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"Slumlords out of South Tucson NOW:" Casa Maria workers lead protest with community

Casa Maria workers asking owners of two properties in South Tucson to sell property and leave the 1.2 square mile city
Sixth Avenue Suites
Posted at 9:03 PM, Apr 25, 2024

SOUTH TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — A protest took place Thursday night outside of the Sixth Avenue Suites, led by the workers of the Casa Maria Soup Kitchen. The community joined Brian Flagg, Roxanna Valenzuela, and Cesar Aguirre in asking the owner of the property to sell and leave South Tucson.

“The guy is a notorious slumlord. So we’re suing him as the City of South Tucson, and also the community is weighing in on it,” said Flagg.

The owner they’re referring to is Brian Bowers, who is one of the owners of the Sixth Avenue Suites and the Spanish Trail Motel, which caught fire in February.

RELATED STORY: Fire rips through Spanish Trail Motel in South Tucson

Bowers owns the companies managing both properties, AM Family Properties, LLC, and Torino Avenue LLC, which have been under a lawsuit by South Tucson since January.

SOUTH TUCSON LAWSUIT

READ FULL TEXT HERE

The City of South Tucson’s Attorney Jon Paladini shared that the two parties reached a court settlement, and explained the next steps in the agreement.

"The 60 days for Mr. Bowers and his LLCs to comply with the court settlement agreement runs until this Friday April 26th. We are making arrangements for City staff (including PD and building safety staff) to undertake inspections early next week (on or before May 1st). From those inspections we will determine whether Mr. Bowers et al. have complied with the agreements. The Court has separately ordered that the parties file a joint status report not later than May 10th. In that status report, the parties will report on what they agree has been accomplished, what they agree as to what has not been accomplished (if anything), and what the parties disagree on as to what has been accomplished (if anything)."
Jon Paladini, Pierce Coleman Law

The Casa Maria workers including Brian Flagg, Roxana Valenzuela, and Cesar Aguirre, are holding this protest as support of the lawsuit, but separately from their positions as South Tucson City Councilmembers.

“We’re real involved in the community and the big issue in the community is how much drugs and crime come out of the two worst hotels in our one square mile," said Flagg.

KGUN9 received a statement from Brian Bowers in response to the protest. His full statement was provided by Sammartino Law Group:

"Casa Maria Tucson, a Christian organization whose mission includes a devotion to voluntary poverty, is engaging in a slanderous campaign designed to depress the value of two City of South Tucson properties and force their eventual sale, an outcome possibly benefitting Casa Maria to the detriment of the City of South Tucson as a whole.

That is why the close nexus between the City Council of South Tucson and Casa Maria – with council member Brian Flagg simultaneously being the CEO and President of Casa Maria and a member of the South Tucson City Council and council members Roxy Valenzuela and Cesar Aguirre holding unspecified positions at Casa Maria – is so alarming. First, the interconnection between the two raises significant constitutional concerns regarding this protest by Casa Maria and whether the Bowerses are being afforded equal protection under the law. Second, the residents of South Tucson should be deeply concerned whether their elected officials are working in the public interest or for those of Casa Maria, a private organization.

Brian Bowers and Margeaux Bowers control the two companies, Torino Avenue, LLC, and AM Family Properties, LLC, that own the properties Casa Maria Tucson wants the Bowerses to sell – the 6th Avenue Suites and the Spanish Trails Suites. Casa Maria inquired about purchasing the Spanish Trail Suites in 2023 but was not a qualified buyer. It lacked the funds for a down payment, was not qualified for a loan, and unrealistically hoped to purchase the property for less than 20% of its market value. Shortly after Mr. Bowers declined to continue those unserious negotiations, Casa Maria started its retaliatory action using its leverage as a controlling bloc of the South Tucson City Council.

First, the city council directed its code enforcement division to generate a string of spurious neighborhood preservation ordinance violations against property adjacent to the Spanish Trial Suites. Then, in early 2024, the council took action in Pima County Superior Court using an untested Arizona statute that in similar form had been found unconstitutional in state and federal courts in other jurisdictions.

The city, having repeated the same mistake as the government entities in those other jurisdictions, tried using a poorly compiled log of police calls to the two properties to justify its claim that the properties were nuisance crime properties subject to abatement pursuant to statute. After Mr. Bowers disclosed his argument that the crime statistics were dramatically misconstrued and that using those statistics regarding calls to the police as a basis for government action against the properties would violate the owner’s and occupants’ right to petition the government for redress (a core First Amendment right), the city quickly settled both lawsuits minutes prior to a hearing on the matter that would have tested the shaky legal and factual basis for the city’s claims.

The settlement reached with the city provided for certain maintenance to be done and capital improvements to be made to the properties, much of which the Bowerses had already completed. The agreement provided for a remediation period in which the work needed to be completed. The properties were already in compliance with many of the recommendations, such as being crime free certified (both properties have been certified since 2008), using a crime free addendum (same), only allowing resident access to the laundry areas, towing inoperable vehicles from the parking lots, employing security guards, posting no-trespassing signs throughout the properties, cleaning the grounds and the parking lots daily, providing maintenance staff and managers, providing bright lighting at the properties, and continuing to maintain the fire extinguishers. The owners also agreed to upgrade the current security camera systems and install additional fencing.

The Bowerses are not absentee landlords; as business owners, they are members of the South Tucson community and the City of Tucson as a whole. Mr. Bowers works at both of properties almost every day, and he knows all the tenants. Both properties work with low-income tenants and housing programs such as HUD Section 8, which is administered by the city itself, to provide affordable housing. There are many long-term tenants who have been at both properties for over five years. The studios have all been remodeled and have modern amenities; they are the nicest studios in South Tucson.

Casa Maria, in contrast, has failed as a landlord that would provide low-income housing in South Tucson and turned vulnerable citizens who had a roof over their heads out to either the streets or, ironically, to the Bowerses properties. It purchased the El Camino Motel in March of 2023 behind claims that it would not evict any of the current tenants. All of the tenants were evicted and the motel is currently unoccupied. It is also boarded up and unsecured, curiously subject to no enforcement action by the City of South Tucson.

Housing and homelessness are complicated issues that take hard work to address and involve numerous stakeholders, including people with capital resources like the Bowerses to improve properties and secure funding for purchase and improvements. Casa Maria is free to legally protest the Bowerses ownership of these properties, but the South Tucson City Council has the responsibility to ask whether suitable alternatives exist to provide affordable housing in a community with a current deficit. The close interconnection between Casa Maria and the South Tucson City Council raises questions of whether the city’s actions against the Bowerses are being taken in good faith with the best interest of the South Tucson public in mind and, more seriously, in a constitutional manner."

Brian Bowers, Owner A.M. Family Properties L.L.C. and Torino Avenue L.L.C.

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Reyna Preciado is a reporter for KGUN 9, she joined the KGUN 9 team in July of 2022 after graduating Arizona State University. Share your story ideas with Reyna by emailing reyna.preciado@kgun9.com or by connecting on Instagram, or Twitter.