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December 4, 2013

Host: Ted Simons

Around Arizona: USDA Rural Development Funding

  |   Video
  • At the end of the last federal fiscal year, USDA Rural Development in Arizona reported a record $474 million in investment in housing funding for Arizona. That brought the five-year total to over $2 billion. Besides the housing funding, money was spent on tribes, towns, school districts, community centers, food banks, colleges, hospitals and small businesses. USDA Rural Development in Arizona State Director Alan Stephens will discuss how the funding has impacted the state.
  • Alan Stephens - Director, USDA Rural Development in Arizona
Category: Business/Economy   |   Keywords: funding, house development, arizona,

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Ted Simons: Federal funding for rural housing and development in Arizona hit a record $ 474 million for the last fiscal year, that brought Arizona's five-year total to over $2 billion. And here to talk about all of this is Alan Stephens, state director of USDA rural development in Arizona. It's good to have you here.

Alan Stephens: Good to be here, thank you.

So we have some $474 odd million in investments in housing and development funding, what exactly are we talking about here?

What we're talking about is more than 3200, loans to individuals through guaranteeing a bank's loan, or, or a direct loan, either for, for the purchase of a house, renovation, or serious housing affairs, in rural communities, so we're just talking about rural Arizona. And it's a stimulus for economic development in those communities, and housing is booming all over the state again, as you know, in terms of not so much construction but purchase of housing and families are looking again, thinking that they can afford loans now.

Ted Simons: How hard is it for some of these folks to get access to capital?

Alan Stephens: Well, it's very hard, and our program is designed for, for the larger program, our guarantee program is designed for moderate income individuals in rural communities, and who could not afford a loan in another case, they don't have to have a down payment, there is no title insurance, and the rates are affordable. And so, it's, it's affordable for real estate agents to work with these families and get them into the loans.

Ted Simons: How much regulation is going on because when people hear, you know, we heard that in the past and things got a little sideways.

Alan Stephens: We had to have a ratio of debt versus income that shows that they can repay the loan, this is not a gift program. It's a loan, so they have to repay it. And we have a very low, low, relatively low default on, on something ,175,000 loans we made across the country this year, our, our default is less than FHA.

Ted Simons: Wow, and impact on these rural communities, what are you seeing?

Alan Stephens: It's huge and, and, and whenever we have a situation like we did with the shutdown, we have a lot of calls and inquiries from the real estate community, which is a great indicator that, you know, the practice am is needed, and when we just get behind in terms of the processing, when we get just inundated with applications, we get calls, and I talked a few months ago with the head of the real estate association in the state, and it was inquiring about where we were.

Ted Simons: Wow, all right, and that is an indication, isn't it, that things are important, what you are doing and, and not just housing, now, for tribes, school districts, and towns, and such, talk to us about development. Money for development.

Alan Stephens: Well, we have money for, for water and wastewater, for instance. We're just concluding a large grant and loan program with the Navajo tribal utility authority to renovate a wastewater system that serves more than 15,000 people, in three chapters, on the Navajo nation, window rock, and we have got another six projects in line, and behind that, for funding, and all throughout the reservation, and that's going to have an immense impact to clean up the systems that, that had the EPA violations, or expansion for communities, so, that, that the people who have the adequate water system in the past, can get it.

Ted Simons: And other things, food banks and colleges, hospitals and these places --

Alan Stephens: We funded a number of food banks this year, for instance, the Yuma food bank, we funded an $80,000 grant to help them finish a roof. It's a very large food bank and serves a lot of people. And the same thing in arivaca, a similar situation and Ajo needed a kitchen.

Ted Simons: And we just talked about the previous, previously the Yarnell hill fire investigation. And, and the helipad?

Alan Stephens: We financed the grant for a helipad with the fire department. It hasn't been finally concluded but it will be a need in the community. And then also, we amortized a loan for a water system to make it more affordable given the fact that they have less users.

Ted Simons: And we talked about the impact to the smaller and rural communities, the impact on the economy in Arizona overall. Can you quantify that?

Alan Stephens: Well, Arizona is a state that, that has a lot of diversity in terms of the community. And, and we're the 10th poorest state, the report came out the other day, and a lot of that, unfortunately, is in rural communities. Where there is less economic opportunity. Our agency is about trying to transform that challenge into an opportunity. And, and in terms of the utility systems, economic development, and business development, and we also have, have a set of business programs to help businesses grow and prosper in rural communities.

Ted Simons: I was going to ask, the USDA rural development in Arizona, I think a lot of folks don't know this exists. Talk to us about the agency, and what you do and, and how long you’ve been doing it.

Alan Stephens: Well, we've been doing it for, well, since the REA days, the rural electric administration, and morphed into the utility service, and we have the rural housing component which we talked about, which is a big part of what we do in Arizona, and the rural business programs, but together, what we call the rural development, and what we do is work in rural communities to help provide economic opportunity, again, utility service, business service, community development. But we work with the local communities and identify what they need.

Ted Simons: And record-setting las fical year, what do you see this time around?,

Alan Stephens: Well, I think we'll have equally a good year, we're beginning, the secretary is really adamant in the department of agriculture to push the resources in the communities that are most economically challenged. And so, that's what we're doing, reaching out to a lot of reservation communities, and border communities.

Ted Simons: And quickly, Congress is working on a new farm bill, concerns there?

Alan Stephens: Well, we're concerned that they get it done. And it has the authorization section for a lot of rural development programs, and a lot of energy programs, which, which are in great demand in this part of the country.

Ted Simons: And I'll keep an eye on that. Thank you very much for joining us.

Alan Stephens: Thank you very much. >

Ted Simons: And Thursday, on "Arizona Horizon" we'll hear from a children's advocacy group about the ongoing problems with child protective services, and a new director of the Arizona opera talks about his vision for the organization. That and more at on the next "Arizona Horizon." That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons, and thank you very much for joining us. You have a great evening.

Around Arizona: Yarnell Hill Fire Report

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  • The Arizona Division of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is releasing its report on the Yarnell Hill Fire, which killed 19 firefighters. Jim Cross, who covers wildfires for KTAR radio, will discuss the report.
  • Jim Cross - KTAR Radio
Category: Government   |   Keywords: yarnell hill fire, report, wildfire,

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Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon," a new report finds major workplace safety violations in the fighting of the Yarnell hill fire. ASU announces the design plans for its new downtown law school. And we'll hear about record-breaking Federal funding for rural housing in Arizona. Those stories next on "Arizona Horizon."

"Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the friends of Eight, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. The Arizona division of the occupational health and safety administration released its report today on the Yarnell hill fire, which killed 19 firefighters. Here to talk about it is Jim cross from KTAR radio. He has covered every major wildfire for many, many years, and now, you are covering a report on this particular tragic fire. What did the state investigation look at, and what did the state investigation find?

Jim Cross: The report back in late September, that did not assign blame, this is a totally different report, this one did assign blame, and they leveled the blame on the state division of forestry, and they found in their words, almost everything went sideways before the firefighters were killed. And they said the ball was dropped, and they questioned not pulling the firefighters out of that canyon when the situation was futile, or out of that area when the situation was futile, they questioned not reacting to that thunderstorm that shifted the fire around and, and turned it towards them fast enough, and they said that the key personnel were not in key places at key times ahead of that fire, and it was a very damning report. 559,000 fine, and amounts to 29,000 per firefighter lost.

Ted Simons: And this is the occupational safety and health division of Arizona, submitting a report to, to the industrial commission. So, a lot of state agencies involved, but as far as the investigation is concerned, who was involved? Did they have an outside bunch of folks look at this from the outside?

Ted Simons: They are a team, and they had some wildfire experts, one of them was a smoke jumper, that looked at this, and again, they found the state, at least in part, responsible. It took the industrial commissioners seconds to unanimously approve this on a 4-0 vote and, and the fine was forwarded. The state has not issued a reaction, the state forestry, and they wanted to review the report before they got into that.

Jim Cross: It sounds like a 70,000 in willful violation, 14,000 in other violations, and the state could be looking at 25,000 some odd per firefighter death. With that money going to, to survivors estates and Etc., correct?

Jim Cross: Correct. And we did get a chance to speak with one of the firefighters' wives, Andrea Ashcraft, and his wife Jill Ann was there today. She has not made up her mind, or declined to say whether she would file a lawsuit in connection with his death. She said nothing as far as money figures will bring her husband back. She did tell me that she hopes that this fine is enough of a sting for the state forestry division to make the changes needed to prevent this from happening again. She also told me that she thought that the state has not taken ownership of this since the beginning. She's very angry still. It has been months. She was there today, with some other family members there, too.

Ted Simons: Let's look at the particulars here, conditions exceeded expectations of fire managers. That sounds as though they exceeded expectations, yet the first report suggests that this was an act of God, that no one could have expected this thunderstorm to pop up and turn winds around.

Jim Cross: The investigator from OSHA pointed out today that they knew, they had been contacted by the southwest coordination center about two weeks before the fire, and in effect, were told to be ready for anything and everything. This could be an explosive fire --

Ted Simons: Interesting, interesting.

Jim Cross: And you remember this fire started after, what, the three-day run of 120-degree weather here in the valley, humidity up there was probably 2%, at best. And this is an area that hadn't burned in years. So these conditions were as explosive as you can possibly imagine.

Ted Simons: And another point here, managers failed to recognize their tactics could not succeed. That is one of those managerial things where you saw x and y working, and yet you were not going on to z, you were sticking with x and y.

Jim Cross: The thing that we are concerned about, there was a safety officer who arrived on the fire eight hours later for whatever reason. And the Saturday before, before the fire, killed the firefighters on Sunday and, and the focus of the report today was, was the key personnel weren't there when they needed to be. And, or they arrived late and, and this probably is part of the other major factor here, guidelines from the forest division were not followed in their own activity up there.

In OSHA’s opinion.

Ted Simons: And also, a strategy failed after, after the fire jumped the line, played for a life threatening event, it sounds like they were not happy with the way they attacked the fire in the first place.

Jim Cross: From the OSHA report today, it did not appear that they were happy with anything. They hit them with three citations, and one of them willfully serious and, and that's a big fine.

Ted Simons: So, we have got that initial report, ok. Now, we have got this one, as you mentioned, much more damning, so a lot more in the way of blame. What do we take from all of this and what are we learning from this?

Jim Cross: Hopefully, that this never happens again. That, that, for whatever reason, this happened, an act of nature, call it what you want, and OSHA feels differently, and the thunderstorm played a huge role in this. It turned the fire around on a dime, and it raced back to those firefighters, and they were pinned in that cannon, and there was nothing that they could have done. The wind was blowing 75 or 80 miles per hour, and that was a fire bowl in there, and it's impossible to climb out of there with any speed. Hopefully, what we'll glean from the reports, once, you know, they are put together, is that this will never happen again.

Ted Simons: And you mentioned the forestry division, no one talking there.

Jim Cross: No. I am sure that they will eventually.

Ted Simons: But again, what do we take from it and what do the firefighters, you know the firefighters, you worked with them and you've been around them for years. And what are they taking from this?

Jim Cross: I think that the firefighters feel like possibly the state forestry is being unfairly blamed. And, and there is other firefighters I have spoken with that feel like this could change the way that fires are fought forever. It could alter that, for better or worse. And, and --

Ted Simons: In what ways do you think?

Jim Cross: In the way that they attack them, possibly. And there is, you know, we're still a long ways from that happening. There is some firefighters that believe that, that you, that since they said in this report that they thought the state put property over life, that it may, and again, this is nothing carved in stone, that it may shift to ok, we're going to take care of lives, and not worry about, about these homes, even though the firefighters, that's the opposite of how firefighters think. They go in, and when others are running away, and so, that remains to be seen, but what comes out of this -- it will be interesting to see once, once, you know, in a few months from now how the reports are put together, and what does shake out of it.

Ted Simons: All right, Jim, good stuff and great reporting. Thanks for joining us.

Jim Cross: Thanks. Always a pleasure.

ASU Downtown Law School

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  • Arizona State University announced plans for its new law college in downtown Phoenix. Dean of the ASU Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, Douglas Sylvester, will talk about the plans for the new law school.
  • Douglas Sylvester - Dean, ASU Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law
Category: Education   |   Keywords: law, school, downtown phoenix,

View Transcript
Ted Simons: ASU announces design plans for the University's new law college in downtown Phoenix. Joining us now to talk about the facility is Douglas Sylvester, Dean of ASU, the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law. I am excited because they have a new building here. Good to have you here.

Douglas Sylvester: Good to be back.

Ted Simons: So is this the final design unveiled today?

Douglas Sylvester: No, we're getting close. And, and so we have got some, some further steps to go through with the city, and some further design choices to make with our architect but we're getting close, the building will look something similar to this.

Ted Simons: Ok, and let's take a look at the design drawings here. And where exactly where this be located?

Douglas Sylvester: Yeah, so it's right on the corner of, of 1st and Taylor, and so, right kitty corner from the Cronkite school, one block north of van buren and one block east of central.

Ted Simons: And as far as the financing is concerned, is that a done deal? Or do we have a ways to go?

Douglas Sylvester: The building will get built but we have fundraising to do and, and we have got to prove to the board of regents that we can, we can make all of the economics work, that this building will get done.

Ted Simons: And how much is it going to take to make this viable?

Douglas Sylvester: The building is 129 million project, and it's an overall part of a 200 million investment in the college, and the downtown campus and, and, and we need to do some, some small amount of fundraising, but most of that is already in place or going to be in place soon. We feel confident.

Ted Simons: And you mentioned this will get built --

Douglas Sylvester: It is.

Ted Simons: When will it get started?

Douglas Sylvester: It will break ground in June, confidently in June, and is going to open its doors in fall of 2016 .

Ted Simons: It's a beautiful structure there by the design drawing, that looks very, very nice and, and completed when? Summer, summer --

Douglas Sylvester: Summer of 2016, we're opening up for the fall semester of 2016.

Ted Simons: Why move the school from Tempe to downtown Phoenix?

Douglas Sylvester: So, the idea is something bigger than law school. So the building is the Arizona center for law and society. And the law school will be a piece of that. So one thing is engaging the downtown community, the political, legal and, and business communities on the importance of law in every day life. And, so we think that sometimes, out in Tempe, that, that the importance of law and lawyers and law school can get lost, so we wanted to bring this back to the city, and the core and, and being downtown makes that available. It also offers amazing opportunities for our students to get reengaged with more employers and gets them closer to clinic opportunities, and lastly, we're a public law school. We have always been incredibly engaged. Our students donate 100,00 hours of pro bono legal services, an 11 million economic benefit, and that's located in Tempe, so we think that we can do more good here downtown.

Ted Simons: I was going to say that civic outreach would increase if the building in the facility were down here.

Douglas Sylvester: Absolutely.

Ted Simons: Will there be a presence in Tempe?

Douglas Sylvester: No, actually not.

Ted Simons: No.

Douglas Sylvester: The law school is moving downtown, the current buildings will be re-purposed, I don't think that ASU is in a position to knock them down, so, it will get other use.

Ted Simons: And we talked about this before on this program. The public law firm employing graduates of the law college, that will be included, as well.

Douglas Sylvester: That's going to be included, and that's going to open the doors before we move downtown. We have hired an incredibly distinguished lawyer, Marty harper, to be the CEO of that firm, and he's going to be opening its doors in the next two months, and we'll have a location, and it's going to be the world's first nonprofit fully privately financed teaching law firm that will employ our graduates, and in the course of two or three years, engaging and helping every day Arizonans in their legal matters and teaching these graduates how to be lawyers.

Ted Simons: And to move downtown would help, help --

Douglas Sylvester: Yes, absolutely. A big piece of the new building, so it will be a public service law firm in a lot of ways.

Ted Simons: Did the success of the Cronkite school, the success of the nursing school downtown, did that a, influence the decision, and b, does that show the law college the way on how to procedure?

Douglas Sylvester: I think it did not hurt to know that you can move downtown and be successful. There had been a lot of talk about moving the law school downtown for a long time. And I think that a lot of the, the faculty, probably didn't think it was a great idea when we would have been the only ones down here to join our large community of educators and students and to see the way that downtown phoenix has grown. That was exciting for us. It has always been a good fit but we wanted to be part of the campus and that's here.

Ted Simons: Has there been pushback from faculty?

Douglas Sylvester: I think there would have been if they did not have a large campus. And overall, we have had enthusiastic faculty support, our students are disappointed that most of them won't get to the new building. Once we build it, you will be there more as alumni than you were a student. So something -- We are hoping to have lots of reasons to come back.

Ted Simons: That's one way to put it.

Douglas Sylvester: Right.

Ted Simons: Student housing, is that a concern down here? It's already a concern but now you have got this law college.

Douglas Sylvester: So first, the students are older. And so, they tend not to, to live in dorms. They tend to be looking for their own housing and, and there is a lot of private housing that's gone up around here, and as we get closer, we're going to look pretty hard at trying to lease space instead of decide for our out of state students, and local students who want to move downtown but we want them to live as close to the core as we can to, again, sort of really enrich the entire campus.

Ted Simons: So the board of regents still have to approve.

Douglas Sylvester: There is a meeting in June, and we will have to go in front of them and prove that we can afford this and get it done, and we will, and we'll break ground right after that.

Ted Simons: And financing still needs to be completed as you mentioned, a number of times here, and but again, what do we look for? What kind of schedule is that on?

Douglas Sylvester: Sure, so the financing is close, to get more background, we have gone in front of the board of regents and they have given us authority to move forward on the building, that's why we've been able to hire architects and construction companies and, and with the great designs, so, we have gone really far down the road, we just have to prove that everything that we said to get this kind of green light, is already still in place and, and at the moment, we're confident that it will be.

Ted Simons: Ok.

Douglas Sylvester: I think it's going to happen.

Ted Simons: So we're looking at maybe breaking ground if the board of regents give their ok, and looking at the summer of 2016 for new neighbors in downtown Phoenix?

Douglas Sylvester: We'll be working with you more.

Ted Simons: Congratulations, and good luck, and we look to be speaking about this more with you in the future.

Douglas Sylvester: Thank you very much.