Tucson – Proposition 200 Misses the Mark

It is likely that the Tucson metropolitan area will continue to grow. Limiting growth within Tucson’s water service area will cause development to happen elsewhere in Pima County.  Exporting the city’s growth problems is not a sustainable solution. We need regional solutions – not solutions that penalize residents of Tucson – if we are going to grow in a manner that creates a vibrant, desirable place to live and that minimizes the ecological impact of new development. 

We do need to reform our state and local land use policies to protect what we value about Tucson and southern Arizona. Unfortunately, Prop 200 is the wrong medicine and will only make matters worse.  The Sonoran Institute encourages voters to reject this measure.

Instead, we suggest four key steps that Tucson and other jurisdictions in southern Arizona should take to meaningfully address the challenges of poorly planned growth:

Embrace innovation in transportation. Over the next 20 years, the Phoenix-Tucson “Sun Corridor” will merge into one metropolitan area with perhaps 10 million residents. Knowing this, we need to create a regional transportation plan built around commuter rail linking Tucson and Phoenix, with light rail and improved bus service on each end.

  1. Identify where we will grow in the future and where we won’t. Sprawling development makes it costly to provide public services and it is environmentally destructive. It is time to agree on where we want to grow and where we want to limit future investments in infrastructure, water, schools and other services. Pima County’s Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan is an excellent start.
  2. We also need to ensure that the costs of growth are equitably shared. As long as growth is dealt with piecemeal—a tax here, impact fees there—we will never have a sustainable or fair approach to this issue.
  3. Accelerate efficiencies for water and energy use. Our region has made good progress in energy and water conservation, but we can do better. We must create policies to promote solar power and water reclamation. And, we need to set ambitious standards for water and energy use in future development.
  4. Reward innovative, high-quality development. With too few exceptions, our state and local land-use policies promote wasteful suburban-style development that requires people to spend too much time in the car. Residents deserve more choices. We should provide more incentives for pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use, infill and other development alternatives.

All of these proposals require community leadership. Civic and business leaders in greater Tucson need to advocate for regional planning, and our elected officials will follow. The success of the recent regional transportation initiative underscores that voters understand the need for regional approaches and support collaborative planning efforts.

Western cities like Denver and Salt Lake City are taking a regional approach to managing growth, promoting commuter and light rail, reducing greenhouse emissions and encouraging land, energy and water conservation. Tucson and its neighbors need to do the same if our community is to prosper and remain competitive.

We need change. Unfortunately, Proposition 200 is a step in the wrong direction.

Luther Propst, Executive Director
The Sonoran Institute
Luther can be contacted at luther@sonoran.org