From what I can tell, the City of Tucson hasn’t taken any further action (not yet, anyway) on the proposed “vacant property registration fee” that I told you about recently. You may recall that the City proposed such a fee as a way to raise revenue for subsidizing affordable housing through the City’s Tucson Housing Trust Fund.
I was able, with a little digging, to find out where the idea for a vacant property fee apparently originated. It came from something called the National Vacant Properties Campaign. The Campaign is a project of Smart Growth America, the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, and the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech. Funding for the Campaign comes from grants from, among others, the Fannie Mae Foundation, the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the Ford Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts.
The Campaign has an interesting web site at www.vacantproperties.org. According to that site, Tucson is one of a handful of cities that are “taking aggressive action to attack the problem [of vacant and abandoned properties] and prevent it from spreading.”
Really? Tucson has its own set of urban problems, but those problems seem to me to be very different from the problems that the Campaign is designed to address. Take, for example, this description from an article in the September 16, 2006,Cleveland Plain Dealer, that is linked at the Campaign’s site, discussing a documentary film about conditions in Buffalo, New York:
The bleak film shows blocks of vacant houses with doors left open, windows broken and siding missing. About 16,000 homes await demolition in Buffalo, where 70 percent of the houses were built before 1940.
Now, that’s a real vacant property problem that will require major efforts to fix. They are not just dealing with scattered vacant houses or lots. They are dealing with the very real problem of large areas of properties that are not viable under current economic conditions. I haven’t researched it, but I’ll bet that in virtually every case, those economic conditions include large-scale population decrease due to loss of major industries or other economic activity. Doesn’t sound like Tucson, does it?
Decent affordable housing is definitely a continuing need in Tucson and other cities across the country. I guess I don’t understand, though, why a vibrant, growing city like Tucson would adopt measures that are really meant to deal with other, very different problems faced by shrinking cities in economically declining areas.
Perhaps the City was (or is) just looking for the most likely new revenue source for a project that has no ready means of funding. A source has told me that the City initially approached the local real estate brokerage professionals about a real estate transfer tax to fund the Housing Trust Fund. My source also told me that the City proposed the vacant property fee after the transfer tax idea flopped.
For now, at least, Tucson doesn’t look like those shrinking cities in other parts of the country, and certainly doesn’t appear to need the types of measures promoted by the National Vacant Properties Campaign. We’ll see if the City decides to pursue the vacant property fee, or tries to find some other revenue source to subsidize affordable housing.
MORE LEGAL NEWS ABOUT TREES
There must be something about trees in California that causes this sort of thing. This item, presented for your edification without comment, appeared in the January 22 San Francisco Chronicle:
Three grandes dames of Berkeley politics climbed a ladder Monday and perched in a coast live oak next to Memorial Stadium, joining six other tree-sitters trying to save a small grove from a proposed UC [University of California] athletic center.
UC plans to remove about three dozen trees from the grove to build a $125 million athletic training center. The City of Berkeley, California Oak Foundation and Panoramic Hill neighborhood association have sued to stop the project, which they say is unsafe because it’s near the Hayward Fault. Denizens of Tightwad Hill on the east side of the stadium also have sued because the proposed stadium renovation would block their free view of Cal football games.
UC wants to build the training center to provide safer accommodations for the 300 or so staff and students who use Memorial Stadium’s offices and training rooms regularly. The stadium straddles the Hayward Fault.
The tree-sitters have said they favor building the training center, but they want it built elsewhere, so the 1.2-acre oak grove can be spared.