Yesterday’s 7-1 vote by City Council approving the TxDOT Transmountain West plan means one thing: the freeway/highway is going to be built and along with it, interchanges/overpasses at Plexxar and Paseo del Norte.
Paseo del Norte will be a major thoroughfare as planned by the MPO. To be sure, the plan for Paseo is not part of the TxDOT project except as it connects with Transmountain; but it logically follows that Paseo del Norte will be completed as currently mapped-out. As a major thoroughfare intersecting a freeway (and Transmountain will be a freeway from I-10 to Paseo) it will encourage and contribute to commercial development and there will be no natural open space except as may be dictated by SmartCode.
It was good enough for Mr. Chuck Berry of TxDOT to assure Council members that there will be a “fix” for the currently unsafe entrance/exit to the State Park. No one can doubt his sincerity and determination that TxDOT will find a way to make that entrance to the Tom Mays Unit safer. Additionally, it appears that the overall project will be under budget enough to make for a good solution.
When all was said and done yesterday, members of Council decided to bite the $85 million carrot stick. Only Representative Susie Byrd stuck to her principles.
Of course, there is a possibility that the Federal Highway Administration may pay attention to many of the objections raised by you at the public meeting and by the copies of the first two petitions – each signed by nearly 1900 El Pasoans. There is also a possibility that legal action may delay the project. It is also possible that the fact that City Council would not preserve the Scenic Corridor for fear of losing money may prove to be a significant impact. Preserving the land never meant preventing the project. However putting Paseo del Norte where it is planned to be most definitely will mean no open space. A portion of TxDOT’s plan is predicated on the location and construction of Paseo del Norte.
So what are the implications in the short-term for people, including conservationists and environmentalists, who value natural open space and the preservation of the Scenic Corridor?
· First, there is no reason at this time to pursue a petition to preserve land. That fight can wait for another day. Even if enough valid signatures are presented, Council will still vote 7-1 against it. It may not always work the way we want and it may not always work well, but representative democracy works. That should be respected. Instead of pouring energy into an effort that will only be fruitless at this time, El Pasoans including the environmental/conservation community should work to elect genuine green candidates. Right now I’m aware of Lyda Ness-Garcia in District 1 (Ann Morgan Lilly’s district) and Ernesto Villanueva, Jr. in District 8, the seat Beto O’Rourke is vacating.
· It also means getting involved in the in the planning with the City for Smart Codes in the NW Master Plan. The location, size, and shape of the open space will be decided there.
· It means working with the head of City Engineering ,Alan Shubert, who is leading the way on a mitigation bank that will benefit the environment and business interests.
· And, it means keeping an eye on the land, on the PSB and on future City Council actions.
But here is the really good news – the rich blessings in all of this – an optimistic, Reaganesque pony in the manure pile: El Pasoans from all areas of the City and from different demographics have come together and discovered their common values and dreams. They represent a powerful and creative force for change and they can be found in government, businesses, medical and other service professions, schools, the University - everywhere. Here are three aspirations I have heard from many of them:
A PAC must be organized so that issues can be addressed, candidates can be found, and the public can be informed. A PAC is necessary because the long-entrenched political power structure in El Paso does not see the need for anything but sprawl and low pay and has nothing to offer but ideas for unsustainability. Ecology, ecosystems, wildlife habitat, sustainable human community, creativity and innovation are not terms in their vocabulary.
The City of El Paso, the Metropolitan Planning Organization and the Public Service Board especially must become more transparent and accountable to the people of El Paso. (Some at the City and EPWU/PSB will scream about this point because they either think that they are or they think that they don’t have to be and the “riff-raff” should just keep quiet and be grateful.)
El Pasoans (including the business and political communities) need more information about the environment, about ecosystems, about sustainable systems, about our natural heritage and treasures. Such information must be ongoing. Citizens must have more information about events and decisions that affect them and their communities. Media, schools, organizations, clubs, businesses, church groups and government workers must get this information. There are already good sources: the Chihuahuan Desert Education Coalition, Iloveparks.com, and organizations such as the West Texas Urban Forestry Council, Celebration of Our Mountains, Keystone Heritage Park, Friends of the Rio Bosque, and the Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition.
Just reviewing these few resources excites me and suddenly renews my spirit!
Yesterday’s vote was a sad disappointment with the decision, the decision-makers, with those we thought were friends. It was also a call to revival, renewal, and reinvigoration. There’s a pony in this room and we are going to find it and share it.
The fun, the adventure and the challenge has just begun!