Around Arizona: Southern Exposure

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Get the latest news from the Tucson area from Tucson Weekly senior writer Jim Nintzel in our monthly “Southern Exposure” series.

Ted Simons: Time now for southern exposure, our monthly look at issues and activities from the Tucson area. Here now with the latest from south of Gila is "Tucson weekly" senior writer, Jim Nintzel. Good to see you again.

Jim Nintzel: Great to be here.

Ted Simons: Let's get started with what happened this week. Actually I think yesterday down there with the Tucson unified high school district. Ethnic studies program attacked by previous schools chief. Diane Douglas goes down there doesn't attack quite so much.

Jim Nintzel: Not so much. This is -- stems back to when the district had a Mexican American studies program that was very controversial. A lot of critical thinking and asking people to challenge the status quo and the state legislature interpreted that as sedition and attempting to overthrow the U.S. government. Passed a law to ban the courses. Lose 10% of the funding. District ended up closing down those courses, but they also have a federal desegregation order and they have to have some kind of ethnic studies courses so they re-established a new set of courses. John Huppenthal came down and took a look around, apparently some rap music in there that he thought was inappropriate. Diane Douglas came in, came down to Tucson met with our superintendent down there. And they seem to have made some sort of a deal and she said she is keeping a very close eye on us. But for now, all is good.

Ted Simons: Compliance deadline once again, I think it was yesterday or today. You are talking like $50 million in funds, state funds at stake here for noncompliance.

Jim Nintzel: A very big chunk of their budget would have been taken out by this. I don't know what happened to the rap music, but apparently they were able to work things out for now. We will see.

Ted Simons: As far as Tucson residents are concerned, obviously they were not happy with -- most folks down there, I know a lot of folks have problems down there even with the Mexican American studies, but those -- Huppenthal and Horne were a little heavy handed, what do they think about Douglas?

Jim Nintzel: I think the jury is out. Clearly the fact that she is not pursuing this any further right now makes her a little less of a shadowy figure trying to squash what is going on in the district. I think it is difficult to actually get Diane Douglas to do an interview where she talks about her thinking on this stuff. Jury is definitely out.

Ted Simons: We have homeless folks sleeping in downtown Tucson in dream pods.

Jim Nintzel: Dream pods, coffin-shaped boxes. This goes back to the occupy Tucson scenario where folks had taken over a downtown park and they pitched tents and were living down there and the city eventually ran them out of there. They said you can't camp in our parks. That's against the rules. But some of the people who were still there moved on to the sidewalk. It turns out to be a very wide sidewalk. They were sleeping on the sidewalk. City said, look, you can't sleep on the sidewalk. You can sleep on the sidewalk, but you can't have more than a blanket, bottle of water, and one other item. Then they sued. They said their rights were being violated. This was not an encampment, it was a protest against homelessness. Federal court agreed with them. At that point they were allowed to have whatever they wanted because of the federal judge's order. They started to move in the wooden boxes to sleep in. Called dream PODs, made by a gentleman very much in favor to help the homeless. Pitching up tents on there. City council is going back to the federal court to try to get the judge to amend that order next week, but they're also, city council meeting yesterday, they're reviewing the urban camping legislation or ordinances to try to get some sort of foothold on being able to deal with this. There are dozens of these boxes lining the sidewalk down there.

Ted Simons: Where exactly is this for folks who are not totally familiar with Tucson, straight downtown or --

Jim Nintzel: In the heart of downtown -- a park right next to the convention -- basically between the convention center and the city hall and the supervisory -- board of supervisors. In a very high space. One of our supervisors actually was taking his small dog out for a walk one day. And he said three large dogs charged at him that were --

Ted Simons: From the camp.

Jim Nintzel: From the camp and he had to rescue Simon and swoop him up in his arms.

Ted Simons: Problem with homelessness, is this dividing the community down there, this particular issue with the particular dream pods of the

Jim Nintzel: City of Tucson, nobody is going to mistake them as a conservative group. Considered one of the most LIB councils in the state. And I think most people are saying what on earth are you doing allowing these boxes to be set up in Tucson? Business community downtown is not happy with it. Convention bureau, set up underneath the convention bureau's windows there, their office. I think there is a great deal of frustration and they are working to try to find another place for these folks to go that would be less obtrusive.

Ted Simons: Sounds like a people's park in Berkeley in the making.

Jim Nintzel: It certainly does.

Ted Simons: Before you go, the Tucson festival of books is coming up. This is a big deal.

Jim Nintzel: One of the largest in the nation. In its 7th year. We are having a performance by the rock bottom remainders, Dave berry's band and other authors they got together and rehearse and do a performance. That will kick off the festival Friday night. A week from now. And then Sunday, we're having John Nichols -- a big thing to close out the festival. And in between, you are going to have hundreds of authors talking about, politics, you've got novels, all kinds of genres represented. Big opportunity for kids to play. Huge science exhibits going on. It really takes over the university of Arizona mall and many of the buildings in there and they have one-hour sessions with the authors being moderated by various folks in the community.

Ted Simons: Amy, Scott, Valerie plain. High-profile folks.

Jim Nintzel: Really high-profile folks. Rick Pearlstein, written things about the rise of the Republican Party. Incredible event. And all free on top of that. It's great.

Ted Simons: Is Tucson a good bookstore town? I don't know if there is a good bookstore down anymore. A lot of good bookstores down there --

Jim Nintzel: We do. We have a lot of tiny youth bookstores that are wonderful. A few major independent bookstores still alive in Tucson. It is a very literary community.

Ted Simons: Books didn't start in Flagstaff --

Jim Nintzel: Sierra Vista, up to Tucson and spread up north from there.

Ted Simons: Phoenix got the last -- I think there are two, three of them down here. I think there are two booklands in Phoenix.

Jim Nintzel: And three in Tucson. And moved in sporting goods in the fourth. I guess you --

Ted Simons: Jim, always a pleasure. Good to see you again.

Jim Nintzel: Great to be here.

Jim Nintzel:Senior Writer, Tucson Weekly;

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