EDITORIAL FOR May 24 - 27, 2022

I’m CAVE MANager Paul Lotsof.   If you’ve been reading either the Tucson newspaper or the Sierra Vista paper you have probably noticed that Congressman Raul Grijalva has asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate some officials who worked in the administration of former president Donald Trump.    Grijalva, who represents the west side of Tucson, believes that Trump’s underlings coerced some federal officials to approve some plans pertaining to the Vigneto housing development and that the approval was in exchange for  contributions to Trump’s presidential campaign.     Grijalva is a Democrat and he wants is to make a case that Trump and his staff were corrupt.    Whether the  Justice Department files criminal charges remains to be seen.

Let’s have a look at the background behind Vigneto.     In was eight  years ago, in 2014, when a character named Mike Reinbold started to appear at Benson City Council meetings.    Reinbold had a  position with a company called El Dorado Holdings but he never made any public statement as to exactly what his title was.   What Reinbold did say was that a company called El Dorado Benson LLC had just purchased over twenty square miles of real estate on both sides of Highway 90 in Benson, and El Dorado Benson and El Dorado Holdings had fabulous plans for all that land.    They were going to build a new retirement community that would include 28,000 houses, four golf courses and it would resemble a district of Northern Italy called Tuscany.   The new development would be known as the Villages of Vigneto.   Vigneto is the Italian word for “vineyard” and there would be fresh grapes for all to enjoy.

Reinbold said that his company would sell the houses to rich retirees from all over the world.   On one occasion he even said that someday Tucson would become a suburb of Benson.   Reinbold piled it on over a period of years and Benson’s community leaders lapped it up.  El Dorado would spend billions in Benson and good paying jobs would abound.   The Villages of Vigneto were the answer to Benson’s dreams and prayers.

The City of Benson needed to do very little to bring about this wonderful transformation.  Reinbold’s only major request was that the city form ten special taxing districts.   The districts would sell bonds and the bonds would be used to finance much of the construction.  Eventually the  cash generated from the bonds would be paid back by the people who would be moving to Vigneto,  and the taxpayers of Benson would pay nothing.   It was too good to be true, and our city officials loved the idea so much that in 2016 they formed the districts and decided to give the El Dorado companies a free hand in how the districts were managed.

To me something seemed very wrong.  For starters, I doubted that there was a market for thousands of new houses in Benson and I doubted that El Dorado could create such a market.
A survey on the CAVE web site has revealed that most of our listeners agree that there is no market for 28,000 houses in Benson.

 In July of 2015 I received a tip that Mike Reinbold had been involved in a rather shady deal in Portland, Oregon.   He and some associates in the late 1980s had convinced the Portland Airport Authority to let Reinbold and associates build an aircraft maintenance hangar and finance the project with public bonds.   To make a very long story short, Reinbold’s companies went bankrupt and the State of Oregon got done out of about 60 million dollars.   The Oregon Attorney General’s office filed a massive lawsuit against Reinbold and his associates.  The court proceedings dragged on for years until Reinbold settled the case for seven million in 2005.   Clearly there were parallels between the Oregon scandal and what was proposed for Benson.   To me it looked like the taxing districts in Benson would go bankrupt and the bond holders would get rooked.    I took to the airwaves and made my predictions.   Nobody seemed to care much.

The stage appeared to be all set for a disaster but then something happened that Benson’s community leaders never expected.  The Vigneto project got the attention of some well financed environmental groups including the Center for Biological Diversity.   They began to file lawsuits  based on the idea that the massive housing development would threaten endangered snakes, birds and plants.   The environmentalists also feared that 50,000 new residents would pump so much water out of the ground that the San Pedro River would be damaged.    But that would happen only if the thousands of houses were actually built.

The next several weeks might tell us something about the ethical standards of Donald Trump’s underlings and also the ethical standards of El Dorado Holdings.   But what should be important to the people of the Benson area is that eight years after Vigneto was first announced,   not one of the 28,000 houses has been built and not one  new job has been created by Vigneto since 2014. Mike   Reinbold hasn’t been seen at a Benson City Council meeting in years.

 Last week fifty young men and women graduated from the Benson High School and by the end of the summer the vast majority of them will have left town because Benson has nothing to offer them. The City of Benson used to have an economic development committee but it was done away with because the city council was convinced that Vigneto was all that we could ever need to improve the economy.

On August second  there will be a city council primary election and the only issues will be the stars and stripes and apple pie. The Vigneto fiasco  and the lack of good paying jobs should be big campaign issues but they probably won’t be.   It will be interesting to see what happens this summer.

I’m CAVE MANager Paul Lotsof and the opinions you’ve just heard are mine and not necessarily anyone else’s.   If you’d like a copy of this editorial or you’d like to express your opinions go to the CAVE web site and select Editorials.    We’re at CAVEFM.com. That’s CAVEFM.com