There are two speed humps on Bell Avenue, a quiet, tree-lined street in central Tucson's Garden District Neighborhood. But only one of those humps, measuring some 20 feet from stem to stern, has become a bone of bitter contention.
The dust-up began in 2008, after resident Brad Holland gathered petition signatures from more than the required 60 percent of surrounding residents to have the humps installed. By January 2009, city crews were laying asphalt. Officially known as "traffic-calming devices," the new humps were aimed at halting what Holland describes as "drag-racing" up and down his street.
But since the humps were put in place, honking by a small number of neighbors who oppose them have replaced the roar of racing engines. Specifically, these folks honk when they pass over the hump near Brad Holland's house, while apparently ignoring the other hump a block or so away.
Just as this protest was gaining steam, a spelling-challenged vandal spray-painted "faggit" on Holland's property wall.
Holland, a prosecutor with the Pima County Attorney's Office, is gay. He says his elderly parents from the Midwest, staying in his home at the time, were traumatized by that ugly graffiti, which appeared the day before Thanksgiving. "My mother didn't go outside for a week."
A few days later, residents gathered on Bell Avenue to peacefully protest the hate crime.
The vandal was never caught, but the honking continued.
Among those most dedicated to protesting the hump is George Curtis, Holland's neighbor and a private attorney contracted by Pima County to handle juvenile court cases. Indeed, a video recording made from Holland's balcony shows Curtis' yellow pickup rolling over the hump, horn blaring.
According to Holland, Curtis engages in this ritual on the way to work in the morning, and when returning from work each night.
Holland says he wanted to take Curtis to court a year ago to stop the honking, but neighbors urged him to not stoke the conflict. Nonetheless, Holland says that by early June, he'd had enough. "I waited until my parents went home, so they wouldn't be here for any retaliation. Then I went in and got an injunction."
The injunction simply requires Curtis to refrain from honking each time he goes over the speed hump—and to have no contact with Holland. According to Holland, Curtis violated that injunction the very next morning, by yelling at him from across the street. Holland says he called the police following the incident and filed a report.
When contacted by the Tucson Weekly, Curtis insisted on a face-to-face interview with me. The interview was also attended by his legal counsel and daughter, Cynnamon Arizpuru, who works in his law firm, Curtis and Cunningham.
Curtis denies approaching Holland after the injunction had been filed. Instead, he claims that Holland approached him that morning, hands clenched.
Regardless of what happened, Curtis admits routinely hitting the horn—which he calls an exercise of his constitutional rights. "I have a First Amendment right to express my opinion," he says, "as to whether or not a political decision and a governmental action was fair, balanced and complied with due process."
While Curtis says he only honks "during daylight hours when there are no persons who may be annoyed by my honking. ... It is intended to notify the neighborhood that I continue to believe that speed hump was put in because Mr. Holland is an activist, and he had undue influence at Miss Trasoff's office."
Curtis is referring to former Ward 6 Councilwoman Nina Trasoff, and to the fact that Holland has long been active in the Garden District Neighborhood.
Beyond that, he contends that the signatures Holland gathered are in doubt, since many came from condominium owners who live on Bell Avenue, but don't use it to enter or exit their complex.
Curtis says when he complained to Trasoff about the speed hump, "she advised me that no information had been given to the community, that simply someone—presumably Mr. Holland—had submitted a petition signed by a sufficient number of people to have those speed humps put in place."
Trasoff agreed that the petition submitted to her "was improper," says Curtis. "She then advised me that her office would contact me if a new petition had been filed" so that he could give it a review.
He never got a call back. According to Holland, that's because there was no such problem with the first petition, which ultimately resulted in the speed humps.
Attempts to contact Trasoff or her former aides were unsuccessful.
Holland says he filed those petitions "by the book," and that the locations of the humps on Bell Avenue were decided solely by city engineers. That's corroborated by Zelin Canchola of the city's Traffic Engineering Division.
Canchola also says that signatures from the adjacent condo owners are valid, regardless of whether those residents actually drive on Bell Avenue. "Before this project, we found that people in that situation had raised concerns that they weren't included. So in this project, we included them. But ultimately, it's up to the mayor and City Council whether they want to put these (speed humps) in or not. These petitions aren't a legal document."
But an injunction is a legal document, and Curtis appears to have halted his honking. Within days of that filing, however, he did tape several placards to his fence, urging others to take up the cause. "I HAVE BEEN ENJOINED FROM EXERCISING MY RIGHT OF FREE EXPRESSION," read the signs. "TO PROTEST, PLEASE HONK AT LEAST FIVE SECONDS IN THE 1900 BLOCK OF NO. BELL AVE. AT LINDEN, JUST SOUTH OF THE NORTH SPEED HUMP."
But no matter who does it, that honking may skirt the law, according to Officer Charles Rydzak of the Tucson Police Department, who calls car horns "a warning device, not for a protest."
Whether TPD enforces that law, encoded in the Arizona Revised Statutes, remains to be seen. Meanwhile, Holland says he was called by a police detective concerning actions by Curtis. But Arizpuru says her father hasn't been contacted by TPD regarding the humps or the car horn.
Still, it appears that Curtis hasn't honked in vain. He has the support of Donald Sink, another neighbor who also believes those humps were illegally placed—and are a pain in the butt to boot. "We've got an $80,000 motor home, and it beats it up to go over those," Sink says. "It knocks everything off the counters."
Informed that Curtis has an injunction against honking, Sink doesn't miss a beat. "Well, I'll just have to double up on mine. I don't have any injunctions on me."