Grant Road Rage

A long-term road widening plan leaves a growing family trapped in a small home

In the early hours of Saturday, May 18, Rebecca and Javier Garcia were awoken by a horrific crash outside their young girls' bedroom.

"We were all sleeping and heard a giant crash and we both jumped out of bed and ran straight for the girls' room to make sure they were OK," Rebecca says.

A van had collided with the straw-bale wall outside their midtown home on Grant Road just west of Campbell Avenue at 2:48 a.m. (Javier, 37, remembers the exact time because he has a record of his cell phone call to 911).

It was such a horrific scene that Javier forbid Rebecca from coming out to see it: The driver of the van was pinned beneath the vehicle, which had overturned.

As firefighters responded to the scene, Rebecca sat in her living room, thinking about what might have happened had the family's luck been worse.

"I just sat here and shook and cried for a while because I was imagining, if it had come from a different angle, what could have happened," she says.

Two weeks later, the Garcia's front yard remained a disaster area. Most of the wall around the front of their home has been reduced to clumps of straw. Their blue recycle bin remains smashed up against the wall of their girls' bedroom. Glass and other debris can still be seen on their rooftop.

In the meantime, their tiny two-bedroom bungalow is temporarily a one-bedroom, because Rebecca, 32, is too frightened to let her girls—ages 3 and 5—sleep in their bedroom until the wall is repaired. So now the family—dad, pregnant mom and two little girls—are all packed in one bedroom.

"It's a one-bedroom house with a toy storage room," Rebecca says.

The smashed wall is just the latest in a series of problems the Garcias have faced while living in their two-bedroom home. With the two kids (and a third on the way), the house is cramped. Crime has been a problem; Rebecca was in court last week to testify in a homicide trial because she witnessed the defendant fleeing the scene after her next-door neighbor was set afire by her attacker.

The Garcias would love to sell their home, but there's a problem: It's along a section of Grant Road that's slated for widening in a few years, so the market value is in the toilet.

The Garcias bought the house while they were still attending the UA. They paid about $115,000 for it in 2003.

Three years later, Pima County voters approved the Regional Transportation Plan, which included enough money to widen Grant Road. And that's when the Garcias' problems began.

They first tried to sell the home in 2007, but no buyers were interested because of the planned widening.

At first, it appeared the story would still have a happy ending. City transportation officials told them there would be an early-acquisition program.

"They came and painted a nice picture that 'We want to take care of everybody and if people need to get out sooner, we can accommodate that,'" Rebecca remembers. "We were sad to see this old house go, but for our situation, early acquisition would be great."

But after they applied for early acquisition, the city rejected their application.

The schedules for the Grant Road project and the people they have been dealing with have changed multiple times, but the latest is this: The city isn't intending to do the section of Grant Road near Campbell Avenue until sometime between 2017 and 2021, so acquisition of the Garcia's property is years in the future.

Hector Martinez, the head of the city's Real Estate Department, says the Garcia's home doesn't fit within the parameters established by mayor and council policy. It's possible, with approval of the City Council, that an exception could be made, although it would mean that the Garcias would lose on the additional relocation bonuses that come with an acquisition for a road-construction project.

But there's another problem: The cash-strapped city doesn't have the money to do acquisitions right now; it's counting on those funds from the RTA.

RTA Transportation Services Director Jim DeGrood says that the agency is currently reviewing its policy related to property acquisition, among other things. That study could be done by the end of the summer and might open the door to an early acquisition of the Garcia's property, but that would only be after both City Council and the RTA's governing board have a chance to review the proposed changes.

DeGrood says that any policy changes are "going to be a challenge to us to demonstrate the value of."

City Councilwoman Karin Uhlich, a Democrat whose Ward 3 office is on Grant Road just a few blocks away from the Garcia's home, says the city does not have money to buy the home.

"We don't have money to purchase the home unless it comes from the RTA," Uhlich says.

She adds that she'd like to see the city review its acquisition policy in hardship situations such as this and see whether the RTA is willing to release some funds sooner.

"I would prefer we do it sooner than later, and since the mayor is our representative on the RTA board, I think through him, we can see if we can get it to the table sooner rather than later."

Mayor Jonathan Rothschild told the Weekly via email that he recently learned about the Garcia's plight and is looking into what can be done.

In the meantime, the Garcias are huddling in a small bedroom with their kids while they wait for their insurance company to decide what it's willing pay to replace the wall.

Rebecca says they plan to put the house back on the market and see what kind of offers they get. But the most recent news isn't good: A real-estate agent they've spoken to is skeptical that a bank will loan anyone money to buy a home that is slated for demolition in a few years.

"We are so angry because we feel like the city has led us on for years and we're still stuck in this awful situation," Rebecca says. "I have spent so many hours trying to communicate with anyone in our local government who will listen and who can help, but I just feel like I'm banging my head against the wall trying to get through to anyone."