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Since moving into a Sunnyslope town house that abuts the Phoenix Mountains Preserve ten years ago, real estate agent Dan Galvin has enjoyed his spacious "backyard"--a scenic stretch of mountainous desert.
Hiking enthusiasts, he and his wife, Lori, frequently walk their dog through the outdoor retreat, returning home via the parking lot of the Mountain Preserve Reception and Conference Center, a rental hall owned by the Phoenix Firefighters Association.
In recent months, however, Galvin complains that the activity he's witnessed in the union hall's parking lot is far more wild than anything he's ever encountered in the desert wilderness.
"When we crossed this lot, we used to see hikers," says Galvin. "Instead of hikers, now we've got hookers."
According to Galvin, the large--and frequently deserted--parking lot at 1431 East Dunlap has become a popular spot for Sunnyslope streetwalkers to service clients in cars. And, he argues, the firefighters who own the property are inadvertently contributing to the problem by refusing to block off the parking lot during nonbusiness hours.
"Sure, it's their property," says Galvin, whose yard is separated from the parking lot by a low wall. "But what's happening on their property is impacting on my property. The [condom] wrappers and the boxes and shit are all getting tossed over my fence."
Although he frequently sees suspicious in-and-out traffic, Galvin actually caught one of the vehicular vixens in the act one recent Sunday morning. Still angry about a fresh batch of condoms he'd found strewn around his property, he stormed over to the car and yelled, "Get outta here!" Before he could get the license-plate number, however, the driver flipped him off and quickly backed out of the lot.
"It's unbelievable that they're doing this in broad daylight," fumes Galvin, whose arrival reportedly interrupted an oral-sex act. "These people must think they're invisible."
In one sense, they might as well be. Galvin explains that by the time the police respond to his complaints, the prostitutes and their clients have long vanished. That's why he's been lobbying the firefighters' union to take the problem into its own hands.
"All I've asked them to do is pull a chain across the driveway when the last guy leaves here," says Galvin. "I just don't understand why, from a business standpoint, [the firefighters] don't want to take a more aggressive approach to keeping people off their property."
But firefighters counter that blocking the entrance to the parking lot during nonbusiness hours would create a lot more problems than it might theoretically solve.
"I can understand his concerns," says Phoenix Firefighters Association spokesman Tim Knobbe, who also manages the reception hall. "But I don't think what he wants to do will solve the problem."
If prostitutes really are working the area, Knobbe insists that better policing--not a fence--is the answer. "If there are prostitutes, hell, the police ought to set up a sting up there. I'd fully support that."
Admitting that he'd personally like nothing better than to fence off the property to discourage vandals, Knobbe ticks off a list of reasons that's simply not an option:
* Upon taking over the site (former home of the Phoenix German-American Club) in 1985, firefighters promised hikers they could continue to use the lot for access to the mountain preserve.
* Unlimited access to the lot is necessary for the financial success of the Reception Center. "We want [potential customers] to be able to drive up and see the facility," explains Knobbe. "We're selling the view. We're selling the building--that's our business."
* A gate would delay response time when emergency vehicles are called to the property--a big concern considering the lot's proximity to potential mountain brush fires. Says Knobbe, "I sit in the front seat of a fire truck. I know how much of a problem it is when I respond and it takes me five minutes to force entry into the property."
* Because of safety-hazard and insurance liability, even something as simple as chaining off the entrance isn't feasible. Salt River Project no longer uses cables to barricade canal banks after a bicyclist ran into a cable in 1989 and was paralyzed; ironically, the victim was a firefighter on his way to work.
Firefighters' union head Pat Cantelme claimed to be unaware of the sordid shenanigans allegedly transpiring on union property until reached for comment by New Times. "We're not 100 percent opposed to putting up a gate," explains Cantelme. "But there's a lot of downside if we do."
Cantelme reiterates Knobbe's concerns, then adds, "What you gain on one end, you lose on the other. We can certainly ask the police to patrol [the parking lot] more often, though."
Noting that discarded condoms can probably be found in many parking lots and public parks, manager Knobbe contends that the situation at the union hall probably isn't any worse than at any other comparable location. Nor is he convinced that the soiled prophylactics his cleaning crew occasionally runs across are the work of pros.
"I don't know who they are, but I don't think it's a prostitution ring," says Knobbe. "The high school kids come up here at night."
But Dan Galvin finds the teen-lust theory hard to swallow.
"I've seen these women," he insists. "They're older, real rough-looking--they look like streetwalkers. I've even seen the same one several times in different cars with different guys. They aren't kids."