The Callous Battle Over Park Plaza

He has watched the battle of Park Plaza apartments from the start.
He has kept track of everything. He has it all written down. "Can I trust you?" the old man asks.

I nod.
He is so tiny. And yet his eyes glow. There is a fierce energy. "Keep my name out," he says. "I don't trust them." "Terry Goddard," he says. He recites the name of the Phoenix mayor as though speaking of some foreign power. It is as if he is saying, "It's the Russians." "Goddard betrayed us. He sold us down the river." The man had begun at an emotional level so high that I feared he would stray off into incoherence.

I feared it would turn out to be just another case of a source too angry to communicate.

But it wasn't.
He produced the paperwork. He had kept careful notes.
When you piece them all together, it's clear the city has no right to dispossess the residents of the Park Plaza apartments on First Avenue.

Let's make it simple. Here's a bill of particulars:
1. The stated reason for demolishing Park Plaza apartments is to make room for a new library. But the planned library will not even fit on the site which now holds Park Plaza apartments.

2. The Park Plaza apartments owner will probably sell the land for high-rise development once the Deck Park over Central Avenue is completed. But the owner has assured the residents he does not plan to sell the building. Besides, real-estate sales are at an all-time low.

3. The city will build comparable housing for the displaced residents on Moreland at either Third Avenue or Third Street. But there's no way the city can do this, legally. The residents of Park Plaza are not disadvantaged. They are not eligible for such benefits.

4. There is no other comparable site to build the library. But there are actually two other sites in the immediate area. Each would cost millions less. At the same time, it would do away with the necessity of uprooting people.

5. The city has no real obligation to the residents of Park Plaza apartments. But they most certainly do. The money from the federal government made it possible to build the Deck Park only because of people just like Park Plaza residents.

The federal money was a stated form of payback for the "loss of community cohesion" created by the construction of the Papago Freeway. According to the city's own plan: "The concept was based on the premise that the interaction of new public amenities with new real-estate uses around the park will serve as a catalyst for revitalization of the community which was impacted by the Papago Freeway." 6. The new apartments offered by the city will be a comparable trade for Park Plaza residents. But this is not so. Presently, they are located within short walking distance to bus lines on Central, McDowell, and Thomas. They are close to the Park Central Mall and two hospitals.

The present building also has an excellent swimming pool and enough free covered parking for all. The proposed apartments at the new sites are smaller, far from bus lines and in a high-crime area.

The Reverend Leroy Calbom of First Congregational Church has some thoughts about what's happening to the Park Plaza apartments residents.

"Neither the letter nor the intent of the original plan is being honored," Reverend Calbom says.

He should know. He was on the First Arts Committee which planned Deck Park at Central Avenue.

"What the city is deliberately not considering," Reverend Calbom says, "is that Park Plaza apartments by itself constitutes a neighborhood.

"Those people represent a marvelous grouping of older and handicapped individuals. They have banded together to help each other as neighbors. They share rides to stores and to doctors. They have become a community of friends.

"Many came there because they were dispossessed by the Papago Freeway. Many are as old as eighty. They could not stand another move caused for callous reasons." Reverend Calbom is still aghast over something the city did to the residents two days before Christmas last year.

"They sent a relocation flying squad into the building. They forced their way into every apartment and measured the rooms, telling the people they were all going to have to move out anyway," Reverend Calbom says.

"They deliberately frightened some of the older residents half to death. It was a callous attempt to soften them up." He adds: "This is not the way the representatives of an `All-America City' are supposed to behave."

Reverend Calbom has seen the emotional damage the city's assault is having on the Park Plaza residents.

"Involuntary dislocation," he says, "brings about a form of grief. It is just as dangerous to a person's health as a loss of employment, divorce or the death of a spouse." Terry Goddard ran for office under the guise that he was a community activist.

One wonders when it was that he decided to become an enemy of the people.

"They deliberately frightened some of the older residents half to death. It was a callous attempt to soften them up."