Saturday, June 29, 2013

LoBello Calls for Action to Protect El Paso Ecosystem

Rick LoBello

In response to my "Thank You, Supporters", Rick LoBello, El Paso Zoo Curator and author, sent this message to many in the El Paso environmental community about the value of our ecosystem and ecosystem services: 

Very well said Jim and I want to thank you for all you did in running the great race and for encouraging our community to take the next step.  I stand ready to support a petition to protect as much natural open space as possible.  El Paso needs to face up to the reality that we must take critical steps towards a sustainable future.  Those steps include taking necessary actions to help ensure that future generations will have the natural open space and life sustaining resources needed to maintain a high quality of life.  

Growth must be smart for the ecosystem, not just the pocket book.  We need a strong economy, but what kind of economy and quality of life will we have if most of the world surrounding us is devoid of natural landscapes.  We need native plants and soils to absorb the heat of the sun rather than all the new pavement and roads going up everywhere reflecting the heat back into the atmosphere. Native plants are also important to insects that provide pollination services and food for wildlife like nesting birds.  Did you know that few insects important to nesting birds feeding their young survive on exotic plants?

Protecting natural landscapes means helping to maintain fertile soil, filtering and cleaning the air we need to breathe, capturing C02 emissions from our vehicles and energy generation, and producing oxygen that we need to breathe. Simply put a diverse ecosystem cannot function as nature intended without all the parts intact.   

We need to make sure that our elected leaders understand the value of the ecosystem.  Those who create and implement future development plans must include the value of lost ecosystem services when evaluating development projects.  If they don’t know how they need to learn.  Our city and our country needs stronger mandates for the protection of the environment and your advocacy efforts are right on the mark.  As soon as the petition is ready I want to be one of the first to sign and to help others to sign as well.  What you have proposed in your blog is to me one of the most important issues facing our city today, after all, without a healthy natural environment nothing else matters.

Monday, June 24, 2013

EPWU Needs an Office of Ecology

Here is my email message to PSB Board member, Dr. Rick Bonart.  He is meeting with CEO John Balliew tomorrow regarding several open space issues. I have asked that my recommendations be passed along:


It should be the established policy of the PSB/EPWU to manage City-owned land in its inventory with wildlife, wildlife habitat and environmental protection and quality in mind.  Rather than reacting to situations by radically changing the topography as was the case with the Montoya Drain and the arroyo at Robinson, Canyon Terrace and Sierra Crest intersections, long-term plans for management which include thinning out dry vegetation and so forth should be the norm.  Any work on an area should attempt to protect wildlife and wildlife habitat as well as plant life as much as possible.  Nesting and mating seasons should be avoided when large removal of vegetation is required.  Mitigation should be part of any plan that changes the topography.  For example, prior to the wholesale destruction of vegetation and habitat along the Montoya drain, plans for re-vegetation should have already been made.  Of course, such wholesale destruction could have been prevented by a long-term plan that would include thinning out dry vegetation that created a fire hazard.  Mitigation at the Montoya drain/canal should be implemented immediately.  Working with organizations such as the West Texas Urban Forestry Council, reforestation should begin.  It is not simply a matter of re-planting and re-establishing a living ecosystem, but it is critical that the canals have some shading to prevent extra loss from evaporation now that there is no shade.  

It would be wise for the PSB/EPWU to hire an Ecology Officer to review and help plan all projects.  PSB/EPWU already has archaeologists on staff.  Fort Bliss, White Sands and other organizations that have responsibility for public land have ecology officers/offices.  The Officer must be degreed and experienced in ecology, wildlife management and so forth.  The job qualifications must be written with such experience in mind.  Policy should give this Officer broad enough powers to be effective.

Please pass this idea on to Mr. John Balliew when you speak with him.  It is my hope that the matter be taken up immediately by the PSB.  It should also become a regular part of its Strategic Planning.


Jim Tolbert

The Empire Strikes Back

In preparation for its appeal to the El Paso City Council on July 9, 2013, Walmart has begun a new PR campaign beyond the immediate neighborhood of the Chelsea-Montana site that Walmart wants rezoned so it can build a new store.  Here is the flier that they are circulating:

Neighbors oppose the site because the new store will mean added traffic both from service semis and customer vehicles.  The matter went before City Council but Rep. Noe was successful in getting the matter postponed until July 9. 

Noe got a postponment with the hope of impeaching the 211 that neighbors in the immediate proximity of the proposed Walmart had signed.  The 211 accepted by City Attorney Sylvia Firth would require a super majority (6-2) of City Council to approve Walmart's zoning request.  No Mayoral veto is allowed in a 211.  Noe's connection with Walmart comes through his association with advertiser Jose L. Lopez who he used in his 2011 campaign. See one of his 2011 campaign financial reports as well as this one.

Jose Lopez is the lobbyist and local advertiser for Walmart.  His October lobby report reveals Walmart as a client:

His January report mentions "possible new store":

One strange matter: The current Chelsea pool which is part of the Parks and Recreation inventory is set to be replaced and money was set aside in the Quality of Life bonds to purchase a new location.  As a member of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, I remember our discussing the location at Chelsea and Montana where Walmart now wants to build a retail center.  What happened to the pool project?  Did someone at higher levels in the City nix the pool/park idea (popular with the neighbors) in favor of Walmart?

Also read:

The Low-Wage Drag on Our Economy: Wal-Mart's low wages and their effect on taxpayers and economic growth

America Feeds the Rich

Thursday, June 20, 2013

EPWU and EPCWID Busy Destroying Wildlife Habitat and Vegetation in the Upper Valley

 "The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated." - Mahatma Ghandi

"Of the tree in whose shade one sits or lies, not a branch of it should he break, for if he did he would be a betrayer of a friend, an evil doer." - Buddhist teaching

The EPWU and the El Paso County Water Improvement District #1 are in the process of destroying all vegetation along the Montoya drain and canal in the Upper Valley near the El Paso Country Club.  (Map of the area)

A fire which happened about two weeks ago burned some vegetation and damaged a fence on private property.  That fire is the excuse being used by authorities to take the extreme measure of scraping the drain and canal of all vegetation.  There are several things wrong with what they are doing:

Birds nest and animals have young this time of year.  Animal habitat including bird nests have been completely decimated.

Without the trees the water gets no shade and so will evaporate more easily - that's a really dumb thing to do especially during a drought.

Without the shaded trees, humans can't enjoy the recreation of truly being outdoors seeing birds and mammals such as foxes and having a relaxing, cool stroll in spite of the heat.

Without the trees the integrity of the slopes are compromised.

It would have been so much better to do the less extreme thing of thinning out the dry foliage.  It would have been so much better to wait until non-nesting season.

It would have been best to have had a vegetation and wildlife management program in place over the past many years so that animal habitat would be protected, human recreation could be maintained, native plants could have slowly replaced some of the evasive salt cedar.  It would also be best if both the EPWU and the EPCWID would hire Ecology Officers - people who could review projects and help to maintain ecosystems and ecoservices and the beauty of vegetation.  

Instead, the extreme response to a fire was to rip out everything.  When the loss of habitat was mentioned to Chuy Reyes, the mis-Director of the EPCWID, he argued that protecting the community comes first.  (Had he done the responsible thing and had a wildlife/vegetation management plan in place and operative over the past many years, there probably wouldn't have been a fire in the first place. Same criticism goes for the EPWU.) An angry neighbor responded to his statement by suggesting that all forests should be cut down immediately to protect humans from forest fires!

I walked the area today along with Teacher Xavier Miranda and his daughter, Anthropologist Dr. Ben Brown and Attorney Dave Webster.  KFOX sent a reporter.  One can only hope that others will pick-up the story: the El Paso Times, KVIA, KTSM, El Diario, etc.  EPCWID may "own" the drain - but waterways add to the quality of life of the neighborhood, to athletes, recreationalists, birders and others who enjoy the land.  There needs to be public outrage.  Unfortunately, until more people become angry enough to protest, more natural assets will be destroyed along with habitats and recreational opportunities.

Far too often El Pasoans dump their no longer wanted dogs and cats in the desert, the State Park, along Transmountain.  This same attitude seems to prevail when it comes to solving a problem caused by the mis-management of wildlife and foliage along drains and canals. Get it straight: "The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated." Ghandi

[The next meeting of the PSB will be held on Wednesday, July 10, 2013, at the EPWU, 1154 Hawkings Blvd. in the 4th Floor Board Room.  The next meeting of the EPCWID will be held on the same date at the same time (how convenient) at 13247 Alameda, Clint, TX.]

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Thank You Supporters!

As you know my campaign for City Council District 2 came up short in the run-offs.  Here is my message of thanks to campaign supporters.  It is a clarion call for work that we must begin now:

My friends,

I am deeply grateful to each and every one of you for giving so much of your time, treasure and moral support.  Since I live within my own skin, I have been overwhelmed by your affection.  Your support, friendship and love will sustain me for all the rest of the days of my life.  We did not win but let us take stock and see just how well we did.  Then with new vigor let us continue to work hard for a green, progressive City.

The fact that a green candidate did so well against an established and well-networked El Paso businessman, whose campaign was sated with the riches of the likes of Hunt, Foster, Sanders, Hoy, Hahn, Fox and others, says that our cause is very much alive.  We have every reason to believe in a brighter future for our City, our region and our environment.  But we cannot rest even for a moment nor can we be discouraged by one defeat so that we retreat altogether from the struggle which we must resume and which we must win for the sake of our grandchildren’s grandchildren.  Since the incoming El Paso Mayor and City Council will be one of the most reactionary and bourgeois governments in a long time, it is critical for us to come together and begin working on some issues immediately.

The incoming Council will favor strip malls and sprawl, bulldozers and wrecking balls.  They will care little about our natural environment, open spaces and historic buildings.  They will get their lock-step marching orders from those who believe that greed, profit and instant self-gratification are the essentials of a happy life.  Preservation, conservation, self-denial and caring for others and our Mother Earth means nothing to this bunch.  We must resist their efforts at every turn.

I suggest that we immediately begin a petition drive to preserve all the city-owned land (whether in the City’s inventory or the PSB’s inventory) north of Transmountain on the west side of the mountain.  We have no time to waste on this one especially since we will in just a week have a City Council devoted to crushing ecosystems and sprawling as far and as fast as their avaricious eyes can twitch and dart. 

I suggest that environmentalists join with historic preservationists to see that no further architectural treasures are destroyed downtown and that the full force of public wrath comes down on those property owners who prefer blight and those developers who prefer the nondescript, the plain and the cheaply built.

I suggest that we fight for those policies that will waste less water and rainfall and those policies that will stop littering our walls, medians and landscapes with the rock of our mountains.

I suggest that we oppose any plans to finish the “loop” on the backs of the most vulnerable – those who live in Segundo Barrio and Chihuahuita – and oppose plans to connect that loop with I-10 north of downtown by further excavating and exposing the toxic wastes of Asarco – wastes that the EPA, TCEQ and Mr. Puga have denied and prohibited testing by independent engineers.

I suggest that we work hard to see that the border wall is removed and that people and ecosystems are once again united.

Most of all, I suggest that we stop fighting each other and remember that we have a common foe who believes that their dominion over the world means more concrete and asphalt. 

We just lost one election.  With renewed vigor and purpose, let us continue our efforts for social justice and for a living environment.   I intend to begin immediately to work on these concerns and to better educate others about water, environmental, social and City-planning issues.

There is no time for moping, what-ifs, or retirement.  Today is a new day so let’s roll – right now!

Jim Tolbert

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Dr. Noe Likes Walmart but not People NOT in His District

At the NW corner of Montana and Chelsea with Trowbridge defining the northern boundary sits some land that now has a Vet clinic and a Chico's and once a Baptist church now torn down.  Adjacent to this land is a quiet neighborhood. On the other side of Montana is old Chelmont Center and an Albertson's.  Walmart is hell bent on obtaining the land.  The neighbors do not want the added traffic congestion which will surely come with semis delivering products to the store and thousands of customers forced to go around the block - i.e., through the residential areas. 

It was a concern during the recent campaign in which I was a candidate.  Early on I opposed the project - the rezoning for the benefit of Walmart.  My opponent, Larry Romero who was subsequently elected, favored Walmart until he realized that his position could cost him one or more precincts.  Flip-flopping he changed his position and came out against the Walmart. (At the City Plan Commission meeting he sat silently as people spoke out against Walmart.  He sat opposite of the neighbors in the chambers of Council.  He did send his surrogate from the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce to speak in favor of Walmart.  That was two weeks before the election and days before he had his convenient conversion.)

Besides knowing that it would be a huge stress on the neighborhood, I opposed the project because I was aware that the Parks and Recreation Department at one time looked at the land as a place to move the now-closed Chelsea Street pool.  There is money in the quality of life bonds just for purchasing new land for that pool.  Somewhere along the way, that plan got moth balled in favor of supporting Walmart.  Obviously, some in the City hierarchy were persuaded by Walmart to let them go after the land. Many neighbors favor the idea of a park and pool.  Fred Borrego has a very special vision of what that park and pool should look like.

There were close to 70 neighbors - maybe more - at City Council today.  The plot to rezone the land had been turned down by the CPC earlier largely because of neighborhood opposition.  Walmart appealed to the City Council and today the matter was to have been heard.

Homeowners within 300 feet of the proposed site had signed a petition in opposition to the Walmart.  There were enough of them who signed to force what is called a 211 - in order to pass Council there needs to be a super majority.  5-3 for does not work.  It must be 6-2.  Dear Dr. Noe questioned the validity of the petition and asked for a two week postponement.  This in spite of the fact that 70 people (maybe more) were there in opposition - 35 of us had signed up to speak against it.  This also in spite of the fact that Sylvia Firth issued an opinion that the petitions gathered constituted the 211. Citizens had already tolerated nearly two hours of special accolades and recognitions before Council even got to the regular agenda.

Courtney (whatever business wants business gets) Niland seconded the motion.  It passed with the help of Lilly and Acosta who had promised to vote against the Walmart.

Why was Noe so eager to postpone when the proposed Walmart is not even in his District but in outgoing Rep. Byrd's district?  Here's the scoop so pay attention: Joe Lopez, Noe's campaign operative, does the local advertising for Walmart.  Need I say more?  Noe and Walmart are betting on the new City Council to support the retail Leviathan.  The matter will be heard again in two weeks - July 2nd.  We will see if Romero is true to his word or will find a reason to flip flop again.

The vote may also be an early sign of just how reactionary and bourgeois this new Mayor and City Council will be.

Joyce Wilson to Stay with El Paso!

My first post back after a long campaign is a good one: Mayor-elect Leeser has announced that City Manager, Joyce Wilson, will stay until she retires in September 2014.  Here's the press release:

Mayor-Elect announces City Manager to stay with the City, declines Florida job offer

El Paso, Texas – Earlier today City Manager Wilson advised City officials that she contacted the Lee County Chairman earlier this morning to let him know that she was ceasing negotiations and declining the job offer.  

Over the past two days as Mayor elect, I have met with Ms. Wilson for several hours and have asked her to stay on board to assist with the transition of the new council. I felt it was only appropriate to have the City Manager see the City’s critical projects through to a successful conclusion.

I want the public to know that I am staying true to my word that I was not going to rush through things; which is why I feel it is best for City Manager to stay through the end of her contract.

Ms. Wilson has committed to work collaboratively to allow for a smooth transition for her replacement.   Her decision to stay will allow the incoming Council and I to do a proper national and local search for our next City Manager.

Oscar Leeser
City of El Paso