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Thursday, May 21, 2015

No Default? So?

Apparently Basic IDIQ did not default on their contract to finish (before the Second Coming) San Jacinto Park as I posted last week. So?

I read the El Paso Times story. Your best read is Refuse the Juice on this story.

I have no doubt that the word among those on the 2nd floor of City Hall late last week was that a default was coming. Whatever was worked out among lawyers simply staved off what may very well become the reality - a default. Certainly someone will get hurt. A sub-contractor or two or three. And, of course, citizens and taxpayers of El Paso have been hurt big time already. 

The City is being very careful as evidenced by their words and actions after Tuesday's executive session. It tells me that a default is still possible and Council is trying to avoid that.

Good luck. Just today I observed "work" at the park from a window at the El Paso Community Foundation. It wasn't lunch time but there was much sitting and aimless wandering. On my way to the Community Foundation I passed two men. One said: "What a mess by the f-ing city." (That could have been the title for this post. What a mess.)

Who is to blame? City Council. City Council. City Council. They are too scared to dismiss staff's low bid recommendations and either go with a more responsible bidder or rebid.  In the case of the park, they could have delayed award and made all subs complete a prequalification statement outlining project experience and financial capability.  And they could have postponed award and made sure that the architect provided cost estimates in true dollars that showed that the project could be completed for that amount. If the plans and specs left too many unanswered questions for bidders then the other two bidders may have added more to their bid to cover the unknowns or they actually priced correctly and Basic threw a low number at it believing they could convince the city to approve a lesser product or finish.

City Engineering is also to be blamed. Their oversight of the project has been poor to say the least. They should have raised red flags a long time ago. "Engineering and Construction Management" - "Construction Management" is an oxymoron.

Finally, whether or not this project belongs to all El Pasoans and thus to all Council districts, the fact remains that the park is in only one Council member's district: Cortney Niland's. She was on top of this just as she was with the trash collection site next to Keystone Heritage Park. She should have been the watch dog in chief. Here is one place her pechant for control could have come in handy and I'm not just talking about demanding that El Pasoan's beloved Christmas Tree should come down just because it isn't triangular enough for her.

Why should elpasonaturally pay attention to this subject? This is a blog about conservation, the environment and sustainability. But a park is a commons. It is in a sense a dedicated open space where we want to connect with nature even in the midst of the urban built environment. It has trees and this blog has already taken on the city for its lack of care for the Plaza Park trees and trees everywhere. (BTW, somebody please tell me how the trees in the park are currently being watered.) Engineering does whatever it pleases and it does not care what other experts think. elpasonaturally has taken them on and will continue to do so. 

So, no default? But lots of fault and the saga is sadly not over.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

6,638 Signatures!!!

After just over 2 months collecting signatures on the We the People/Save the Franklin Mountains petition, I reported the totals to City Council this morning. 6,638 people signed. 3,808 of those were hard copies; 2,830 were online. (The number now online is 2,837.)

Here is how the petition reads: 

"WE THE PEOPLE want preserved, in its natural state and in perpetuity, all of the undeveloped land owned by the City of El Paso on the western side of the Franklin Mountains that is north of Transmountain Road, east of the EPNG Pipeline Road and south of the New Mexico/El Paso boundary and on the eastern side of the Franklin Mountains that is north of Transmountain, west of Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. and south of the New Mexico/El Paso boundary."

Because the petition was not an initiative petition, City Council is not compelled to do anything. The hope, of course, is that they will respond to this outpouring of popular support for the Franklins and against sprawl. elpasonaturally has learned that at least 2 city council members support the petition.

Should there be a need to gather signatures on an initiative petition, it would be easy as contact info for signers of the We the People petition has been collected. The number needed for an initiative petition would be about one-third of the 6,638 signatures collected so far.

If you haven't signed the petition (hard copy or online), you can still do so HERE.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Amending Dark Sky Postponed Again

Once again City Council has postponed discussion and action regarding an amendment to the dark sky ordinance. The amendment is being pushed by Clear Channel which does not want to comply with the ordinance even though they have had TEN years to become dark sky compliant.

Dark Sky proponent and activist, Marci Turner, emailed this message: "Thank you very much for your emails to the City - - you made a difference!!!"

She urges you (and elpasonaturally urges you) to keep up the pressure on City Council members, the Mayor, the City Manager and Planning's Matthew McElroy. A sample email message and email addresses can be found HERE. It is very important to include Mr. McElroy in your emails. He has responsibility to report public comments on the issue to Council.

If you'd like to sign-up to speak against changes to the Dark Sky ordinance next week, go HERE. However, next week's agenda won't be posted until this Thursday. 

elpasonaturally will keep you informed.

Keep the Dark Sky Ordinance Just the Way It Is


Just a reminder to please contact your City Council representative, the Mayor's office, Matthew McElroy in city planning and City Manager Tommy Gonzalez to tell them that you don't want our dark sky ordinance amended. Everyone in the City of El Paso (including big sign companies, viz., Clear Channel) have had 10 years to comply. There is no excuse for not doing so. 

Here is a sample email: Dear Rep. ___/Mayor's Office/City Manager/ Matthew McElroy, Please deny any requests for exemptions or changes to our current Dark Sky Ordinance. 

Here are the email addresses: 

District 1 Ann Morgan Lilly lillyam@elpasotexas.gov
District 2 Larry Romero romerol@elpasotexas.gov
District 3 Emma Acosta acostaea@elpasotexas.gov
District 4 Carl Robinson robinsoncl@elpasotexas.gov
District 5 Michiel Noe noem@elpasotexas.gov
District 6 Claudia Ordaz ordazc@elpasotexas.gov
District 7 Lily Limon limonl@elpasotexas.gov
District 8 Cortney Niland nilandcc@elpasotexas.gov
The Mayor Oscar Leeser morenotl@elpasotexas.gov
City Manager Tommy Gonzalez TGonzalaz@elpasotexas.gov      
Matthew McElroy, City Planning mcelroymx@elpasotexas.gov    


Additionally, dark sky activist, Marci Turner, sent the following message to all of us:

May 7th, 2015 marks the 10 year anniversary of El Paso’s Dark Sky Ordinance.

Businesses, residents and the City were given 10 years to come into compliance with this ordinance which requires all outdoor lighting to be directed downward, not up toward the sky.  This ordinance not only protects our night skies, but also contributes to the health and safety of our community.

This would be a good time for residents to check their own outdoor lights.

1.  Check your lights to be sure they are directed downward, to the area you want illuminated.

2.  Be sure your outdoor lights do not shine on your neighbor’s property, only on your property.

3.  Your lights also may not shine out toward the street and into the eyes of passing motorists.

Please note that illumination of a flag is allowed.

If you are unsure of your light fixtures, you can check online for Dark Sky Compliant Lights.  Home Depot and Lowe’s sell DSC light fixtures.  They are labeled as Dark Sky Compliant.  The actual light bulb should not be visible from a “side view” of your fixture.  If your neighbor has a light that is trespassing on your property, show them this flyer and ask them to please adjust their lighting.

In 2005, a representative from McDonald’s Observatory in Ft. Davis remarked that the only thing they could see from Ft. Davis to the West Coast was the light pollution created by El Paso.  Since then the amount of light pollution has been significantly reduced thanks to our businesses, city, and residents.

Questions?  Contact Marci Turner   marciaturner@elp.rr.com

Bottom line: We all can make a difference when it comes to light pollution. Clear Channel should also have a sense of civic pride.

Friday, May 15, 2015

How to Protest New Appraisals on Your Property

[At last - a really valuable, no-nonsense seminar from a City Council member! Note the alternate May 28th date. Haven't we all had enough of taxes on our overly appraised homes. Three cheers for Claudia Ordaz and Vince Perez.]

Click on image to enlarge

Tell City Council and Matthew McElroy: Don't Amend Dark Sky Ordinance

[Below is from Marci Turner. This is a lengthy post; but please read it and respond. At the very bottom in red is more info from Marci. Again, please read. Please contact your City Council representative and Matthew McElroy. Only elpasonaturally supplies you with email addresses to city representatives and others that go directly to them and not to staff.]

I need your help again.  This item set for April 21st was postponed until May 19th.  I urge you to forward this to anyone you believe would be interested in helping.  We need to show the City community support!

ACTION NEEDED!

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

This Tuesday, May 19th,  City Council will discuss and vote on items  on the agenda.  These item read as follows:

10.3

An Ordinance amending Title 18, Chapter 18.18 (Outdoor Lighting Code) Of the City Code by amending Chapter 18.19.310 (Nonconformance) to add an exception for upward directed sign lighting for off premise signs and by amending Chapter 18.18.120 (Externally Illuminated Sign Standards) to provide for an exception for upward directed sign lighting. The penalty being as provided in Section 18.02.111 (Violations And Penalties) of the El Paso City Code.

11.1.

An Ordinance amending Title 18, Chapter 18.18 (Outdoor Lighting Code) Of the City Code by amending Chapter 18.19.310 (Nonconformance) to add an exception for upward directed sign lighting for off premise signs and by amending Chapter 18.18.120 (Externally Illuminated Sign Standards) to provide for an exception for upward directed sign lighting. The penalty being as provided in Section 18.02.111 (Violations And Penalties) of the El Paso City Code. [POSTPONED FROM 04-21-2015]

“off premise signs” means billboards.  The billboard industry is asking for an exemption from our Outdoor Lighting Code (Dark Sky Ordinance).  They are requesting permission to continue using upward directed lights on their billboards.

They are also requesting a one year extension to change their lights to LED. LED lights produce the same amount of light pollution as the current lights, but will save the company money.

HERE is an email I sent to City Council, Mayor, and the City Manager last Monday, before the introduction of this item.  Please take a moment to read this message if you have not seen it. I first sent it in April.

I’m asking each of you to send an email to all members of City Council by noon this next Monday asking them to deny any exemptions from our current ordinance.  If there are 2 or more in a household, I ask that you send 1 email from each individual account. 

Simple Email Example:  Dear City Council, please deny any requests for exemptions or changes to our current Dark Sky Ordinance. 

Thank you for your help!!  Marcia Turner

These emails can be sent as one email if you like….merely type (or cut and paste) each address separated by a semi-colon in the “to” box.  I have added the last two names to this list.  

District 1 Ann Morgan Lilly lillyam@elpasotexas.gov
District 2 Larry Romero romerol@elpasotexas.gov
District 3 Emma Acosta acostaea@elpasotexas.gov
District 4 Carl Robinson robinsoncl@elpasotexas.gov
District 5 Michiel Noe noem@elpasotexas.gov
District 6 Claudia Ordaz ordazc@elpasotexas.gov
District 7 Lily Limon limonl@elpasotexas.gov
District 8 Cortney Niland nilandcc@elpasotexas.gov
The Mayor Oscar Leeser morenotl@elpasotexas.gov
City Manager Tommy Gonzalez TGonzalaz@elpasotexas.gov      
Matthew McElroy, City Planning mcelroymx@elpasotexas.gov    

I’m going to ask people to send emails to council again – and this time include Mathew S. McElroy, (915) 212-1550, mcelroymx@elpasotexas.gov who stated there were no letters or calls objecting to the change.

Also – I’m trying to find three people to speak about the following items presented by the “industry” that convinced the staff to approve the change.

At a Council session of November 18, 2014, council directed staff to revise the Title 18.18 (Dark Sky) Lighting Ordinance subsequent to a presentation by industry representatives that indicated:

• LED lighting is less intrusive than current lighting  (this is not true. LED lights emit a white light that is in fact more intrusive – I need someone in lighting who can say this briefly)
• LED lighting is considerably more energy efficient and cost effective.  (true, but what benefit is this to the city?  It only saves the industry money)

• Retrofitting currently existing signs would be cost prohibitive.  (I need a money person to tell the industry revenue for a particular year, and to ask about the expense incurred by local businesses to comply)

Big Oil and Their Politicians Ignore the Will of the People

Torchlight Energy Resources begins drilling in pristine environment of Hudspeth County only miles from El Paso.

[Below is a letter to the editor of the El Paso Times. It was run under the title of "Politicians Protect Fracking, Hurt Communities". The letter is from Ho Baron, political activist and sculpturist.]


Oil and gas fracking is a dirty drilling practice contaminating soil and water, inducing earthquakes, polluting the air and causing numerous health problems.

When Denton’s city council banned local fracking, the industry successfully lobbied the Texas government to pass House Bill 40. With $5.5 million contributed to legislators’ campaigns, Big Oil bribed our Republican Texas government to prohibit cities from banning fracking.

Though Republicans continually fight for state’s rights, they are eliminating long established property laws and community rights.

Utilizing our city water, fracking operations have begun drilling 10 miles east of the El Paso in Hudspeth County. Ironically, the University of Texas system leased the land to the frackers who project drillng 2500 wells in Hudspeth County.

Industry profits therefore have priority over our environment, endangering El Paso/Juarez lives and the future of our communities. Meanwhile, locals, who fought for years to rid El Paso of Asarco, have been hesitant to condemn this far worse impending threat.

Historically, interrelated factors contributing to societal collapses have been population, climate, water, agriculture and energy.  Societal failures often stem from the exploitive elites, selfishly stretching resources for personal profit. Lacking foresight, they believe themselves immune from the consequences of their actions.

Fracking has come to West Texas, and it’s so representative of the chokehold that corporations, the super rich, and the Republican Party have on our future.