The mayors of Mesa, Phoenix, Tempe, and Tucson signed onto a letter Tuesday asking the Senate leaders to codify gay marriage through the Respect for Marriage Act.
The mayors declared that codifying the act affirmed the rights and freedoms of gay couples.
“America’s cities are the bastions of equality, opportunity, and progress. We cannot risk that couples in LGBTQ or interracial marriages could be denied the right to legal protections that other couples take for granted,” read the letter.
Of all the mayors to sign onto the letter, only Mayor Regina Romero publicized her support, calling for the Senate to ensure marriage equality.
If passed, the Respect for Marriage Act would prohibit states from denying the validity of gay marriages. It would also empower the Department of Justice (DOJ) to act against those who would deny the validity of gay marriages.
The act cites the 2013 and 2015 Supreme Court decisions, United States v. Windsor and Obergefell v. Hodges, to support its case for modifying the traditional definition of marriage.
The act also issues an explicit protection for interracial marriages.
The House passed the act in July, 267 to 157. All of Arizona’s Republican representatives voted against the act, while all the Democrats voted for it.
In all, 47 Republican representatives helped pass the act. The Senate needs the support of at least 10 Republicans to pass it on their end.
A coalition of Senate Republicans are working to add an amendment protecting religious liberties.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer promised that the Senate would vote on the act within the month.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), however, hasn’t stated whether he supports the act. During a press conference on Tuesday, McConnell wouldn’t speculate on Senate Republicans’ support for the act.
“If the Senate Majority Leader decides to bring [the act] up, we’ll see where the votes are,” said McConnell.
Also on Tuesday, a coalition of over 2,000 church and ministry leaders issued a letter asking the Senate to reject the act.
I recently observed a tent camouflaged behind freeway road bushes in Chandler. Curious, I looked around the corner. I caught a man heating the bowl of a meth pipe in the act taking a deep drag. There were two men there. The second man looked in terrible shape, like a character out of Breaking Bad. It was 2:30 in the afternoon. I called 911.
Catching him in the criminal act was pivotal. Court decisions have given meth addicts a constitutional right to occupy our right of ways, defecate on our streets, and urinate on our sidewalks.
But these court decisions don’t protect criminal behavior.
I volunteered for two years at the school for the homeless. I never found one of the students to be homeless. They were sleeping on couches, in a spare bedroom, on someone’s carpet. Their families found someone, a relative, a friend, willing to be helpful. In my opinion, most people on the street don’t want to be in someone’s house. They are giving in to their drug addiction. Each one of them, willing to abide by the rules, can immediately enter a shelter. Rules are the key: shelters don’t allow drugs. Most of these people we describe as homeless are really meth addicts and should be described as such, not as homeless.
Meth culture is now everywhere. Several months ago, a friend and I drove to hike Peralta Canyon. Leaving the paved roads, we noticed a man running, flapping his arms. Then, further on, we encountered 50-foot-long skid marks on a dirt road leading to a snapped barbed wire fence. Beyond the fence, in the distance, we could see a truck with an attached travel trailer.
Over the next hour, we put together the story. The man flapping his arms had been smoking meth for several days when he suffered a full-blown psychotic break. Somehow, convinced the cartel had arrived to assassinate him, he threw his cards and driver’s license down into the dirt so that the cartel could not use the magnetic strips to track him. He took off in his truck at an incredible rate of speed along with the attached trailer and another trailer behind it with his motorcycle. Driving in tight circles so that he could dodge the cartel’s bullets, his vehicles were bouncing a half foot into the air as he crossed the berms of the dirt road. His rate of speed was such that he was hitting five-inch palo verde trees, snapping them off without slowing. Losing control, he ran full blast into the barbed wire fence, snapping all three strands. He continued out into the desert hitting so many cholla that the cactus limbs piled up on the hood of his truck more than half-way to the top of the windshield. Finally, the sand of a desert wash trapped him but not before he had destroyed the economic value of all the assets he could claim in this world. As the fire fighters checked him out and the police took him away, he proclaimed to the world “I’m having a bad day.”
That’s the abyss addicts slide toward as they take communities with them.
Meth culture spreads. I encountered a gentleman taking pictures of the water retention basin a little further north. His mother, whose home and fence backs up to the water retention basin, had become fearful upon hearing noises that they were setting up camp in that retention basin. I told him to have her call police. The retention basin is completely fenced but there is plentiful evidence of addicts in discarded clothing and bedding.
All totaled, there were seven of these meth camps along Price Road, both on the Chandler side and the Tempe side.
I interviewed one of their residents. Waking him up at 10 in the morning, I offered him $30 for a 15-minute interview. He couldn’t find his glasses. Mentally fatigued from a stroke (a side-effect of meth addiction), he couldn’t last beyond a few questions. However, he did mention that both his father and his sister had died from drug addiction. His mother lives in Mesa. His age appeared to be late 40s. He couldn’t remember when he was born. This man was living in a makeshift tent in the 2 feet between the freeway sound wall and the bushes on the side of Price Road.
One of the camps was behind an SRP power transformer at the edge of Price Road. I got a garbage bag and just started cleaning it up. I took out 40 pounds of garbage. I didn’t have it in my heart to take out their foam mattress bed, their new running shoes, or their clothes.
I also posted my observations on a neighborhood social media platform. It attracted considerable attention and alarm as people realized how close they were to children.
All seven of these meth camps are now gone.
Unfortunately, according to an article in the Arizona Republic and their sources, there are over 3,500 of these encampments in Phoenix, destroying neighborhoods.
Be disciplined in your thinking. These are meth addicts. You can be sympathetic, empathetic and because of your sympathy and empathy, demand that they not be allowed to slide into a meth culture. They must get off the street. At least they must get off our streets. They are learning to beg and where to steal. They are engaging more people in meth culture. Somewhere, they have a friend, a father, a sister, a relative who will help them get clean. Keep them moving toward a better future.
Valley Metro Transit will formally begin streetcar service in Tempe later this month as part of a $190 million public transportation project which began construction in 2018 and has been funded by federal grants, regional funding, and local public-private partnerships.
Operation of the streetcar, which is smaller than the light rail vehicles typically seen in the metro area, will be paid by the City of Tempe. The three-mile route is slated to service the ASU- Tempe campus, downtown Tempe, Gammage Auditorium, Sun Devil Stadium, and Tempe Beach Park starting May 20.
But while Tempe is expanding its public transit options, questions are being raised in other parts of the Phoenix metropolitan area where some bus routes frequently attract less than a handful of riders, day after day. Valley Metro’s own reports confirm significantly low ridership on some route, drawing attention to the cost and associated problems in providing regional public transit.
Transit officials in the Valley attribute some of the ridership changes seen in late 2021 and early 2022 to the effects of service reductions and route changes due to COVID-19. For the year ending June 30, 2019 there were more than 49 million pre-pandemic Valley Metro bus riders, which dropped to 39.7 million the next fiscal year which included the first six months of COVID-19 cases.
However, the unreliability of public transit and mask mandates forced many residents to find other options and they have been slow to return. For the Fiscal Year ending June 30, 2021 there were less than 21 millions Valley Metro bus riders, according to public records. Valley Metro light-rail ridership also dropped around 50 percent from FY 2020 to FY 2021.
While a lack of ridership is a growing concern in the Phoenix metro area, it is the change in rider demographics that is currently creating problems for Tucson’s Sun Tran bus service, according to the union representing the drivers.
Teamsters Local Union 104 reports there were only 14 physical assaults on its drivers in 2018. That jumped to 47 in 2021, while there have already been 17 as the end of April, putting Sun Tran on track for more than 50 attacks this year.
But those numbers, union officials say, do not include verbal threats and abuse directed toward drivers, who are also called coach operators. And then there is the escalation in the frequency and cost of property damage to the buses, as well as public health issues.
The union insists the problem is directly tied to the City’s decision to waive all bus fees during the pandemic in an effort to aid workers and students who relied on public transit. The waiver, paid for by $43 million in federal pandemic funding, is set to end this summer, and union officials say it cannot come soon enough.
Teamsters 104 contends Tucson’s city buses have become “a mobile refuge from the elements frequented by drug users, the mentally ill and violent offenders” due in part to the fee waiver. The usual fare-paying rider is no longer using Sun Tran to get to work, school, or medical appointments, having been replaced by non-paying passengers who instead “ride for hours on end, sleep on the buses, abuse drugs, relieve themselves and assault drivers,” the union says.
Another consequence of the free fair-induced change in ridership, the union says, is that those for whom the public transit was designed are now choosing alternative methods of transportation to avoid risks to their health and safety, especially elderly riders and those who have children. The situation, Teamsters 104 claims, has resulted in a workplace environment that has deteriorated for Sun Tran drivers while “lawlessness abounds and violence in commonplace.”
Meanwhile, the City of Sierra Vista discontinued three intracity fixed routes of its Vista Transit on Monday. In their place, city officials approved a new limited bus route with stops at the county’s major hospital as well as at state and county offices located with the city.
The change, which was noted as temporary but with no end date, means there will no longer be fixed route bus service available to and from Fort Huachuca. And while the city’s announcement puts the blame on “staffing shortages,” local residents as well as city officials have commented about the dearth of riders in post-pandemic months.
Vista Transit was one of the first in the state to change over to smaller, less expensive buses several years ago. And with budget season in full force, it is likely city bus service will look much different when the suspension is lifted, according to officials.
At the same time Sierra Vista is making serious cuts to its public transit options, the Town of Gilbert is considering whether to spend nearly $290,000 to study bringing commuter rail service to its town. The proposal has received pushback from local taxpayers as well organizations like the Arizona Free Enterprise Club concerning efforts by some town officials to keep the matter a secret.
Many Arizona small businesses were forced to shutter under Gov. Doug Ducey’s various pandemic executive orders, never to reopen. But after Michael Pollack learned his six-screen Pollack Cinemas in Tempe had to close in March 2020, he decided to use the time to renovate the business, which finally had its long anticipated reopening last week.
Pollack has achieved great success as a commercial and industrial real estate investor in Arizona, California, and Nevada. But he told AZ Free News that owning Pollack Cinemas “is more of a labor of love.”
Before Arizonans heard of COVID-19, the projectors at Pollack Cinemas had been running seven days and nights a week for several years. But indoor movie theaters and other “non-essential” businesses were suddenly closed down for several months. What could have been a curse became an opportunity, says Pollack, who was on hand Dec. 10 when the projectors were turned back on and movie-goers ponied up $3.50 for a ticket, the same price as the last decade
Yet despite the modernization, Pollack insists the discount theater’s motto remains the same – that quality is never compromised for price.
“Our mission has always been to provide our customers with a unique experience that starts at the front door.,” Pollack said. “At the heart of our theater is our vision to bring families together for a movie at a price everyone can afford.”
During the closure, Pollack and his wife Cheryl oversaw renovations that involved every aspect of their business located at McClintock Drive and Elliot Road. Many of the changes, such as touchless fixtures throughout the restrooms and 1,300 all new seats with an easier-to-sanitize leatherlike covering, were influenced by COVID-19.
“We’re trying to do everything we can to be as safe as possible,” Pollack said.
There are also new ceilings throughout the six theaters as well as new flooring and new contemporary lighting. But other upgrades, including an upgraded sound system, a redesigned concession stand, and 16 holograms located throughout the lobby, were about providing a high quality experience for audiences.
“The truth is it was a complete makeover,” Pollack says, one that would not have had as good of an outcome without the efforts of several Arizona contractors, including Shamrock Electric and Merestone Event Production. “Everything has been extremely well received.”
According to the Independent Cinema Alliance, its segment of the movie industry was responsible for $3 billion in annual sales pre-pandemic. That represented nearly 20 percent of the North American box office.
For now, Pollack Cinemas will show movies Friday through Sunday, with the family-friendly “Elf” returning for its annual holiday run. The other days are set aside for the six theaters to be rented out for meetings and special events, including one theater which seats nearly 290 people and can be easily transformed to host small concerts.
Pollack isn’t expecting to have sell-out audiences anytime soon. He understands it will take time to get movie-goers back into the habit of going out again.
“There are loyal movie-goers out there,” Pollack says, adding that he hopes to draw in new guests, particularly those only used to watching movies on little screens. “Pollack Cinemas has always offered a very cool, unique experience. No matter how big your home screen is, it’s not the same experience as you get at a movie theater. I look forward to sharing it with as many people as we can.”
On Dec. 17, there will be a special early screening of the biopic “American Underdog” about former Arizona Cardinal quarterback Kurt Warner. It will be joined by several other movies, including Guillermo del Toro’s highly anticipated suspense / thriller “Nightmare Alley” with its all-star of Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, David Strathairn, Willem Dafoe, Toni Collette, Ron Perlman, and Mary Steenburgen.
Pollack says he expects to offer online ticket purchasing later this month as well as reserved seating. More information about Pollack Cinemas and showtimes are available at https://www.pollacktempecinemas.com