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State government and private developers trying to steal Tucson's birthplace

Commentary by James Jordan |
November 12, 2011
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Tucson, AZ - NAFTA and corporate lawyers, SB1070 Supporters, anti-ethnic studies activists and developers are threatening Tucson's birthplace - the original Chuk Shon - which is the land and communities on the Santa Cruz River at the base of Sentinel Peak.

The right-wing ‘Rio Nuevo Board’ filed a lawsuit against the City of Tucson for $47 million and ownership of the site where Chuk Shon is located. They want to take this land out of the public's hands to develop it for private profit, without being hampered by the needs and concerns of the surrounding communities. The Rio Nuevo Board was not elected and is seriously out of step with local values and the site's indigenous, Chicano and working class history.

The Rio Nuevo Board was appointed by Governor Jan Brewer, State Senator Russell Pearce (who just lost a recall election because of his authorship of SB1070) and the state legislature. Its chair is Jodi Bain, who is a lawyer for Munger Chadwick and Associates. Munger Chadwick represents transnational corporate interests in Mexico and Arizona. They are NAFTA lawyers who defend a system that has led to mass displacement, resulting in a 60% rise in immigration to the United States - a forced migration rooted in poverty and the destruction of rural Mexican communities.

Yet Munger Chadwick has defended SB1070, adding insult and injury to the victims of displacement that their practice helped create. Furthermore, these laws led to the racial profiling of all Latinos and the indigenous such as those who make up the majority in the communities around Chuk Shon. By helping lead the attack on ethnic studies, John Munger has proven that he has no respect for the history and heritage of Tucson. He wildly accuses ethnic studies programs of promoting "racism, hatred, apartheid and Marxism."

Other members of the board include the former legislator, SB1070 supporter and payday loan lobbyist Jonathan Paton and Rich Grinnell, a Rosemont Copper lobbyist and Republican candidate for mayor.

The Rio Nuevo Board does not have the people of Tucson's interests at heart and they do not represent us. The development they want would be their own private, for-profit playground. It would dishonor the area's history and heritage and represent an all-out assault on the local communities through a process of gentrification. Chuk Shon has been farmed and inhabited continuously for over 4000 years.

Originally, the Rio Nuevo project was funded by a voter approved Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district. In 1999 Tucsonans voted for the creation of the district with sales taxes helping fund Rio Nuevo for a 10 year period. The tax was to raise $120 million in development funds. Studies were done and plans finalized so that work on the project was shovel ready to move forward. However, through mismanagement by a former city council, a former city manager and the Rio Nuevo executive director, competing political interests and the interference of outside developers and state government, the project was changed to a $600 million price tag and the TIF district tax was extended to 2025.

The Rio Nuevo Board wants to continue that tax and put the development in the hands of unelected appointees. They want to give control of Chuk Shon to individuals who have shown themselves to be inherently at odds with the history, culture and values of the people who live there. They want to sell Chuk Shon for private profit. They have used our own tax dollars to pursue this suit and attack public claim to this land. They have raised money for legislative candidates who support their efforts. They use public funds to bankroll their own defense against competing lawsuits.

The efforts of these developers, corporate lawyers and new colonialists must be stopped. They do not represent us. They don't even release information about the time and place of their meetings till the day before they meet - making their ‘Call to the Audience’ a mockery of the idea of citizen input. We need to end the TIF district, a proposal that has extended beyond the voters' mandate. Taxes to fund an unelected Rio Nuevo Board can mean only one thing: Taxation without representation!

We need to make sure that any development of Chuk Shon should happen based first and foremost in accordance with the input and wishes of the surrounding communities and the indigenous peoples whose heritage there goes back for millennia. It needs to proceed in a democratic fashion reflecting the will of the people of Tucson. If it doesn't happen that way, then it is better that there be no development at all.

It's time to end Rio Nuevo and return Chuk Shon to the communities. Chuk Shon is Tucson's birthplace! Chuk Shon is our city's mother! Rio Nuestro, not Rio Nuevo!