May 23rd, 2013
Akimel O’odham Youth Collective
The Akimel O’odham Youth Collective (AOYC) attended two events this week regarding the proposed South Mountain Loop 202 Freeway Extension. The first took place on May 21st 2013 at the Phoenix Convention Center. This was a public hearing put on by the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT). The purpose of this event was to hear comments made by the public about the proposed freeway extension and its Draft Environment Impact Statement (DEIS). The DEIS was a twelve-year study which cost the state $20 million. The study showed a range of effects if the proposed freeway were to be built but there is still a major lack of cultural consideration. This shows in some of the effects yet ADOT is still trying to push the freeway. These affects included loss of plant and wild life including endangered species, loss of Traditional Cultural Property, and isolation of Gila River Indian Community (GRIC) to Moadak Do’ag (South Mountain).
Around 11:00 a.m. members of the AOYC arrived at the public hearing and gave their three-minute comment. Soon after Joseph Perez, CEO of Pangea LLC and GRIC member, arrived and gave his three-minute comment. Toward the end of his comment Perez talks about Himdag (cultural way of life), and tries to explain what himdag is to the panel. When he is finished an AOYC member Andrew Pedro follows Perez out to ask him questions about his comment. As they walk out Christi Perez, partner in Pangea LLC and wife to Joey Perez, is filming her husband talking to an elder. While they are filming in the lobby Pedro walks into the background and gives thumbs up for no 202. Pedro walks away and less than a minute later wife Christi Perez returns pointing at him alongside are Phoenix City Police Officers. She tells them that Pedro was pretending to shoot at them with his fingers and they felt their life was being threatened. Pedro asked to see the video but was told he couldn’t and that he had to leave.
Throughout the day others spoke against the proposed freeway including other O’odham and non- O’odham people. “This mountain is sacred to us as O’odham and myself as Tohono O’odham I may come from southern Arizona but this mountain is sacred to me” said Alex Soto “This freeway is an attack on my civil rights as an indigenous person.” The reason it is an attack on ingenuous civil rights is because of the lack of consideration on the cultural aspect in the DEIS. Some non-o’odham people included members of the Sierra Club and No South Mountain Freeway. The sierra club actually lists the South Mountain Freeway the worst transportation project in the U.S.
The next day Wednesday May 22nd, 2013 the AOYC attend a special council meeting at the Governance Center in Sacaton, AZ. This special council meeting was called for at the last regular council meeting on May 15th, 2013, to hear the findings of the police investigation on the Save the Mountain Initiative put forward by GRIC Landowners LLC who is facilitated by Pangea LLC. Police Chief Alameda motioned that council go into executive session due to the findings of the ongoing investigation. Gov. Mendoza stated that community members should be allowed to be in the executive session. Council voted on the matter in a 15 yes, 0 nay votes, so community members were allowed to be in the meeting to hear the findings.
Police Chief Alameda presented how the investigation was done, and the findings of it. Alameda explained that going over each of the 1509 signatures would be a huge under taking. So a sample of 175 signatures that were thought to be suspicious were taken to be looked into. What the investigation found was that some of the signatures were obtained by fraud. Reasons varied from some of the signatures were from people who claim they never signed; others said they didn’t know what they were signing. On some of the signatures that were looked into the address was at abandoned homes and others refused to talk to them.
After the Alameda’s report community members came up to comment some these included elders bussed in by Pangea LLC to support the landowner initiative most made statement saying the freeway is going to be built no matter what, Ignoring the fact that No build is a federally mandated option. Nathanial Percharo who acts as spokesperson for GRIC landowners stated in his comment that they were aware of illegal activities like those the investigation found. Secretary Linda Andrew stated that the integrity of the initiative was compromised because of the finding of fraud and deception. Chris Morago, who is part of the Gila River Alliance for a Clean Environment (GRACE), had corrected Pangea in saying that the Save the Mountain initiative was not the first initiative by the people. GRACE had an initiative to stop a medical waste incinerator that was on community land but the initiative was thrown out because they didn’t have the correct wording. Some community members said they want the initiative thrown out because the wording was misleading and to correct it and go back into the community for signatures. This was supported by council women Janice Stewart of District five. Council
After all comments by community members Gov. Mendoza called for a fifteen minute break. During that time Andrew Pedro community member confronted Joey and Christi Perez about the events that took place at the public hearing the day before. The two were accusing Pedro of pretending to shoot at them with his fingers. When asked why they had Pedro removed from the hearing they refused to answer. The response from Christi Perez was “I refuse to answer that.” Joey Perez called Community Manager David White and Security telling them that Pedro was harassing them and at yesterday’s hearing that he threatened an elder. At the hearing and at the council meeting Pedro asked them to release the video with him in the background but they refused to do that as well. At that time others around him were recording the video can be seen here.
At the end of the council meeting Councilman Myron Schurz stated, direct the council secretary/election judge to coordinate with the Gila river police to return the petition to the secretary office and begin the process of determining whether there are a sufficient number of signatures after excluding the alleged questionable or forged signatures identified by the police department and process the initiative petition through the legislative standing committee for forwarding to the community council for consideration pursuant to the tribal constitution, article XIV, section (a) or (b). The directive is to be heard at the first regular council meeting of July 2013; second by councilman Anthony Villareal, Sr.
The comment period for the Draft Environmental Impact Statement ends on July 24th, 2013. This means people can still submit their comments; all comments go into forming the Final EIS to be release in 2014. Please submit your comments before the deadline. Also for those of who live on Gila River, there is now a public hearing to be taken place in the community information and flyer below.
Mail: South Mountain Study Team
Arizona Department of Transportation
1655 West Jackson Street, MD 126F
Phoenix, Arizona 85007
Comment on page: azdot.gov/SouthMountainFreeway
GRIC Public Hearing:
June 22nd, 2013
Komatke Boys & Girls Club
-Akimel O’odham Youth Collective