September 13, 2019

Border trends, Rio Nuevo’s development, Mike Cease

Plus, what archaeological digs reveal about ancient agriculture in Pima County.

Customs and Border Protection saw a drop in the number of apprehensions along the southwest border over the summer. Numbers peaked in May with more than 130,000 apprehensions and gradually declined to about 50,000 apprehensions in August. Overall, the numbers still outpace previous years and present ongoing challenges for the agency. Arizona 360 learned more about the situation in Arizona from Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector Chief Roy Villareal.

“Arizona and Tucson in particular has been somewhat of an anomaly. We’ve maintained somewhat of a status quo. Although we’ve increased our apprehensions by about 25%, it’s not comparable to what we’ve witnessed in other places such as the Rio Grande Valley, El Paso and even Yuma,” Villareal said.

Villareal also discussed new construction along the border in Organ Pipe National Monument and Cochise County to raise new 30-foot bollard fencing.

“We just started a project here in Tucson Sector going west of the Lukeville Port of Entry and at its conclusion it will be 38 miles of new fencing,” Villareal said. “The 30-foot bollard was something we tested very recently, and we found it to be extremely effective in that it’s difficult to climb.”

In Tucson, a voter initiative to establish a sanctuary city would restrict the police department’s ability to work with federal agencies like Border Patrol. The agency is taking an apolitical stance on the issue.

“I know this is a referendum and this is up to the voters to vote on this. I think as it relates to the law enforcement community, we’re going to make every effort to make sure we continue a level of cooperation and partnership. And then our ultimate goal again is to enforce the law and to make sure that we can keep the community and our state safe.” Villareal said.


Twenty years ago, voters paved the way for Rio Nuevo, a multipurpose district tasked with revitalizing downtown Tucson. Despite a rocky start, a string of successes in recent years have led lawmakers to extend the district beyond its 2025 expiration date. Rio Nuevo Chair Fletcher McCusker discussed the district’s previous missteps as well as what’s on the horizon.

“The first 10 years, we actually call them the lost years because so much money was wasted, literally. And then the Legislature intervened,” McCusker said. “Then the last five years have been pretty productive.”

McCusker described new policies aimed at holding its partners accountable for the funding it receives from Rio Nuevo.

“When we do a project like that we take title to the property. So if there is a failure, Rio Nuevo will end up owning it. That wasn’t the case years ago,” McCusker said. “Right now we’re only putting up about 10% of the overall cost of any one of our projects. But we have the most leverage.”

McCusker said the district also takes steps to get feedback from the downtown community on future investments and plans. That included reaching out to residents of Barrio Viejo south of Cushing Street before breaking ground on a DoubleTree Hotel next to the Tucson Convention Center. Rio Nuevo also recently approved a $65 million plan to renovate venues at the TCC and construct two parking garages.

“We’re a public entity. Everything we do has to be done in a public meeting. We always have a call to the audience,” McCusker said.


Early work on a new interchange at Interstate 10 and Ruthrauff Road unearthed signs of what life was like thousands of years ago in Pima County. Archaeologists are currently working at a site a few dozen yards from the Santa Cruz River. University of Arizona anthropologist Thomas Sheridan offered insight into what they may discover.

“Tucson is really important in the archaeological world as far as the Southwest goes,” Sheridan said.

According to Sheridan, human activity along the river in Tucson traces back 14,000 years. Signs of maize agriculture date back 4,100 years. Evidence that corn farmers turned to field irrigation goes back 3,500 years.

“Wherever there was water in any quantity near the surface, people were living, and have been living for a long time,” Sheridan said. “But unlike today, they had to engage in a natural give-and-take with the river because they couldn’t build big dams. They didn’t have deep, groundwater wells.”

Sheridan said excavations like the current dig should also cause us to reflect on our present day use of our water resources in Southern Arizona.

“The water tables — just in 50 years between 1940 and the 1990s when the Central Arizona Project arrived — water tables and city wells dropped by anywhere between 50 and 200 feet,” Sheridan said. “In my history of Arizona I said that Tucson water users were like trust fund babies plundering their inheritance, because it took millions of years to collect that water and in that 50 years we used anywhere from 7% to 9% of it.”


After running as a write-in candidate in Tucson’s primary election, the Green Party’s Mike Cease qualified to appear on the general ballot in the city’s race for mayor. Cease discussed his campaign and priorities with Lorraine Rivera. Unlike Cease’s opponents, Democrat Regina Romero and independent Ed Ackerley, Cease supports the sanctuary city initiative, known as Proposition 205.

“It’s not only a public safety issue, but it’s also a moral issue. Sanctuary is a human right,” Cease said. “It’s been found that it’s unconstitutional to withhold federal funds for being a sanctuary city.”

Cease said he would also enact a Green New Deal in Tucson to address what he refers to as an ongoing climate crisis.

“We’re not here to make small incremental changes. We’re here to make massive mobilization of this community in response to the climate,” Cease said. “We’re going to retrofit hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses with energy conservation measures: solar energy and water harvesting.”

To help pay for his plan, Cease said the city could create a public municipal bank that would provide loans to homeowners and businesses based on future energy savings. He also supports raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour with a citywide living-wage ordinance.

“It’s been done in dozens of other cities nationwide. It’s not been done here, and the question is, 'Why?' The political will has been lacking. That will change,” Cease said.

Arizona 360
Arizona 360 airs Fridays at 8:30 p.m. on PBS 6 and Saturdays at 8 p.m. on PBS 6 PLUS. See more from Arizona 360.
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