10/27: The House at Secret Garden to open in Phoenix

10/27: The House at Secret Garden to open in Phoenix

by Howard Seftel – Oct. 8, 2010 09:38 AM

Republic restaurant critic

South Phoenix isn’t exactly a destination-restaurant neighborhood. But a new restaurant, the House at Secret Garden, sounds intriguing enough to draw in even the type of clientele who might never otherwise set foot south of Van Buren or west of 32nd Street.

It’s set in the historic South Mountain mansion, built in 1929. The mansion has a rich history: back in the ’60s, it housed a hippie commune. Recently, it has operated as an event venue (and will continue to do so).

Chef/owner Dustin Cristofolo, 29, sports a promising pedigree: his mother, Pat, operates the Farm at South Mountain and a catering company. He has experience, too, including culinary training and a stint working the front of the house at Quiessence, one of this town’s premier restaurants. The House at Secret Garden is his first venture – “my baby,” he says.

He calls his fare “American eclectic,” which means there are many regional and global touches. He’s also emphasizing the “local, organic” angle. So the pork will come from the Meat Shop in downtown Phoenix; goat cheese will come from Black Mountain Ranch in Snowflake; and produce will come from Maya’s Garden and McClendon Farms. He’s also making his own fresh pasta.

via 10/27: The House at Secret Garden to open in Phoenix.


Phoenix’s Salt River sites reflect value of preserving riparian areas

Not many people would describe Phoenix as a river city, even though it rose along the banks of the lower Salt River and sprawls across the center of the Salt River Valley.

What’s missing is the water. The dams and reservoirs that allowed Phoenix to flourish drained the once-vibrant Salt, and now the river that for so long defined the region is often known better as a lake – temporarily empty Tempe Town Lake.

Tempe sees the lake as the center of a wider riparian restoration effort, but for passionate conservationists, the lake is everything the river once was not: a sterile park setting, uninviting to most wildlife. When a rubber dam burst and drained the lake this summer, its absence rekindled an appreciation for the value of water in a river.

Instead of growing up around the Salt, cities seem to avoid the mostly dried-up channel, treating it as inconvenience instead of riparian resource. Businesses face away, shutting out the river with cinderblock walls. Motorists must find other routes when roads dead-end without bridges. Thickets of trees and scrub discourage hikers from approaching.

The portrait that emerges along the lower Salt – 37 miles from Granite Reef Dam east of Mesa to the Gila River at 115th Avenue in Avondale – is a river not known for being a river at all.

Phoenix may never fully regain what it lost when the Salt dried up: the gathering place, the wildlife, the urban oasis. The next best thing, cities and conservation groups have decided, is to restore short segments of the river, committing time, money and imported water to create wetlands, trails and native riparian habitat to evoke the essence of a desert river’s nature.

It’s an imperfect fix: Restoration projects require constant attention and as much or more water than undisturbed rivers. The projects are expensive and take years to develop. Their progress is often slowed by businesses and other property owners with their own interests along the river.

As a result, advocates say, the work to revive the Salt is not so much a rebirth as a reminder to value and preserve the state’s remaining rivers and the water they carry.

“Over 90 percent of our riparian areas have been lost just in the last 100 years. That means we have 10 percent left to save,” said Sarah Porter, executive director of Audubon Arizona, which built an education center near a restored stretch of the Salt in south Phoenix.

“What we want to do is make sure we devote more of our energy to preserving what’s left.”

Accidental wetland

What’s left of the lower Salt is more like leftovers. The river’s natural flow was shut off with the completion of six upstream dams, starting with Roosevelt in 1911, that help supply about one-third o

via Phoenix’s Salt River sites reflect value of preserving riparian areas.

Phoenix Elks lodge a problem, police say

After-hours parties at group’s south Phoenix location tied to frequent officer calls, liquor-license violations   

by Jahna Berry – Dec. 2, 2009 12:00 AM     

The Arizona Republic     

A Phoenix Elk’s lodge with ties to Councilman Michael Johnson has been cited repeatedly for liquor-license violations and is a magnet for illegal, late-night activity, police documents show.   

An Arizona Republic investigation found that since January, police have been called more than 50 times to the William H. Patterson Improved and Benevolent Protective Order of Elks of the World at 1007 S. Seventh Ave. That includes a Nov. 7 incident in which police officers found after-hours drinking violations, according to state records.   

Other police calls included more than a dozen incidents of alleged liquor-license violations, suspected fights and possible gunfire.    

Also last month, the lodge’s kitchen was closed and the electrical power was shut off due to code violations.   

On Tuesday, the Elks withdrew an application for a special-event liquor license for an annual toy drive that city council was expected to vote on today. The Police Department had recommended against granting it because of “repeated criminal acts.”   

In an interview, Johnson, a former Phoenix police officer, downplayed his ties to the organization, saying he knows of no criminal investigation or complaints about the lodge, other than the recent code violations. Johnson is one of four Elks members named on the lodge’s state liquor license, Arizona Department of Liquor Licenses and Control records show.   

“I am still a member,” Johnson said. “I am not an officer or anything or haven’t really been actively involved in, like, three or four years.”   

The 85-year-old south Phoenix Elks group is known for community outreach, especially to poor children. The average age of a member is mid-60s, the group’s outgoing president, Virgil Turman, said.   

After-hours parties

Since the 1970s, a major source of lodge revenue has been weekend dance events and non-alcoholic after-hours parties that start at 2 a.m.   

Those events can draw hundreds of people, and rowdy crowds of much younger non-Elks, to the south Phoenix neighborhoods near the lodge.   

A police spokesman declined to comment on Tuesday because an officer was expected to testify about the Elks special-event liquor-license application at today’s City Council meeting. After the item was pulled from the council agenda, a police representative could not be reached for response late Tuesday.   

Records from the Department of Liquor Licenses and Control show that the Elks lodge paid a $250 fine in February for serving alcohol to non-members or guests of members. The group paid $1,000 for the same offense in July.   

Since 1996 the lodge has been cited seven times for violating state liquor laws, including for selling alcohol between 1 and 6 a.m., gambling and selling liquor to patrons who are not Elks members or Elks guests.   

Loiterers to blame?

The lodge has had past liquor-license problems but they were resolved, said Turman. The problem isn’t the after-hours parties, it’s the crowd that hangs out in the lodge parking lot and surrounding streets during the events, he said.   

The lodge hired five off-duty police officers to provide security at the lodge parking lot on weekends.   

The off-duty officers can’t do much about people who linger off lodge property, Turman added.   

Patrons can only buy fruit juice, water and soda at after-hours events, Turman stressed.   

Residents put up with noisy rows of parked cars, public urination and sometimes, outdoor dice games, said Julian Sodari, president of the Grant Park Neighborhood Coalition.   

Neighbors have met with police, but Sodari said he hasn’t spoken with Johnson.   

Johnson is a longtime member of Lodge No. 477 and was the president from 1996 to 2006.   

Turman said Johnson goes to monthly Elks meetings and advised the group about how to handle its recent troubles with the city at the November meeting.   

Johnson said that he was unaware that he was still on the lodge’s liquor license, because he was supposed to be removed several years ago.   

People on an establishment’s liquor license “have a voice in how the premise is run and you are responsible for what happens on the premises,” said Lee Hill, spokeswoman for the Department of Liquor Licenses and Control.   

via Phoenix Elks lodge a problem, police say.

Ruby Room in Phoenix closes

Ruby Room in Phoenix closes

by Ed Masley – Nov. 30, 2009 03:52 PM

The Arizona Republic

The Ruby Room, always a great place to check out a rock show and quite possibly the darkest room in downtown Phoenix, is closing its doors Tuesday, Dec. 1 after one last show with the Linoleums, the Van Go-Go’s and a touring band from Tokyo, The Heiz.

The news broke Monday on the venue’s Facebook page.

Before launching the Ruby Room at 717 S. Central Ave. in 2007, owner Greg Riggins ran the late, great Emerald Lounge on the corner of 7th Ave. and West McDowell Road in Phoenix.

Asked why he’s closing, Riggins replies with a laugh, “That would be a lack of customers.”

The Ruby Room, he says, has been a “tough one,” plagued by tougher DUI laws, a ban on public smoking and the tough economy.

“It used to be,” Riggins says, “when I opened the Emerald Lounge, people would walk in and go, ‘Shots for the bar.’ A few years later, it was like ‘Shots for my friends.’ Now, they walk in and the first thing anybody says is ‘What’s the drink special?’”

Asked if the venue’s location — in south Phoenix, on a one-way street — played a role in his troubles, Riggins says, “Well, there are places with better locations than I have closing too.”

Riggins think the appearance of the venue may have been a bigger factor.

“I think there’s a look that a punk-rock indie club is supposed to have,” he says. “And I didn’t have that. It didn’t look like CBGB. It didn’t look like the Emerald Lounge. I think there’s something about punk rock and indie rock that they want to drink at a place that looks like that, with nothing but band posters everywhere and writing on the wall.”

His vision for the Ruby Room, he says, was to capture a bit of the essence of the bars he thought were cool when he was growing up.

“I grew up in bowling-alley bars that had nude velvet paintings on the wall and were dark as a tomb,” he says. “And maybe that wasn’t the best thing I did. But I really enjoyed it. And I think it was a good bar.” As to where he goes from here, he isn’t sure.

“I don’t see myself ever being able to own a bar again,” he says. “They’re too expensive. But who knows? I may end up in the business in some capacity. If you know anyone who’s hiring, I’m available.”

Reach the reporter at ed.masley@arizonarepublic.com or 602-444-4495.

via Ruby Room in Phoenix closes.

In Phoenix, nothing succeeds like Frank

by Robert Leger – Oct. 31, 2009 07:14 PM

The Arizona Republic Frank Fairbanks smiles when he’s asked if he has any advice for David Cavazos, who on Friday will succeed Fairbanks as Phoenix’s city manager.

“David’s been around a long time,” Fairbanks says. “I’m not sure he needs a lot of advice.”

Perhaps not. But Cavazos can find plenty of advice just by studying Fairbanks’ 19 years as Phoenix’s top staff person. It’s a remarkable tenure, nearly three times the average for city managers across the country. Few city managers stay in one place for two decades, and those who do tend to live in smaller communities.

“For a large city, that is a pretty impressive number,” says Michele Frisby, spokeswoman for the International City/County Management Association.

So, how did he do it?

“Success belongs to the organization,” Fairbanks says. “If the organization is successful and moving ahead, accomplishing its goals, it’s probably simpler to stay with the person at the top of the organization. I guess I’m still the city manager here for the same reason Joe Paterno is still the coach at Penn State. If you win far more than you lose, it’s easier to keep the person you have.”

But Paterno’s employment doesn’t depend on nine bosses who change with every election. Any successful city manager has to have a deft political hand.

“The challenge is to let the council know you want to work for them and support their goals,” Fairbanks says. The council is the elected representatives of the people, and it’s not his job to substitute his opinions for theirs. He’ll give advice, including the costs of implementing an idea and potential unintended consequences.

“But when they vote, I actually try harder to successfully implement an idea that I don’t like than an idea that I personally like,” he says. “My personal opinion doesn’t really matter.”

That humility has been a theme throughout his tenure.

In any large organization, he notes, the people at the top of the organization chart want credit for successes, which can leave people on the front lines feeling unappreciated. That’s not the only drawback.

“I’d be doing incredibly well to come up with one really innovative, good idea a month. That would be 12 a year,” Fairbanks says. “If all of our employees come up with one good implementable idea to improve services a year, that would be 14,000 improvements. It’s a win for me if credit goes to the employee and encourages them to come up with another good idea.”

Besides, he adds, he’s really a shy guy who doesn’t like a lot of attention.

So, it shouldn’t be a surprise that when he’s asked to list his top accomplishments, No. 1 is building a strong organization with talented people.

There also is downtown revitalization (“Most of the ideas came from the council,” he says) and the infusion of Arizona State University students bringing excitement and support for small businesses. Light rail. Services to the homeless. The dramatic turnaround of south Phoenix.

“Some cities deal with blight and decaying neighborhoods by leveling them, dispersing low-income people and bringing in middle-class people,” he says. “We worked hard to work with the people living there and trying to create a rising tide lifting all ships. We’re not done, but boy, it is dramatically better.”

Fairbanks sees the same thing happening in Sunnyslope and beginning in west Phoenix.

He’ll hand that and other continuing efforts to Cavazos. Fairbanks sees other challenges facing the city’s future leaders.

He expects Phoenix to become a denser urban environment, through need and choice. The need to conserve water will push people into apartments, condos or duplexes. Rising fuel prices will push people closer to their workplaces. And young people often prefer to live in an urban environment with lots of action and employment options.

But, as the city gets bigger and bigger, people can become alienated from the city and its government, Fairbanks says.

The city will need to continue encouraging strong neighborhood groups and village planning because “it’s easier to identify with a smaller group that you have more in common with,” he says. “We need to work to maintain connections so the citizen not just thinks but feels the connection.”

As for his future, little is set. He has turned down a few job offers. He plans to volunteer with his church and ASU. He sees retirement as a sabbatical.

But he is looking forward to Friday, his first day as a retiree. It’s his wife’s birthday, and he’ll spend more time with her on her special day than he was able to during the past two decades. And there will be a special feeling Friday morning, when he walks out to his driveway to pick up his newspaper.

“I’ll be able to get it and not have to worry one little bit about what’s in there.”


Robert Leger is an assistant editorial-page editor for The Arizona Republic, handling the opinion pages in The Phoenix Republic.

via In Phoenix, nothing succeeds like Frank.

Joe Arpaio’s Office Installs Brand-New Veil Of Secrecy

The sheriff needing protection from the very people he is sworn to protect; oh the irony!

Allen says that it was the sheriff’s security detail that came up with the idea of insulating the office, not the Arpaio himself.

“I think the public might not like the way it looks, but they’ll understand there’s a real need for it,” Allen says.

Guess this is testament to the number of people this guy’s pissed off?

via Joe Arpaio’s Office Installs Brand-New Veil Of Secrecy – Phoenix News – Valley Fever.

Shaping the future of Phoenix

Shaping the future of Phoenix

by Robert Leger – Aug. 22, 2009 11:07 PM

The nine candidates battling in three contested races for the Phoenix City Council have attended numerous forums, telling potential voters where they stand on issues.

But the forums served another purpose. They highlighted what residents see as the key issues in these races and for the council after the Sept. 1 election. Continue reading