Bulldozers and Bullets

Notable local women mow down century-old mesquites, arm their sisters.

Joni Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi," a mildly environmentalist hit tune way back in 1970, remains, to this day, the unofficial anthem of the Great Western Residential Experience.

Don't it always seem to go, that you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone?

They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.

The UA's recent removal of a century-old mesquite from a rundown lot behind University Medical Center illustrates good old Joni's foresight yet again.

The lot the tree occupied was no Eden, but all the other bits of the scenario are there. You've got the U in the role of "They"; double-quick bulldozing and paving--the site of the abandoned house and yard is, in fact, about to become another jewel in the U's parking-lot crown; sorrowing neighbors wishing they'd at least taken pictures of the huge tree before it was (surprise!) swiftly removed by the big brick empire.

Representatives of the Jefferson Park Neighborhood Association had been all for the U's acquisition of the property, because they were told it would become part of a planned landscape buffer around campus. They liked the idea of a demilitarized zone between them and the U--who wouldn't?--and reasonably but oh-so-naively assumed that the venerable mesquite would be a lynchpin of the lovely new landscape. Big mistake.

What they failed to notice is that all parcels acquired by the U immediately disappear under asphalt for at least a year or two, while university regulations clearly state that no official university parking lot may be shaded in any way. Further, these poor folks were putting faith in an entity that last year tried to get rid of the boojums on the mall (just before they were declared a national treasure) and that once killed thousands of mosquito-chomping bats around the skyboxes because they were messing up that sacred precinct. The tree was doomed from the beginning.

The university's arrogance towards its neighbors and its contempt for whatever remnants of nature it encounters have long been the stuff of local legend, but the mesquite episode was ham-fisted even by UA standards.

Why? Two fateful words: Mercy Valencia.

This terrifying woman is director of space management for the U. The position may not sound like one of awe-inspiring power, but, oh, it is. Dispensing office-, teaching- and meeting-space on campus is like being Empress of Rain in the Sahel. Invoke Valencia's name, and tenured professors go pale. (Her first name, by the way, is regarded as a bad joke all over campus.) Valencia treats department heads and, yeah, even deans like dopey children, and there is no higher authority to which her decisions may be appealed. Now it appears that she's in charge of the outside, too, and the administration has begun siccing her on surrounding neighborhoods. The simple natives don't stand a chance.

Read her statements to the press on the mesquite scandal, and you can see why the top honchos in the administration building depend upon her. The lot, according to her, was "in deplorable condition," and the mesquite looked "like it had not been trimmed or watered in more than a decade"--just like all those ratty-looking plants out in the, eewww, desert. Further, "she thought neighbors would be pleased to have the property cleaned up" (i.e., scraped down to the caliche). She had not condescended to ask them.

Of course, this sort of top-down thinking is all the rage these days: Bush and Rumsfeld and Cheney and that clever Karl Rove thought that the Simple Iraqi People would be pleased to have the United States bomb their cities and wipe out their economy and all basic services for the foreseeable future. After all, they're primitive individuals who don't really mind cholera. No point in actually asking how people feel, of course, when you have consensus at such a stratospheric level.

Valencia was into roadmaps and preemptive strikes even before the current regime made neo-brutalism all the rage. Mercy would shine in the current White House--let's hope she heeds her nation's call.

ELSEWHERE IN THE Nurturing Women News ... Since the retirement of Charlton Heston, Tucson lawyer and gun activist Sandra Froman is positioned to become the first female president of the National Rifle Association in 2005.

One of the most exciting features of Froman's agenda is encouraging more women to own and use guns. It's hard to believe, but many females, like a frightening number of preschoolers, still are not fully armed.

Froman intends to put a bullet through the vicious myth that fuels this tragic reality: "A lot of women are led to believe they are too weak or stupid to own guns," she recently told reporters.

Please! No one is too stupid to own a gun. Any occasional reader of Chuck Shepherd's "News of the Weird" compilations could offer you plenty of evidence. Shepherd had to stop accepting "guns and genitals" stories years ago because reports of gun owners mistaking their erections for menacing nighttime intruders had become too common to be amusing. All those guys who shoot wives they mistake for raccoons, blast away at girlfriends who talk during TV programs, mutilate themselves while teaching gun-safety courses, and, of course, the geniuses who play Russian roulette with automatic weapons prove that stupidity and guns do so go together.

Guys dominate these stories by a shameful margin, but us girls can start catching up if we try. Unfortunately, we may never be contenders in the self-emasculation sweepstakes.

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