Anarchy How?

Can an anarchist with a law degree break the rules of modern activism and still save Tempe Butte?

"You have a right to your opinion, and even a right to distort and misrepresent the facts, which you do rather well," the mayor wrote. "And I'm sure your students are learning a thing or two from you. . . . I've heard from a few about your comments in class." The mayor signed off with "have a nice day."

Amster fired back: "I would be happy to compare course evaluations and student feedback with you any time. . . . I'd also be happy to discuss or debate these issues with you any time. . . . I hardly think that a 5 percent mandate [based on population] gives you carte blanche authority to transform Tempe to suit your vision. . . . I hope you have a nice day as well."

Other Amster opponents are more generous.

A vigil to protest developing Tempe Butte draws candlelight and glowsticks
Paolo Vescia
A vigil to protest developing Tempe Butte draws candlelight and glowsticks

"There's a lot of respect for Randall," says Tempe Downtown Community executive director Rod Keeling, who actively supports the sidewalk ordinance and the Hayden Ferry South project. "My understanding is that he's a very intelligent, very bright guy. I don't think anybody takes him lightly, but I think he's clearly out of the mainstream. He's not stupid, but it doesn't make him right. I think he's wrong."

At issue is not just development of Tempe Butte or where homeless people can sit a spell, but defining the heart of the city.

Keeling argues that if residents were really against growth, they wouldn't elect pro-development candidates to city council.

Amster counters that Tempe's low electoral turnout makes such results meaningless, and declares, "If we only get a dozen people [at the march and vigil], then that will be a sign that we really are a vocal minority and we're not backed by an unvocal majority like we claim."

He says this about a week before the protest, and a few hours before Amster and the Friends of the Butte attempt to sway the Rio Salado Citizens Advisory Commission at its Tuesday night meeting.

It is an effort that backfires wildly.

The Rio Salado Citizens Advisory Commission has been charged by the city council with drafting a series of development guidelines for the Hayden Ferry South project in the event MCW Holdings proposes construction that exceeds its original plan. The meeting room tonight -- a cramped, fluorescent-lighted chamber in the Pyle Adult Recreation Center -- is the aesthetic opposite of the Friends of the Butte headquarters at Casey Moore's. Leading the meeting is former Arizona Bank of America CEO Dave Hanna, a disliked figure among the protesters, who object to his apparent pro-development leanings and pushy, continually exasperated manner. The protesters refer to Hanna, who's thin and tan, as Swizzle Stick.

At the last Rio Salado meeting, Amster and his group waited three hours hoping for a chance to speak, even though Hanna had announced there was no more time slated for public input.

Tonight the agenda is the same, yet Amster and his friends are here anyway.

Amster has grown increasingly frustrated with the commission members, saying they've scaled back their guidelines for development and have ignored his 2,000 petition signatures urging the Butte buyback option.

A few commission members also seem to dislike the increasingly lax guidelines, occasionally making tentative objections to Hanna about the amount of concessions granted to developers.

"We've doubled the height [of the development] without asking for anything except a couple view corridors," says commission member Nancy Russell. "I think we've left the barn door open here -- unless they're making glass buildings."

Hanna insists the commission must stay focused on the agenda. At the moment, the agenda is on how to word the view corridor requirements -- staggering the height of the development to allow some sight lines to the Butte.

Amster, sitting in the back of the stuffy room, grows frustrated.

The commission is treating the Butte like an annoying accessory to development that's preapproved, he thinks.

The commission is worrying about the pedestrian traffic through the corporate-fed "retail experience."

They're not considering the buyback.

They're not even considering environmental impact studies.

They're not even looking at him.

"It's like we're not even here!" Amster suddenly bursts, much louder than he intended.

Hanna immediately shoots back: "Excuse me, this is the night we work!"

Amster stands up. "This is the fourth night we've been here! You've wiped out everything we've forwarded instead of giving it any consideration!"

Hanna: "Can we continue?"

Commission member Eric Edwards spins around in his seat to face Amster: "What you just said is that you don't like what we're doing, just because it's not going exactly your way."

"But it's not going our way at all!" Amster shouts.

Near the door, a red-faced Richard Dillon suddenly gets up.

Tall and wild-eyed, Dillon makes a much more threatening impression than Amster, and Rio Salado Project Manager Steve Nielsen jumps up in turn.

"The only reason you're discussing this issue is because we brought it up, and now you're throwing out everything!" Dillon barks.

Hanna slams his fist onto the desk. "Quiet! Quiet! QUIET!"

Dillon, half-turning to leave, is escorted silently out of the room by Nielsen.

Amster and his protest colleagues opt to leave as well.

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