Monday, January 31, 2011
Nearly 170 people stopped to sign petitions on Saturday to preserve the Scenic Transmountain corridor. Some pulled their car over when they saw signs. Others took a break from their walk or jog. A few drove from faraway just to sign. Besides the nine persons who volunteered to collect signatures along the Pat O'Rourke Trail for two hours Saturday morning, two other passer-by's stayed to help. Several people took blank petitions in order to ask their friends, associates and family members to sign.
Friday, January 28, 2011
El Pasoans who wish to preserve the Scenic Transmountain Corridor from development can come out to a special event tomorrow, Saturday, January 29 from 9 to 11 a.m. Volunteers helping to gather signatures for both petitions will be on the Pat O'Rourke Trail along N. Resler Drive between Helen of Troy Drive and Transmountain. (Map) A Facebook page announcing the event was created by singer-songwriter, Christina Gurrola.
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
There are a couple of documents you should familiarize yourself with.
The first is “The Summary of Findings and Recommendations to the Land Study for Westside PSB Properties” done by URS and dated April 2009. URS was the consulting firm behind El Paso’s stormwater plan. My upload of this public document shows the summary (page 5) first followed by the report pages 1 – 4. Why is the report interesting? Because, in light of the 2006 flood, the URS study shows a number of major problems with PSB’s Westside Master Plan, the plan that the PSB is so resolute to preserve against NOS zoning as well as SmartCode. One of the arguments used by PSB brass against NOS zoning was that the re-zoning would mean an additional expense to re-do the master plan which they stated was done for over $700,000. Even before any talk about saving the Scenic Transmountain Corridor, the URS study revealed in 2009 that the plan would have to be overhauled. Funny how PSB brass forgot to mention that little tidbit in their propaganda onslaught.
The other document you may want to take the time to read is the Texas Parks and Wildlife’s letter to TxDOT stating their concerns about the proposed Transmountain road project. One would certainly hope that a reason for finding that the road project will have a significant impact and requires further study is that the current design does not address Parks and Wildlife’s concerns about a wildlife crossing and a safe entrance into the Tom Mays Unit of the State Park. A recent architectural competition revealed that it is possible to design a wildlife crossing that handles traffic, protects motorists and wildlife, and preserves a local ecosystem.
There are other reasons why further study of TxDOT’s cookie-cutter design for Transmountain is necessary. As Chairman Charlie Wakeem explained in a note to Mr. Gregory Punske, the District Engineer for the Federal Highway Administration, the Open Space Advisory Board has pointed out that:
“. . . the scenic foothills of the Franklin Mountains start from the El Paso Natural Gas Line Road about half way between I-10 and the Tom Mays entrance. One half mile of the 3.3 mile TxDOT project is designed to accommodate commercial development which would eliminate two significant hillsides and one arroyo within the scenic corridor. We also recommended moving the future Paseo Del Norte crossing within the scenic corridor west one half mile to the Gas Line Rd., thereby eliminating an unnecessary overpass.”
Another very good reason is the sentiment against widening Transmountain beyond grade east of the Gas Line Road. That sentiment is expressed in the response to two current petitions and an online petition and growing opposition now that more people are learning about the issues regarding Transmountain and the Westside Master Plan. BTW, the online petition has been revived to allow people who are not City of El Paso residents or registered voters to express their desire to see land preserved north and south of Transmountain Road.
The two petitions intended to become ballot initiatives have now been signed by approximately 1300 persons. 1547 plus several hundred extra for fool proofing is the target. Gatherers will be out this Saturday along Resler Road between Helen of Troy and Transmountain to gather signatures. Key locations on Mesa are targeted next along with some popular events.
Finally, the January 2011 issue of the Rio Bosque Wetlands Park newsletter is now available online.
E-letter for 01/27/11
"An emerging critical priority for both transportation and natural resource agencies is to make North American highways safer for both drivers and wildlife. The fact that wildlife-vehicle collisions have doubled in the past fifteen years has concentrated transportation agencies’ attention on engineering solutions that prevent wildlife-vehicle collisions on the continent’s roadways. At the same time, roads have been acknowledged as a major obstacle to landscape connectivity and ecological vitality—a matter of growing concern as climate change, in the form of rising temperatures and hydrological shifts, portends increasing wildlife migrations. In this context, the continents’ road systems pose a significant threat to the long-term health and viability of North American wildlife populations."
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
Monday, January 17, 2011
Time for a re-vote? Time to sign the petitions? Download them here or at www.franklinmountains.org and share with your friends and family. It's time that the lying stops.
Charles and Joe,
This is a fairly long email, but I'd like to clear up misinformation about the very important Natural Open Space (NOS) zoning issue in the Transmountain Rd. scenic corridor.
I am not challenging the Times editorial board's decision to support City Council's decision last week not to zone the city-owned land to NOS. However, I'm challenging the validity of the arguments being used by opponents of the NOS ordinance. I'm also disappointed that you bought the misinformation opponents of the ordinance have thrown out without researching the truth.
Ann Morgan-Lilly called me Thursday and told me that if she could do it again, she would vote for the NOS zoning and now supports the petition to take it to the voters. The reason she gave me was she felt Ed Archuleta lied to her by telling her the day before Council met that he would support Smart Codes. The day after Council made it's decision, Archuleta did not say anything to his board in support of Smart Codes and, if fact, alluded to problems with them at the monthly PSB meeting. Rep. Lilly told me she was betrayed and she thinks others on Council who voted against NOS felt the same way.
The Open Space Advisory Board has been examining this issue since January, 2010 (for one entire year). OSAB defrayed a recommendation to Council until the TexDOT Plan was finished August 10, 2010. At that time, TexDOT proposed the Plan to City Council and set an artificial deadline to start the project in order to get the $80 million+ funding. Loss of the funding is a Red Herring. TexDOT has all the right-of-way it needs and the artificial deadlines keep getting pushed back. Furthermore, the federal highway Environmental Assessment is not finished and it is not automatically expected to get the green-light for the project. There are several environmental issues east of the Gas Line Road, mostly brought to the fed's attention by Texas Parks and Wildlife.
OSAB also exposed serious flaws in the TexDOT plan. Among them are no safe entrance to the Tom Mays Unit at the State Park, no wildlife crossings, a pork barrel overpass with no roadway or on/off ramps that is not even on the city's Master Thoroughfare Plan, and poorly designed commercial development in the scenic foothills.
In addition, the claim that Natural Open Space zoned acreage cannot be touched, making it impossible to provide water service is absolutely false. It's another Red Herring. I know, I helped write the NOS zoning ordinance, and it does no such thing. In fact, the ordinance is being modified to make it easier to allow critical infrastructure as well as infrastructure that enhances open space, such as parking areas, picnic areas, visitor's centers, etc.
The other fallacy is that water rates may skyrocket if water utility officials don't sell the land. False again. The savings to ratepayers is negligible, if any savings at all. The PSB sells land at wholesale, it has to put in the water infrastructure and maintain that infrastructure for ever after the developer has made his profit by selling at retail. Even if we take the utility's inflated value with no expenses, the savings to the rate payer is negligible. Sales in the last ten years have averaged $4 million per year. Using the average number of rate payers in that time, the one-time savings for the rate payer is $24.70. I know. The PSB's land sales in 2010 were only $400 thousand out of $155 million total revenues or .01%. I've studied the PSB's financial records. Furthermore, the tax base may or may not be increase with development along the scenic corridor. Development generally does not pay for itself, especially sprawl.
I don't mind disagreeing with others, including you. It's part of the debate. We're not clones. I do expect facts and truth through proper research. You haven't done either. You've simply taken the word of so-called professionals. You shouldn't believe everything those so-called professionals say. Check out the misinformation they throw out as I have.
Friday, January 14, 2011
You have probably already seen the results of the vote on rezoning the Scenic Transmountain Corridor. By a vote of 3 to 5, City Council did not pass the proposed ordinance. Only Beto O’Rourke, Susie Byrd and Steve Ortega voted for it. What happened? After all, when Council first voted to begin the rezoning process, Ann Morgan Lilly and Eddie Holguin voted in the affirmative.
There are two reasons: first the fear that to vote otherwise would mean that El Paso would lose the $85 million for the Transmountain highway/freeway project. (This just isn’t true.) In addition, Council members were convinced that SmartCode will preserve the land almost as well as NOS (not true) and that the Staff recommendation should be followed. (The rumor is that staff at the behest of City Manager Joyce Wilson went for SmartCode.) The conviction was also there that Mr. Archuleta and the PSB would find SmartCode acceptable.
There are two problems with the PSB, Archuleta and SmartCode. Email between Archuleta and Wilson seem to indicate a reticence about SmartCode on the part of the President/CEO of El Paso Water Utilities/Public Service Board. Nevertheless he repeated his willingness to work with SmartCode during his address to Council prior to the vote. He also indicated willingness to consider changing the proposed commercial development along the edge of the Scenic Corridor. However, he can’t speak for the PSB which passed a vitriolic resolution against NOS zoning on October 22nd. That resolution was brought to the Board’s Strategic Planning meeting by Ed Archuleta and is still posted among John Cook’s online documents. It also adamantly states their position to stay with the Westside Master Plan. (Something they won’t be able to do anyway since their consultant, URS, has already pointed out drainage deficiencies.)
On Wednesday, Matt McElroy, Deputy Director of the city's Planning and Economic Development Division, gave a presentation on SmartCode to PSB members. Asked if they wanted to back-off of the resolution that in essence prohibits SmartCode, PSB members said “NO”. That intransigence makes promises by Archuleta to work with SmartCode somewhat difficult and supplies him with an “out”.
One wonders whether Council Representative Ann Lilly would now change her vote given that she gave as her justification the desirability of SmartCode.
Given all of the above, where is the Franklin Mountain Wilderness Coalition’s two petitions? After much discussion, the gathering of signatures will continue with even more enthusiasm than before.
The urgency was to have more than enough petitions ready for the NOS vote. Many of you worked so hard to make that happen. I appreciate so much those of you who mailed petitions and brought them by my house. One of you drove a long way to give me a petition signed by just yourself and your wife. AND one person even spent over $30 to FedEx petitions to me overnight so that I would have them in time for the Tuesday Council meeting. That is a testimony to this cause and to the love of and sacrifice for our democratic form of government and our sacred right as citizens to participate.
Since the vote, I have been inundated with emails wanting to continue the effort to preserve our Scenic Corridor. Many, who didn’t sign before, are requesting to do so now.
We are so close to gathering the full 1547 signatures. The real drive now is to make sure that there are more than the minimum necessary to “bullet proof” the petitions in case some signatures are discovered to be invalid.
Please keep going. You can download both petitions at www.franklinmountains.org. Both need to be filled out by registered voters living in the City of El Paso. If you can help gather petitions at public events and places, please email me.
We aren’t going to give up.
Finally and quite sadly, after the vote on Tuesday, District 1 Representative, Ann Morgan Lilly, said that El Paso suffers from “petition-itis”. What we should be doing, she prescribed, is just going along with our City Council and City staff and not muck things up.
Being a citizen in a free society is one of our most sacred values and trusts. Ms. Lilly seems to have forgotten that Initiative by Petition is part of our City Charter. She also seems to have forgotten these bedrock words of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States and of our free society: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
The level of activism of our citizens makes us all proud to be El Pasoans. Many take time to go to City Council and speak every week. Many email, write letters, make phone calls. Many are involved with a variety of political and service organizations. Some even spend hard-earned money on FedEx overnight services to be sure that their “vote/petition” is heard!
El Paso doesn’t suffer from “petition-itis”, it suffers from “elitism” and “politician-itis”.
Politician Ann Morgan Lilly has announced that she will seek re-election to City Council from District 1 in May.
Friday, January 7, 2011
Thanks for your petitions! They have been coming in batches of a hundred (or 220 in one case), twenty, one sheet per petition, two sheets and so forth. Hundreds signed on as they awaited the beginning of the Sun Bowl. El Pasoans from all districts and demographics kept saying things like “Keep our mountains natural” and “Don’t let a few rich people take away our view and our access to the mountains.”
If you can’t mail them to me today, call or email me and let’s find a time when we can meet up. I’ve already had nearly a dozen people come by the house with notarized petitions.
If you can, plan now to attend the upcoming City Council meeting next Tuesday, January 11 at 8:30 a.m. Item #7A on the regular agenda is the ordinance to rezone land in the Transmountain Scenic Corridor as Natural Open Space. This is what we have been waiting for. It is important that everyone of us who can will get there on Tuesday. I’ll be honest, because a Traffic Impact Analysis may not be completed and, of course, TxDOT is still weeks away from releasing a final EA (more on both of these below), there is a chance that the vote on NOS may be postponed – a chance. I’ll keep you updated as best as I can. However, even if it is postponed, let the Mayor and City Council representatives see you there!
There is back-up material available online about this agenda item. It includes not just the proposed ordinance and engineering surveying reports, it also includes many of your comments that you emailed to City officials prior to the CPC meeting in November. Take time to email your Representatives now and tell them that you want the Scenic Transmountain Corridor preserved as Natural Open Space:
Mayor John Cook - firstname.lastname@example.org
District #1 Rep. Ann Morgan-Lilly - email@example.com
District#2 Rep. Susie Byrd - firstname.lastname@example.org
District #3 Rep. Emma Acosta - email@example.com
District #4 Rep. Carl Robinson - firstname.lastname@example.org
District #5 Rep. Rachael Quintana - email@example.com
District #6 Rep. Eddie Holguin - firstname.lastname@example.org
District #7 Rep. Steve Ortega - email@example.com
District #8 Rep. Beto O'Rourke - firstname.lastname@example.org
Also included in the back-up material is the infamous report from staff and CPC and the over-the-top resolution of the PSB – which was a slap in the face of every City Council representative. (At the same time that the PSB passed its resolution, it published a video against NOS – a video requested by Mayor John Cook. Another slap in the face.) However, there is also the resolution from the Coalition of Neighborhood Associations. A resolution from the Eco-Tourism Committee of the County of El Paso was just released this morning from Judge Escobar’s office. It supports preserving the Scenic Transmountain Corridor as Natural Open Space and calls for moving the proposed Paseo del Norte interchange closer to the gas line road. It calls on the Public Service Board (which launched a major offensive against open space) to modify its Westside Master Plan and asks that the expansion of Transmountain east of the gas line road be done at grade only.
By the way, Elpasonaturally has learned through a source inside of City Hall that a Traffic Impact Analysis will reveal that moving Paseo del Norte nearer the gas line road will not negatively impact traffic in future development of the Westside Master Plan. Whether that report will be “ready” by next Tuesday remains to be seen.
Certainly TxDOT’s EA that so far suggests that there will be a finding of “no significant impact” flies in the face of your petitions as well as objections that have come from the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife – namely, no wildlife corridor, no safe entrance to the State Park and plans by TxDOT to use non-native, invasive plants in landscaping the road.
However, know that proponents of the rezoning the Scenic Corridor do not oppose the overall project to widen Transmountain.
Scott Cutler, the President of the Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coaltion, says:
“ . . . the Coalition is not opposed to the expansion of Transmountain Road. We feel this is a needed safety measure that will increase the safety of drivers using the roadway . . . I hope it is clear that the petitions are in no way designed to stop the widening of Transmountain Road. Preserving the approximately 700 acres of public land as open space will not impact the widening process as the land needed for TxDOT's right of way has already been set aside for the widening process.”
The issue for TxDOT is responding to Parks and Wildlife and to you, the people of El Paso, regarding moving Paseo del Norte and widening Transmountain at grade only east of the gas line road.
So far, TxDOT has shown indifference to the general public's concerns:
· No safe entrance to Tom Mays Park
· No wildlife corridors
· The unnecessary expense of the Plexxar overpass (estimated at $8 million)
· The threat that, without development of all the acreage in the Westside Master Plan including not rezoning a mere 792 acres as NOS, all of the money for the project will go away – an assertion hinted at by Mayor Cook in his October newsletter and his email responses to you that he has never retracted publicly in spite of all evidence to the contrary.
Enough for now. Let’s get to City Council next Tuesday at 8:30 a.m.
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 Public Service Board’s selling land for the Westside Master Plan will not significantly affect or reduce water rates and, in fact, additional infrastructure costs associated with land sales, result in a net loss to rate payers;
WHEREAS: development on the mountain side will require 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: our community as a whole benefits 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 Texas Department of Transportation (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 PSB 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;
THEREFORE, BE IT HEREBY:
RESOLVED: The Eco-tourism committee 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 Eco-tourism committee 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 Eco-tourism committee 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 Eco-tourism committee 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.
Wednesday, January 5, 2011
Photo: Lowland areas like those being developed along the Trans Mountain Scenic Corridor are important to many desert wildlife species like the secretive long-tailed weasel that prey upon pocket gophers and ground squirrels. ©Will Wilson
1. Natural Open Space helps people enjoy the benefits of the natural world.
Here in El Paso we have lots of natural open space on the high on the high mountain ridges of the Franklin Mountains, but little natural open space in the lower elevations immediately surrounding the mountain range where most people prefer to hike and walk. Lower elevation natural open space is also critical to many species of plants and animals that live only in lower elevation habitats or need both lower and higher elevations areas.
Protecting natural open space is not only a problem in El Paso, but around the world. To varying degrees humans have already altered nearly half of the earth’s land surface. If current land development trends continue this number could easily reach 70% in the next thirty years.
2. The availability of natural open space helps to prevent nature deficit disorder by giving people more opportunities to explore the natural world, especially children.
Nature deficit disorder is a growing trend in this country where the average American child spends 44 hours a week with electronic media. Effects of Nature Deficit Disorder include: Childhood obesity, attention disorders and depression and long term ability to cope with stress and adversity.
3. Natural Open space is important to the water cycle, nature’s ability to produce oxygen and capture CO2 and other ecological services such as pollination and the services provided by millions of different species of microbes.
A single tablespoon of healthy soil might contain over a billion beneficial soil microbes!!! How many microbes live in one acre of natural open space in El Paso is anyone’s guess. The number is too big for most of us to fathom. Microbes provide amazingly complex ecological services. These services include reprocessing materials into available forms (i.e., mineralization) and into microbial cells and humus. Soil bacteria microbes fix atmospheric nitrogen and help plants to grow in areas where nitrogen is scarce. Other minerals like sulfur and phosphorus require microbial transformation in the soil that surrounds the roots to make them more available to plants. They also improve aeration by loosening dense and compacted soils.
Most importantly microbes decompose organic waste materials such as leaves and manure into organic humus. Our desert needs this humus to store both moisture and nutrients in the soil. Without healthy soils most plant species could not survive and the entire desert ecosystem as we know it would likely collapse.
Microbes are also important to balancing soil acidity and alkalinity, creating the carbon dioxide plants need, as well as producing vitamins, toxins, and hormones that both feed and protect the plant system.
Most people looking out across the desert landscape are not aware of the role microbes play in the desert and or in their everyday lives. Trying to imagine all that microbes do for us in maintaining the ecosystem is like trying to imagine all the stars and galaxies in the night sky.
4. Natural Open space provides habitat for thousands of species of animals and plants native to our Chihuahuan Desert and a part of our natural heritage.
Protecting Natural Open Space and a wide variety of habitats at all elevations requires strategic planning designed to protect these habitats and wildlife corridors important to species needing to move from one elevation to the next in search of food and water. Animals also need natural open space for protection from the powerful rays of the sun, wind and rain. To adequately raise their young natural open space is needed to protect many animal species from human disturbance and natural predators.
At this time strategic plans for the continued development in El Paso and the surrounding area focus almost solely on the needs of humans and not on the natural environment. “Smart growth” elements in planning may appear in part to be green, but do not address the habitat needs of most species of native wildlife including a careful analysis of wildlife corridors needed to maintain sustainable populations of larger animals like mule deer, javelina, coyotes, foxes and bobcats.
We need natural open space because we are connected to the natural world in countless ways. Every time we allow another acre of natural open space to be transformed by development activities including urban sprawl, wider roads and mining, we weaken the ecosystem and its services, all critical to our own survival.