Open-space preservation in Scottsdale and elsewhere in the East Valley stands to get a boost from a reform coalition’s proposal to change how the state land trust is managed.
The group released an outline of the proposal Friday and expects to get a final reform package to state legislative leaders within several weeks, said leader Ed Fox, chief of environmental affairs for Arizona Public Service utility company.
The group wants a reform measure on the November 2004 state ballot.
It could aid Scottsdale’s pursuit of more than 16,000 acres of state land to complete its McDowell Sonoran Preserve, as well as help a local private conservation group trying to preserve about 30,000 acres in the Superstition Mountains area east of Mesa.
Cave Creek and the Desert Foothills Land Trust also want to preserve several thousand acres of state land in the north East Valley.
"I’m optimistic that this effort will help Scottsdale to further its preservation goals. . . . But the devil is in the details," said Scottsdale Mayor Mary Manross.
The major detail is specifically how many of the 9.3 million acres of state land — 13 percent of Arizona — would be designated for potential preservation. Coalition members still are negotiating over the exact boundaries of those tracts, Fox said.
The decision likely will show mixed results for the Superstition Area Land Trust’s efforts to preserve land at the edge of the East Valley, said co-founder Rosemary Shearer.
"I’m heartened to see some of the areas being proposed for preservation and disappointed about others that won’t be. . . . But overall, this will benefit us," Shearer said.
The new system "won’t guarantee us anything for free," said Carla (her full name), director of the McDowell Sonoran Land Trust, which aids Scottsdale preserve program.
But it would give the city "more time and more tools" for acquiring land for preservation, she said.
"This in no way means we do not need new preserve funding in Scottsdale. The reform will help us, but our community will still have to step up with new funding if we’re to complete the preserve people voted for,’’ Carla said.
Scottsdale is considering asking voters to approve a four-tenths of a cent sales tax increase to provide an estimated $500 million it could take to purchase state land within the planned preserve boundary.
Under the reform proposal, certain state lands would be designated as "incentive" lands. Those could be preserved without direct purchase by municipalities or conservation groups.
Other tracts are to be designated as "option" lands. Those would be considered suitable for conservation but would have to be acquired for preservation through any of a variety of options designed to ensure the state gets full market value for the property.
Revenue from sales and leasing of state trust lands benefits public education. The reform package seeks to preserve a portion of state lands without shortchanging schools, Fox said.
The reform coalition includes representatives from environmental organizations, land developers and other business interests, public education, ranching interests and the Arizona League of Cities and Towns.
Fox and others brought the group together after a state land preservation proposition was defeated in a 2000 election. Many factions in the group were on opposite sides of that issue.