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Hobbs ponders more authority on state land leases | News

Governor Katie Hobbs says her powers are limited and will consider whether changes to state law will give her the power to decide who can lease state land and what activities can be carried out on it. said it does.

In an interview after an extensive meeting with the governor last week, the governor generally said land in state trusts should be managed to obtain “the best and best use” and maximize benefits to the state and trust beneficiaries. recognized that it is required by law. , mainly public education.

This requirement allowed Fondmonte to rent more than 6,000 acres of land and pump the water underneath to grow alfalfa in western Arizona and feed dairy cows in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia has banned such farming in their own country because of the water. use.

The lease has drawn national attention, prompting state officials to call off the lease.

Hobbes said the issue is neither so simple nor individual.

“Fondomonte is a place of interest,” Hobbes told Capitol Media Services. But she pointed out that the company is not the only one growing crops on state-owned land.

“That would treat some tenants differently than other tenants,” Mr Hobbs said.

Then I have another question.

How could the state refuse to lease land to grow alfalfa for export when it also leases land for other crops, such as vegetables, that are shipped outside Arizona and possibly abroad?

“That’s a really valid question,” the governor said. “We cannot unilaterally terminate the lease just because Alfalfa does not like going to Saudi Arabia.”

What the state was able to do in April was revoke two well-drilling permits issued last year.

But it was based on the technicality that the company’s approval to improve state land had expired. And that doesn’t stop Fondmonte from continuing to pump water from existing wells.

None of these address the related issue that some of this farming, including Fondmonte, is done on private land. Gaps in state law limit the ability of owners to limit the amount of groundwater they pump.

All of this adds to the complexity of the questions raised, Hobbes said.

“When you look at the reduction in agriculture in the Yuma area, it’s a major food security issue for Arizonas and many Americans, especially during the winter months,” she said, noting that the area is responsible for 90% of the nation’s leafy greens. Estimated to produce 10%. winter vegetables.

Still, the governor acknowledged that even alfalfa could be considered part of “food security.”

“We raise a lot of cows here,” she said.

A related question is whether there is enough water to keep up with population growth.

This issue has been addressed to some extent in urban ‘positive management areas’ where developers must demonstrate access to reliable water supplies for 100 years. And the state doesn’t issue building permits in parts of Maricopa County where it can’t meet its goals.

However, in rural areas there are generally no regulations. The governor said there is no simple, one-size-fits-all solution.

Hobbs also said he was considering whether to declare a state of emergency because of the unusually hot weather.

The governor said such declarations, like those that could be issued after a fire or flood, would free up state budget for everything from cooling centers to helping some people pay their utility bills. said he would.

All of this came after Mr. Hobbes asked the state’s utility to provide information on how it is prepared to handle unprecedented warm weather, especially in the Phoenix metropolitan area.

This includes not only consecutive high temperatures above 110 degrees, but also a series of nights when mercury did not drop below 90 degrees.

“We want to make sure public works are focused on not shutting down air conditioning when people can’t pay right now and could die,” she said. . “There was a very high-profile death a few years ago.”

That’s Stephanie of Sun City West, who died of heat-related complications after someone paid only $125 of a $176 bill and the Arizona Public Service Company lost power on a 107-degree day. It’s about Mr. Pulliam. The company eventually agreed to a settlement with her family.

Most utilities must follow rules set by the Arizona Business Commission, so much of what they said to the governor was already on the record.

The rule requires companies to stop cutting between June 1 and October 15 each year, or if the outside temperature exceeds 95 degrees.

And even the Salt River Project, which is not subject to commission regulation, has agreed not to cut power if the National Weather Service issues an excessive heat warning.

The governor also participated in a multi-year battle over a 2016 law that strips cities of the power to regulate vacation rentals. Hobbes said he wants lawmakers to reconsider the issue.

The measure was pitched to lawmakers as an opportunity for individuals to earn a little money by renting out empty rooms. In fact, Airbnb got its name from the idea of ​​setting up air mattresses for guests.

However, the reality turned out to be something completely different.

In some communities, entire neighborhoods of homes and apartments are being bought up by investors and turned into short-term rentals, depleting housing available to locals.

Faced with a flurry of complaints, lawmakers had previously agreed to require owners to register and give the city certain powers to allow controls such as noise violations.

But further efforts, such as limiting the number of short-term rentals in neighborhoods, have failed.

“Across states, there are different issues, and short-term rentals affect different communities in different ways,” the governor said. “I think cities should be able to regulate in a way that works best for them.”

And that would mean rescinding state-imposed restrictions, she said.

This means allowing some restrictions if necessary, the governor said. And evidence number one for her is Sedona, where her one home near six is ​​estimated to be a short-term rental, far higher than any other community in Arizona.

“It’s impacting housing availability for workers,” Hobbes said.

“This is the tourism economy,” she continued. “And a lot of people working in that economy can’t live there.”

But can the community outlaw them entirely?

The governor replied, “I cannot answer that.”

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