Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Corrected Dates for Comp Plan Review

It is so critical for all of us to be seen and heard by our City government regarding the Comprehensive Plan Re-Write. I made some mistakes on dates and times when posting earlier. Below are the correct dates. I will be posting and emailing them again and again in the next few days and weeks.

Comprehensive Plan Advisory Committee
Monday, February 20, 2012, 10 a.m. to Noon, 10thFloor City Hall

City Plan Commission
Thursday, February 23, 2012, 1:30 p.m., 2nd Floor City Hall

Legislative Review Committee
Thursday, March 1, 2012, 9:00 a.m., 2nd Floor City Hall

City Council
Tuesday, March 6, 2012, 8:30 a.m., 2nd Floor City Hall

Fire the Trustee

(See bottom for some very important dates regarding the City Comprehensive Plan Re-Write and a presentation about the Rio Bosque by John Sproul.)

Imagine that you have a trustee in charge of managing your financial portfolio. You go to this manager and say that you have decided to make some changes in your financial plans. The manager tells you that you can’t. You want “abc”; she insists you want and need “xyz”.  As she has done so many times before, she tells you that her investments for you assure that your fees for her services are kept low. You tell her that is not true but she keeps insisting that it is. You’ve noticed that she makes a number of claims that aren’t true. You realize that your goals and objectives have diverged.  You also realize that your trustee shares very little with you and makes non-transparency a regular policy.  What do you do? I’ll bet you take your assets out of that account. I bet you fire your trustee and go get another one.

Overwhelmingly people at the Dover Kohl-led charrette process involving the Scenic Corridor and the Westside (NW El Paso) Plan said that they just don’t want to develop any of the acreage in the Westside Plan. (Read No-Build IS the Option at our blog.)  Nobody wanted the old plan that many remember was written in spite of objections.  Big “X’s” marked that plan at the hands-on session. “Why sell the land for development?” was the key question. The PSB, the land manager, our “trustee”, will tell you that selling land will keep water rates low. From an open records request, we learned that PSB land sales from 1999 to 2009 were about $4 million per year. For the last two years those sales amounted to less than $500,000.  Land sales only amounted to 2% of the yearly revenue including water, stormwater, and wastewater – not enough to keep rates low by any means.

Now factor in some more things. Once land is developed, guess who takes over the cost to maintain the infrastructure and provide the services for the new development? You do – and it’s much more than keeping the pipes working and the sewer flowing. It’s schools, fire, police, roads, more and more. You can count on paying for these expenses from now on until eternity.

Except it won’t ever go for very long. There’s an 800-pound gorilla sitting next to our land manager: water supply. We have more land than we have water. Development doesn’t pay for itself. We are in fact subsidizing developers. Costs for water will increase as we depend more and more on desalinization and imported water. (By the way, imported water from farmland to the east of El Paso County is not at all a sure bet. Word is that there are lawsuits popping up.)

Land sales may have made some difference in the past. (May have – I don’t really know and I’m just guessing.)  But with increased population and water customers, the benefit from land sales decreases. Things change. Unfortunately our trustee has not – a trustee you will remember who will tell you straight to your face such things as a piece of property being “natural open space” when that land is nothing more than a vacant lot in the middle of a long-established neighborhood.  (What do you do with your trustee? Take your assets elsewhere. Fire your trustee. Go get a new one.)

It’s becoming clear. People want to preserve land not sell it for development and subsidize developers. People want to re-vitalize our downtown. People no longer believe tall tales about land sales and water rates.

Here’s another 10 reasons why protecting El Paso’s Scenic Transmountain Corridor is important to protecting the Franklin Mountains State Park.

2 more things before we go:

Come hear wildlife and conservation biologist, John Sproul, this coming Thursday, February 2nd, at 6 p.m. at the El Paso Garden Center, 3105 Grant Avenue. (Map) The Trans-Pecos Chapter of the Texas Master Naturalists is sponsoring this presentation open to the public.  Many of you know that the Rio Bosque, an important ecological treasure and wildlife habitat, is in critical danger. The drought, challenges with water, and underfunding from the City have led to a park on the verge of dying.  Sproul and a handful of volunteers daily truck water from the nearby Bustamante Plant into the park where they hand water the trees. Bottom line: come hear Sproul.

By the way, elpasonaturally likes what the El Paso Times editorial board had to say about wetlands in their op-ed piece on work at the Fred Hervey Water Reclamation Plant in Northeast El Paso. All the same arguments can be made for the endangered Rio Bosque Wetlands Park, another City Park that the Parks and Recreation Department spends zero dollars for – but then they haven’t budgeted for trails, connectivity or open space.

Finally, as many of you know, an item to take action on the City’s Comprehensive Plan Re-Write (Plan El Paso) was deleted from last week’s CPC meeting. It seems that some at the Chamber of Commerce want more time to give additional feedback.  This is a euphemism for a delay tactic to scuttle the plan. This Plan has been vetted for nearly two years now. (You can read the complete draft of volume 1 and volume 2 of the Plan El Paso document online.)  More than 2500 people participated in 100 meetings and 20 hands-on-sessions. Plan El Paso has been discussed by numerous groups, stakeholders and the press. Nobody can say that we can’t make a decision on it now. As citizens who care, mark your calendars now and be heard at the following upcoming meetings:

Comprehensive Plan Advisory Committee
Monday, February 20, 2012, 10 a.m. to Noon, 10th Floor City Hall

City Plan Commission
Thursday, February 20, 2012, 1:30 p.m., 2nd Floor City Hall

Legislative Review Committee
Thursday, February 23, 2012, 1:30 p.m., 2nd Floor City Hall

City Council
Tuesday, March 6, 2012, 8:30 a.m., 2nd Floor City Hall

You can bet that the Chamber and those forces who hate the new landscape ordinance, hate open space, hate the Open Space Advisory Board, hate anything but concrete, asphalt, sprawl and water meters will be present at each meeting. (See above about subsidizing developers.) City government needs to see and hear us as well.

No-Build IS the Option

Option Number One: No-Build - Protect ALL of the land. 
Click on image to enlarge.

At the Works-in-Progress session this past Saturday, Dover Kohl representatives gave a summary of what they had learned from the Hands-on Session and meetings with various stakeholders throughout the week regarding the Westside (Northwest El Paso) Master Plan and the Scenic Transmountain Corridor issue. Here's what they learned:

Option Number One: Protect ALL of the land.
Option Number Two: Preserve as much as possible.
Preserve permanently.
Protect arroyos and habitats.
Create a new and safer entrance into the State Park.

The old PSB Westside Master Plan that nobody wants. (Nobody wanted it when it was first proposed but we got it anyway.) Note the commercial development along Transmountain. 
Click on image to enlarge.

Dover Kohl did not come to "talk the public out of conservation efforts and initiatives" nor did they try to explain or defend the PSB. However, working back and forth between interested parties, they did provide a scenario for smart growth development that had a bit of both sides to it. Their scenario preserves 65% of the land versus the old PSB Westside Plan that only saves 32% and even the land defined in the petition initiative that preserves 55%. The scenario that they presented at the end of the week provides more homes for a larger population and accounts for more employment than the old plan of the PSB's that would put ugly commercial development along the Scenic Transmountain Corridor. If one were to live in the old PSB plan, they would walk 4,660 feet to the nearest shop or restaurant but only 1,182 feet in the new plan. Parks would only be 824 feet away versus 2,957 feet under the old PSB plan.

Nevertheless, people said that what they prefer is the No-Build Option. Begrudgingly, some said that a simpler scenario would be okay but with caveats: land (including arroyos) are preserved in perpetuity; no roads through the open space unless elevated ("no box culverts" one El Paso leader emphatically stated); preservation of the Scenic Corridor; protection of animals, habitat and animal corridors.

The only scenario that some found begrudgingly acceptable.
Click on image to enlarge.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Comp Plan Action Postponed to February

There has been a sudden development. The CPC will not discuss or take action on Plan El Paso (the City’s Comprehensive Plan Re-Write) at 1:30 p.m. today. Instead that item will be moved to a meeting in February. I will keep you updated.

There is nothing “going on” – just a need to let a few more organizations have time to weigh in on the plan first.

There still will be a Community Presentation of the comp plan re-write tonight from 6 to 8 p.m. in the Foundation Room on the 1st Floor of the El Paso Community Foundation, 333 North Oregon. (Map)

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Get to CPC Meeting Tomorrow (Thursday) at 1:30 p.m.

Long note but please read. Bottom line: El Paso needs to adopt Plan El Paso, our new Comprehensive Plan.

Please make every effort to attend tomorrow’s (Thursday, January 26th) meeting of the City Plan Commission at 1:30 p.m. in City Council Chambers. (Map and Directions to City Hall) This meeting is far more important, critical and consequential than last night’s hands-on session (although that was very important).  It is imperative that as many of us who can will make this meeting.

I've also learned that the item to take action on the Comprehensive Plan may be moved to the front of the agenda - 1:30 p.m. sharp!

The CPC will take action on the Comprehensive Plan Re-Write (Plan El Paso).  It is CPC and the City Council who make the final decisions about Comprehensive plans . . . not Dover Kohl and not you and me except as we impact our elected Representatives.  All the work that you did at charrettes last year will be worthless if some powerful interests have their way. They hate Smart Growth; they hate walkable communities; they hate open space; they hate the new Landscape Ordinance. They love little or no landscaping. They like big box stores and disconnected neighborhoods and concrete and asphalt.

We have learned that they plan to come out en masse tomorrow to the CPC meeting. They know that they don’t need to “waste their time” engaging in a public process through charrettes. They will focus on the CPC and on Council. You should too. (Did you see any of them actively engaged in last night’s hands-on session for instance? No. They are sharpening their swords for CPC and the City Council and they have done so with the Comprehensive Plan and they will do so later with the Westside Plan.)

The Comprehensive Plan has been vetted for over a year. More than 2500 people participated in 100 meetings and 20 hands-on-sessions. Plan El Paso has been discussed by numerous groups, stakeholders and the press. Nobody can say that we can’t make a decision on it now.

Plan El Paso is comprehensive and addresses a wide range of issues: transportation, livable/walkable communities, health, historic preservation, transportation, downtown development and much more.

Please plan to be at the meeting tomorrow. Let the CPC know that there are numbers for the Plan. You can sign-up to speak on Agenda Item #9 prior to the start of the meeting at 1:30 p.m.

Let me be clear: the meeting tomorrow has to do with the City’s new Comprehensive Plan. It is a separate item from our current work to re-do the Westside Master Plan and preserve the Scenic Transmountain Corridor. However, the Comprehensive Plan has everything to do with the quality of life in El Paso, our economic development and our El Paso’s ability to be competitively tough in the 21st Century.

You can read the complete draft of volume 1 and volume 2 of the Plan El Paso document online. (The Comprehensive Plan Community Presentation is scheduled for Thursday evening at the El Paso Community Foundation at 333 N. Oregon in the Foundation Room on the 1st Floor. (Map)  This is another very important meeting to make if you can.

Time is very short. We need a big turnout.  Tell your friends, neighbors, neighborhood associations, organizations and everyone you know who has worked to make Plan El Paso a dream come true.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Get to Today's Hands-on Session

It has started – the process to review and change the Westside (Northwest) Master Plan including preserving the Scenic Transmountain Corridor. Dover Kohl has their design studio set-up at the Canutillo Independent School District offices on Artcraft. Tonight is the public hands-on session in the Canutillo High School auditorium between Transmountain/Talbot and Artcraft. A schedule, addresses and maps can be found at elpasonaturally. Just be sure you click on the image to enlarge.

Everyone should participate. Simply all of us have much to gain from being in the conversation this week. If you are at the hands-on session then you will get to listen firsthand to citizens and technicians instead of having to rely on mere gossip or someone else’s account of what happened. It doesn’t help to be there “in spirit”. You’ve got to be there. If you can’t the design studio is open all week waiting for your review and comments.

Dover Kohl has already prepared some maps to help guide us with our discussions at the hands on session. Also, already a number of good ideas have been expressed by citizens. One of the more refreshing ideas is a “No Build” option – simply leave the northwest land in question in its natural state. One proponent firmly stated that she was “no luddite”. She believes in development – just not there. Instead, encourage development in downtown El Paso. The draft of the Plan El Paso (Comprehensive Plan) states clearly: “Redevelopment is important throughout El Paso but nowhere more than Downtown” (page 1.13). “What you do downtown, you don’t have to do out there [natural open space in northwest El Paso],” someone else added.

You can read the complete draft of volume 1 and volume 2 of the Plan El Paso document online. (The Comprehensive Plan Community Presentation is scheduled for Thursday evening at the El Paso Community Foundation on Oregon.

Of course there are other plans that call for more or less development in the northwest principally south of Transmountain. Bottom line is that you need to be at the hands on session this evening beginning at 5 p.m.

For conservationists, for petitioners, for those who care about the land and see the value of preserving it and holding it sacred, there remain key points. Here are some that I keep hearing:

Land preserved in its natural state must be preserved forever. Flexible conservation easements can be written to do just that – flexible enough to make accommodations for utility additions such as water tanks and service roads. I have heard that Ed Archuleta and EPWU are afraid that their hands will be tied by an easement. However, its flexibility means just the opposite. Frankly, they are very smart people and I bet they already know that. What they are mainly afraid of is not being able to change things in the future so that they can sell to builders. This is the biggest sticking point for this whole process. If the land is not preserved in perpetuity, then petitioners will ask for a ballot referendum and they have the numbers (which are growing) to get it.

The preservation of the arroyos means that any roads over them must be elevated.

Animal habitat and corridors must be preserved and created.

Keep the mountain biking/hiking trails natural that cost nothing to maintain, but attract a growing biking community and eco-tourists.

Safe access to the State Park! (For animals too.)

Keep some other things in mind. Just as it is important for each of us to be in right relationships with each other, we need to be in right relationship with the land and the living things which inhabit it. Conservationist Aldo Leopold wrote in the now classic 1949 book, A Sand County Almanac: “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”

No one may not be able to objectify it, but there is a spirituality and a sacredness to places.

Finally, in this arid land under drought, preserving natural space conserves water. The model of adding more rate payers (building and metering more homes and businesses) means using up the little water that we have more quickly. Passive rain water harvesting, green infrastructure/low impact development need to be guiding principles. Retention ponds are built upstream for one reason: to be able to build more and more houses and office buildings and strip malls.  The cost to the taxpayer for maintaining and repairing infrastructure such as roads, schools, water lines, etc. is much greater than any initial return on the sales of land. Land sales are not a factor in the EPWU’s bond rating and land sales don’t really affect your rates. When have your rates gone down as the result of selling land? You cannot build to achieve lower taxes, lower utility rates or guarantee more water. It’s the other way around.

Please come to the hands-on session from 5 to 9 p.m. this evening at Canutillo High School. It may be a drive for most – but it is a drive to make.

Monday, January 16, 2012

From the Heart

Here is my e-letter sent out today. There are several main issues. First, I am responding to those who say that my e-letter and blog are official words from OSAB - something far from the truth. Second, I wish to wrap-up for now my discoveries about Johnson Basin. Finally, I want to call attention to the upcoming charrettes and an item on tomorrow's City Council agenda which would seem to threaten the advantages the City has gained through its Open Space Advisory Board. Here goes:

There are three main parts to this e-letter: personal comments, the Johnson Basin and, finally, open space issues and how you can help with them. It will make the letter longer than usual; but I hope that you will take the time to read through it.

First some personal comments. It has gotten back to me that some consider this letter and my blog as the official mouthpiece of the Open Space Advisory Board in spite of the fact that far more subjects are covered than just open space issues. I don’t believe for a moment that anyone truly believes that my blog or e-letter are official pieces of OSAB except that creating that kind of perception helps a particular agenda. Nevertheless, perceptions are realities and the fact that I have allowed my passion and love for natural open spaces and ecosystems to be clouded by personalities have allowed for the creation of such perceptions. For that I’m sorry; for my love and defense of this earth, I am not and never will be.

I do not write for the Open Space Advisory Board. I am a member of that Board. I have been the Co-Chairman of that Board only because of my gold stars for good attendance. I can be counted on to call the meeting to order if the Chairman cannot be present. Being Co-Chairman makes no difference to me. Seeking the Chair has never been my ambition nor is it now. OSAB has given me the opportunity to work with others on open space issues. Because of my love for the natural environment, I have also been active with Celebration of Our Mountains, the El Paso Hiking community, the West Texas Urban Forestry Council, the Texas Master Naturalists and other organizations. I am not the mouthpiece for any of those other organizations either even though I am an officer in some of them. As my disclaimer says at the bottom of every e-letter: “Elpasonaturally© is written and published by Jim Tolbert who takes sole responsibility for the content of the letter”, I take sole responsibility.

I am not dispassionate about these issues and that may be the greatest understatement ever. However, too often in the heat of polemics I have resorted to the dark satire of personal attacks forgetting that a good look in the mirror would instantly rectify any such rhetoric. I’ll try to do better. I faulted PSB member Richard Shoephoerster for doing the very same thing that I was guilty of doing and probably more so: failing to do my homework, failing to really see what the facts were. I apologize to Dr. Shoephoerster for my vitriol. As a member of OSAB, it was my responsibility to see for myself what all the various projects were that were on our lists. I did not. I just accepted what I was being told. I do feel as if the situation at Johnson Basin was misrepresented as natural open space (and not just to me, or OSAB, but even to Council). Nevertheless, I never questioned what was being told to me in EPWU presentations at OSAB.

So here comes the transition: a few words about Johnson Basin. I have the advantage now of having spent over two hours the other day at EPWU poring through some documents that I requested under the Texas Open Records laws. A few points:

First, it’s too bad that EPWU felt that they had to misrepresent matters at Johnson Basin. The fact that they did is an organizational matter that should be dealt with. Organizations get cagey when they feel a need to be defensive. It’s too bad that they felt as if they had no choice.

The records show that EPWU was most probably operating on the belief that they had their marching orders from the City and stormwater and open space priorities. Their several presentations over the space of a couple of years showed that they were trying to do their job. They were probably quite surprised when there was pushback about the land acquisition known as Johnson Basin. Better than a Yankee bargainer, they had skillfully negotiated good sales prices on the land. Nevertheless they never did account for any of the Johnson Basin purchases when asked to do so by an advisory Board to City Council or in response to an earlier Open Records Request. Why not? They also continued to misrepresent that land as natural open space. Why?

The land was never open space – a good place for a park and for a park pond maybe, but not open space. It was never considered open space. At one point the land was looked at for a housing opportunity because it was developed land in a developed neighborhood. When it came time to purchase the land in the Basin, there was a discussion about using open space funds to purchase it. Not all at the EPWU saw it as fitting that criteria. (Later I’ll publish the pictures of the email exchanges that show this internal debate.)

All of this caginess and defensiveness builds a credibility gap. Why cover-up something so easily resolved by using other funds? What other agendas are involved? Why are we so quick to build so many park ponds so quickly? Yes, it eats up open space money in a strictly cash account. Moreover, park ponds are at the bottom of the priority list for open space acquisitions. However, there is still a fair amount of cash flow to be effective if some other sources of funding can be found – a discussion we should have as citizens and government and as people who love our community, its natural assets and ecotourism, health and recreational opportunities. Disbursements are made as bills come due. The funding budgeted for park ponds is not automatically expended. There is cash in the open space account and more coming in. It’s not as bleak as it may look but then again the cash flow still doesn’t have the oomph that it could have if there were other ways to finance open space acquisitions. That is a good conversation for government and its citizens to have.  However, to have a good conversation, you’ve got to go beyond personal and institutional comfort zones and lay cards on the table.

There are other conversations about much more valuable open space issues that are coming up quickly. So here’s my last transition.

First, what we discussed as a way to move forward with our petition to preserve the Scenic Transmountain Corridor was the participation in a process led by Dover Kohl and the City’s Planning and Development staff. This process recognizes working together to preserve our natural environment while furthering the economic progress of our City. It begins next week, January 23rd – 27th. Dates and events are here and here. Please plan to attend. Being there in spirit won’t cut it.

Second, there is an item on tomorrow’s City Council agenda of some concern: what seems to be an attempt to cut back OSAB’s overview. Hopefully, it presents an opportunity for the City to re-affirm its commitments to open space and Smart Growth and keep going in positive directions more effectively. Item 7A on the agenda is an attempt “to amend the provisions concerning  the Open Space Advisory Board membership, rules, duties, and ability to appoint subcommittees. . .” The wording of this discussion actually exposes some of what is behind it. There is a call to “[m]ove the Tree Board responsibilities to the jurisdiction of the City Plan Commission along with review of the landscape ordinance as a development related issue.” In point of fact there has not been a Tree Board for two or so years now. It was reduced to a Sub-committee of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board. Its addition in tomorrow’s City Council discussion shows that the real architects of the plan are businesses still bitter about the new Landscape Ordinance. Let me make this plain: I am not anti-development or anti-business. Quite the contrary, I’m quite pro. As a member of OSAB, I have spoken out for developers wanting to get park credits when they do something to preserve natural open space. Ordinance gives the final okay about such credits to the Director of the Parks and Recreation Department. Rather than helping to foster open space values, she continually says “no”. The Parks and Recreation budget has nothing in it for trails, open spaces or connectivity of any kind. I’d like to see them spend more on open space from their own budget and I’d like to see developers and builders get a break. It’s all about all of us pitching in together.

If you can make City Council tomorrow, please do so. Council begins at 8:30 a.m. and you must sign up to speak before then. You can sign-up online. Do call or email your Representative and tell them that you hope that the ordinance will stay the same but that weaknesses in the overall system can be rectified. Don’t throw out the baby with the bath water.  Don’t cut off your nose so spite your face.  A glaring weakness, for example, is not having  PSB/EPWU’s maximum input on park pond designs when it comes to water conservation.  We also may need to listen more to the PSB when it comes to not having free water at our parks (if that is what I’m hearing that they are saying). Want to know why Soviet bread lines were so long? Free bread. It’s supply and demand. They didn’t have enough wheat and we sure don’t have enough water.

Finally, one last personal note and an invitation. Anyone can comment on my blog entries and anyone can respond to these emails. I have published opinions differing from mine before. I do monitor comments on the blog so that such posts are not automatic. I weed out profanity and psychosis. I invite comment and discussion. I will continue to take sole responsibility for the content of this letter and my blog. It’s mine . . . not OSAB’s or anyone else’s.

Year of the Bat at El Paso Zoo

Click on image to enlarge.

Year of the Bat Kickoff Celebration at the El Paso Zoo! January 28-29, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
The El Paso Zoo will host a kickoff the Year of the Bat on January 28-29 from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Join us to help raise awareness about Bat conservation and learn about these magnificent creatures. Daily activities will include bat games, arts & crafts, bat enrichment programs and more. (Activities included with regular Zoo admission)

Build a Bat House Workshop – January 28 at 11am.
Learn how to build a bat house in this fun hands-on interactive workshop.  Bats are essential for maintaining healthy ecosystems and installing a bat house is a great way to support these insect eating species. ($10 per person, $9 for members). For more information and to register visit or call 521-1850.

Batty Sleepover – January 27, 6 p.m. – 9 a.m.
Spend the night at the zoo and discover information about our local bats, make bat enrichments and celebrate the Year of the Bat! Also enjoy a jam packed time with a nocturnal tour, animal encounter, campfire, bat story time and behind the scenes tour! All you need is your pillow and a blanket.  Cots are provided.   $30 non-member, $27 member.  Ages 7+ (Must have at least 1 adult per 5 children). For more information and to register visit or call 521-1850.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

2 More Opportunities for Open Space Advocates

The City of El Paso through its Planning and Development Department and Dover Kohl Partners  invite you to the Northwest Masterplan Charrette which will be held January 23rd - January 27th. The charrette will allow residents and stakeholders to be involved in the formulation of a new master plan for 1,850 acres of land along Transmountain Rd west of the Franklin Mountains State Park and east of the El Paso Natural Gas Pipeline. 

As part of the planning effort, they have scheduled two stakeholder meetings to discuss 1) open space issues and 2) hike and bike trail issues. These stakeholder meetings will be held on January 23rd at the design studio located at the Canutillo ISD Administrative Offices (7965Artcraft Road).

Meeting #1 (Open Space Issues):  3 pm – 5 pm
Meeting #2 (Hike and Bike Trail Issues):  5 pm – 7 pm

If you are unable to attend these meetings, the design studio will be open January 23rd – January 27th from 9 am to 7 pm. Please stop by to provide additional input on the plan and to see how the plan is progressing. In addition, the following public meetings have been scheduled to update residents on the planning effort.

1. Hands-On Session:
Tuesday, January 24, 2012, 5 pm to 9 pm
Canutillo High School Auditorium
6675 S. Desert Boulevard

2. Northwest Masterplan Work in Progress:
Saturday, January 28, 2012, 9 am to 12 pm
Canutillo High School Auditorium
6675 S. Desert Boulevard

Hopefully you are able to attend these events. If you are able to attend the stakeholder meetings, please confirm your attendance so that they can make sure to have enough seats for everyone. Contact Fred Lopez, AICP, CNU-A with the Planning and Economic Development Department of the City of El Paso, 915-541-4322.

North Loop of the New Lower Sunset Trail

Click image to enlarge.

Judy Ackerman led a small group of hikers along the north loop of the new Lower Sunset Trail yesterday. The trail is one of many great hikes at the Tom Mays Unit of the Franklin Mountains State Park.

Judy reported: "We hiked the north loop of the new Lower Sunset trail today.  I am constantly impressed with all the improvements in FMSP.  Wasn’t it less than 2 years ago that trail did not exist?  It is a beautiful trail and would be appropriate for beginners."

Here is her data:

Distance:  2.8 miles
Time:  2.5 hrs – very slowly with lunch break
Elevation Change:   447 ft.

Lat Lon
N31 56.272 W106 31.653
4584 ft
N31 56.351 W106 31.342
4633 ft
N31 56.337 W106 31.527
4554 ft
N31 56.038 W106 31.522
4738 ft
N31 55.858 W106 30.784
4959 ft
N31 55.943 W106 31.050
4880 ft

Click image to enlarge.

Park Superintendent, Cesar Mendez, Ph.D., said: "It was about 2 years ago when the trail did not exist. This new section has been in place for a little more than a year. With the shortcut to the group picnic site, this new section of the trail creates a number of options for park users."

Mendez also said that "the new trail over Hitt and Sotol Canyons is almost finished. It should be completed before the end of this month. Then we will be working on other improvements re-routes and brand new trails."

The Park can always use volunteers to help build and maintain trails. Call 915-566-6441 if you are interested.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Charrette Schedule Set for Scenic Corridor

Click to enlarge image. Which view do you want?

It's time to commit to attending critical planning sessions to save the Scenic Transmountain Corridor. This is what our petition is all about. 

Representative Susie Byrd sent out this notice:

"Help protect the Transmountain Scenic Corridor by participating in planning the 1,800 acres of land owned by the City of El Paso that is adjacent to the Texas State Park and straddles Transmountain Road. This is a great opportunity to weigh in on how and where we want development leading up into the Texas State Park. Preserving the Scenic Corridor and caring for the land and ecosystems depend on our participation.

Please commit to being at the hands-on session. Please personally interact with the Dover Kohl and City staff teams at the design studio.

See you there!"

Northwest Masterplan Planning Sessions:
1. Hands-On Session:
Tuesday, January 24, 2012, 5PM to 9PM,
Canutillo HS Auditorium;
6675 S. Desert Boulevard, 79932
2. Northwest Masterplan Work in Progress:
Saturday, January 28, 2012, 9AM to Noon,
Canutillo HS Auditorium;
6675 S. Desert Boulevard, 79932
3. Design Studio: (Open to the Public)
Monday, January 23 to Friday, January 27, 2012
Canutillo Independent School District--Board Room
7965 Artcraft Road, 79932
Hours of Design Studio:
Monday-Friday, 9AM to 7PM 

Scott Cutler, the President of the Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition, emailed supporters and said, "These public meetings (charrettes) will be an important opportunity, perhaps one of the only opportunities, to make sure that the scenic qualities of the west side corridor of Loop 375 are preserved. The stronger the participation by those favoring protecting this valuable scenic asset the greater the likelihood it will become part of the new master plan. [Emphasis mine.] Please make an effort to attend one or all of these meetings and let them know what you would like to happen."

Hike the Franklin Mountains State Park in January

Click on image to enlarge.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Tin Mines Hike Tomorrow

At entrance to Franklin Mountain Tin Mines

There are some really cool hikes coming up.  As always, I suggest that you visit and bookmark El Paso Hiking Meet-up and the Las Cruces Hiking Meet-up as well as the Ocotillo Hikers of Las Cruces for schedules of great hikes. Join the El Paso and Las Cruces meet-up groups so that you receive email about hikes as soon as they are scheduled.

Tomorrow, Saturday, January 7th plan to hike to the only Tin Mines ever in the United States. They are located in the northeast Franklins. The hike begins at 8 a.m. Get details here including where to meet. The El Paso Tin Mining and Smelting Company operated in the northeast Franklins from 1909 until 1915 when it was shut down for lack of productive ore. 

Also tomorrow is a hike in Fillmore Canyon at Dripping Springs in the Organ Mountains. Go to the El Paso Hiking Meet-up description for the details.

The El Paso/Trans Pecos Audubon Society is planning the annual trip to Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge to see ducks, cranes, geese and other birds and wildlife. (Map) Mark and Janet Perkins will be at the Refuge on Friday, January 13th,  for those who want to join them that day.  Those who arrive on Saturday will meet at 1:00 p.m. at the Refuge Visitor's Center.  There are also plans for a trip to the Sandia Mountains for the Rosy Finch banding (weather permitting).  Beginners and nonmembers are welcome.  Please RSVP as soon as possible.  Reservations are required for this trip.  There is a detailed Itinerary available upon request.  Contact Mark at 637-3521 or

Every Sunday is Scenic Sunday at Scenic Drive from 7 a.m. to Noon. Walk, run or bicycle this 4.1 mile round trip of panoramic views and 500 million-year-old fossils. Also, get to know the El Paso Zoo. If you visit all of the exhibits on this fabulous 35 acres, you will walk a mile. Keep track of Zoo Events.


Thursday, January 5, 2012

Click on image to enlarge.

Under the Open Records laws of the State of Texas I requested some information about the land sales at Johnson Basin: appraisals, sales records, minutes and agenda of the PSB showing approval of the sales, email to and from Mr. Archuleta and so forth. I have been given a cost associated with compiling and copying the records. Click to enlarge the picture above of the letter to me from Mr. Bob Andron, EPWU attorney, outlining the associated costs. It is obvious that the EPWU/PSB does not want me to see the records. So much for open government and transparency. What are they afraid of? What really happened with the acquisition of the Johnson Basin? Why were procedures not followed? 

I did ask by email today to simply view the records. I've been told that they will get back to me. 

Last year, as a member of the Open Space Advisory Board, I requested a financial statement of our Open Space Fund - the 10% of your stormwater fee that goes for acquiring natural open space. I wanted to see income and expenses - a bank account statement basically. Never, ever was there any mention of property purchased as part of the Johnson Basin acquisition even though the El Paso Inc. story by David Crowder reveals that Joseph and Irene Dunn were paid $370,000 on January 9, 2011. That purchase was even hidden from the PSB contrary to the EPWU/PSB Policies and Procedures 31-03 signed by Mr. Archuleta on December 22, 2003.

In addition, the purchase of property acquisitions with open space money made before 2011 was even hidden from me in an earlier open records request that I made about the same income and expenses. Again, nothing about the purchase of property to acquire the Johnson Basin with open space funds even though such an expense was germane to my request.

Finally, in the 12/07/11 minutes of the Open Space Advisory Board, Mr. John Balliew of the EPWU said publicly that he would provide me with a copy of the PSB minutes regarding the Johnson Basin project discussion. This was separate from my open records request.  To date, I have received nothing from Mr. Balliew and emailed him today asking him to send me that information. Mr. Balliew made his promise at the same OSAB meeting in which  he identified the Johnson Basin as natural open space. I'm sure that the black top at the northwest corner of the "basin" is the natural asphalt pavement - a creative act of God.

Again, what are they afraid of? What really happened with the acquisition of the Johnson Basin? Why were procedures not followed? What is this cover-up all about?

"Looks like a natural arroyo to me"

"Looks like a natural arroyo to me."

"Looks like a natural arroyo to me." Thus spake Richard Shoephoerster, PSB member and Dean of Engineering at the University of Texas at El Paso at the PSB meeting when Ed Archuleta defended the purchase of property referred to as the Johnson Basin. Archuleta tried to justify the purchase using open space money because the land is located near the mountain. (So is the rest of El Paso.) When quizzed by Board member Rick Bonart regarding the cost of the land ($100,000 per acre), Archuleta tried to suggest that it was purchased at $293,000. When pressed about the real cost of $393,000, he said: "I think I've got that spread sheet." No other Board members questioned him about the price, the fact that the purchase was never brought to the Board for approval, a seeming lack of appraisals, and the inane suggestion that once the "facility" (Johnson Basin) is developed, there would be access to the mountain. Really? Sure, walk up a concrete sidewalk along a paved street, Pierce to Alabama - a 4 lane divided road, jaywalk, walk over some more commercial property and, yes, you will come to the entrance of McKelligon Canyon. Or, hop the rock wall onto William Beaumont Property, walk past the old Piedras exit, a retention pond, paved parking lots, hop another wall, trespass through some residential and commercial properties, jaywalk Alabama, etc. The bobbing heads bobbed.

You can see new pictures from Johnson Basin. EPWU is plowing land as fast as it can like the perp in a film noir movie burying the body in the woods.

New sign at Johnson Basin should read: 
"Do Not Take Pictures or Videos of Our Boondoggle or We Will Prosecute"