Nursery's Cool

The caustic canary on geezer power downtown, car dealers scratching a Scottsdale council candidate's back and the dodo RESIST tagger's latest prank

The Bird's been wondering what's up with the rather noisy bitch fight between the queen of the philodendrons and the City of Phoenix. Word on the street is that Tera Vessel is planning to unload her hugely popular nursery, Tera's Garden, situated in the old William Edward Cavness House at Fourth Avenue and Fillmore Street. She's asking a whopping $985,000, but it's not the high price tag that has friends and neighbors scratching their heads over Vessel's plan to flee the 'hood. By all accounts, Vessel loves her leafy enterprise, which she opened only a few years ago. So why's she leaving?

"I've been in fights with the city since December," Vessel squealed to this squawker. "I hate them for this. They're mad because I put all these plants out front, and I paid $8,000 in permits for the privilege to do so. It's a demo garden, and a beautiful one that's been in magazines. But across the street is a senior citizens' home, and it's full of the most unhappy, most annoying people you've ever met in your life. They live at the taxpayers' expense; it drives me insane that I pay huge property taxes so that these subsidized-living people can spend their lives complaining about me."

After the cranky oldies at the Salvation Army Phoenix Silvercrest Residence went after her, Vessel began receiving certified letters from the city's Streets and Transportation Department, citing her for what it considered overgrown plantings.

Take another little piece of her yard, now, city.
Take another little piece of her yard, now, city.

"Okay, I got it," Vessel cracked wise. "No hollyhocks on the street. These old people don't mind crack pipes and beer bottles on the street, but God forbid a plant should touch them as they walk by."

Vessel took to carefully pruning her demo garden, but after a group of seniors visited Streets and Transportation in person, all hell broke loose. "The city showed up with chain saws and whacked everything to death," Vessel sniffed to The Bird. "They butchered the trees; they took a weed whacker to my fairy dusters; they annihilated everything."

Well, maybe not everything. The workers sent out by the city mistook a patch of weedy grass in front of Tera's for some kind of weird test plant, and gently worked around it. Still, upon discovering the destruction to her garden, Vessel -- who calls herself "the plant nerd of all plant nerds" -- says she lay on the floor and wept for hours.

"This was a very strange case," James Sparks chuckled to The Bird. Sparks is the deputy director of the city's Streets and Transportation Department who handled Vessel's situation personally. "It began routinely with our staff noticing the landscaping had grown to the point it was beginning to interfere with traffic safety and functionality of the street/sidewalk. Our staff notified Tera of the problem, quoting the city ordinances that prohibit such conditions, and urging compliance. Nothing resulted. So we went in and cleared things out."

Vessel, whom Sparks refers to as "a very interesting personality," is pissed, and not just because the city's after her begonias, either. "I hate myself for being a liberal sometimes," she sighed to this avian. "But the bus stop was on our property, and I could have made the city move it. But when we moved in here, I told them, 'People need the bus stop, you can leave it there.' So I have a bus stop in my front yard, and people live there, they sleep and smoke and throw shit into my yard. I should have told the city, 'Take your bus stop and put it in front of the mean people at the Salvation Army!'"

Even if Vessel sells her blossoming business tomorrow, the fight isn't over. "It simply isn't fair for the general taxpayers to pay to take care of a private property owner's landscaping every few months," Sparks says. "Whoever buys the property will have to keep the plants under control. We can't have a jungle downtown."

Vessel sighed to The Bird, "I don't know what he hates me for. My property taxes are $11,000 per year. That's a lot of petunias. But apparently those taxes don't buy me any rights. When the city ripped out my garden, they ripped my heart out. I've had it. I'm out of here."

Way to go, City of Phoenix! Run a legitimate business out of an area that's in great need of going concerns. Where's front-porch-sitting, community-minded Mayor Phil Gordon in all this? Oh, this foul fowl forgot, he's busy worrying about whether some new immigrants-rights march along 16th Street near downtown might upset restaurant owners who exploit illegal aliens in their kitchens.

Bottom line here is: A gaggle of cantankerous seniors has a lot more clout at City Hall than a righteous, taxpaying business owner. Know why? Because old people have nothing better to do as they're waiting to die than moan, moan, moan and vote, vote, vote! This has got a lot to do with why a senile old goat like Sheriff Joe Arpaio's managed to stay in office all these years.

Munificent Mile

So, what's worse than giving $1.5 million of your constituents' tax dollars to über-rich car dealers so they can spend it on advertising their businesses? How about taking campaign contributions from those same car dealers, thereby making yourself look like a dirty pol (even if you aren't one)?

If you ask The Bird, such "I'll scratch your back" crap is bad government, even if it's not necessarily unusual. Hey, you give 'em the taxpayers' money, and then they give you back a chunk of it to get reelected! Just like a good old-fashioned kickback, except legal.

And that's exactly what went down in Snottsdale last week.

As The Bird went to press, the runoff for a Scottsdale City Council seat that pitted incumbents Bob Littlefield and Kevin Osterman against each other was still being decided at the polls. What wasn't a matter of dispute was just who was buttering Osterman's bread.

Littlefield gleefully squawked to this curmudgeonly crow that Osterman, who voted in favor of the city's contribution of $1.5 million to help auto dealers in the Motor Mile district, was feted by those same dealers in a 7 a.m. fund raiser May 11. Alas, receipts from the event won't be public record until after the election, but this pissy pigeon's pretty sure he collected a good haul.

As for Littlefield, The Bird failed to mention in a recent article about the tax-dollar giveaway that Littlefield actually voted against the Motor Mile giveaway -- which means no kickback for him!

"They know if I get reelected, I'll try to get rid of that expenditure," Littlefield chirped. "These guys have a lot of money on the line. They'll do what they can to defeat me."

Littlefield may win that election yet. Because while Osterman had a bevy of wheeler-dealers in bright-plaid blazers on his side, Littlefield also has a core group of supporters: firefighters.

The councilman's campaign records show that Littlefield's campaign accepted $6,064 from firefighters and their spouses since January 2005, a good haul by anyone's standards, and more than one-eighth of the councilman's total coffers.

The reason for the firefighters' largess? Let's just say that, like the car dealers, our fine firemen aren't in this solely for the sake of good government. (Although that's gotta be part of it, right?) Their generosity may have something to do with the fact that Littlefield was the first -- and most outspoken -- Scottsdale official to support the firefighters' 2003 quest to break with Rural/Metro and form a municipal department. That change netted hefty pay increases for many local firefighters.

What does all this boil down to? Well, there's certainly a whole lot of back-scratching going on in Scottsdale. But there's a bigger context here. After all, MTV's My Super Sweet 16 recently documented the $150,000 birthday party of Marissa Leigh Dubowy, the Scottsdale brat whose dad Mark Dubowy, owner of Mark Mitsubishi, is one of the recipients of the taxpayers' munificence. Outcry over that combination of corporate welfare and conspicuous consumption makes the dealers' fund raiser seem much worse than, say, being in bed with firefighters.

Says Littlefield, "It's unfair to the poor girl to make her the subject of this. But that party was wretched excess -- kind of a Marie Antoinette 'Let them eat cake!' sort of thing. [That Sweet 16 party has] become one of those symbolic things for people."

Will the dealers' dirty money be enough to propel Osterman to victory anyway over his firefighter-backed opponent? Stay tuned.

Nirgrah, Please!

The Bird's been thinking lately about investing in a good Kevlar flak jacket or maybe a nice bulletproof vest, especially since it's apparently become open season on winged wordsmiths. In the past few weeks, many a perturbed peep has taken aim at The Bird and the content of its column.

Take the Arizona Republic's Dan Nowicki, for instance, who sniped at The Bird in "Plugged In," his AZCentral.com blog. There, Nowicki pooh-poohed this faux falcon's "profanity-laced screeching about last week's news stories." The Bird admits that Nowicki is undoubtedly an expert on rehashing old news, especially since his waste-of-cyberspace essentially amounts to offering pithy commentary on the political issue du jour before cutting and pasting bits of better writing from other scribes. Hell, in the same space where he blasts The Bird, Nowicki speculates on whether recent Arizona Cardinals draftee Matt Leinart (the ex-USC quarterback who lost the national championship to Texas last season) did the nasty with Paris Hilton. Talk about old news!

At least Nowicki has company. Another snooty sniper who went bird hunting was pissed-off painter Bobby Castaneda, whom this pretend pigeon outed last month as the infamous RESIST tagger, the guy who'd been decorating Roosevelt Row with anti-gentrification graffiti ("Tagger Tagged," April 6). The Bird also reported how Bobby's brother Eddie Castaneda unsuccessfully attempted to solicit money from local gallery owners and artists to help bail out Bobby during his recent visit to the poky on traffic charges unrelated to his tagging shenanigans.

But instead of getting revenge by sabotaging New Times' printing presses or hijacking delivery trucks (two options he claimed he'd considered), Castaneda struck back by inserting (he claims) more than 500 propaganda-style posters into copies of the May 4 issue of New Times all over downtown Phoenix.

The Bird did see more than a few of these around town. The glossy 11-by-17-inch placard, bursting with typos and spelling errors and made possible through Castaneda's job at a local Kinko's, slammed The Bird and New Times for what he called "continuing to misquote and misrepresent the arts in Phoenix." He also spewed, "Your blatant disreguards for the truth and wild story telling must be prevented."

Heh, the dude sounds a lot like Dr. Ali G, only the HBO comedian butchers English on purpose for comic effect. He ain't no ignorant buffoon like Castaneda.

Bobby called his guerrilla tactics "a knee-jerk response" to getting called out by The Bird.

"It pissed me off, because it made me and Eddie look bad, calling us beggars and shit," Bobby tweeted to the winged wonder. "If you're gonna throw mud, I'm gonna throw bricks. If you start throwing bricks, God knows what I'll start throwing. If you're gonna call me a thug, I might as well act like one. But don't call my brother a beggar."

The poster also included a World Wrestling Entertainment-style challenge for The Bird to square off with the painter: "To The Bird on a personal tip . . . I don't back down like a coward not me . . . If words get typed involving Edward or me . . . meet me [at] deck park around three then we will see . . . not a threat but a promise . . . nirgrah."

Bobby's schoolyard call-out's about as funny as his using his poster to hype his most recent First Friday exhibition at his retail store, Se Vende, as well as a currently untitled publication to help "represent the arts district properly while still resisting."

Bobby, sorry The Bird noted that your bro was begging for loose change to get you out of the slammer -- from the very art galleries you'd tagged with your scribblings. Obviously, smarts doesn't run in the family. As for meeting you at Deck Park in the wee hours of the morn, nirgrah, please!

The Bird may be a cowardly canary, but (unlike you and Eddie) it's no dodo.

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