A Revolting Redevelopment

Chandler's leaders want to transform their sleepy downtown into an "oasis for the affluent." No wonder the barrio is restless.

Like Rico himself.
Rico recalls being astonished when he learned that a huge "entertainment complex" would be built next to his church as part of downtown redevelopment. It's not that he minded the movie theater being there, it's just that city officials--and Kerski--had not informed him of their plans.

Rico says he was heartened when the downtown redevelopment officials sought input from the barrio. He thought Latino ideas for a "diverse downtown" would be included in the final plans. There were meetings in his church. City officials took notes.

"Downtown should have an identity for all of us," he says. "But there is nothing in the downtown plan that shows what we wanted. . . . Our people have a sense of being left out of the process of decision making . . . and they are the people who are going to be affected the most."

Rico says redevelopment officials say there is still plenty of "opportunity for dialogue."

"And I say, 'Look, I've been dialoguing for 30 years. Let's move beyond dialogue.'"

Still, Rico hasn't lost hope.
"Personally, I have a choice," he says. "I could become cynical and pessimistic, but I choose to remain positive about working with people. There are people at the city I can work with."

Like Phill Westbrooks, a Chandler native of Latino and African-American descent who was elected to the city council four years ago. As a kid, Westbrooks was a student at the school where Rico was the counselor. Westbrooks used to shine shoes downtown, right across the street from A.J. Chandler Park.

The July 1997 raid caused him to feel "sorrow" for those who were apprehended, "even if it was legal," he says.

"I felt it was kind of degrading that you can be treated in a certain manner because of your race," says Westbrooks.

"I have personally felt, seen, heard, experienced racism both as an African American and as a Hispanic. . . . It's not a good feeling; it makes you feel like you are powerless, you are less than other individuals, and it kind of chips away at your self-esteem. I've experienced those things firsthand."

And Westbrooks understands how people in the barrio feel.
"From their standpoint, yeah, I guess if I was a downtown resident and I saw this gentleman [Kerski] make all these plans, to some it might be called progress, but to me it might be called invasion," says Westbrooks.

"I think the perception of the Mexican community may be there is a conspiracy to move them out because it's impacting them the most," he says.

"So the city needs to rebuild trust."

Contact Terry Greene Sterling at 229-8437 or online at tgreene@newtimes.com

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