In an area containing more speed humps and other measures to control traffic than perhaps any other in the Northwest, Phil Richardson is regarded either as a rebel-rousing rascal or defender of drivers' rights.
Talk to residents in the nearby subdivisions of Catalina Village and the more affluent Cobo Catalina Hills area or those in his own Suffolk Hills subdivision where residents are currently paying for speed humps and you're most likely to hear that Richardson's just a selfish rascal.
Talk to the people signing petitions against further traffic impediments and the two dozen or so speed humps, four traffic circles and five "all way" stop signs that already exist in a less than two-mile stretch on Magee Road from Oracle Road to Ina Road via Christie Drive and a connecting street between Magee and Christie, and you'll get quite a different picture.
Richardson, who this past summer helped lead the ouster of four Suffolk Hills Homeowner Association boardmembers in a tumultuous fight over traffic control measures, believes there's a plot afoot on the part of residents in Cobo Hills to limit the use of major roadways in their neighborhoods.
He talks of "secret funds" and a once reasonable plan being "hijacked and turned into one that jeopardizes our health and well being in order to further appease the nouveau rich and old money residing in the hills above us (Cobo Hills)."
Richardson, who led opposition to the incorportion of Casas Adobes as chairman of Residents Against Taxes Adobes, and his backers want the county to remove the four speed humps on Magee Road and vehemently oppose the traffic circle proposed for Magee and Village.
He challenges what he calls an "uncompromising attitude" on the part of Pima County in allowing the humps and traffic circles and warns Pima County Traffic Engineer Albert Letzkus in a Sept. 24 letter that he will take his case to the thousands of motorists who drive the 1.7-mile Christie to Magee to Oracle route each day.
He refers to the pro speed hump vote by the four ousted Suffolk Hills boardmembers, along with three others who subsequently resigned from the board before the ouster, as a betrayal of their responsibility to represent the views of the entire association membership.
"Since the success of the effort to prevent the incorporation of Casas Adobes in a last minute effort, some 914 persons expect that I can help bring about another miracle here in our neighborhood," says Richardson who has temporarily agreed to lead the board following the removal of its president and treasurer last month.
Marvin Jennings, one of the four ousted boardmembers, contends Richardson's "selfishness" in "not wanting anything to restrict his driving on Magee at 45-50 miles an hour, "is ripping the Suffolk Hills neighborhood apart."
Jennings points out that more than a year before his ouster he and others approached the county about taking part in its four-year-old Neighborhood Traffic Improvement Program and subsequently, after traffic studies by the county, received approval of more than 60 percent of the homeowners who would be affected by the speed humps, as required by the county, to go ahead.
Later, seven members of the Suffolk Hills Homeowner Association board even approved funding for the work, but when opposition arose, residents decided to go it alone, Jennings said
Board members who supported the speed humps then began resigning rather than put up with the stress caused by the threats of an ouster vote being made by Richardson and his backers, Jennings said.
"Richardson didn't even get into this until the ninth inning, after all the studies were done and the work was approved by the county and residents," Jennings said.
Letzkus, Pima County's traffic engineer, scoffs at the innuendo behind Richardson's "secret fund" remarks.
The work is being paid for by the affected residents, not the homeowner association, Letzkus says. "We don't work with the homeowner associations, but rather with residents in the Traffic Benefits Impact Area." Any removal of the bumps would have to be approved by the same residents who paid to have them installed and they would have to pay for that work, he says.
Letzkus attributes the Suffolk Hills traffic control tumult to "internal strife spurred on by just two or three residents."
He adds: "We're not going to make any knee-jerk reactions to demands just because some people want to travel faster through someone else's neighborhood. I have no sympathy with that"
Rick Viau, a Catalina Village resident and leader in that neighborhood's successful three-year efforts to gain county approval for 24 speed humps in his subdivision, says of the Suffolk Hills opposition: "It is unfortunate that a minority of individuals, not far from an anarchistic philosophy, are opposed to reasonable safety measures in other neighborhoods.
"Our objective was a safe neighborhood," says Viau. "We wanted to regain control of our streets. We were increasingly losing our neighborhood to inconsiderate and dangerous drivers. The neighborhood was being inundated by speeding drive-through traffic.
"Since the speed humps were put in we're seeing fewer drive-through vehicles and those that come through are traveling at acceptable speeds. Residents are more visible, we see more children and there is a greater unity among neighbors."
Hugh Baxter, another Catalina Hills Neighborhood Watch leader, refers to Richardson as a "disruptive whacko."
Says Baxter: "I can't believe that someone would be so jaundiced as to try and force their opinion on everyone else irrespective of the problems of public safety.
"No one likes these changes," says Baxter, "but does not making changes outweigh the concerns you have for the kids in your neighborhood? We got them, we tried them and they work," Baxter said of the speed humps. "And that's the bottom line."
Joe Frannea, president of the Cobo Catalina Hills Home-owners Association, says the animosity expressed by some Suffolk Hills folk may date back to 1995 when an attempt was made to have the county close Magee at North First Avenue at the northern boundary of the Westward Look Resort.
Richardson boasts that he and his backers successfully demonstrated in a Pima County Superior Court lawsuit that the closing of Magee at North First would have denied Suffolk Hills residents and others the use of public roadways in Cobo Hills, prevented access and egress to the best, least dangerous and shortest route to Ina Road, and caused the diversion of at least 1,000 cars a day onto Suffolk Hills streets.
It was also shown that such a move would have made it more dangerous for school children boarding and getting off buses, Richardson said.
County officials say that the closing was only done to test traffic patterns, but the resentment of Suffolk Hills residents toward those in Cobo Catalina Hills is still boiling.
Cobo Hills residents are trying to smooth things over a bit with an offer to pay for the traffic circle in Suffolk Hills that Richardson and his backers want halted.
Jennings, the ousted board member, calls the offer "a blessing in disguise since residents would not have been able to afford it otherwise."
Richardson sees the offer as just another attempt by Cobo Catalina to interfere with traffic circulation in the Suffolk Hills area.
"No one likes speed humps" and these other measures, "but what choice do you have" when people are going through stop signs at 60 miles an hour, killing from 6-10 wildlife a year and rolling over about once a month," says Joe Frannea, president of the Cobo Catalina Hills Homeowner Association.
Even with improvements, the area is getting 2,500 to 3,000 cars a day coming through, he says.
Frannea says Cobo Catalina's efforts in addressing its traffic problems began with a pilot program about seven years ago that the county paid for. Subsequent traffic control additions paid for by just the residents affected have resulted in about 15 speed bumps and four traffic circles. Residents are awaiting county OK on three more traffic circles, one of which would be the traffic circle Cobo Catalina residents are offering to pay for in Suffolk Hills.
Richardson also raises a safety concern in terms of the speed humps slowing emergency vehicles entering the Suffolk Hills area, noting that Rural/Metro Fire Department District Chief George Good has warned property owners that any further impedance to fire and rescue vehicles would be a substantial threat to lives and property.
The other neighborhood groups say they have studies indicating the bumps would have little impact on the response time of emergency vehicles who often are slowed anyway as they look for street names in unfamiliar neighborhoods.
Richardson believes the anti-speed hump element is being ignored and deprived of a voice.
"You can continue to ignore us, but very soon you are going to hear the voice of the people, who will, in the first week of October, petition their representatives through several avenues for an audience in order to seek redress," Richardson wrote the county's Letzkus on Sept. 24.
Already the petitions are being circulated.