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.
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.