the City Council budget retreat HERE

The staff report is HERE

The letter from Haydon is HERE

Situation analysis

"The situation analysis that we have been working on really is identifying what we currently have," Schwind said during the study session. 

"Our services are really provided throughout the city, from the north end to the south end, east and west. Many of our facilities are aging, they do have size restrictions, capacity issues that we deal with, the size of the rooms. The facilities that we have are somewhat challenging and constrainful for us and our staff as far as programming. 

"There is a lot of need out there and so we do what we can with the facilities that we do have.

"Again, I kind of have a unique perspective on this, because the recreation building (is in) the old high school facility. It really wasn't designed for a recreational need but it's multiused for our purposes today as far as our administration staff."

Schwind gave this view of major present facilities:

• The Dorothy Powell facility, it's a very functional facility for our senior program. Great offerings with the kitchen and the meals program, as you well know. That facility as one point was a library, built in the '70s, I believe.

• The Peart Center is another aging facility that we try to offer some programs in. We have a lapidary center there, a ceramics center and a programmable rental space and usable space in the other half of the building. Does have some structural issues that we're dealing with currently. It's an aging facility.

• Woman's Club is on the historical register, we utilize it for rentals and other recreation programs.

• Len Colla Center recently had a gymnasium added to it. A useful center for that neighborhood population.

• The Teen Center. The Teen Center is out there. As that lease grows old, I believe in 2017 it expires with Central Arizona College, the opportunity to potentially bring that back home into a more of a campus approach (rec center) would be a good thing.

• Palm Island. The aquatic center, Palm Island, is aging and it does have several years of life left in it but eventually that facility is going to have to be looked, as well, as far as finding a new home.

"Some of these facilities are somewhat unique from my perspective," Schwind said, "because when I was a recreation coordinator back in the day, I was coordinating programs out of the buildings and that's three decades ago.

"So with the growth of the community, it would be ideal, obviously, to move forward, look at the future, and a community recreation center would give us somewhat of a campus in which to operate out of, something new, a little bit larger to handle capacity and the load that currently presents itself.

"We call ourselves cradle to grave. We take care of people of all ages. We offer recreational opportunities for all community based programs. We try to enjoy the year around opportunities that we have. But, again, we are limited as far as a little bit of indoor service that we provide. 

"We fill a need, I think, for a lot of families within the community. We're a gathering place, the potential could be a bigger programming place for it. We were looking at fitness elements and meeting rooms, exercise and sports, health and wellness and the arts, education and entertainment program are all some of these program areas that we tend to deal with today.

"This would enhance our department tremendously. We look to provide new and improved space for our programming today and then really would give us an opportunity to expand and develop new recreational offerings well into the future."

Potential features

The city's list of potential features is at left. The list from Haydon is at right

"When we're looking at our needs," Schwind told the council, "obviously we have office space and administrative space that we currently occupy today, meeting room space. We do have that, it is spread out around Casa Grande. The meeting room space (in old high school facility west of City Hall) that we do have is flexible but it is limited. I know we do the Leadership Academy and then at the same time we've got cheerleader classes (on other side of thin walls). The classes can get a little loud, noisy and whatnot.

"With today's satellite issues for wi-fi services, this could potentially serve as a library offering a book pick ups and drop offs site, that type of thing, when library hours are closed in various hours of the day. A catering kitchen to help support meetings that require to keep food either cool or warm. This would not be anything like a cooking kitchen or anything like that. Dorothy Powell Center functions very, very well as far as that road goes. Snack bar/vending area, a nice multi use lobby and the gymnasium space, a little fitness area, dance and yoga rooms, indoor walking track, child care, Teen Center, and obviously partnership opportunities.

"I know you are aware of the negotiations that we had going on for well over a year with the Valley of the Sun YMCA (in Phoenix) looking to work with us on some kind of a management plan to minimize subsidies. They really got involved with that. During the downturn of the economy all over the Valley and the state of Arizona they really had bitten off more than than they can chew corporately as far as being able to fund a lot of the programs that they got involved in. And they basically called time out with us prior to moving forward with any kind of an agreement.

"We had also worked with the local Boys and Girls Clubs of Casa Grande Valley, because we do share a facility with them currently. It is our intent to potentially work with them as a nonprofit partner, looking for a new home for all. And recently, back in February, the board passed a resolution supporting the decision to build a new community center here in Casa Grande."

At the moment, a swim facility is not included, but city officials say that could be part of future planning for use on the remaining part of the acreage,

Conceptual site plan

"This is a two-step design approach that we're kind of coming forward to you tonight," Schwind said. 

"And this is architecture only approach, look at a floor plan, design a floor plan, what works, what doesn't work. Fitness, maybe yes, maybe no; community meeting rooms, administrative space, share space with a nonprofit partner such as the Boys and Girls Clubs. 

"Basically, it's how do all the pieces of this puzzle fit together to make it work and make it as efficient as we know how. And then that will be followed by a schematic design to show just a little more.

"It's so we can develop a program space that functions, that will be accessible to the citizens and the City Council and then ultimately develop a schematic level design that meets the program requirements."

A person familiar with construction told CG News that, simplified, the schematic design phase is where you  figure out all the little things that go into the facility and where to put them. That first design phase is where you decide what goes in and what doesn’t make financial sense.

As Schwind told the council, "Once that thing gets put on paper, can we pick it apart, can we say, yes, we like that, we don't like that? Absolutely. There's plenty of room for change, plenty of room for refinement.

"And then the architects will develop concept plans and ultimately come out with a final phase design. And once that's done, the architects and the contractor can seriously work with us and provide a cost analysis on what this facility could look like.

"At the end of the day, a deliverable package would be presented by our contractors, which would include all these items mentioned, down to building materials and cost estimates.

"It's a first phase of design. Most times when we go and design a very large scale project like this the design costs are enormous, well into the millions of dollars range on a large scale facility. This we're doing in two phases. Again, just the architectural phase and so it's an inexpensive way I like to get to where I think we need to be to make a real solid informational decision."

Councilman Powell said, "Basically, from what I'm reading, they will come back and put on a presentation to the community? If the community doesn't like it, do they come back free again or do we have to pay or how does that work?"

Schwind responded that, "This contract is basically to get us to the end run as far as what the deliverable package is going to be. I mean, if we have a lot of public input that would be the best thing in the world for us. We pride in getting information and feedback."

Powell asked what happens if the City Council doesn't like either of the two Haydon submissions. Put them back together and tell them you don't like them, Schwind answered.

Powell asked if the city would still have to pay the bill or if the submissions would be redone at no cost.

"We can negotiate if that's the case," Schwind responded. "But I think these guys are pretty good at what they do and I think if they get as much input as you're hoping that we get I think they'll do a pretty good  job for us."

Powell asked if taking the plans would mean that the city is committed to building the rec center.

"Absolutely not," Schwind replied. "And that's part of the two-phase package that we kind of talked about. This is architect drawings just to get as much around, our heads around, this project as we possibly can, with all the feedback that we can muster, to come up with what we feel the community is needing here in Casa Grande and move forward from that point.

"If we come back to City Council and you like what you see, the next phase would be finishing up the design phase, doing the civil planning and engineering and all that kind of stuff moving to construction. But this is simply architectural floor plan and schematic design."

Other elements, such as a new aquatics center, outdoor basketball and such could be added later as money allows, the council was told.

However, it would have to be kept in mind that there are restrictions in the Gilbert family deed, including:

• The placement of windows, patios and viewing areas relative to the G Diamond Ranch subdivision to ensure that patrons are not looking into homes in G Diamond Ranch (just to the west).

• Written approval (not to be unreasonably withheld) from the grantor for the design, initial construction drawings and landscape plans.

• Construction of the recreation facility and all landscaping should be substantially completed within 10 years from the date the deed was executed (December 2017).

Major assumptions

Operational costs

There would definitely be operational costs, Schwind said, the amount depending upon size of the building and what is offered.

"We've run financial pro formas on these, obviously to try to get this down to a small but a governmental subsidy as we possibly can," Schwind said. "Things should pencil out. That was the direction we were given a year or two ago, hence the negotiations with nonprofit partners.

"But that's somewhat of a moving target, so you have to be able to know the function of your building, down to the number of hours you're going to be open, down to how many staff you need, who can incorporate into what. It's a lot of moving, it's a moving target at this point.

"But once that gets a little bit farther refined with this package, it'll be a little bit easier for us to kind of narrow down our focus and come up with, I think, a realistic operational cost."

Community input

The city has held community input meetings in the past, but as the years went by much of that information is now outdated, leading to a call for new meetings.

"We hope to gain a little bit more from a conceptual site, what's this thing going to look like, what can it look like based on what the stakeholders, City Council and other ad hoc committees throughout town to see this facility how it's turning out to be," Schwind said.

"Again, it was voted on in the past, but things have changed, obviously, and we would like to rearrange ourselves with the stakeholders to kind of see what works in today's world in Casa Grande and come up with a sketch or two to help develop, share with the community and the council, see what this thing potentially could look like."

And what are "stakeholders"? The term is often taken to mean special interest groups, not the community at large.

Who are those stakeholders? Councilwoman Lisa Fitzgibbons asked.

"User groups?" Schwind replied. "There's the commercial side, there are nonprofit partners, there are, i.e. the Boys and Girls Clubs, BlackBox Theatre Productions, youth groups, youth sports groups, ourselves, City Council, advisory boards, those types of team members that we want to bring together and try to get some response."

Mayor Bob Jackson asked if there will also be the opportunity for the general public to provide input. Yes, Schwind replied.

"And that's important," Fitzgibbons said. These's so much discussion, this has been going on for years, we've had a lot of discussions on. "You talk about a place for all people in the community and I think that's important."

Councilman Powell made the suggestion that the contract action on the regular council meeting that night be tabled, allowing the city to first hold the community meetings. 

"I don't think that we need to spend $170,000 (assuming a 10 percent contingency fee) to find out what the community wants," he said. "I think this council, it's our job and we should have meetings with people, at least for the next month and find out what the input is on what they want.

"If you were going to build a house you don't say I don't really know what I want in it, go ahead and build it and then we'll change it. We need to send them a list of community priorities.

"You mentioned the cost on it. It would also enable them to address the ones we're talking about and see if we can afford them, if they're feasible. There's nothing in the world that would hurt us for another month to have two or three community meetings with input. 

"I think the public's never had a chance to input with this. This has always been the stakeholders, staff and some other people, but the community itself hasn't had a chance."

But as Councilwoman Mary Kortsen sees it, "I'm familiar with these people (Haydon), they do a good job.

"We need a much better job of publicizing things, getting people to come in. Again, it's up to the community. I would like to see a really, really good job to get what we believe the community needs. Not just what we want, it's what the community thinks we need and then go from there. Stakeholders means community, she said.

"So I'm against tabling that for that reason."

Councilman Ralph Varela said, "My understanding is the schematic design, the way it's been developed, you will be looking at community feedback. I saw where it says visioning and so forth.

"I've seen other schematic designs and development and they have a significant piece that allows for that community input. And that's exactly why you have that visioning and those presentations and the feedback, because then all of that goes into the schematic design part of it.

"And honestly, I really have to have that community input. We'll never go forward if we're not able to have that schematic design with the input to then be able to make an informed decision about it. I think it all goes together and so I think it's just a sensible way to continue."

Councilman Matt Herman said, "I went to a lot of the community groups, five or years ago, something like that, when we had them here. So we're going to do that whole process again? I think it's important, because it's changed over the years.

"Is there going to be a lot of opportunity to have input, a couple of big meetings?"

Yes, Schwind replied, pointing out that that is included in the Haydon proposal.

However, Haydon refers to "Stakeholder Visioning Session," "Stakeholder Interviews" and "interview the primary recreation center stakeholders."

Because no formal actions can be taken during study sessions, Mayor Jackson said, "This is a discussion we need to have at (the 7 p.m. regular meeting, not at study session). I think it's a good discussion to have, but I do think that it needs to be in our meeting."

During that meeting, Powell returned to community input.

"I would be certainly in favor if we pass this tonight if we put an amendment on there that the first thing that would happen would be they would put on two community meetings and take input and then make a recommendation. We need to be involved in this, we represent the community.

"One of the things I don't like about the design and build concept is to me it's kind of like giving a girl who doesn't really know you well an engagement ring. And after the ring's accepted there's huge expectation of marriage. And that's kind of how these build contracts go. But we can live with that.

"The things that are on the list here (in Haydon letter) didn't include a lot of the things we talked about. The list that was submitted to us has a gymnasium, walking track, dance studio, multipurpose room, showers, lockers, bathrooms, class activity rooms, training rooms, lobby and support space, child watch, staff offices, restrooms and fitness center."

By taking out the fitness center and its related costs, Powell said, "there's a lot of things we could fit in. I know kids love to go to Maricopa to Ak-Chin because they have laser tag, they have game rooms, they have a lot of fun things you can do over there. There's no reason we can't do those right here in town and make the gist of this to be a family recreation center and not a, quote, fitness center."

A family oriented center was urged by most of the public who spoke during the regular council meeting that night.

"I wrote down what I heard from people coming up and speaking," Powell said, "and that's something I really support, a family center. And I think we need to address the youth. We have a senior center specifically addressed to their needs. And I think that a family center, where you can take children, where you can leave somebody in a nursery, where you can do a lot of different things, I think basically that would be a wonderful idea. I'm completely for it."

Councilman Herman said, "When I heard 'stakeholders,' stakeholders really are the community and that's what is important. My biggest concern is getting enough public input. I know we had it, I was at those meetings. But it's our job, we need to reach out to these people as a City Council, as city staff, to hear the football people what they want, the swimmers what they want and figure we can afford to put into the center. Affordability is still the key. I hate to belabor it, death by committee we always say, but I want to get that public input again, because it has changed in a couple of years. 

"I was at one of those meetings and there was a bunch of swimmers there and of course they wanted a pool, which is great. The football players were there and they wanted a field. So we've got to figure out what we can and can't afford.

"In this contract with Haydon, I would really like to see something about having these public meetings, more than just one of them. More than four hours, four-hour meetings are not — despite what we do up here — effective. We need to make sure we have them at times where people can come, where the kids can come. Maybe have focus meetings, if you're interested in this aspect of the recreation center, tonight's going to be the meeting for you. Having those targeted meetings so that we can hear what the people, what they want. They voted for it. 

"I have talked to people, most people are in favor of this one way or another. I have talked to a few who are not in favor of it. But we need to find out, we can't just keep playing this down the road."

As the council prepared to vote on the contract, Powell asked if there needed to be an amendment requiring a range of community meetings.

No, replied City Manager Jim Thompson. "No, I believe we'll achieve that, plus more," he said. "So at minimum the two (meetings) up front, but I'm hoping for more than that."

Subsidy required?

Scroll down page for May story on what the city is now paying to cover major shortages at Grande Sports World and how that played a part in hesitation about the costs of a community center

Councilman Herman said, "The first day I was on this council I learned that you subsidize the young people and the old people, and that's pretty much how it is. So that's what we have to figure, how to make this effective."

Councilman Varela said that when the schematic designs are delivered, "you'll look at things that are going help with the reduction of the subsidy, as well. There are certain things in here that you identify that increase your revenues and hence are going to reduce your subsidies. Should you be looking at that as part of your performa in terms of what types of things go in here that are going to financially help reduce the city subsidy?"

Yes, Schwind replied, adding, "and then hopefully during the planning and construction phase, obviously, there is so much that we can do to enhance our operational efficiencies, I think where we're really going to pick up a lot of savings, as well.

"We already subsidize the Recreation Department, we subsidize the libraries. We're getting out of the subsidy of the golf course, thank God."

The pro forma for the rec center shows that with enough memberships (880) it should not require a subsidy.

"We're moving in the right direction," Schwind said. "We're really down to efficiencies. And some of the older facilities that we do have they're not going to go away. They'll still be used as rental facilities and potentially new homes for nonprofit partners in and around town that need facilities.

"To build a new facility as a recreational function and built for recreation, there's a lot of efficiencies that you can build in to these buildings: site supervision, staff levels, how long you're open and how distinct our view in supervising. A lot of savings there on personnel, staff, and that kind of thing."

Varela added, "As well as programs that are going to create revenue as opposed to not create."

Councilman Powell, as he has in the past, brought up the situation with the city-financed Casa Grande Performance Institute next to Francisco Grande resort, specifically Grande Sports World, which is far behind in its required payments to the city.

"Half the recreation tax every year goes out to Francisco Grande for $500,000," Powell said. "What does that leave you in your budget to use and how are you using the facility at the Francisco Grande? When you get a city brochure it tells us through your department that we answered all these needs in the community and it's really been a good thing for us. But is that true?"

Yes and no, Schwind replied.

"From the youth soccer perspective and from the Boys and Girls Clubs perspective they have, I think, 700 registered kids going out there playing soccer over the season from, I want to say, maybe late August through November, Thanksgivingish," he said. 

"We've sat down and met with, I believe there's 17 local youth football teams that play here. They practice at Carr McNatt Park, they play half their games spread out over all over the Valley from Chandler to Gilbert, but their home games they tend to play at the local high stadium.

"We tried to get them to use the Grande Sports World, but there are some logistical things that ultimately from their administration they find a little bit of fault with. Obviously, no bleachers out there, people sitting, and then they do make a lot of money supporting internally their organization through sales concessions and the high school football fields with their snack bars and that type of thing there they're allowed to use, kind of keeps them a little bit more concerned and focused on using the high school field more so than going out to Grande.

"There's some lacrosse that goes on out there that we help promote when it comes. They're having an upcoming tournament, I believe in November, that we're working with another outside group and they have 36-team soccer tournaments in November. 

"So we are attempting to bring more out of town use out there to those fields, but it's been a slow go."

The origin of the Performance Institute was for a contract to bring United Football League to a city-built facility. 

"I know you weren't here when it happened," Powell told Schwind, "but at that point in time it was built on the United Football League and that thing just went poof. They're behind at about $5 million on their payments right now and on their expenses, they can't cover them. So, we continue to, that's coming out of our General Fund, which is what we give employees raises with, what we hire new employees, how we buy equipment and facilities for the city.

"How can we change that? Obviously, we're in a bad situation out there. What can you do, are you in charge at all recreationally out there, what is your arrangement with them?"

Schwind replied that, "I do contract management, as far as that goes, so we are actively tracking the pro formas of what's going on out there. Obviously, the contract was drafted before I was employed here.

"There is contractually a commitment from the city of Casa Grande for that $500,000 that you mentioned coming out of the, I believe, two-tenths of 1 percent recreation fund (from sales tax) that generates a little over a million something a year, so $500,000 of that is allocated toward the subsidy of that facility.

"Both of the pro formas is the responsibility of the Grande Sports World. The way the contract was written is that $10 million is supposed to be generated back to the city of Casa Grande before or at the 10th year mark. We are currently in I think year three or four, as far as that goes

"And you are correct as far as their deficiency goes. However, I'm not an attorney, I'm not going to throw it across the table. But there needs to be some negotiation done as far as that contract goes. If not, we're going to live through this subsidy pattern until year 10.

"And then we're going to have to decide at that point if nothing happens how we move forward from there, the city. On paper, there really isn't much of a leverage chip in our toolbox to use on that. If on the last day of that ninth year they come good on their balance due, the way the contract's written, they're good."

If that doesn't happen, Powell said, "then we get whatever equity might be left in that facility. The grounds and the building, you basically get whatever equity might be available to go toward a debt.

"And then the second 20 years, you've got the $20 million in there and if they're not there anymore what do we do then? $20 million over a 10-year period with nothing happening there. How can we incorporate that into the city sports program?"

Schwind replied, "Their football and soccer fields, it would be something that we would have to incorporate. Again, it's just something from a planning and programming perspective we have to be, I think, very, very active."

Powell continued that, "You can make a pro forma say anything. For the Performance Center out at Francisco Grande, boy, it was going to be great. And now we're $5.8 million dollars behind with our expenditures on what's gone on out there.

"The pro forma continues through the next 15 years and we've pulled out over $5 million from our General Fund, which is supposed to go to the needs of our departments and our city, to help try to keep the payments up that the lessee can't make.

"So you really need to be realistic with the (rec center) pro forma and really look at it. You can add numbers down and make work but it doesn't always do it."

A fitness center?

There continues to be the question about how much of a fitness area the proposed rec center would have.

Councilman Powell believes it calls for a full scale center, a size that would be major competition to private fitness businesses in the city.

The presentations by the city and Haydon both refer to it as "fitness area."

During his study session presentation, Schwind referred to it as both "fitness elements" and "a little fitness area."

At Powell's request, private fitness business owners and representatives appeared at an earlier City Council meeting to oppose a fitness center element. They said that the projection of 880 memberships to be able to run the rec center without a subsidy is unrealistic.

In addition to believing that taxpayer money should not go toward subsidizing competition against private enterprise, Powell also said that by removing a fitness component it would save on equipment and personnel costs, meaning that money saved could be directed toward other amenities such as family fun activities.

One person who spoke to the City Council during the regular session that night said she doubts that a fitness element in the rec center would harm private businesses.

"A fitness center is in the business of fitness," she said. "A rec center is in the business of families. Anyone serious enough about fitness has a gym membership, isn't going to cut their gym membership and go exercise at the rec center with a bunch of 5-year-olds. However, it could be someone who takes, say, a Zumba class or a dance class, then moving over when they're ready and taking it a step farther. If anything, it's going to build their business."

Addressing Schwind, Powell said, that at the time of the 2006 bond approval there was only one private fitness business in the city. As the city grew, he continued, more such operations came.

"Now, they have told us that we're over served here in Casa Grande right now," Powell continued. "It would take taxpayer money to compete against them. And are you saying we should take taxpayer money and compete against the private sector? And are you also saying you don't accept what they're telling you that we're over served at this point in time?"

Schwind replied that, "I'm not a representative of the fitness community. We are a municipal agency representing the community, offering parks and recreation sites."

Powell said dropping a fitness component a lot of the expense and liability would disappear.

"I would agree with you," Schwind responded. "However, on the fitness front from Parks and Recreation seasonal  brochures and guides that are produced and have been produced for several decades, we are offering fitness programs continually."

More community programming?

Councilman Karl Montoya asked if Schwind had a percentage of how much programming could be in the rec center.

Schwind responded that, "When our brochures come out, we are overrun with people registering and we fill up our classes. But due to the size of the programs and classes that we do have, we're a little bit confined in what we can do.

"So can I say we can double our activity? I certainly would hope so.

"But, again, that's not only a guess but it really plays into elements of how much space we have."

Major Jackson asked if there are programs the community requests that have to be turned down because of lack of space.

"A lot of them in the special interest areas and a lot of facilities rentals are probably our biggest concern," Schwind replied, "because we are just limited in space and size. There's lots of groups out there. We do anything from funerals to birthday parties.

"For special interest classes it's really soup to nuts."

One problem limiting presentations is lack of instructors, Schwind said.

"We were presenting the Fitness on Demand scenario from cross training and that type of thing where it's video released," he said. "We can use those in rooms, and those are very, very popular. But what we struggle with just a little bit is really finding quality instructors (from the community). We share the instructors with all of the fitness clubs whether it's LA Fitness or SNAP or 24-7. We kind of offer the same thing, whether it's Zumba or aerobics and that type of stuff. 

"We do that, but, again, having a facility that would allow us to expand our services and hopefully find instructors that would be able to go out there and teach at various times of the day are critical to what we do.  

"So, yes, it would expand, I think, tremendously given the opportunity to have some more space to offer that."

Council action

As the vote was ready to be taken at the end of the discussion, Mayor Jackson said, "I don't disagree with anything I've heard tonight. I think this has gone on long enough, we need to either do and move on or say we're done and move on. But it's been long enough.

"We do have a pending land donation that has a time frame on it (major construction by the end of December 2017) so if we're going to kick the can down the road further we've probably taken that particular piece off the table. That's not to say we're not going to get down the road and decide if there's a better place for it, but it would be a shame to have an opportunity to have a donated site and lose it because of our inability to make a decision."

The vote was unanimous for initial approval of the planning contract. Final approval is expected during the next council meeting.

Powell later told CG News that his reason for voting for the contract in spite of his concerns was "to get this process started."

City tightens alarms oversight

(Posted June 23, 2015)

Casa Grande is tightening its oversight of alarm systems throughout the city, hiring a company that specializes in tracking who pays and who doesn't, who is registered and who isn't, false alarms reporting and other day to day details.

The move is partly to have a smoother operation and partly because the present system of tracking by the Police Department and billing by the Finance Department has not worked well, on at least one occasion failing entirely.

The three-year contract, approved during the last City Council meeting is with Public Service Corp., through its program called CryWolf.

Watch the video of the discussion at

Click on Item I

The city ordinances covering alarms are found HERE.

Type alarm in the search box

The alarm permit form is HERE

The presentation from the company is HERE

The staff report on the agenda item is HERE

A previous notice from the Police Department about problems is HERE

Under the agreement, PSC would retain 55 percent of revenue, with the city taking 45 percent, or about $25,000 a year.

According to Interim Police Services Manager (acting police chief) Chris Vasquez the move is "to basically take over almost the entire false alarms program duties from both Finance and from the Police Department. They will become consolidated into the CryWolf program where from an internet-based program a subscriber can be educated, they'll be able to pay their annual fee on line and also if they have any fees related to a false alarm that would be paid on-line as well.

"Part of the program is to in lieu of paying the false alarm fee, an alarm user may take a class. So 

instead of us holding classes at the PD they can now be done on-line at the convenience of the alarm user, so they don't have to leave their home, they can get it done much quicker, much safer and cheaper, actually.

"And part of our hopes is to improve services to the citizen, to the alarm user, in that we would have a quicker or a faster turnaround from time of the alarm, should it be their third time or a false alarm that requires they be charged a fee where they are notified of that fee, versus how it has been done in the past where we dropped the ball, where it's been weeks, months or sometimes a year later they finally get a bill for a false alarm. With this it will make it more efficient where we reduce that time hopefully within less than a week to get that notification out."


False alarms

The system of determining false alarms needs to be refined, Councilman Dick Powell — who voted against the contract —  said.

"Most of the time if my (business) alarm goes off somebody was kicking the door or rattling trying to get in. But how do I prove that? Somebody does that two or three times and then I'm jeopardized (for false alarm fees) to whether I can even have an alarm anymore."

Vasquez responded that, "One thing we want to do is as part of these officers' working and training is set up a policy with the officers that if they respond and the alarm user also responds at the same time, when that officer walks away that alarm user will know if it's going to be a false alarm or not — at that time, that night when it happens. 

"If for some reason an alarm user does not respond, then we're going to come up with a system where a notice is left on the door to where when you come to work the next day it's going to tell you if it's a false alarm or not a false alarm. So you'll know then, at that time. 

"We're also going to try to educate the officers and work with them to really take into account Mother Nature, different reasons why these alarms are being set off, to take into account Mother Nature, animals, looking at it and seeing if there's boot print on the door, a print on the window, stuff like that."

Powell also pointed out that, "We've run into a deal which you're fully aware where some of the claims are two years old and the people they were against didn't even know they had them for false alarms. So obviously that wasn't timely.

"The only thing that really works is if you can notify somebody with an alarm within 24 hours. Because if there's a boot print on that door, if there's something that you can call a policeman back and say look you were here, obviously somebody kicked this door, somebody did this or that in the night. Come look and say, you know, it was a false alarm. Sometimes we don't know what they're going to say until they get back there and if we don't know that until it goes to them or gets sent to them and they're trying to hit us with collection, they're pretty heavy handed with the way they deal with the people in the community."

Lt. Frank Alanis, commander of the Police Department's Special Operations Division, responded that, "It's just efficiency. Right now, whenever an alarm does happen, the officers go out there to respond, they make decision as far as whether it's false alarm or it's legit, then call the owner up.

"But the thing is, once the call's into the system, into our computer-aided dispatch system, you have to do a hand search the next day and actually see what happened that day and figure out if that was a false alarm or not. So it's very time consuming, along with the efficiency of the billings.

"PSC/CryWolf, they take care of all that. They'll have a direct link into our computer system so that they can identify these calls and get us a printout in the morning. We should be able to address these issues you're talking about."

Alanis said he couldn't at this time promise a response within 24 hours, but the time would be much shorter than it is now.


Powell pointed out that the CryWolf presentation says four companies would be linked to each system.

"I've got a company I've been working with for 25 years," he said. "There are going to be three other companies I'm going to be working with on that same system, is that what that's saying?"

Alanis replied that, "Basically, what this company does is they have contracts with other alarm companies, like say, your major commercial types. They work with them, so when they're talking about consolidating those four tracks it's basically saying we work in partnerships with these companies. If there's one out there they're not familiar with they can go out there and contact them and get something going with them."

Users are still free to select their own alarm company, Alanis added.


Powell also questioned a section of the CryWolf presentation regarding renewal and revocation of alarms dealers' and technicians' permits.

"That's a lot of oversight," he said.

That's true, Alanis said, but that is a state requirement.

"Whenever we have issues with people coming in, that's actually to protect the citizens from national companies who are not licensed," he continued. "We've had issues in the past with people who come in who are vendors but they're not licensed, we don't know if they're crooks, just trying to get in your home and see what's going on, so that's where that comes in. What we do is if we complaints like that we follow up with the state board."

Annual fees

Fees remain the same, Alanis said.


Powell questioned a section of the CryWolf presentation regarding hearings and appeals.

"It says they're fully integrated, having an appeals system and they want Casa Grande to apply a fair but firm approach resulting in alarm fines being generally upheld on appeal," he said. "That doesn't sound like fairness, that sounds like a collection company."

Vasquez responded that the Police Department will retain the appeals process.

"Any time there's an appeal, should you be charged and you want to appeal that charge, that will stay with us," he said. "We're not going to turn that appeal process over to Public Service Corp., we're going to retain that in-house."

Mayor Bob Jackson said his reading of it is that CryWolf will provide the administrative oversight but the actual physical oversight remains in the Police Department.

"That is correct," Alanis answered.


Answering a question from Powell, Finance Director Doug Sandstrom said income from alarms last year was between $26,000 to $30,000.

Powell pointed out that PSC/CryWolf claims it can boost that revenue to about $53,000 a year.

Couldn't the city do that itself through some better oversight, he asked.

That probably wouldn't be true, Alanis responded.

"It's just more efficient," he said. "We've had in the past problems where one individual keeps track of everything, working between the Police Department and Finance. We've had issues to where it just hasn't been managed properly. They (PSC/CryWolf) just have an efficient system to keep track of billings and who's supposed to pay and who's not supposed to pay, where are the payments supposed to come in."

Councilman Ralph Varela also had a question about revenue.

"The full total collections last year was about $26,000," he said. "If this company is indicating that it is going to increase that to be something that's profitable for what they're investing in infrastructure, is that increase based on what was left on the table in terms of not collecting for the previous year or are they anticipating that there's going to be more violations? How they get their investment back?"

Sandstrom responded that, "As Lt. Alanis stated, it's compliance, with their partnerships with the alarm companies, making sure that everybody that has an alarm actually gets registered. So it's the compliance piece. And then the very quick and accurate sending out of the bills, not just when the person gets around to it or when we get time for it. It's their priority to do it, so there's going to be a bidirectional feed right from our CAD system, our police officers put it in, it's going to go right to CryWolf and that's their number one priority. So it's their administrative efficiencies and the prioritization. And as you stated, it is money that we would have left right on the table, correct."

Councilman Karl Montoya agreed that efficiencies will increase revenue.

"I kind of brought the alarm system and the alarm ordinance to Casa Grande and I've dealt with the alarm association," he said. "How they're going to increase revenue is through their efficiencies. 

"This is old data, so don't hold me on it, but realistically one in six houses has an alarm, not everybody's paying. If you get into a system like CryWolf, which is with the ADTs and the other security companies, they're able to find out who has alarms, so then they'll be able to cross check with us and say maybe you don't have one, I pay, you aren't, so they're going to send you a letter and say you need to update your alarm. 

"That's how they'll be able to increase the revenue, just off subscriptions alone, because they'll be able to track a lot of that data through the other companies who report to them and say, look, these people, through ZIP codes and phone numbers, we'll be able to find out who has them, who's on line, who's not. This will go through the CryWolf data base and that alone will help increase by just subscriptions alone."

Customer service

"In talking to other police departments that do use CryWolf, they're very happy with it, even with the level of customer service that CryWolf provides to the citizens when they interact with the citizens," Vasquez said. "We would look at it very hard and if we got complaints that they were kind of stepping over the line, kind of like a collection agency, then we would step in and we would take corrective action, and put corrective measures. But every agency that we've talked to that uses it says that the customer service provided by CryWolf is very good and the citizens are real happy with it.


With the PSC/CryWolf contract, Vasquez said, the alarm coordinator in the Police Department is being transferred to Animal Control.

"We had a need, a bad need, in Animal Control," he said. "There's just so much going on with animals and everything, with the licensing in our Animal Control, we've shifted that over. We've shifted that position and reclassified it as animal control officer. So it's filling a huge need we have over on that side."

User education

Councilwoman Lisa Fitzgibbons said the PSC/CryWolf presentation "talks about the website, developing the website, but there wasn't a whole lot on here about educating the community. We know years before people never paid and they never got the bills, so they might think, oh, I'm getting these bills but they never paid attention before. I think it's really important of how we're going to educate the community and let them know that this is what's happening. I'm curious what you guys are doing with that?"

Alanis responded that an education effort has been discussed within the Police Department.

"We would like to go on City Scene and have Officer (Thomas) Anderson speak about this program, so we'll do that. We'll also use social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, so that's another source.

"This company will provide literature that we can mail out to the citizens here in Casa Grande so they can be aware of it. We can do that a couple of ways, just send that out to everybody or put it in the utility bill, something to that effect. That way we can make sure that everybody gets it."

Upgrading alarms

"If you haven't updated your alarm in the last 10 years — a lot of us haven't — the new equipment's a lot better, it's able to cut down on the false alarms," Montoya said.

"It's inexpensive, but just the new technology. Everybody knows where technology's gone, but just even that has helped so much in the alarm industry.

"Go in there and read that, and I think that's where one of their educational components will help us a lot, because it will kind of give you different ideas of what you can do and how can you update your house.

"It's just not the 'over TV,' install at $9.99, get a motion detector and two door alarms and a key pad. They'll be able to go through more and as technology goes, you know, you can get your video on your phone now, you can do a double-trip so if two alarms kick out it doesn't call the police but it can notify you through technology.

"If you haven't updated that may be one way, to go to your installers or your company and find out, hey, what can I update? It may help you." 

Things to know about city budget

It's a requirement
that only a state
bureaucrat could love ...

-- Scroll down

(Posted June 20, 2015)

The budget is found HERE

Casa Grande's city budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 is $175,261,200.

But that doesn't mean the city will be spending that much.

The balanced budget, based on various revenues that are either slowly increasing or flat, has several sections that are mandated holding funds or funds that are set aside for various projects, should they occur during the fiscal year.

Part of the budget, Finance Director Doug Sandstrom told the City Council the night the final budget was approved, "is made up of accumulated fund balances that are being spent down on one-time items. The fiscal year '16 budget utilizes $3.7 million in General Fund balance for one-time expenditures, specifically the CAD/RMS system and a catchup of the replacement fund for general governmental vehicles. And it does, once again, fully fund the $23.2 million required General Fund reserves."

The CAD/RMS system is a major project to upgrade the Police Department's computer systems, including computer-aided dispatch and the records management system.

Sandstrom pointed out that the proposed budget was $121 million, with the final budget at $175 million-plus.

"In the state of Arizona," he said, "the budget sets the maximum amount of money that the city can spend, regardless of the amount of revenue that comes in. 

"So for that reason, we plan for things, whether it be grants, capital projects, so on, that we know will not be happening within the course of the fiscal year but we include those in the budget. And that's why you will always see a situation where our actual expenditures are significantly less than what the adopted budget is.

"For fiscal year 2016 you can anticipate a similar occurrence at the end of the year where we will have actually spent approximately $100 million, with most of the rest of the items being in there for planning and contingency reserves for that budget authority."


Where does the budget money come from?

"The two largest sources are fund balance, which is savings, which is money we have earned and accrued in prior fiscal years, and the second is operating revenue, which totals 42 percent," Sandstrom said. "Operating revenue is $78.3 million. Where does that $78.3 million come from each year?

"Our number one source of revenue is our city sales tax. City sales tax totals about $19.8 million. 

"Enterprise fees makes up also about 25 percent of our total, followed by state-shared revenues at $18 million, or 23 percent of the total.

"Property tax is at 8 percent and makes up a relatively small portion of our overall budget. The state of Arizona is very highly sales tax oriented."

City sales tax income is projected to be $19.8 million. (An explanation is below.)

Where does the money go?

"Our number one place where we spend money is capital expenditures at 43 percent of our total budget, or about $52 million," Sandstrom said. "Personnel at 31 percent represents $37 million, followed by operational  costs at 18 percent, debt service at 8 percent. So personnel and capital make up 74 percent of our total $175 million budget."

Of that projected capital spending, Sandstrom continued, "the parks has the greatest one, the number one expenditure there is our recreation center at about $17.5 million, followed by wastewater with one project totaling $10 million, which is a (sewer) line going to the east side underneath I-10 over toward the PhoenixMart property as well as everything else on that side of town."

Again, the community recreation center amount may or may not be spent this coming fiscal year. The City Council still has not made a decision on moving ahead with the project.

Personnel costs make up a major part of the budget.

"Public safety (police and fire) makes up 44 percent of our total, followed by Public Works and Community Services," Sandstrom told the council, "personnel in the areas that are providing direct service to our residents.

"Overall, the budget includes 447 full-time equivalent positions, which is about the same as last year. It's an increase of about .02 percent, completely in part-time seasonal area.

"When we break it out from all funds and go to just the General Fund, which is more of our operating fund, public safety makes up 60 percent of our total budget, with police being 37 percent, fire 20 percent, court at 2 percent, and city attorney, including the prosecutor's office."

City sales tax

The sales tax statistics are always closely watched, following the ups and down both by year and by seasons, such as Christmas or during the times the city swells with winter visitors.

When the city was developing last year's budget, Sandstrom said, the sales tax trend was still downward, something that had been happening for eight years.

"Flash forward a year later," he continued, "the economy is definitely improving. That trend line is now going up. The last few months we have really been seeing some good activity on the operational and the retail side. Construction still is lagging down, but his month we had a very good month of construction (sales tax) because of some our larger projects that are getting underway. But overall our trend is increasing on the sales tax side and we're projecting that at $19.8 million.

"When we look at the retail sales portion, which is about 50 percent of the total of that $19.8 million, that trend line is definitely improving. We are about 7 percent ahead of where we were last year at this time on a month to month basis, and also total fiscal year to date. So that's through the month of April we're 7 percent higher that we were last year at this time.

"The Christmas that just passed was the highest sales tax collections ever in the history of the city. So the economy is definitely turning around. And when the city is collecting more on the retail sales portion that means generally that our population is doing better overall and our businesses are doing better, as well."

(A comparison of the unemployment rates in Casa Grande show 7.1 percent in December 2013, down from 9.7 that January. Average unemployment for 2013 was 8.9 percent. During December 2014 rate was 6.5 percent, down from 8.3 that January. The year's average was 7.5 percent.

(The conclusion drawn is that the more people working equals the more money being spent equals higher sales tax income.)

Property taxes

"The primary property taxes in the General Fund totaled $3.4 million," Sandstrom said, "and that is used for general governmental purposes. Secondary property tax is $2.1 million to retire debt service. The community facilities districts property taxes total just under $500,000.

"Our total tax rate remains constant this year at $1.63 per hundred dollars of assessed valuation (primary and secondary). The primary remains at 99.99 cents, or just under a dollar per hundred dollars of assessed valuation.

"Our assessed value for the city over the last six years has dropped 20 percent with the housing market  (assessed valuations dropping). This year we actually did experience an increase of 3.4 percent in our assessed valuation.

"That's a trend that we do expect to continue. The overall economy and housing is starting to recover."

Mayor Bob Jackson pointed out that the city legally could have a higher primary property tax rate than 99.99 cents adopted by the council, asking Sandstrom what that could be.

"We're at the 99.99," Sandstrom replied, "and we could go up as high as about $1.07 and that would increase an additional about $460,000 to that property tax levy."

A law that only a state bureaucrat could love

(Posted June 20, 2015)

The city's explanation of confusing law is HERE

It's a law understood (perhaps) by only the bureaucrats in the state capitol who conceived it.

It's the Truth in Taxation notice. 

To the man on the street, it more mumbo jumbo, seeming to say that Casa Grande is raising its property tax rate when in actuality the rate remains the same.

In Casa Grande's case, it's that in many cases assessed value of properties in the city have risen. That means that the city will take in more money, even though the basic tax rate is the same.

Every year, the state continues to require the confusing notice. Every year, the city has to post the confusing notice. Every year, it brings complaints and questions to City Hall — why are you raising my property tax rate? 

Finance Director Doug Sandstrom gave this explanation to the City Council:

"This year we actually did experience an increase of 3.4 percent in our assessed valuation," he said. "Because we did have an increase in that assessed valuation, maintaining our property rate at 99.99 cents causes us to collect more money even though that rate stays the same. 

"Because the assessed valuation it is applied against has went up, we have to have Truth in Taxation notice and hearing. 

"Under Arizona state law ARS 4317.107 any time the primary property tax levy increases from the prior year after it's adjusted for new construction we have to hold a Truth in Taxation hearing."

What it all means, Sandstrom said, it that "our current primary property tax levy, the amount we issue this fiscal year, was up $3.2 million. Growth in that levy from new construction totaled $79,000 and then growth in the levy from the existing property, people's home values, have went up, commercial values have went up, it is $32,000 of that increase, which equals our proposed levy for next fiscal year of $3.3 million.

"So even though the primary rate remains constant, under Truth in Taxation that represents an increase of .0008 cents per hundred dollars of assessed valuation."

City taxes only a small part of total county bill

(Posted June 20, 2015)

Each year, Casa Grande keeps its primary property tax at 99.99 cents per hundred dollars of assessed valuation and 63.08 per hundred in the secondary property tax, a total of $1.6307.

And each year when the property tax notices are received from the county, people call City Hall wanting to know why their bill is so high.

The answer is that those county bills take in all taxing agencies in Pinal County, not just Casa Grande.

"Overall, on property tax the city makes up a relatively small portion of the total property tax bill that our residents see, approximately 11 percent for both the primary and secondary," Finance Director Doug Sandstrom told the City Council during budget discussions.

He pointed out that school taxes make up about 55 percent of that county bill, followed by county taxes of about 30 percent and miscellaneous taxes at about 3 percent.

Why utilities rates are rising


The City Council chose lesser rates of $1 for sewer and $2 for trash during the June 15 meeting. Story, charts under NEWS.

(Posted June 7, 2015)

Public hearings on the proposed sewer, trash and city water company rate increases will be held during the June 15 City Council meeting. The meeting, open to the pubic, begins at 7 p.m. in the council chambers at City Hall, 510 E. Florence Blvd.

After the public hearings, the council has the options of accepting the increases, modifying the amounts or rejecting them completely.

The wastewater rates study is HERE

Sewer and trash collection services in Casa Grande are part of what is known as enterprise funds, meaning they are supposed to pay their own way.

"All the revenue that is raised from user fees goes back into providing that service and stays with that service," Finance Director Doug Sandstrom told the City Council during a study session outlining reasons for the proposed rate increases for trash collection and sewer (commonly known by the more genteel "wastewater").

"The fees are supposed to cover the entire cost of providing the service and dedicated to providing the service. Sanitation revenue only goes to sanitation, wastewater only goes to wastewater."

The proposed increases in sewer rates are tied to operating expenses and paying back debt for expansions of the sewage treatment plant and equipment upgrades. Those expansions basically began when the city was in a residential building boom. That has slacked off, but it has been pointed out that the expanded capacity has been credited with bringing some major industries — and jobs — to the city.

Trash collection increases involve expenses, including a fund to eventually close the city landfill, and the desire to have a dedicated equipment replacement fund.

(Those separate operational/replacement funds proposals are something to be considered by the council. If they were rejected, rates could come down.)

Under the proposals, the residential sewer fee would increase by $3 per month, going to $34.45.  The residential sanitation would increase by $3.50, going up to $23.50, for a combined total of $57.95.

(As a side note, Maricopa has the highest monthly combined sewer and trash rate of area cities, $122.)

Sewer rate increases are also proposed for commercial and industrial accounts.

It was pointed out that by just glancing at the proposed rates it seems that commercial accounts, rising from $15.92 to $18, are a lesser increase, putting the burden on other rate payers.

That's not the case, Sandstrom told the council.

"Commercial fees are actually increasing at a higher percentage than the residential fees," he said. "Residential is under 10 percent while the commercial fees are around 12 to 13 percent, depending upon which one we're looking at.

"And that's something that has came up a lot in some of the questions that we're getting from residents is when you look at the base rate of commercial being $18 a lot of the customers want to know why isn't commercial paying its fair share.

"The commercial base rate is a very small portion of what our commercial customers pay. 

"We have currently 15,100 residential customers, 797 commercial customers, so residential makes up 95 percent of our customer base.

"However, when we look at the revenues generated, commercial generates 31 percent of the total revenue.

"And it's because of that consumption charge. The more water (eventually going into the sewer system) that a commercial uses, the more of an impact they're going to have on the system and the more they're going to pay into it.

"So even though that base rate is fairly low when compared to a residential base rate, they pay a lot more on the consumption side for commercial."

The city's projected overall growth rate over the five years of the forecast will be relatively stagnant at 1.52 percent, the forecast shows, meaning fewer costumers to share the wastewater treatment expenses.

"On commercial consumption, we do project a 5 percent increase," Sandstrom said. "Any additional commercial customers we get really has a good, dramatic impact on our revenue projections."

The wastewater fund has a projection of personnel and operational costs going up about 5 percent, the historical average.

"We have fixed capital at $1 million annually," Sandstrom said. "Some years it's going to be higher than that, some years it's going to be less than that. But for the sake of the modeling, we have that $1 million annually.

"And debt service is set. We're not going to be issuing any additional debt service, but we've taken our debt service schedules and put that in the forecast.

"With development impact fees, we're assuming that those are going to be flat. When we originally issued the debt for the treatment plant we had planned on $1.5 million to $2 million or so of development impact fee revenue coming in (yearly) to pay for this. We're actually getting about $225,000. That's more than we got last year, which is good, but we're projecting that to be flat.

"Everything else when it comes to the expenditures then has to be paid for by user fees."


"On the expenditure side when we look at wastewater, the two biggest areas that are driving that is our existing debt service," Sandstrom said.

"That's going to increase over the next couple of years. Based on the way our debt schedules are we're currently paying about $5.6 million a year. That's going to go up to about $6.3 million a year over the next couple of years and then it is coming down a little bit after that.

"After the debt, the number one reason for the proposed rates are vehicle replacement reserves, the (state) Water Infrastructure Financing Authority debt reserve and a proposed operational reserve, putting reserve money on hand in the bank for different purposes.

"The WIFA debt reserve is approximately $4.6 million. That is something that the city is contractually obligated to do. It represents one year of debt service. So we are contractually obligated to have $4.6 million in the bank in the wastewater fund for that."

Although total debt repayments for the wastewater treatment expansions and improvements will go up to about $6 million a year, that does not include the WIFA reserve.

"The reserve requirement does not go up, because the WIFA debt is split into two separate debt issues," Sandstrom said. "One that's funded, in fact, by the development impact fees, one that's funded and developed by excise taxes, the sales tax. We only have to have a reserve on one portion of it. $4.6 million is the maximum."

Trash collection

"When we go to sanitation side, we see the same drivers being there in a replacement reserve," Sandstrom said. "Basically, having cash in the bank to make sure that we can replace our vehicles, as well as equipment, that we're putting aside money every year so that we don't have big, huge years.

"One of the things that we see in our five-year forecast is we average sanitation replacements of about $800,000 each year in vehicles. In the sixth year, just out of our five-year forecast, that jumps up to $2.8 million and then $2.8 million the next year and then it comes down.

"That's why in the forecast you do see an accumulation of funds and it's because just outside our five-year forecast there are a large expenditure of replacement of trucks in our sanitation service."

As an example of replacement costs, Sandstrom said, "the sanitation trucks you see up and down the roads, they're $280,000 to $300,000 each and other costs go all the way through the landfill compactor. We just recently had our compactor rebuilt. Brand new, it's $1.2 million. We had it rebuilt for $600,000, so half that. I believe it has one more rebuild left."

There are also costs that will arise when the city landfill is finally full and has to be closed. Those costs include looking after the site for 30 years after it is closed.

"There's the landfill closure reserve," Sandstrom said. "That's something that's a federal requirement. When you have a landfill you have to start setting aside money each year for when the landfill's full and what we have to do to close it. We're setting aside money ($135,000 a year) with the anticipation that we've got 17 years left on the landfill. That's something that we're going to evaluate to see how much time we have, be able to possibly adjust that reserve down."

Reserve funds

The landfill closure and WIFE holding account are the only two legally required reserve funds.

The proposals for vehicle replacement and operational funds are a decision to be made by the City Council.

If the vehicle and operational ideas was removed, over a five-year period enough money would still be collected to keep the funds solvent, although at a much lower amount.

"And what we would have for rates on that," Sandstrom said, "instead of a $3 increase it would be a $1 increase on the wastewater side. It would be $1.50 each year after that, as opposed to the $3 and $2.75 and so on. So it really does take that rate increase down on the residential side.

"On the commercial side, it takes us from the increase of 35 cents per thousand gallons of consumption and drops that down to 25 cents. So it drops it down a little bit, it still does take and transfers a little bit of the cost both from the residential side over to the commercial side, but that again is based on the impact to the system, as well. 

"To jump over to the sanitation side, we would do the exact same thing. 

"And then what we're looking at as rates, the original proposal is $3.50, $3.20, $1.50 and $1. This would drop that down to $2, $2, $1.75 by 2018.

"Looking at the two of those combined, that would be sanitation going from the current $20 up to $22. Wastewater going from $31.45 up to $32.45 for a monthly bill of $54.45."

City water system

The water rates study is HERE

The proposed rate increases are HERE

The first thing to know about the city's proposed increase in its water rates is that the majority of Casa Grande residents are not affected.

It's a small water company on the west side of the city, purchased years ago at about the time the ill fated Copper Mountain Ranch megaproject northwest of Pinal Avenue was being ballyhooed. According the the announcement of proposed rate increases, the operation covers Santa Rosa Ranch, Santa Rose III and Saddleback Farms.

It was pointed out that most of the customers are not within the city limits.

Almost all water customers in Casa Grande are served by Arizona Water Co., a private operation not controlled by the city.

The city is proposing 10 percent increases on the 277 accounts in its water company, about the same as last year's adjustment.

"The overall cost drivers that are leading to this increase is the nitrate that is in the water and our need for nitrate removal," Sandstrom told the council.

"We're going to have to spend about $250,000 on capital to get that nitrate removal system in place and that's going to have a tremendous increase on our operational costs, which leads us to the proposed increases.

"The nitrate problem was existing when we purchased the water system. We were keeping below the level and now are above the levels that we do have to do treatment of it based on a directive from the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality.

"Overall, we're forecasting that our customer base is going to be flat and that we're going have those continued capital and operational costs, especially with nitrates, until the time that we are able to sell this water system."

Flat is perhaps an understatement.

"We have 277 customers," Sandstrom said, "and that has fluctuated from 276 to 278 over the last five years. Not a lot of growth."

Mayor Bob Jackson said the geographical area of the city water company is "north of Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway for the most part, west of Russell Road to Anderson Road, and then there's a second component that is south of Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway about half a mile south on the west side of Anderson Road."

Fitness companies reps oppose rec center

(Posted May 19, 2015)

Representatives from local fitness centers appeared before the City Council during Monday night's meeting to complain that the proposed city community recreation center would be unfair government competition with private industry.
You can view their appearance by clicking on Item H Public Comments section at

Mayor: Progress on rec center

Mayor Bob Jackson, left

(Posted May 15, 2015)

The City Council should get the updated recommendations on operating a community center within the next 30 days or so, Mayor Bob Jackson told the Greater Casa Grande Chamber of Commerce Business Outlook luncheon Friday at The Property Conference Center.

"There's been a lot of stuff in the press lately about the community center," Jackson said.

"It was voter approved (November 2006) as part of multi-pronged bond issue that included our Public Safety Facility, Fire Station 504, some improvements to the golf course, the library.

"Always it was intended that the community center would be the last thing we did. About five years ago, the Gilbert family, who used to own the mile between Peart, Cottonwood, Trekell and Kortsen, donated 10 acres for us to put it on."

The problem, Jackson continued, was that community centers are "a money pit." 

"And so we felt like we had to come up with some mechanism to be able to make sure that we could keep the doors open if we built it. 

"The first thing we did was we went out and talked to a nonprofit, happened to be a YMCA (Valley of the Sun), to see if we could do a joint venture with them. We were ready to sign the agreement with them and unfortunately they had some internal problems, had to pull out of the deal."

After that, Jackson said, "We went back and retrenched and we went to our parks and recreation staff and we said show us how you can do this without costing the city any more money than the parks and rec programs cost us today. We pay for a parks department, we pay for recreation programs, the Teen Center, Dorothy Powell center.

"Several months later, they were able to come back and we have a plan now that shows how we can run that community center as a city operation and cost the taxpayers no more than it costs today to run the same programs. Much of it is consolidation of the programs into a single building.

"Our plan right now is we've got an architect and a contractor already on board. We've asked them to do some preliminary conceptual work so the City Council can see what it is that they think we can build with the money ($16 million bond issue) that we have and we can operate with.

"I expect to see that come to the council within the next 30 days or so and hopefully it will no longer be a news item but will be an item that says we're moving forward with that.

"That's been the hangup. 

"Right, wrong or indifferent, we're trying to be very careful with the public's money and that's kind of where we are."


One fear is Grande Sports World has become a money pit

(Posted May 10, 2015)

Scroll down for story on where community center discussions stand

The city's description of Grande Sports World is HERE.

Grande Sports World's own description is HERE.

The operational proposal for a recreation center is HERE.

The sheet showing losses in rent payments is HERE.

Another financial sheet is HERE.

Budget stats are HERE.

Fear of the Casa Grande Performance Institute, or Grande Sports World, becoming a continuing money pit is apparently one reason for reluctance of the City Council to go ahead with construction of a community recreation center.

The money to build the center is there, approved by voters in 2006, but a continuing reluctance has been how to 

come up with the money for its yearly operation.

Looking back at how many years the city subsidized the money losing golf course, the council was hesitant to put another subsidy onto the taxpayers.

(The golf course, under a professional management contract, turned a profit last year.)

That leaves Grade Sports World, which was projected to make far more than enough money to pay off the bond amounts to build it. 

The initial ballyhoo was that the $20-million project next to Francisco Grande hotel, would be home to the United Football League and other organizations. The deal with the UFL, already in trouble at the time, fell through, morphing the operation into Grande Sports World/Performance Institute, opened in 2010.

According to a summary handed out during the May 6 Parks and Recreation Board meeting, the projected rent payments by Grande Sports World/Performance Institute between fiscal years 2011 and 2014 should have been 


The actual payments were $433,228.

That's $1,812,772 in the hole.

That leaves the city having to cover most of the operational costs.

For the 2015 fiscal year, the city stats show transfer of $1,085,500 from the General Fund and $500,000 from the 2 percent sales tax for recreation. The recreation tax has been used for bond repayment.

Community Services Director Bill Schwind told the board that his department had made a presentation to the City Council on the proposed recreation center, including operational costs. The council wanted to see some additional information about the building, which was put together for a later presentation, he said.

"Another subject that came up during the process as we move forward into the budget," Schwind said, "was that the council asked us to provide some information on the overall operational expenditures and cost recovery relative to the Grande Sports World to see how much subsidy was being required out there. That was presented at the budget meeting last Friday by our finance director and deputy city manager."

A summary sheet was handed out to the board.

"If you've never seen the original pro forma from the Grand Sports World," Schwind said, "it was designed and built on a package that it was for an upcoming football program (UFL) as well as tennis and some other sports that were being proposed out there from an operational perspective, and over the course of time that obviously didn't transpire. The pro forma was never really adjusted to reflect that, and so the numbers that were being projected from a revenue perspective from there they're not seeing.

"The way the contract was written is that their rent payment is 7 percent of the revenue that they were going to generate and that was going to help offset debt payment and operational costs that it takes to run that facility.

"With their revenue coming in less than projected, it affects that 7 percent, so the numbers that we are receiving on an annual basis are much lower.

"So basically, in essence, they were supposed to be getting a million a year. We're not reaching that. At the end of 10 years they owe us $10 million. And they've got the (Francisco Grande) hotel up as collateral."

The agreement for the hotel as collateral ends in 2020.

Board member Garrett Powell asked, "What is our subsidy that we're paying? I think it's important to know that."

It's basically the $500,000 yearly for debt payment plus the difference between projected rent payments and the actual amount received, Schwind replied.

"The Performance Institute, or the Grande Sports World, however you want to say it, it is what it is," he continued. "It was an agreement that was done awhile ago and this is kind of like the outcome of where we are today.

"They are responsible for making up the difference, but they have a few years to catch up and a lot of money to catch up, based on this current pro forma.

"They talked about bringing a golf institute in, which would generate a sizable amount of money. I'm not sure where that is. I know (Nick) Faldo was involved for a little while but I think he withdrew and I think they're trying to get some folks involved as far as that goes.

"I can't really speak as to what their economic development proposal for a long range plan is. 

"And so that's where we are at.

"There's a lot of ways to look at this thing, but unfortunately the General Fund is having to deal with this issue."

Board member Donna McBride said her perspective is that the average person doesn't know about the separate issues involved.

"We have people in our community that are asking, we passed this (rec center) bond and where's this facility we're waiting on?" she said. "And then you have funding issues like this.

"They're looking at it, well, of course, because they spent too much money on this (Grande Sports World) and now it's falling apart.

"And that's not the city's fault as far as the image, but I think something needs to be done so that it doesn't bring your department down. Because it does."

Powell said questions he hears include "how much more are we willing (to pay), what are we paying out here already, what are we going to be paying for the new rec center, what are we paying for the Francisco Grande facility.

"And the Francisco Grande facility, I know I've people say -- and quite a few people -- that's a lot of money that we've spent. Think about all the things we could have done to the local parks system for the amount of money that we've spent for something all the way out by Stanfield."

McBride basically agreed.

"The people that I'm talking to look at it as all the money was put into this and now even though we wanted this (rec center) they're saying there's not money to do that," she said.

"We know that there's money set aside for this, but some citizens don't. All they know is it's not there."

Schwind said, "Where we sit today, obviously, is the city's proposing a balanced budget. This deficit and this underwriting of this current operation that's going on out there is accounted for.

"The problem we face is we do have the $16 million available to build a rec center. It's the operational side that the council is a little bit scared of."

Schwind told the board that the proposal his department put together included moving the city recreation staff to the center once it is built. There would be no additional cost or subsidy from the General Fund, he added.

"Now, it's one thing to say that," he added, "because I think five or six or seven years ago they probably said the same thing about this (Grande Sports World).

"So I don't know if there's a trust factor or a 'what-if' factor. There's no guarantee that we are going to bring in the amount of memberships and daily users and classes and programs that we are projecting to offer at the rec center.

"We were very, very conservative in what we're presenting, and presented, and so really we've taking some good operational models that exist in the world today.

"We looked at the Apache Junction, Chandler, Glendale, Phoenix, Boys and Girls Clubs, Salvation Army facilities and really have refined their operational costs, their staffing costs, their programming, things that they do to kind of see what they're really averaging as far as bringing in, as far as people goes, and that kind of thing.

"But, again, this is a unique environment, as every community is, and so if we hit our mark, terrific; if we don't hit our mark, then what?

"And I think that's the question that council wants answered is the 'then what?'

"Are there fallback measures currently? Yeah, I think we've got a bed tax fund that generates about 500 grand a year that is dedicated for youth services that the General Fund is currently using. That could be dedicated to potential subsidy to help this (rec center) building along.

"But, quite frankly, I think we're standing on a position that we think that the pro forma that we've put together is fairly solid. I don't we're really too far off as far as making our mark.

"And so really it's going to come down to a little bit of political wherewithal and some direction from the City Council as to whether to move forward or not.

"There's a lot of ways to look at this (Grande Sports World), but I think it should be looked at completely separate from a rec center.

"We can talk about this until 'til the cows come home, but there are ways to fix this problem, just like we fixed the golf course."

Powell said that the sheet showing a rent deficit so far of $1.8 million is "a huge problem, let's be honest. That's a lot of money that we're subsidizing, that's an unbelievable problem."

There's another way the situation could be looked at, Schwind replied.

"Just for the sake of understanding," he said, "we as a department need recreational space, right? Fields, rec centers and that type of thing.

"If (the city) were to get a new park somewhere, anywhere, that had six fields on it, playing space for six fields (as are at Grande Sports World), it would cost us money to build and to buy the bond for that project and it would also cost us money to operate, right?

"If you look at it from a parks perspective, we really have six new soccer fields (at Grande Sports World) that we could call our own and if we went out there and built that a year or so ago, that $500,000 payment that is being made on debt retirement we would have that anyway.

"And the operational cost, however many people to maintain six ball fields to that level, pay the lighting bill fertilizer and everything associated with taking care of six new fields, there would be a cost to that, as well."

As Powell saw it, "I absolutely understand what you're saying, we can do all these wonderful things we're talking about, but we can do them here in town where people can get to them.

"Now, if we're being honest, too, how much of the year are actually Casa Grande residents using that facility? It's probably three months."

The use is not enough, Schwind said, "but it is our job to steer them out that way and we're trying to do that with the football groups and that type of thing. They are terrific facilities to use.

"Now, what I would recommend personally is take a look at the delta of what's not needed? Did we need that building? No. Should the Grande Sports World be 100 percent responsible for that building? Absolutely."

That is the 58,000-square-foot main building at the complex, which Schwind said is basically a training center, having classrooms, training rooms, exercise equipment, locker room on each corner. The number of locker rooms is because original projections for the United Football League said room for four teams was needed.

McBride agreed with Powell that the whole thing involves a lot of money.

"And," she continued, "I agree that, yes, if we had to build those six fields and all that money, but the fact is we didn't. The fact is we have another agreement with them. And the fact is there's money that's owed. That's the bottom line. As a citizen if we did that, we'd been foreclosed on."

Schwind replied, "You're exactly right. And it is playing into this department trying to get a community center built."

Powell said, "Which isn't fair at all. It isn't fair to you guys if you guys make that decision, but as a taxpayer if you're looking at it, you're like, wow, we're already subsidizing this facility out there, how much more?

"I know you put a great plan together to make people at ease that they're not going to have subsidize a whole other facility for a large amount of money, too. I think that's what would scare people. As a conservative, financially, it would scare me. I'm concerned. It's a lot of money."

Where discussion of community center now stands

(Posted May 11, 2015)

Preliminary discussions about a community recreation center plan are moving ahead, Community Services Director Bill Schwind told the Parks and Recreation Board.

During the May 6 meeting he pointed out that the board had earlier seen the department's proposals.

"We then were looking at a work/study session that was going to be presented to the City Council," Schwind said.

"Then we were asked that we basically respond to some information relative to some issues that were in that presentation when it came to, I want to say, elevation, that the City Council wanted to see a little bit more work done on the specifics of a floor plan, as well as the site plan on how how it sits, some elevated views on what that thing might sit like and look like on the property that is dedicated for the location of this building.

"So we then went to our consultant and talked to them about some programming and some preconstruction services, i.e. to get that handle.

"We do have a proposal back from them that will address that. It's a $155,000 project that deals with all of the preconstruction services needed relative to getting this facility built. 

"And we have a meeting with the Haydon construction group next week (week of 11 May) to basically strategize on getting this in front of council and see if we can get this approved."

AZ Water outlines CAP use plan

(Posted April 27, 2015)

You'll find the presentation, with charts and timelines, HERE.

It was pretty much a no-brainer when Arizona Water Co. was deciding how to best use its Central Arizona Project water allocation:

Spend $104 million for a treatment plant or spend less than $6 million for a recharge/recovery facility.

The company opted for the later, President Bill Garfield told the City Council during a study session on April 20.

Arizona Water had earlier signed a contract with the federal Bureau of Reclamation for 10,884 acre-feet of water, of which 8,884 would be for the Casa Grande service area, the rest for the Coolidge area.

"Our initial plan to use our CAP water was to construct a surface water treatment plant," Garfield said. "We actually purchased the 66-acre site in 2005 (just west of the CAP canal north of the Storey Road alignment) that we were going to use to built the plant. The following year, 2006, we conducted a CAP use plan, how we could use our CAP water.

"The plan recommended constructing a 10-million-gallon-per-day treatment plant. At that time, before we had substantial engineering drawings and engineering designs, the estimate of cost ranged from $34 million to $66 million, pretty big numbers.

"Hang on, they get bigger.

"After we did the preliminary engineering working with, I believe it was Corolla Engineering, we came up with  the water standards that we would have to comply with. At that time, the price estimate raised to $104 million.

"I picked myself up off the floor after having a near heart attack on that."

Garfield said the company realized that at that cost, along with the difficulty of raising that much money and the impact it would have on customer bills, there needed to be an alternative use plan.

"In 2013," he continued, "we began planning using our CAP water for recharge/recovery. We started to explore the possibility of repurposing our 66-acre site as an underground storage facility.

"The initial evaluation determined that the recharge site could recharge 12,000 acre-feet per year, just slightly more than we have total in our allocation.

"The total cost was estimated to be $5,763,000. That was a lot more palatable to us than $100 million for a treatment plant."

Garfield said the company bored holes to determine if the geology would allow for efficient recharge, some of which went 150 feet down to the water table allowing analysis of the water quality.

When the plant begins operation next year, he continued, there will be five recharge basins, each less than 10 acres. A supply line would run from the CAP canal to the site and then to each basin.

Garfield said the need to get ahead water use in the area is shown by history.

In 2005, he said, about 2 percent of the available supply was going for municipal uses, or for Casa Grande, Coolidge, Eloy and Florence.

Industrial use was at about 1 percent and Indian communities were taking about 6 percent.

Non Indian agriculture was the giant user, sucking up about 91 percent.

That was before CAP water became available and was from underground pumping and some from the Gila River  system.

Garfield said the Arizona Department of Water Resources has released water use projections for 2025 for the Pinal Active Management Area, which covers this part of the state.

Under those projections, industrial use such as Abbott Labs and Frito Lay would increase to about 3 percent, municipal would rise to about 12 percent, Indian communities would go up to about 19 percent. Agriculture's use, mainly because of increasing development and urbanization, would fall to about 66 percent.

"What it doesn't show," Garfield said, "is what's going to be the total water use. It's projected to go up some because there's going to be growth in areas that aren't currently being served. The Indian communities will increase their use of water, they need more access to supply through the Indian settlement of 2004. It's not unexpected that they would actually put the water to use."

Before CAP water became available, Garfield said, groundwater was 74 percent of the supply, the rest primarily from the Gila River.

During the period from 2000-2009, he said, groundwater use declined to 46 percent, mostly a result of the CAP supplies.

Today, Garfield continued, groundwater and CAP supplies are even, at 46 percent of use.

If that's the case, what's the urgency to be bringing in more CAP water and storing it underground?

"Well, first off," Garfield said, "mining of groundwater is not really a viable long term solution in an area that relied primarily on groundwater for many years. The state regulations now require the use of renewable water supplies."

During 2014, he said, Arizona Water provided just above 18,000 acre-feet of water, 90 percent of which was from groundwater.

In 2017, Garfield continued, the pool of water available for agricultural use will be cut by 100,000 acre-feet in the Pinal AMA, 75 percent of that in this area. Agricultural-priced water might not continue after 2030, he added, saying, "the deal was cut way back when for making that water available on a cost basis, but there's no certainty after 2030 that that water will be available for agriculture.

Garfield said Arizona Water's recharge/recovery plan will reduce the company's groundwater pumping by more than 50 percent

"Initially, we plan to recover our stored water from 41 existing service area wells that have been permitted as recovery wells," he said. "As time goes on, we'll permit every well as a recovery well so we can use them for the most advantage, whether it's location, groundwater levels or water quality. By 2020, we plan to fully use our CAP water allocation."

In the interim before the recharge/recovery facility is built, Garfield said, the company will store its unused CAP allocation with local irrigation and drainage districts.

Some untreated CAP water has been sent to SRP's Desert Basin power plant in Casa Grande, to the Francisco Grande golf course and to the city's sports complex just east of Francisco Grande.

Garfield said Arizona Water will continue to work closely with Casa Grande to plan for future water supplies.

"This is not the end of where we have to be in providing supplies for our service areas to meet our customers' needs," he said.

"This is just really the first of many planning activities and ways that we're going to have to reach out and get as much renewable supply as we can.

"In light of the drought and the potential for shortage going forward it's really critical for us at this time to bring as much water into storage as possible to prepare for that possibility."

Raul Castro's words for young Hispanics -- it's all up to you ...

Raul Castro in 2006.

Photo by Ed Honda, Sierra Vista Herald

(Posted April 10, 2015)

The news today, of course, has been about the death this morning at age 98 of Raul Castro, Arizona's first Hispanic governor, tracing his background and rise in life.

Mention was made of his upbringing in a poor family, followed by his rise in life.

No real mention was made of how that rise came about.

In March 1995, when he was a reporter at the Nogales (Ariz.) International newspaper, the owner of CG News sat down with Castro at his Nogales home for wide-ranging interviews.

Much of the conversation was about border politics and problems, but among his many words was a message to young Hispanics, a path for their own success.

This is the story from the Nogales paper 20 years ago:


Raul Castro, Arizona’s first Hispanic governor, credits his rise in life to two things -- education and a mastery of the English language.

In addition to governor, he’s been a county attorney, judge, banker, U.S. ambassador to Bolivia, El Salvador and Argentina, “and you name it.”

He’s also been dirt poor, born in 1916 to a large family in Cananea, Mexico.

“I grew up in Douglas, the south side,” Castro recalled as he was preparing to fly to Argentina to argue an oil lawsuit. “I was a poor Mexican kid on the south side of the tracks who wouldn’t be invited to a dog fight if I knew both dogs.

“I was just a damned Mexican kid on the other end of town and nobody wanted any part of me. It was a struggle.”

Castro, who has both his home and a law office on Crawford Street, remembers that, “I was just a turd. Hell, I couldn’t swim in a swimming pool in Douglas. They told me very clearly. 

“I went to the YMCA -- we were high school kids, the football team, and I was their quarterback.

“As I started to go join them to go swimming, they closed the door with a buzzer on the desk.

“ ‘Castro, you can’t go in there. You can always swim on Saturdays, that’s when they clean out the pool.’

“I looked up at that YMCA sign, Young Men’s Christian Association, and I said ‘What the hell’s Christian about it!’ ”

At that moment, he said, “I got determined that something’s gotta change; you can’t let that go on forever.

“And my philosophy changed to the point that I felt the only way you can succeed is to be part of the establishment. Don’t be on the outside; on the outside, you’re breaking windows, you’re screaming and hollering, nobody listens to you.

“If you’re part of the establishment, then you infiltrate and then you set policy.

“Eventually, I became a member of the board of directors of the YMCA in Tucson, so my dream came true.”

That drive to get the best pushed him to finish his higher education in the United States, rather than in Mexico.

“I went to the University of Mexico for awhile,” he said, “and I’d go to the classroom and I’d see a sign on the door saying today we don’t have classes, we demonstrate.

“That meant you burn street cars, you burn cars and raise hell and scream.

“I was working at a restaurant to pay my tuition, I didn’t have any money, and I thought what the hell am I doing here, what education and I going to get here? These guys are on strike three times a week, they never go to class. What kind of a lawyer am I going to be, a lawyer to burn street cars?”

Turning back to grim days in Douglas, he said he had a problem that was worse than “a future as a pick-and-shovel guy.”

His English was atrocious.

“I remember in Douglas giving a speech when I graduated from school and I would say ‘weesh waan’ and ‘thees waan’ and ‘he had three sheeps,’ and I got very embarrassed.

“And, whose job was it to improve? Was it somebody else’s? No, it’s my job. It was up to me to improve with the English language to make my point, as I did with the Spanish language.”

He said he remembered that “when my family crossed the border at Naco -- my father, my mother and 14 kids -- the immigration guy was there and do you know what he said?

“ ‘Castro family, you’re now in America. It’s up to you.’

“And, it was. Congress didn’t pass any bills to pay our expenses to come to this country, they didn’t give us a Social Security card, they didn’t give us three meals a day or take care of us.

“ ‘You’re in America. It’s up to you.’ I liked that, I bought that answer.”

He mastered English, he says, haunting the libraries, because he knew only he could do it.

“I’d think, when I go to court as an attorney what am I going to tell the jury? ‘Members of the jury, please forgive me. I came from Mexico, I don’t speak the English language well, so please feel sorry for me’?

“No, sir! It’s not the name of the game. 

“Nobody gave me a goddamned thing; nobody gave me 5 cents for my education. I earned and worked, but I had the opportunity.”

Many Hispanics today refuse to take their own opportunity, he feels, blaming everyone but themselves.

“I was always very critical about Nogales kids with those tremendous accents. There’s never been an effort to try (to speak better).

“I tell them, you’ve got to be competitive. How the hell are you going to compete in life if you don’t know the English language?

“Spanish is beautiful, I love Spanish, it’s my native language, I adore it -- but I make my living out of English. And that’s what you’ve got to do. This is the United States.”

He recalls seeing that no-try attitude when he lectured at both Harvard and Stanford. 

“The biggest dream I ever had was to go to Harvard, to be a student there. I could never do it because they had limits; nobody could go to Harvard if you’re a Mexican, in my day, in that age, or at least very few.

“But, they came to have their quota system after a while and I used to go lecture to those people who were in that quota system.

“I was lecturing at Stanford to the law school and business administration and there were about four rows of Hispanic kids, mostly Mexican kids. They wore huaraches, had on medals and the jackets and what have you -- and they were quite hostile towards me.

“They said, you’re not one of us, Mr. Castro. I asked them why. Because you don’t understand our problems. Why don’t I understand your problems, I asked back.

“They said they had seen my biographical sheet before the lecture and it showed I had been a county attorney, I had been a judge, I had been an ambassador, I had been a banker, you name it.

“Yes, they said, so how could I understand their problems?

“I told them, do you think that when I came to this country from Mexico, that I was born a governor, I was born a judge, I was born a diplomat? Are you kidding? I couldn’t even swim in the Douglas pool. You don’t have those problems now; I’m one of the guys who made it better for you.”

He said he hit them hard about the English language.

“I told them the difficulty I find with you people, you guys, is number one, your English is atrocious. You don’t master the English language -- and your Spanish is worse.

“You’re sitting here asking me to talk to you in Chicano. There is no Chicano language! There is a Spanish language, which is my native language, the language I spoke all my life. And I have an idea I speak better Spanish than any of you here, because that’s my native language.

“And, so because you can’t articulate in Spanish, you can’t articulate in English, you’re frustrated. And then if you flunk or fail something you blame others, saying it’s because I’m Hispanic or I’m Latin American; it’s discrimination because I flunked the bar or something.

“I used to hear that all the time, ‘I flunked the bar because of discrimination.’ ”

Castro said it is also popular among Hispanics to claim that tests or advancement exams are biased because they are geared to the middle class and above.

“That may be true to some extent,” he said. “So that means that you have got to measure up.

“It’s a competitive game, you compete with somebody else. It’s up to you to compete and beat them if you’re ever going to compete with them.

“Learn the English language! Excel!

“If you don’t do that, then you are inferior to somebody else and whatever you get, you got because you weren’t competent to do the job.

“Therefore, this is what’s got to be done: Don’t lower the standards, meet the standards; qualify with the standards.

“After that happens, what the hell, the world is yours!”

The message to Cesar Chavez scholarship winners:


To illustrate his point of act on what you want, Chris Zapata waves a $50 bill. "Who wants it?" he asked. At first, there was silence from Chavez scholarship winners, then Jerry Orozco, at left, of Vista Grande High School claimed the bill.

(Posted March 8, 2015)

Just because you're from a small community doesn't mean you're limited, that you can't achieve your dreams, winners of the Cesar Chavez memorial scholarships were told.

That message from Chris Zapata, city manager of San Leandro, Calif., and raised in Eloy, Ariz., was: Yes, you can.

But it means that if you want something, act on it, seize the opportunity.

Speaking during the 9th Annual Cesar E. Chaves Celebration Dinner the night of March 6 at The Property Conference Center, Zapata illustrated his point by waving a $50 bill.

"Who wants it?" he asked. "The message is, go get it, you've got to work for it."

There was initial silence from the audience, none of the Chavez scholarship winners making a move.

Finally, Jerry Orozco of Vista Grande High School came forward to claim the bill.

"Now we have the attention of the young people," Zapata said. 

Zapata, who has been city manager in both Eloy and Superior, Ariz., said he wanted to talk about connections, something he read about in a book about Chavez.

"Who knows where Picacho is?" he asked. "Who knows where San Diego is? Who knows where San Leandro is? And who knows where San Francisco is? That's part of my history and I want to talk a little bit about that.

"I was born in Arizona, born in Casa Grande. One of the things that I always remember being very proud of was being a part of Pinal County.

"I want to talk about Pinal County and hope I connect with people in this room, the folks from Sacaton, the folks from Mammoth, the folks from Maricopa-Stanfield, Eloy, Florence, Coolidge, Casa Grande, Red Rock and all these places."

Zapata recounted the working conditions of those in the fields, the mud, the heat, the cold.

"And so when I think about Cesar Chavez, I think about the impact he had on the conditions that people faced.

He did that in an outstanding way."

Zapata said that as he read the book about Chavez, "I was really astounded by Dolores Huerta's role in the whole farmworkers movement, the things she did. And when I think about that, I connect, because I'm a father of a strong woman, I have a strong mother."

Find out more about Dolores Huerta at


There are several ways to learn, Zapata told the scholarship winners and the audience.

"When I was growing up in Eloy and people said what are you going to do, I said I'm going to learn," he continued.

Holding up a copy of the weekly Eloy Enterprise newspaper, Zapata said, "This taught me, the newspaper. It's called reading. You have to read, reading's knowledge. So that taught me."

Holding up a baseball bat, he said, "It's not what my mother used, but it taught me to be better. Sports taught me to compete. 

"So whatever you do, try to be the best you can be."

Ignore the naysayers, Zapata said.

"When you're in a small community what you will hear is, no, you can't; no, you won't," he continued.

"My son, Mike Zapata, he grew up Superior schools, and a lot of people said, well, what are you going to do now that you've finished school? I'm going to go to another good school and I'm going to make some money."

Mike Zapata, now in London, graduated as valedictorian in Eloy, then went on to Stanford University.

Zapata recounted that, "A good friend of mine, Daniel Ortega, met us both and said that's just fascinating and wonderful that you've got a Stanford son, and he said, then told Mike but you've still got to do the work.

"Getting in is one thing, doing the work is another thing," Chris Zapata said.

He continued that his daughter, who graduated from Superior High School, wanted to become a psychiatrist, but when in college her grades weren't all that good during the first semester. She was told that perhaps she should change her major.

"She called me and she said, dad, I'm really upset. I said, you can do it, yes, you can, yes, you can.

"She had big dreams and she did the work necessary to achieve the dream. Along the way people told her she couldn't, but she put in the work (and got her medical degree).

"So when someone tells you are you sure you want to do this, is this what you want to do, don't let them dissuade you."

As a final message, Zapata said, "Pinal County is not just that place between Phoenix and Tucson. This is a special place. It's got real talent, you see it everywhere you go, you hear it, you meet a lot of people that do wonderful things.

"But the most important thing is that you all who are still here doAnd when I think about that, I connect, because I'm a father of a strong woman.  the same. Create that body where these young people can really, really succeed and achieve their dreams.

"But don't ever let anyone tell you that you can't.

"You might be more familiar with President Obama. What did he say? Yes, you can.

"And what did Cesar Chavez say? Yes, you can."

In the case of Andrea Varela, a young woman overcomes her personal demons to move ahead to get what she wants.

(Audio tape)

It's a common goal, Chavez grandson says

Alejandro Chavez, left

(Posted March 8, 2015)

Take a page from Cezar Chavez's life and don't listen to the naysayers, his grandson told those attending the 9th Annual Cesar E. Chavez Dinner and Scholarship Event the night of Friday, March 6.

It's all about coming together toward a common goal, Alejandro Chavez said, 

addressing a capacity audience at The Property Conference Center.

In other words, when you have a goal, a dream, go for it.

"In the early '60s," Chavez continued, "my grandfather was organizing farmworkers. Other unions told him that it wasn't actually possible to organize farmworkers. 

"Besides many of the language barriers, they were migrant workers; being in the San Fernando Valley, it would be hard to get them into one place. Even if you could get to all of them, what would it take to organize people from different countries, different cultures? It's not going to happen."

Cezar Chavez replied that they would get organized, so organized that they would have their own union.

"So the idea is that this thing is not just about us talking together," Alejandro Chavez said, "it's actually about bringing together those things that are most important. It's about bringing those values that are family values: they're education, brothers and sisters like the union brothers and sisters, all those things that are dear come to us.

"That's what that represents.

"We celebrate every time that we're all on the same page, we're all working towards the same values, we're all doing the same thing.

"Just keep it up, right?"

The 54 winners of Cesar Chavez scholarships
This year's total, $50,000             Over nine years, $402,000

The message from Lt. Gov. Monica Antone of the Gila River Indian Community

(Audio tape)

Vista Grande JROTC presents the colors

This year's Cesar Chavez Art Contest winners

Art contest winners Bethany Cruz and Alina Townsend are shown with Ralph Varela, chairman of the Cesar E. Chavez Memorial Committee of Pinal County, and Alejandro Chavez, a grandson of Cesar Chavez. Rebekah Ouellette was unable to be present.

An opportunity for Hispanic leadership development

Four take top chamber of commerce awards

Outgoing Chairman of the Board Chuck Wright of Pinal Design Group Designs and Images watches as new Chairman Dr. Barbara Wright of Casa Grande Elementary School District addresses the audience Friday night (Jan. 16) during the Greater Casa Grande Chamber of Commerce's 2015 Annual Dinner and 2014 Awards Program. In addition to a service plaque, Chuck Wright was given a copy of the chamber magazine with his face on the cover.

No Casa Grande municipal elections next year

Because of state law and the Casa Grande City Charter change of 2007, you'll wait until 2016 for another city election.

(Posted Nov. 30, 2014)

The state law is HERE

State law fact sheet is HERE

The appellate court opinion is HERE

The City Charter is HERE

The city's press release is HERE

It's that time of year under Casa Grande's traditional two-year election cycle that the mayor, half of the  City Council members -- and those who'd like to be -- to start gearing up for the March primary.

It's not happening.

It's convoluted story, but broken down into simplest terms it basically began when city voters approved an updated City Charter in 2007.

Charter cities in Arizona are allowed to set many rules specific to them; noncharter cities operate under general state law. Casa Grande became a charter city in 1975.

The charter committee made several local changes and updates, but added that in other areas state law would apply.

The charter section on city elections is:

Sec. 5.  Time of holding primary elections.

   Primary elections shall be held at the first available calendar election date as provided by state law. Provided, however, that if state law no longer regulates or requires consolidated election dates, the primary election shall be held on the fifth Tuesday preceding the holding of the General election.

At the time of the charter revision, state law allowed off-year charter city elections.

No one anticipated that the Republican dominated Arizona Legislature, as part of a series of bills to gain more control over cities, would require that all municipal elections would be part of even-year state elections.

Phoenix and Tucson took the matter to court, winning in the Courts of Appeals, but a counter appeal by the state has sent it to the Arizona Supreme Court, which has not yet taken it up.

Thus, as it stands now, no Casa Grande elections until 2016.

The questions arises: Why not just change the charter?

The problem there, the City Council was told during a briefing from City Attorney Brett Wallace, is that there is not enough time to go through a charter election before what would be the March city primary. And, there would probably be a problem with the governor approving any such change, given that the city would now be in violation of state law.

"When we adopted our charter in 1975," Wallace said, "the electors at that time decided that we were going to hold our elections in March and May. And so traditionally that's what we've done. As it was originally adopted, the general election will be held on the fourth Tuesday in May. The primary election was to be held five weeks prior to that."

Even back then there was a hassle with the state law.

"State law changed and said we're going to hold our elections the third Tuesday in May and the second Tuesday in March," Wallace continued.

"And at that time, Casa Grande and a number of cities could have said, well, that's not what our charter says, so maybe we should challenge that. But the League of Arizona Cities and Towns (basically a municipal lobbying group ) said it's not really that big of a change, a week here, a week there, it's not that big of a change, so we'll go ahead and comply with state law rather than go fight that out to see when our election needs to be.

"So despite that fact that there were conflicts, we called our election on those days in March and May for the last 20 years."

When the charter revision committee was appointed during 2006, Wallace said, "one of the things we talked about was our charter says we're supposed to be holding our election the fourth Tuesday in May and the primary is supposed to be five weeks prior, but we don't do that. Why? The answer was because we've elected to follow, whether we have to or not, the provisions of state law.

"And one of the charter committee's recommendation was, well, maybe that makes sense. We should hold our elections when the state tells us to. But we'll go ahead and amend the charter, and so we did. What the voters voted on in 2007 was to change the charter to say that our elections will be held at the first available date as provided by state law. So since 2007, those dates have been the same in March and May, for elections in 2009, 2011, 2013."

Then the Legislature stepped in with the control the cities bill, signed by the governor, mandating that city elections by in August and November of even years, the same as state and congressional elections. Those elections have long ballots, pushing city elections to almost the bottom of the list.

"Our next election ordinarily would be held in March and May of 2015, now state law says we have to hold it in 2016 in the fall," Wallace said. "Not only does state law say that, but our charter now says it because of the 2007 amendments.

"People will be saying why are we doing this, why haven't we been asked to call the election, why haven't we been asked to move forward with that?" Wallace continued. "And the answer is that it's not time yet, because our charter says that we're going to hold general election on the second available calendar election date as provided in state law, as amended from time to time. So when the Legislature changed that law and said beginning in 2014 you will hold your elections in essentially August and November, our charter then requires those to be held, as well.

"And so right now, that's what we're at having to do. Unless state law is amended to move it earlier or we amend our charter. But unless we do, our charter requires our elections to be in August and November of 2016."

Council terms

So, what happens with the terms of the mayor and the City Council members?

"Well, our charter has an answer for that, too," Wallace said. "What our charter applies is that your term is a set term, but you also go until your successor is elected and qualified.

"What it means is that the mayor and council, your terms are four years, two years for the mayor, until successors are elected and qualified, which means that you're kind of stuck doing this job until someone else does it, unless you decide not to do it anymore. Your term is now extended essentially by 18 months, courtesy of the state Legislature and, of course, the change that we made to our charter.

"There are essentially two sets of terms that will have to be extended. Those people that would have been subject to an election in 2015 and those people that would have been subject to an election in 2017. (Half of the City Council stands for election every two years, as does the mayor.)

"After that, once you have your formal election cycle, when you have one in fall of '16, fall of '18, terms will be back to normal."

Phoenix and Tucson challenges

"Essentially what Phoenix and Tucson did is they went out and they challenged state law," Wallace said. "They said, listen, our elections, which is what you told us years ago, are  supposed to be in August and November but in odd numbered years, because they had the opportunity to do that and their charter states specifically that they're going to be at those times in the odd numbered years. 

"They filed an action in Superior Court and in August of this year the Court of Appeals came down and said they believe that that state law doesn't apply to Phoenix and Tucson, that they can still hold their elections, at least as of right now, when their charter says they can.

Casa Grande

"So I've been asked the question a couple of different times of what does that mean for us?" Wallace continued "Does that mean then that we can do ours in March and May? The answer is no, because we changed our charter to say we would do it in accordance with state law. Not only in accordance with state law at the time, but as amended from time to time.

"And as a result of that, unlike Phoenix, unlike Tucson we don't actually have a conflict with the election dates set forth in our charter and the state law.

"And so I get asked by a lot of people, are we following the state law?

"Well, yes and no.  

"Yes, we're following the state law but we're doing that mainly because of what our charter requires us to do. The first thing we follow is our charter when it comes to election dates. But we're also following state law.

"That case right now has been decided by the Court of Appeals, there is a petition for review pending with the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court's going to decide whether the Legislature can mandate when charter cities have their elections or not.

"Had we not amended in 2007, we'd be in the middle of an election season for 2015, but we did change it. And that's why we're not."

Change the city charter?

"It brings up a couple of questions," Wallace said.

"One of them is, what if we just amend our charter? Can we just change our charter to go back to where we were and say let's change it, let's get rid of the 'as amended by state law,' let's get rid of that provision. Can we do that?

"Well, yes. You guys as a council can refer any matter you want to the voters, whatever that might be. "Obviously, it's too late at this point to amend the charter to require an election in March and May of 2015. 

"Could you look at amending towards 2017 to say let's go back to our regular cycle, but beginning in 2017? I think so, or you could look at amending it any other way that you want it, including to say we'll go specifically in the fall of even numbered years."

A problem

"When we amended the charter in 2007, the governor took six months to approve it," Wallace pointed out.

"And under the Arizona Constitution, our charter amendment won't take effect until such time as the governor signs, saying this is in accordance with the Constitution.

"The second interesting piece is, would they even approve our charter? It depends. 

"What the Constitution says is that our charter must be consistent with the Constitution and laws of the state of Arizona. Well, when our original charter was approved with our election dates it was being consistent with state law.

"If we went out today and amended it to use different dates that would expressly conflict with state law, I think our voters could do that, they could express their will, whatever that might be as to when they prefer to have the elections, but I'm uncertain whether the governor would even sign that at this point, because we would have a direct conflict with state law."

Council reactions

"I think one of the primary reasons that we wanted to be in odd years is it's so much better if you can be in a different time when people who want to come vote are voting on city issues or whatever it may be," Councilman Dick Powell said. "The ones that turn out, the voter motivated to vote, are because they care about the city or the school district or whoever may be up at that point in time. I think it's sad that we can't.

"I know we're talking a Catch 22 right now. I don't know if it would help if we held our meetings at Coldstone Creamery for a couple of months," a reference to Gov. elect Doug Ducey's background with that company.

Mayor Bob Jackson said that when the Legislature came up with the bill the League of Arizona Cities and Towns fought the proposal, but to no avail. He said he testified against the bill and wrote a letter of opposition to Gov. Jan Brewer, also to no avail.

Councilman Ralph Varela said, "I think for us we've always been very proud of the fact that it's a local election, nonpartisan election, that it doesn't get lost between everything else.

"It really centers on a community choosing its leaders. And being at the end of the ballot or having to come through the partisan pieces of it, I just think it takes away from the beauty of what we've done in terms of electing individuals who have a community voice.

"I concur in terms of either we have it later in 2015 or earlier in 2016, something that will separate us from the November 2016."

Councilman Matt Herman agreed.

"To me, this is the purest form of government we have," he said. "It is nonpartisan. We do it because we love the community. It'd just get lost with all the money people spend on regular elections, the signs, the messages and everything."

Councilwoman Mary Kortsen said, "I wanted to also echo this idea of keeping our elections separate from the state and the national, because it really does bring out local voters, due to the fact that we are nonpartisan, and people are interested. And my other concern, really, has been that August, what a terrible time for a primary. We would have citizens that cannot go because it is August, they do need cooler climate and that sort of thing. March and May we had pretty much had things settled back down from our winter visitors and that."

Councilman Karl Montoya asked Wallace if the court case regarding Phoenix and Tucson would in any way help Casa Grande.

"I don't believe that case really becomes relevant," Wallace replied.

"It's a two-pronged analysis when you look at whether that state law is going to apply. The second prong of that is, which one do you apply, which one is more important: the charter or state law? That's what they're grappling with.

"But the very first prong, the threshold analysis, is does your charter conflict with state law? Phoenix's does and Tucson's does and ours does not. 

"So, that case is going to be really interesting for me to read and and it could be really interesting for us as we think about the future of Casa Grande if we ever go back to a charter amendment, if we ever go to those things.

"We've got other things we would have to think about, but I don't think that case applies to us at this point given what our charter says as opposed to that.

"But the decision, I think, is already been made. Our charter says we follow state law, and unless they change state law we'll be having our election in August and November of 2016."

PhoenixMart moving ahead; it's a slow process

(Posted Nov. 10, 2014)

The original staff report is HERE

Other views of the building, plus maps, are HERE

PhoenixMart, that proposed international 1.5 million-square-foot showroom operation north of Florence Boulevard east of Interstate 10, is moving ahead, but as described to the Planning and Zoning Commission during its last meeting it is a slow process.

Work is still in progress on bringing water, sewer, electricity and telecommunications to the project, the commission was told before approving the final development plan/major site plan for the showroom building which will cover 43 acres under one roof.

The building, projected to have space for 1,700 vendors, has been described as a gathering place for small- and mid-sized businesses to market their products and services directly to consumers, businesses and international buyers.

The project, backed mainly by Chinese developers, will be one of three such operations in the world. One is now in Yiwu, China, the other in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

"Essentially the building is 40 foot tall, tilt-up concrete type structure," Planning and Development Director Paul Tice told the commission. "It does have some architectural elements in the south elevation with towers that would be proposed to be about 99 feet or 100 feet tall.

"Although it's mostly one story, there is a mezzanine inside the building. That's one of the reasons for the 40-feet height."

Signs and other graphics will be placed on the building, Tice said, but the comprehensive sign plan that must go before the commission is still being developed by Phoenix Mart.

Tice outlined several areas that must be completed before the project can open.


PhoenixMart has provided a traffic impact analysis which was reviewed and approved by the city and the Arizona Department of Transportation, which controls that area of East Florence Boulevard, Tice said.

"The analysis looks at the traffic generated really just from the mart development itself," he continued, "because every subsequent development plan that might come in, whether it's for the pad site or for future development on parcel 2, which might be a mixed use building or on parcel 3 where the H roads are, which might be a hotel or two, will have an additional independent traffic impact analysis that will look at the traffic generation from that land use and its impact on the street system and what needs to be done, if anything, to mitigate that traffic impact so that the streets are not congested."

The analysis for the main building shows the requirement for a traffic signal at Florence Boulevard and Toltec Buttes Road, which will be the main entrance to the project.

"It does not require any expansion of the lanes on Florence Boulevard between here and interstate," Tice said. "It does require some expansion of turn lanes at the entrance of the H road and Toltec Buttes.

"Additionally, the traffic study indicated that there would be a need for a traffic signal at Hacienda Road and Florence Boulevard further to the west, sort of on the edge of the Mission Royale development."

PhoenixMart will be required to pay all cost of the Toltec Buttes/Florence signal and 25 percent of the cost of the Hacienda/Florence signal, Tice said.

"The remaining 75 percent of the signal at Hacienda would be paid for by the Mission Royale Community Facilities District, which has adequate funding already in place to fund that signal, a requirement of their development agreement that was struck when the Mission Royale development was approved," he said.

"Our intent is to construct the signal at the same time the building opens for use."

Commission Chairman Jeff Lavender questioned why the Toltec Buttes/Florence signal wouldn't be installed until the showroom building is completed and opened, projected for spring of 2016.

"May I ask why we wouldn't try to, if the money is already there and they have to put up the $75,000, why wouldn't we push that sooner with the amount of construction traffic that's going to be going in and out in the next two years," he said.

It's a matter of ADOT policies, Tice and city Traffic Engineer Duane Eitel answered.

"It's an ADOT signal and I don't believe the warrants (or criteria for a signal) are met now," Tice said. "They will be met with the construction of this building."

That is true, Eitel said, adding that, "We do a warrants study every couple of years on that. It currently does not meet warrants for a signal and it won't until PhoenixMart is open. Since it is an ADOT signal, we don't really have much leeway to build a signal before the warrants are met.

"To build a signal, there's eight warrants. They have to do with how much traffic there is, accidents, congestion, a number of things, and right now it amazingly doesn't meet any. It would seem like it would, but it doesn't meet any of the eight warrants."


The sewer line will be an extension of the main line at Kortsen Road and I-10, Tice said, a joint project of the city and PhoenixMart.

(See map in link above)

PhoenixMart would pay for the size of line it needs for its entire 585-acre project. With an eye to future development on the east side, the city would pay to upsize that line.

"I'm not sure of the exact time when the construction is going to be completed but the idea is that construction would be completed about the same times as the building construction is completed for the PhoenixMart building," Tice said.

Three nights earlier, the City Council gave initial approval to a contract with Haydon Building Corp. to act as construction manager for the sewer project.

The line extension would be a little over four miles, Public Works Director Kevin Louis told the council.

PhoenixMart is handling the design services for the line, Louis said, adding that, "they are at about 6 percent done with those sewer designs."

The city's view in hiring Haydon, Louis said, "is to maximize the cost effectiveness of this project and get as large diameter pipe as we can. What they're primarily going to provide at this point in their contract is the value engineering, the detailed soils investigation, the utility potholing, materials selection and cost estimating. That analysis right now is crucial to us getting to that 100 percent design for this project."


"Water provides the same level of challenges to provide infrastructure to the site," Tice told the commission. "The water needs to be brought in from essentially Mission Parkway up to Cottonwood and across."

(See map in link above)

PhoenixMart is working with Arizona Water Co. on the design and alignment of that extension, Tice said, noting that the cost will be paid by PhoenixMart alone.

"In addition to this water line," Tice continued, "PhoenixMart will likely be developing some well sites on their property and building some water storage and probably treatment facilities on their site, a water campus if you will, that will supplement the water main supply. So the supply will be both the extension of the main line and some development of on-site resource that will be owned and operated by Arizona Water Co."

Both the sewer and water projects will involve right of way acquisition, Tice said.

Overall, he said, "all of that is underway, but it's going to take some time. It's a complex issue. We're solving the issue but it's not something that's going to happen overnight."


Electrical District 2 would be the provider, Tice said.

"The discussion right now is the likelihood that a new substation will have to be constructed to be provide the level of electrical demand that's needed for the project," he continued. "A substation maybe in the northwest corner of the 585 acre project. There has to be some major electrical upgrade for providing service, as well."


City codes do not cover installation of telecommunications, Tice said, but noted that AZ Sourcing, the PhoenixMart parent, is in discussions with companies to provide high-speed service to the facility.

"We're communicating with multiple data telecom firms right now in order to be able to provide fiber to the building," AZ Sourcing's Jeremy Schoenfelder told the commission. "We haven't decided on one specifically but we're working with multiple companies.

"We have one consultant we're working with in particular. They're not the provider themselves but they're with multiple providers to see which one makes the most sense. It's likely that we would have redundancy, although we're aren't positive if it would be in the form of two fiber pipes, essentially, versus some fiber and some microwave shot."


Commission Vice Chairman Mike Henderson asked about emergency communications from the huge building to fire or medical responders. That is already in the 2012 fire code, under which the building is being designed, Tice replied, and will be incorporated into the building as part of the building permit review.

"But there is another issue, as you know," Tice continued.

"This building is so large, 43 acres under one roof, that as it's designed today, the preliminary design, it does not meet the standard fire code exiting requirements.

"So the applicants are engaging in what's known as performance-based design with the city, which means they are proposing alternative fire code standards, which they're allowed to do as long as they can prove that those exiting standards are as safe or safer than the default standards.

"They have, today, submitted to us what's known as a smoke model, which models if there's a fire in the building how long it takes everyone to exit given their exiting design. We are reviewing it with our fire marshall, our building official. We've actually hired a fire code consultant, nationally known fire code consultant, to assist us in that regard. And so we are looking at whether or not the proposed exiting standards, construction standards, are as safe or safer than the standard fire code requirements."

Deciding where a traffic signal should go takes
area analysis, including crashes, other factors 

The final priority rating for intersections, above, is in the right column. Click HERE for large version.

The Jimmie Kerr/Sunland Gin Road signal will be the span wire type, left, to be upgraded when development in the area warrants.

(Posted June 27, 2014)

You'll find the staff report HERE

The design and cost proposal is HERE

The contract is HERE

Putting up a new traffic light in Casa Grande is a bit more than just looking at an intersection and saying maybe that one would be good or getting a call from someone's great-aunt Sadie saying there needs to be one at her corner because she's afraid the stray cat she adopted is going to get run over while crossing the street.

(As if cats, which are genetically bred to ignore human commands, would stop, look, listen and then mince across on green.)

It's a lengthy process, taking in a range of research, city Traffic Engineer Duane Eitel says.

In the latest case, the intersection at Jimmie Kerr Boulevard and Sunland Gin Road, was chosen. At the time of the studies, that intersection was carrying 11,820 vehicles a day and had had 12 crashes.

As Eitel explains, "When I first got here about three years ago somebody said we want to build two new signals a year. I said, why do we want to do that, where do we want to build them?

"Our GIS people had all the traffic counts, crashes and everything in the system. I said, I'm interested in the traffic at these intersections, the number of crashes and the percentage of minor and major traffic. Plug that all in and give me a way where I can rank the intersections.

"I can weight those three things however I want to to come up with intersections that we need to look at further. 

"That in itself wasn't enough to say we need a signal or 4-way stop or anything, it was just to give us a priority list of intersections."

Eitel said the GIS data run brought a hundred intersections. He took out the intersections controlled at that time by the Arizona Department of Transportation. There were also discussions among himself, Public Works Director Kevin Louis and Streets Superintendent Pedro Apodoca, at which it was decided that 13 of those intersections made sense to look at further.

What is known as a traffic signal warrant study was then done.

"One that surprised everybody, of course, is Sunland Gin and Jimmie Kerr," Eitel said. "Most people didn't even know that was in the city, but it kept coming up on all these lists as number one to look  at. I'm not saying it was the number one dangerous, or anything, it was just number one on all these factors together.

"You look at factors such as traffic volume, number of crashes. If you really look at crashes, we don't have a lot of crashes in this town. And, of course, fatalities are pretty random. You've got to have like three fatalities somewhere before it really means something. 

"Usually you'll find it's not the geometrics of the road, it's somebody doing something stupid.

If you start having a number of crashes, there may be something wrong here, let's take a look at it. Taking all this into account comes up with a priority index, and that's how we prioritized.

"Sunland Gin and Jimmie Kerr, I don't know if you've driven out there, a horrible intersection coming off of Sunland Gin and you want to turn on Jimmie Kerr. What happens is people wait there and wait there and the longer the wait, the gap that you'll accept gets smaller."

The initial Jimmie Kerr/Sunland Gin signal, now being designed, will be the light on a wire spanning the intersection, Eitel said, "because we know someday we're going to improve that whole area (as development grows). Build a signal now that we don't spend a huge amount of money now because we know we're going to be doing improvements in the future. We're going to put the controllers in the right place for future development, but a span wire will take the signal rather than put some poles in there and have to move them or buy new poles and all that in the future."

Money for the signal is in the budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1, Eitel said, but added that, "with all the railroad (crossing signals) coordination that needs to be done with Sunland Gin and Jimmie Kerr, that one might not be built until the year after."

Who pays for signals?

Sometimes the city pays for the signals, sometimes a developer covers the cost, sometimes the cost is split.

In the case of O'Neil Drive and Trekell Road, which was number 5 on the priority list, "It's built, but that's because a developer paid for that," Eitel said. "That was because of the Legacy charter school, they paid for that signal."

What's next?

"Peart and McCartney's a big deal, that four-way stop," Eitel said. "Traffic sometimes will back up all the way to I-10. But it is a four-way stop and it is working OK. I think I can get federal safety money to do that whole intersection and the signal in the future. Let's go for a safety project there and see if we can get 100 percent federal funds, build that one and spend our money somewhere else."

Also now being designed is a signal at Casa Grande Avenue and McCartney Road.

"A lot of problems in Casa Grande and McCartney." Eitel said. "When school lets out it's a tricky intersection, backs up.

"We worked out a deal with the Arroyo Grande development. We looked at how much traffic they were contributing to the flow of traffic on McCartney, worked out a percentage, and for this signal at Casa Grande and McCartney they're going to pay a percentage. We're meeting with the city attorney and stuff to make sure we can legally do that and how we want to set a policy so we treat all the developers as much the same as we can."

As anyone who has tried to get out of the Camino Mercado center during heavy Florence Boulevard traffic knows, a signal is needed there.

"Camino Mercado is another place where we feel we need a signal," Eitel said. "There's a Valero station going in there. Are they really responsible for paying $250,000 for a signal or some percentage of that. We're going to work together.

"We're hoping to put a signal up there in the near future. We don't have any money to build it right now."

One question from residents has been why not put the signal at the entrance to the Cracker Barrel restaurant. The answer from the Arizona Department of Transportation when it controlled Florence Boulevard and its lights had been that it would be too close to the first signal on the Interstate 10 overpass, impeding the flow of traffic.

"A quarter mile is where I like to see them," Eitel said, "because it's hard to get coordination if you're any closer. We can do it, but it's a lot tougher."

The long, long outlook

"Our population projections are that the buildout of the city will be about a million people," Eitel said. "Stop and think what's this town going to look like with a million people in it, the road system and all that. We need to be thinking about that now, not wait."

Contracting out maintenance at golf course

In this three-part report:

• Contracting out the golf course maintenance

• The initial outlook

• How it all came about

The staff report, with financials, is HERE

The maintenance contract is HERE

The scope of services is HERE

How the $438,400 amount was determined is HERE

A slide show report is HERE

Jim Bellows' background is HERE

(Posted June 21, 2014)

Contracting out of maintenance at the city golf course is expected to accelerate the improvements there and eventually erase the need for a taxpayer subsidy, the City Council was told before it gave initial contact approval during the June 16 meeting.

The taxpayer subsidy this year was $120,000. If that seems high, consider that a a few years ago the council was grappling with how to deal with subsidies ranging from $400,000 to $600,000 a year. That, in short, resulted in changing many financial and operational aspects, slowly bring the subsidy down each year.

The two-year contract with Falcon Golf Management, with final approval expected during the July 7 council meeting, calls for payment of $438,400 annually, with the option for three one-year renewals.

"The total operating budget is estimated to be reduced by approximately $143,000 with this conversion," Community Services Director Bill Schwind told the council. "The vast majority of savings are derived in the area of personnel services, through the acquisition of materials and supplies.

"And it's anticipated that the golf course conditions will continue to improve while having a positive effect on revenue generation and the overall longterm financial plan of the golf course enterprise."

Under the contract, Jim Bellows, the principal at Falcon, will hire his own maintenance staff.

The staff report says that, "It is anticipated that all golf fees being charged and all other associated revenue generated at the golf course will remain under city administration. The golf pro will remain as an independent contractor. The golf pro assistant and all part-time clubhouse staff will continue to remain on the city payroll. The remaining three full time golf course maintenance staff members (crew leader, maintenance worker and assistant mechanic) will be absorbed into three vacant positions currently being held open within the Community Services and Public Works divisions."

The immediate question was whether the move will end the annual taxpayer subsidy for the golf operation.

"I know part of the focus is reduction of the subsidy," Councilman Ralph Varela said. "Does this accomplish that, or are we moving toward it?"

Schwind answered, "It is our plan, based on this maneuver, to eliminate the General Fund subsidy from the golf course and turn it into an enterprise fund."

Enterprise funds are operations that must pay their own way, such as sewers and trash collection.

Councilman Dick Powell asked if the city will still have a budget for carts, mowers and other equipment.

"We would buy those and the maintenance would be done by the contractor?" he asked.

There is about $36,000 in the budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1, Schwind answered.

"We are looking at replacing a series of golf carts with that funding," he said. "The golf course equipment that currently is out there is owned and belongs to the city. As it ages, we will continue to assess that and potentially look at our options for leasing and acquisition via capital expenses in the future for replacement.

"The daily maintenance falls under the administration of the golf course maintenance contract."

Some initial expectations from golf contract

(Posted June 21, 2014)

Jim Bellows' background is HERE

Some initial thoughts on how maintenance at the city golf course can be improved, drawing in more users, came during the June 16 City Council meeting at which initial approval to a $438,400 contract with Falcon Golf Management was given.

"This is a crystal ball question," Councilman Matt Herman said during the discussion. "I've heard from a lot of golfers out there that the course the last year is better than it has been in years. I know we invested some money in the irrigation.

"Do you anticipate raising the standards from what we have now? Do we have the equipment necessary for you do that in maintaining the course?"

Jim Bellows, the principal of Falcon, responded that, "The answer would be, yes. 

"We've looked at all assets of the current budget and past budget and past activities and we think better utilization of labor, better applications, some agronomic changes, there's a variety of things that can be done within the budget that we have.

"But certainly over a period of time we'll be communicating with the staff and trying to develop programs that will maintain a budget and help the enterprise fund to allow the golf course to improve, because that's your biggest marketing tool. Consistency of the product is the most important thing.

"My background is golf, we've done this for a long time. We look at it the way we would want it to be if we owned it. So, yes, we'd like to do as much as we can to make those improvements."

The equipment is adequate for the beginning, Bellows said.

"We'd done a lot of research on the existing equipment and the budget we have, so I think the equipment question fine, I think we've got more than adequate equipment. I think over time, some irrigation improvements in how the system is utilized will help. So yes, that's our plan."

It will be a straight contract, Bellows said.

"Maybe to give you some comfort," he continued, "we structured a budget and a plan where we're not rewarded for saving money. So it's not a situation where you go out and just damage the asset, save a bunch of money, and say look what we did.

"We're working in tandem with the staff to make sure revenues are consistent and increasing.

Since we're in charge of the most important marketing tool, the product, it's our job to keep the product up. We don't have an incentive or a bonus situation to cut costs and make extra money (for ourselves). Our fee is a flat fee, it's not based on budget savings."

Councilman Ralph Varela asked Bellows to outline what he sees as immediate needs at the course.

"Well, some of the agronomic practices need to be improved," Bellows responded, "there needs to be more of a consistency in irrigation maintenance and repair. There's been a lack of focus on irrigation.

"Fortunately, water costs are minimal here. The consumption of water at Dave White is huge. The reported amount's over 200 million gallons of water a year, which is more than twice  what you need. So we either have some leaking or problems in the lakes holding the water or there's a leak in the systems delivering water. So we'd like to try to conserve some of that water. Irrigation system's the biggest."

Greens have been improved in recent month through better use of nutrients, Bellows said, a practice he will continue.

Attention will also be paid to workers, he added.

"Focus on the labor, getting folks to work a little bit harder, pay a little more attention, be conscientious, trying to exert that kind of influence on the staff," he said.

The maintenance employees will be hired by Bellows.

Councilwoman Mary Kortsen asked if there is the possibility that those hires will be local.

"We're going to be interviewing local folks," Bellows answered. "We don't have a planned staff yet. We've been talking with superintendents and potential assistant superintendents, but we're not bringing in a separate team. There will be open job applications at some point."

How the maintenance contract came about

Rodent control is also a part of maintaining the city  golf course.

(Posted June 21, 2014)

Contracting out maintenance at the city golf course at a cost of $438,400 yearly is part of a vision to improve the grounds and operation and to save money.

It didn't come overnight.

The city has been steadily working on improvements for the past several years, but has faced a series of difficulties, Community Services Director Bill Schwind told the City Council during a June 2 briefing.

"Some of the challenges that we've recently seen, basically on a national trend, are consumer spending on golf is down, obviously so is the economy, but operational expenses are also in play," he said.

"The management is constantly just dealing with the demands on a high quality golf course, the needs of the public. They want a nice facility but they also want to keep costs low and a low cost experience for players.

"We kind of deal with that as one of our management challenges, as well as the economy and other local golf courses in an unfavorable market condition."

Schwind pointed out that within a 15-mile area, the city golf course faces competition from courses at Francisco Grande, Mission Royale, San Miguel, Robson Ranch, Arizona City and the private executive course at Palm Creek.

"Over the last three years, anyway, we're averaging between 35,000 and 40,000 rounds of golf being played at our facility," Schwind said. "So when you consider all the local competition around there, we're all fighting for the same people, primarily.

"The vast majority of the use is in the wintertime and we're doing everything we can to market and get our share of the opportunities out there for golfers to play on a more year around basis."

Present maintenance

The city has made improvement at the course, Schwind said. Maintenance, both on equipment and the course, will be taken over by the private contractor.

"Some recent golf course improvement conditions that we've been playing with, really, is the development of a preventative maintenance program on pump sites," Schwind said, "pump sites on both the front and the back nine. They were installed with the new irrigation system and that is a scenario where the preventative maintenance program on the pumps is something we really need, where we really need kind of keep an eye on our maintenance. Without the ability to irrigate that golf course we are in serious trouble.

"Our quality winter overseeding program has improved. We're spending money on some seed with some new programs that are available to us. That is our lifeblood when it comes to generate some revenue. Obviously the vast amount of money that we generate through the course is through the winter months when our play is the highest."

Also tackled, Schwind said, "Just like the snowbirds -- I'm not sure if they're bringing in their luggage or what -- the waterfowl and pest mitigation do come along with that. So basically we have to install a pretty good mitigation program as far as that goes, just simply because that really has an effect on the playing conditions on the golf course."

This year, the city has focused on enhancing the playing surfaces, Schwind said.

"Golf courses really consist of three main components: tee boxes, fairways and the putting surface," he told the council. "You could think of it as a pool table, for instance. The velvet on your pool table is your putting green. And that is really your primary surface of golf. And if greens are in good shape, you will get people to play.

"The feedback that we've been getting now over the last year is the putting surfaces, that those greens at Dave White are probably in the best condition they've been in over 15 years.

"And that's not really be accident. There are people out there that really, truly stepped up their game in bringing this course around. We focused on playing surfaces this year and as we expend we will continue to make improvements to that golf course.

"As far as efficiency challenges, basically, golf in and of itself is an efficiency challenge. The game itself, you're trying to get a one and a half inch golf ball into a four-inch hole from 500 yards away. Not easy.

"Maintaining the golf course is the same way. What we've done recently as far as trying to bring the golf course out of General Fund subsidy and having this operate more on a self-subsidized level is we deferred some capital improvements.

"Some of the golf carts that we have out there are getting older, some of our equipment out there is getting older. Obviously, when you talk about the pump maintenance, it's a relatively new irrigation system but in time that will have to be replaced.

"And so when you defer capital improvements, eventually that will catch up with you. But in trying to bring the golf course to operate in the black, these are some of the maintenance challenges that we have to face when we deferred some capital improvements."

Inmate labor

The city gets part-time help through the courts sentencing persons to community service.

"We do use inmate labor, which is tremendous asset to us being a government agency." Schwind said. 

"However, that does come with its issues. From a customer service perspective, I understand, and truly understand, the cost of inmate labor as an advantage to us. However, there are women, there are children, women's groups that like to go out there and play golf. And typically, you know, there is a little bit of customer service issue when you've got some gentlemen out there wearing the orange jail suits. You're not typically greeted at Disneyland by folks in orange suits at the front door. 

"They basically aren't knowledgeable or overly knowledgeable in the game of golf, so they're out there doing maintenance. When people are trying to golf they may get in people's way. It's a little bit of a cumbersome situation, not an awful lot of training that goes into utilizing that labor. It is very manual labor, very intensive, but when you put that into a golf environment it can get somewhat abrasive. 

"And so a lot of the phone calls and the complaints that we get at our office, anyway, tend to deal with things that go on while someone's trying to play golf that may be a little bit distracting and that type of thing, which does affect your playing condition and that you may or not want to come back and enjoy the facility."

Councilman Ralph Varela asked if the use of inmates would continue under the maintenance outsourcing.

"The issue with the, I guess, golf course protocol and so forth is, I think doing training, spend some upfront training on protocols and so forth I think would be important," Varela said. "A lot of these inmates, I think they would listen, because they want to be outside, they don't want to be locked in. If there was a training program to assist in terms of this is what the expectation is and how to do it and so forth, that might be helpful."

The use of inmate labor should continue, Schwind responded.

"I think Public Works and ourselves are in the process of renegotiating a contract with the state Department of Corrections as far as inmate labor," he said. "We do use them in right of ways, try to use them in Public Works and obviously we use them in park maintenance, as well as the golf course.

"Part of the requirements in the contract requires a municipal agent to operate as a supervisor, and so we do have people on the pro shop side of the golf course that are eligible to serve in that position. You're exactly right, they just need to be trained on what they can do and where they do work. We just need to do a little better job of putting them where they need to be, in a customer-friendly environment."

Cost analysis

"A thorough cost-benefit analysis was completed over the last couple of years to determine basically if a third-party can effectively deliver services better and more efficient than we do currently," Schwind said.

"The key findings there is that we deferred capital improvements, we operated this year with the lack of a certified maintenance superintendent. Again, the three full time individuals out there did step up and we got a lot of assistance from outside agencies working with us, (Public Works), in particular. But we also used outside consultants for private facilities helping us along with maintenance needs and dealing with some waterfowl mitigation.

"As we improve the conditions of the golf course, what the golf course superintendent typically brings to the table is their knowledge in the science of agronomy. Our greens being as good as they are this year didn't happen by accident. There's an incredible amount of plant physiology and soil knowledge that has to be gained and obtained.

"One side of the golf course can be completely different than the other, so we work very hard in trying to figure out what's going on our golf course, what's leachable, where are the nitrates, and how much money do we actually have to spend to fix some of these problems.

"Without a superintendent, these assessments and this knowledge is being farmed out on a volunteer basis currently to people in the field of managing golf courses that are out here helping us out.

"That's where I think a professional superintendent really is the benefit of the salary that they earn."

Personnel costs

"We looked at some municipal labor and where can we go from that perspective and save us a little bit of expenditures," Schwind said.

"The resolution there is that we currently have three full time positions out on our golf course and we have opportunity the with some available positions in house, in the Parks and Recreation Department, as well as Sanitation that we have been holding vacant. After a few retirements, we've been able to use some cost savings in their salaries to bring on some part-time assistance to get us through this gap. We'd absorb, potentially, the three full time employees at the golf course into the full time positions in house in current job openings within the city.

"So essentially no layoffs if we look to moving forward towards contracting out the maintenance portion of the golf course."

"The outsourcing of maintenance can save us approximately 30 percent a year by lowering personnel expenses. And if you look at the total operating budget for fiscal year 2014 compared to the proposed budget for fiscal year 2015 we're projecting about $120,000 savings. And when you compare that to where we have been over the last couple of years, this is, I think, light at the end of the tunnel in trying to bring the golf course into an operating area that is more efficient and can in the long term help pay for a lot of the overhead capital costs, repairs, those types of things, in and of itself as opposed to reliance on the General Fund."

Schwind said that in addition to course and equipment maintenance, the maintenance contractor will bring in its own maintenance superintendent

Bob Bauer, the present director of golf, is an independent contractor and would remain in that position.

"We've got Bob Bauer under what we call our maintenance umbrella," Schwind said. "He oversees the pro shop operation, does everything that is not considered golf course maintenance, all of our cost controls and everything that's related to the golf courses business side, from the pro shop to reservations, terms of use, and organizations using the facility."

PhoenixMart update

Financial guarantees for taxpayers sought

(Posted May 8, 2014)

You'll find the draft agreement HERE

Although the City Council gave initial approval Monday night (May 5) to a sewer extension agreement for the PhoenixMart complex east of Interstate 10 it's still not a done deal.

The draft agreement presented to the council did not have firm financial guarantees to protect city taxpayers in case of future problems with the development.

"We normally will take surety bonds, we'll take irrevocable letters of credit, and they have asked us to consider deeds of trust," City Attorney Brett Wallace told the council.

"We traditionally have not accepted that because the criteria we need to go through requires us to obviously be in an over-secured position, because unlike cash land can devalue over time. We need to be in a first position.

"So there are a number of those things that we will be continuing to talk to AZ Sourcing (the PhoenixMart parent) about to determine whether that means of financial security can be acceptable to the city."

That lack of financial guarantees led Councilman Dick Powell to vote against the initial approval. The other six council members voted in favor.

"I sincerely want to see this come to fruition," Powell said, "but there's some nebulous areas in the security area that do not give me comfort. I hope those are addressed by the second reading. I hope to be able to vote yes for it on the second reading, but this first reading, I'm voting no."

The sewer extension agreement is an ordinance, which requires two readings before the council. The second reading generally comes at the next meeting, which will be May 19. At that time, the council could give final approval, reject the agreement or table it.

PhoenixMart has proposed modifications to the financial security language, Wallace said.

"We have to look at that," he continued. "If the pleasure of the mayor and council was to approve that, if we did make any modifications to the language, as we always do we would notify you prior to second reading because obviously it could change the terms of the agreement as to the acceptabilities to mayor and council."

Councilman Karl Montoya asked if there would be time to hammer that out before the May 19 meeting.

"I think so," Wallace replied. "I know AZ Sourcing is motivated to try to get this agreement done, staff is equally devoted to try to get this agreement done. It might be in fact a relatively small issue that we need to deal with. The language of the agreement itself is one that I think we could reach.

"The difficulty any time you deal with a deed of trust, and any financial security, is that when it actually comes time to post the financial security there's going to be additional work that has to happen. So it's kind of just a negotiating one or two small terms.

"If we were going to consider accepting a deed of trust, it would behoove us to determine in advance how often we were going to need to appraise, what valuation we're going to need and what they need to do if that valuation ever dropped to where the deed of trust would no longer be acceptable security."

Mayor Bob Jackson pointed out that the council has the option to table the agreement multiple times if needed.

"At second reading, it's your option as to how you want to proceed," Wallace replied. "You do have that option."

Councilman Matt Herman pointed out, "I just want it to be clear to everyone in the public that just because we do this tonight doesn't mean it's solid. We're still waiting to hear some of the conditions of the second reading.

"It's a little bit of a disappointment that this has come at the 11th hour to us here, because you've been working on this for a very long, long time. So I just hope it gets worked out to everyone's satisfaction as soon as possible before our next reading."

  An interactive version of the image above is available at Clicking on the blue and white icons brings   up views of entrance designs and interiors of the 1.7-million-square-foot   international wholesaling building.

Fire safety experts will go over emergency plan

(Posted May 8, 2014)

You'll find the staff report HERE

The staff report outlining reasons for hiring a consultant to review fire safety proposals for PhoenixMart sums it up succinctly:

"AZ Sourcing has submitted building construction drawings for the PhoenixMart Sourcing Building which contains approximately 1.7 million square feet of floor area. 

"Due to the size and layout of said building it does not meet standard Building and Fire Code exiting requirements and the applicant is requesting that the city allow them to use alternative design and exiting standards that they contend are as safe as the standard code requirements. 

"To prove the safety of their building design the architects and fire consultants for the PhoenixMart project have submitted a Smoke Model Report that models the anticipated air quality and fire behavior conditions that theoretically would occur with a building fire. 

"This model also predicts the amount of time it will take to allow all occupants (22,000+) to exit the building."

A building of that size is something that Casa Grande's Planning and Development Department staff has never dealt with, Director Paul Tice told the City Council, leading to a request to hire an experienced consultant at a cost of $64,600.

"PhoenixMart building, as you know, is very large building," Tice told the council. "It's 1.7-million square feet under essentially one floor and it's about 900 feet wide.

"The standard exiting requirements under building and fire code would be a travel distance of no more than 250 feet and, of course, this building has travel distances of a minimum of 450 feet, ranging up to 600 feet."

Because the building design doesn't meet standard fire and building code requirements, Tice continued, AZ Sourcing, the PhoenixMart parent company, has proposed a "performance-based design," which is allowed under the codes if safety can be shown.

"It's an approach by where the applicant proposes an alternative standard for exiting and then proves that their design is as safe or safer than the standard in the fire and building codes," Tice said.

"Since this is a rather large, complex building and the performance-based design approach is new to staff, we feel that we are in need of some technical assistance, professional services to help us evaluate the appropriateness of the performance-based design proposed by the applicant.

"We did engage in a request for qualifications nationally and received nine firms that thought they could provide these services. Our selection committee has chosen Hughes and Associates, one of probably the top five national firms in this field, to try to contract with to provide these services."

The $64,600 for the contract had not been budget by his department, Tice said, but will be covered out of $192,000 that PhoenixMart had paid to the city for review of its building permit application.

Councilman Dick Powell said, "After seeing the schematic (of building), this is overwhelming. My question was, how does this protect us liability wise, because some of the things aren't according to Hoyle? Can that take the place and indemnify us, what's the legal issue, if there is one?"

City Attorney Brett Wallace responded that the city codes allow consideration of performance-based design applications.

"If anything, from a liability perspective, by gaining assistance from those who are experts in the field it will help reduce our potential liability. 

"One of the things we never want to do is to try to take on more than you can really chew at any given time.

"As we work through the contract issues, indemnity clauses, insurance for them, there's always some things that are mandatory in those contracts, as well, from the city's perspective and we use some of our standard indemnity and insurance clauses as the contract proceeds."

Powell then said, "I think we can all feel more comfortable with the size of that building having somebody come in that that's what they do and help design it. I was concerned about the legal part of it."

Councilwoman Lisa Fitzgibbons asked if the professional review items could be applied to other buildings in the future, "so that you don't have to recreate the wheel for a new study. 

"Is there anything you can do about that, or is it we just need it just for PhoenixMart?" she asked.

Tice replied that, "Probably this building is so unique that what work our consultants are going to do here are really just going to be applicable to this particular building design."

Mayor Bob Jackson said, "Keep in mind that there are only two of these in the world besides ours (Shanghai and Dubai) and I'm really glad to see having outside expertise help, because I've worked on performance-based standards before, they are very difficult and you want somebody that understands what they're doing. And I also think that down the road (with PhoenixMart) it will hopefully expedite some of those reviews, as well."

Performance-based situations, while perhaps unique to the PhoenixMart building, are becoming a standard in the fire service, Assistant Chief Jim Morgan told the council, "so I think we'll see that with other types of buildings so that a developer can use it as an alternative to the codes. Actually, Fire Marshal Barbara Rice is back at the National Fire Academy learning about this area."

Council approval was unanimous.

Line would also serve area around PhoenixMart

(Posted May 8, 2014)

You'll find the staff report HERE

Although the sewer extension agreement being considered by the City Council is keyed on PhoenixMart and its 585 acres, the overall thought is that the line will be upsized so that the city can also serve future development east of Interstate 10.

Basically, AZ Sourcing, the PhoenixMart parent, would pay for a 21-inch line to its site and the city would pay for upsizing that line, bringing capacity for other development. The city's part would be paid from impact fees and construction sales tax, meaning no sewer rate increase for residential customers.

Several subdivision that are platted but never got off the ground after the national economy collapsed are in the area.

Serving a larger area of the east side with sewer is not a new idea. Several years ago, the city had considered a treatment plant there but decided that it would be best to keep expanding the present plant on Kortsen Road west of Pinal Avenue.

The city has a tentative budget of $10 million for the PhoenixMart/east side project. PhoenixMart would pay $4.8 million, broken into three payments of $1.6 million each.

Still to be decided as planning goes on is whether the line would run down Kortsen Road to the east side or if a lateral line would run from the present Kortsen line south along I-10 to Florence Boulevard and then east to the PhoenixMart area. 

Deputy City Manager Larry Rains gave the council a briefing Monday night (May 5).

"Through some levels of technical analysis and series of reviews, staff and engineering firms that represent AZ Sourcing have determined that the need for that 585 acres would be a 21-inch line," Rains said.

"I think traditionally we all understand that development would traditionally build that branch as part of the project, the 21-inch line.

"But given given the potential synergies as part of the AZ Sourcing PhoenixMart project, given the fact that there was a policy decision made several ago to site our sewer/wastewater treatment plant on the west side of town, there is a need for us as a staff to consider some level of upsizing of this line to build along the economies of the 21-inch line itself."

The first $1.6 million payment from AZ Sourcing, the council was told, would be when the construction contract is signed. 

"The next two payments," Rains said, "would be  at a five-year term or a 10-year term and/or during certain growth triggers, development triggers that would transpire on the property.

"Those provisions are triggers based on development itself. Permits being pulled on what they consider to be phase two or phase two B, those particular triggers will be better outlined as we finalize this."

An important element about the remaining $3.2 million that would be payable to the city in the future, Rains continued "is that AZ Sourcing would be responsible to collateralize that from the onset of the project. Should the project not materialize or should we reset five- and 10-year marks and then those development triggers not be met …we would be eligible to draw on those collateral financial assurances as a requirement of the sewer agreement."

There are still questions from the council about those financial assurances from AZ Sourcing(see above story).

As is now stands, AZ Sourcing would be responsible for finding and hiring engineers to the design of the sewer line.

"Because of the fact that this would be a project that would be administered and run by the city of Casa Grande," Rains said, "we would have a fair amount of input in that process, in the selection as well as in the overview and the various elements of the technical design that would take place, which would cover the scope of not only the design but also the necessary alignments that would be required for the line, as well as potential land acquisitions and/or condemnation that would be required as part of running the line to the east side of town."

AZ Sourcing has hired both Sunrise Engineering and Jacobs Engineering for the project.

"We from a staff perspective feel that that's important for two reasons," Rains said.

"Sunrise has assisted us in actually updating our sewer master plan for the east of town. We originally had Corolla Engineering develop … a primary layout, but Sunrise has been engaged these last several months to broaden that and collect more data. And so just having that expertise and understanding of the city's needs from a consultant basis is very important.

"The important component about Jacobs Engineering is we have contracted with Jacobs to put together a design concept report on the Kortsen interchange (on I-10). And understanding the alignments of the sewer lines that we would be potentially running under Kortsen if that is the ultimate alignment would be very beneficial to the city as well as to AZ Sourcing on the overall project."

Part of the engineering study will be to determine the final size of the line, taking into consideration both PhoenixMart and the surrounding areas.

"We know we need to start with a 21-inch line," Rains said, "and as we start the design, start the alignments we can better understand the sizing that would be best suited for not only meeting the expectation of the sewer agreement but also meeting those what we would consider to be more of a long term growth pattern that may happen out there with the synergies.

"We have had inquiries by other developments. And since the study session we've had another call, so it's likely that as we are starting initial design phases of this we will be able to ascertain the interest of other development communities in participating in constructing this line."

Running the line along Kortsen Road is the preferred route, Rains said. "And quite frankly, I think if our technical were here (tonight) they would say that their preference would be to run it down Kortsen.

"There's many items that we have to consider as we start to move down to actually siting this particular line. But ultimately we believe that the engineers and technical staff will assist us in establishing the proper sizes to manage within that $10-million budget that we have recommended during the budget process."

That $10-million, Rains said, "is what I would consider to be an estimate that's been based on some technical analysis as well as working with just some general numbers that we've gathered in some of our other sewer projects, such as the Gila Bend Highway project. We've tried to forecast, just based on line siting, what the project may cost.

"One of the difficult components of that, obviously, is the right of way acquisition and those types of pieces that are unknown to us today."

Rains said that for its part of the cost, the city would use development impact fees collected from construction over the years, dedicated to sewer collection lines, as well as construction sales tax that has been collected. When payments come in from AZ Sourcing, that money would go back into those funds, he said.

Rains also outlined some of the time elements of the project.

"I think most of our community is aware of the magnitude of this project and the fact that it's something that we have not seen from a staff's perspective and likely may not see for some time something this size again," he said.

"Our requirements as part of the sewer extension agreement would be that once the engineering design plans are at 90 percent completion, that would actually start our clock. We would have 18 months to deliver the sewer to the property."

The city would also limit its costs by using what is known as construction manager at risk, where a contractor guarantees to do the job for a certain amount of money and if costs go beyond that they are paid by the contractor.

"The reason we feel that would be the most adequate," Rains said, "is that we are going to need some level of preconstruction services provided and data collected and pricing developed as part of the engineering so that we know exactly the size of the lines that we can build. When the extension agreement is approved, we likely would be putting out on the street requests for proposals for general contractors very, very rapidly.

"But, again, I think that the key component to all of this -- and we've had several discussions with AZ Sourcing representatives -- is that it's going to need to be a project that we're working very closely to ensure that we're running concurrent projects with their construction phases as well as us putting a sewer line into the ground."

A look at gang task force
Casa Grande Police Department has a member assigned

(Posted March 24, 2014)

GIITEM maintains a 1-888-NO-GANGS (1-888-664-2647) tip line, where callers can leave information anonymously.

Link for tips:

(you can remain anonymous)

Neighborhood gang awareness and prevention brochure:

Information about immigration enforcement:

Drop house awareness:

Although little known to the public, the Arizona Department of Public Safety has long had an antigang task force, recently adding immigration to the mix.

What was GITEM, for Gang Intelligence Team Enforcement Mission, became GIITEM, that extra I.

The hope is that if there's a crime, the cops and GIITEM'll git 'em.

The Casa Grande Police Department is part of GIITEM, Chief Johnny Cervantes told the City Council, assigning one officer.

"GIITEM is essentially a task force, with 47 different agencies assigning personnel," he said. "We have approximately 111 officers on the task force. As far as Pinal County, we have nine officers, one sergeant and a crime analyst assigned to just this county."

The goal of the Casa Grande Police Department, Cervantes continued, is to always have one officer assigned to the task force. 

"As part of our involvement, they fund 75 percent of the officer's salary and the Police Department the other 25 percent," he said. "They also provide the training and the overtime involved with the training of the officer at no cost to the Casa Grande Police Department."

How effective the task force is sometimes breaks down to a matter of interpretation. The county statistics are not that high, but Cervantes pointed out that each arrest is one person who is not roaming around committing crimes.

You'll find the yearly countywide statistics and recap HERE

The value

As Councilman Karl Montoya put it, "When you kind of look at the numbers seized, the immigration stats, they're very low, to say the least. In your opinion, because you have an officer in there, what is the true value to Casa Grande? 

"It's obviously not the drugs in there, because we can look at some of the press releases the county puts out. Last week along, five pounds of meth, almost four pounds of cocaine out of one stop. What is the true value coming back to the city for our involvement in the GIITEM?"

It's several things, Cervantes responded.

"One is that if we have more people focusing on catching criminals, that's a huge advantage for the city of Casa Grande. And to me, the number one goal of any officer is to do just that. So whether they're gang enforcement, whether it's Pinal County, whether it's the Border Patrol or the DPS or the Casa Grande PD, the more officers we having doing that, the better off we are.

"Number two is it starts with information exchange. You have to have the information exchange to make sure you're accurately identifying the issue and accurately identifying where that issue is occurring and then utilizing the best strategies and resources to address that. And I think that's what happens when we have a person in GIITEM, as well.

"The other thing that a lot of times isn't considered is the force multiplier. Essentially, we have all those human resources from other parts of the area to come in and help us with any issue that we may or may not have. Along with the human resources, the technology. We may be able to utilize their technology, their assets or equipment and those kind of things to help us with any kind of problem that we may have.

"And finally, the other thing I think gets missed a lot is that part of our goal is to train and develop our officers. And being a part of GIITEM helps you do that. I was fortunate enough in my career that I did get to spend time with GIITEM for two years, both as an undercover officer and as an enforcement officer, as well. And the knowledge that you get from being a part of that is immeasurable, because you come back and utilize that in the city of Casa Grande."

Montoya said that a couple of years back, the extra I for immigration was added. His concern, he said, is that immigration now takes priority over local problems.

"Those numbers that you've reported, it's probably deceiving and low on that," Montoya said. "I think you'll agree that (illegal) immigration is where you're going to see something, that's where a lot of assets you're going to go and take from, the immigration portion whether it's smuggling or tracking humans as well, so there's a lot of money in that. That's probably why the state kind of added that I into that. 

"How much of that intel do you guys get from that portion of that and is coming back to where it's really help you guys work on cases, as well?"

That's hard to accurately determine, Cervantes answered.

"I can just tell you that I'm very confident that if we have an issue in the city that pertained to that issue, then we would just reach out them, utilizing our officer that's on the force and saying, hey, look, we need some additional resources, whether it's information, whether it's human resources or technology and equipment, we're going to give that information, we're going to give that out to be used on our specific problem," he said.

Councilwoman Mary Kortsen pointed out that the statistics show 52 felony arrests and three for misdemeanors. That's significant, she said, and should not be overlooked.

"I think that's a great point," Cervantes responded. 

"People might not ask that, because criminals are transient. They don't stay within a border, they don't say, okay, we're only going to operate here. They come from different areas. And so that was a very important piece that you're talking about, because people do come into Casa Grande just to commit a crime. They may not be living here, but they come here to do just that. So that's a great point about the 52 felony arrests, because it doesn't matter where were they doing it, because if they're doing in Eloy they're probably doing in Casa Grande, if they're doing it in Coolidge they're probably doing it here as well. So 52 felony arrests is a big number."

Measuring effectiveness

Mayor Bob Jackson also had a question about the drug numbers being fairly small. How do you measure the effectiveness of a task force like GIITEM? he asked.

"I think that's the question of the day, Cervantes responded. "I think that with any program you have to be reevaluating the return always, and that's what we do. Whether it's just within the Police Department, whether it's the canine unit, for example, whether it's the trafficking. And of those programs, you have to continually reevaluate it and make that determination.

"In this case, when you're talking about the information exchange, I think that's one way to certainly look at it and say, well, we have readily available information that comes from statewide. If there's any trend that comes available, we're going to know about it. If I could determine how many of those 52 arrests were in Casa Grande, specifically, that certainly be another way."

Don't mistake the question, Jackson said.

"I'm not really questioning whether we should or we shouldn't," he continued. "I'm saying how do you measure the effectiveness? I mean, if you didn't have it, would it get worse? It's a question that I don't know if there's any answer to it. But certainly, yeah, 52 arrests is huge. But would you have had 52 if you didn't have the task force or would you have had 500? There's just no way of knowing. Just trying to quantify the impact is really hard. I guess the way you do that is say we arrested 52 felonies.

"A followup question would be, if the number goes down next years, does that mean you're doing a good job? Or if it goes up next year, does it mean a bad job? "

It's a fair question, Cervantes responded.

"I mean, you take DUI statistics, for example," he said. "If we put out more DUI enforcement, chances are we're going to get more DUI arrests. The goal would be to get less. If you want to change people's behavior, that's the goal. Like you said, it's a hard question to answer. But it's very similar to this case."


Councilman Dick Powell pointed out that although there were 52 felony arrests, there are none for gangs. "Gang members basically weren't involved in any of the felonies that took place?" he asked.

"It's a fine line," Cervantes responded, "because what we're talking about is it could be a gang member but they may not have committed a gang related crime. The whole point to identify them as gang member is that at sentencing phase if we can show their gang affiliation is used to further that crime and further their gang activities the sentences would be heavier."

Councilman Ralph Varela asked what trends are showing up, what the department will have to be thinking about for responses.

"I think one of the biggest trends with our gangs," Cervantes answered, "is they're getting harder and harder to identify because they're not as open in telling you that they're belonging to a gang. So we actually have to do more work to try to get that out. They understand that if they do get documented that means harsher sentencing if they're convicted. That's one of the biggest trends with the gangs, is it's getting harder and harder to identify them because they understand what that means."

Powell said there are two ways of looking at the zero gang arrests. Are they slipping through the cracks or or we blessed with not having much of that type of activity going on?

"I think the bigger thing to look at is the actual total arrests," Cervantes responded. "Because as far as I'm concerned, whether it's a gang member or not, we're looking for career criminals. If they're committing crime and they're career criminals, then we're going to obviously go after them and make sure they're held accountable. So what this does is just helps us understand, okay, there's gang members in our community that we have to look at and focus on, just helps us understand where they're locating and who they are."

Powell asked, "Have there been any ties between distributing narcotics through the gangs that have been able to be proved, or are there suspicions? I know a lot of times that's kind of how they make their spending money, is selling drugs."

Cervantes answered, "Yeah. I think they're opportunists. In the past a lot was territorial, a lot of it was for protection. But like anyone else, they're using their entrepreneurial skills, if you will, to try to make money to further themselves. So you're absolutely correct, they do use drugs."

There's a difference between dealing with gangs and dealing with freelancers, Powell said, "and I think one of the advantages of this is GIITEM can be statewide to respond sometimes with what you're doing here. Is that correct?"

Corrects, Cervantes responded.

Powell continued, "I think if you run into a problem and you need quick help and somebody that understands how they work, where they work and what needs to be done to try to put a lid on whatever's going on, they come in trained and ready. And a lot of times not being known on the street, sometimes they're able to get things informationally that even people that are in the police force may be recognized, while some of the others would not. I've seen them before, it seems like they're effective when they come in. They've got a plan, they come at a time usually when people are sleeping and wake them up, unhappily sometimes."

Absolutely, Cervantes responded, adding that, "When you see all these officers out there, that deters crime. So when we can utilize these state police forces it's a benefit.

Varela concurred.

"I think in the past what we've seen is when we needed to have GIITEM here, they were just a very concerted, very strategical response," he said. "And I think the other value that you can measure is the intelligence that exists within the GIITEM that's shared with the police departments, and also the sources at a state level that can pull together at any point in time. It's hard to measure values, looking at one outcome. But obviously there's other outcomes or other soft value that are used a lot."

Drop houses

Varela pointed out that only one drop house of illegal immigrants was busted. "Is that because they're hard to detect or you're not getting the reporting from the communities or intelligence on this?" he asked.

Typically, the way drop houses are detected, Cervantes responded, is that someone in the neighborhood calls police.

"They know what's going on in their neighborhood, or most people do know," he said, "so our best way to identify them is if somebody calls us and says, hey, we believe this activity is occurring, there's multiple cars there or there's multiple people going in there at the nighttime hours, and then they would go out there and investigate that."

Is there any public eduction on how to detect a drop house? Varela asked.

"Any time the community has any questions or businesses have any questions on what to look for we'll be glad to come out and explain some of the indicators," Cervantes said. "But typically, high traffic at nighttime hours is one of the key indicators, that you see a lot of cars showing up, lots of people showing up. That's not the only indictor but that's one of the big ones. If somebody has a question as to what to look for, we will bring out GIITEM and they'll be glad to do a presentation on that."


Councilwoman Lisa Fitzgibbons asked what other prevention measures are being done.

"I think it all starts at the home," Cervantes responded. "The goal would be to prevent the kids from being involved. So I think the biggest key is that parental involvement and looking for some of those signs that maybe your kid may be involved in a gang.

"I've talked to parents on occasion where they say they don't want to invade their kids'  privacy. And I say, well, if they're living in your home there is no privacy and you should be looking at their books and notebooks and see if they're actually documenting names on their notebook or tattoos or any of those kind of things. That's where it begins if we really want to keep kids from being recruited and keep kids from going to gangs.

"I'm not sure what kind of program the schools have. But as I said, we would offer ourselves up to that. Maybe we should get with the schools to see. I can certainly do that, follow up and see if there is a specific program that they're utilizing, and if not then we can certainly team up with them to get that information out to them."

The future

"We kind of saw GITTEM every day, then they kind of went away, the mission's kind of changed," Councilman Montoya said. "Is there any new vision or scopes that they're sharing with us of where they're going, or are they just going to continue the status quo?"

Cervantes responded that, "As far as I know, they're continue to go on with their current mission. I'm not aware of any changes they have.

"But what's important to realize is that when we evaluate on a monthly basis the numbers on chargeable crimes, then I just get to determine, okay, we need more resources for this, we need more resources for that, regardless of it gang initiated or not. 

"And that's the important thing to remember, is that we do have a monthly basis, so if we need additional, then that's where we're going to go to get them."

Art museum moving ahead
      Repairs being made, works displayed, Modlin show set

Roger Olson, Regis Sommers and Bob Spille at front of museum

(Posted Feb. 9, 2014)

Scroll down page for earlier museum story

The Casa Grande Art Museum is slowly coming back from limbo.

More volunteers are  helping out, repairs are being made, paintings are being rehung and a major art show and sale of paintings by the late Casa Grande artist Paul Modlin is scheduled for April 11.

The museum, which went dark last last year, is now home to two retired Army officers turned artists -- Roger Olson and Bob Spille -- who work there and act as docents, repairmen and volunteer coordinators.

"Since Roger and Bob have come aboard, more and more volunteers have come forward," Regis Sommers, a museum board member, said. "This week the gazebo got painted."

"It was Chat, Chew and Chocolate that was heavy into that one," Olson said. "They can use some kudos on that one."

Among the volunteers, Sommers said, was Larry Patterson, a master gardener.

"He walked the property with Roger and Bob," she said. "What we gained was knowledge on these trees. He knew they had to go."

Olson said some of the trees are diseased and must be removed.

"A definite honorable mention to Clifford Gardner of Casa Grande Pest Control, who came in and sprayed for weeds," Olson said. "He sprayed the whole place," Spile added.

And, Olson said, there's the matter of bird droppings all over the property.

"Realistically," he said, "if this an open area to walk around out there would we want kids running around in that? That answer would be, absolutely not. We can't have an outdoor museum as long as we have excess bird droppings around, because it would be health hazard."

Pigeons have always been a problem in the old downtown, Sommers said.

"They were terrible," she said. "We used to have, we called him The Bird Man, would come, through Kirk McCarville, and capture the pigeons and take them to his place because he loved pigeons."

The building, built in 1929, also needs to be inspected for termites. "We know it's been treated, we just don't know how long ago," Sommers said. Olson added, "There's definitely been termites here in the past."

As Olson and Spille go through the building for repairs, little oddities show up.

"Did you realize that in the history of this house that there was a system to get food down to the basement?" Olsen said. "It's in the writeup of the house. The only access I think would be is that once upon a time this was set up that you could lower things down, go put your milk and that down."

"Cold storage," or what passed for that in those days, Sommers said.

Other volunteers are still needed, Olson said.

"We desperately want a woodworker," he continued. "I can probably put that in myself, but boy would I love to find somebody who knows wood flooring and has the tool that could piece that area in."

Help is needed readjusting the back door and resizing the draft sweep and eventually the windows need to be reglazed and the trim painted.

Sommers said the museum board is looking into applying to Native American tribes for grants from Indian casino money.

"You can get money from them for operational costs, but along with that you have to embrace them," she said. "So my idea is to get a Native American to do the mural on the wall of the sign shop, do a mural here and then they can have an art show here. We can have dancers out here on the patio, we can have speakers."

Spille said he had received a call from a woman interested in a writing workshop.

"I told her I'd be happy to bring whatever ideas she might have to the board. I said as far as I know they embrace the arts in general, not just visual. They're talking 15, 20 people and again that would be a way to get some money.

"Roger and I have already discussed would there be any objection if we could find the right kind of person to do some painting workshops in here in the next two months, three months. It would have to be March, April. I think it would be a perfect place to have a workshop."

In the meantime, Sommers said, persons wishing to volunteer for grounds and buildings work may call Olson at 421-7323 (home) or 610-8169 (cell). Those wanting to help hang a show or volunteer in the museum may call Spille at 252-6563 or Sommers at 836-0237. "Please call Bob or me," Sommers said. "That way that keeps the board involved."

And that brings it around to the April 11 Modlin art show.

Hours and other details are yet to be announced, but Sommers said "there is an estate that has a collection of 10 Paul Modlin paintings, small, large, medium. They want to come into the museum and hang the show and sell those paintings and then the museum gets 20 percent. So we're in the works on that."

Modlin, who died in 2008, "did some very nice things," Spille said. 

"He did," Sommers agreed. "Our family has a couple of them."

In 2011, Brian Kramer of the Casa Grande Dispatch highlighted some of Modlin's background. You'll find that HERE, scrolling down to Modlin.

Modlin's obituary is HERE

An example of Paul Modlin's work, from 1986, is displayed at Elli's Artisan Gifts, 417 N. Florence St. (It is not for sale.)

Among the works now displayed are ...

At right: Nude carving entirely from basswood, Tim McFarland. Below: The Naturalist, copper repousse, Richard Leibold. Bottom: Layers of Life acrylic, Samantha Mindrum Logan.

'We're no longer dark. 
The lights are on ...'

Agreement allows Casa Grande Art Museum to reopen

Bob Spille, upper left, Roger Olson and Regis Sommers discuss an agreement with the two retired military men turned artists that allows them to use the Casa Grande Art Museum in return for doing maintenance and repairs and welcoming guests. The pact reopens the museum, dark since late September.

As is plainly evident from the donations box at the museum, money is also needed.

(Posted Jan. 16, 2014)

The Casa Grande Art Museum is open again, with the help from two retired Army medical officers turned artists.

It was announced in September that the museum would close because of maintenance problems and lack of money. Volunteers were also needed, Regis Sommers, a Friends of the Arts board member, recalls.

That has been turned around with the arrival of Bob Spille and Roger Olson, the retired military men who are essentially moving into the museum at 319 W. Third St., trading the space for their help in maintaining the building and greeting and guiding guests.

It's been a long road, Sommers said.

Because of the problems at the museum, "we were not financially capable of having a regular seasonal show or shows," she said. 

Olsen saw in the Casa Grande Dispatch newspaper that the museum was closing, leading his wife, Gloria, to call Sommers and tell her that Olsen and Spille would like to rent the building for painting studio space.

"I wear rose-colored glasses when it comes to things like this, so I thought it was a win-win for the museum," Sommers said. "I did not think about the details of what it entailed in order for two people to rent space in this museum. I took it to the board and the board was hesitant about it. So then these gentlemen came and each talked to me individually and then we met together and it just got better and better and better."

One of the board's main concerns was about getting into the landlord business and all the legalities that would entail.

"To make it all work," Olsen said, "rather than us in a renting situation we're become the full time volunteers, manage and run all the volunteer time, and in addition we'll become caretakers, recommending to the board what needs to be done and doing everything from washing windows to planning this, that and the other thing. That gets us over the complication of renting it, and we get the space here."

As Spille adds, "We'll be here, we'll set up your permanent hours and we will be here during those times and we will be here, more than likely, in addition to those times. And when we are here, we'd be very happy to open the museum for anyone that would like to come and wander in.

"I expect that this is probably going to be more like 25, 30 hours a week that the museum will be able to be open. That's one of the complaints I've heard from people in the community, saying I've been over there three or four time and it's never been open. So we're just hoping this is going to definitely be something that will assist the board."

Spille said that one of the difficult things about keeping docents and volunteers "has been the fact that somebody comes in here and sits for four or five or six hours and they just about go stark raving mad, sitting around wondering is anybody going to drop today or not."

With each man having a room for his painting, he said, "We're going to be here, we're going to be busy whether there's anyone here or not.

"We figure we'll find out what the art's all about, what the museum's all about and be able to pass that along. That's one of the things people want to come in here for."

Olson's suggestion is that perhaps "make it so it's self-guided tours, have a little writeup on (artwork). I like to go to museums and I like to go where it's racket-free but there's echoes going in here, so why not have people just come in and read it rather than having to say the same story over and over?"

That's the future.

"But now, for me, they are the voice and the face of the museum," Sommers said. "They love this building as much as we all do and they've grown very fond of it over the last couple of months."

The agreement to use the building runs through the end of May, Sommers said, "then we will revisit and we'll see if this is going to work next season. We came to an agreement in a meeting that if it does happen that we can bring in artists, that these two guys would double up in a room and we'd be able to hang another show. We'd be able to hang several shows during that time."

Spille said he and Olson want to "assist in some outreach to the community and community members and businesses to see if we can't drum up some additional donations from people. This is a worthwhile experiment and we want to be active along with the board in helping provide that. In the past, we had talked about doing workshops here. Through our contacts with other artists in the state and around the area, possibly we can get people to come in and provide workshops and that's another way to earn money."

Sommers added, "We made a bold statement in September to go dark. And it was a bold enough statement and the reason behind it that it worked, because these two guys stepped forward. We knew it would be a reaction from the community about going dark that we hoped it would help financially, but these two brought something totally different to the table."

It's real simple, Olson said: "Do the volunteers and do the work."

Some volunteer work has been offered for renovation and repairs at the building, built in 1929 by Gus Kratzka, Sommers said. Electrician Jeep Phillips has repaired the outside lights and is doing other work. Claire Davis sent in a landscaping crew. Master gardener Larry Patterson has done a survey of the grounds. Olson said Clifford Casa Grande Pest Control has offered to do work for free.

"We want to try to get volunteers," Olson continued. "We already have the electrician, which is really cool, but the irrigation system is in total disrepair and we desperately want to find someone. And we're looking to talk with Palm Creek and the other 55-plus communities and find all the folks that could maybe come down and commit, maybe donate stuff.

Spille added, "We think there's a lot of potential volunteer help in this community that's just not being found."

Other help is needed, Olson said.

"We would love to find someone who would be generous enough to come in and trim trees," he said. "That's costly, but we really need a tree trimmer in the worst way. That door over there really needs to be redone and reset, because right now it's just dirt and dust and rain and everything coming in. We need someone who's into wood that can take care of that."

Sommers added, "I think with these gentlemen sitting in this building and being able to tell their story and our story, that that's where we are going to find some of our not only financial, but in-kind donations."

As it now stands, Sommers said, the museum will be open Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 11 to 3 p.m.

"We kind of offset our hours," she continued, "because we are partnering with Main Street and the Historical Society. The Historical Society, they're open from noon to 4, so that gives (visitors) a chance to go visit the museum there, then pop over here. But we're going to trade information back and forth, whatever events they have or exhibits, if they come here first they're able to get information about the Historical Society, vice versa. Main Street on Tuesday when they do the tour, Downtown Tuesday, the museum will be part of that tour at least twice between now and May. We're just partnering with both nonprofits.

"I'm just tickled pink, and the board of directors is tickled pink.

"My last words to the Friends of the Arts board last night at a meeting were, "We're no longer dark. The lights are on." 

Who are Bob Spille and Roger Olson?

At left, one of Bob Spille's art projects

(Posted Jan. 16, 2014)

Spille background sheet HERE, Olson HERE

Bob Spille and Roger Olson met in the Army 44 years ago, both commissioned officers in the Medical Corps and assigned to a headquarters in Heidelberg, Germany.

They were stationed together off and on through the years, finally getting together for good in Casa Grande.

"We have been good friends ever since," Bob says. "We hadn't been stationed together all that often since we met but every three or four years we'd get together somewhere. Roger and his wife, Gloria, were in Florida for awhile, my wife and I were in Texas, we were in Colorado. So we kind of bounced around and we'd get together pretty regularly.

"And most recently, Roger and Gloria were living in Washington state where Gloria's mother was ill and eventually passed away. And they said, hey, we need a place to live, where are we going to go? And we said, well, come on down, look around Casa Grande, and they did and here they are."

That was five years ago for Olson. Bob and his wife, Beverly, moved to Casa Grande permanently about eight years ago.

So what's this deal about being painters? Army, artists? Does that compute?

"We did that in Heidelberg together," Roger says.

As Bob recalls, "Both of our wives were painting, my wife was taking painting classes. In Heidelberg, we didn't have television -- which was very nice -- and so I listened to music, we learned to play the guitar, we did painting. We both of us maybe copied a picture or two, using my wife's materials, but never did another thing after that. 

"And so about two and a half years ago, we spent the summer in Minnesota and I said I'm going to crazy up here if I don't have something to do. So I picked up some oil paints and started painting. Roger did about the same time."

Sort of, Roger recalls, adding that, "I bought a set of acrylics and they sat on the counter at the home for a year and then Bob mentioned it and then I think about a year and a half ago we started up again.

The two and their wives spent last summer painting in the White Mountains. This summer  was Sedona.

"We rented a little place for a week, did some painting stuff," Roger says. "You have to get out of the house or you find too many things to do around there. Now my problem here at the museum is that with buildings and grounds I've got plenty of excuses not to work in there (his painting room at the museum), I'm out here doing stuff. This is like being at home."

Bob retired from the Army at age 42. Roger was 46.

"I ran a couple of hospitals in Texas for awhile," Bob says. "Then I lived in Sierra Vista, is what brought me to Arizona. My last duty assignment was in Fort Huachuca, administrator of an Army hospital there.

"We fell in love with Arizona and spent about 10 years here before moving back to Colorado where some of the kids were and then about eight years ago we decided it's getting too cold up there."

Retirement isn't all that it's cracked up to be, some people say.

"Well, it has been for me, because I've got so many avocations," Roger says. "We have no children, so we had the freedom to do stuff. 

"The day I retired from the Army we moved onboard our sailboat and we sailed Chesapeake Bay for five months. Then we headed to Bermuda and the Caribbean and we were 13 months there. Then I pursued other jobs in Florida, where I was an assistant boat captain. I worked for a Miami attorney and he had 53-foot and 63-foot motor yacht and I was going to be the law office "Hey, boy" and I turned out to be his private yacht guy. So that worked out great. 

"And then we took another job at a high end resort called Ocean Reefs Club in north Key Largo and there my wife and I managed a high-end home, a $2-million home. In addition to having boats and grounds and home and so on, also cooking is my hobby so I was also the cook for all their dinner parties. We did that for about eight years before we finally went up to Washington state where Gloria's mother was ill until she passed away and then we moved down here.

"I went different directions than Bob did after the Army. He stayed on the professional end, where I went out and pulled all my avocations together."

For Bob, his bio says, that includes administrator of a hospital in Fulton, Mo., administrator and CEO of a hospital in Cameron, Texas, president and CEO of Arizona Family Care Associates in Sierra Vista and consultant to two medical groups in California.

Along the way, he found time to design and build a home in Colorado.

Now the two have the art museum to look after, a welcome diversion.

"Gosh, like right now, I don't garden, I'm not too big on that," Roger says. "It was painting at home, cook, golf."

Yeah, Bob adds, but "you can only play so much golf."

BELOW: Roger Olson's work area at the museum

In a brutal year for small businesses,
Birds n' Blossoms opens and prospers

-- additional photos in GALLERY. Click on photos to enlarge

Dean Vestal, above, works in the arranging room at Birds n' Blossoms.

At left, greenery and statuary are features of the shop.

(Posted Jan. 7, 2014)

Many small-business owners in Casa Grande will tell you that this past summer was the most brutal they have ever struggled through.

Customers down, sales down, income down.

Through all of that, Birds n' Blossoms, begun a year ago at 115 E. Fourth St., both survived and continued to grow, offering a mix of floral arrangements, home decorations and specialty furniture.

That bucked the national trend of a 55 percent small-business rate failure as charted by the Census Bureau and other studies showing that 85 percent of small businesses fail within the first year.

Dean Vestal, the owner, chalks it up to being financially prepared to ride out the rockiness of a first year, paying attention to customers and reaching out to the community – all while offering something unique.

"Well, it was a slow summer and we expected it to be," Vestal said, speaking in the corporate We, "but we came prepared for that. We planned ahead to back the business until it goes.

“We still stayed busy all the time, we always had work to do. We paid the bills because we planned to back it. It was slower, but it was pretty steady.

"But overall it's been really good. I mean, last winter and spring were great and then of course this fall has been really good."

Part of the success was from advertising in the local newspaper and in a lifestyles magazine, Vestal said, but much of it has been reaching out in the old downtown area.

“What we do as far as going out is doing the flowers on tables in three restaurants (Cook E Jar, Big House and Cuban Kitchen) and that really does help us,” Vestal continued. “We do those once a week or once every other week, generally. We do eight little pieces over at Cuban Kitchen plus a little bit larger one on the bar. We do 14 over at the Big House and 14 over at Mary Ann's Cook E Jar.

“And we keep our business cards back to back on each arrangement and they disappear. And the people come in. They'll even come on Monday and knock on the door when we're closed and say we were at Mary Ann's. That's been really good.”

Vestal also counts personal contact and care as part of the success.

“I think the other thing that we do – not that the other people don't – is we have a lot of hospitality, we offer coffee and sometimes wine. We enjoy people and we enjoy them coming in.”

Many people want to see the garden patio at the back of the building, passing through the arrangement area and dining room, Vestal said.

“They want to see the dining room and we let them use it during business hours,” he continued. “We have a lot of little groups of eight around this table, or six around that table. And I think because of that, they buy merchandise and they get to know us.”

In addition to floral, Vestal sells furniture and larger home décor item items.

There’s no catalog. You tell Vestal what you’re looking for and he tries to find it while out and about.

“We do go out scouting for people, we take orders for people,” he said. “Most of our furniture is from estate sales or second hand dealers. If there is something you would like, we’d be on the lookout for it, we'd take a picture of it and email it to you and say, hey, is this something that fits the bill. And if they say yes, then we buy it, bring it home and sell it to them.

“One day we had over $1,500 in sales, because somebody came in to pick up a chair they had bought previously and they bought another chair to go with it and then they bought a sofa and then they bought a rug.

“So I think the diversity is a lot of it, that it's a lot of different things.”

Vestal arrived in Casa Grande from Hawaii, wanting to be closer to his daughter and grandchildren.

“We saw the for rent sign in this window out here and it got us thinking and scheming and planning,” he said. “I was a florist for nine years. I've had several careers, but over the years in different clumps of time I've done floral design full time.”

The business now has one wide glassed floral cooler, but “we're already planning to turn one of the rooms into a walk-in cooler, perhaps around August,” Vestal said. “We’ll insulate the entire 12 by 12 room and chill it. It will be display space as well, it's not just a refrigerator, it'll be a display area. Ought to be fun.

 “It’ll be brightly lit with that new LED lighting that doesn't have any heat to it and we plan to use rustic garden type furniture and display the arrangements on furniture in the cooler room. And we'll have maybe a water feature in there  and some plants if they can bear the cold. Otherwise, we'll have a grow light with a garden area outside the cooler room.

“I understand we're going to be on the garden tour in April, which will be kind of fun, so we’ll  try to beef that up a little bit before then with some blooming plants and things like that.”

A look at how many in Casa Grande
and area get Social Security benefits

(Posted Aug. 25, 2013)

You’ll find the data at

Scroll down to Casa Grande

If you dig deeply enough in the mountain of statistics gathered by the U.S. Census Bureau you find a wealth of data about a community.

Given that there are more than 300 million people now in the United States, it takes months or years to compile all of that data for individual areas.

Such is the case with how many people in the Casa Grande area are receiving Social Security benefits (the formal name is Old Age, Survivor and Disability Insurance) and in what categories. The latest statistics are for December 2011.

But they still give a general picture.

The data is broken down by ZIP codes, meaning that depending upon where mail is received, either at an address or a Post Office box, Casa Grande has four reporting areas – 85122, 85130, 85193 and 85194.

The breakdown also includes other cities and locations in the area covered by the Casa Grande field office.

The breakdowns are:

Casa Grande 85122

8,420 receiving benefits, broken down as 5,540 retired workers, 1,300 disabled workers, 545 widow(er)s or parents, 300 spouses, 735 children. The yearly total of benefits paid was $9,358,000. Of that, $6,714,000 was to retired workers and $618,000 to widow(er)s or parents.

Casa Grande 85130

775 receiving benefits, broken down as 460 retired workers, 140 disabled workers, 70 widow(er)s or parents, 25 spouses, 80 children. The yearly total of benefits paid was $822,000. Of that, $546,000 was to retired workers and $74,000 to widow(er)s or parents.

Casa Grande 85193

570 receiving benefits, broken down as 345 retired workers, 110 disabled workers, 45 widow(er)s or parents, 20 spouses, 50 children. The yearly total of benefits paid was $605,000. Of that, $392,000 was to retired workers and $48,000 to widow(er)s or parents.

Casa Grande 85194

1,425 receiving benefits, broken down as 1,100 retired workers, 155 disabled workers, 55 widow(er)s or parents, 60 spouses, 55 children. The yearly total of benefits paid was $1,732,000. Of that, $1,401,000, was to retired workers and $68,000 to widow(er)s or parents.

Bapchule 85121

305 receiving benefits, broken down as 90 retired workers, 85 disabled workers, 30 widow(er)s or parents, 10 spouses, 90 children. The yearly total of benefits paid was $228,000. Of that, $85,000 was to retired workers and $22,000 to widow(er)s or parents.

Arizona City 85123

2,110 receiving benefits, broken down as 1,345 retired workers, 380 disabled workers, 105 widow(er)s or parents, 80 spouses, 200 children. The yearly total of benefits paid was $2,276,000. Of that, $1,590,000 was to retired workers and $121,000 to widow(er)s or parents.

Coolidge 85128

2,385 receiving benefits, broken down as 1,245 retired workers, 490 disabled workers, 190 widow(er)s or parents, 90 spouses, 370 children. The yearly total of benefits paid was $2,325,000. Of that, $1,382,000 was to retired workers and $188,000, to widow(er)s or parents.

Eloy 85131

1,870 receiving benefits, broken down as 1,150 retired workers, 315 disabled workers, 120 widow(er)s or parents, 75 spouses, 210 children. The yearly total of benefits paid was $1,878,000. Of that, $1,314,000 was to retired workers and $121,000 to widow(er)s or parents.

Florence 85132

3,385 receiving benefits, broken down as 2,205 retired workers, 549 disabled workers, 175 widow(er)s or parents, 96 spouses, 370 children. The yearly total of benefits paid was $3,803,000. Of that, $2,695,000 was to retired workers and $199,000 to widow(er)s or parents.

Maricopa 85138

3,450 receiving benefits, broken down as 2,220 retired workers, 600 disabled workers, 165 widow(er)s or parents, 115 spouses, 350 children. The yearly total of benefits paid was $4,176,000. Of that, $2,930 was to retired workers and $196,000 to widow(er)s or parents.

Maricopa 85139

2,320 receiving benefits, broken down as 1,325 retired workers, 480 disabled workers, 135 widow(er)s or parents, 70 spouses, 310 children. The yearly total of benefits paid was $2,539,000. Of that, $1,630,000 was to retired workers and $147,000 to widow(er)s or parents.

Picacho 85141

120 receiving benefits, broken down as 80 retired workers, 20 disabled workers, no widow(er)s or parents, 10 spouses, 10 children. The yearly total of benefits paid was $121,000. Of that, $86,000 was to retired workers. No widow(er)s or parents payments are listed.

Red Rock 85145

110 receiving benefits, broken down as 65 retired workers, 20 disabled workers, 10 widow(er)s or parents, no spouses, 15 children. The yearly total of benefits paid was $115,000. Of that, $79,000 was to retired workers and $6,000 to widow(er)s or parents.

Sacaton 85147

640 receiving benefits, broken down as 230 retired workers, 155 disabled workers, 70 widow(er)s or parents, 20 spouses, 165 children. The yearly total of benefits paid was $523,000,000. Of that, $232,000 was to retired workers and $54,000 to widow(er)s or parents.

Stanfield 85172

300 receiving benefits, broken down as 185 retired workers, 50 disabled workers, 25 widow(er)s or parents, 15 spouses, 25 children. The yearly total of benefits paid was $283,000. Of that, $186,000,000 was to retired workers and $24,000,000 to widow(er)s or parents.

Valley Farms 85191

80 receiving benefits, broken down as 55 retired workers, 10 disabled workers, 5 widow(er)s or parents, 5 spouses, 5 children. The yearly total of benefits paid was $90,000,000. Of that, $64,000 was to retired workers and $6,000 to widow(er)s or parents.

An overview of the Life on Main redevelopment

The concept map above shows the various areas included in the Life on Main project and what would go into each. The areas are color coded, with each having an explanation box, in the same color.

Who builds what in Life on Main
and where things will be located

(Posted July 21, 2013)

This is the last of a series of articles.

The draft plan is found here

The master plan for the Life on Main redevelopment of the area on both side of Florence Street south of the railroad tracks has a variety of commercial and business use areas.

On the west side would be a light industrial area, which could include a business startup/incubator center, fabrication operations, manufacturing, warehousing or assembly.

On the south end in the center west of Elliott Park is what is called a live/work area that would include retail stores, which could have apartments or condos on the second floor. There would also be stand-along apartments or condos.

The historic plaza area to the north just below the railroad tracks would incorporate the old Casa Grande Hotel and Shonessy House into useable buildings for offices, some retail and restaurants.

To the east of the plaza would be a commercial area that could include retail, restaurants and offices.

As Planning and Development Director Paul Tice was making a Life on Main presentation to the Planning and Zoning Commission, member Joel Braunstein asked what part of the area would be for private developers, given that the city owns and will keep the old hotel and the Shonessy House.

Tice replied that the buildings that would go up at the corner of South Florence Street and Main Avenue would be private.

“The new zoning (which would include restrictions to keep the buildings similar to North Florence) would dictate their setbacks and their height, but those would be private development,” he said.

The entire block marked for live/work would be private development, Tice added.

That would also be the case for the light industrial area.

“That would be private,” Tice said. “There might be some mixture of a private development. We’ve talked about is that a good location for, like, a building that allows us to consolidate a lot of nonprofits in the community into one structure, is that a good use? We’re really not sure, but likely that is also for private development.

“So you look at it, the only thing, really, that would be retained by the city would be the historic plaza (old hotel and Shonessy House) and Elliott Park.”

Elliott Park is now owned by the elementary school district, but Tice said the city is negotiating to eventually have ownership.

The money

The big question for the future will be funding, both public and private.

“If we build this a little bit at a time, the first several things that happen are sacrificial lambs that probably won’t make it, and if we build it all at one time we don’t have enough money as a community to do that,” Mike Henderson, the commission vice chairman, said.

“Just for fun, play with this: Write a request for proposals, see who will bid on it if they get some guarantees against losses for some period of time. Is that a practical thing to do, would anybody bid?”

That could happen, said Ben Bitter, the city’s senior management analyst overseeing the Life on Main project.

“And I think the idea is that there’s going to have to be some public improvement first to serve as a catalyst to bring traffic down to the area,” he continued. “I’m not saying it’s going to be car traffic, but population, bring people to the area.

“If we don’t, for example, improve Elliott Park, if we don’t put in a trail system or something along those lines along Union Pacific railroad, people are just going to continue to look at that as what it’s always been looked at.

“What we want to do is really enhance an ability for private development. So our goal is not necessarily to develop it ourselves, but certainly turn over to private development and that would certainly involve the process of an RFP.

“With that same process, someone could say, hey, I’m going to pick up this plan, looks great, a lot of the work has been done for me.

“The zoning at that point would be done because the city would have gone through the zoning process,” Bitter continued. “So a lot of their preliminary groundwork that they would normally have to do on just a plain site, that would be taken care of. So hopefully those type of things we can do in advance would be enough incentive to bring a private developer to the area.

“But again, your guess is as good as mine as to who or when a developer may come in. But at the very least, we served our original purpose of cleaning up the area and hope to continue to serve the purposes of tying the areas together and really starting to enhance the downtown area.”

Henderson had another question, given the state of the economy and limited city money.

“So where are we for figuring out a way to pay for this?” Henderson asked. “Is this for real? Can we go to the City Council and say we approve of this and council will go forth and do something, or what are the first things that are going to happen if we approve it and the council approves it?”

Bitter did not have a definite answer on where money would come from.

“Great question,” he said, “and obviously something that we had talked about early on. We didn’t want to get to a point where everything was so pie in the sky that nothing would ever happen. And so I think that’s really the impetus behind the implementation plan, where it really starts giving those steps. Some steps which don’t cost money, some which are minimal cost and some which will require some assistance from partners.

“But really that implementation plan lays out a pretty good path for us to follow so that we can start implementing some of these, I guess the low hanging fruit, the smaller items before we turn over and try and get some private investment into the area.”

End of series

A major part of Life on Main project
will be working around the railroad

The concept for dealing with railroad tracks cutting through the project area includes a pedestrian overcrossing at the foot of Washington Street on the north, sidewalks and landscaping on both side of the tracks and a wrought iron fence between the landscaping and the rails. This view looks south at the old Casa Grande Hotel area. Below are concepts of the various types of pedstrian bridges that could be constructed.

(Posted July 20, 2013)

This is the fourth of a series of articles.

The draft plan is found here

Along about the mid 1950s, a novelty song by several artists, notably Vaughn Monroe, hit the charts lamenting about the railroad coming through the middle of the house.

The railroad comes through the middle of the house

The railroad comes through the middle of the house

The trains all come through the middle of the house

Since the company bought the land

They let us live in the front of the house

They let us live in the back

But there ain't no livin' in the middle of the house

'Cause that's the railroad track


It sort of like that with the Life on Main plan to join the present downtown along Florence Street with the area along Florence to the south from Main Avenue south to Second Avenue.

The Union Pacific Railroad comes through the middle of the house.

With cooperation and careful planning, the city hopes, the situation will not turn into the end of the song:

I'm singing this song in the middle of the house …

(locomotive whistle, sound of train rushing through). Silence. End of singer. End of song.


Planning and Development Director Paul Tice outlined to the Planning and Zoning Commission some of the initial work and thoughts about how to deal with the railroad.

“We had a lot of discussions as the plan was going through about how to deal with the railroad and what its impact was on this area,” he said. “And it’s impact clearly, I think, is to segregate the downtown from this area. The goal is how to deal with that segregation, how to incorporate it into the design and how to really make it more safe and certainly more esthetically appealing.”

Along the actual tracks is railroad right of way, some of it bare land, some of it used for storing Union Pacific’s equipment and other items

“The idea was to negotiate with the Union Pacific on letting the city lease some of the railroad right of way adjacent to both Main Avenue and Main Street to create linear open space on the Main Avenue side with probably a public sidewalk on both sides, additional parking, different types of parking arrangements that might be able to occur in there.”

That open space, including a trail on one side of the tracks, would be separated from the rails.

“The plan calls for a fence,” Tice said “A wrought iron type of fence, I think, is envisioned to separate these linear open spaces from the tracks themselves to provide additional safety for pedestrians. There are some fatalities associated with the railroad tracks, some pedestrian fatalities, so we would try to make the area more safe.

“We’ve had some preliminary discussions with the railroad regarding this and the indications are that they’re receptive to negotiating with us. Safety is a big issue for them, pedestrian safety. Obviously, it’s wide open today, there’s lots of potential for conflict between vehicles and pedestrians in the tracks. And so this plan would hopefully improve that safety situation, as well as start to allow that corridor to become an amenity and add some value to both the downtown area and to the Life on Main area.”

Part of the master plan calls for a pedestrian overpass leading from the foot of Washington Street on the north side, across the tracks and down into the planned historic plaza between the old Casa Grande Hotel and the Shonessy House.

Bob Caravona of Matrix Design Group, hired by the to work up the Life on Main master plan, pointed out that today about 45 or 50 trains come down the tracks daily.

“In our discussions with the UP,” he said, “they intend to increase train usage, perhaps have longer trains. Once again, they reiterated the need for safety and also at-grade crossing or separated grade crossing. I believe they had that discussion previously with the city. But they were very excited about the planning potential to stop pedestrian, renegade pedestrian traffic, crossing.”

Commission member Joel Braunstein said he thinks it is a great plan for the area but has concerns about trains.

“You’re talking about 40 to 45, 45 to 50 trains a mile-plus long and there’s only two through streets, one on each end of the district,” he said. “What is the anticipated impact on traffic backup and noise? Are there noise restrictions for trains as they’re coming through that area?”

Caravona said the question was posed to Union Pacific.

“They anticipate delays,” he said. “I believe there’s an ongoing discussion with the city that they’re (city) looking for a separated grade crossing somewhere in downtown and may have to be someplace that’s close.”

He was referring to the concept of pushing Pinal Avenue south from Florence Street to cross the tracks on an overpass. That could be 10 to 15 years into the future.

Braunstein said he has lived in areas of the Midwest where there were constant battles about train noise, especially in the hours shortly after midnight.

Caravona responded that, “The railroad, essentially, is a self regulating entity. But there are opportunities to have specialized crossing, hornless crossing, so that gates come down on both sides and pedestrians don’t cross. You have directional signalization of horns, so it’s not blasting out through the entire area. But these are costly. I recently came from Flagstaff and I believe it was like $350,000 to $500,000 just to correct horns at one crossing.”

Ben Bitter, the city management analyst overseeing the Life on Main project, said Casa Grande has in the past looked at having what are called quiet zones.

From the railroad’s view, he said, “they have to have some mechanism that they can use to alert oncoming whether it be traffic, pedestrians or otherwise that there’s a train coming.

“Certainly by putting in the wrought iron fencing there (along with the pedestrian overpass) … that is a benefit for the Union Pacific Railroad, as well. We’ve been working with them in the past on studies and we’ve looked at our own noise studies as far as how we could mitigate some of those impacts. Certainly the design elements of the plan also incorporated some of that to block out some of that noise from the residential area.”

The plan calls for new buildings in the development area to be laid out in a way “where if a train were to blow its horn, a lot of that would be shot up into the air because there’s a building right there,” Bitter said.

Commission member Fred Tucker asked how much of the trail system, sidewalks, landscaping and pedestrian bridge would be on railroad easement land.

“Obviously, the railroad’s going to be happy about maybe putting a fence and stuff up there,” he said, “but just because they’re happy about the potential of fence doesn’t mean they’re going to give us any right of way.”

Bitter responded that, “Union Pacific owns everything basically from the curb of Main Avenue to the curb of Main Street. It’s a wide swatch of land.

“As we talked to the Union Pacific, we talked about their future needs, ideas for expansion, what their ultimate buildout would look like and we came to some, I’m not going to say agreement because we can’t have an agreement unless it’s on paper, but we came to some consensus that they probably have extra land there, and that’s where we built in those trails in the plan.

“If you look at our trails master plan that was passed by our parks and recreation board, those trails are planned to go through that area.

“There’s been discussions as part of this plan and I think the Union Pacific is generally agreeable to work on those type of solutions. While the plan may show 50 feet of easement, so to speak, or 50 feet of leased space, it may end up at 40, it may end up at 30 on one side, it may end up at 60 on the other side of the tracks. It just depends on Union Pacific, and we’ll continue to work with them and they’ve been a good partner.”

Tucker asked if putting up the fence and the pedestrian overpass might not be increasing safety in one area but decreasing it in another.

“I was born and raised here, I had a business down there, so I know what the traffic looks like and I know what the renovations that we did before did to some of those businesses on Main (Street). You’re going to get as much traffic going around those fences as you are going over the bridge. So has there been some discussion? That area right there just concerns me.

“I love the plan, I love revitalization both north and south of the tracks, but the pedestrian bridge and a fence really concern me because the railroad is not easy to work with, they change their mind constantly and I’m worried about instead of extending that fence all along (the street), which isn’t in the proposal, we’re sacrificing safety in some areas and improving it another.”

Bitter said the reasoning for the wrought iron fence and the pedestrian overcrossing were to enhance safety.

“If you put the iron fence on both sides,” he said, “theoretically that’s going to funnel people that are walking to those intersections, which are a little bit safer because the arms come down. But the real thought is maybe that’s too far for them to walk and maybe they’d prefer to just go up and over that pedestrian overpass.

“That’s why that is a mid block overpass, a mid block crossing, because maybe they’ll get an idea that if you’ve got traffic coming through there, hey, this is a safe way and also it’s closer for me to walk, I don’t have to walk over to the corner, I can cross here.

“And so some of those elements go into the safety aspect and that’s why I think, you know, as we worked with Union Pacific that they were generally favorable to those type of ideas.”

NEXT: Development areas.

Life on Main project focus will extend
the look of Florence Street to the south

The top photo shows Florence Street north of the railroad tracks. The bottom photo is Florence south of the tracks as it appears today.

The Life on Main plan would extend the north Florence streetscape to the south.

(Posted July 19, 2013)

This is the third of a series of articles.

The draft plan is found here

Planning and Development Director Paul Tice put it rather succinctly during his Life on Main presentation to the Casa Grande Planning and Zoning Commission on plans for redeveloping the area on both sides of Florence Street south of the railroad tracks:

“As you know, Florence Street extends across the track and today it’s almost like it’s a hard edge between the downtown area and this area,” he said. “There’s really no really good common design elements between those two areas that tie them together.”

The master plan for the area would try to create those common elements so that the area south of the tracks feels like an extension of the downtown area rather than a wasteland.

“The idea is that it’s not going to compete with the downtown as being like a downtown annex,” Tice said. “It’s going to have some different land uses that’d be very distinctly different in nature. But it will feel like an extension of the downtown and not really segregated.”

The first method, he continued, “is really to take the landscaping and the streetscape design that’s currently on Florence Street now with the trees and the sidewalk, that whole design element, and extend it into Florence Street from Main Avenue all the way down to the intersection of Second Avenue. It would be basically an extension of that downtown streetscape.

“The idea is if we can pull those design elements that are on the existing downtown streetscape into this area, automatically we’ll start having an impact and start transforming it and make that visual linkage between downtown and this area.”

Building regulations would also play a part.

“The other part of the urban design technique for making this area start to look like an extension of downtown is to require the new buildings built along Florence Street, especially on the west side, to have a build-to line up to the sidewalk,” Tice said. “They would be built up to the sidewalk, just like the downtown area, to replicate that building form that is in the downtown in terms of the buildings have a relationship to the street, to the sidewalk. The heights will be about the same, the form will be essentially the same.

“The building uses might, in fact, be different. It might be retail on the bottom, an office on top, or office on the bottom and residential on top. You maybe would have more of a mixing of land uses, but from a form standpoint those will look very similar to those in the downtown.

“So with those two design elements, we hope to be able to have this area start to feel like an extension of the downtown area and a connection to the downtown.”

The southern end of the Florence Street redevelopment area would also be enhanced.

“Another design element with this plan is to use this to create a gateway, or a sense of arrival, into the Casa Grande from the south,” Tice said.

“As you probably know, Florence Street becomes Chuichu Road as it continues to the south, it works into the Indian reservation and it’s also a primary route into Mexico.

“So as people come from the south to visit Casa Grande and shop, we would like to create a sense of arrival, creating some kind of an entryway feature here at this intersection of Second Avenue and Florence Street.

“It could be monument signage, could be some public art. We don’t have specific design plans. It’s really not about creating specific designs, that would come later, but clearly we would want to create some sort of entryway feature.

“It’s probably something the city would build, versus a private developer. We would do that as part of our initial redevelopment efforts. Sort of along the line, you know, of we have other entryway monuments to Casa Grande, along those lines, some kind of sense of arrival and a gateway.”

NEXT: The railroad

Three major sites would be the core
of Life on Main redevelopment area

(Posted July 19, 2013)

This is the second of a series of articles

The draft plan is found here

You’ll find a fuller description of the three sites, along with many others in the old downtown area at

Three major sites are the heart of a redeveloped area along Florence Street south of the railroad tracks: Elliott Park, the Shonessy House and the Casa Grande Hotel.

Between the hotel and the Shonessy House would be a historic plaza.

During a presentation to the Casa Grande Planning and Zoning Commission, Planning and Development Director Paul Tice briefly outlined concepts for the projects.

Elliott Park

(Note: The master plan shows the spelling of Elliot; the Casa Grande Valley Historical Society says it is spelled Elliott, after a pioneer resident.

Elliott Park is owned by the elementary school district, Tice said, with the city having an agreement with the district to use it as a park.

“We’d like to negotiate with the school district to be able to take ownership of it under some terms and to expand it,” he said.

“The plan calls for it to be expanded to the north, encompass some of that land that we bought from Mr. Everett Martin. And probably the plan would call for vacation of a segment of First Avenue between Florence and Marshall Street to become some additional parking and to be able to allow the extension of the park to the north to occur.

“That would be something that the city would do, using maybe park impact funds, some other park development funds that we might have access to, maybe some grant funds. That would be a city project to construct the extension of Elliott Park.”

The conceptual plan shows doglegging the park north to Main Avenue.

“One of the things that was discussed in our design process was the need to use Elliott Park as an amenity for the neighborhood, to do things to the park that allow more neighborhood uses,” Tice said. “There’s a lot of residential property that borders the site to the south and to the east.

“In general, we hope that with the redevelopment of this area that the new land uses will be very compatible with that residential, certainly more compatible than maybe the historical industrial ones.

“We want to provide some more amenities for these neighbors and these residents.”

Tice said some of the idea discussed were perhaps adding a pavilion and barbecue facilities “so that the residents could hold family gatherings and have special events in the park and make it more of a useful space for the neighbors, as well as space where there might be additional civic events. Like when we have the bands in Peart Park, we might hold an event in Elliott Park as an alternative or an additional civic events space.”

Park background

The historical society gives this information, in brief:

This park between First and Second avenues on Florence Street honors members of two pioneer families – the Elliotts and the Phillips.

It is on the site that was originally set aside as a school block when the south side of the townsite was surveyed. An old adobe school stood at one time in the area that is now the northeast corner of the park. (A wood frame school building has been incorporated into a dwelling just east of the park.)

Arthur H. Elliott homesteaded this area in 1879. He came to Casa Grande from San Francisco and served as the first telegrapher for the Southern Pacific Railroad.

He took an active interest in the development of the Casa Grande Valley and is said to have given away land to anyone who would build on it. He was especially interested in the mines in the area and in 1885 published a promotional newspaper he called "The Voice of Arizona," which was largely devoted to extolling the virtues of the region.

A son, Arthur L., married Tessie Phillips on Dec. 22, 1912. When she died in 1967 they had been married fifty five years. The park was dedicated in their honor on their 50th wedding anniversary.

Shonessy House

115 W. Main Ave., east of the Casa Grande Hotel.

“The Shonessy House is really an important structure within the Life on Main area,” Tice said. “It’s probably one of the oldest, if not the oldest, adobe residential structures in Casa Grande.

“The city owns it. We’ve been able to secure it from trespass, but it still is not secure from the elements. Part of the roof is peeled back on one corner. We still have some work to do to secure it from the weather, from deterioration. There’s some cracks in the adobe wall that need to be stabilized.

“We intend to do that to stabilize the structure and then long term totally rehab it for some kind of adaptive reuse. The intent of the city is to retain ownership of that and to rehabilitate it and to find adaptive reuses that might be compatible with that structure.”

Shonessy House background

The historical society gives this description:

Rancher-businessman, William Shonessy arrived in Casa Grande around 1900, at age sixty-five.

This house, which retains its original configuration except of a shed-roofed addition on the back and the enclosure of a rear screened porch, was built some time before 1890 and is considered an outstanding example of Casa Grande's settlement period homes.

It was once the home of W. C. Smith who owned one of the first stores on Main Street during the 1880's.

Mr. and Mrs. Harry Fisher lived here for awhile in the 1920's and used the back porch for a mortuary. Harry was killed crossing the railroad tracks coming home one day.

His wife handled the burial arrangements. She later married Bill Plenz and had a mortuary on the corner of N. Olive Avenue and Eighth Street.

Between 1933 and 1943, the Don Chun Wo family lived here and operated the store and rental apartments next door.

Casa Grande Hotel

201 W. Main Ave.

Tice said he believes it was the first hotel in Casa Grande but is not sure of the year it was built.

The age of the building is rather a mystery. The appraisal done when the city bought the structure says construction was in 1900. However, a historical site plaque on the building says Casa Grande Hotel, Circa 1898-1929. An earlier historical survey of downtown buildings says 1898 for construction as an adobe building. Most recently it was Outreach Mission.

Regardless of the year built, Tice said it is a valuable historic asset.

“The hotel is in fairly good shape,” he said. “It’s had a couple of additions over the years, but we’ve had a structural analysis done on it and it is structurally sound. The city owns the property, we’ve secured it from trespass.

“The concept here is to rehab it eventually into some adaptive reuses. Due to the amount of space available in that structure, there’s actually a lot of potential for what might happen there.

This is something the city would not sell. We would retain its ownership, eventually maybe put private uses in it that we would lease.”

Hotel background

The historical society gives this background of the hotel:

The Casa Grande Hotel, often referred to as the Gould Hotel, originated as a single-story, double-bay, commercial building put up by John Riess in the early 1890's. He used it for a butcher shop and dry goods store.

Gordon Graves, in his reminiscences, remembered the butcher shop being here in 1893. It doesn't appear on the 1890 Sanborn map, so it must have been built sometime between 1890 and 1893. At any rate, it shares honors with the Cruz Trading Post as being one of the oldest commercial buildings in Casa Grande.

When Riess sold the property to William Gould in 1909 it was being used as a five-room lodging house. Over the next two years, Gould added eight more rooms, all of adobe construction. Much later those first five rooms were converted to a dance and banquet hall.

In 1913, Gould built a two-story concrete addition at the rear of the hotel which is now bridged to it by a third addition. What is now a living room was an alley behind the hotel extending from Washington to Sacaton Street.

Four apartments were built in 1931 or 1932, and the exterior of the hotel was modified with Mission Revival details at about the same time. Most of the interior features have remained the same, including the pressed tin ceilings, original light fixtures and door hardware.

From the beginning, the hotel catered to newly arriving passengers on the trains. Advertising read, "We meet all trains." It was noted for its fine restaurant also.

Historic plaza

“The thing that’s pretty exciting to me about the plan is the concept of creating this historic plaza between the Shonessy House and the Casa Grande Hotel that really ties them all together,” Tice said.

“There’s the existing Washington Street between the two structures. The idea is to vacate that road in that one block between Main Avenue and First Avenue and to create a historic plaza that can be used as a civic space, a gathering space that really just starts to tie those two historic buildings together.

“The other design element in the historic plaza is a pedestrian overpass that starts on the north side of Main Street, really in the alignment of an old road that was platted as Top and Bottom Street (now Washington Street). It looks like an alley today, but it’s actually platted historically and named historically in the 1800s as Top and Bottom Street.

“So it would be an extension of Top and Bottom Street with a pedestrian overpass that went over Main Street, went over the railroad tracks, went over Main Avenue and came down at this historic plaza. It would be sort of the Top and Bottom historic plaza, if you will, with a pedestrian connection, another good way to connect this area back to the downtown area.

“And again, this part of the plan would have to be publicly funded by the city, again using probably grants, CIP, other funding sources that we might be able to identify, but certainly something that would have to be funded publicly and then we could lease space in the Shonessy House, lease space in the Casa Grande Hotel to private users that were appropriate for those historic structures.”

Why was it called Top and Bottom?

The historical society gives this explanation:

This is one of the three oldest streets in the Old Townsite (the other two are Main Street and Main Avenue) and may have started out as nothing more than a path. Traffic leaving the passenger side (east end) of the depot would have had to turn either right or left thus creating a road in front of the railroad station.

Local legend has it that the street's name came from one or more card sharks operating in one or more saloons fronting on the street who were so dexterous in dealing out cards that the unwary could not tell whether they came from the top or the bottom of the deck.

Card sharks were known to travel the railroad lines and ply their trade with unsuspecting greenhorns wherever they could find them, so the legend could well be true.

At any rate, the street was renamed Washington by the newly organized city council in 1916, "to the relief of many who wondered how it got that name in the first place," so the paper reported.

NEXT: Leading into the redeveloped area.

Life on Main plan would redevelop
Florence Street area south of tracks

(Posted July 17, 2013)

The draft plan is found here

The contrast couldn’t be starker.

Florence Street north of the railroad tracks has been renovated with sidewalks, benches, trees. Florence Street south of the railroad tracks is essentially a wasteland, once the home of junk and salvage yards and other not so pretty sites.

Casa Grande has a plan known as Life on Main to redevelop 15 acres of that south area, hoping to bring in businesses and other commercial uses. Elliott  Park would be renovated and expanded. The historic Shonessy House and old Casa Grande Hotel, both owned by the city, would be rehabilitated for some sort of everyday use. Landscaping would be put in. A wrought iron fence would parallel both sides of the tracks, with a trail running along one side. A railroad history plaza would be a highlight.

The city has been working with Matrix Design Group on the master plan and with the Union Pacific Railroad and other agencies in the area, getting ideas and pulling concepts together.

In making a presentation to the Planning and Zoning Commission on the concept, Planning and Development Director Paul Tice said the city owns all of the acreage except the railroad right of way, the park and a small corner property.

“That exception is owned by Everett Martin,” Tice said. “He at one time owned essentially the whole block. Mr. Martin was engaged in salvage business and the city bought the property from him, removed the salvage, but the gentleman wanted to retain this building and a small part of land around the building for his use. My understanding is the city has an option on that property to purchase it at some point in the future, so eventually we’ll own the property. But right now it is one of the privately owned parcels within the plan area.”

The idea behind the Life on Main concept, Tice said, “ is that the city would make some improvements to the area to sort of start transforming its character and its nature to transform the area into a new urban form from its historic industrial use, which really is what it has been used for, for various industrial uses over the years, to a new type of land use.

“Some of the property will be retained by the city and some of it is planned for eventual resale to the private sector for a developer to come in and buy some of the property and to redevelop it in accordance with the plan and subsequent rezoning.

“So that’s sort of the nature of the plan. It’s to put a plan in place to foster the transformation of this area from its historical industrial land use to a new urban form.”

Ben Bitter, the city management analyst overseeing Life on Main, told the commission that just because the city bought the property doesn’t mean that it intends to be in the real estate business.

“When we set out to find a solution, really, to the schism that existed between the north and the south side as was seen by the public,” he said, “we tried to find a way particularly to clean up the dissimilarities that were on the south side of the tracks.

“Particularly, there were three junk yards that really lined Main Avenue from Florence Street all the way to the west side of Sacaton Street. We looked at those properties and talked with the property owners and came up with the solution to purchase.

“So that was essentially the reason why we acquired these properties, was to ensure that it would be cleaned. We fully have had the intention to turn these back over to sell to the private sector and hope for redevelopment.”

The initial idea, Bitter said, didn’t include the master plan for redeveloping the area, “but as we

sat down and looked at the properties that we had acquired, we realized we had accumulated a pretty good chunk of land, and with that it provide an opportunity, really gave birth to the idea that we could do a master plan and really plan for the future of this area and really have a great opportunity to get some good community input.”

Several open meetings were held to get suggestions – and dislikes – from the public.

The Historic Preservation Commission was heavily involved.

“”We worked with our partners, both the school district (which owns the park) and Union Pacific Railroad,” Bitter said. “I’ve had some great and fruitful discussions with them to get their ideas on what may occur here in the future. They’ve been very receptive to the plan, to the ideas that have been presented them. It’s really been a good process where we’ve all been able to get together and collectively plan for the future of the area.”

NEXT: Some pieces of the puzzle.

Dick Powell believes the paragraphs above amount to a gag order against the irrigation districts. The shading of the words was done by the source.

'Gag order' might limit comments
at water meeting, Powell contends

(Posted June 14, 2013)

The full irrigation districts no-action agreement is here

The depletion schedule is here

The letter from the Arizona Department of Water Resources director to the Casa Grande Dispatch

Scroll down on this page for earlier CG News story on the situation.


When area farmers and others gather at 6 p.m. Wednesday, June 19, at Casa Grande City Hall for a discussion on the systematic depletion of grandfathered irrigation groundwater rights, Casa Grande City Councilman Dick Powell says he hopes there will full discussion and answers on what it all means.

Powell, who has been acting on his own rather than a city official in organizing the meeting and opposing the planned depletions, said a representative of the Arizona Department of Water Resources has been invited to give that agency’s version of the move.

He said local irrigation district officials have also been invited, but he doesn’t know how much they can contribute given that they had to sign what he calls a “gag order” barring them from seeking any amendment to the extinguishment rule, “nor will they encourage any other person to seek such an amendment or assist any other persons in seeking such an amendment.”

Powell showed a copy of the agreement to CG News, saying “that is a gag order.”

He added that, “I had a guy call me yesterday from one of the districts and he said I can’t do anything, because there’s a gag order, but, by God, you’re doing the right thing and this really needs to be changed.”

The situation has to do with grandfathered agricultural water rights and a decision by the ADWR to systematically lower the water credits each year until there is nothing by year 2054.

“Basically at the end of 40 years that farmland would be worth exactly the same as bare desert,” Powell told the City Council at an earlier meeting. “And developers came up with this, because they didn’t want to pay the prices of farm land. They wanted to be able to get water credits and take the water to the dry land they bought at a much cheaper price.”

Powell said he also has concerns that if groundwater rights are sold, the land will lie fallow, kicking up dust and other problems.

Powell has maintained that the rule, approved by the local groundwater users council and then the ADWR, was never publicized. Few people he has told about the rule know that it is there, he said.

“We approached the GUAC some time ago, quite a few people went to it, and they didn’t have good explanations and they were kind of embarrassed,” Powell had earlier told CG News. “And I think that they may be kind of sorry, because some of the people sitting there are the same ones that originally agreed to do this.

“You know, all GUAC would have to do is say don’t do the extinguishment, let the market be the guide. You keep your water and when it becomes unfeasible to farm, then sell it or convert it and get whatever it is out of it that you would have.

“There’d been an indication through one GUAC member to the Farm Bureau that if we could get more going on this to convince GUAC that we need to change this it would motivate them, but we need to hear from people. We can’t just hear from about six or eight people.”

The basis for his protesting, Powell said, is to spread the word that there is such a rule and that it begins next year, cutting rights to 94 percent.

The question, he said, is, “Why, if they’re doing this didn’t anybody know about it? Why wasn’t everybody that had a grandfathered right sent a notice?”

The extinguishment, Powell said, was based on the realization that the state has entitled more water for development than there is actual water available.

“And I think they said, OK, now what we need to do to make that stop is to take away the water rights from agriculture so that doesn’t happen,” he said.

“What they’re saying right now is, if you have ag land we’re going to take it away from you. If you’ll convert to municipal and industrial (M&I) use rather than agriculture, you can keep 100 percent of the credits, or whatever amount you get.”

Another thing that bothers Powell, he said, is that agricultural land’s value will go down as the grandfathered groundwater rights go down. He said that could lead to farmers or corporations owning agricultural land selling the rights now to get the full 100 percent. If the water rights value goes down by 50 percent, he said, any developer or other land purchaser would probably offer only 50 percent of the original land value.

Powell had earlier said that the state had said water would still be available to farmers “when available.” He interpreted that to mean that once the water rights were sold, the farmer would have to buy from an irrigation district or other source. Or, he said, it could mean that the farmer couldn’t use the land for agriculture at all.

The director of the Department of Water Resources has a different view.

In a letter to the Casa Grande Dispatch, Sandy Fabritz-Whitney said, “While it is true that, under the current rule, the distribution of groundwater credits for agriculture to urban conversion declines over time through 2054, it is not true that this takes away the entitlements of farmers to exercise their water rights to continue to farm.

“If a farmer chooses to keep farming, the farmer’s water right is not reduced by this rule in any way. In fact, the farm can stay in production in perpetuity — so long as there is water physically available to meet the farm’s needs.

“Eliminating the gradual reduction in groundwater credits may increase immediate economic yields for those farmers who wish to sell their land for development in the near term, but it harms those who wish to continue farming and reduces the ability to develop farmland in the future, as groundwater is depleted by all the water users (not just farmers).”

One interpretation of that is that farmers may keep the water rights as long as they wish, but what has not been pointed out is that if they decide to sell in the future the value has been cut dramatically.

The way Powell sees it, “They don’t have to quit farming. Technically, they don’t own anything. And as soon as they die or try to sell it, they can’t buy the water and nobody else can buy the water, because it’s now bare desert, there’s no water rights on that land once it’s totally extinguished. They can still get it as long as that they’re the same one is using it, but then it’s nothing.

“And that’s what the state’s holding up and saying, well, they still have water rights.”

Powell said he hopes some clarification will come from Wednesday night’s meeting.

Agriculture needs to continue in Pinal County for several reasons, Powell said.

“One is to have a break in the temperatures,” he continued. “You can look at Phoenix, they said the kind of building that’s happening in Phoenix as it spreads out will increase day and nighttime temperatures by 7 to 10 degrees. Casa Grande used to be historically hotter than Phoenix all the time, before they got so developed.

“We’re a one-trick horse in Arizona as far as that development is what we live and die on. But we’re headed on the wrong side of the sword right now.”

Rewriting city's zoning ordinances
a long process, but much needed

(Posted June 10, 2013)

A quick quiz:

Do you know what this section of Casa Grande’s zoning code covering commercial and industrial districts means?

“Any production, testing, processing of goods or products, provided it conforms with the performance standards set forth in Sections 17.58.010 through 17.58.140 for the emission or creation of noise, vibration, smoke, dust or other particular matter, toxic or noxious materials, odors, glare or heat.”

Can’t figure it out?

Don’t feel bad. Neither can Planning and Development Director Paul Tice, who is going through the zoning code and updating, trimming and clarifying it.

“First of all, I don’t even know what that means,” Tice told the Planning and Zoning Commission during this month’s meeting as he presented initial thoughts on the revisions. “So, if I don’t know what it means, I couldn’t tell you. I’m going to recommend we delete.”

As has been pointed out earlier, revisions through the years have left gaps, fuzziness and contradictions.

As an example, when Tice told the commission in August 2012 that the revisions were under way he pointed out that city regulations require that the most restrictive provisions must prevail. In some cases, he added, the code revisions to meet modern requirements are there, but the poor rewriting in the same document left old code provisions that are more restrictive. Thus, one section says you can, another says you can’t.

“It’s my hope that when we’re done with all things, just these changes you’re seeing here today, we’re going to take 30 pages of code and it’s going to become 10, just because we’re going to write a lot more concisely and in a way that it’s easier for the reader to understand,” Tice said. “So that’s good.

“I would not think I was being successful if I gave you a code that was longer than our existing code. As a matter of fact, I guaranteed to the mayor and the city manager that I would not do that.”

Tice said another draft will be brought to the commission for consideration, a study session with the City Council (which has final say) will be held and there will be public involvement, including public hearing and the entire text printed in the Casa Grande Dispatch.

What the public reaction will be remains to be seen. Historically, few residents have turned out for such hearings.

“It’s hard to get the public engaged in looking at this stuff unless they really think it’s going to adversely impact them,” Tice told the commission.

“I’ve taken a lot of care to make sure that I’m not diminishing property rights. These changes really are, if anything, enhancing property rights and enhancing making the development review process easier to comply with and more efficient and more customer friendly. At least that’s my read.”


The first zoning code in Casa Grande was in 1948, Tice said, and was short. “The whole thing was published in the newspaper on two pages,” he said.

The code was revised again in 1964, 1975 and 1987. The 1987 version was revised in 1989 and 1990.

“The ’87 code has sort of been amended piecemeal, if you will, over the last 26 years,” Tice said. “As problems cropped up that needed to be solved with regulations, some solutions were found, the code was modified, things were added to it.”

In 2004, with much fanfare, the city hired a Phoenix company to update both the zoning ordinance and zoning maps. That project suddenly disappeared without notice.


There are nine objectives for the rewrite project:

• Implementation of the General Plan goals and objectives.

• Increase efficiency and effectiveness of the development review process.

• Improve customer service.

• Reflect the current best development practices.

• Enhance public engagement.

• Foster economic development.

• Creation of the desired city character.

• Achieve a code that is concise, easily understood and internally consistent.

• Ultimately create a unified and integrated building/zoning/subdivision land development code.

Why change is needed

“A couple of things sort of drive the need to change our zoning ordinance at this point in time,” Tice told the commission.

“The first is that the code we have today, because over the years we sort of added some regulations, we really haven’t gone in and looked at how we may have created redundancy or even conflict within the code. We do have both redundancy and conflict.

“The way the code was written, it’s a little cumbersome in some areas. It could be written much more succinctly in a lot of different areas.”

The code is now scattered through different sections, charts and other documents, making it a long project to pull everything together in logical order.

“The first thing that I concluded is that it’s going to be a multiyear project, probably two years,” Tice said.

“We’ve chipped away at some thing, we’ve made a couple of changes over the last couple of years to sort of chip away at the edges. But instead of going in and working on this comprehensively and coming back two years from now with a new zoning code, I thought it would be better to sort of tackle it in bigger chunks that make sense and bring it in sort of sections that we can revise that are related, that are logical increments of code change, and then pass those, fit them into the existing ordinance and then continue through.”

Pulling it together

There is a long list of things that are proposed for change. Just a few of them include:

“There have also been changes in land uses. Land uses have been created since ’87,” Tice told the commission. “For example, 1987 we probably didn’t have little coffee shops that had drive through lanes, pizza places that have drive through lanes. Certainly drive through lanes at fast foods, but we’ve now introduced more with Starbucks, Little Caesar’s drive through lanes that have a lot of traffic with that. So we probably need some standards for drive through lanes. We don’t have any.”

Another example of rewriting and tightening would be to redo the chart of allowed uses, now a mishmash.

Tice wants a consolidated chart.

“The first thing I’m going to recommend is something fairly simple, which is take the residential use table (as an example) and have it just reflect P for permitted, C for conditional,” he said. “Just a matrix, lot easier to read.

“There really are no changes to those land uses. You have the same land uses you’ve seen in that first one, just presented differently. And you can probably see right away how much easier it is to read and to understand than the other one.”

Under the current code, business types are listed in a long string, trying to incorporate every one.

Tice wants to create a broader category for various uses.

For example, he said, “in this code we might have uses like barber shop, maybe a manicurist, a tailor, which all are really personal services. So instead of listing all those individual ones, I’ve created a category called personal services, and then we define that.

“My belief is that when we create land use categories, which is land use types, unless there is absolutely no question of what it is in common language, then we should define it.

“We might have a category for medical offices, and instead of having an optician listed and a dentist listed, we have medical offices listed, and medical offices defined as offices by medical professionals.

“The other thing … is to not only to create the land use definitions that are appropriate, but to make sure we have a parking standard for those land uses, too.

“We ought to have a good correlation. The land use, we ought to have it listed, where it’s allowed, have a definition that tells us what it is, and in the parking standards have a parking ratio that tells us how much parking you have to have.

Today we don’t have that.”

To meet modern times, a category for business park would be added.

“What is a business park?” Tice asked. “We looked in our code on where can you put a business park. There’s nowhere that tells you where you can do it.

“Well, a business is use that’s a combination. It’s a building that has flexibility to be modified for a variety of uses. And it typically is some portion of the building is office space, some portion of the building may be showroom and some portion may be warehousing. It’s really a combination of those three.

“So there’s lots of different types of businesses that need that kind of flex space where they need some office and some storage, maybe some showroom. And this defines it and allows it in a particular zone and creates a parking standard for it.”

The way the code is now written, restaurants are not allowed in an industrial area. No one knows why.

“I’m going to propose that you can have restaurants in an industrial area so that people don’t have to travel from where they’re employed and working to maybe go have lunch,” Tice said. “They could have a restaurant in an industrial area in an appropriate location as a conditional use so we can reduce travel demand for that.”

The present code also has a list of fees that are charged. That will go away.

“There are application fees,” Tice said. “Trust me, we haven’t charged those application fees in 20 years. Those are not our application fees, although they’re in the code, which is kind of weird.”

As now written, the code repeats requirements for every category.

As an example, under regulations for convenience store the regulation is specific that interior curbs must be six inches high.

“Well, you know what?” Tice asked. “That standard isn’t just applicable to C stores, that standard should be a general standard in the parking code for all uses. All uses of a parking lot ought to have a 6-inch curb around them. There’s nothing different about a C store that it should have that.

“What I will do is I will take the standards associated with a convenience store and I’ll put them in a section of the code called convenience store/gas station development standards and I’ll list them there.

“They’re listed four times in our current code. They’re going to be listed one time in the development standards section.

“I’m going to take the standard for the 6-inch curbs and not just apply it to C stores, I’m going to apply it to every parking lot in the whole city, because it’s a prime development standard for parking lots. I don’t know why it’s here.”

Another anomaly, Tice said, is parking at convenience stores.

“The current parking code for convenience store is two spaces per service stall and no less than four,” he said. “Well, you know what? There aren’t any service stalls at a convenience store. That’s someone’s error, right? So, it’s a retail store, I’m going to put it in one to 250 square feet of space, which is what retail stores are at.”

Also confusing under the present code, Tice said, is how to determine parking requirements for restaurants. The code says one parking space for every 50 square feet of indoor floor space, not including the kitchen.

That is confusing and slows down the approval process.

“On a staff level to implement this code what we have to do with every building permit or every plan, we have to sort of look at a floor plan and say, OK, where’s the public area, where’s the cooking area, what area of the building are we applying this one to 50 ratio for?” Tice said.

“Generally restaurants are 50 percent seating, 50 percent kitchen. That’s not a bad way to think about it. Maybe sometimes the seating’s actually larger than the kitchen, depends on what kind of restaurant, I guess.

“The standard that I’m proposing is one to 100 square feet for the floor area. Doesn’t really matter how much is seating, how much is kitchen, it’s one to 100.

“If you took 20 restaurants that we have in the community and apply this calculation, today’s rule versus the proposed rule, you’d never probably find this proposed rule requires more parking. In some cases it might require less if you had restaurants that have bigger seating than kitchen areas.

“But it’s a much simpler way to administer the code, where we don’t have to argue about what’s the public seating. We can provide faster reviews, better customer service, it’s a simpler formula. Just an easier way of doing business without losing anything, in my opinion.”


Tice will bring back further revisions and tweaks for discussion by the P&Z Commission during its July 10 meet (delayed because the Fourth of July is on a Thursday, the normal meeting day). The commission can either accept them or ask for a continuance for more information or study.

“I’ll try my best to write a staff report that covers the changes, identifies the significant ones for you,” Tice told the commission.

“After you’ve read that and after I’ve made the presentation next month, if you’re not ready to vote you can table it and we can do more work with it.”

Tice will also outline the proposed changes before the City Council, which has final say.

“We will advertise this as a text ad (of the entire document) in the newspaper,” Tice said. “We’ll say these are the changes, we’ll make the changes available to the public to come look at them, I’ll meet with them if they have questions, talk to them about it.”

The council meeting and advertisement dates have not been set.

Sometimes city planning is simply
what looks best for the community

(Posted May 29, 2013)

Sometimes city planning comes down to simply what looks best for the community.

Such was the case during the May meeting of the Casa Grande Planning and Zoning Commission concerning commercial signs along McCartney Road west of Tucker Road.

Developers wanted to change the McCartney Center planned area development to allow monument signs every 250 feet on Parcel C, west of Tucker. The three signs would be 8 feet high each, with a maximum of 100 square feet of area. McCartney Center PAD was set up years ago to allow for one monument sign, about 25 feet wide, on the parcel.

City planners said signs every 250 feet would be almost the standards for a major commercial development, not a neighborhood area.

That would give a cluttered look, sort of strip mall look, something the city is against.

The city’s recommendation to the P&Z Commission was two monument signs 8 feet tall and 12 and a half feet wide, or around 100 square feet each, along the frontage. “Staff finds that the numbers of signs requested are out of scale for a 10-acre (gross) neighborhood commercial site,” the staff report said.

The two signs approved would be similar to those in the commercial site at the northeast corner of Trekell and Kortsen roads, the commission was told.

Although the 10 acres is zoned for commercial development, the issue before the P&Z Commission was only for signs. The example given was one promoting Circle K, which the developers say is considering locating a store on the corner of McCartney and Tucker.

Approving only two signs will apparently also affect the owner of neighboring Parcel B, who had told the city that if allowing signs every 250 feet along Parcel C was approved he would ask for the same for his parcel. City Planner Laura Blakeman said if that request happens it will go through the same consideration as the city did for Parcel C.

Commission member Mike Henderson said it would seem that the two signs proposal was not as good as the original limit but a great deal better than what exists elsewhere in town.

Planning and Development Director Paul Tice disagree.

“I think the proposal’s better,” he said. “The reason why is because the scale of the sign, the 12 and a half foot long sign, is better scale for a neighborhood center than something that’s 25 feet long (which the original PAD would have allowed).

“So I think two signs of 12 feet length each is better than one at 25. The square footage is the same. I think it fits better from a design standpoint to the proposal than what the current PAD allows.”

David Cisiewski, representing the developers and Circle K, said the reason for the request for signs every 250 feet was because the property is about 520 feet deep.

“In terms of that being developed as a commercial center,” he said, “it presents some unique challenges because if you develop one or two pads along the front then whatever may be developed in back, even if it’s a commercial office, a center, a grocery store or something like that, it gets difficult in terms of view and signage. And we all know if you’re in the retail business, letting you customers know where you are and how to get to you is key to a successful business.

“So part of the philosophy when we came to city staff a number of months ago with this was trying to increase signage to accommodate this depth of the parcel in a long term viable development. We can sort of craft whatever we want but if it’s not sustainable for 10, 15, 20 years in the future and you build another retail center and it just goes bust, that’s not good for anybody.”

Cisiewski said the developers had thought about requesting one sign about 25 feet long, but decided that that would look too ominous.

“So the thought was keep the 8-foot height, let’s makes the signs fairly architecturally enhanced so they look good, not your standard little box sign out there that just illuminates. Let’s scale it down in terms of the mass of the sign so that as you drive down McCartney Road, we’re not looking at this gigantic monolith of a sign for a center and another one further to the west.”

The scaled down signs, Cisiewski said, would be about 65 square feet of sign face, the rest being architectural elements.

“So in terms of a box, if you will, that will advertise signage, we’re a fair amount below the 100 square foot that we’ve sort of agreed to,” he said.

The original reasoning behind asking for three signs, Cisiewski said, was because “as of today, we don’t sort of have a master plan for all the users that will be in there, or whether there will be one larger user in back and maybe like a grocery store and some pads in front, or if there’s going to be office, whatever the case may be.

“So our thought was if we went to three signs, you could accommodate a lot of different users. If you wound up doing the retail center in back with some pads in front, three signs would give us a number of tenant panels. Again, which tenants like, it lets them advertise on the street.”

However, Cisiewski continued, “in working with city staff, getting a sense of the sensitivity of the area, sort of the underlying intent of the PAD to keep this at relatively small scale commercial we’re in agreement with staff’s recommendation to bring this down to only two signs, 8 feet in height and about 12 and a half feet in length or width, if you will.”

As is the case during many P&Z Commission hearings, people who bought home next to an area designated for future commercial development had questions. They were answered as best as could be, given that the discussion was about signs, not what future development would be in the area.

One woman in the audience who lives on Chaparral Drive said, “This will back up directly to my property. For me, I don’t understand why you couldn’t do it on the other side, the whole store. Why right up behind my property where my kids will be playing? You’re going to pave this out, it’s going to be a store, probably going to be open 24 hours, whatever. I’m looking at the safety of anybody jumping over my walls or whatever. Why that side, when you have a potential plot backing up to the interstate where you can do whatever, but it wouldn’t affect our development, especially not up against my retaining wall?”

The store, however, would be along McCartney Road.

Director Tice asked if what she meant was why the area was zoned to allow commercial.

“The decision to put commercial uses here was made 13 years ago, 2000, and then again in 2004, so over 10 years ago,” Tice said. “I wasn’t here then, but it’s kind of a typical kind of development for Casa Grande and other places, where we don’t want to put the houses right next to the arterial road (McCartney). McCartney’s going to carry a lot of traffic and you would be impacted by the noise. So, planners try to figure out what kind of land uses can we put between the highway and the houses that are compatible, new transitional land uses.

“So in this case, it was zoned for what we’re going to call neighborhood commercial, not big box, not Home Depot here. This is smaller neighborhood commercial. It is zoned for neighborhood commercial and has been zoned for neighborhood commercial for over 10 years.”

The resident asked if the entire area backing up to her fence would be paved.

Most of it will, but there will be buffers, Tice replied.

“There will be setbacks for the buildings, there’ll be some landscaping, there’ll be other site design,” he said. “And that will all be part of a future hearing that you will be notified of when that plan actually comes in and we can sit down and look at the architecture, the building height, lighting, the landscaping and see how it can be designed in a way that doesn’t impact those neighbors along Chaparral Drive.”

Tice said the setbacks from the buildings to the residential properties would probably be 30 to 40 feet.

“The buildings won’t be pushed right up against the wall,” he said. “There will be landscaping on the other side of your wall. There may be that with the backs of those building we can make sure they look good, we can control the lighting.

But things won’t be pushed right up against the wall.”

Tice also noted that there will commercial development between the residential portion and McCartney Road through the entire area.

Another question from the audience was whether after development begins the fences of the residences could be 8 feet tall instead of the present 6 feet.

“I can’t answer that tonight,” Tice replied, “but I can tell you that in another community that I worked we certainly have done that, used taller walls, improved compatibility. So it’s probably something that we can discuss when we get the actual development plans for some commercial on Parcels B and C. That’s certainly something within reason to discuss, but I can’t tell you tonight we will or we won’t, but we can certainly discuss it when we get those projects.”

Another resident asked when the signs would begin going up and how long after would the development come along.

“We’re sort of at the infancy of this process for the development of this parcel,” Cisiewski said. “We still have to go through development plan review, then final construction documents and permits, so my guess is it’s probably a year before this project could sort of start to come out of the ground. And from my client’s perspective (Circle K), they’re only going to build the sign for the part of the project that’s being developed.

So, phase one is the corner pad and something else. There would be that sign. When the balance of the property would be developed, the other sign would come on line at that point in time.”

Commission approval of only two signs was unanimous.

Here's what's behind city's
move to raise sewer charge

PowerPoint presentation on rate plan

Staff report, including all rate changes

(Posted May 24, 2013)

Three major factors drive Casa Grande’s decision to raise the monthly sewer rates: The wastewater (fancy name for sewer treatment) operation is an enterprise fund that must pay its own way, costs associated with wastewater keep rising and, looming large, the $58-million loan from the state Water Infrastructure Finance Authority for the sewer plant expansion must be repaid.

A note in the staff report accompanying the agenda item during Monday’s City Council meeting indicates that WIFA” requires rates be maintained that allow for 120 percent of net revenues for loan repayment.”

That’s fancy talk for you’d damned well better make sure you have more than enough in the bank to repay us.

During this year’s budget, the city repaid $2,233,350. For the fiscal year budget beginning July 1, that rises to $3,438,770. That’s a difference of $1,205,420.

Contractual costs with running the plant were $2,123,510 this year, rising to $2,375,190 next year, an increase of $251,680.

Supplies needed to run the plant were $1,335,950, climbing to $1,583,000 next year, or up $247,050.

What the city lists as other costs involving the plant are $1,429,890, rising to $1,518,620, or by $88,730.

In other words, costs next year will rise by $1,792,880. The proposed rate increase would average 16 percent for residential, commercial and industrial, bringing in $1,097,000.

Still not enough to cover everything, meaning money will be taken from another account to cover the shortage.

“When the wastewater treatment plant was in the process of being expanded it was determined that growth would pay for a portion of it,” Finance Director Diane Archer told the council during the meeting. “Growth hasn’t kept up to the pace that was anticipated. So, until the growth occurs, interfund loans will be made … and then at such time as growth continues and exceeds the ability to repay the debt then it will repay the operating fund.

“And at that time, then, hopefully we won’t be coming forward to you with a rate increase.”

Archer pointed out that other expenses are going up, such as for chemicals and electricity, two major cost factors for the plant. Another big cost is maintenance and repairs to sewer lines and related infrastructure.

The staff reports adds that, “Without the increase in rates, the operating cash balance will continue to fall to an unacceptable level. The fund needs to have enough reserve for unanticipated expenditures. Repairs to wastewater infrastructure are costly and some of the system is 98 years old.”

Archer told the council that the monthly trash collection charges will not be increased. “We are not recommending any increase in sanitation rates,” she said. “So the total (residential) bill will go from $44.75 to $48.70, which is a $3.95 cent increase overall.”

To put it into perspective, she said, “If you stop to think about it, although to me every dollar is precious, for $3.95 for a month I don’t think I can go to Starbucks and get a grande.”

Archer showed the council some comparisons of other monthly charges residents pay, such as electric, cable or satellite TV, internet. (That chart is included in the PowerPoint link at the top of this story.)

Although it was expensive to expand the plant, a move that doubled capacity from 6 million gallons a day to 12 million gallons, the growth during the construction boom years made it necessary to be able to handle that growth and continued construction.

The boom collapsed, of course, and the Arizona Legislature tightened down on what impact fees could be charged for various municipal projects, further cutting income.

But, the expansion has had a major benefit for the city’s economic development activities that would not have happened had there not been sewer capacity to handle large plants.

“The expansion project enabled us to attract both Franklin Foods and Commonwealth Dairy to Casa Grande, which will create hundreds of new jobs for our residents,” City Manager Jim Thompson said in a statement posted on the city’s website.

At the time Commonwealth, a yogurt operation, was going through the permits process for its Gila Bend Highway plant the company said the operation would employ 130 people initially and potentially 150 with future growth. Franklin Foods, making cream cheese, said its Gila Bend Highway plant would provide 59 jobs over the next two years.

Some have asked why the city took a WIFA loan instead of conventional financing. The answer is, interest rates.

Deputy City Manager Larry Rains told the council that the WIFA loan interest rate is around 2 percent. Conventional financing would have been between 2 to 3 percent higher, he said.

In addition, Rains said, a conventional bond loan would have required pledging future city sales tax income as collateral. The WIFA loan, he said, allowed pledging income from future growth in the city.

Mayor Bob Jackson asked Rains, “That percent and a half or 2 percent difference rate on a 50 or 60 million dollar project is a quarter of a million dollars a year, is that about right?”

Yes, Rains replied.

As Councilman Matt Herman recalled the process leading up to the WIFA loan and the sewage plant expansion, “We got a good deal on our construction cost because everyone was looking for work at the time and we got a ton of bids on the project.

“The other thing was the council at that time, which is most of us here, it was a tough decision to make but we agreed to step it up (sewer rates) gradually.

“We knew that we would have to take these steps, something we have to do in order to pay back the debt, but on the other hand I know of at least two major projects we’ve gotten in the city, economic development wise, because of this. Otherwise, we would have been passed by with the yogurt, the cream cheese place.

“So as tough as it is, I mean, it is $3.95 a month and it’s hard, but it’s an enterprise fund so it must pay for its own way, so that’s why we have to unfortunately do this. We’re very fiscally responsible, so I think it’s good that we’re able to keep it at that level.”

Community policing in Casa Grande --
Substations or cops on the streets?

Community policing is an idea that takes in many sectors, drawing a police department closer to its city and residents.

It’s something, though, that each department has to decide for itself, looking at the needs of the individual community.

And the ideas of how to go about that range widely.

Johnjaline Cully, a member of the Casa Grande Police Advisory Board, sees it as a network of substation buildings, each having a cop, scattered throughout the city. Members Mikel McBride and Roger Vanderpool see it more as offices out interacting in the community, not holed up in a building.

The U.S. Department of Justice gives this description, in brief:

Community policing is a philosophy that promotes organizational strategies, which support the systematic use of partnerships and problem-solving techniques, to proactively address the immediate conditions that give rise to public safety issues such as crime, social disorder, and fear of crime.

Community Policing is comprised of three key components:

Community partnerships.

Organization transformation.

Problem solving.

You’ll find the Department of Justice expanded definitions here:

You’ll find a variety of community policing guidebooks here:


But, back to Casa Grande.

Cully, a resident since 2008, told the advisory board during its April 25 meeting that she has seen the growth of the city since she moved here and also sees that there is a large “vulnerable population,” be they senior citizens or residents in a more crime prone area.

“Community policing I think is very important because in those neighborhoods where you have the more vulnerable population a constant police presence is very important,” she said.

“It’s very important not only for deterrence of crime but it’s also very important in getting your residents involved in what’s going on with your community and things like that.”

A problem in Casa Grande, Cully said, is that there are both state and private prisons in the area, drawing families and other relatives of inmates.

“And a lot of these inmates come from other states and their families relocate here and they bring that same type of activity that was going on from wherever they came from,” she said.

“This county would be an ideal situation for a gang population to set up real heavy duty business. And they’re just like roaches – once they move in it’s like a big explosion.

“So I would hate for the county and especially the city of Casa Grande be caught unaware when it comes to you have a gang presence. I mean really, really commercial gang presence in your county around your vulnerable population.”

That type of presence deters people and industry from moving here, Cully said.

“So what I really would like for Casa Grande to really, seriously start thinking about, proactively is getting the elected officials and nonelected officials involved in an effort to get some community policing going on here.”

Police Chief Johnny Cervantes, who grew up in that area and began his law enforcement career with the Miami, Ariz., department, told Cully that that experience as prepared him well for policing in a smaller community.

“When you live in a small town you can’t just do your job and then leave the community,” he said. “You’re in the community, so when you go out to the grocery store you see people that you know. And so you’d better know that community.

“The foundation was built at least for me personally. It was before community policing was even a term I was already doing that in a small community. And I think the community of Casa Grande has those components already established in there.

“And I agree with you that we can’t be successful without having the community partnerships to make sure that we’re all responsible for how safe our communities area.

We cannot be as effective as an organization without having those relationships with the community. And to me, that’s what community policing is all about.”

Cmdr. Mike Keck, who heads the Criminal Investigation Division of the department, outlined several community programs the departments is operating, including crime-free apartments and residential rentals, community meetings to explain the department and what it offers, including anticrime tips, neighborhood block watches and the Senior Phone Patrol, where volunteers calls senior citizens daily to check on their welfare. The department also attends meetings with prison officials about inmate problems, including their families, and participating in the state anti-gang task force, Keck said. Major efforts have been made over the years, mostly successful, in busting up gang activity in Casa Grande, he added.

Cully said that, “more specifically I’m interested in actually seeing substations in certain communities. When I first moved here, to be honest, people would tell me do not go across the railroad tracks and other places that they were telling me not to go. And I’m finding that there are some areas that people who were born and raised here, whatever, tell me don’t go over there, whatever the case may be. But that doesn’t mean that you don’t have a population over there that needs to feel secure.

“So I think police substations with a police officer there and actually out in the community and working with the residents and stuff it really does help decrease some of the more unsavory elements that might be in your community, especially in those communities where you have vulnerable populations.”

It’s also a deterrence factor, Cully said.

“Believe it or not, it gets around to those criminal element networks, don’t go there because they have a police substation on every corner, or you’re going to always see a police officer or something around,” she said.

Keck said that the department has an office at the Len Colla Recreation Center and has plans for small substations in each new fire facility. The old police building on Marshall Street is being remodeled into an expanded communications center and will also serve as a substation, although not manned 24 hours a day as Cully would prefer substations to be.

“I would actually like to see a manned presence in some of the communities 24 hours,” she said. “I would actually like to see a substation that has police officers in there 24 hours so that it reduces the response time. And also that those unsavory elements know that there’s a police presence right there, you better go somewhere else.

“And, that works real good when you actually know that that physical building is there and you have officers there 24 hours and that if something arises it’s going to cut back on the call time.”

Cully did not address how much it would cost the city to building the substations and to hire extra police officers for manning them 24 hours a day.

She said the community programs Keck had outlined “are good as far as acquiring capital for manpower for human resource and also capital campaign funds to actually building the structure and to furnish it or whatever. If you already have something in place that you’re doing, it’s even more, it’s a plus in order to acquire those funds from different sources to be able to do that.”

Board Member Mikel McBride, who had a career as a law enforcement officer, disagreed with having a police officer simply holed up in a building.

“Coming from law enforcement it’s in my opinion a lot easier for the police officer to be out on the street instead of in a building,” he said. “When you’re in a building, your interactions are kind of tough. The only person you deal with is someone that walks up to your building and says Hi to you.

“If you were to take the same funds that you were going to spend on building the building or putting in all the equipment to a building, you could invest in another vehicle, you could invest in another officer, you could put him out on the street to where he’s actually contacting, he’s talking to the person on the street. He’s taking it to them. Instead of hoping that the community takes it to the officer, the officer can take it out that direction.”

McBride continued that, “I was born and raised in Casa Grande, one of the few probably sitting in the room that can say that. We go up and down with different problems in the community.

“Right now, we’ve got a pretty good handle on it, it seems like. I mean the department is on top of the things. From all the officers that I know that are still into it, the past officers, we’re doing things in this city that I never thought we could have done before. We’re really jumping on it, and I’d like to see it more instead of building substations in different places, if you could come up with funding to just invest in an officer, because that officer does a great deal of work for us and he really brings it to the community.”

Board member Roger Vanderpool, a former Pinal County sheriff and former director of the Arizona Department of Public safety, said both Cully and McBride had valid points, but “as a

former police administrator, I would actually have a problem if I had an officer in a station that didn’t know when there was a problem elsewhere and didn’t leave that station.

“And I think that the whole presence is to instill in the officers a mindset and really to be involved in their community even when the gunbelt and the badge comes off, because that’s truly where you make a difference, because they are the mentors, they are someone for the youth to look up to and an awful lot of them are involved in the community.

“The thing that the chief and all the departments find themselves in right now is we’re still struggling to come out of the economic downturns. Personnel is 80 percent of your budget. For us, if we want to see more manpower on the street we need to be talking to the individuals that occupy these chairs on some different night (the City Council).”

Cully then said that what she meant was that “when we have a community policing concept it’s not that they’re actually manning the building that they’re in. They’re on the streets, but they’re on the streets of their community, they’re assigned whatever they call it area that their substation is located. So, they’re on the streets but they’re on the streets in that defined area.

“That gives them more of an opportunity to go by businesses and look in and check senior citizens’ doors and make sure they’re locked.

They don’t do it all the time, but I mean, pinpoint some things that need to be done there.

“And so if the concept was that you have certain officers that was assigned to this community like you would if it was a school or something like that, you would have them on the streets but they would be in that community on the streets.”

Cully added that her neighbors mention the need for added police presence. “Even my landlord was talking about some things that we thought was going on in the neighborhood and it would be nice if we had more of a presence where the officers would be more visible in the community more often and then maybe some of that wouldn’t take place,” she said.

Cully did not say whether the neighbors or landlord had called the Police Department to report those activities.

Vanderpool pointed out that Casa Grande does assign its police officers to certain beats.

He asked Cully if she had ever gone on a ridealong with a city police officer on the beat.

“That’s an opportunity,” he said. “That opens eyes an awful lot.”

Cully said she has not done that but wants to.

New water rule could spell the end
for agriculture, councilman believes

Click here for timetable

A little known decision at the state level could spell the end of agriculture in Pinal County, Casa Grande City Councilman Dick Powell believes.

Powell outlined his concerns during the City Council’s discussion and planning retreat on April 4 and in a later conversation with CG News.

The situation has to do with grandfathered agricultural water rights and a decision by the Arizona Department of Water Resources to systematically lower the water credits each year until there is nothing by year 2055.

“Basically at the end of 40 years that farmland would be worth exactly the same as bare desert,” Powell told the council. “And developers came up with this, because they didn’t want to pay the prices of farm land. They wanted to be able to buy water credits and take the water to the dry land they bought at a much cheaper price.”

Powell told CG News that, “The rules used to be that basically they were supposed to buy land with water rights on it to develop. That was the idea, instead of trying to transfer water it was to keep the growth where the water is. And that got changed with this.”

His main fear, Powell told the council, is that before the extinguishment begins next year, dropping available credits to 94 percent, many landowners will want to quickly sell to gain maximum benefit.

“There’s a 30,000-acre farm group down around Eloy that has said they will convert the minute that happens,” Powell said. “That would leave 30,000 acres of fallow land, period.”

As has been seen around the Casa Grande area where land was sold for development that never happened, it creates major dust and other problems.

“If we have our farms drying up, to live in an area with dirt on four corners it’s not going to be very pleasant to have a home there,” Powell said.

Another problem, Powell told CG News, is that once a landowner sells the water credits the land can no longer be used for agriculture. The designation must convert to municipal and industrial use.

“They extinguish if you leave it in agriculture, but if you convert it to M&I it’s there,” he said. “You’ve got that amount of credits that you can sell separately to somebody.”

If the owner had been sitting on the credits but was using irrigation district water that would also mean less income for the district once the land was converted, Powell said.

“So all of a sudden you have a distribution system that can’t be maintained,” he told CG News, “so it kind of forces everybody to say, OK, I’d probably better sell and get out of this thing while I can get some water credits, because I can’t get delivery.”

It seems a contradiction that developers would want to see the water credits gradually decline to zero, making the land much cheaper, but still buy the credits at the very beginning.

What would happen, Powell believes, is that they would buy and then transfer those water credits to an area that has no available water.

Powell pointed to a massive planned development known as Superstition Vistas, 275 square miles of undeveloped Arizona state trust land between the Apache Junction and Florence areas. Phoenix area developers see that as a major opportunity for building.

The problem, Powell said, is that the area has no water.

If a developer bought water credits in the Casa Grande area he could carry those to the part of Superstition Vista that the ADWR’s Pinal Active Manage Area for water.

Powell told CG News that that decision flies in the face of the previous consideration of “do we take population to where the water is?

“This is where that shift came in, they didn’t want to pay the price for agricultural land that farmers were getting to have the water on it.

And they figured it would be a lot cheaper to run out agriculture and then buy up the water credits and you could apply it to any land you have, just like Superstition Vistas.”

The flip side, he said, is that when development picks up again in the Casa Grande area in future years that land with no water credits will be much, much cheaper to buy.

So far, Powell said, few people seem to know about the situation.

“Dairy farmers have told me they don’t think it’s happening,” Powell told the City Council. “They said no, that can’t be, nobody would do that.”

The dairies should be worried, he said, because they rely on local agriculture for feed. The same applies to feeding lots, he added.

“It’s amazing,” Powell continued. “I was at a Farm Bureau meeting when a lady announced this and they probably thought she was crazy.

We need to get the farm related industries we have around us aware of what’s going on.”

Powell told the council that ADWR Director Sandra Fabritz-Whitney told him that basically each active management area is supposed to designate what they want to see happen with water. That filters down to the local groundwater users advisory council, or GUAC.

In this case, he said, the local council approved the extinguishment plans.

“The object in Pinal County is supposed to be to continue farming as long as viable, but the market should indicate that and not a systematic taking away of grandfathered irrigation rights,” Powell said.

“And I think what happened is the development guys got there way ahead of agriculture and everybody else and got it headed this way.

“And I can just tell you, if you started looking around town and pulled out ag, we’d certainly be a more challenged place economically.”

The local groundwater council could change its stance on the extinguishments, Powell said, but pressure needs to be applied, pointing out the fallacy of the plan for Pinal County.

“We approached the GUAC some time ago, quite a few people went to it, and they didn’t have good explanations and they were kind of embarrassed,” Powell told CG News. “And I think that they may be kind of sorry, because some of the people sitting there are the same ones that originally agreed to do this.

“You know, all GUAC would have to do is say don’t do the extinguishment, let the market be the guide. You keep your water and when it becomes unfeasible to farm, then sell it or convert it and get whatever it is out of it that you would have.

“There’d been an indication through one GUAC member to the Farm Bureau that if we could get more going on this to convince GUAC that we need to change this it would motivate them, but we need to hear from people. We can’t just hear from about six or eight people.”

The bottom line, Powell said, is that, “In our county, probably the biggest hope we’ve got is agricultural as far as an industry, because we have plenty of acreage and we have water to do it right now, albeit there’s a plan in place to take it away.

“So many people are probably not going to realize that until they start to fall by the side and then ask, what in the hell happened? Who did this?”

City considers change, realignment
for some boards and commissions

You'll find the list of city boards and commissions at

Casa Grande is considering consolidating some of its 20 boards and commissions and creating four new ones for special purposes.

It is important to note that for now it is discussion only. No decisions have been made.

The city website lists 20 boards and commissions, some active and some relics of days long past.

“These groups assist the city with information gathering and provide important feedback on a variety of issues of interest to the community,” the website says. “Several boards are also granted decision-making authority by the City Council,” such as the Planning and Zoning Commission.

During the City Council’s April 4 planning and discussion retreat, City Manager Jim Thompson said city officials studied 26 other similar sized cities to Casa Grande, noting what boards or commissions they had, what the duties and terms were and how they are operated.

From that, he said, the city was able to make some recommendations for Casa Grande.

Public Works Advisory Board

The proposal would merge the present five-member Airport Advisory Board into a seven-member Public Works Advisory Board.

“We always talk about infrastructure (of which the city airport is a major part), it’s number one on our list,” Thompson said. “We don’t have a Public Works board, yet it’s one of our largest departments, personnel wise and cost wise.

“So this creates seven new board positions. And if we eliminate the Airport Advisory Board, it’s a five-member board, we actually net two new.

But now we’ve covered our largest operation.”

Mayor Bob Jackson told the council that, “We purposely have not filled some vacancies on the Airport Advisory Board, so I think right now there are two current members on the board, if I’m not mistaken. The rest are either termed out or gone.”

The city website shows two members with terms running through this August and two that expired in September of last year. The fifth position is listed as vacant.

Community Services Board

The Community Services Department handles parks, recreation, library and other activities in the city.

The city has had separate golf and parks and recreation boards, but discussions have arisen in the past about how the two might be merged. The reasoning given was that golf and recreation are, in essence, tied together but because the boards meet separately one does not always know what the other is doing.

Thompson proposed that Casa Grande Clean and Beautiful, Golf Course Advisory Committee and Library Advisory Board be merged into the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, expanding it to nine members and renaming it the Community Services Board.

“The Golf Course Advisory Committee has no members right now,” Jackson said.

The city website shows all terms expired in 2010, 2011 and 2012. The last meeting agenda listed is for May 2, 2012.

“And the library board I think has three people that are termed out and/or serving until replaced,” Jackson continued. “And Clean and Beautiful, I don’t even know how many people they’ve got on the board.”

The website shows four positions on the library board expiring this June, one in June of 2014 and three that expired in 2011 and 2012. The website shows that all Clean and Beautiful terms have expired, ranging from April 6, 2013, to April 6, 2012.

Fire Advisory Board

The city has long had a Police Advisory Board, but there has never been one for the Fire Department.

Thompson’s proposal would create at seven-member Fire Advisory Board.

It doesn’t make sense to add members to the Police Advisory Board and have it also cover fire issues, the council was told.

“Fire and Police are distinctly different when you talk about emergency response,” Thompson said. “They should be separate because of the size of the departments and the complexity of the departments and the types of issues that are totally different.”

Finance Advisory Board

It would be five members, Thompson said, adding that, “Maybe those members are ones we look and try to find accountants or similar.”

Other thoughts

Thompson also said that perhaps some boards or commissions should have alternate members, ones who would receive all the agenda materials, attend meetings and be allowed to fill in and vote if a regular member is absent.

Those would not include the retirements boards, Youth Commission and Mayor’s Committee on Disability Issues, he said.

“What I guess I’d like to see is let’s move forward with cleanups on these boards,” Jackson said. “I love the idea of the Public Works board, I love the idea of consolidating the Park and Rec Board. And because we’ve got vacancies in those other boards, now it’s pretty easy to do those right now.

“I’m willing to do as much as staff can carry, but I think at a minimum we could cleanup, and create the Fire Board, create the Public Works Board, do the mergers that we’re talking about doing. The alternate member idea, I don’t care one way or the other. I really think we need to do cleanup.”

Heritage Commission

The Heritage Commission was set up to make recommendations to the City Council concerning all proposals for the naming or renaming of city facilities, meeting as needed. The last meeting agenda posted is for Dec. 9, 2010.

Councilman Dick Powell asked if merging the Heritage Commission with the Historic Preservation Commission had been considered.

“I left those alone,” Thompson said. “There’s some strong willed individuals (on Historic Preservation), didn’t know if that was one we wanted to tackle right now.”

Powell noted that it “almost kills volunteerism” to have people go through the city Leadership Academy and then get appointed to a board that rarely meets or never does anything.

Jackson said that perhaps the members of the Heritage Commission could be given right of first refusal to join newly created boards. “They may not want to,” he said, “but at least it gives them the option.”

Mayor’s Committee on Disability Issues

“We have a Mayor’s Committee on Disability that is a little bit different than the other boards and commissions,” Jackson said, “and I don’t even think it was created by ordinance. I think it was created probably 30 years ago, probably the first time Jimmie Kerr was the mayor.”

Jackson said the commission was created when the national Americans With Disabilities Act was passed, intending that the committee would help residents understand what the ADA was all about.

“It has morphed into a hundred different things,” Jackson said, “and we need to figure out how to either formalize that into a normal board or what to do with it.”

Getting members to meetings has become difficult, Jackson said. He added that Dawn Jett, the administrative services director, has been “doing a good job of kind of bringing them back into the fold, but I really think that we need to formalize them into a normal board, come to the boards and commissions dinner, where we have the same process for them that we do everybody else. You say, OK, now here’s the term, here’s the criteria.”

The city website list 10 members for the committee. Attendance, though, is random, Jackson said.

“Their membership numbers are all over the map,” he said. “Sometimes there’s 10, sometimes there are 15, sometimes there are five.”

It is actually a fluctuating membership, Thompson said. “It fluctuates however it needs to fluctuate.”

Jackson said he would work with Thompson and Jett over the next few months to figure out if the committee can be formalized.

When ADA was enacted, Thompson said, many cities set up committees on disabilities, but usually for a special project with a set period of time.

In Casa Grande’s case, he said, “I’m just guessing, but when I look back in the history at the time when the new laws came out one of the recommendations for the original process was to engage your community, get a special board, talk about what it means, what ADA is, how it affects your community, all those different things.

“I think it was formed for that, and it’s kind of come and gone. It’s got this nebulous spot. I’m not saying we shouldn’t have one of those, but it was a specialized one. And if it has served its purpose, do we need to eliminate it or should we look at a different name and a different structure to cover that issue?”

Put in review dates

Jackson said, “The other thing I’d like to see us do, because most of these board changes will require ordinance changes, is put something in the ordinance that says we will review their existence, almost a sunset clause, every seven, eight, nine years.

“We have boards like Clean and Beautiful, it’s been around since probably the 1980s as part of the Keep America Beautiful program. And I think we need to have some periodic review.

“Some we d