Guest Commentary

Salomón R. Baldenegro and the El Rio Coalition want to see how the Grand Canyon issue arose in the first place

Although the City Council has abandoned a plan to turn over El Rio Golf Course to Grand Canyon University, the GCU debacle highlighted the contempt Mayor Jonathan Rothschild and council members Regina Romero, Paul Cunningham, Karin Uhlich and Shirley Scott have for the westside—only council members Richard Fimbres and Steve Kozachik stood with the westside. The promise of high-paying jobs was a cruel hoax. If these really existed, the city wouldn't be hiding the GCU-related economic-impact analyses we requested.

Attempting to divide us into camps of "golfers" versus "neighborhood people," Romero got one person to attack El Rio golfers at a City Council meeting on the basis that "golf is a rich man's sport."

If she were in touch with the westside, Romero would know that golfing demographics have changed and "golfers" and "neighborhood people" are often the same people. The Latin-American Golf Association and the Mexican American Golf Association are based at El Rio. Many El Rio golfers grew up inor live in Barrio Hollywood.

Some marched, as kids, with the El Rio Coalition in 1970. Barrio Hollywood's American Legion Cocio-Estrada Post 59 recently hosted a tournament at El Rio. The El Rio Women's Golf Association members are neither men nor rich. Nor are the children in the First Tee program at El Rio.

This attack on working-class men and women, children and veterans who play golf underlies the real agenda regarding El Rio, which is to do to the westside what was done to the downtown barrios in the 1960s: destroy its historical memory, gentrify it and thus destroy its cultural-political viability and activism. To achieve that, the symbol of that activism, El Rio, must be destroyed.

The 1970 El Rio for the People movement was a defining moment in the political evolution of the westside. Over many months, entire families marched and picketed in the summer heat and driving rain, and we were beaten and arrested. Those empowered westsiders declared they would no longer tolerate lies and broken promises from politicians who only came around at election time. Thus, the very term "El Rio" contains potent historical memory and immense symbolic value and emotional power. Going to the golf course or the neighborhood center, or just driving by these, evokes a strong sense of pride and ownership. But what is a symbol of proud achievement for westsiders represents a threat to Tucson's political establishment.

Grand Canyon University, via TREO (Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities Inc.), was a vehicle to destroy El Rio and its historical memory and the political activism it represents. Had they succeeded, TREO members and/or their friends would have made big bucks from the destruction of El Rio. And the politicos would be rid of a powerful political symbol and awash in TREO-GCU campaign contributions.

TREO is an outfit that charges $25,000 to be a member and $50,000 to be on the Chairman's Circle board of directors. Here's how TREO CEO Joe Snell described the $50,000 Chairman's Circle in a 2011 Arizona Daily Star article:

"Over the years, what I've realized are big players, CEOs of companies, we charge $50,000," Snell said of the circle. "They can't make board meetings or are in New York all the time, you know, living the lives that none of us do. But they want to have a say in shaping economic policy."

So, TREO is made up of rich people who spend their time outside of Tucson "living the lives that none of us do."

In 2011 TREO received $520,000 from the city. We don't have current figures because TREO and the city refuse to release records regarding their relationship. Whether or not TREO receives city funds, TREO acts as the city's agent. That makes TREO's records regarding city matters public and subject to A.R.S. 39-121, which mandates that public records be open to the public. Rothschild, as mayor, is a member of the $50,000 TREO Chairman's Circle, which makes his TREO business city business, which in turn makes it our business.

The El Rio Coalition-II has sued for those records. We'll soon know why Rothschild, Romero, Cunningham, Uhlich and Scott—and their rich, out-of-town TREO collaborators—are fighting fiercely to hide their dealings regarding El Rio.

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