Like many newcomers to Oro Valley, Richard D. "Richy" Feinberg wants to protect the place he fell in love with. In the nine years he's lived here, the ex-New Yorker has seen a steady erosion of the open space and the rural character that attracted him and his wife, Joyce. That's why he's running for a four-year seat on the Town Council.
"I love this town. I want to protect it from evil," he said, only half joking. "We're going to lose it if we keep going the way we're going."
The way the town is going, said the 68-year-old Feinberg, reveals a "lack of dedication" by the council in applying the General Plan, the zoning code and design guidelines.
"This is a pro-developer council - it should be pro-people," he said. "We shouldn't be in the business of promoting developer profit. Take care of people, and you'll be taking care of the community."
He was disillusioned with the updated General Plan, recently defeated in a special election, he said, because it "didn't follow Steering Committee recommendations - the policies were very ambiguous," and the unpopular concept of Mixed Use Neighborhoods was left in.
"The MUN concept could be magnificent if it was planned as a whole with seating, plazas and fountains, but you can't stick it on a corner and called it Mixed Use - that's mixed up," he said. "If you want MUN you have to find a lot of land."
Feinberg called the composition of the recently appointed committee charged with looking into the plan's defeat "unfair and illegitimate," saying it is heavily weighted with town staff and light on "the leaders who defeated (the plan)."
He doesn't believe passing a new plan is merely a matter of better promotion, as Mayor Paul Loomis has suggested.
Another of Feinberg's campaign issues is the schools. He dislikes the idea of Amphitheater Public Schools asking developers for support to counteract growth, calling it a "desperate" measure, but said he believes the town is not making a strong enough effort to help the district.
"Find ways to support our children's education by investigating the strategies of other towns that are receiving contributions from developers to help mitigate the impact of overcrowded schools," he wrote. "We must find a way to avoid busing our children out of town. The negative cost of transportation, the reduced quality of life for the affected families and the obvious deflation of real estate values because busing may occur, in my view is unacceptable."
A third issue is whether the town should create its own fire department. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Right now Oro Valley is not in a situation to create a fire department. It will cost us," Feinberg said. "Rural/Metro and Golder Ranch are doing a very good job. It's a competitive situation where they are both striving to do better."
He supports the town's move to develop standards for fire services and gain input from the Tucson Fire Department. But he expressed disgust at the town's inaction on past fire board recommendations and previous failures to invite to the table either of the two fire departments that serve the town.
Feinberg also objects to the way the town has handled recent annexations. "People come in with lawsuits not open arms," he said. "That's not the way to annex people. Nor should we be making pre-annexation agreements" behind the scenes.
He gives the current council a grade of C- or worse. "They get an F for the General Plan, a D- for annexations, a D- for supporting high-density development, and a D for inaction on the fire boards." Those boards "ended nowhere," like "a lot of town committees and boards that go nowhere," he said.
He expects to contribute a minimum of 20 hours a week to the job.
Feinberg, a registered Democrat, recently helped form Concerned Citizens of Oro Valley, which he hopes will help bring some clarity to the issues. An indefatigable letter writer, the candidate's missives have appeared in letter to the editor sections of several news publications, protesting everything from Target's red bulls-eye logo at the Rooney Ranch shopping center to over-bright lighting at the Holiday Inn Express on Oracle Road.
The candidate is one of six to file a threshold exemption, a $500 cap on campaign spending, that exempts him from forming a political action committee and submitting campaign contribution reports.
Feinberg grew up on Montgomery Street in Manhattan's Lower East Side, a neighborhood of Eastern Europeans who arrived in a wave of immigration at the beginning of the last century. His father was a pocketbook maker from Minsk, Russia, his mother a Bostonian. As a young man, he attended an industrial arts high school, specializing in signs and lettering.
"I wanted to be an artist, I liked to draw pictures as far back as I can remember," he said.
After graduating high school in the early 1950s, he spent two years as an Army combat engineer stationed in Alaska with the rank of private first class.
When he returned to the Big Apple, a cousin set him up on a blind date with his now-wife, Joyce, who had attended the same high school.
"I said I know you from someplace," he said. She said, "I've heard that line before."
The couple has been married 45 years and have three daughters and two granddaughters.
With a young and growing family, Feinberg studied industrial design full time for three years at Pratt Institute and worked at the post office after school, often getting home late in the evening.
He got into the exhibit building business first as a production artist and then as a manager, and spent the next 40 years in the field. For seven of them, he also held a part-time job in real estate sales.
In the 1960s, he moved his family to suburban Syosett, Long Island, and commuted to Brooklyn and then Queens.
His work was stressful and deadline oriented. In 1993, he had a major heart attack requiring quadruple bypass surgery. "I was a total wreck, emotionally, physically," he said. He decided to retire in Tucson, where his youngest daughter was living.
"We had tickets to come here and I had another heart attack, three months after the first one. One of the bypasses had failed," he said. "That finished me off as a worker. We came here sight unseen."
The couple rented a house in Sun City for a week. "The sun was out. It was 80 degrees. There was a magnificent view of Pusch Ridge," he said. "We fell in love with Oro Valley."
But Feinberg was still ill. He found cardiologist Dean Ornish's program for reversing heart disease, a regimen that included a low-fat vegetarian diet, exercise, group support and meditation, which he followed for seven years. He became a certified practitioner of bio-magnetic touch healing, volunteering his services for over a year, sometimes twice a week. His health these days is "pretty good," and he "handles stress better than I used to."
He began to paint in watercolors and had a one-man show in 1996 at the De Grazia Gallery in Tucson.
"I gave that up to become a politician," he said.
Feinberg is a graduate of the town's Citizens Planning Institute and a member for two years of Oro Valley's design body, the Development Review Board. He's president of the Catalina Shadows Homeowners Association, and has been a board member for at least six years. A few years back, he was hand-picked by Mayor Loomis to serve two years on the town's Government Review Task Force, which advised the council on the policies and procedures, including whether to expand from a five-member to a seven-member body. In the early 1990s, he served on the town's short-lived Arts Advisory Board and was a board member for three years of the Southwest League of Fine Arts. He is also a member of the ad-hoc group The Land Conservation Committee, which is seeking to preserve and maintain cultural and historic sites such as Steam Pump Ranch, Kelly Ranch and a prehistoric Hohokam village.
Family: Married, 3 children, 2 grandchildren
Education: Attended Pratt Institute, NYU, CCNY
Profession/Employer: Retired Exhibit Production Art Director and Manager
Lived in Arizona: 10 years
Lived in Oro Valley: 9 years
Came to Arizona from: Long Island. N.Y.
Public offices held: None
Other biographical data:
U.S. Army 1954-1956
Member, Arts Advisory Board
Member, Southwest League of Fine Arts
Member, Concerned Citizens of Oro Valley
Member, Government Review Task Force
Member, Land Conservation Committee
Member, Oro Valley Development Review Board
President of Catalina Shadows HOA
Attended the Citizens Planning Institute
Why he's running for council:
I am running because I see a disconnect between the values, concerns and desires of the citizens of Oro Valley, and the decisions that are being made by the council. I want to reconnect the council to the people. I want to preserve and maintain the special and unique qualities of Oro Valley that attracted us to move here, such as our magnificent scenic corridors, and the last vestiges of our irreplaceable cultural and historic lands.
I will give the citizens a voice that will be reflected in my decisions. I will apply consistent commitment to the General Plan, the Zoning Codes, the design guidelines and the development criteria. My focus will be for the town to get better, not only grow bigger. I believe that if the council takes care of the people, they are taking care of the community, and when you take care of the community, you're taking care of the Town.