El Rio Golf Course's Future: Time for Community Input

The last time we talked to Salomón R. Baldenegro about the city-run El Rio Golf Course and what happened on Aug. 15,1970, ("Honoring History," Dec. 15, 2010) it was a look back at Chicano history in Tucson and how Barrio Hollywood residents and activists organized to take over the course and demand a neighborhood park.

The look-back was for a 2010 photography exhibit to celebrate the 40th anniversary of protests that led to the creation of the El Rio Neighborhood Center and Northwest Park—later renamed Joaquín Murrieta Park. In our interview, Baldenegro recalled it was Sacramento Rodriguez, a grandmother, who led everyone on that historic day when activists marched on the golf-course greens.

Baldenegro said a group of residents and Chicano activists had been protesting in the golf-course parking lot, standing around a pickup truck where a group of college-age activists spoke about taking action.

"I was going to be the last speaker, and here I was waiting for my turn at the end, when an older woman yelled out—and that's how it started," recalls the now-retired former UA assistant dean for Hispanic student affairs and Chicano studies instructor.

"¡Ya basta con tanto hablar; vamos a ver nuestra parque!" Rodriguez yelled. In English, that's, "Enough talk; let's go see our park!" She turned around to head for the golf course, and everyone followed.

Tomorrow, Wednesday, Jan. 16, 5:30 p.m. in the multipurpose room at the El Rio Neighborhood Center, 1390 W. Speedway Blvd., residents and activists are meeting to discuss that long-ago vision for an El Rio Park now that golf-courses aren't exactly what they used to be.

Last year, Tucson Councilwoman Regina Romero began publicly challenging the expense of the city's five golf courses — more than $7.5 million in debt, although the courses are supposed to be self-sustaining. The council voted on the closure of the Fred Enke course on East Irvington Road. They also voted to transform El Rio from an 18-hole course to a nine-hole family-learning center.

Romero, who plans to be at the meeting tomorrow along with Mayor Jonathan Rothschild, said there's never been a master plan for Joaquín Murrieta Park, and with this anticipated change at El Rio, there now needs to be a master plan in place. A master plan process, however, comes with a price tag of around $60,000. Romero has asked that be in next year's budget.

"Right now, at the very least, we need to bring down the fences so that families can use that beautiful area." she said.

But while the city powers-that-be are getting the word out, so are community members. Baldenegro's son, Sal Baldenegro, Jr., who helped put together the 2010 40th anniversary celebration and exhibit, is working with other community activists to bring more Westsiders to the meeting.

Baldenegro, Jr. said that a compromised was reached that allowed the city to keep the golf course, but develop Joaquín Murrieta Park and the El Rio Neighborhood Center.

"This is a unique opportunity,"Baldenegro, Jr. said. "There are a lot of ideas being floated around ... but the sky's the limit. The Westside has grown a lot and can really use better accommodations."

Using Reid and Udall parks as example, Baldenegro, Jr. said the community can and should think big. "This is an opportunity for the community to give input. What the community wants to see. It's almost a blank slate to work from."