Den of Iniquity

Welcome to Presidio Park--a Bert Lopez property!

If there's a magnet for trouble along the stressed Oracle Road corridor, it's the Presidio Park apartments.

Formerly known as the Colonnades, the apartment complex is familiar ground to Tucson police officers. TPD statistics show that cops responded to 793 calls last year--an average of more than two a day--at Presidio Park, 2650 N. Oracle Road. The previous year, the cops were called out 695 times. In the first two months of this year, police responded to 145 calls for service.

"It's one of the highest call generators," says Capt. Clay Kidd, of TPD's westside division. "Let me give you an idea: I get as many calls for service at Presidio as I do the entire Tucson Mall, and that includes all the shoplifting and things that go on at the mall."

This holiday season, between Dec. 1 and Jan. 24--traditionally the busiest time for shoppers--police were called out to Presidio Park 104 times, while they responded to 122 calls at the Tucson Mall.

The calls run a wide gamut: burglaries, car theft, drug crimes, domestic violence, sexual assaults, prostitution and more. In 2002, there were 35 violent crimes, according to TPD's numbers; in 2003, the number climbed to 48.

"We just get a lot of different things," says Kidd. "We spend a lot of time over there."

Jane Baker, of the Balboa Heights Neighborhood Association, who has long been battling the crime that plagues the Oracle Road and Miracle Mile area, puts the blame for the ongoing trouble squarely on the shoulders of the owner of the complex: local businessman Humberto "Bert" Lopez.

"Ever since Humberto Lopez (bought the apartments), we've had nothing but problems from the property," says Baker.

Lopez, who did not return a phone call from the Weekly, is a well-known name in local business and political circles. The president and CEO of HSL Properties Inc., he owns several apartment complexes and hotels around Tucson, including downtown's Radisson and Santa Rita. The morning daily's Star 200 recently listed HSL as having the 79th-largest payroll in Southern Arizona, based on 583 employees. HSL Properties was identified as the largest minority-owned business in the Star survey.

Both Kidd and Baker say that Lopez, whose exclusive El Encanto home is valued for tax purposes at more than $939,000, has declined repeated invitations to meet to discuss his crime-ridden apartment complex.

"Mr. Lopez has been invited on more than one occasion, and he does not come," Baker says. "He sends staff."

Baker says the HSL staff sometimes will do some work, such as trimming back bushes or other "band-aids," but the situation continues to deteriorate at the complex. On a recent tour, she noticed rotting porch railings, piles of junk and staffers fishing patio furniture out of the swimming pools.

She was recently approached by an HSL staffer to see if she would support an application for a neighborhood grant to put a fence around the apartments. You can probably guess her answer: no.

Kidd says the police have "tried over and over again to work with apartment managers. To their credit, they always try to work with the community to try to control things. But it seems like whenever we start to make some headway with the apartment, the owners change apartment managers, so we have to start all over again."

Finally, in January, the city tried a new approach, forcing HSL into an abatement process. As Kidd explains it, an abatement sets a deadline for a property owner to make changes to reduce the level of crime and the subsequent need for help from the police. If the property owner doesn't respond, then a city prosecutor takes the case before a judge who can hear testimony from unhappy neighbors--and Jane Baker can produce a long lineup of witnesses who would be happy to take the stand.

Kidd says the management is facing a deadline later this month to show that they've made improvements at the complex.

But the abatement process may take a new legal twist: A city staffer close to the situation said last week that the property may be in escrow and close to a sale to new owners.

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