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Phoenix’s Central Avenue is central in light rail contractor’s lawsuit

Central-Ave-Midtown-Phoenix-2490

Central & McDowell light rail stop (Photo credit: Frontdoor.com)

[Source: East Valley Tribune/Associated Press] — A contracting firm that built part of the light-rail line for the Phoenix metropolitan area has sued the region’s mass transit agency over breach of contract and is seeking at least $19 million in damages. Missouri-based Herzog Contracting Corp. alleges in a 10-count complaint filed in Maricopa County Superior Court that Valley Metro failed to properly disclose where the utilities were before work crews started digging.

Herzog built three miles of the light rail along Phoenix’s Central Avenue and the street work was a source of frustration for many merchants, who complained that it seemed to drag on endlessly.  Herzog alleges it found “hundreds of unidentified, misidentified or mislocated” underground utilities and within a year of starting work on the $55 million contract, the firm warned the work would take an extra year.  Metro issued a statement saying “the case is complex and will take some time to resolve.” [Note” To read the full article, click here.]

5 court divisions for crime in Mesa appear on way out (to downtown Phoenix)

[Source: Jim Walsh, Arizona Republic] — Efforts to fight the move of Maricopa County Superior Court’s criminal divisions from Mesa to [downtown] Phoenix appear to have hit a brick wall.  Presiding Judge Barbara Rodriguez Mundell rejected Mesa Mayor Scott Smith’s idea of leaving one criminal division in Mesa or to delay her expedited consolidation plan for six months.  “It seems like they have made their decision,” Smith said.  “They’ll do what they do.”

Smith, longtime Mesa activist Milt Lee, and former County Supervisor Tom Freestone also worry that moving the five criminal divisions to Phoenix might be the first step toward the loss of additional county services in the southeast Valley.  When the Southeast Regional Facility was approved by voters in 1986 and opened in 1991, the idea was to create a one-stop shop that would bring county services closer to southeast Valley residents.  “I think they have a lot of people watching them to make sure they keep their commitment,” Smith said.

A key setback in efforts to block the move was that voters authorized the criminal-court consolidation in 2002 when they approved the extension of a jail tax that built the Fourth Avenue Jail and other facilities.  [Note: Read the full article at 5 court divisions for crime in Mesa appear on way out (to downtown Phoenix)]

Viewpoint: Court consolidation to downtown Phoenix benefits everybody

[Source: Barbara Rodriguez Mundell, Maricopa County Superior Court presiding judge, Special for the Republic] — In our ongoing effort to improve safety and efficiency, Maricopa County Superior Court is moving five criminal-trial judges from the Southeast Regional Court Center in Mesa to downtown Phoenix.  The first of the five criminal-trial judges will move to the downtown court complex in July.   Plans are under way to relocate the four remaining Southeast criminal divisions this winter, most likely in December.

Story.jpgMaricopa County’s master space plan includes a goal to centralize criminal trials near the county jail.  Voters have twice endorsed downtown criminal-court consolidation in 1998 and again in 2002.  One of the authorized uses of the voter-approved jail excise tax, as set out in the Arizona Revised Statutes and the election publicity pamphlets, is “consolidating criminal divisions of the Superior Court in the county to a common location.”

The tough economic times have forced the court to take a hard look at ways to maximize our limited resources to continue to deliver jury trials in a timely manner.  Our budget and staff continue to shrink, while caseloads continue to grow.  Centralizing criminal trials will make more efficient use of staff to cover court duties without having to pay for outside contractor services.

This move will also benefit victims, police officers, witnesses and jurors.  If numerous trials are ready to go on the same day, we will have more backup criminal judges to handle overflow cases on the day scheduled for trial.  Witnesses and potential jurors will no longer be inconvenienced by having to wait until another date for trial or make wasted trips to the courthouse.  These measures are not only a better way of doing business: They will also save tax dollars.  [Note: To read the full op-ed piece, click here.]

Conflict of interest with $347 million downtown Phoenix court tower?

Story.jpg[Source: Josh Bernstein, ABC News 15] — It’s the largest construction project in Maricopa County history, but the new-state-of- the-art court tower is shrouded in secrecy.  “And why is any of this secret? What does the county have to hide?” said Clint Bolick, an attorney with the Goldwater Institute. “This is not a matter of national security. It is not some sort of tense lawsuit that the county has.  This is a run of the mill project.”

The $347 million dollar taxpayer-funded project is already under criminal investigation by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office.  But it’s the secrecy and the apparent conflict of interest that has Bolick outraged.  “This is a flagrant abuse of public trust,” said Bolick, a former attorney with the United States Department of Justice.

Documents obtained exclusively by the ABC15 Investigators reveal attorney Thomas K. Irvine and his firm are representing both the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, who are funding the project, and the Maricopa County Superior Court, that will occupy the building. “It is a blatant conflict of interest, one of the first kinds of conflicts you learn about in law school,” Bolick said.  “It’s a matter of the fox guarding the hen house.”  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

Mesa mayor to fight court’s move to downtown Phoenix

[Source: Jim Walsh, Arizona Republic] — Mesa Mayor Scott Smith doesn’t want East Valley residents to get stuck paying for the closing of Maricopa County Superior Court’s criminal divisions through extra travel costs and inconvenience.  Smith plans to fight against plans to move the criminal divisions to Phoenix by the end of this year by meeting with Presiding Judge Barbara Rodriguez Mundell and the East Valley’s two representatives on the Board of Supervisors. “I think it would be a huge disservice to the East Valley for these courts to move,” Smith said.  “It’s shifting the costs and burden to individual citizens.”

He said the size of Maricopa County alone justifies a full-service courthouse, including criminal courts. “We’re a huge county. The citizens are not served when the services are so far away,” Smith said.

But Mundell’s not budging, saying the move is necessary to improve efficiency and save money on transporting defendants from Phoenix jails to the Mesa courthouse for hearings on felony cases.  “I would love to have criminal in all of our facilities,” in Mesa, northeast Phoenix, and Surprise, she said, but county can’t afford it.

The county also is building a controversial $343 million criminal tower in downtown Phoenix that is scheduled to open in 2012. [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

Phoenix neighborhood coalition urges City support of existing special planning districts

[Source: Paul Barnes, Neighborhood Coalition of Greater Phoenix] — Maintaining a favorable quality of life in established neighborhoods is challenging.  Citizen developed and approved area plans are one of the tools used in the struggle to preserve established neighborhoods and define their desired character.  The City of Phoenix Special Planning District Plan (“SPD”) originally known as a Special Conservation District (“SCD”) is one form of such an area plan.  At present, there are 12 SPDs:

  • Roosevelt SPD – Central City Village
  • Story SPD – Central City Village
  • Coronado SPD – Encanto Village
  • Encanto Vista SPD – Encanto Village
  • Willo SPD – Encanto Village
  • Arcadia Camelback SPD – Camelback East Village
  • North Central Avenue SPD – Camelback East Village
  • Squaw Peak Heights SPD – Camelback East Village
  • Windsor Square SPD – Camelback East Village
  • Royal Palm SPD – Alhambra Village
  • Saguaro SPD – Paradise Valley Village
  • Mountain Park SPD – South Mountain Village

Shortly after the Squaw Peak Heights SPD had been approved (July of 2006), a dissident property owner subject to the terms of the plan, filed a suit in Superior Court challenging the way the final votes for the SPD were tabulated.  In August of 2008, the court issued a Minute Entry favoring the claimant.  If the City of Phoenix fails to appeal the Squaw Peak Heights SPD Court decision within 30 days after the formal decision is handed down (could be sometime soon after the first of the year), it will cause this particular SPD to be voided.  A replacement SPD is estopped from being a possibility because of the passage in the fall of 2006 of Proposition 207.  A failure to appeal could jeopardize the validity of all of the other SPDs because they tabulated their final votes according to the same procedures as were followed in the case of the Squaw Peak Heights SPD.

The Neighborhood Coalition of Greater Phoenix believes that the loss of the existing SPDs under such circumstances will be detrimental to all neighborhoods whether or not they fall under an SPD.  This is due to the fact that an unwillingness on the part of the City of Phoenix to at least appeal the Superior Court’s decision in this instance will be interpreted by developers as a softness on the City’s part to support other existing citizen authorized/passed area plans such as the existing Specific Planning District Plans.  Such an interpretation will embolden developers to propose projects that will not be in keeping with these plans.  The same holds true for adhering to rezoning for sites throughout the city that was passed subject to approved site plans and stipulations.

Individuals and organizations in agreement with the Coalition’s position on this matter are encouraged to send a letter or e-mail by the middle of January 2009 urging Mayor Phil Gordon and Members of Council to oppose the Superior Court decision in the matter of Madison Positive Alliance of Neighbors v. Phoenix City (case on Squaw Peak Heights SPD).  The cost of such an appeal does not come from the City’s operating funds.   It is an insurance matter.   All such letters should be addressed to the party intended at 200 W. Washington Street, 11th Floor, Phoenix, AZ 85003-1611.

For more information, contact Paul Barnes, Neighborhood Coalition of Greater Phoenix, at 602-840-1579 or e-mail.

Major midtown Phoenix condo project forced into receivership

[Source: Brahm Resnik, 12 News] — The new Century Plaza condos in uptown Phoenix, one of several projects suffering in the Valley’s real estate bust, has been placed in receivership.  M&I (Marshall & Ilsley) Bank filed a lawsuit in Maricopa County Superior Court saying owner Equus Realty was in default on its loan.  M&I attorney Scott Klundt says a receiver has now been appointed.  The receiver will oversee operations of the project, such as paying the bills, but Equus Realty will retain ownership.  Doug Edgelow, member manager of Windsor Century Plaza, part of Equus Realty, said M&I’s action was “precipitous and unjustified.”  “The bank’s actions are best understood as a global attempt to manage exposure to loans in Arizona,” Edgelow said, adding, “they have not started any foreclosures.”

The 17-story condo tower at N. Central and E. Lexington Aves. is a converted 15-story office building.  Edgelow says the building is completed but just 14 of the 145 units are sold.  The receivership should not affect residents, he said.  “There’s no indication any work will stop on the building.”  [Note: To read the full article, click here.  Photo source: Sharon]

Mortgages Ltd. plans legal action against borrowers; downtown Phoenix Hotel Monroe targeted

Nick Oza, Arizona Republic[Source: Andrew Johnson, Arizona Republic] — Bankrupt real-estate lender Mortgages Ltd. plans to begin foreclosing on properties being developed by two of its largest borrowers.  John Clemency, an attorney representing Mortgages Ltd., said in U.S. Bankruptcy Court on Monday that the company plans to take action against Grace Communities and Rightpath Ltd. Development Group LLC.  Mortgages Ltd. claims the borrowers are in default on loan payments.

Grace has five loans from Mortgages Ltd., including ones for the construction of Hotel Monroe in downtown Phoenix and X Wine Lofts near downtown Scottsdale.  Rightpath has three loans from Mortgages Ltd. for the development of Main Street Glendale, a mixed-use sports and entertainment project on 500 acres near University of Phoenix Stadium.  Both companies deny being in default and are suing Mortgages Ltd. in Maricopa County Superior Court.  They allege in separate lawsuits that the lender did not fully fund their loans.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]