Congressman charges bias for neglect of south side neighborhood center

Congressman charges bias for neglect of south side neighborhood center
Garbage at El Pueblo (Source: Ivonne Gaitan)
Garbage at El Pueblo (Source: Ivonne Gaitan)
(Source: Ivonne Gaitan)
(Source: Ivonne Gaitan)
(Source:Ivonne Gaitan)
(Source:Ivonne Gaitan)

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - The South side El Pueblo Neighborhood Center is the subject of a scathing letter sent from Congressman Raul Grijalva to the Mayor of Tucson.

In the letter, Grijalva accuses the Tucson Parks and Recreation department of "bias" for ignoring the needs of the center and allowing it to "deteriorate."

The center was built in 1975 and has long offered services for South side residents and was once a popular gathering place. The campus has been expanded several times over the years to include a health center, recreation center and gymnasium. The original buildings are still in use but are showing their age.

Several residents said the area is in desperate need of repair and renovation.

"There's nobody washing the floors, picking up the garbage," said Ivonne Gaitan, who has worked in the center for more than a decade. "There's graffiti and it stays for days."

But of a bigger concern are the potential health hazards.

"The restrooms are always locked so people use the walls, the corners, the doors to do what they're going to do in the restroom," she said. "Sometimes it's left for days."

When the city does come to clean it up, it's hosed down and the water runs into the nearby offices.

"We have to smell it when it's freshly washed," she said.

She shows pictures of the drinking fountains which are caked with dirt and debris, pictures she took because she could not believe how filthy they were.

"And that's where we're supposed to have people drinking water," she asked.

Olivia Romero has been coming to the center since she was a child and remembers the Christmas parties, Halloween events, and all the food boxes.

Now she serves the elderly free meals in the cafeteria.

"It needs more than just a little paint," she said. "It would be nice if they fixed it up."

She shows a handicapped door which doesn't work when the blue box is pushed.

"When the elderly come, it doesn't open," she said. "There are times when we have to bang on it for it to open or we literally have to come and open it."

We toured the site today and there are signs of recent work. Piles of freshly raked debris still sit waiting to be picked up, the drinking fountains are clean and the sidewalks have been freshly sprayed.

"They have sent people out in the past couple of days," said Gaitan. "Today is very clean,"

The Mayor has responded to Grijalva (see his full interview attached to this story) saying he "has not seen the bias" Grijalva talks about but says "many of the centers on the South and West of town are some of our older centers."

Grijalva, a Democrat serving the Arizona's third congressional district, said in the letter dated June 30 that he will meet with south side residents and conduct tours of El Pueblo Neighborhood Center "so they can see for themselves the neglect that the facility has endured by the leadership of the City of Tucson Parks and Recreation."

He went on to say he wants to return the center to a "community service asset" for the area's residents.

Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild said in a letter dated July 8 that he intends to ask the city council to ask voters to bring up the sales tax to a level on par with other cities in the state in an effort to fund an improvement program for El Pueblo and other facilities.

The mayor, who says he will be in Philadelphia for the Democratic National Convention at the end of July, intends to discuss the matter with Grijalva then.

MOBILE USERS: Then and now photos of El Pueblo Neighborhood Center are available HERE.

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