More than 100 people showed up at a forum organized by Tucson City Councilman Steve Kozachik and the UA to address community concerns about perceived growing issues with problematic student behaviors in off-campus neighborhoods.
Of course, what brought these issues forward had nothing to do with what neighbors shared in areas like Jefferson Park, Feldman's and South Park, among others, but a 14-month problem the Islamic Center of Tucson has faced from student neighbors living in the housing built around the mosque and community center the past two years.
Last month, with Kozachik's help, ICT's issues came to light—dealing with broken glass covering its roof, playground area and parking lot from liquor bottles hurled over balconies by students living in what's often referred to as the "towers," or in this case Level. The problem reached out-of-control proportions during homecoming. Other incidents have included racial comments and slurs yelled down to people entered in the center.
Before the Monday, Dec. 9 meeting, the Weekly talked with Kozachik, who said he got involved in helping the mosque when he saw a report on the local TV news. That's when he brought together representatives of Tucson Police Department, the mosque board of directors and the apartment ownership group.
At that meeting, Level's current owners, the Cardinal Group, agreed to install video cameras on four sides of the towers. Five students have also been evicted.
"Because of the demographic, paying $1800 a month for rent, a fine doesn't mean anything to them," Kozachik said of the Level residents. An eviction, however, got their attention. Parents have challenged it.
The last eviction came from a student who threw a bottle of chewing tobacco spit over their balcony, hitting a car in the ICT parking lot. "That's totally gross and uncalled for and inappropriate." Kozachik said. His fellow residents ended up turning him in, he said.
Another idea on the table is the ownership group looking into netting over the balconies. Kozachik said he offered that they turn those areas into Arizona rooms and close them off permanently. But that wasn't considered a solution.
Kozachik said before ICT turned to the media and then him for help, they had to deal with the problem for 14 months, and even spent $4,000 on food, inviting all the tower residents to an open house at the mosque to get to know them. "Only four showed," he said.
Those at the Livable Community meeting were largely residents who talked about their own experiences dealing with problem student behaviors from students living off campus in their neighborhoods, but Diana Lett, an active Feldman's resident, said it has been common to hear loud music and screaming coming from Level as late as 2 a.m.
Alex O'Brien, president of Level's Cardinal Group Management, told the crowd they were working on the problem—an onsite resident manager was hired and the evictions completed, the video cameras installed and security guards hired.
Bilal El-Aloosy, ICT vice president, said the main goal of the center is to communicate and talk. The past 14 months they had little success in getting management's attention until the media got involved and Kozachik organized that first meeting. The goal, he added, was to also solve a major problem before somebody got hurt.
He invited everyone in the room to a celebration dinner on Friday, Dec. 12 at 8 p.m. The mosque is welcoming a new iman to the center. He also welcomed everyone to come and see the damage done.
"We are here not only because we have a problem and we want to fix it, but we want this community safe for everyone. Maybe somebody else is going to have a problem," he said.
Lett, who gave an impassioned statement to those there, said this didn't start with the ICT, but has been an ongoing problem with the UA and its surrounding neighborhoods. "This isn't a trivial matter."
"Start with students," she suggested. "Wildcats, you are better than this."
Tannya Gaxiola, assistant vice president for UA community relations, said that if anyone is living near problem students and is frustrated, they should consider calling her office. She also had cards available as part of the UA Good Neighbor Program with numbers listed, such as the UA neighborhood hotline (282-3649) and the UA Dean of Students (621-7057).
"If you aren't getting anywhere, call me," she said. "I'll show up. I'll talk to them."