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Video: Vandals spray-paint Casa Grande's Neon Sign Park
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CASA GRANDE — Casa Grande Police are looking for two vandals who spray-painted the Neon Sign Park downtown around 1 a.m. on Wednesday.

The vandals were recorded on security video around 1 a.m. while spray-painting the side of a planter and the face of the waving bellhop under the Horse Shoe Motel sign.

Casa Grande Police Department spokesman Thomas Anderson said the city’s graffiti abatement program was able to remove the graffiti but it caused about $400 worth of damage to the sign and planter.

The department has some security video and photographs of the vandals and is working with other businesses in the area to locate additional security footage, he said.

Anderson said the graffiti abatement program is always willing to work with businesses and property owners to help them remove graffiti from their buildings.

Anyone with information about the vandalism can call Silent Witness at 520-836-2100. A $1,000 reward is being offered for information that leads to an arrest in the case.

Suzanne Adams / Submitted  

Vandals spray-painted the face of the Horse Shoe Motel “waver” Wednesday morning at the Neon Sign Park.

The sign park was a joint project between Casa Grande Main Street and the Casa Grande Historic Preservation Commission. The park features 14 signs collected from former businesses around the area.

The park opened in 2019 and was funded by a $144,000 grant in 2018 from the American Express Partners in Preservation Program. It was also awarded the 2020 James W. Garrison Heritage Award by Gov. Doug Ducey’s office and the 2019 Arizona Great Place Award from the Arizona Chapter of the American Planning Association.

The park sits on property that is owned by the Kramer family, which owns PinalCentral and Casa Grande Valley Newspapers Inc.

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ADWR: Future development in Pinal County can’t rely on groundwater
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FLORENCE — There is more future demand for water in Pinal County than can be satisfied by existing resources, officials say. And that demand will not be met by excessive pumping of groundwater.

The Arizona Department of Water Resources announced this week it will not approve any new applications seeking to use groundwater within the Pinal Active Management Area.

The decision came during a meeting on Monday of the Pinal County Groundwater Task Force, chaired by Pinal County Supervisor Steve Miller.

The ADWR’s decision has been known for a little over two weeks. ADWR Deputy Director Clint Chandler relayed that during a prior meeting with the leaders of the Pinal County Groundwater Task Force, ADWR Director Tom Buschatzke informed them that “the days of utilizing native groundwater for development in Pinal are over, it’s done.”

Chandler described their conversation as “candid and constructive” and said it was a “difficult assessment,” though one that people monitoring the situation could have anticipated. Chandler also emphasized that current Pinal County residents need to be protected as consumers first and foremost.

After the meeting, Miller reiterated this point, clarifying that the ruling will have no effect on the ability of local towns and cities to grow in the near term. Miller mentioned that Casa Grande has around 25,000 lots that already have an ADWR certificate. The city of Maricopa also has enough water resources to at least double in size over the next few decades.

“I don’t want everybody to panic,” Miller said. “If you have a house in Casa Grande today, you will not run out of water. If you are building a house today you will be fine. We are working on solutions for water issues that will come into play decades down the road, not tomorrow.”

Steve Miller

The task force’s two co-vice chairs are Bill Garfield of Arizona Water Company and Jake Lenderking of Global Water Resources.

In 2019, models projecting the next 100 years showed that there would be a water supply deficit of just over 8 million acre-feet within the Pinal Active Management Area, which includes most of Pinal but not the northern part. While meeting some, or all, of that demand with groundwater is technically possible, that type of non-renewable water “mining” would lead to a variety of severe problems including arid lands and ground subsidence.

However, even when ADWR ran models that eliminated nearly all hydrological analyses for undeveloped land in the AMA, the water deficit for all uses was still just under 4 million acre-feet, including 589,000 acre-feet for current certificates and designations of Assured Water Supply.

While the timeline for direct impacts on consumers is far out, Garfield noted that ADWR’s decision would reflect a critical shift in thinking about water in Pinal County.

“Any project that plans to use groundwater as part of their assured water supply cannot be approved with other unmet demands existing,” Garfield said in explaining how he interpreted the results.

Miller said that at least some county officials and developers had assumed that when the state conducted studies ignoring prospective water demands — hydrological studies are necessary before water certificates are approved or subdivisions are planned — those studies would show there was plenty of groundwater left over.

“A number of people said, oh let’s just wipe out those analyses and we should be fine,” Miller said. “Well, they wiped it out and we are still not fine. That was the big shocker.”

Ayesha Vohra, deputy counsel for ADWR, was adamant that despite the projected 100-year shortfall, the department is not currently considering revoking any certificates or designations, though technically there is a process in place to do so. Entities would also still be able to take advantage of long-term storage credits.

Nevertheless, without being able to leverage groundwater access, the path forward is now uncertain for Pinal developers who had not yet secured AWS certificates.

One possible solution is case-by-case water transfers, such as the agreement between the city of Queen Creek and GSC Farms LLC, which lies along the Colorado River in La Paz County. However, Miller said that deal is currently being held up by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which has the final say.

That potential deal also has drawn criticism from on-river communities and environmentalists who worry that it would set a precedent of outside investors buying up water rights and decimating rural economies and ecosystems.

Lenderking said that the Stakeholder Group preferred to work with ADWR on a broad strategy or process that entities could follow rather than see them pursue water deals independently from one another.

“We would like to not have individual projects go alone,” Lenderking said. “Going it alone is tough.”

The ability to import water supplies into Pinal County is dependent on the status of basins and river systems, some of which are seeing major decline due to drought; the Colorado River Basin, which supplies water via the Central Arizona Project canal system, is in need of its own injection of external water supplies, with proposals including desalination projects off the coast of Mexico and diverting floodwaters west from the Mississippi River.

Garfield said that the task force previously had been looking at various solutions to unmet water demand, even before the most recent meetings with ADWR. Potential strategies they have investigated include: deepening existing municipal wells, adding new wells, performing urbanization studies — modeling what happens when agricultural land is swapped out for housing or other urban growth — and eliminating redundancies in agricultural water demand so as not to double-count needs.

According to Lenderking, the ADWR did say deepening wells was acceptable, and other measures could be approved on a case-by-case basis. Lenderking explained that the task force’s next steps included modeling recharge sensitivity and talking with stakeholders — residents, developers, etc. — to figure out how to facilitate further economic development without groundwater.

The Pinal County Water Augmentation Authority, a group that includes many of the same players including Lenderking and Miller, will share its own groundwater modeling results in August.

The Groundwater Task Force also plans on holding another meeting with ADWR during that time frame.

Some businesses still having trouble hiring
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CASA GRANDE — While reports continue of labor shortages across the nation, some Casa Grande area businesses also are having a hard time hiring.

The worker shortage is acute for restaurants. The National Restaurant Association has reported the eating and drinking industry shed 2.5 million jobs in 2020. Federal data showed nearly 1.4 million job openings in the restaurant and hotel sector in April.

At the Served Global Dining restaurant in Henderson, Nevada, a Las Vegas suburb, chef-owner Matthew Meyer said he needed a dozen or more people to fill positions across the board, including cooks and bartenders.

Plans for a seafood raw bar, to-go kits and a chef’s table to serve special tasting menus are on hold because he can’t find enough workers. Meanwhile, his labor costs are up by a third because he has to offer more money to lure applicants. Even then, the last two he had scheduled for interviews never showed up.

“We are having extreme difficulties,” he said.

The California Restaurant Association earlier estimated as many as one-third of the state’s restaurants would not make it through the pandemic. For those that survived, the employment gap is a “full-blown crisis,” said Jot Condie, who heads the organization.

In Los Angeles, Caroline Styne, owner and wine director at The Lucques Group, has turned away dozens of customers because she didn’t have the staff to serve them, leaving seats empty.

“If you can’t fill your seats ... multiple times per evening, the financial structure of the restaurant doesn’t work,” Styne said.

“Hiring is a nightmare,” she added. “I’ve never been in a situation like this.”

The sector is notoriously volatile and restaurant employees can be a transient lot — students who drop in-and-out of shifts as time allows, aspiring actors and musicians looking to supplement their income, kitchen staffers who move on for bigger paydays elsewhere. The hours can be long, benefits scarce and the pay low, often reliant on tips.

Extended federal unemployment benefits have provided a cushion to stay home — about 2 million people are still receiving checks. In other cases, there’s been a child care problem with schools closed or in recess for summer. And after a long break from work to ponder the future, others took on a new career path.

Restaurants and hotels have been “ground zero” for the labor shortage, but other sectors have been struggling to fill jobs, including non-union construction and home health care, said Michael Bernick, a former director of the California Employment Development Department and an attorney with the Duane Morris law firm.

Over the weekend, a post on the Facebook group CG Chat sparked a conversation regarding seeking employees.

“I have been looking for employees for four months. Can’t even get an applicant that meets general employment standards,” said the poster.

The post had about 240 comments from Facebook users.

“I’m a labor contractor,” said one Facebook commenter. “This past year has been the most difficult ever getting labor.”

Recently, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce launched an initiative called America Works, which is a nationwide effort at mobilizing industry and government to swiftly address America’s deepening worker shortage.

“As we stand on the cusp of what could be a great American resurgence, a worker shortage is holding back job creators across the country,” U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Suzanne Clark said in a press release. “Together, we can and we must address our nation’s workforce challenges. When you lead the world in talent, you lead the world in solutions. With a highly skilled workforce, there’s nothing business cannot achieve and nothing we as a nation cannot do.”

Businesses across the city say that it has been difficult to find workers.

The popular sandwich shop chain Jimmy Johns in Casa Grande has been posting on social media in hopes to hire more workers.

According to Culver’s Casa Grande, the company is always hiring and seeking employees.

However, Hideout Steakhouse, which opened earlier this year, hasn’t had any issues hiring employees.

Salad and Go, which opened on June 7, offers starting pay of $15 an hour for all new team members.

According to a job posting from Salad and Go from earlier this month, some benefits of the job include flexible schedules, major growth opportunities and health insurance.

For ailing restaurants, a turning point may not come until late summer, when enhanced federal benefits end and schools reopen. Even then, wages might need to rise to attract workers.