/ Modified sep 23, 2020 6:39 p.m.

News roundup: AZ unemployment on the rise, Ducey says state will celebrate Indigenous Peoples' Day

Recent coverage impacting Southern Arizona, September 23

AZ Unemployment rate on the rise

AZPM More than 90,000 Arizona residents received unemployment benefits last week. That is an increase of almost 30,000 over the week before and marks the third straight week of increases in the state.

The vast majority, 83,594, of the claims paid last week went to the self-employed or contract workers.

More than 320,000 new claims were filed last week but those claims can include one person who files for multiple weeks of unemployment and claims that are denied for either ineligibility or fraud.

The amount of unemployment benefits paid last week saw a large drop as supplemental dollars from the federal government ran out. The state paid $176 million in claims. The week before, $318 million was paid out.

The maximum unemployment payment in Arizona is now back to $240 per week.

Governor says Indigenous Peoples' Day to be celebrated in 2020


Gov. Doug Ducey announced Tuesday he has signed a proclamation to recognize Oct. 12, 2020, as Indigenous Peoples' Day.

State Sen. Jamescita Peshlakai and a youth-led advocacy group, Indigenous Peoples' Initiative, are the main drivers of the effort to end Columbus Day and establish Indigenous Peoples' Day in Arizona. Dylan Baca, who is White Mountain Apache and Navajo, is the group's 18-year-old president.

"This whole day is significant for me cause it works to try to eliminate the stereotypes and stigmatisms [sic] associated with Indigenous peoples and tribes," said Baca, speaking of Indigenous Peoples' Day.

Peshlakai called on the governor to establish the state holiday using his executive powers during President Donald Trump's visit to Phoenix in June. She said she aims to introduce a bill to make the change permanent in the 2021 legislative session.

“I’m grateful to our governor for signing this proclamation," Peshlakai said. "The story of Indigenous peoples in America is often invisible or ignored. And so it is important that as Americans we find the opportunity to celebrate the histories, cultures and resiliency of the people who comprise the 573 tribal nations who live today within the United States.”

Oct. 12 is commonly celebrated as Columbus Day, honoring the legacy of Christopher Columbus, whose arrival in the Americas resulted in the genocide of many Indigenous people.

Scottsdale mayor lifts mask mandate


Scottsdale's mayor has lifted the city's mask mandate, prompting objections from two major health care groups and several city council members.

Mayor Jim Lane issued a proclamation Monday lifting the city-wide mask requirement, pointing to lower rates of infection and hospitalization from COVID-19. Nevertheless, masks are still required in most public places in Scottsdale under a Maricopa County order.

Banner Health and Honor Health, two of the largest health care providers in the state, issued statements opposing the move, and saying infection rates are lower because of widespread use of masks.

Three of Scottsdale's seven city council members also opposed the move.

Once abandoned, downtown high-rise project gets final approval from Rio Nuevo


A 20-story mixed-use office tower is one step closer to rising on a long-vacant lot on East Broadway between Scott and Sixth avenues.

The Rio Nuevo board Tuesday voted unanimously to close the deal for 75 E Broadway, paving the way for the beleaguered project’s approval by the Pima County Board of Supervisors next month.

The $107-million tower was nearly scuttled last year when Kansas City-based JE Dunn backed out. Local developers Peach Properties and Marcel Dabdoub revived the project in February, aiming to restore the project’s height from a scaled-down 12 stories to the lot’s maximum height of 20 — making the tower Tucson’s second tallest.

Rio Nuevo board chair Fletcher McCusker said the tower represents a victory amid the economic turmoil of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We’re moving to close on the largest project we’ve ever been involved with at a time when clearly the betting money was this would’ve folded,” he said. “It literally, no pun intended, is a phoenix rising out of a lot of ashes that got worse with Covid-19.”

The project will include two floors of retail, six floors of parking, six floors of office space and six floors of residential — and a rooftop pool. McCusker said the 30,000 square foot retail space at the street level will be among downtown’s largest and could attract a grocery store to serve downtown Tucson’s growing population.

Tucson to stick with development tax incentive, but changes coming


A tax incentive that has attracted praise for revitalizing downtown Tucson and scorn for a perceived increase in housing costs isn’t going away, but it is due for some changes.

The Tucson mayor and council voted 5-1 Tuesday to extend for ten years the Central Business District, in which developers can take advantage of the government property lease excise tax, or GPLET. The vote also kickstarted a process for making changes to the tax incentive, responding to community concerns about gentrification.

The GPLET lets a developer off the hook for up to eight years of property tax payments in exchange for improving the value of a property by at least 100%. State law bars the city from entering into a GPLET agreement unless an economic analysis determines the city would make more in sales taxes in the eight years than it would lose in property taxes.

The incentive has typically gone to companies seeking to redevelop vacant lots or derelict buildings. According to a city report, 90% of the city’s 25 GPLET agreements have gone to local developers, spurring $300 million in capital investment.

R+R Develop owner Randi Dormon said the incentive is often necessary for local developers to secure financing for a project because land and construction costs downtown are high. R+R received a GPLET to develop the Trinity, a mixed-use office and residential project on East University Boulevard.

“After the eight years, we’ll be paying the property taxes on a multi-million dollar development instead of a parking lot,” she said.

The GPLET has drawn backlash from residents in the downtown periphery who say those projects don't serve the community.

The mayor and council directed city staff to launch a series of virtual meetings to draft a policy that guides how the city should use the GPLET.

Mayor Regina Romero has said she wants to see the incentive geared toward promoting dense transit-oriented projects — a pattern of development promoted by urban planners as being less dependent on fossil fuels.

Ducey and Secretary of State Katie Hobbs spar over elections


Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and Secretary of State Katie Hobbs are sparring over an effort by Hobbs to introduce more options for people to register or vote in certain limited circumstances. Ducey and some county election officials say the changes Hobbs seeks are illegal.

Hobbs says the procedures are new but legal, and they're necessary to ensure voters aren't disenfranchised during the pandemic. Hobbs has told county recorders to help voters who are in the hospital, a nursing home or assisted living facility cast their ballots via videoconferencing.

She also said people who call a hotline looking to submit a voter registration form before the Oct. 5 deadline should be allowed to finish registering after the deadline.

AP FACT CHECK: Trump exaggerates his gains for veterans and denigrates Sen. McCain


President Donald Trump claimed to receive a 2016 award from military veterans that didn't exist and falsely denigrated the record of the late Republican Sen. John McCain on veterans affairs, whose widow endorsed Democratic rival Joe Biden for president.

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