The president of the Ahwatukee group trying to stop the South Mountain Freeway said she’s disappointed but unbowed by Club West homeowners’ rejection of a request for $25,000 to reduce its mounting legal fees.
By a slim margin in an election that saw a small voter turnout, homeowners declined to give $25,000 to Protect Arizona’s Resources and Children.
“PARC made a concerted effort to gain votes in Club West this year, knowing that many believe the freeway to be a done deal, said PARC President Pat Lawlis. “I consider it a worthwhile effort. Even though we lost, we made the vote very close. All I can say is, we press on.”
PARC is a leading plaintiff in a court fight aimed at stopping construction of the 22-mile freeway, which bypasses Downtown Phoenix and allows I-10 motorists to travel between the 59th street exit in west Phoenix and the Chandler interchange.
Currently PARC has an appeal before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth District of a federal judge’s ruling that rejected its assertions that the Arizona Department of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration performed a shoddy and misleading analysis of the freeway’s environmental effects.
The Gila River Indian Community and a number of other organizations, as well as several Ahwatukee HOAs, also are part of the suit against the $1.77-billion project, the state’s most expensive highway project in history.
Earlier this year, the Lakewood HOA dropped out of the appeal after the board claimed more than half of its homeowners wanted to pull out. The board only cited percentages and gave no numbers elaborating on that vote.
Although Club West remains a party, homeowners turned down the funding request 233-222.
The fact that fewer than Club West’s 2,550 homeowners even voted drew criticism from PARC’s supporters as well as the leader of the now-defunct movement to buy its troubled golf course.
“The apathy in this community is amazing to me,” said Save Club West organizer Jim Lindstrom, a longtime resident of the community. “Our community is coming apart and people don’t seem to care.”
Other Club West opponents of the freeway were even harsher in their reaction on social media, with one resident assailing “the pathetic lack of participation on all levels.”
Several; environmental groups also have been trying to raise funds, noting that freeway opponents’ possible last stand will come in a few months when a three-judge panel hears oral arguments.
Representing most of the plaintiffs except for the Gila Community is attorney Howard Shanker, a resident of Club West.
He has largely been working the case without having been paid for close to a year.
Lawlis conceded that “funding is a hard sell right now, with all the construction work on Pecos Road.
“So many people believe that the freeway is a ‘done deal,’” she added. “In fact, we have ADOT right where we want them right now – at the Ninth Circuit. We've been planning for our victory in the appeals court all along. But people need instant gratification, and they are not getting it right now.”
Lawlis also noted that the Club West vote came amid an increasing number of reports outside of Arizona about the harmful effects freeway traffic can have on people who live nearby.
One of Shanker’s central arguments is that ADOT and the FHA skewed its environmental studies to minimize the impact of an estimated 140,000 vehicles, half of them trucks, that are expected to use the freeway daily.
He has noted that 17 schools and hundreds of homes exist within a half mile of the freeway’s path through Ahwatukee.
One report on freeways’ harmful effects was published in the Los Angeles Times last week. It noted that despite increasing evidence of freeway-generated air pollution, California was building more freeways near high rise apartments in LA.
“The number of such articles keeps increasing almost exponentially,” Lawlis said. “But what will it take to get governments to place health issues before business issues?”