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Phoenix residents worry clean-up plan for 'The Zone' will create unsafe parks

For the first time, Phoenix plans to hire two dozen rangers to work overnight at city parks — and the timing is critical.

Phoenix Councilwoman Ann O’Brien says Cortez Park at 35th and Dunlap avenues has become safer for residents since the city hired private overnight security. Last October, a body was discovered in the lake at Cortez Park, which topped the city’s list of parks with the most rule violations and illegal activities.

Last November the City Council approved a pilot program at 12 city parks that is scheduled to end in July.

“We’ve taken several steps forward,” O’Brien said during Tuesday’s council meeting. “I don’t want us to take any steps backward.”

As a result of a lawsuit brought by businesses and residents, Phoenix must clean an area near downtown known as “ The Zone.” It’s where hundreds of people live in tents. This month, the city plans to start closing one block to camping.

“There’s concerns as we clean up the downtown area, that there’s a huge fear in our other districts about displacement.” O’Brien said. “I know we lead with services and I’m proud of that, but that is a fear from constituents, that what we cleaned up in our district will go backwards, especially without these additional resources in the evening to make sure we are following our parks rules and our laws.”

Parks Director Cynthia Aguilar said when private security ends and 14 rangers begin, overnight patrols will be prioritized, “We continue to look at data that drivers us to certain parks based on number of ranger visits, trespass notices issued, citations issued, so we will continue to use that system to help us know which parks are in the greatest need.”

Phoenix has more than 180 parks.

City Manager Jeff Barton said staff could work on keeping the private security in place until city rangers are hired so there is an overlap. He also suggested using private security on an as needed basis in the future.

The new ranger positions are part of the city manager's trial budget. A city council budget decision is expected May 16.

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As a senior field correspondent, Christina Estes focuses on stories that impact our economy, your wallet and public policy.