A coalition of developers, educators, ranchers and environmentalists has agreed to postpone an effort to preserve about 10 percent of Arizona's 9.2 million acres of state trust land. Citing internal disagreement, the coalition has abandoned its attempt to put a preservation initiative on the 2002 ballot (HCN, 7/30/01: Not in our backyard).
Since managers of state trust land are required to earn maximum revenue from their properties, much of Arizona's trust land is under heavy development pressure. Members of the coalition had hoped to change the mission of the State Land Department to allow protection of some trust land. But money from state trust land goes directly to public schools, and many educators were wary of the coalition's preservation initiative.
"It was clear that we weren't getting anywhere under the current proposal," says coalition member Sandy Bahr of the Sierra Club. "The education interests felt that what we were proposing would somehow harm public education in Arizona."
Other activists say the sheer complexity of the issues makes a quick agreement impossible: Coalition members are not only trying to protect some state land, but also to streamline the approval process for development of other state parcels.
Most coalition members hope to reach a consensus by the middle of next year, leaving plenty of time to garner public support and gather signatures for a successful 2004 initiative. Says Maeve Johnson of Valley Partnership, a Phoenix-area developers' association, "It's like trying to negotiate a peace treaty between Israel and Palestine. You've got to keep trying, because the issues at stake are really important to everyone."
Copyright © 2001 HCN and James MacAdam