Last week I had the pleasure of speaking with Brenda Sperduti, who is running for the District 5 council seat. We talked about some of the critical issues facing that district, which includes much of Maryvale, such as engaging the area’s large Hispanic population, what to do about the foreclosure crisis and changing the negative rap the west side gets.
(A big thanks to Sean Sweat for making this interview possible.)
Also, don’t forget to vote this coming Saturday, Monday and Tuesday!!!
Blooming Rock: Can you tell us about your vision for West Phoenix?
Brenda Sperduti: When it comes to District 5, my first vision is to expand the district a little bit. Right now, it is, population-wise and voter-wise, really small. It’s one of the smallest (districts). They’re doing the redistricting, so part of my vision is to get the redistricting commission to expand it a little bit. It’s a very tight and an odd-shaped district.
My vision is to identify the heart and soul of this district, to really create a sense of place for District 5. Because right now with District 5, I feel like I can’t hold it. I’m not quite sure where it all is.
There’s that part and there’s that part and it’s not very descriptive, is it? Where’s the heart and soul of this district? My vision actually is to find the heart and soul of this district and to help bring it out. It’s about celebrating the people who live there, it’s helping them to celebrate themselves.
So that’s where my vision lies right now. It’s to help draw out the wonderfulness that is there. But it’s not visual, it’s not something when you drive through the district that you see.
Up in the northeastern part of the district, where I live, I live in the Royal Palm neighborhood, it’s a beautiful old district, midcentury modern. The house that we live in is kind of a cool midcentury modern home. There are a lot of historic homes in that area.
But when you come further south, there aren’t a lot of business. There’s the I-17, the Black Canyon Corridor does come through the district. So there’s a lot of industrial (development) there. And then in Alhambra, in that area, there are still some older, very green neighborhoods. Then you start going west, it’s that one-mile wide (stretch) from Camelback to Indian School and it goes all the way west, and that’s Maryvale.
A lot of people think of District 5 as being Maryvale. I always think of the area where the new Maryvale baseball park is, where the old Maryvale golf course, there’s a community center there.
I really think it’s a beautiful area. A lot has been done to beautify streetscapes in that area. But I think that more can be done. There are pocket neighborhoods, here and there, that I’ve obviously been walking in, knocking on doors, and meeting people.
And there’s character differences between these neighborhoods. I would love to be able to see their neighborhood personalities come out, similar to, I sat on the Arts and Culture Commission for 6 years, similar to what we built around the Light Rail Stations. Kind of personalities through the art for each of the stops.
I think of neighborhoods that way. I think of neighborhoods as having their own little personalities. Artists are good about finding that and talking with neighborhoods before they take on that project. They want to know, what is that neighborhood about and how can I help bring that out?
I think as a City Councilwoman I can help do that throughout District 5, to honor the personality of the neighborhood, to help bring that out. So that’s part of the vision, to bring out what’s already there, but may be dormant.
Blooming Rock: I know there is a huge Hispanic population in Maryvale and maybe some other parts of District 5, and often, it’s a very difficult segment of the population to get involved in the public process, especially now because of SB1070. How do you propose to engage the Hispanic population in your district?
Brenda Sperduti: There are so many different ways to do that. Several things come to mind. One is to engage with the students, the youth.
There are a lot of youth I’ve met with in forums. In fact there was a forum about two weeks ago, it’s called Lucha. There were a lot of youth there at the forum. I spent all the time before and all the time after talking with the youth because they’re all excited, they’re very smart, and I sense some entrepreneurial feelings from them. They want to do good things and wonderful things for the community.
My arms open wide. Not only is my door open, but my arms are open wide. I want to work with youth. I want to get them engaged and get them involved. I think that’s the future of our Hispanic community, it’s the youth.
But not only that, think about the pockets of culture. And it may be Ranch Markets. There are several of them within District 5 and they’re wonderful places. It’s where community comes together. In fact, I’ve made the connection with the one that’s right by my house on 19th Avenue and Dunlap.
For fourth of July we have a parade and this year I reached out the the manager who was new, and we have such a connection now. He got his employees involved, they got dressed up and came to our parade. They handed things out to the kids. It was just wonderful.
It really only takes that reaching out and inviting people to be a part of their community. And so I think there are businesses like that one, and there are plenty of other businesses as well, like ethnic grocery stores or ethnic restaurants. There are lots of Mexican restaurants within the district that are serving authentic Mexican food. My husband and I have been going out there and visiting some of these places.
It’s about reaching out and inviting them to participate. And every opportunity I have as a City Council member, to be involved in economic development or after school programming ideas, whatever the area and the issue is, like neighborhood development, I will include residents.
I will look for diverse residents, including the Hispanic population, because it is the largest part of the population. I’ll partner with our populations with our outreach programs and civic engagement. I will go out as much as I can into the schools, into the parks, wherever, to engage citizens.
Blooming Rock: Just as a follow up to that, where do you stand on SB1070?
Brenda Sperduti: As far away from it as I can. It’s so controversial.
I understand Governor Brewer’s point of view that something needed to be done. There was just too much complaining from people along the border, property owners and so on and so forth.
I think what they put together was a very bad piece of legislation. Obviously. It’s hung up in the courts. Many aspects of the legislation are hung up in the courts.
While our state needs to be concerned about illegal passing and the impact that that could have on our communities and our residents, at the same time, we need to be more realistic about the people who try to immigrate into this country. My grandfather did. This is our country. This is what we do.
We are the country of the free that people want to come to. I value that so much more than I understand the fear that that bill created.
So that’s the negative impact of SB1070 that’s just been devastating. It has caused so much trouble. It was not well thought out. Again, I understand where she (Governor Brewer) was coming from, but it was poorly done and we’re suffering the consequences of it.
I believe in the Dream Act, I believe that any child that was born in America is an American citizen. I detest discrimination of any sort. We’ve got to do it better and we can.
Blooming Rock: What do you think of the proposed Light Rail extension to the West Valley? I’m not sure if it crosses into District 5 but currently it’s supposed to go down I-10W. What do you think about all that?
Brenda Sperduti: Well, it’s not District 5, but there’s a lot of things about that.
First of all, the north (Light Rail) extension is in District 5 and it’s in my neighborhood. It’s in my immediate neighborhood and people are excited about it for the most part.
We need to get this done. They had torn up our roads, they had done everything to get ready and then they put a stop to it because the money wasn’t there and now they’re talking about getting it started again. So we’re on this roller coasted on this (North) Light Rail extension. But it’s going to stop at Dunlap and that is unfortunate.
So now they’re talking about this extension our I-10. Very strange that they would do a Light Rail along I-10.
The City has this plan that they’re putting together called the Maryvale Core. It’s a plan to do some great things. Sounds like, right? Maryvale Core development, bringing in a community place.
Actually, it’s outside of District 5. It’s south. It’s near where they’re talking about the I-10 extension. I forget what avenue, 63rd or somewhere around there and it’s south of McDowell.
I’m not happy about that because I think it should be closer to what I consider to be the heart of Maryvale which is along Indian School, which is halfway between Camelback and Thomas which is to me kind of the heart of Maryvale. It’s where the ballpark is, it’s where the golf course is and the other centers.
This is a long way of saying that I’m not happy about that extension going out on I-10. I understand that there was an alternative that would either take it down Thomas or Indian School, and in the long run, that would be the wisest thing to do because like we have seen in the Central Corridor, there’s development around each of the stations, and we need that in Maryvale.
We need the Light Rail, the development boost that it would bring to us. I don’t know where the benefit is on an I-10 extension. There just isn’t a lot (around it). There’s something just on the north side of it but on the south it’s just the freeway. It makes no sense to me.
Blooming Rock: I know there’s a huge foreclosure crisis, especially in West Phoenix and in Maryvale. What would you do as a Councilperson for that District? How do you think we could do better with the foreclosure crisis in that area?
Brenda Sperduti: The City needs to do a better job of outreach to the citizens who could qualify for assistance through those programs, the Neighborhood Stabilization Program funds. A lot of it is just communication, it’s getting people to understand what the program is, it’s outreach.
It’s not the one answer, that’s not the only thing that’s going to fix these neighborhoods. But it is a great program, it’s federal money, it’s going to help our community. We need as a City to do more outreach to get more people into these programs.
I believe we could look for other creative ways as well to address foreclosures. I read the other day, I think it was in Pennsylvania somewhere, where there was a community that Bank of America agreed to tear down some of these homes that are in bad disrepair and create some of these pocket parks in neighborhoods. I think that would be very welcomed in District 5 neighborhoods.
It takes a lot of negotiation to make something like that happen. Everyone wants to know what’s in it for me? The bank is going to want to know, the City, what’s the cost of doing this? But, where there’s a will, there’s a way. And the true benefit is that we save our neighborhoods. And there are neighborhoods that need that in the West Valley and in District 5, that need help.
I was walking through one area, and this woman told me, we’ve fought for years to get a sidewalk put in here. A sidewalk. And this was probably just north of Indian School and probably about 99th avenue, so this wasn’t rural at all.
They didn’t have sidewalks and it’s a residential area and the houses are real close together. So there’s been some neglect of neighborhoods out in the West Valley. Why didn’t they have sidewalks? They’re kids were walking to school on dirt.
There’s a lot that can be done. I will actually make that a top priority of mine, the neighborhood stabilization and beautification projects, because I represent the people of District 5.
They’re beautiful, wonderful people and they want to stay in their neighborhoods, but they want the blight to go away. They want it cleaned up, they want to restore what has been. So many of these people have lived in their neighborhoods for 30, 40 and 50 years. I hope to keep in touch with them and really work on their behalf.
Blooming Rock: West Phoenix always has this not-so-great image. People think it’s where the crime is, it’s where the blight is, it’s something that some Phoenicians might want to distance themselves from. How do you propose to address that? How do you begin to change that?
Brenda Sperduti: By speaking up on their behalf. By finding great programs that we can bring to the district. There are ways to build pride and really to bring out what is great about the roots that are there.
There’s a history there and the history is celebrated but not loud enough. I love to find the history of communities because every community has a story to tell. That’s why our Public Art program is so fabulous. Through Public Art we can help tell the story of our communities.
I’m very familiar with the Public Art program, I will reach out to Ed Lebow and the folks in the City’s Public Art Office to find more opportunities in West Phoenix.
There are mural projects way on the West side and artists, like Martin Moreno who just won the Governor’s Art Award this year. There are a number of great, wonderful artists, who could bring life to this community, bring a vibrancy. Again, bring it to the surface, it’s (all) there, it’s just not visible.
That’s what we need, if we can really identify some spots where we can plant some seeds for great projects. There was one example somewhere in Europe where a paint company got involved in this community and worked with the residents and they provided paint supplies and just beautified the neighborhoods with paint colors. Whether it was big garages or warehouses, they created this new brightness. Things like that could be done to pull up Maryvale or the West side generally speaking.
It’s all possible. Maybe friends in Downtown Phoenix can adopt a little part of Maryvale and together go out there and find the treasures that exist and build them up and find ways to demonstrate to the rest of the community. That it’s a wonderful part of town and that the people who live there are just like the rest of us, they’re just like you and me.
Blooming Rock: As a follow up to that, do you think it’s possible to connect West Phoenix to the rest of the Valley and uncover nodes that are so great that people will travel there to get to them?
Brenda Sperduti: We must do that. That is exactly what we need to do. We need to start with something.
I want to go on a treasure hunt in District 5, kind of like what Local First Arizona has done with local treasures in Downtown. I just love the maps and everything that Kimber (Lannings)’s organization has put together.
I know there are treasures in District 5. They may not even know that they are treasures, but they are there. I’m ready to go on a treasure hunt to find small businesses that are doing great things and let the community know about them.
Maybe there’s a way to partner with a group that would be interested in working with me on a project in West Phoenix. Do you know Francine Hardway? I was on the phone with Francine, and I told her, we need you in West Phoenix, you’ve got this mind for entrepreneurship and bringing people along and investing in great ideas and businesses. She’s done so much for the community.
She said, it’s not going to happen in Maryvale. She said there isn’t even a Starbucks in Maryvale, there’s nothing cool in Maryvale. Well, if that’s where we begin, we better find the cool stuff and make it look cool.
Sometimes when you’ve been told you’re not too exciting, then you tend to believe it.
I’m trying to get the redistricting commission to expand the district a little bit. I could only find only one library in the district, maybe there are two. When they redistrict, they’ll have to push out the boundaries in some places because the population is smaller than the rest of the districts. I’m anxious for that to happen.
I feel like there’s so much that can be done. There’s so much opportunity.
It excites me to think about the value that I could bring because of my ability to work with diverse peoples, bringing people to the table and saying I care about you and your community.
I want us to all work together. Let’s work together and celebrate what we have and make it better.
And I know my friends at Public Art will help me, I’m sure we can find some good friends in the Neighborhood Services Department that can help us as well.
Photo Credit: A photo of a corner shop in Maryvale. Photo by SYD_AZ.