Ryan Stanton, rstanton@ExplorerNews.com
Dec. 21, 2005 - Tim Escobedo's story is one of success, but not without its share of peaks and valleys. The Marana councilman wears his passion for his community on his sleeve, a passion he attributes to his humble beginnings as a child in Marana.
Escobedo, 47, grew up as the lone adopted son of a Marana cotton picker and gin worker. Adopted at six months old, he's never known his real parents, but the ones who raised him in an old wooden shack off Avra Valley Road are as real as he could hope.
"They were both good parents. They don't have high education, but they made sure I didn't get too lazy. They really pushed me, as far as that goes," said Escobedo, who graduated from Marana High School in 1977, the same year the town incorporated.
Escobedo was elected to the Marana Town Council in 2001 after serving four years on the Planning and Zoning Commission. He was re-elected to another four-year term this year, though the citizens group Alliance Marana has threatened to recall him and several other council members in January.
A handful of residents have questioned why AAA Landscape, the firm employing Escobedo for the past three years, has continually received landscaping contracts in Marana. Despite the public criticism, Escobedo said that doesn't stop him from serving the community that gave so much to him.
As vice president of the nonprofit organization Miracle in Marana, Escobedo spent long hours organizing the town's annual holiday celebration that took place this past weekend. Thousands of local children at the event were given the opportunity to meet Santa Claus and receive Christmas presents.
"Just to watch these children's faces when they get gifts, and just the joy of it and being able to do things you weren't able to do as a child … it's amazing how the miracles actually come to be," Escobedo said.
The life-long Maranan said his humble beginnings are a part of what drives him to help others. But his day job with AAA Landscape has continued to prompt criticism from a few.
Perhaps putting an end to the issue, Escobedo resigned as client services director for AAA Landscape two weeks ago to become a consultant for KB Home in Tucson.
However, Escobedo's latest job venture is likely to draw a similar reaction from familiar critics. He'll be assisting the homebuilder in areas of land acquisition, land development, land planning and government relations in Pinal, Cochise, Santa Cruz and Pima counties, including in the town of Marana.
KB Home is already developing a 2,500-home master-planned community known as Saguaro Springs in Marana and has plans to acquire more land for development. Escobedo said he'll declare a conflict of interest whenever KB Home comes before the dais, which should be less frequently than conflicts regarding AAA Landscape.
Escobedo worked for AAA Landscape for more than three years, and the firm has been awarded several contracts for landscaping work in the town, including large residential developments like Gladden Farms and Sky Ranch. AAA Landscape also was subcontracted to do the work outside the new Marana Municipal Complex, which opened this year.
"One of the reasons for going to KB is because I didn't want to put AAA in jeopardy, because, as northern Marana grows, AAA was picking up more and more work," Escobedo said, adding that projects that didn't need to go out for bid were being handed to AAA Landscape based on its reputation.
"What good am I to this community if I conflict myself out of half the projects or three-quarters of the projects?" he said.
Town financial records show that landscaping costs grew from $300,000 to more than $500,000 during the course of the municipal complex construction because of thousands of dollars in change orders that were approved by the town. Escobedo sat on the town's committee that gave input on what type of landscaping should appear outside the complex while his firm was paid for the work.
"Because of my background in the nursery business, that's where that came in," he said, though he didn't think it was a conflict of interest because the town contracted with D.L. Withers, which subcontracted with AAA Landscape.
Escobedo, who doesn't hold a college degree or any special credentials as a land consultant, said it's his close relationships with government officials and life experiences that will make him an asset to KB Home, though the increased pay and opportunity to explore a new business also will benefit him.
"It gives me an opportunity to advance myself and learn more about homebuilding," he said, calling it a "mutual opportunity" that he and KB Home have talked about for a while. "I see KB as an organization that can help a lot of families move into homes."
Escobedo's peers on the town council say they support his decision. Mayor Ed Honea said he doesn't think Escobedo's job will cause any bias toward KB Home from the council because every new development in Marana will be held to the same standards.
"I don't think it's a problem at all. I think he's going to be a real asset to their company and, in the long run, it's going to help Marana," Honea said, adding that Escobedo can help make sure the company's projects are in line with the town's design standards.
Richard Underwood, owner of AAA Landscape, said Escobedo was invaluable to his business during the past three years. Escobedo has a lot of clout with what happens in Marana, he said, and his many connections throughout the region will benefit KB Home.
"Tim's influence is way beyond just the Marana area. He is known and liked all over the county, so I think it's a good fit," Underwood said. "We had a real good run with him over at AAA. He's done a lot for us."
Escobedo said when he joined the council in 2001, he realized the opportunity he had to create working relationships with other local government officials. His relationships with several Pinal and Pima county supervisors have led to increased communication on regional issues that involve Marana.
Lionel Ruiz, a Pinal County supervisor, said he regularly meets with Escobedo and other town officials to discuss issues of mutual interest. As Marana grows, it will eventually spread into Pinal County, he said, and Escobedo has been a key player in those discussions.
"He's very interested in not only what happens in Marana but the surrounding area, because, like anything else, it is going to affect Marana," Ruiz said.
Pima County Supervisor Sharon Bronson said she first worked with Escobedo several years ago on affordable housing issues. She said she quickly noticed his passion on the subject and she's since appointed him to Pima County's housing commission.
"What strikes me most about Tim is his style, his consensus-building style. And because of that I think the relationships between Pima County and Marana have improved," she said. "Tim always wants to create win-win situations. He doesn't think anybody in the community should be a loser, and that's why he has so much passion for public service."
Escobedo fell under scrutiny about four years ago when the town purchased his parents' rundown home at 14385 W. Imogene Place for $31,500. The house was one of a couple purchased and demolished by the town as part of a program to help Berry Acres residents whose properties fell in the floodway of the Santa Cruz River, a program now abandoned.
The town has since paid to build a new house on Price Lane for Escobedo's parents as part of the town's affordable housing program. They now pay about $10 a year plus utilities for the home they live in, town records show.
Escobedo said both desperately needed help paying for a new home because his stepmother Luz, 62, has lost her fingers to arthritis and is diabetic, and his adoptive father Guadalupe, 82, has a pacemaker. Neither qualify for AHCCCS and neither make enough money to support themselves, he said.
"That's another reason for going to another organization (the county's housing commission)," he said. "It gives me an opportunity to help them because they're at the point now where they can't live without some kind of assistance because of their handicap."
Escobedo said his birth parents, whom he doesn't know, were migrant farm workers who traveled back and forth from Marana to California. He's been unable to locate them his entire life, he said, and he thinks he has brothers and sisters that he does not know of.
Escobedo said his adoptive father raised him alone for some time after his adoptive mother died when he was 5. His adoptive father married his stepmother a few years later.
"There was a time when he used to pick cotton by hand so he'd take me to the cotton fields with him out here in Marana," he said. "He'd take me to work with him and he would sit me on those sacks that they pick cotton with and he'd haul me around all day long. So, you can imagine the dedication of this man."
Escobedo entered the Army for four years after high school, and he was stationed in Berlin, Germany. When he returned, he worked for a local lumber manufacturer in Tucson for several years before going to work in sales and marketing for Kelly Green Trees in Marana.
Town Manager Mike Reuwsaat and his wife, who were part owners in the business at the time, hired Escobedo to work at Kelly Green Trees, which also once employed Escobedo's stepmother. Escobedo's adoptive father retired as a gin worker for Kai Farms, owned by the family of Vice Mayor Herb Kai.
Reuwsaat said Escobedo has been a strong advocate of organizations like the Marana Community Food Bank and the Marana Health Center, and his efforts in organizing Miracle in Marana are appreciated by the town.
"He's been committed to quite a few events for the disadvantaged and for kids, and he spends a lot of his free time working on events like that," Reuwsaat said. "Miracle in Marana has been a real key one to providing opportunities for the youth of Marana and also the region."
Escobedo's wife works at the Marana Community Food Bank. They have four children, ages 17, 18, 19 and 21.
Aside from his job as a councilman, which pays about $9,000 annually, Escobedo doesn't receive compensation for any of the many boards and committees he sits on in the region. His reward, he said, is satisfaction in knowing he's helping his community.
"I grew up here. I want to see it become a livable community," Escobedo said. "We want to see a resort, we want to see a mall, an auto mall, hospital, because it's kind of difficult for some, especially those who are seniors, to travel to other areas for shopping. It's important that we provide that."
Escobedo said he's proud to serve on the Marana Town Council and doesn't plan to leave anytime soon.