Oro Valley Mayor Satish Hiremath has occupied the town’s most prominent position for the better part of a decade. This year, he hopes that residents afford him the opportunity to add four more years to that tally.
Hiremath will not be alone on the campaign trail this year. Vice Mayor Lou Waters and councilmembers Mary Snider and Joe Hornat have all confirmed with Tucson Local Media their plans to run for another term in office.
All four incumbents were first elected into office in 2010, reelected in 2014 and survived an unsuccessful recall attempt in 2015 after approving the acquisition of the now Oro Valley Community and Recreation Center.
“This council is solid now, and I’d like it to remain solid,” Waters said. “It’s a collaborative effort. Everyone on the council is there for the benefit of Oro Valley. We have disagreements, but in the end it’s always about what’s best for Oro Valley.”
Waters said he took some time to mull over the realities of another campaign, but said when the mayor announced his own intentions, a “switch turned.”
“As a mayor, Oro Valley couldn’t ask for anything better at any other time,” Waters said.
Hiremath, a longtime community dentist, said the town has experienced “significant positive economic momentum” while operating with surplus budgets every year—a momentum which the mayor said he’d like to see continued “by design” to create a comprehensive community for all residents.
“The focus of this community, of this town, has been very unidirectional at times,” Hiremath told Tucson Local Media last week in an interview to announce his candidacy. “Initially, it was to be a suburb of the City of Tucson, then it morphed into being the largest retirement community next to a major metropolitan city. Now, in just eight short years, it’s a community where if it’s your first day on this Earth or your last day on this Earth, you can look around you with the satisfaction of knowing that the town was tailor-made for you.”
Hiremath readily admits that the concept of a “comprehensive community” does not come without its critics, but said that the town has arrived at a point in its own development cycle when “careful planning” is more important than ever.
According to the town, Oro Valley is approximately 85 percent built-out across all land uses. This figure includes 78 percent build out of single-family residential-zoned parcels, 76 percent of multi-family zoning and 85 percent of retail (does not account for occupancy).
With so little as-of-yet undeveloped land left within the town, Hiremath said the focus of the council must turn towards regions like Innovation Park, where a handful of biotech and science firms have already established roots.
Oro Valley has been criticized for attracting franchises and retail development, a point on which both Hiremath and Hornat spoke. The mayor said that even when it’s a big box store or a franchise restaurant, any development approved by council is always “to the benefit of the town.”
“What I would hope that people understand, because they have a tendency to forget, is that we’re residents also,” Hiremath said. “Every single one of us who’s sitting on this council is a resident of the Town of Oro Valley, and I think that gets lost in translation sometimes. Decisions that I make personally as mayor, guess what? They personally affect me as Satish Hiremath, the resident.”
Lost in translation or not, Hiremath said the challenge—from the perspective of the dais—is to “find a balance” with members of the community concerned with single issues who may not completely understand what’s going on, and what the town’s role in a given situation may be.
The mayor said that issues brought to council are “very legitimate,” but it is the job of those seven elected officials to make sure the bigger picture is always in mind.
Hiremath said the challenge for him has been in trying to make sure residents understand that decisions he makes as the mayor are not intended to be negative to one individual or group of residents. He is elected and tasked with running the town as a whole “for the greater good.”
A “greater good” is often mentioned by council during discussions of future land development and planning, especially when council must decide on new zoning parameters. Hiremath said there is a fallacy and misperception that the town is responsible under the current council for developing wide swaths of land that were previously slated to remain open land. As he put it, “somebody owns that property already,” and has development rights for their given parcel of land. “It’s not a question of ‘Why is the town allowing this to happen?’ he said. “It’s because the developers have rights. What we do is to try and put in metrics, measures and a process to allow for the most amount of open space available and possible given that the owner of the land still has the right to develop on that land. Unfortunately, it’s often mischaracterized, even by sitting councilmembers prior, to individuals in the general public.”
Looking forward, Hiremath said the town is primed for even more success in the future, as long as each step is taken with great care and planning. If the town is to grow, it must attract more residents, visitors and businesses alike.
The push for new residents and businesses will include apartments and condominiums, Hiremath said. He added that diverse housing and business development will be “the lifeblood” dictating what the town becomes in the coming years.
“The reality is that, I think in order to be a more comprehensive community, we have to work very hard at creating a community where people can live, work and play,” Hiremath said. “And right now, we have a community that is heavily geared towards work and play, but we don’t necessarily offer the amenities at the price points where some of these people can’t also live in their community.”
Hiremath made mention of figures presented to the council late last month regarding the town’s residential market, from which it was extrapolated that Oro Valley is “one of the least affordable submarkets” in the Tucson Metro Area (if not the county as a whole). In that report to council, new home prices in the town were listed as 60 percent higher than the county average, while re-sales were more than 40 percent higher.
Speaking on apartments, Hiremath said the town has worked with developers to create high-end accommodations that fit well within the town’s image and environment while avoiding issues of crime found within complexes in metropolitan regions. The mayor said apartments have clearly found a market in Oro Valley, citing an occupancy report delivered to council in January which states that apartments complexes are roughly 93 percent occupied across town.
“More is needed, but we have to be very strategic about where we put it,” Hiremath said.
Handbooks are available at the town clerk’s office at town hall, 11000 N. La Cañada Drive. A candidate must be a qualified elector at the time of election, be 18 years of age or older, and have resided in Oro Valley for at least one year preceding the election. Filing nomination papers and securing the required number of signatures on a nomination petition enables a resident to run as a candidate in the Primary Election, which will be held Aug. 28. The number of signatures required is at least 345 and not more than 689.
Former Arizona Assistant Attorney General and current federal prosecutor Mike Jette has picked up a council candidate handbook, Tucson Local Media learned.