I recently learned about a questionable land lease deal between Gabrielle Giffords and the City of Tucson and I thought the matter deserved more investigation. The property, located near 22nd and I-10, is owned by the Giffords family land management company and was leased to the city in 2000 for $160,000 per year for fifty-five years.
Although Gabrielle Giffords has claimed that she has not benefited from the deal, she is listed on the Secretary of State website as a manager (and as a trustee) of the company that leased the property to the City. In October of 2006 in a Daily Star news article, Gabrielle Giffords’ campaign again denied that Giffords benefitted from the deal and the Secretary of State records were in error. However, only two months prior to this denial Gabrielle Giffords filed an amendment to her financial disclosure statement to the Clerk of the House of Representatives, stating that she was indeed a manager of Giffords Management Group, the company that leased the property to the City. Subsequently, Gabrielle Giffords’ 2007 Financial Disclosure Statement discloses again that she is still a manager of the company.
The property was leased by the City in 2000 with the hope that a grocery store would be built upon it as a part of the Rio Nuevo Project, according to Tucson Community Services. However, the property was not within the Rio Nuevo district and the location had little strategic value. In fact, the location couldn’t even support Giffords’ company, El Campo Tire. Furthermore, no grocery stores expressed an interest in the property prior to the signing of the lease. Eight years later, the property remains vacant. Due to the poor location, no grocery stores were interested in building on the land and the prospect of a successful grocery store at the location is widely regarded as unfeasible. In the meantime, the taxpayers are footing the bill for the lease. The Giffords family will receive over $12 million over the next forty-eight years for the vacant lot. Using an estimate of 200,000 households in Tucson, the “Gabby Tax” over the remainder of the lease will cost Tucsonans about $40 per household.
Another interesting fact is that the taxpayers footed the entire bill to clean up the land, which was polluted with petroleum, asbestos and other contaminants. The lease that was signed put full responsibility for the clean up and improvements to the land in the hands of the City of Tucson. Some of the funding came from an EPA Brownfields grant and the rest was paid for by the City of Tucson. According to the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, two leaking underground fuel storage tanks were found on the property and were removed at taxpayer expense in July of 2002. The Giffords campaign claimed in 2006 that the land was not contaminated, but this was only made possible after clean up work was funded by the City and the EPA gave the property a clean bill of health.
On Giffords’ website, she lists a $47 million earmark she requested for the streetcar project from the University of Arizona to the Rio Nuevo district as one of her accomplishments. The only problem with this is that none of the track for the streetcar project is in her district. Perhaps the earmark was a way for Congresswoman Giffords to express her thanks to City officials for the $15 million her family received from them. This practice by our politicians of “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” is part of what I think is wrong with Washington.