Steller: South Tucson needs more than social service agencies

2014-06-06T00:00:00Z Steller: South Tucson needs more than social service agenciesTim Steller Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

If you’re in the Tucson area and you’re homeless, hungry, addicted or mentally ill, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll find your way to the tiny town of South Tucson.

It’s got a heavy concentration of service providers from La Frontera to Casa Maria to the Gospel Rescue Mission to the Salvation Army to the Primavera Foundation, which is just across the square-mile town’s southern border in Tucson.

“Basta!” some residents are saying — “enough!”

What’s prompted their uprising is a plan by the new Pasadera Behavioral Health Network to establish an addiction-treatment center on West 37th Street, across the street from Mission View Elementary School.

In October, the existing Southern Arizona Mental Health Corp. and Compass Behavioral Health Care Inc. merged to form Pasadera, which means “stepping stone” in Spanish. Their plan is to consolidate administrative functions and put an adult residential treatment center at the old site of the Arizona Children’s Home, which was used as a treatment center for teens up to two years ago.

A group of residents, business people and relatives of residents has formed, calling itself Comunidad Primero. Members have forced the city council to consider using the only small leverage South Tucson has to stop the Pasadera project, which will be the subject of a special meeting at 6 tonight.

“We’re a dumping ground,” resident Ramon Beltran told me Thursday when I met a half-dozen opponents of the Pasadera plan and walked over to the site, a pretty, shaded campus.

“We can’t have this in South Tucson,” said another opponent, Raul Green, who is the brother of council member Ildefonso Green. “We’re saturated.”

“It will bring negativity into the community,” said Rosella Rosthenhausler, who grew up in the city and now spends time there caring for her mother. “I want it (South Tucson) to thrive.”

Their hope is that maybe a school or, hallelujah, even a property-tax-paying private owner would make use of that real estate.

The group forced a hearing on the plan hosted by Mayor Paul Diaz on Monday night. Tonight, the council will consider whether the city will take back an easement that runs through the property and was used by the children’s home as part of its campus there.

Retaking the easement is about the only leverage the city has over the future use of the property, and even that may not change Pasadera’s plans. Potentially, the group could still use the property even if that short stretch of South Eighth Avenue were to revert to city control.

The sudden opposition is proving to be another test for the new South Tucson city government, including Diaz.

“We’ve told him several times, ‘If this comes in, you go out,’” Raul Green said, threatening a recall effort.

Diaz has clearly heard.

The Pasadera plan “is a problem because the residents obviously don’t want it,” he said Thursday.

When I mentioned the possible benefits of the new use — Pasadera plans to have more than 100 employees there — Diaz said, “Even though that’s a positive, we have to go along with what they (residents) say.”

Those who are fighting Pasadera don’t have all the details straight. They lack recognition that this property was used for a similar purpose until recently.

In fact, as Denise Ensdorff, president of the Arizona Children’s Association, told me, the teens who entered for treatment up to 2012 were forced there involuntarily. In contrast, Pasadera’s clients will already have gone through detox before arriving at the site and will enter treatment voluntarily.

There have been other inquiries about the site, but all have come from social service agencies, Ensdorff said.

“A lot of this has to do with the stigma against people with substance-abuse disorders ... that people need to be in fear of these people,” Chuck Burbank, president and CEO of Pasadera, said.

But while the Comunidad Primero members may be off on some details, and their sense of alarm may be a bit exaggerated, I think their broader point is correct. The impoverished city should take every opportunity to attract private businesses and get real estate on the tax rolls.

South Tucson needs something more than restaurants, tire shops and social service agencies.

‘Not Tom Horne’ is ahead

A poll of likely voters in the upcoming Republican primary shows that Attorney General Tom Horne is in bad shape.

The autodial survey of Republicans and independents likely to vote in the Republican primary showed that 43 percent of respondents would vote for challenger Mark Brnovich over Horne, who registered 26 percent support. Thirty-one percent said they were undecided.

The respondents’ apparent support of Brnovich seems to come from him simply being “Not Tom Horne,” as Democratic blogger Donna Gratehouse has nicknamed him.

Asked about their opinion of Horne, 60 percent of respondents said they view him unfavorably, 20 percent said favorably, and 15 percent had no opinion.

Asked about “Not Tom Horne” Brnovich, 7 percent said they had a favorable opinion, 13 percent said unfavorable and 29 percent had no opinion. Fully 49 percent of these likely voters in the Republican primary said they had not heard of him.

Apparently, what’s important after the attorney general’s series of scandals is that he’s Not Tom Horne.

County property binge

My colleague Jamar Younger reported Thursday that the county plans to spend $8.75 million to buy 167 acres on the south and west side of Interstate 10 for a massive soccer-field complex.

You probably know by now that I’m a soccer fan, player and parent — an overall lover of the game — so it’s hard for me not to like this plan.

Combined with the adjacent Kino Sports Complex, it would create a massive venue for tournaments and relieve the heavy pressure on the abused local fields.

And yet the planned purchase made me shake my head and wonder when Pima County will stop taking real estate off the property-tax rolls. Maybe the county could discipline itself by selling a property for every one that it buys.

Contact columnist Tim Steller at tsteller@azstarnet.com or 807-7789. On Twitter: @senyorreporter

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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