War Is Hell (On Real Estate)

Rick Diomede and Bruce Brogard sound many common themes when they talk about their neighborhood, the FQ Story Historic District. They talk about crime, media attention and property values. They talk about efforts to clean up the streets and the concerns of their neighbors. It almost seems they have the same goals in mind for FQ Story.

They don't.
Diomede, president of FQ Story's Block Watch program, and Brogard, coordinator of the neighborhood's Historic Preservation Association, are at the center of a conflict over their neighborhood's image. Despite the fact they live within blocks of each other, Diomede and Brogard are residents of entirely different places, and there's no reconciling the two.

The neighborhood is bounded by Grand and Seventh avenues and McDowell Road and Roosevelt Street, and is bisected by Interstate 10. FQ Story is ancient by Valley standards; it was developed by Francis Quarles Story, the man who made the brand name Sunkist famous, in 1921. The Historic Preservation Association was founded 12 years ago, after the shaft of the freeway was driven through FQ Story over the objections of the residents. In 1988, FQ Story was named one of the city's historic districts--which now number 18--because of the association's efforts. Since then, the association has focused on its annual Home Tour, held the first Sunday of December.

Today, FQ Story consists of rows of middle-class homes bracketed by high-crime alleys and low-income housing. One alley in particular, between Portland and Roosevelt streets, is of special concern to residents; it was the site of the Julio Valerio shooting on November 15.

To listen to Nick Diomede, the Block Watch president, the neighborhood is becoming a "war zone." At least, that's what he told the Arizona Republic in a story printed May 14. He doesn't apologize for the term at all.

"We just recently had a drive-by shooting where a resident's front windows were blown in," he says. "We have random gunfire up and down 15th Avenue all the time. . . . A lot of what happens is, prostitutes will be walking up and down 15th Avenue and they'll get in a car and go and park on one of our side streets," Diomede says, then pauses, looking for the right phrase, "and then they'll help themselves."

Brogard, coordinator for the Historic Preservation Association, takes exception to Diomede's language and the publicity.

"It isn't that we don't want [the problems] talked about," he says, "but going to the press doesn't solve them. Creating negative articles about your neighborhood reminds me of the '60s, when people were burning down their neighborhoods to make a point. Well, when your neighborhood is burned down, what do you have left?"

The two men's differences extend to their appearance and manner as well. Diomede is an East Coast transplant, his voice loud and tinged with a Brooklyn accent. A maintenance technician for Arizona Public Service Company, he's direct and in your face, from his tattoo and nipple ring to his opinions.

Everything about Brogard, a computer salesman and assistant to a neighborhood real estate agent, is soft. He speaks quietly, sitting on an overstuffed chair, feet wrapped in white ankle socks. The only noise coming from Brogard, aside from his displeasure at the Block Watch, is the jangle of the bracelets on his left wrist.

There have been conflicts between the Block Watch and the Association since the Block Watch was founded two years ago.

Diomede says the Historical Association "did not want a Block Watch, plain and simple."

Brogard explains that association members thought the Block Watch was too "militant" at first, a problem he says Diomede has remedied.

Diomede may be less strident, but he's no less dedicated. The reason Block Watch has about 30 people and a half-dozen police officers at every meeting, Diomede says, is because there's a real need.

"We have people that are afraid to go out in their own backyards," he says. "The robberies are nonstop. We have a resident who just moved in . . . they've been robbed twice already. They're not even living there [yet]. . . . The second time, they stole their stove and dishwasher. They attempted to steal the refrigerator, but they couldn't get it out of there."

Brogard doesn't dispute that there is crime in FQ Story, but he believes Diomede is exaggerating its severity. What Brogard really objects to is not Diomede's patrols or tactics, but seeing the other side of FQ Story in public.

"I think the Block Watch people have done a very good job. They're very dedicated people," Brogard concedes. "I just think Nick likes going to the press. I think he likes seeing his name in print. He likes seeing his picture in there. I think they should focus on their successes. What's wrong with going and giving a press release that they've done something good?"

Those objections upset Diomede.
"Somebody tells me that property values are plummeting because of this [the Republic] article, and it annoys the hell out of me," Diomede says. "One woman who does not support the Block Watch called me and said, 'Thanks to this article, our property values have just plummeted. We do not live in a war zone.' This is from a woman who has bars on her windows. Another woman who lives north of the freeway in a nice part of the neighborhood, her quote was, 'We're afraid no one will come to our home tour.' So here we have people who are afraid to go out in their backyards, who are robbed on a regular basis . . . and these people are worried about the aesthetics of the neighborhood."

Brogard says he's seen no decline in home prices in FQ Story yet, but he thinks it could happen. And he believes the publicity Diomede has generated eventually will turn against the Block Watch.

"At some point, politicians and other people don't want to be associated with someone who is seeking constant bad publicity," Brogard says. "I just think that trying to make your own neighborhood look bad is going to say to the politicians, 'Well, why should we spend our money on such a bad place?'. . . People like to be with a winner. They don't want to be with a loser."

The split between the two groups is extending to other issues as well. Block Watch people favor speed bumps and the shifting of recycling bins and water lines from the alleys. Preservation people have come out against those measures. Diomede likens it to a litmus test on neighborhood conflicts.

Diomede and Brogard are not just sniping at each other from behind their hedges the way neighbors sometimes do; they've talked to each other. But even though both say they don't want to see the neighborhood divided into two camps, neither is really willing to alter course.

"I don't think anything's going to stop us as long as we keep the ball rolling forward," Diomede says.

"If we can't [compromise], we can't," Brogard says.
Crime is up in FQ Story. The neighborhood's ranking in the citywide crime statistics has risen this year, though more than 100 of the city's grids--the blocked-out areas used to measure crime--are still ahead of the historic district.

Officer Jeff Nolder, who's worked FQ Story, says residents should be concerned and involved, and that the Block Watch has taken the right steps.

Nolder, currently assigned to the Safe Streets unit, says he knows many FQ Story residents who are "fed up."

"If you're asking, are there drugs, are there transients wandering in and out, are there loud parties, robberies? Yes, there are. I think if something's not 100 percent, then there is a problem."

Both Diomede and Brogard say they're satisfied with the police effort. However, their argument isn't really about crime levels. The two men aren't going to find common ground because they really don't live in the same place.

Bruce Brogard believes he lives in a basically quiet and friendly place. "There are lots of ways to fight crime," he says. "A lot of people who've had cars and houses broken into, it's because they left their cars unlocked and they left their houses unlocked. But we live in a city, and we live in a relatively safe city. I've lived in Los Angeles. I've lived in the infamous Ramparts section. Nick is quoted as saying there are people who are afraid to go out and empty their trash. I don't know anybody who feels like that."

Nick Diomede believes the Historic Preservation Association's home tour masks the real problems of his neighborhood. "As [another resident] said last week, she's sick and tired of this neighborhood being run as a real estate flier," Diomede says.

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Chris Farnsworth