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Phoenix Means Well

Damned if we don't: This week, more complaints about people with free will roaming the streets.
Fred Harper

Phoenix has scored another national ranking, and The Bird doesn't mean Mr. Blackwell's "Best Dressed" list, either. According to a list compiled by the National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, Phoenix is number 17 among the 20 "meanest" cities in the nation for those with no place to live. (Sarasota, Florida, is the number one meanest place. And Phoenicians might take some small comfort in knowing that our sister Arizona city, Flagstaff, is also on the list, way up at number 10.)

Our latest milestone has this foul fowl wondering: How can a city that's built a massive, $24 million "campus" devoted to helping homeless people be deemed "mean" to that very population?

Apparently because we won't let them beg. Or sleep in parks. At least that's what Michael Stoops, acting director for the NCH and one of the authors of the list, told The Bird.

"Phoenix criminalizes the homeless," Stoops squawked. "They've made it illegal to beg on street corners. And you don't shelter all your homeless. If last summer there had been more air-conditioned shelters available, those dozen homeless wouldn't have died from heat exposure."

So that's what this is all about. Our inhumanly hot summers are to blame for what Stoops calls our "very real meanness" to our transient population. And our inability to provide shelter to every single homeless person, whether he or she wants it or not, also makes us "mean."

"Also, you've passed one of the most backward ordinances I've seen in 30 years of work with the homeless," Stoops said, referring to last year's ruling that banned camping in all Phoenix parks. "I always thought parks were for everyone, including the homeless," Stoops sniffed. "Phoenix promotes itself as one of the best in the country in terms of helping homeless people. I find that laughable."

What The Bird finds laughable is Stoops' solution to reversing our "mean" status. Apparently, constructing the 14-acre Central Arizona Shelter Services campus, which houses and feeds the homeless and provides outreach services dedicated to getting them off the streets once and for all, isn't enough. ("The CASS campus had no bearing on our report," Stoops confessed.) What Stoops wants us to do is build a coalition of nice people who will sit around waiting, for example, for some homeless guy to start pissing on the street, then run out and ask him kindly not to.

"If Joe the homeless guy unzips and whips it out and is scaring people," Stoops tweeted, "it would be better, rather than calling the cops, to have someone go out and say to him, 'Joe, you can't do this.'"

The Bird can't deny that asking a bum to keep his dick in his pants isn't a bad idea. But Mark Holleran, director of Madison Street's Central Arizona Shelter Services, thinks there are more effective ways to help the homeless. "Teaching people how to find work, giving them a head-start while they do that, giving them a place to stay -- these are helpful things," Holleran rattled off. "If the people who put together this 'mean' list had bothered to talk to me, they'd know we're making a big difference for a lot of people."

Not big enough, crowed Stoops: "Your city needs a team of advocates checking up on the homeless, and developing relationships with them. You need to stop calling the cops every time some guy who needs a bath asks you for a quarter."

Anything else is just plain mean.

Public Hearing Loss

Those Phoenix meanies who're being so inhospitable to poor defenseless hobos ought to take a cue from the Tempe City Council, which last month approved an ordinance to restrict businesses that attract an undesirable element. (If they never show up, you don't have to be nice to them, see?!) The restrictions will require that certain new businesses -- plasma centers, check-cashing joints, hookah bars, rent-to-own operations and various types of employment agencies -- submit to a public-hearing process before they can set up shop.

In plain English, that means that Tempe can now say "no" to any business that draws what The Bird's grandma used to call "the wrong crowd."

In not-so-plain English (because of course city managers don't run around admitting that they'd rather not have transients wandering their streets), Steve Venker, the City of Tempe's planning and zoning manager, tried to explain to The Bird why this ordinance ever happened without actually coming right out and saying, "We're trying not to appeal to too many lowlifes."

The ordinance was passed, Venker said, in an effort to "protect the community from loitering and heavy traffic" and because "[these businesses] create spillover effects in nearby residential neighborhoods."

 

Huh?

"Well, our experience with plasma centers and day labor businesses," Venker said, "has been that they're a gathering place for people who maybe don't have anyplace else to be. And that results in complaints from other business owners and people living in the area. Protection was needed."

Protection? From people who want to rent a coffee table? Whose only source of income that day might be from selling a little plasma?

"That attitude is coming from neighborhood residents who live near these businesses," Venker said, in his best "It's-them-not-me" voice. "There are homeless people who frequent these types of businesses, and after they cash their check or donate blood, they might wander into the neighborhood, and that makes people uncomfortable."

Okay. So the Tempe City Council has figured out a way to keep the number of reprobates out of town by restricting the number of places that tend to attract them. But hookah bars? Uh, the last time The Bird peeked, hookah bars were mainly peopled by college kids. Maybe the council members forgot that Tempe is home to a certain state university.

"Yeah, I didn't know college kids were considered a risky element," wheezed Mike Johnston, manager of the Red Sea Hookah Lounge on Rural Road. "We see a lot of college people in here, and they don't seem like they're gonna go mess up anyone's nice neighborhood after they leave here. I thought the City Council was supposed to take care of bigger stuff than how many hookah bars there are."

The Bird couldn't have squawked it better.

Duh, It's Mill Ave.

There's something about condominiums that makes The Bird want to fall from the sky into oncoming traffic.

These ugly stuccoed cracker boxes have been springing up like mold all over the Valley for years, and somehow they're always way too close to our few pockets of thriving nightlife -- spots like downtown Phoenix and Tempe's Mill Avenue.

It's a situation that inevitably leads to fights between the snooty yuppies who dwell in these dreadful domiciles and the neighboring hangouts and their denizens.

Take the brouhaha that's been brewing in downtown Tempe of late. Residents of Hayden Square Condominiums have been in a tizzy over the raucous rock 'n' roll and hip-hop hullabaloo emanating from nearby nightclub The Loft, 200 yards away at Fifth Street and Mill.

Mark Davis, a real estate manager and Hayden Square denizen, boo-hooed to The Bird that The Loft's nightly lineup of hip-hop DJs and local jam bands like The Noodles and Gelatinous Groove has been creating a sonic boom of noise that's been costing him some serious sack time.

Davis and other residents have repeatedly whined to the Tempe Police Department about the racket, which usually spills out from The Loft's patio doors (kept open to allow smokers to get their nic fix while still enjoying the music). Cops have measured sound levels from 39 to 49 decibels, which is within the city's legal limits of 65 decibels before 10 p.m. and 55 decibels afterward. So what, The Bird wonders, is the big damn deal? And what the hell did these people expect when they moved this close to Mill Avenue, ground zero for Arizona State University (one of the nation's leading party schools)?

"Certainly there's going to be noise in downtown Tempe," Davis simpered to the Bird. "But [The Loft is] clearly the loudest venue."

Although The Bird was bored by Davis' dreary droning, others are more interested. He recently persuaded owners of the nearby nightspot The Library to lower their noise pollution by relocating the club's loudspeakers. Davis and his silence-loving pals then moved on to shushing The Loft.

When calling the cops didn't work, the curmudgeonly condo crew turned up at last week's meeting of Tempe's Redevelopment Review Commission, to ask that the club quit rocking out at 10 p.m. on weeknights (when all good children should apparently be tucked away in bed) and to try to prevent Loft owners Gina Lombardi and Michael Dove from obtaining a use permit that would legalize their loud jamming.

Despite impassioned pleas from the opposition, Lombardi was able to persuade the commission to approve that permit -- no surprise to this feathered fiend, since Lombardi's an old hand at snuffing out sniffy condo complainers. She owned raucous rock club The Sail Inn for 15 years, selling it last year to make way for the pending light rail.

Lombardi promised to collar the clamor by staying under decibel levels mandated by the city's noise ordinances; relocating loudspeakers; installing special volume-restricting sound equipment; and closing the club's patio doors after 10:30 p.m.

"We're trying to make everybody happy," says Lombardi. "But whenever someone new moves in near Mill and starts demanding that people turn down their music, it's just some kind of ridiculous."

 

Crybaby Davis says he's disappointed by the approval and might just sell his condo and stomp off in a huff. Which would leave all the mewling about noisy Mill Avenue to residents of The Lofts at Orchidhouse, an upscale development located around the corner on Sixth Street. Residents there recently put the smackdown on hippies and street kids who've been performing drum circles at the neighboring Sixth Street Park long into the night. Tempe cops have been clearing out the park at midnight, citing the city's curfew, only to have these percussive peeps move to another location along Mill.

"If you're going to live in a condominium within 200 yards of Mill Avenue, you should be expecting some background noise," grumped Gelatinous Groove guitarist Steve Allen. "Close your fucking patio door, turn up your TV, and shut the fuck up."

Or move back to suburbia, where you belong.


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