'People have a voice'

  • Gayle Hartmann

    Michael Berman

Note: This is a sidebar to a feature story headlined 'Desert sprawl.'

Gayle Hartmann is a longtime environmental activist in Tucson's growth wars and a former Pima County Planning and Zoning commissioner.

"The first time I spoke before the County Planning and Zoning Commission, it was 1971. I was living in the Tucson Mountains (west of the city), and it was about a proposed development in the Tanque Verde Valley (east of the city). I was literally told to shut up and sit down by the commission chairman. Things have improved since then. People have a voice and there's a ton of ordinances now protecting washes and buffers and slopes.

"But at the time, the very notion of questioning development, especially out of your neighborhood, seemed unthinkable. I think that communities that have been successful in dealing with sprawl have recognized the problem early. Obviously, the early "70s was the time to take action, and the chance to make large-scale decisions. After the recall and after the Comprehensive Plan was blown out of the water politically, probably for 10 years almost no good decisions were made. I was beginning to be slightly more optimistic until the state got in on the act, prohibiting any attempts at downzoning. There's a lot of bad zoning on the books, and that law makes it much harder to make a real difference in areas where you already have a serious problem with traffic."