People have asked: Why are two Ahwatukee women, Linda Swain and Eileen Breslin, suing Wilson Gee and his international partners to restore The Lakes Golf Course?
The answer begins with an aging neighbor, who one day told me the story of spending parts of each day watching from her window for a companion. The companion was a red-tailed hawk, who nested just outside her window in the branches of a tall tree on the golf course. Each day, our neighbor watched the hawk take off from the tree and float on the air currents above. Each day, it circled and swooped, landed to drink from the lakes, dined on some of the inhabitants, and returned each evening to the tall tree it used as home.
One day, our neighbor said she was growing fearful. Wilson Gee’s workmen had been felling tree after tree on the golf course, ripping up the habitat. Then the day came that they felled the hawk’s tree, too.
That evening, the hawk returned, looking for familiar branches. But this time, it circled and called, as if confused. It circled a long, long time. Finally, our neighbor said, the hawk went away, and did not return.
These days, scores of neighbors around the golf course tell similar stories. In fact, at 7:30 a.m. the Wednesday of Holy Week, workers on the golf course felled two huge, beautiful trees I’d come to love behind my home; and in doing so, they deprived still more birds and wildlife of theirs.
These are but two stories of the results Gee and company have achieved in attempting to turn The Lakes into fast cash and a housing tract. To enrich themselves, they tore up greens and fairways, turned mature trees into stumps, drained the lakes, destroyed fish and birds and wildlife, and posted “No Trespassing” signs on land long used by our community.
Now, there is a legal process Gee could have pursued. Instead, he ignored it and just cut the trees down. In fact, in case you were wondering, until the Pulte deal went south not long after we filed suit, Gee was selling the Ahwatukee Country Club to them, as well.
To add insult to injury, real estate agents tell us the resulting blight on the landscape has cut sales prices around the golf course by $20,000 a home. Only strong CC&Rs that cover both courses stand in the way of development. We’re grateful, and cautious, that Pulte has since backed away, for now.
In short: they’ve broken our hearts. At a moment when some of us lack time to enjoy the natural habitat, they’ve degraded ours. Thousands of us who once walked, played, and refreshed in open space that was both priceless and irreplaceable now face a damaged landscape. Gee and his companions have ruined not just games of golf, but the land we used to renew our souls.
On Oct. 10, we asked a court to permanently require The Lakes Golf Course be restored and operated as a golf course, as the CC&Rs state. Since then, out of public view, there’s been a flurry of legal filings, back and forth. No doubt there will be more, before a judge rules.
We believe our legal position to be strong. Scores of people have contributed to The Lakes Golf Course Legal Defense Fund. We know that thousands more stand beside us. The Save the Lakes board, which helped identify the best legal advice we could find, could not be more supportive. Together, we’re acting to protect the natural habitat and our entire community: younger people, many with children; older couples and single, older women who’d counted on living out their lives in a quiet neighborhood in peace. But our inspiration continues to come from older, retired women like the companion of the red-tailed hawk, and other women who spoke out at last January’s Save the Lakes! meeting. They are bold, courageous, and defiant. By advancing this suit, we stand with and honor them.
Every great city confronts fights over land use: the battle over The Lakes Golf Course could be taking place anywhere speculators try to extract gains at community expense. In Phoenix, it happened in the Keating financial disaster, and in the foreclosure crisis from which we’re still recovering. Speculators and big banks take advantage at any point people and communities appear vulnerable. That’s why this battle is not just about saving The Lakes, but saving Ahwatukee. The more desirable that land in Ahwatukee becomes, the more speculators will try to cash it out at our expense. That’s why we must unify to stop them while we have the advantage, now. We are acting to protect the land, the neighborhood, and the community’s right to decide for itself.
We welcome and need your support. Linda and I thank those of you who have joined with us already. For more information, go to: http://savethelakes.weebly.com/about.html.
• Eileen Breslin has lived in Ahwatukee for 10 years and is a member of Save the Lakes!.