Thursday, January 28, 2010

Not Our Problem Now

The photos: top, inmates are transferred from the Arizona DoC bus to the federal ICE bus and, bottom, inmates were searched and handcuffed by federal agents before boarding the federal bus.

In a budget cutting move, Arizona lightened its prison population by 51 inmates early this morning when the Arizona Department of Corrections turned the inmates over to the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) branch of the Department of Homeland Security. 

The men, all undocumented immigrants serving time for various criminal infractions not related to their immigration status, are within 90 days of the end of their sentence. They were turned over to ICE and will be returned to their countries of origin when they finish their sentences. Normally these kinds of prisoner transfers are done outside of the media spotlight, citing privacy and confidentiality. But the Arizona budget is in such crisis (2nd worse budget situation in the country after California. Go California!) that state political leaders wanted that they were doing something, anything, to save money. This transfer will save the state about $3,500, not much considering our $1,000,000,000,000 (that’s billion) + deficit. But it’s a start. 

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Cubbies Finally Win One

The photos: Arizona Governor Jan Brewer waves after slipping on a Cubs’ jersey at a press conference Wednesday morning. I always try to get to assignments a little early. In this case, it paid off when some Mesa boosters started hanging a Cubs banner in front of the press conference podium before the party started. 

The lovable losers, those hapless Chicago Cubs won a big one earlier today. They talked the city of Mesa into building a new stadium for their spring training and will partner up with Mesa to develop “Wrigleyville,” a shopping, entertainment and dining destination themed to the Cubs. The Cubs have held spring training in Mesa for 57 years. Some say modern spring training was developed by the Cubs in Mesa but those upstarts in Naples, Florida tried to lure the Cubs to the Sunshine state. Mesa though won the day by promising a new stadium and the development on an undeveloped land on the edge of Mesa.

It’s not quite a done deal yet though. The agreement has to pass muster in the state legislature, which is likely given the legislature’s Republican leanings and the fact that Mesa politicians supporting the deal are all from the GOP. What’s not so certain though is whether or not Mesa voters will sign off on a sales tax hike to support the deal. The tax hike will go to the voters. Most in Mesa voters love the Cubs but hate taxes (Mesa is big Tea Party protestor country) so it’s something of a toss up.

I thought it was fitting that the venue for the announcement and press conference was the old state Supreme Court Chambers in the Arizona’s old capitol building. I suspect it will end in the courts before it’s decided because the conservative/libertarian Goldwater Institute, which opposes such deals, could decide to sue the city of Mesa over the deal.   

There’s a lot more about Mesa and the Cubs in the Arizona Republic

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Another 100 Year Flood

It doesn’t rain often in Arizona, but when it does it can have lasting impact. Wenden is a small community west of Phoenix. Most of the people who live there are either farm workers or working class retirees. It’s the sort of town most of the people who live in Phoenix or Tucson never see or think about it. 

Wenden has the bad luck of sitting on the west side of the Centennial Wash, a normally dry river bed. Centennial Wash is supposed to be a relief valve of sorts and carry flood water to the Gila River, which empties into the Colorado River and Sea of Cortez. Problem is, the Centennial Wash is choked with vegetation near Wenden. So when the wash runs it overflows its banks and spills into the tiny town no one thinks about.

Wenden is right on the west edge of the wash. The wash doesn’t have a deep channel like a normal river bed, in fact it’s about the same level as the town. So if water can’t get through the wash it follows the path of least resistance right into Wenden. 

It started raining Thursday afternoon and by Thursday night the water was coursing through town. The residents were evacuated to nearby Salome and on Saturday were still waiting to hear when they could go home. 

The first time I was in Wenden was in 2000 when the town was practically washed away in a flood. Eight people were swept from their homes and never seen again. At the time, the experts said this was a once in 100 year event. I was back in Wenden today, less than 10 years after the first flood, to photograph its second "100 year" event.

Talking to the farmworkers and retirees who struggle to keep their town going, I can’t help but wonder if the Centennial Wash cut through Scottsdale or Paradise Valley how quickly the brush would have been cut from the river bottom.   

The photos: A flooded street in Wenden, a farmworkers cleans the mud away from his mobile home, a girl cleans the mud away from her grandparents’ home and a woman in a shelter changes her daughter’s diaper. 

There are more photos from Wenden in my PhotoShelter archive. 

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Ridin' The Storm Out

A car blasts through a flooded wash, in violation of the state’s Stupid Motorist Law, in Cave Creek, AZ (top photo). 

It’s rained this week in Phoenix. Normally a little rain in January is not a big deal here. But this week has not been normal. So far this week we’ve had about five inches of rain. We usually get about eight inches of rain in a year. So this week’s five inches has been a big deal. In fact, if you watch local television or listen to local radio, you’re pretty much assured it’s a sign of the coming apocalypse. The coverage blew past hysterical way before it even started raining. We’re in full blown panic mode now. 

In Phoenix and its environs, it’s rain. In the “high country,” the parts of Arizona above the Mogollon Rim, it’s snow. As of Thursday night, Flagstaff has gotten about four feet of snow (in four days) and is effectively closed. The highways from Phoenix to Flagstaff are closed until Friday afternoon and Northern Arizona University is closed until next week. The area’s ski resort is open, but because of the snow no one can get to it. 

We’re supposed to get more rain (and the rim country more snow) tonight. Phoenix may experience 45-50 mile per hour sustained winds. Big fun. 

The other photos: family fills sandbags at a Phoenix fire house. The Phoenix Fire Department provided free sand for sand bags to help home owners prevent flooding. Bottom, a sodden coyote crosses a road in front of a car in Cave Creek. 

And it’s called the “Stupid Motorist Law” because some folks (who should really know better) insist on driving through flooded washes, getting stuck and needing difficult and expensive rescue. A “stupid motorist” ends up paying for his or her rescue, which could be more than $2,000.  

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Not Bad For Her First Marathon

Teyba Naser, an Ethiopian living in Albuquerque, NM, accepts congratulations from the crowd after winning the women’s race in P.F. Chang’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon. 

The P.F. Chang’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon and Half Marathon races were held today. It was a great day for marathon. About 50 at start time, it had warmed up to mid 60’s by late morning. In the half marathon, American Olympian Ryan Hall was expected to win but didn’t. Canadian Simon Bairu won easily. On the women’s side, American Deena Kastor was expected to win and she did. 

The real news though was in the women’s full marathon. Teyba Naser, an Ethiopian living in Albuquerque, NM, easily won the women’s 26.2 mile race. It’s news because this was her first full marathon. Nassar is an accomplished half marathoner but she had never run a marathon before today. She was not considered an “elite” marathoner and her win was quite the upset. 

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Protest Against the Sheriff

Women from Los Angeles at a demonstration against Sheriff Joe Arpaio. 

There was another march against Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Phoenix today. Protests against the sheriff have become the norm. 

Members of the immigrant community say he racially profiles people he detains for immigration violations. Maricopa County officials allege he uses the sheriff’s department and investigators in the department to go after his political foes. He is investigating judges who rule against him. 

The US Justice Department has taken notice and convened a grand jury to investigate the sheriff. His opponents smell blood in the water and have ramped up their protests. 

What made today’s protest different was the size. At most rallies a couple of hundred to a thousand people show up. Today more than 10,000 people, some from as far away as Los Angeles, marched the 2 1/2 miles from a park in central to Phoenix to the jails. 

Saturday, January 9, 2010

NIMBY - Not In My BackYard

CrossRoads United Methodist Church is in the middle of an upper middle class neighborhood in north central Phoenix. It’s just a mile south of Sunnyslope, which despite its name is one of Phoenix’ most depressed neighborhoods. Now the church is in the middle of a dispute with its neighbors. The neighbors say “NIMBY” -- Not In My BackYard.

Last year the church started holding an outdoor Saturday morning service and breakfast for the homeless and indigent in the area. They went so far as to send up a bus up to Sunnyslope to bring people to the service and breakfast. It’s traditional United Methodist outreach to people in need.

The church’s neighbors were upset by the presence of the homeless at the church. Hoping to shut the breakfast service down, they went to the city of Phoenix, which determined the church is operating a “Charity Kitchen,” which is not allowed in a residential neighborhood.

I don’t quite understand the ruling. The zoning board agrees that the church is allowed to serve meals (they host wedding receptions and Sunday morning meals after traditional services) and they, obviously, hold regular services.

So if they can serve food and they can hold services, what the city must object to is the people the church is serving. But they won’t come out and say this, instead hiding behind the charity kitchen argument.

The church intends to continue serving the homeless and has promised to appeal the city’s decision into US District Court. The city is sticking by its guns and is promising to issue a citation to the church. The only ones who are going to win are the lawyers representing both sides.

The photos: a homeless man finishes his breakfast cereal, a woman looks for clothes at a table of donated clothing, a man shares his breakfast with his dog and a man bows his head during the opening prayer.

There are more photos from the breakfast in my PhotoShelter archive and available from ZUMA Press.