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Shope, Superior mayor discuss solutions to 'urban blight' in Pinal County
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PHOENIX — The Copper Corridor, along State Routes 77 and 177, is dotted with small and historic mining towns, some of which are stuck with abandoned or crumbling infrastructure but without money or room to expand or resolve such eyesores.

“Blight happens when you have one building in downtown and all of a sudden no resources to take care of it,” said Mila Besich, mayor of Superior. “Infill development is critical for our communities.”

During a discussion earlier this month about “urban blight” and issues around abandoned buildings and brownfields, state Sen. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, highlighted success stories in his region, Legislative District 8, which includes Copper Corridor cities as well as Coolidge and Florence. While he cautioned against “overreach” by the government, Shope also made several suggestions including creating a vacant building registry that cities and towns could use as a first step.

“The district I represent is a cross-section of hypergrowth and no growth,” Shope said. “These problems have existed in the Copper Corridor for many years but they’re also in almost every community across Arizona.”

Shope noted his hometown of Coolidge, where his father was mayor for 16 years, has had issues over the years with empty buildings in the downtown area. In the near future, a new Pinal Hispanic Council office will be built at the site of the old Cohen’s Department Store, while the old Shorty’s bar is planning to reopen as a wine bar.

Besich said both her city and nearby Globe are thriving right now due to both local leadership and help from state agencies.

Besich cited the example of Superior’s historic Belmont Hotel, which was owned by the city but had issues with asbestos and mold that prevented its use. Within two years of a Phase 1 Assessment, the building was cleaned up and sold to someone planning to reopen the building as a community center and Airbnb.

Both Besich and Shope said smaller cities didn’t have resources for options such as condemnation or eminent domain.

“My colleagues will oftentimes ask: You guys have the power to condemn,” Shope said. “Why aren’t city leaders using the tools in their toolbox? It’s a very expensive tool!”

Arizona Department of Environmental Quality Brownfields Coordinator Travis Barnum was the third speaker on the panel.

Barnum explained how the state’s brownfields grant program works and cited a recent case in Jerome, where the upper floors of a former hotel were layered with “bat guano” and lead paint but were cleaned up to provide space for offices and living quarters.

Besich called Barnum a “superhero” and an “incredible resource” for helping her city remove asbestos and lead paint from the former Roosevelt elementary school.

“We couldn’t have gotten to where we are without ADEQ utilizing these programs,” Besich said.

Wet monsoon season means Arizona high country should be colorful this fall
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LOS ANGELES — With summer winding down, leaf-peeping season is upon us.

One of the tell-tale signs that autumn has arrived is when forests transition to a palette of vibrant colors, a transformation so grand that it can be seen from space.

The exact timing of when the leaves change colors is related to the weather leading up to fall, and the recent weather patterns in Arizona have tipped the hand of Mother Nature. AccuWeather meteorologists say Arizona’s high country around Flagstaff and the White Mountains should be spectacular this fall due to all the moisture that has fallen during a very active monsoon season this summer.

In early August, AccuWeather Lead Long-Range Forecaster Paul Pastelok provided a sneak peek at the foliage outlook with AccuWeather’s annual fall forecast, and now with meteorological autumn underway, he is providing a more detailed outlook on the foliage forecast for the West.

The Rocky Mountains will be split in half in terms of fall foliage displays this year with one region that will sizzle and another region that will fizzle.

The active monsoon over the Four Corners this year did more than help with short-term drought concerns. The moisture set the stage for a vibrant display of fall foliage across the mountainous landscape.

As a result, the foliage in the Four Corners this year will be “particularly better” compared to 2020, Pastelok said, a year when the monsoon was virtually nonexistent. This includes the southern Rockies across New Mexico and into Colorado, as well as northern and eastern Arizona.

Areas in Arizona expected to have vibrant fall foliage are the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff, Oak Creek Canyon near Sedona, the Mogollon Rim north of Payson and Pine, and the White Mountains around Show Low and Pinetop.

Aspen trees in particular will be more vibrant than last year, especially in northern Arizona. Although not deciduous trees, Aspens are known to turn stunning golden-yellow hues in the fall due to a lack of photosynthesis.

The Aspens can brighten around the normal peak, which occurs from mid-September through mid-October, Pastelok said. Southern parts of Colorado should have the best and most vibrant color due to more monsoon rainfall.

This means that Aspens in places like Rocky Mountain National Park in northern Colorado may not be quite as stunning as those farther south.

Foliage is not anticipated to be quite as colorful across the northern Rockies with early leaf drop likely, in part due to widespread drought conditions.

Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, and northern Utah all are experiencing severe to extreme drought conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

This drought increases the stress on the trees, reducing the colors visible in the leaves before they fall off the deciduous trees in the region.

The fall foliage across the West Coast states in 2020 was below normal in terms of colors, and a repeat is likely to unfold in 2021 with duller colors predicted across most of the region.

This includes almost all of California and the eastern areas of Oregon and Washington.

Even if there are pockets of good colors in a few spots, the displays will be nothing like those along the East Coast, in part due to the active wildfire season.

“Wildfires and smoky conditions will make it difficult to visit and admire the colors in some areas once again this fall season,” Pastelok said.

In some cases, lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service have been shut down due to the risk of wildfires, cutting off access to some areas that people may often travel to for viewing the fall foliage.

However, the foliage will not be a bust across the entire region.

“The colors across the Cascades should be good,” Pastelok said, referring to the mountain range that extends from Washington through Oregon and into Northern California. But, he noted, that they may not be quite as impressive as last year.

This could mean trees in the Cascades may be the highlight of the West Coast foliage, making it a popular spot for leaf peepers that do not want to travel across the country to enjoy colorful mountainsides this autumn.


Attorney warns judge school mask ban endangers Arizona children
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PHOENIX — The attorney for a coalition of educators, school board members, child welfare advocates and others warned a judge Monday that children could die if she does not void a legislative ban on schools requiring students to be masked.

“Unless the laws challenged in this case are declared unconstitutional and enjoined, a great many children in Arizona will get COVID-19, they will get sick, they will suffer from long COVID, they will be hospitalized, and they may die,” Roopali Desai told Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Katherine Cooper. And she said that’s backed by evidence that shows not just an increasing number of cases among children — now one out of every four in Maricopa County — but also that schools with mask mandates have a lower rate of infection than those without.

Desai told the judge she is not making that claim out of hyperbole. She pointed out that anyone seeking to enjoin enforcement of a new law, as she is doing here, must prove “irreparable harm” if it is allowed to take effect.

But Desai told Cooper that the larger — and legally binding — reason she should declare the provision banning mask mandates illegal is that it was tucked into a bill simply labeled a “budget reconciliation” measure. And that, she said, means it violates a constitutional requirement that the title of a bill must reflect what’s in it.

Ditto, Desai said, of provisions she is challenging that were tucked into various measures, like one that bars colleges and universities from imposing vaccine requirements as a condition to attend classes, prohibits the establishment of a “vaccine passport,” and bars the teaching of anything in public schools “that presents any form of blame or judgment on the basis of race, ethnicity or sex.”

“The challenged provisions ... have nothing to do with budget reconciliation,” she said, which are supposed to be provisions designed to put into effect the changes made in spending bills.

So, for example, she said it’s OK if the budget allocates money for new school construction for a reconciliation bill to spell out how many square feet of space is required for students.

And everything else?

“They don’t effectuate the budget,” Desai said. “They don’t tell you how to distribute or calculate a pot of money that’s appropriated.”

In defending the laws, attorney Patrick Irvine argued that the legislature has used this procedure for years. And he said there really is no definition of what is a “reconciliation” bill.

“It is not strictly applied,” he argued. “The legislature is given a lot of discretion, a lot of wiggle room.”

And then there’s his claim that what meets the constitutional requirement for what is and is not required to be in the title of a bill is not for Cooper — or any judge — to decide.

“To the extent a budget reconciliation bill is necessary to implement the budget, that is something that the legislature gets to decide,” Irvine said.

He made the same argument to a separate challenge to a measure titled as “relating to budget procedures.”

Provisions in that measure range from being able to register to vote while getting a hunting and fishing license and limits on the power of Secretary of State Katie Hobbs to enact ballot fraud countermeasures and even establishing a special Senate committee to review the audit it ordered of the 2020 election returns from Maricopa County.

Desai said that measure runs afoul of another constitutional provision limiting all bills to just one subject. And much of what’s in there, she said, “has nothing to do with budget procedures.”

Irvine, however, told Cooper she can’t decide these provisions are not “necessary” for the budget.

“It’s up to the legislature to decide,” he said. “And the courts are generally going to be deferential to.”

All that sets the stage for what could be a ruling that will forever change how the legislature works.

What is clear — and Cooper could void — is has been practice of lawmakers to pile various issues into various end-of-session “reconciliation” bills for years. And it’s been done for political reasons.

Consider the bill to prohibit what has incorrectly been called “critical race theory” having to do with how teachers can deal with issues of race, sex or ethnicity.

It failed to get the necessary votes when it was considered as a separate measure. But then it was inserted into a reconciliation bill along with other items on the wish lists of various other legislators to cobble together the necessary Republican votes.

What makes all that illegal, Desai argued, is that tucking those changes into “reconciliation” bills or bills simply labeled “budget procedures” does not meet the constitutional requirement that the public be informed of what is included.

It’s also illegal, she said, because it forces a legislator “to make a Hobson’s choice between accepting the entire bill, including measures she opposes, or voting ‘no’ on the entire measure, including measures she supports.”

“That’s exactly what happened this session,” Desai said.

She cited a text message from Senate President Karen Fann who sought to explain how one bill managed to get all 16 Republicans to go along, including Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale.

“It was a budget bill and we had to give him some really crappy things to get him on board,” Fann wrote. “Talk about blackmail....”

And Desai warned Cooper that there are implications to agreeing with Irvine that the question of what can and cannot be in a bill is strictly up to lawmakers.

“If the court were to follow the logic the state is advancing, the legislature could eviscerate (the Arizona Constitution) by putting everything in a budget reconciliation bill and then saying to the court, ‘You can’t look at it, you can’t analyze it,’ “ she said.

Irvine also told Cooper that if she agrees with Desai that this year’s budget bills violate constitutional provisions on title and subject she should make her ruling prospective, applying it only in future years. More to the point, it would leave intact the provisions challenged by Desai and her clients. That came back to his argument that this is the way lawmakers have done things for years.

But Desai said this is hardly a new issue, saying legislators have been on notice for years of the requirements for the title of bills to reflect what is in them, and that bills can’t be unrelated issues thrown together.

Cooper promised to rule before the laws are set to take effect on Sept. 29. But she may decide even quicker, given that she knows whoever loses is going to seek Supreme Court review.