Picture at sunset of the bars of the fence at the El Rio Golf Course

Mr. Mayor, Tear Down These Bars

Mr. Mayor, tear down these bars.  Like Councilperson Romero told us over a year ago she intended to do.  Tear down the bars between the El Rio Neighborhood and the El Rio Golf Course and between the course and Joaquin Murietta Park, let nature and human nature breathe again, let heaven and nature sing without the interference of our arbitrary lines.  Mr. Mayor, if you believe in planting trees, there are six million dollars worth of trees behind bars in the El Rio Golf Course.  How could you condone its appraisal as a “vacant lot” during the negotiations with Grand Canyon University?  How can we even begin a conversation about values and fiscal responsibility until we restore the value of those trees and the rest of the golf course infrastructure to the citizens of Tucson?  How would you answer the questions by attorney Bill Risner in his cross examination of Chris Casellemis  during the suit by El Rio Coalition II to obtain documents about the corruption and collusion involved in the proposed sale of the golf course?

“Do trees have value?”

“Does fresh air have value?”

“Does open space have value?”

How would Don Diamond, Jerry Colangelo, Joe Snell, and Albert Elias answer those questions?  And how should WE answer them for the sake of our children?

In the 1980s, when I first started building in the El Rio Neighborhood, I could walk out on the golf course at night to a big pond in its center where moonlight filtered down through the shimmering leaves of a giant Cottonwood tree.  It was a magical kingdom teeming with wild smells and insects and water plants.  Frogs and fish were jumping and water fowl would stop by on their way North or South. I could hear them from my bedroom window chattering all night in the reeds.  Then Ronstadt, in response to golfers’ complaints that they were losing their balls in the pond, had the bottom cemented and had the Cottonwood cut down.  Nothing could grow in the chlorinated water and the wild water birds didn’t fly in anymore.  It was kind of sad, in a way.

Now, once again, the golf course as a living ecosystem — and the neighborhoods it supports — are under attack.  The lawsuit by The El Rio Coalition II has forced the turnover of all documents relating to the sellout of our neighborhood’s and city’ resource.  In his ruling Judge Christopher Starring said flat out that the deputy City Attorney lied on the witness stand and that the evidence clearly shows that staff and developers colluded to bypass neighborhood input.  He also said the City must finally turn over ALL documents relating to the Grand Canyon University (GCU) deal.  Shortly after that there was a break-in at the Ward 1 office and only one thing was stolen: a computer whose hard drive could have contained that very information.  Now we’ll never know. But what a remarkable co-inkey-dink.

But now we do know the Grand Canyon University deal was just the tip of the iceberg.  This has been going on for years and will continue until certain council members get to sell the course for a fraction of its real value.  Why?  To line the pockets of the millionaires’ on the businessman’s club, TREO, and balance the City’s mismanaged budget on the backs of the poor?

The course has kept our air up to ten degrees cooler than the rest of the city in the summer.  Its trees and “weeds” have kept our air fresher and cleaner than otherwise.  It is also, in spite of ourselves, a haven for wildlife.  Hundreds of birds have been documented by the Audubon Society there. Hawks, Javelina and Foxes can still be seen and Coyotes still sing there at night because the wildlife corridors which join it extend through local arroyos up to the Colorado River basin.  But this is all madness and nothingness to the developers who want to come in, buy up properties, and build high rise dorms, office and apartment buildings similar to those that destroyed the skyline and peace and quiet of West University Neighborhood in the 80s.  Chris Tanz said, at the time,

“We are just the canaries in the coal mine.  This should be a warning to all neighborhoods.”

The West University Neighborhood got twelve thousand signatures at the Street Fair, but the will of the people couldn’t hold a candle to the power of money.  In Barrio Calle, Cushing Street, the International Arts Center at the old Lohse Y, the Steinfeld Warehouse,  rich people used media code words like “crime ridden, drug havens, dilapidated eyesores, failing neighborhood, (failing golf course?) unsafe structures” in order to get the City Council to allow developmental subterfuges such as “OVERLAY”,  and so subvert and violate its own ordinances and depreciate property values and then buy up properties and erect posh office buildings and apartment complexes in the same places and sometimes the very buildings they had Code Enforcement condemn.

And Code Enforcement can and will come in to “clean up” the El Rio neighborhood for the developers.  Since the beginning of the GCU deal they’ve been stomping around my neighborhood, abusing their discretion, hassling my neighbors, making law instead of enforcing law, trying to condemn our livestock and gardening centers and our “dilapidated” houses.  They talk about weeds and plants like that was a distinction with a difference especially with regard to global warming, and they misuse legal language and legal fictions to, essentially, call us garbage and try to throw us under their downtown bus.

What can we do to avoid a repeat of WUNA, The International Arts Center/Muse, Steinfeld, Cushing Street, and Barrio Calle?  Support El Rio Coalition II’s efforts to get the results of the judgment into the media so that the entire City can know how it has been cheated out of valuable resources in the past.  But is “NO!” enough?  Is it enough to say,

“OK, guys, no more collusion!  No more corruption! OKaaaayyy?!  OKaaaayyyy?!”

Face facts.   In city after city around the world and throughout time, money talks.  It may never say anything except “MORE”  (the philosophy of the cancer cell), but fool enough of the people enough of the time and they’ll  believe that one word is a conversation.  And the crowd follows the spectacle and the spectacle follows the numbers and the numbers say the numbers win.  And the gentrification steamroller just keeps on rolling.  There is too much political and physical mass in motion to stop it.  We must then try utilizing the philosophy of the ancient Chinese General Sun Tzu to USE that energy.  “Let them think they have won”, and then ride our proposal in on their “victory” the way Sitting Bull rode his proposal in at the Battle Of The Little Big Horn, accumulate our plan democratically and publicly so it doesn’t fall into the “Request For Proposals” process because the forces that corrupted the GCU deal will still be operative there.  My draft proposal as a member of Tree Huggers And Ecologists Anonymous (you know, one of those SPECIAL INTEREST groups!) IS…

By scheduling instead of chopping the course up, we can keep “The First Tee”, 18 holes, add hiking, biking, nature and culture walks, gardening, aquaponics and other community activities.  If service to a broader demographic doesn’t have any sex appeal, making more money will.  If the City can charge fees for golf it can charge for the enjoyment (and maintenance) of the natural resources within and surrounding the golf course.  Just a trickle of solar pumped water from the decommissioned Roger Road Treatment Plant (soon to become a University of Arizona aquaponics center) down the arroyos and through the ponds at Silverbell Golf Course to the El Rio Course can turn the area back into the riparian paradise it once was.  It can grow gardens, ponds and native food bearing plants.  We have a grant notification from Arizona State Forestry service to create “A Tucson Food Forest”.  We have model buildings and plans by an architect that will make it possible to build at a sizable profit and still honor our rich cultural history and respect our children’s natural inheritance.  We have models in municipal projects in 18 cities across the country that saved their “failing” golf courses  by converting them to this type of multi use.  We have models in New York City’s “Highline” and reclaimed land, the San Diego Waterfront, San Francisco’s “The Farm” and San Antonio and New Orleans’ Riverwalks for reclamation projects which these cities saw more value in than they did in highways and more traditional “commercial” developments.  Nature and art are good for business and there is a 10x multiplier effect for tourist attractions and art events.

But when I broached this to Ward 1 they said we were,

“…just a handful of neighbors.”

But we do LIVE here.  And our numbers are growing. Do we have nothing to say about the absurd choice of paving over or watering 114 acres of Bermuda Grass in a desert suffering from drought, even if it IS with reclaimed water?  And nothing to say about the absurdity of the choice between high rise apartments and/or petroleum based fertilizer and pesticide runoff into our back yards?

We can’t even ask those questions, unless, with the help of The El Rio Coalition II, we make this a situation in which the movers and shakers have to act in public instead of in backroom deals.  The Request For Proposals process is the opposite of public.  The people of The El Rio Neighborhood are entitled to the dignity of an informed choice.

But  we have a hard row to hoe because we’re dealing with very sad, cynical people.  They remind me of Lily Tomlin’s comment,

“No matter how cynical I get, I can’t keep up.”

But If naturalist John Muir was right when he said,

“In wilderness is the salvation of the world,”

it is our salvation and our best approach.  We need to be made whole.  If nature needs rewilding for its restoration, so does our nature, so does even our economy because,

“There are no jobs on a dead planet.”

We need that touch of wholeness through wildness, we can try to fulfill ourselves by throwing wild animals into zoos and chickens into coops and turning wolves into yappy little lapdogs and recreating them and all other beings in our own image, but that process leaves no “other” and just increases our loneliness.  To be made whole we need a conversation that isn’t just an echo of our own ego.  And so I am presenting this essay as notes toward a philosophy of rewilding the El Rio Golf Course so it can benefit all the people of the city and continue to be what letter writer Debbie Collazo called,

“The green lung of the city.”

That air and water and the life it supported in the big pond in the golf course in the 1980s wasn’t Ronstadt’s to do with as he pleased.  It is not the Mayor’s and staff and council’s, Albert Elias’, TREO’s , or just the golfers, or Don Diamond’s and Jerry Colangelo’s, Chris Casselemis’s,  and Ward One’s air and water.  It was and is everybody’s and every being’s air and water and wildlife.

But corruption, like the poor, will always be with us.  Journalist Lincoln Steffens documented a consistent pattern of corruption extending from local to national and business to government to organized crime. Corruption such as we must endure in, yes, Tucson  Arizona in 2015, he found in the thirties and forties in city after city throughout the U.S. .

Tracey, in Woody Allen’s film Manhattan, said,

“Everybody gets corrupted.  You gotta have a little faith in people.”

Is that some kind of joke?  It all depends.  Lincoln Steffens said a lot of the corrupted big shots he met with would like a path to redemption.  The gang kids I worked  with in Brooklyn would almost always take a way out if you gave them a chance.  So if we can get a solid proposal together that increases everybody’s chances of survival, why not?  Why CAN’T we say, hey, you wanna be a hero, a person of the people, a Martin Luther King, a Cesar Chavez and make money and not have  to die for the cause?  HERE YA GOOOO!

Corruption prompted Walt Whitman to write,

“I could turn and live with the animals.” And drove British satirist Jonathan Swift to retire to his horse barns when he needed companionship.  Wouldn’t it be cool if we all had a refuge like that in the El Rio Golf Course when all the other places are, like… (as Yogi Berra says),

“Nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded?”

For myself I’d like the chance to hear those wildfowl in the big pond in the Golf Course again.  Until then I raise ducks, Muscovy Ducks, they are quackless (cheaper without the quacks).  I go out to their “duck tractor” late at night sometimes and they get up and waddle over to “talk” to me with voices that are like a whispered croak from Don Corleone.  As long as I stand there and talk they will stand there and wag their tails, raise their crests and poke their beaks at me and talk as enthusiastically at the end as at the beginning.  I don’t understand one damn thing they’re saying but something gets communicated that fills a little blue corner of my heart better than I think human speech ever will. I agree with Existentialist  Albert Camus when he says life with others is absurd and I agree with poet Robert Creeley when he says,

“If you never do anything

For anybody you are spared

The tragedy of human relation

Ships…”  a solution that is its own problem  for which Camus says the primary motion before his court is,

“Should I kill myself?”

If the world is that absurd I’d think the best answer would be to become a clown.  Unless you’re a FRENCH existentialist and then you’d have to become a Mime.  So you couldn’t talk, which would be a fate worse than death for a philosopher, so…. Should he kill himself?

Someone else said the answer to that question was,

“Eight Pelicans flying North under a grey sky.”

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