Tuesday, December 28, 2010

KFOX Story: Transmountain Fight Enters Round Two

Daniel Novick's story was aired on KFOX just yesterday. His write-up is available online as is the video for the news story. Judy Ackerman of the Franklin Mountain Wilderness Coalition is prominent and the story gives a good account of our side of the debate including showing our blog graphic posted earlier and shown again here:

You can read the story and see the video here.

By the way, view the video below but imagine that as you drive toward the mountain from the west, you encounter PSB's NW Master Plan in full bloom: commercial buildings crowding the road and obscuring the view.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas

Rio Grande by Tom Lea, oil on canvas, 1954

Back when I was a boy growing up in El Paso, KTSM produced a show that I believe was called "Look to the Mountain". El Paso icon, Conrey Bryson, hosted the Christmas Star program each year when the star on the mountain was lit for Christmastide. That was when the star meant something besides an energy burning fetish and the sacred cow of El Paso politicians. Famed American artist/author and El Paso resident, Tom Lea, read from his essay, "Old Mount Franklin". Lea wrote this inscription to Bryson when the essay was published in 1968: "There is a deep happiness in sharing this old town and this old mountain with friends like you." All of us who have or who now treasure the mountain and enjoy its trails, ridge and arroyos, know that deep happiness.

Lea concluded his essay this way:

"Above the Rio Grande's ribbon of green, forming one side of the portal of the Pass of the North, Mount Franklin is a presence and a personality. Standing above us, above the build of our town, Mount Franklin is the landmark and the trademark of where we live."

Our "landmark and trademark". Preserve or develop?

May we preserve this "landmark and trademark" and protect its beauty which is the home and habitat of a myriad of plants and animals. May we continue to have the deep happiness of sharing our old mountain together.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

TxDOT EA Document "Not an Official Copy"

Mary Telles-Goins from TxDOT's Advanced Planning told me yesterday that the Environmental Assessment currently circulating is a "confidential work product" not ready for circulation. Here is her full email message to me:

Mr. Tolbert, I want to thank you for your call this morning to ask about the comment period for the environmental assessment for the Loop 375 Transmountain project. As I explained, the document has not been released by the Federal Highway Administration for further processing. In fact, we are still addressing comments and the document that you have was for coordination among state agencies and the Federal Highway Administration. Until FHWA releases the document, it is considered to be a confidential work product.

I don't want to put you on the spot and ask outright who has copies, but obviously, it is important to us that the public understand that the copy that was put into circulation by some unknown person/agency is not an official copy and is still being revised. If you could let the people you are aware of know that a revised copy will circulate later, when it is officially released for further processing, I would really appreciate it. The process I explained in an earlier email will still be followed, once we are authorized to release the environmental assessment. A legal notice will be published twice, 30 days and 10 days before the hearing, to notify the public that the document is available for review and purchase at the district office. The hearing would be held, with an opportunity for public comment at the hearing after the formal presentation of the information on the project. A ten day comment period would follow the hearing. Letters are mailed out to the elected officials, property owners and interested public letting them know the same information that appears in the legal notice for the hearing.

Thank you and you know how to reach me if you have any questions. I appreciate your help!

Mary Telles-Goins
Advance Transportation Planning
TxDOT - El Paso District

Ms. Telles-Goins has always been that exemplary kind of public servant who responds to public questions quickly. I've always known her to be upfront. I don't question Mary but I do question those above her and I wonder how much the document will change once "coordination among state agencies" is completed. I suspect that there will be plenty of public comment and plenty of dissent especially if there is a finding of no significant impact.

By the way, Mary Telles-Goins is retiring from TxDOT at the end of this month. Tomorrow (December 23rd) is her last full day at work. For 25 years she has been the epitome of a public servant. Elpasonaturally wishes her all the best and thanks her.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Finding of No Significant Impacts

Click on image to enlarge.

"The engineering, social, economic, and environmental investigations conducted thus far on the proposed project indicate that it will result in no significant impacts on the quality of the human environment and that a FONSI (Finding of No Significant Impact) is anticipated."

Thus concludes the summary of the "Environmental Assessment/Loop 375 (Transmountain Road) from I-10 to 0.479 Mile East of the Tom Mays Unit of the Franklin Mountains State Park Entrance El Paso, Texas/CSJ:2552-01-033. The date of publication on the cover page is November 2010 along with the logs for the Federal Highway Administration and the Texas Department of Transportation/El Paso District. No where on the cover (or anywhere else) does it say "DRAFT". By all appearances the report of which I have a complete PDF, is final.

Yet, when I asked a TxDOT official if the clock was now running for the one-month public comment period, I was told that this was not a final report and was not ready for publication yet. I have every reason to believe that this official was being absolutely honest with me and the distress in her voice not to mention her record of impeccable integrity confirmed that for me.

Yet, one wonders whether it isn't the final report as desired by a cabal of closed door officials and only formalities are now being observed while El Pasoans are being kept in the dark.

The word "Draft" does not appear on the cover page.

Much more later.

Largest Urban Park in the US Threatened by Urban Sprawl

Mule Deer near Transmountain Road will be threatened by PSB's Proposed Sprawl

Below is an informative piece which is currently posted on, a site developed by Rick LoBello the author of the article. It was also posted at the Chihuahuan Desert Education Coalition site which set off alarm bells at EPWU/PSB, an organization represented in the membership of this independent non-profit organization. Mr. LoBello's essay shows why protecting the Transmountain corridor is not just a matter of scenery:

Largest urban park in the US threatened by urban sprawl

by Rick LoBello

El Paso, Texas. December 5, 2010. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department protects the heart of the Franklin Mountains range as part of the country’s largest urban park, Franklin Mountains State Park. One of the greatest challenges in protecting the park and its biodiversity is the ongoing destruction of the desert by urban sprawl developments in the surrounding lowland desert habitat. Over the past 100 years nearly the entire foothills natural landscape has been destroyed by developments from the historic Rio Grande and the downtown area for nearly 10 miles north towards New Mexico on both the east and west sides of the range.

The Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition has a grassroots effort underway to protect Public Service Board administered public lands as natural open space along the west side of the range along Trans Mountain Road and the Fort Bliss Castner Range in northeast El Paso. On October 6, 2010 the El Paso City Council voted to direct city staff to rezone 900 acres included in the Northwest Master Plan near the boundary of Franklin Mountains State Park so that they cannot be developed.

The El Paso Water Utilities Public Service Board, of which the Mayor of El Paso is a member, passed a resolution stating they would pursue all available remedies of law in response to the City Councils action because of their concern that rezoning the land could kill a $80 million highway project in the same area which along with housing developments will end up destroying the last remaining wild and scenic corridor in this part of the Franklin Mountains. The PSB believes that there is no cause for concern highlighting how they have been proactive in protecting the mountains including the transfer of “nearly 8,000 acres to expand the Franklin Mountains State Park.” They also state that there is no mountainside development in the Northwest Master Plan; it’s all on the hillside lower elevation areas and that they are” leaving open space as a buffer between development and the state park.”

The issue was addressed again by City Planning Commission on November 18 when they voted unanimously not to recommend rezoning the Scenic Transmountain Corridor as Natural Open Space.

Many people in El Paso believe that if current efforts to protect the lower elevations of the Franklin Mountains fail the City of El Paso will be hard pressed to live up to an important goal in its Sustainability Plan adopted on September 15, 2009 to “achieve international recognition for successful preservation of our Chihuahuan desert heritage for all time” and many species that depend on these lowland areas will be displaced or die when their habitat is destroyed.

Most biologists familiar with the Chihuahuan Desert understand the importance of protecting all elevations of the eco-region, not just the rugged mountain slopes and peaks. In El Paso many believe that as long as you protect the mountain vistas and have a park like Franklin Mountains State Park protecting 37 square miles of the higher elevations, protection of lower elevations is not a concern. This misconception if far from the truth since many desert species of animals and plants survive only in lower elevations while others with large home ranges need habitat at more than one elevation. For example, in the City of El Paso burrowing owls appear to be declining in numbers because of all the new housing developments being constructed across the city. These owls require low elevation areas where they can nest underground in abandoned burrows dug by mammals or if soil conditions allow in burrows they dig themselves.

In northeast El Paso the Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition is partnering with the Frontera Land Alliance to protect the Castner Range at Fort Bliss. To help call attention to the importance of protecting this area from proposed developments the Coalition since 2007 has been sponsoring an annual Poppies Celebration in March on the grounds of the El Paso Museum of Archaeology in the heart of the Castner Range. The area is well known as one of the best spots to enjoy the Mexican poppies that bloom in this area.

Last year Congressman Silvestre Reyes secured funding from the Appropriations Bills in the amount of $300,000 to fund a Castner Range Conservation Conveyance Study aimed at preserving Castner Range for conservation purposes. This study will facilitate a conservation conveyance which is a first step for transferring responsibility of 11 square mile Castner Range to the State of Texas. This project will help preserve open space in the El Paso area and supports efforts to expand the Franklin Mountains State Park.

Achieving successful preservation of the Chihuahuan Desert within city limits and the surrounding region with the help of researchers and conservation educators will require the commitment of a wide range of stakeholders including City and County land management authorities, Texas and New Mexico state governments, private landowners and the surrounding community.

There are many reasons why protecting El Paso's Trans Mountain Scenic Corridor is so important to protecting Franklin Mountains State Park. Here are ten of them.

1. The lowland desert areas surrounding Franklin Mountains State Park provide habitat for many species of animals and plants. To survive in this part of the Chihuahuan Desert ecoregion many species require these lower elevations for food and protection. Other species require habitat at both low and high elevations.

2. As urban sprawl creeps closer to the boundaries of the park the area's nesting birds will be threatened by domestic cats that many people in El Paso allow to roam freely in their neighborhoods.

3. The new TX-Dot road project and related developments along the three mile corridor on the west side of Trans Mountain Road will destroy the last wild scenic view in this part of the city important to the quality of life for thousands of El Pasoans currently enjoying the area.

4. The loss of the last wild scenic view in West El Paso will hurt the city's ability to expand ecotourism important to the entire region.

5. Campers visiting the Tom Mays section of Franklin Mountains State Park plus those who will someday be able to camp out on backcountry trails will be affected by both light and noise pollution associated with developments included in the Northwest Master Plan.

6. Threatened Texas horned lizards living in the lowland areas of the Franklin Mountains will lose critical habitat which could eventually lead to extinction of the species in this part of Texas.

7. Golden eagles and other raptors in the Franklin Mountains will lose important lowland hunting and nesting areas.

8. Mule deer will not have as many lowland areas to use as part of their overall range important to seasonal food production and protection from extreme temperatures during winter snow storms.

9. Javelina or collared peccaries appear to be expanding their range in this area and developments associated with the Northwest Master Plan will hurt their chances of finding the habitat they need to successfully establish themselves in this part of El Paso.

10. The potential for any future efforts to restore extirpated species like desert bighorn and Mexican wolves to this part of the Franklin Mountains will be impaired by urban sprawl developments.

Make Plans Now for Free Tours of Archaeology Museum in January

Cliff Dwellers Diorama, photo by Nancy Aniszewska, 2010

Make plans now for these free tours in January of the Museum of Archaeology. Here's the press release:

Free Tours of the El Paso Museum of Archaeology

Tours for Families with Elementary-School-Age Children

At 1:00 pm on Sundays, January 9, 23 and 30, 2011

Adult Tours

At 1:00 pm on Wednesdays: January 12 and 19, 2011

These free one-hour, docent-led tours of the El Paso Museum of Archaeology will introduce participants to the people of El Paso’s ancient past from the Paleoindians who lived here 14,000 years ago to the Mescalero Apache people of today. Visitors will also see prehistoric artifacts from several regions of México. Reservations are not necessary but contact the museum if you plan to attend, 915-755-4332; To enjoy the gardens, wear suitable clothing, shoes, and sun protection.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Google Earth map of NW Master Plan land

Same map showing if all goes "according to plan"

The first petition asks that the City Council for an ordinance that "shall preserve, in its natural state and in perpetuity, all of the land . . . known as 'the West Transmountain Scenic Corridor.'" The pictures above show why such an ordinance is necessary.

The second petition adds the line: "The City shall take all steps necessary to preserve this land and to prevent it from being developed with either private development or major public roadways." This petition makes it clear to TxDOT and others that Paseo del Norte should be "bent" to the west and the flatter area around the Natural Gas Pipeline Road.

The land must be preserved by Natural Open Space Zoning. The argument by staff at CPC was that NOS will create "leapfrog" development. This argument is as bogus as saying that any development around major urban parks or green spaces is "leap frog" development. Preserved natural open space is like any natural park such as the Billy Rogers Arroyo Park or the Franklin Mountains State Park. I don't think that any El Pasoan would call the Franklin Mountains as the cause of leapfrog development. Those who know Arroyo Park wouldn't want it filled in so as to prevent a leapfrog from Kern Place to Rim Road!

CPC was sold a bill of goods. Both Nick Costanzo of EPWU and Matt McElroy of City Planning eluded to a "deal" between Ed Archuleta and Joyce Wilson to use Smart Codes. The word on the street now: Ed Archuleta has reneged on his promise.

"If the area eventually gets developed with no NOS and/or Conservation Easement protection," Open Space Advisory Board chairman Charlie Wakeem points out, "it would wipe out two large hills and an arroyo crossing Transmountain Road near where Paseo Del Norte is proposed, let alone the magnificent scenic beauty of the landscape and mountains."

A recreational area for a population beset by diabetes and its consequences would be gone for the sake of enriching a powerful few.

In the picture above, note the deepening arroyos and steeper slopes as Transmountain approaches the Franklins. Note also the ugly sprawl and vacant land and ponding areas to the south (upper right portion of the picture) threatening the scenic, recreational corridor.

If you are a registered voter residing in El Paso, Texas, please sign the petitions.

Friday, December 10, 2010

What Development Will Look Like

Do you want this? Click to enlarge.

Or this? Click to enlarge.

The first image above is the Scenic Transmountain Corridor as seen from Gas Line Road. The view at the bottom is that same corridor showing development per the PSB's Northwest Master Plan. It was created using Google Earth and then superimposing development based on the Master Plan on top of the Google Earth image.

A few people will make lots of money developing the only scenic corridor on the west side which is also a major greenfield. A multi-lane road will be built no matter what. It's a matter of how it will be done. If the highway is built the way TxDOT proposes and the PSB wants, it will take out two large hills, arroyos and the scenic splendor of the desert with the mountains as a centerpiece.

Elpasonaturally has heard that Ed Archuleta of the PSB may now be reneging on his pact with city officials to develop this land using smart code. Did he want people to think that smart code was acceptable to him in order to get a unanimous vote from CPC not to recommend Natural Open Space zoning? Such zoning along with an easement to preserve the 792 acres of the corridor in its natural state in perpetuity is the only way to go.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

New look at

Just finished a new look for I hope everyone likes the improvements.

How to Save the Scenic Transmountain Corridor

The Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition is sponsoring 2 new initiative petitions. The first calls for preserving in its natural state and in perpetuity the land known as the Scenic Transmountain Corridor and referenced in a proposed City ordinance now scheduled for a vote by Council on January 11, 2011. The second petition adds the wording that the City "shall take all steps necessary to preserve this land and to prevent it from being developed with either private development or major public roadways." It was thought that a petition with the additional sentence would be helpful to TxDOT as they soon will go through a public hearing process after they complete their environmental assessment.

Here's how you can help save the Scenic Transmountain Corridor. At the top right hand column of this blog are links to documents that you can download: Instructions for gathering signatures, the petition forms, and FAQs. Maps and other docs will be added in the next few days and throughout the petition process to help you answer questions and be able to show potential signers the land in question. Look for them daily. The currently posted documents are also embedded in this post below.

Only registered voters residing in the City of El Paso can sign the petitions. We need at least 1547 signatures so please get started.

Item number 7 on the Instructions tells you where and by when to return the petitions.

Thank you for your help.
Instructions for Petition Gatherers
Initiative Petition Form
Initiative Petition Form2

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Visualize the Vanishing Scenic Transmountain Corridor

Click on this or any of the images below to enlarge.

Above is the scenic corridor as seen from Gas Line road - just about where "Plexxar"will go per TxDOT plan:

Now develop and add traffic and here's your new view of the "scenic" corridor:

Just imagine how ugly that view will be once Paseo del Norte gets built through the Westside Master Plan area that we want to preserve as Natural Open Space. Once that road and intersection are built along with the Ed Archuleta Commercial District, forget the view. In fact, forget the land because creating an arterial like Paseo del Norte will ultimately force development a mile wide on either side or up to the State Park - whichever comes first.

Now, here is the Scenic Corridor and the un-Scenic Corridor side by side:

Seen enough?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Visit the El Paso Museum of Archaeology

The El Paso Museum of Archaeology always has worthwhile exhibits, events and lectures. It's well worth the visit at any time. You can even keep up with events at the archaeological museum by joining their email list.

Curator of Education, Marilyn Guida, tells us about what's happening this week at the museum:

Dear Friends of Archaeology,

This week at the El Paso Museum of Archaeology we have a Zip Tour of the Traditions and Symbols exhibit at 2 pm on Sun. Nov. 28 (tomorrow), an Adult Tour of the museum on Wed. Dec. 1 at 10 am, and a Family Workshop on Sat. Dec. 4 from 1:30 to 3:30 pm. Please see details below and share this message with your friends and family.

Zip Tour, Sunday, November 28, 2010, 2:00 pm, Free Admission

Curator of Education Marilyn Guida presents this brief tour of the Traditions and Symbols exhibit in which ten members of the Juntos Art Association of El Paso explore contemporary, historic, and prehistoric Mexican, Mexican-American, and indigenous Native American cultural traditions and symbols.

Adult Tour, Wednesday, December 1, 2010, 10:00 am, Free Admission

Docent Mike Iglar presents this free one-hour tour of the El Paso Museum of Archaeology and surrounding Chihuahuan Desert Gardens which will introduce adults to the people of El Paso’s ancient past from the Paleoindians who lived here 14,000 years ago to the Mescalero Apache people of today. Visitors will also see prehistoric artifacts from several regions of México. To enjoy the gardens, wear suitable clothing, shoes, and sun protection. Reservations are not necessary but contact the museum if you plan to attend, 915-755-4332;

Family Workshop: Holiday Designs in Metal Embossing/Repujado with Maria Almeida Natividad

For Adults and Children Ages 6 and Up

Seating for Maximum of 30 Participants

Saturday, December 4, 2010, 1:30 – 3:30 pm

Admission: $2.00 for museum members; $5.00 for non- members


Information and registration: 915-755-4332 or

El Paso artist Maria Almeida Natividad leads adults and children in creating holiday-themed art using the ancient art of embossing or pressing shapes into metal to create a design in this workshop. Aluminum foil metal and other materials will be supplied. Traditional holiday designs such as Christmas trees, candy canes, stars, and ojos de Dios/eyes of God will be provided. Adults and children may select a design or create their own, then add an antique look with paints and/or markers. The metal embossing technique, called repujado in Spanish, arrived in Mexico during Spanish colonization.

Museum Location: 4301 Transmountain Road, El Paso 79924

You may also want to consider joining the El Paso Archaeological Society.

Hike Planned to Plane Crash Site

Click image to enlarge.

The Sunrise Group of the Elpasonaturally Hikers are planning a hike to see the site of the November 9th single engine plane crash. Miraculously all 3 game wardens escaped critical injury including one female who was trapped in the plane for 2 hours. All 3 are reportedly well now.

Hikers plan to meet this Tuesday morning at 7 a.m. at the Shell station on I-10 and Transmountain and will carpool just east of mile marker 5 along Highway 404 (O'Hara Road). The plane, which came down in the same canyon where the trail to the Anthony Gap cave is located, is believed to still be there.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Our Place in Nature

Veronica Chavira sent a lovely note to Judy Ackerman which was forwarded to me since I am a board member of the Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition. Veronica shared a passage from What Is Tao by Alan Watts, someone whose writings have had a deep influence on me. With all the recent political ramblings and rumblings, it is easy to forget that our subject is sustainability and that sustainability must be grounded in matters of the spirit and the heart. It is impossible to speak of sustainable agriculture or sustainable community, for example, without thinking about the things which sustain the spirit.

Responding to the issues around Natural Open Space, Veronica wrote:
"When I climb the mountains I feel renewed. I look at the development on our mountain and feel a sense of loss as an animal having to find a new home, a sense of displacement overwhelms me. Understanding the same feelings of loving the mountain and wanting to live in a natural environment, construction and land development continues in this space. A sense of oneness with the land penetrates my body and I feel I am home."
She shares this passage from Chapter One ("Our Place in Nature") of What Is Tao:
Our Place In Nature- Chapter One
Many years ago, when I was only about fourteen years old, I first saw landscape paintings from the Far East. It was as a result of looking at these painting that I first became interested in Eastern philosophy. What grasped me and excited me about the Asian vision of the world was their astonishing sympathy and feeling for the world of nature.

One painting in particular that I remember was called Mountain after Rain. It showed the mist and clouds drifting away after a night of pouring rain, and it somehow pulled me into it and made me feel part of that mountain scene. It is fascinating for us to consider that pictures of this kind are not just what we would describe as landscape paintings, because they are also icons, a kind of religious or philosophical painting.

In the West, when we think of iconographic or religious paintings, we are accustomed to pictures of divine human figures and of angels and saints. When the mind of the Far East expresses its religious feeling, however, it finds appropriate imagery in the objects of nature, an in it's very important respect their feeling for nature is different from ours. The contrast in these two forms of expression arises as a result of the sensation that the human being is not someone who stands apart from nature and looks at it from the outside, but instead is an integral part of it. Instead of dominating nature, human beings fit right into it and feel perfectly at home.

In the West our attitude is strangely different, and we constantly use a phrase that sounds peculiar indeed in the ears of a Chinese person: We speak of "the conquest of nature" or "the conquest of space," and the "conquest" of great mountains like Everest. And one might very well ask us, "What on Earth is the matter with you? Why must you feel as if you are in a fight with your environment all the time? Aren't you grateful to the mountain that it lifted you up as you climbed to the top of it? Aren't you grateful to space that it opens itself up for you so you can travel right through It?"

Indeed, it is this domineering feeling that underlies the way we use technology. We use the powers of electricity and the strength of steel to carry on a battle with our external world, and instead of trying to live with the curvature of the land we flatten it with bulldozers, and constantly try to beat our surroundings into submission.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

CPC Says "No" to NOS Zoning

At its long awaited meeting this afternoon and after a long period of staff, PSB and public comment, the City Plan Commission passed a motion that recommends not designating land in the Transmountain Scenic Corridor as Natural Open Space and, instead, to recommend development of the land using Smart Codes. It would seem that City Planner Matt McElroy had the most influence on the CPC as he argued that more land would be preserved as open space under smart code development rather than rezoning the corridor as NOS. Furthermore, McElroy argued that preserving the corridor with NOS zoning would cause leapfrog sprawling (north and south of the corridor) which is something Council and the City wants to prevent. (Nothing was said that the corridor could be preserved and that smart code would then be applied to development north and south of it and that such development - rather than be leapfrogging - would be joined by adjacent developments west of the area.)

Also, in spite of proposed changes to the NOS ordinance itself, CPC members were persuaded that zoning the land as NOS might jeopardize the $80 million non-public approved TxDOT plan (which includes the illegal Plexxar intersection) and needed water utility infrastructure could not be built. Neither McElroy nor EPWU spokesman, Nick Costanza, attempted to clear up these misrepresentations.

The suggestion was also made by McElroy and Costanza that some "deal" had been struck between City Manager, Joyce Wilson, and EPWU CEO, Ed Archuleta, regarding smart growth plans. Of course, the public is never privy to such behind-closed-door deals that should be out in the open.

The Westside Master Plan has huge problems according to URS, the consulting firm that gave the City as stormwater master plan. TxDOT proposes to build a freeway/highway that includes an illegal intersection - Plexxar. Finally preserving the Scenic Transmountain Corridor does not mean leapfrogging - but that argument was not countered certainly because advocates of open natural space did not expect the knife in the back from Matt McElroy. Et tu, Matt? Twist it a bit more the next time, will you?

What's next? The matter goes to City Council probably in early January after a final survey is done. Assuming that there are not sufficient votes to override a veto from John Cook, then many have already begun talking about forcing TxDOT to get an Environmental Impact Statement (certainly a lose/lose proposition) and going to a special election by which the people of El Paso can finally be heard. This one is far from over.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Coalition of Neighborhood Associations Overwhelmingly Passes Resolution Supporting Natural Open Space

Last night at their monthly meeting, the Neighborhood Coalition of El Paso voted overwhelmingly in support of a resolution for preserving the Transmountain Scenic Corridor by rezoning it as Natural Open Space. 79% of registered City of El Paso neighborhood associations present supported City Council's direction to staff to rezone the land and to seek a conservation easement to preserve that land in perpetuity.

The resolution also called for modifying the TxDOT plans by moving Paseo del Norte west toward Gas Line Road and expanding Transmountain east of Gas Line at grade - no overpasses or interchanges. They also called on the City to modify the Westside Master Plan.

Coalition President, Mark Benitez, called the resolution "perfect". He told me that he has signed it and, once I have a copy of the signed resolution, I will publish it. For now, here is the text:

Resolution Supporting Re-Zoning Land in the Transmountain Scenic Corridor as Natural Open Space

WHEREAS: the Transmountain Scenic Corridor in northwest El Paso is the only scenic corridor and can be preserved by rezoning it as Natural Open Space and by creating a conservation easement which will keep the land as Natural Open Space in perpetuity;

WHEREAS: the City Council of El Paso, Texas directed City staff to initiate the process for rezoning at its regular meeting on October 12, 2010;

WHEREAS: amenities such as open space, parks, additional outdoor recreational opportunities and scenic beauty will attract quality businesses and industries to re-locate to El Paso and offer higher-paying, quality jobs;

WHEREAS: the PSB’s selling land for the Westside Master Plan will not significantly affect or reduce our water rates and, in fact, additional infrastructure costs associated with land sales, result in a net loss to rate payers;

WHEREAS: more development especially on the mountain side requires more additional City services in the way of fire, police, schools, roads and more and those services become a heavier burden on us as tax payers;

WHEREAS: all of our neighborhoods and all of us benefit from natural open space and scenic beauty;

WHEREAS: preserving the Transmountain scenic corridor by rezoning approximately 800 acres as Natural Open Space will not hold up the TxDOT proposal for improvements to Transmountain from I-10 to the entrance to the Tom Mays Unit of the Franklin Mountains State Park nor jeopardize the $80 million for the project as some have misrepresented;

WHEREAS: the Open Space Advisory Board of the City of El Paso has recommended moving the proposed Paseo del Norte interchange west toward Gas Line Road and expanding the current two lanes to four at grade only from Gas Line to the State Park entrance as a further means of preserving the scenic corridor;

WHEREAS: that expansion can be done because of right of ways given to TxDOT by the Public Service Board in exchange for conduits under Transmountain;

WHEREAS: necessary major and minor water utility infrastructures can be built on land zoned as Natural Open Space so that our fellow El Pasoans in adjacent areas can be provided with water and sewer services;

WHEREAS: the Westside Master Plan was created one year before the 2006 floods and needs major revision;

WHEREAS: the City, since 2006, has adopted Smart Growth policies and made other major changes to land planning that were not available when the Westside Master Plan was created and which are beneficial to all El Pasoans;

WHEREAS: Transmountain Road and the Westside Master Plan will impact our family’s and neighborhood’s quality of life for decades to come and those plans should be modified to protect the scenic corridor of Transmountain Road and reflect principles of Smart Growth, Green Infrastructure and Low Impact Development which are better for the environment and for protecting the cherished beauty of our mountains;


RESOLVED: The Neighborhood Coalition of El Paso strongly supports the City Council’s direction to staff on October 12, 2010 to rezone land in the Transmountain Scenic Corridor as Natural Open Space and to seek a conservation easement which will keep the land as Natural Open Space in perpetuity;

RESOLVED: The Neighborhood Coalition of El Paso supports moving the Paseo del Norte interchange to a location closer to Gas Line Road and expanding lanes east of Gas Line Road at grade only.

RESOLVED: The Neighborhood Coalition of El Paso asks City Council to direct City staff and the PSB to modify the Westside Master Plan in light of newer ways to protect natural open space while maximizing the use of developable land;

RESOLVED: The Neighborhood Coalition of El Paso requests that TxDOT modify their plans for improvements along Transmountain from I-10 to the entrance to Tom Mays Park to comply with the conditions of this resolution and do so immediately so that money for the project will not be lost.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Facts and Myths about Preserving El Paso's Only Scenic Corridor

Charlie Wakeem and Richard Teschner led the fight to preserve Resler Canyon which is now the Wakeem-Teschner Nature Preserve managed by Frontera Land Alliance.

Charlie Wakeem has been one of the principal leaders of the natural open space conservation movement in El Paso. Beginning with his efforts to preserve Resler Canyon, Mr. Wakeem has influenced the master plans for open space and stormwater. He has been an architect on the re-write of several ordinances and codes. Charlie Wakeem is now the Chairman of the Open Space Advisory Board for the City of El Paso.

The op-ed piece below also appeared in yesterday's El Paso Times:

You’ve recently read about the proposed upgrades to Transmountain Road on the west side of the Franklins, including the rezoning—to Natural Open Space—of 800 acres of Westside Master Plan land. I’d like to dispel some myths about that.

One of the myths is that the Open Space Advisory Board wants to sabotage the $80 million expansion of Loop 375 (Transmountain) from I-10 to the Tom Mays entrance of the Franklin Mountains State Park. We’ve also been accused of squelching any development of public land in Northwest El Paso, thereby undermining the Westside Master Plan. Other misinformation: the Public Service Board owns that land; taxpayers will suffer if the land is not sold to developers; the present Westside Master Plan is too good to be changed.

Texas Department of Transportation has used the proverbial carrot stick to persuade us that, as submitted, its Transmountain expansion is necessary. The carrot is the $80 million to widen/upgrade the 3.3 miles from I-10 to the Tom Mays entrance. Are parts of the carrot too rotten to eat? OSAB thinks so.

One important fact: the Transmountain Road Scenic Corridor is the ONLY scenic corridor in the City of El Paso. The Scenic Corridor begins at the Gas Line Road about half way east of I-10. [See slides below.] West of Gas Line is private property and flatter land good for development. OSAB has no objection to the freeway-style construction with overpasses and frontage roads there. The gas company wisely placed its pipeline just below the scenic foothills. That’s where the hillsides, deep arroyos and canyons begin, and that’s where the PSB’s Westside Master Plan is located.

OSAB also has no objection to widening Transmountain from two lanes to four at grade level from Gas Line to Tom Mays, where the present road widens to four lanes and crosses the mountains toward Highway 54.

So that the City can remove (from I-10 to Gas Line) the Mountain Development restrictions along Transmountain that the developers want removed, OSAB made five recommendations to City Council (now undergoing the rezoning review process): (1) Expand the landscape buffer by 10’ on either side of the roadway in the privately-owned section between I-10 and Gas Line. City Planning recommended this for public safety purposes. Research showed that a minimum 20’ buffer between the hike/bike path and roadway was necessary. (2) Don’t remove the Mountain Development restrictions east of Gas Line. (3) Construct an exit ramp north from Gas Line and parallel to Transmountain into Tom Mays for a safe entrance. (4) The fourth and most important recommendation is: delete the Paseo del Norte overpass half way between Gas Line and the Park. (5) The fifth is to rezone, to Natural Open Space, about 800 acres. Many of these 800 acres are currently zoned Residential with plans for Commercial. The final recommendation is that the City negotiate a conservation easement with a land trust to perpetually preserve the 800 acres.

Will El Paso Water Utility ratepayers pay much more in water bills if the PSB land is not sold for development? No. EPWU claims it would sell the land for $20 million. El Paso currently has 177,000 ratepayers. The very most the ratepayer would save is a once-only $112, and that’s being generous.

The land within the Westside Master Plan is City land, thus public land. It does not belong to the PSB, which owns no land anywhere. The PSB only MANAGES land. We citizens of El Paso own this public land. Only City Council, representing us, can choose to preserve OUR land and OUR Scenic Corridor, or else sell it off for development.

Trans Mountain Distances

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Re-zoning Will Not Jeopardize the Transmountain Project

A long time open space advocate, Dr. Bonart is an avid mountain biker and climber.

Dr. Rick Bonart is the lone voice of reason on the Public Service Board. He takes his fiduciary responsibility seriously. Yet, his insistence on reviewing contracts and seeing other documents has been thwarted by EPWU's top brass - most especially Ed Archuleta. It seems enough for the other board members to hear what Archuleta believes and then bob their heads and go along. In this manner, they conduct no real oversight over the business of the El Paso Water Utilities.

Dr. Bonart is the owner of the Belvidere Animal Clinic. His PSB bio may be viewed here. He is an avid mountain biker and rock climber.

The op-ed piece below was published by both the El Paso Times and the El Paso, Inc. this weekend.

I’ll say it again; I’m old but I’m not “old school”. Unfortunately the Westside Master Plan is both. I oppose the current version of the Westside Master Plan because it’s out dated. The Plan is not Smart Growth. The storm water system was designed before the floods of 2006 and for safety must be redesigned. Economic projections were calculated during the housing bubble, which has burst. We don’t need to scrap the whole thing, but we do need to renovate.

I’m the Citizen Advocate on the PSB. I take my position very seriously. I do the research and make decisions based on the facts. I’m uniquely qualified to comment having participated in the first PSB master planning process and the proposed expansion of Transmountain Road beginning in 2002.

Over the years the PSB has done an excellent job of water management. Conservation programs have reduced consumption to 1968 levels. The Hueco Bolson is actually refilling. Our rates are comparable to other southwestern cities. However as land managers, the PSB hasn’t done so well. We’ve developed two master plans, neither has sold. The Northeast Master Plan is currently being revised to Smart Growth, and so should the Westside Master Plan.

Contrary to popular belief, the PSB does not own land. However, there are some very good reasons for the PSB to manage land, such as protecting the water supply and preventing leapfrog development.

Any responsible discussion about preserving open space in the Westside Master Plan must consider the financial consequences. Land sales do not significantly affect El Paso water rates. The yearly gross income for the PSB/EPWU is about 175 million. Land sales accounted for only 0.2% of revenues. Prior to May 2010 and before impact fees, infrastructure costs associated with land sales, probably resulted in a net loss to rate payers.

While private developers expect to realize profits on retail sales. The PSB is a wholesaler, who unlike private developers remains fiscally responsible for maintaining infrastructure in perpetuity. Development simply doesn’t pay for itself, and that’s one reason your taxes continue to increase even as our city grows.

The proposed 80 million dollar expansion of Transmountain Road, which passes through the Westside Master Plan, has focused the spotlight on these issues. Zoning changes in the Westside Master Plan will not affect the Transmountain Road project. The PSB has already provided TxDOT with all necessary rights of way and even voted to increase that amount to match additional private developers’ contributions.

The real danger to these projects is poor planning by TxDOT. They have failed to produce the required environmental studies. The proposed Plexxar overpass is our “bridge to nowhere” and possibly illegal. The entrance to Tom Mays needs to be reconsidered.

I’m not some tree hugger against all development. I want higher paying jobs to come to El Paso. However, to compete successfully with other cities and attract those types of employers, we need to offer amenities including more open space, parks, additional outdoor recreational opportunities, and scenic beauty. Quality jobs increase the bottom line much more than land sales.

As your advocate on the Board, here’s what I think we need to do. Don’t be confused by the rhetoric or bullied by scare tactics. Contact your city representative and support Council’s effort to save more Open Space and update the Westside Master Plan. Participate in the upcoming public comment period for the Transmountain expansion. Petition TxDOT, ask them to modify their project into the best possible design. Transmountain Road and the Westside Master Plan will impact your family’s quality of life for decades to come. We deserve better.

Saturday, November 13, 2010


Open Space advocates and hikers recently posed at the Palisades sign.

A chagrined Ed Archuleta confessed to the Stormwater Advisory Committee this past Wednesday that he had neglected to purchase some necessary land for the stormwater infrastructure at the Palisades. It seems that the PSB/EPWU needs a bit more land for access to the stormwater project. Some recall that Nanette Smejkal, Director of the Parks and Recreation Department, had questioned whether the extra land shouldn't be purchased when the Committee first looked at the plan to buy the Palisades. Ed A. had pooh-poohed her suggestion. It would seem that our brilliant land sales czar who has sold land over the past 10 years for the astonishing average amount of $9003/acre, has a bit of a problem when it comes to purchasing land. Give us your expertise on the Northwest Master Plan again, Ed.

Prediction: we will spend a bit more for this purchase of land than we did for the other land in the Palisades now that the PSB is desperate. Open space money will probably be wasted. Perhaps we should take a good hard look at Archuleta's $275,000/year salary.

I'm laughing and laughing. Perhaps I should be crying.

Friday, November 12, 2010

A Few El Pasoans Argue to Destroy the Scenic Transmountain Corridor

The beautiful land that should be preserved as Natural Open Space

Again, here are the basic points by a mere handful of El Pasoans who oppose rezoning land in the Transmountain corridor as Natural Open Space. This handful includes an out-of-control Ed Archuleta and his tight aristocracy at the EPWU who have launched with your money a public relations campaign against the City Council direction to staff to rezone the scenic Transmountain corridor as NOS. He is joined by John Cook and bobbing heads on the Public Service Board.

Please see the video created with your money to oppose saving the scenic corridor. Look at it very carefully because it shows some beautiful land that should be preserved and sprawl to the south of that land that did destroy much of the scenic vista of the Franklin Mountains - a sprawl that the PSB wants to repeat no matter how much they protest to the contrary.

They argue that they spent (you spent) $700,000+ for the NW Master Plan and the plan is a good one that preserves open space. The fact is that it isn't a good plan and it will need revising even if there is no NOS re-zoning.

The plan was not as Christina Montoya says in the PSB video you paid for created with "tremendous amount of stakeholder input and support." The truth is that it was a plan forced on stakeholders and stakeholders have since changed their minds. Many, if not most, El Pasoans oppose destroying the scenic corridor which is what will happen if it is not rezoned NOS.

The plan was developed in 2005 which pre-dated the 2006 flood. URS, the same company that helped El Paso formulate its stormwater plan, revisited the NW Master Plan as a result of the 2006 flood. They made 8 specific recommendations for the Northwest Plan including updating the hydrologic and hydraulic modeling. (Their recommendations also spoke about concrete lining channel segments of some of the FEMA flow paths (read arroyos!)). Currently, the PSB is reviewing the NE Master Plan in light of the smart growth. They will need to do the same with the NW Plan and include Green Infrastructure/Low Density Development principles. Doing so will cost money. So plan on spending more than the $700,000 no matter what. Besides, a bad and outdated plan is a bad and outdated plan no matter how much it cost.

The PSB says that they have preserved much of the vista. I ask you to view the videotape you paid for that is on the EPWU web site. It well shows the sprawl that creeped up the mountain south of the NW Plan and they want to continue that ugly sprawl all the way across. Where Ms. Montoya stood in the videotape is where they would zone commercial so that Wal-Mart, Lowe's and a Golden Arches can greet everyone - not a natural vista.

They continue to say that we will lose $20 million if we rezone this land as NOS. That is $6 million short of the first figure Ed A. gave to City Council because he added $600,000 as if it were $6million - just a bit of a mistake. (He made the correction after I pointed out the "mistake" publicly.) Many still believe that the $20,000,000 is way over inflated. Nevertheless, it really amounts to little return for ratepayers. In fact, over the past 10 years, PSB has sold 4,182 acres for $37,648,720.06. That comes out to a whopping $9,003/acre. Divide that by 177,000 rate payers and you get a great nickel back in your pocket. Perhaps that nickel should be minted with an image of Ed A. rubbing his hands over the BIG DEAL he has gotten for us. The fact of the matter is this: rate payers fund just about the entire budget of the EPWU. Land sales are not really significant and their telling us that they help keep our rates low is just one big bunch of HOOEY.

They keep saying that by developing all of the NW land, that we will gain $12,000,000 in tax revenue. Of course, they don't mention all that we will pay in additional taxes and fees for additional services such as police, fire, schools and so forth. They don't mention that we will pay more in our water bill for maintaining the added infrastructure. Ever see your rates go down? Hmmm?

They argue that, if the land is zoned NOS, they won't be able to build necessary reservoirs, water tanks, dams and so forth for adjacent land. NOT TRUE! The NOS Ordinance is already being revised to allow for major and minor utility structures in land zoned NOS.

John Cook keeps telling people in his letter that Transmountain Road can't be widened to 4 lanes in the area if the land is rezoned NOS. NOT TRUE! The PSB already gave right-of-way to TxDOT in exchange for some corridors under the highway. It can and should be widened and nobody favoring preserving the scenic corridor as NOS is opposed to widening the highway from 2 lanes to 4. Ed A., his bobbing heads, John Cook and the rest of the mere handful who spend your money opposing what you want are just not being straightforward.

One other thing and it has to be told over and over and over: We keep hearing this is "PSB land". By Texas law, they can't own any land. The City of El Paso (all of us as the City) OWN the land. The PSB merely manages it and City Council can direct that the land be managed differently when the occasion arises. It has arisen.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Mistakes in Case Against NOS

In case you have not gotten the news, the rezoning issue will not go before the CPC tomorrow. It has been moved to its Thursday, November 18th, meeting rather than the November 4th meeting. The CPC meets in the Council chambers of City Hall at 1:30 p.m. Please send your comments now to Maria Acosta and let the CPC know that you support preserving land in the NW Master Plan as Natural Open Space. If you can, please plan to go to the meeting on the 18th. It is important that we have as many people as possible attend this meeting.

Please email the Mayor and City Council Representatives – especially the Mayor and your City Council Representative.

Just so you know – Council voted on October 6, 2010 to direct staff to rezone land along Trans Mountain as Natural Open Space (NOS). The City Council Plan has undergone staff review and next goes to the CPC on November 18th for its recommendation. It then goes back to Council for a final decision. The date it will be included on Council agenda has not yet been set as far as I know. On October 6th, 5 representatives voted for it: Lilly, Byrd, Holguin, Ortega and O’Rourke. 2 voted “no”: Emma Acosta and Carl Robinson. Rachel Quintana was absent. The Mayor has said he will veto the Council Plan to rezone although he may be operating under some mistaken notions. 6 votes are needed to make it veto-proof or override a veto.

In his reply to emails, the Mayor has said some things that are mistaken:

First, he has said that there can be no construction in the Natural Open Space zoning. He contends that Trans Mountain can’t be widened under that zoning – so the TxDOT project will be killed. The fact is this: The PSB already transferred right-of-way for the highway to TxDOT in exchange for conduit under the road in 4 locations. So widening the road to 4 lanes is perfectly okay. We prefer at grade. The Open Space Advisory Board recommends that Paseo del Norte be re-directed to Plexxar near Gas Line Road and a road from there be built to the State Park entrance. This will make accessing the park much safer.

In a form response, he wrote:

Actually, we are dealing with two issues. The first involves pending residential and commercial development between I-10 and the State Park. Developers already own the land and under Texas law have the right to develop it. We are working with them to assure that any development protects the scenic corridor into the Franklins. We have negotiated successfully to limit the height of signs and to receive many acres of land for hike and bike trails and other amenities.

Yes, private land can be developed in accordance with zoning requirements and building codes. However, he insinuates that all of the land from I-10 to the State Park is private and so we can’t do anything. The fact is that only a portion of the land from I-10 to roughly the Gas Line Road is privately owned. From the Gas Line Road to the State Park the land is owned by the City of El Paso and managed by the PSB. It’s our land, folks, and we sure can rezone it as NOS. Go here for maps showing distances between private and public lands along Trans Mountain from Interstate 10 to the Franklin Mountains State Park.

John Cook goes on to say:

“The second issue is a highway project that will widen transmountain[sic] road to four lanes and provide limited access from the adjoining properties. It is important to note that property owners currently have the right to access transmountain[sic]. Could you imagine dozens of private driveways feeding into the highway and what that would do to safety? The current plan would limit their rights and build overpasses.”

Actually the Mayor’s sentence, “We have negotiated successfully to limit the height of signs and to receive many acres of land for hike and bike trails and other amenities”, belongs with his second issue. Lifting MDA requirements (e.g., signage) along the privately owned portion of Trans Mountain is a carrot stick (not yet agreed to) so that developers will give up right-of-way to TxDOT so that there won’t be “dozens of private driveways feeding into the highway”. What this really means is that developers and not the City (or NOS advocates) seem to be holding up the project because they want some concessions from the City!

His reference to “hike and bike” trails is the proposal to continue the pattern of the Pat O’Rourke Trail along Resler parallel to the frontage roads in the TxDOT proposal from I-10 to Plexxar. It has nothing to do with the City Council’s plan to rezone land nearer to the State Park as NOS. By the way, the Open Space Advisory Board agrees with the hike and bike trails and has advised that there be extra space in the buffer zone between bikers and pedestrians and the roadway.

Along with his message, some of you have received a copy of the PSB “Fact” Sheet. Here is a copy of the text on the sheet along with rebuttals.

Finally, there is still time to sign the petition and gather more signatures. Go to to download the hard copy of the petition or ask others to sign online at There are now 1,050 responses online and over 1400 signed petitions. The Montoya Gardens Neighborhood Association turned in over 120 petitions just today!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Email John Cook and Tell Him to Save the Scenic Corridor

Click to enlarge

We have learned that Mayor John Cook has told the El Paso Times that he will veto any attempt to preserve the Trans Mountain scenic corridor as Natural Open Space. As a member of the Public Service Board, he voted with the strongly worded PSB resolution that opposes rezoning land in the Northwest Master Plan to NOS – a resolution which also urges him to veto any attempt at rezoning by Council. The resolution was adopted at last Friday’s PSB strategic planning meeting. The vote for the resolution opposing re-zoning was 6-1. Only Dr. Richard Bonart opposed it.

I suggest that all of you email John Cook and let him know how you feel.

Email him at and tell him you support saving the beautiful natural corridor.

We have also learned that the City Plan Commission has moved its consideration of rezoning to its Thursday, November 18th, meeting rather than the November 4th meeting. The CPC meets in the Council chambers of City Hall at 1:30 p.m. Please send your comments now to Maria Acosta and let the CPC know that you support preserving land in the NW Master Plan as Natural Open Space. If you can, please plan to go to the meeting on the 18th. We will continue to update you.

If you haven’t, please also sign the petition and gather more signatures. Go to to download the hard copy of the petition or ask others to sign online at There are now 1,028 online responses – and many more hard copy signatures!