District 4 Supervisor, Ray Carroll, and his executive assistant, Scott Egan, say the way the Mt. Lemmon trailhead process went forward was flawed from the beginning.
“It seems like they were pulling a fast one,” Carroll said. There has never been a project that Scott or I have been in office, now four terms, that went though zero community outreach. The way it was presented without any notification, which I’ve said, was truly unusual.”
Priscilla Cornelio, who is the Pima County Department of Transportation director, wrote in an email, “The Department of Transportation does have public involvement on projects, however, in this case, the wagon got in front of the horse. Public comment is very important to the department. In fact we considered all of the comments that we received and suspended the project at the proposed location.”
“It was never our intent to have residents ‘feel like a fast one was pulled over them,’ our intent is to come up with a public facility that is going to work for everyone. ”
Egan said once the emails and phone calls started coming in from residents who objected the project, they decided a public meeting should be held.
“Our response was to tell transportation,’We need to have a public hearing on this,'” Egan said. “When we called for the public hearing that is when transportation said,’Ohh, well you know it is going to be really nasty, the neighbors are really pissed off. We would rather just cancel the project and not have a public hearing.’ They knew they were going to get a lot of hostile comments.”
“Our feeling was to pursue this site and to pursue this public meeting on this site; it is just going to be a really negative, nasty confrontation between neighbors and bicyclists,” Egan said. “We didn’t see any benefit in that happening.”
The two men acknowledged that it was politically convenient for them when the transportation department called off the public meeting.
The Tucson -Pima County Bicycle Advisory Committee is considering whether they want to try to revive the original location, but both Egan and Carroll believe that would be a mistake.
“If anybody wants to go to that neighborhood, setup a meeting, talk to people, go right ahead,” Egan said. “We aren’t going to be a part of it, because as far as I am concerned it is adding insult to injury. They have made it very clear what their position is.”
“I would be absolutely shocked if that neighborhood changed its opinion and all of a sudden wanted to destroy a nice natural buffer in their neighborhood and put in a parking lot,” Egan said.
Jean Gorman, head of the Brad Fund wrote in an email, “I have never been able to show to the County or the neighbors this site with their peaceful quiet enjoyment intact and let them decide.”
According to Carroll cyclists should start looking for other options.
“My take is that the bicycle community should back up, start over, forget about that location on Spruce, because you are beating a dead horse,” Carroll said. “Look at the upside and the most bang for your buck that you can get with limited dollars in this economy by developing a site at the Bear Canyon Library. That would be the very least controversial site.”
And, he says, the library already has the amenities that cyclists would need.
“I appreciate the fact another site is being sought after and the whole project is not scrapped,” Gorman wrote. “I, including the cycling community, are more than willing to consider another site near the base on Catalina hwy, but only after our cycling community is made to understand why.”
According to Carroll, unscientific polls have been conducted by the transportation department at alternative sites and homeowners are all opposed to having the trailhead located near their neighborhoods.
“The neighbor’s complaints are going to be an issue anywhere,”Carroll said.
The men said they wouldn’t comment on the money that the Brad Fund had spent developing the trailhead at the original location, but said they understood it could be frustrating to people who donated money.
“When you are raising dollar-by-dollar, I understand completely,” Carroll said. “People donated money and they expected to see something. I can see where people would be disappointed.”
When asked about why a neighborhood has enough influence to halt the progress on a project like the Mt. Lemmon trailhead, Egan said he believes that the people, “who live next to that project, who are going to have to deal with that project on a daily basis,” take precedence.
Carroll said he wanted to make it clear that he supports cyclists citing the charities he works with to give children bicycles and the bike lanes he helped put in his district.
“We’re not covering our political butts, we are letting you know and the BAC know they are chasing up the wrong tree.”