Friday, February 28, 2014

Friday Video Double Feature: Happy Cows

Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations are the norm for "raising" the beef, chicken and pork that we eat. Animals are confined neck to neck in cages. The slaughter of these animals for our fast food and meat in our stores, restaurants and institutions is horrendous. We forget that these are creatures like ourselves who love freedom and are ensprited. Don't believe me? Watch this wonderful video:

The Friday Video: How Wolves Change Rivers

Today is a double feature which I'll do in 2 posts. The first video is one that I wanted to post last Friday but the embedding code wasn't available. It is now. Save wolves. Let wolves multiply. That's the moral of the story. There are several organizations devoted to saving wolves. Your El Paso Zoo is a leader in efforts to save the Mexican Wolf, a critically-endangered species. Visit the Zoo's take-action page about these wonderful animals.

Enjoy this video which shows some of the ways wolves are essential to the wilderness:

Please also check out Sustainable Man online and on Facebook. They have many more videos.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

EP One-Stop Shop Now Issues Toll Tags

Good news: El Paso's One-Stop Shop will now issue TollTags and accept payments for the CÉSAR CHÁVEZ EXPRESS TOLL LANES. This follows the unanimous vote by the Camino Real Regional Mobility Authority to end its relationship with payday predatory lenders. HERE is my last post on the matter. Below is the complete city press release:

Raymond  L. Telles, Camino Real Regional Mobility Authority, (915) 212-1072
Javier C. Camacho, City Development Department, (915) 212-1615 or (915) 838-5578
One-Stop Shop, 811 Texas Avenue, (915) 212-0104
The City of El Paso’s One-Stop Shop will now issue TollTags and accept payments for the CÉSAR CHÁVEZ EXPRESS TOLL LANES

EL PASO, TX – El Paso drivers can now sign up for and replenish their TollTag accounts at the City of El Paso’s One Stop Shop – a convenient location for making payments for various City of El Paso services in downtown El Paso, including permits, licenses and now César Chávez toll bills.
The One-Stop Shop, located at 811 Texas Avenue, will allow commuters to acquire and replenish their TollTags as well as make payments for their “Pay-By-Mail” toll bills all in person. The One-Stop Shop accepts cash, checks, money orders and major credit cards.  There is a processing fee for all credit cards which is 1.98% of the payment amount.
The César Chávez Express Toll Lanes, the first project of its kind in El Paso, consist of one express lane in each direction of the nine-mile Loop 375  Border Highway corridor from US 54 to Zaragoza.  The goal of the express toll lanes is to alleviate congestion from I-10 and provide a safer, more reliable commute. Drivers are encouraged to sign up for a TollTag account for regular use of the toll lanes, as the most efficient and least expensive way to use the lanes. TollTag users can sign up online at, by calling (915) 351-8655 or now, in person at the One-Stop Shop.
With the automated TollTag account, the toll gantry will charge between 40 cents – 50 cents depending on where the driver entered the lanes or a total of ninety cents for use of the entire nine-mile corridor.  Those without TollTags will have their license plates recorded by high-speed cameras that provide digital data to toll administrators who use the data to calculate and deliver periodic toll bills.  The non-TollTag process is referred to as the “Pay-By-Mail” option.
A great resource to get answers for most frequently asked question regarding TollTags, violations, and fees is to visit the César Chávez Express Toll Lanes website at
For more information, contact Raymond L. Telles at (915) 212-1072 or the One-Stop Shop at (915) 212-0104

About the CRRMA

The CRRMA was created in March of 2007 by act of the El Paso City Council.  Since then, the organization has moved quickly to become an experienced and productive partner in developing the transportation solutions necessary for the El Paso region.  For more information on the history of CRRMA and its projects, please visit

Monday, February 24, 2014

New Impact Fee Increases Make Sense and Are Reasonable and Fair

Let's keep the discussion about impact fee increases simple: If you use something, you pay for it. If you don't, you don't. The current proposal to raise impact fees on new developments in the growing edges of the city is not about growth or anti-growth or sprawl or infill or smart growth. It's about being fair about who pays for the capital improvements by the El Paso Water Utilities to accommodate the new growth.

Let's say that I plan to attend several concerts at the Plaza downtown but I don't want to pay for parking. I want to use a parking space downtown but I don't want to pay for it. Instead, I want the property taxes of all other property owners in El Paso to increase by a few cents to pay for my parking space. Fair? Of course not. I use the parking space so I should pay for it. I could, of course, elect to park away from downtown and walk - but I can't force you to pay for the convenience of my parking downtown.

Or, say I want a swimming pool in my backyard - the works: rock landscaping, a waterfall, a grotto, a spa. But I don't want to pay for it; instead I want you to pay for it with an additional fee tacked on to your water bill. Fair? Need I answer.

To accommodate new development in west, east and northeast El Paso, the EPWU will have to fund some capital improvement projects. We're talking about expanding the Bustamante Wastewater Treatment Plant, new interceptors, new pumping and force mains, etc. These are improvements that they should be making because of the new homes that additional people will need. To finance these improvements, the PSB approved and the EPWU requested impact fee increases. Here is their presentation to the City Improvement Advisory Committee (CIAC) on January 27th:

CIAC with 7 developers and 2 neophytes on the committee voted unanimously to oppose the increase. The City Plan Commission (CPC) voted 6-0-1 to recommend the increase to City Council.

Just skim through the presentation and you can see the additional improvements that must be made to the water and wastewater systems to keep up with new development.

Keep in mind that the impact fees only cover 75% of the expenses. You and I (unfair or not) will pay the additional 25%. (Hmmm . . . wonder if I can get at least 25% of my dream pool paid by the rest of you.) 

However, to hear the El Paso Times tell the story a crisis akin to Hurricane Sandy is about to hit El Paso. In their Sunday story yesterday, an added headline reads: "Sharp increase is possible if City Council approves ordinance". 

Sharp increase? $3,835 more per new home on the eastside is a sharp increase? Amortized over 30 years at 5% and that increase is no more than $15 per month. If someone can't afford an additional $15 per month, they shouldn't be buying the house. Heck, if I were the developer, I'd raise the price $5,000 and no one would blink at the difference. I bet that developers do just that or more.

But, what if the City follows by raising the taxes on our homes again? Then that additional cost of the home may mean paying much more in taxes each year. This isn't an argument against impact fees. This is an argument against out-of-control city spending by City reps who campaign against taxing people out of their homes and yet approve budgets that do just that.

Some will argue that we shouldn't have to pay for other things that we don't use. I don't get to drive the shiny new police car - but I do get the protection and the confidence that El Paso will continue to be the safest city its size in the country. I'm not on welfare so why should I pay for it. However, our entire community benefits and our commonwealth expands when we aren't burdened by added expenses of crime, poor health, lack of education, etc. It's a good thing in and of itself to offer a hand up. It's a additional bonus when that hand leads to greater productivity and an expanding economy because of more employment and so forth. 

Finally, the PSB does not hold city land in its inventory in order to finance future development. Although I'm sure that he knew better, Ed Archuleta unwisely used that argument when he tried to prevent putting more land into permanent open space. No, the PSB manages our land in order to recharge our aquifers from whence we get half our city water and, in droughts, much more than that. Some of that land is not necessary for recharging and could be sold except that some of us argue that some of that land (but not all) should be kept in a natural state because of other ecological benefits and aesthetic and recreational enjoyments. 

The issues of growth paying for itself (or not), infill development, smart growth can be considered separate to this discussion on impact fees. It is only fair that those whose new homes will increase the need for water and wastewater infrastructure should pay for those additional capital improvements. Whether the additional growth by development really does pay for itself is another matter. But keep in mind one fact like death itself: our borders are finite - our space, though seemingly copious, is limited. How do you have a healthy, sustainable economy beyond growth? If there is a means to do so, shouldn't we be exploring that exciting economic possibility rather than gobbling up all the beauty and benefits that we can have by keeping much of our land naturally pristine?

And one more question: shouldn't El Pasoans be considering the possibility that cheap building labor and cheap homes are not the engines which are driving our economy but the anchors that are weighting us down and keeping our property taxes too high? (Perhaps to answer that question would be to discover why some developers adamantly oppose impact fee increases.)

But that's another debate.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Man-made Climate Change Should Be Seen as Established Scientific Fact

Recently, a letter to the editor by Mr. Terry Sunday in the El Paso Times caught my attention. What also caught my attention were follow-up letters disputing the fact that climate change is man-made. We like our fossil fuels. We like to burn them. Much of the unsustainable policies and lifestyles negatively affecting us here in El Paso is caused by the 1950s urban planning models based on automobiles and freeways - planning driven (pun intended) by the oil, coal and natural gas industries. The environmental destruction by Ted Houghton's TxDOT, the active resistance to mass transit and bicycling by them, is the result of an allegiance with and loyalty to the huge industries of oil, gas and corporate agriculture. Right-wing ideologues and fundamentalist religious zealots aid, abet and are putty in the hands of the large corporate interests who are the plutocrats in charge of policy in our states and nation today. 

Terry is an aerospace engineer with degrees from the Florida Institute of Technology and the University of Pittsburgh. He worked for Lockheed Martin and Vought Aircraft. Here is his rejoinder to climate-change deniers which elpasonaturally believes to be quite valuable even if the El Paso Times prefers (seemingly) to cater too often to religious zealots. Please read his piece carefully and thoroughly. Don't just scan it. I've tacked on a thought-provoking video at the end of the post. Here's Mr. Terry Sunday:

It's no fun predicting things if there's absolutely no chance of being wrong.

I recently learned that the Los Angeles Times has a new editorial policy that they will NOT print letters from people who deny the reality of human-caused global climate change. Here's the L.A. Times editorial, written by Paul Thornton and published on October 8, 2013:

A piece this weekend debunking the claim that Congress and the president are exempted from Obamacare has drawn a harsh reaction from some readers and conservative bloggers. But their umbrage wasn't with the piece's explanation of why letters making this claim do not get published.

Rather, they were upset by the statement that letters "[saying] there's no sign humans have caused climate change" do not get printed. Noel Sheppard at NewsBusters blogged about it over the weekend:

"It's one thing for a news outlet to advance the as yet unproven theory of anthropogenic global warming; it's quite another to admit that you won't publish views that oppose it. As amazing as it may seem, that's exactly what the Los Angeles Times did Saturday in an article by editorial writer Jon Healey...So letters to the editor 'that say there's no sign humans have caused climate change ... do not get printed.' That's quite a statement coming from an editorial writer not named Al Gore."

Point of order: Jon Healey didn't write that intro, and neither did Al Gore; as The Times' letters editor, I did. It ran without a byline because it was intended to be a straightforward editor's note introducing the piece; my apologies if that caused any confusion. Healey was responsible for everything beneath the boldface subhead, "Editorial writer Jon Healey explains why this claim in the debate over the healthcare law is off-base."

As for letters on climate change, we do get plenty from those who deny global warming. And to say they "deny" it might be an understatement: Many say climate change is a hoax, a scheme by liberals to curtail personal freedom.

Before going into some detail about why these letters don't make it into our pages, I'll concede that, aside from my easily passing the Advanced Placement biology exam in high school, my science credentials are lacking. I'm no expert when it comes to our planet's complex climate processes or any scientific field. Consequently, when deciding which letters should run among hundreds on such weighty matters as climate change, I must rely on the experts-in other words, those scientists with advanced degrees who undertake tedious research and rigorous peer review.

And those scientists have provided ample evidence that human activity is indeed linked to climate change. Just last month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change-a body made up of the world's top climate scientists-said it was 95% certain that we fossil-fuel-burning humans are driving global warming. The debate right now isn't whether this evidence exists (clearly, it does) but what this evidence means for us.

Simply put, I do my best to keep errors of fact off the letters page; when one does run, a correction is published. Saying "there's no sign humans have caused climate change" is not stating an opinion, it's asserting a factual inaccuracy.

"Hmmm," I thought after I read that editorial, "I wonder if the El Paso Times would be brave enough to adopt a similar editorial policy. I'm gonna write a Letter to the Editor about it and see what happens." Here's the letter, which ran in the El Paso Times on February 1, 2014:

As surely as day follows night, right-wing ideologues and fundamentalist religious zealots will cite the recent cold spells that brought bone-chilling temperatures to much of the U.S. as proof that global warming is not real. Many of these deniers, burying their heads firmly in the sand, will continue to trumpet their bizarre fantasy that anthropogenic climate change is a nefarious liberal hoax designed to expand government and curtail personal freedoms. Sadly, many Americans lack the scientific knowledge to recognize these claims for the lies they are, so they accept them at face value: "Gee, it was really cold this winter, so that can only mean all the scientists who say the earth is warming up are wrong."

We would be well advised to heed the warnings of the overwhelming majority of the world's top climate scientists, who are 95% certain that human activities are changing the earth's climate. We would be equally well advised to ignore the rantings of misguided, ignorant or willfully deceptive deniers. The stakes could not be higher. The future of life on our planet depends on whether we can curtail our releases of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Late last year, the L.A. Times courageously decided to stop publishing factually false letters to the editor that deny the reality of human-caused climate change. Perhaps the El Paso Times should follow suit.

Okay, so maybe I laid it on a little thick with the "right-wing ideologues and fundamentalist religious zealots" stuff. Still, though, those particular subsets of American society ARE the ones that most adamantly refuse to accept the fact that human activities affect the earth's climate. "God created humans to have dominion over the earth and all its species," right?

The ignorance, wanton disregard of facts and utter lack of knowledge of how the scientific method works that some members of these groups demonstrate is simply appalling. If they can't accept the truth due to their close-minded ideological or religious biases, then they should forfeit the right to be taken seriously in discussing matters of public interest.

No responsible newspaper editor would print letters asserting that the earth is flat, or that gravity is "just a theory," or that the airliner contrails that often form above El Paso are really a secret plot by the New World Order to poison us. Why, then, should letters to the editor disputing the settled science of anthropogenic climate change not be similarly rejected out of hand?

As I expected, my original letter spawned a flurry of responses from, you guessed it, climate-change deniers. Imagine that! Three letters followed within a week or so after mine. The only one that warrants comment is the one from Donald Morrill, Jr., that ran on February 6. I won't quote the whole thing, but here's the operative paragraph:

NASA's satellite date from 2000 through 2011 paints a different picture as well. NASA's data revealed that the Earth's atmosphere is allowing much more heat to be released into space than the global-warming "consensus" computer models predicted, according to the peer-reviewed science journal Remote Sensing.

Wow, so an article in a "peer-reviewed science journal" refutes global warming, eh? Sounds like a pretty strong argument that the earth's top climate scientists are wrong, eh? But here's "the rest of the story," in the form of another Letter to the Editor that I wrote but have not yet sent in for publication:

As expected, my letter predicting that this winter's cold weather would bring out climate change deniers proved accurate. Several letters followed from deniers who tried unsuccessfully to refute the fact-not opinion-that the evidence of human-caused climate change is so strong that it is no longer debated in the scientific community. Those deniers merely showed their ideological, political or religion-based biases.

For example, letter writer Donald Morrill, Jr., claimed that a paper in "a peer reviewed science journal" disproves global warming. However, Mr. Morrill did NOT mention that the editor of that journal, Wolfgang Wagner, resigned his position solely because he published the very paper Mr. Morrill cites. Dr. Wagner later said the paper was "fundamentally flawed" and "should not have been published." The "peers" who reviewed it had no expertise in climate science, and thus wrongly endorsed a paper containing methodological errors and false claims. Mr. Morrill didn't mention that, either. Nor did he note that one of the authors of that paper has ties to a right-wing, evangelical Christian, anti-climate-change organization. 

Dr. Wagner took the honorable course of resigning because of his error. Is it possible that Mr. Morrill will also choose the honorable course and admit that he deliberately made a statement that he knew was misleading in order to justify his rejection of human-caused climate change?

I sincerely doubt it.

In fairness, the El Paso Times published a couple of recent letters that support the reality of anthropogenic climate change. I've seen no indication, however, that the Editorial Board is considering adopting a policy of not printing letters from deniers, which I still think is the proper course of action. I've sent Editor Bob Moore links to the relevant factual information, and he said he would review it, but as far as I know there's been no action as yet.

And that's where it stands as of today. - Terry Sunday

And here's a provocative editorial video from Dennis Trainor, Jr.'s Acronym TV:

Arguments Against Impact Fees Are Fallacious

The issue of impact fees is again before City Council and the citizens of El Paso as well as the ratepayers of the water utility. Please mark March 4th on your calendars. That is the day that City Council will decide about increasing the impact fees. This post is just the first in what will be several on this subject.

I begin by sharing with you an email that I received from Charlie Wakeem on the subject. Most of you know Charlie as the recent past chairman of the Open Space Advisory Board. However, Charlie has served the City as a member of many other committees including the Capital Improvement Advisory Committee (CIAC) which advises the CPC (City Plan Commission) and City Council on issues such as impact fees.

Before sending me the email, Charlie told me that the impact fee issue has nothing to do with economic growth or sprawl. It has everything to do with basic fairness. If you use something, you pay for it. If you don't use something, you don't. I'll be exploring that theme in the next few posts on impact fees. Today, here is the opener from Mr. Wakeem:

Hi Guys,

On March 4 as many citizens as possible should go to City Council (CC) and speak in support of a major issue: Impact Fees.  This is important for all of El Paso because the developers are not only trying to stop justified increases of those fees but they are also arguing for the roll back of those fees, the sale of city owned land held by the PSB and the end of Smart Growth and SmartCode. In short, they want more destructive sprawl.  

Before I continue, I suggest you watch the video stream of the February 18th CC meeting starting from 39:20 into the video.  This is the link:  With the exception of Lisa Turner, no one else spoke on behalf of the rate payers. 

I've been on the city's Capital Improvement Advisory Committee (CIAC) from the start, which was set up by City Council six years ago and makes recommendations to the CPC and CC.  I was term limited at the end of 2013, but I still follow them.  At the beginning CC appointed 5 developers and 4 non-developers to CIAC.  I was the last original non-developer.  There are now 7 developers and 2 non-developers on the committee.  The 2 non-developers are relatively new and are still learning.  Originally, the Impact Fees approved in 2009 were 75% of approximately $2,000 per new home built, or about $1,500. The developers persuaded CC to make the rate payers pay the other 25%. Due to needed new capital improvements, mainly to the Bustamante Water Treatment Plant, which serves the East and NE service areas, the impact fee would double if approved.  The NW service area would have no significant increase.

So much for the background.  At the January, 2013 CIAC meeting, the vote was unanimous not to recommend the increase.  Later, the CPC voted 6-0-1 to recommend the increase (which I repeat is justified).  Ray Adauto (who I might add has also been term limited but is currently serving as CIAC chair) is the Executive Director of the El Paso Association of Builders. He spoke on behalf of the developers at CC this past Tuesday - Feb. 18.  Greater El Paso Chamber of Commerce Director Richard Dayoub did the same.

Here are the arguments they made and my rebuttals [in bold red]:

1.  Impact Fees raise the prices of homes and more people will be priced out of the market.

Answer:  This is a bad arguement.  Impact fees are part of the cost of doing business.  If a buyer can't afford an additional $3,000 or $16.00 per month for a home [loan amortized at 5% over 30 years], they have no business buying one.  They are getting the benefit of the Water/Waste Water CIPs (Capital Improvement Projects), not the current rate payers.

2.  Impact Fees encourage sprawl.  Developers don't have to develop in the city, setting up bedroom communities.  They can go outside the city and not pay the impact fees and the home buyers will still use city services.

Answer:  This true, but the home buyers outside of the city pay higher water utility rates than city residents. Socorro is an example.  Horizon City has its own MUDD.  Nevertheless, what do the developers care what they're customer's utility bills are?  They already made their money without  having to pay the fees outside of the city.

3. Another source of income in lieu of impact fees is the city's sale of its land held by the PSB to developers. It will generate income from the sale of the land and will generate more income with the new home buyers on that land paying property taxes.  Developers aren't buying the land, because the city has placed too many restrictions on its development, such as Smart Growth and SmartCode.

Answer:  WOW!!  Speak of sprawl!!  There are several parts to this answer. First, City Development Director Matthew McElroy, told me that the City owned PSB land is only 2% of the total land acreage.  The PSB generates little income from land sales and would not be useful in defraying CIP costs.  

Second, the land won't be sold for many years, since growth won't occur in those areas for a long time.  Declaring the land inexpedient now would bring pennies on the dollar.  Also, most of the PSB land is being held for its water storage and recharge, and not for its commercial use. That was the original intent of setting up the PSB in the 1950s.  

Third, it's a proven fact that no matter how many new homes are built, the property taxes from them never pay for all of the city services and infrastructure needed.  That's why our property taxes NEVER go down. 

Fourth and finally, the city has worked for years to improve the quality of development through Smart Growth.  It's a major part of the Comprehensive Plan that was fully vetted 2 years ago.  If the developers don't want to buy city land with Smart Code, they don't have to.

4.  The water utilities replaces old infrastructure in the city, such as replacing pipes on Country Club Road.  There are no impact fees imposed on that. Yet the home buyers in new growth areas are billed for those improvements.

Answer: Water and Waste Water CIPs are built to last at least 50 years. Some have lasted for nearly a century.  Old infrastructure wearing out is normal and should be a cost shared by everyone.

That's all for now.


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Weeds Are Native Plants Too

In response to a City of El Paso Department of Transportation notice that herbicides will be applied on city streets and in alleyways, Mountainside Neighborhood Association resident, Judy Ackerman, sent this message to Rep. Carl Robinson:

Dear Rep. Carl Robinson,
Please instruct the City of El Paso Department of Transportation NOT to use ANY chemical weed control in the vicinity of the Mountainside Neighborhood Association. We are actively growing native plants including forbs and grasses.  Our area includes the west side of Alabama from Stoney Hill north to Mountain Walk and the following streets:  Big Bend, Eileen, Emmett Larkin , Mountain Walk, Stoney Hill, and Umbria. 
You may want to discontinue the weed control thoughout the city.  Native plants hold the soil in place and prevent blowing dust.  Many native plants have pretty flowers.  You can save money and improve aesthetics by eliminating “weed control”.  Instead, have a program to educate about the benefits of native plants!
I greatly appreciate your assistance with this project!
Judy Ackerman

Here is the nefarious notice by EPDOT:

Click on image to enlarge.

elpasonaturally has sent an open records request to El Paso DOT for a list of all herbicides that they use to control weeds throughout the city.

Second Charrette on Palisades This Evening

City Development to host 2nd Charrette on Palisades Canyon Park

EL PASO, Texas – Today the City of El Paso’s Planning Division under the direction of City Development, in conjunction with the Parks & Recreation Department, will hold its second public meeting and design charrette to obtain public feedback about various elements of the future Palisades trailhead and access improvements project.

WHAT:  2nd Charrette on Palisades Canyon Park

WHEN:  6 p.m. to 8 p.m. today, February 18th 2014

WHERE: Mesita Elementary School (3307 N. Stanton, El Paso, TX 79902) MAP

WHY:    As a 2012 Quality of Life Bond funded project, public input received during charrettes serves as a critical first step in understanding the community’s vision for this uniquely located central gateway to the Franklin Mountains State Park. In recognition of this project’s importance to our City, we invite members of the community to come together at this charrette to further develop their ideas and preferences for the trailhead.

Click HERE to view the findings from the first charrette held on November 18th 2013.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Hugh Fitzsimmons for Texas Commissioner of Agriculture

Democrats as well as conservationists and environmentalists have a clear-cut choice for Agricultural Commissioner this year. (Early voting begins tomorrow and the March 4 is election day.) That choice is Hugh Asa Fitzsimmons. Not only is Fitzsimmons the choice but he stands a better than average chance of being elected in the fall against the Republican nominee - something very difficult to do these days in Republican controlled Texas.

Fitzsimmons has gravitas and is respected by Texans of both political persuasions. He grew up and tended cattle on his parent's ranch - the same land where Hugh now raises grass-fed bison and keeps bees. The San Antonio Magazine gave him kudos for his humane treatment of his herd.

He understands climate change and the need for water conservation. He knows that fracking is an unsustainable practice. He was even featured in a NY Times story about the issue.

In a Sierra Club Texas Green Report, Hugh wrote:

"But the hard facts are these: 1/3 of our available groundwater in Dimmit County per year is being lost to fracking. Because the water used to inject the chemicals is absorbed by the formation, this process is 100% consumptive, unless the 20% that returns as flowback water is recycled, all that water is lost. Unlike agricultural irrigation, fracking wastewater is lost completely. In short, we have a new, man-made water crisis etched atop the man-made crisis of climate change that produced the drought."

Hugh Fitzsimmons has been endorsed by the Dallas Morning News, Houston Chronicle, Austin Chronicle, San Antonio Express-News, Texas League of Conservation, the Chairman of the powerful House Agriculture and Livestock Committee, Tracy King, the Texas Environmental Democrats, Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance, yadda, yadda, yadda.

Do not waste your vote on Texas celebrity and personality, Kinky Friedman. Elect the real deal - rancher, conservationist, humanitarian: Hugh Fitzsimmons.

TxDOT - The Texas Taliban

Certainly presaging the horror of September 11, 2001, the Taliban destroyed two 6th Century monumental statues of the Buddha in Bamwam Valley, Afghanistan in March of 2001. Both representations of classical Gandhara art were revered not just by Buddhists throughout the world, but by historians and art lovers. Here is what the Taliban did to these works of art:

Now we learn that TxDOT threatens to do the same thing to the beautiful murals at Lincoln Center. 

The Texas Taliban, TxDOT, threatens to demolish Lincoln Center art.
Read the El Paso Times story. The El Paso Inc. this weekend also reported that TxDOT is proposing the destruction of the artwork, along with Lincoln Center and many homes and businesses to make room for a new ramp to Juarez. It seems that nobody - nobody - even was aware of this plan, not even Rep. Joe Pickett, a powerful member of the Transportation Committee. 

TxDOT under Chairman, Ted Houghton, pursues its own behind closed doors, secret plans. Try to get information about those plans via an open records request and you will run into roadblocks abetted by gubernatorial candidate, Attorney General Greg Abbott's office.

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Friday Video: Home Biogas Systems by Ecogas Israel

There are simpler homemade generators, but this video will give you the idea of all the possibilities. Imagine no garbage, no landfills, and paying no taxes for such outdated services. Imagine a day when each and every home manages its waste, heat, energy . . . everything. Imagine Big Oil, Big Natural Gas, the Koch Brothers out of business and out of bucks to buy members of Congress. Imagine that Congress doesn't really matter. They don't do anything now anyway.

Cervantes Is Candidate to Clean-up County Clerk's Office

There is much wrong with the current management of the County Clerk's office. Under County Clerk, Delia Briones, 85 of her 99 employees have been fired in 7 years. That's 86%!

Many of these involuntary terminations have resulted in grievances and some of those grievances have been upheld. 

According to the County Attorney's office, five lawsuits resulting from these terminations have been filed. Settlements have been made and guess who pays for those - you and me.

That's not counting our paying for training replacements, learning curves and inefficiency caused by low morale in the County Clerk's office as a result of these dismissals seemingly by whim. 86%!

This doesn't sound like a management style but a personality disorder. One is reminded of the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland who screams: "Off with their heads."

Now there is an added kicker. In a recent forum with the three candidates for the office: incumbent Delia Briones, Rosa Cervantes and Valerie Sanchez, Ms. Briones did admit to some problems in her office as she tried to dodge criticism for all the turnovers during her tenure. The El Paso Times reported it in a story this way:

"Briones admitted that there have been problems at her office, including the selling of birth certificates outside the Courthouse. She did not elaborate."

The emphasis is mine.

The selling of birth certificates outside the Courthouse?! And the Times didn't follow-up as far as we know? What about the FBI? Homeland Security? Drug Enforcement? In this day of drug cartels, beheadings, terrorism - the falsifying of records such as birth certificates is not just a crime but a collaboration with viciousness. I sincerely hope someone is investigating. Why didn't Briones sound the alarm when it happened? We not only have a management style by personality disorder, we have dereliction of duty.

Does the voter have a choice, an option, a remedy? I think so.

Rosa and Bert Cervantes with their children and Rocky
Native El Pasoan, Rosa Cervantes, has managed her own legal processing service for over 24 years. She has been married for 34 years to Bert Cervantes and they have two lovely children. She has given back to the community as a past member and President of the Montwood Booster Association and was the recipient of the Montwood High School Volunteer of the Year award. Bottom line: she is a proven business manager with a BS in Business and Marketing and she is the one who has called to our attention the shocking rates of turnover in the County Clerk's office under Delia Briones. 

The other candidate, Valerie Sanchez, was one of Briones' victims. We feel for her but recognize her candidacy to be due more to her dismissal than to a sense of what it takes to manage the office and to boost morale - attributes Cervantes has.

Texas History Begins in El Paso

. . . but you wouldn't know that to read the El Paso Times.

This past Wednesday a joint conference of Visit El Paso (Convention and Visitor's Bureau), El Paso Heritage Alliance, Texas Senator Jose Rodriguez's office, the El Paso County Historical Commission and El Paso History Radio Show announced the upcoming Heritage Summit on Saturday, March 22. Bryan Crowe, the new head of the Visit El Paso (formerly CVB), Senator Rodriguez, Bernie Sargent and Jackson Polk each gave reasons why El Paso history is so rich and why heritage tourism will be a big economic boom for El Paso. Yet, the El Paso Times decided to run a poll decidedly biased against heritage tourism.

The Times asks whether "heritage tourism" could work in bringing more tourist dollars to El Paso. It suggests reading the story which says little about the historic treasures of our city as mentioned by the speakers nor about the reasons why heritage tourism will indeed be successful. (Do read Senator Rodriguez's remarks below wherein he enumerates our historic treasures.)

The Times offers three answers to choose from: "Yes, it's a great idea." "Maybe, but we would need more development at historic sites to make it happen." "No, I don't think there is much of a market for it." 

The last answer should include in parentheses: "(And I have never thought El Paso has much to offer. We are a poor city any way and I haven't been outside of my neighborhood in years.)

Currently the responses (488 votes in all) are 19.46% yes; 36.27% maybe; 44.26% no.

I can just see the Jerry Rubin's of the city calling their friends and telling their workers to vote NO so they can continue their destruction of downtown historic treasures to build their parking lots and ticky-tacky buildings for national franchises. And, of course, all of these developers who hate history (and the natural outdoors also), never, ever advertise with the El Paso Times. Oh no, no.

The "maybe's" certainly should come to the Summit on March 22nd to learn about all of our historic sites or the fact that El Paso just by itself is historic in the words of documentary film producer, Jackson Polk.

Do four things:

Make plans now to come to the Summit and bring family and friends.

Visit the Times story online and vote.

See this short 18 minute video so you can see and hear what really happened at the press conference:

Read the text of the Senator's remarks (redacted):

The Heritage Tourism Summit coming up on March 22 promises to be a unique and important event for El Paso.  

Heritage tourism is a sector that merits investment. 

It is about developing a community-based enterprise that stimulates our regional economy, builds local pride, creates powerful educational experiences, preserves traditional crafts and skills, and creates jobs through spending by arts and culture organizations and their audiences.

Some figures to help illustrate that point include: 

The Texas Historical Commission reported that, in 2011, over 200 million people traveled to experience heritage resources in Texas. They spent $6.3 billion in the process. 

A study by the City of El Paso in 2007 provides the closest estimates we have regarding the impact of our local arts and culture industry. Although these figures don't relate exclusively to heritage tourism, they affirm our conviction that investments like this training summit aren't frivolous--they reap dividends.  

Here's what the City found: a total economic impact of $91million, comprising: 2500 jobs, $5 million in transportation revenue, $6 million to our hotels, $25 million for our restaurants and bars, and over $4 million in local government revenue.

As you see, heritage tourism is serious business. 

This Summit is the product of a commitment among stakeholders to convert competition to collaboration and capitalize on the creativity and business savvy of our heritage tourism stakeholders. 

My office has directed resources to support the District 29 Heritage Tourism Advisory Committee since 2011, and I want to acknowledge the Committee for its consistent commitment to our mission. 

Our monthly convenings enabled stakeholders from all over the County, including the sponsors of this important event, to advance our mission of: preserving and advocating for our collective heritage; and, building a heritage tourism sector.

I also want to congratulate the Visit El Paso (formerly the Convention & Visitors Bureau) for embracing the efforts of our committee members, specifically, the El Paso Heritage Alliance, Jackson Polk, and the El Paso County Historical Society. 

When the El Paso Heritage Alliance first proposed the concept of collaborating on a groundbreaking training event, they incorporated the advice of their fellow Advisory Committee members. City Representative Lily Limon then brought our groups together with the Convention & Visitors Bureau, and their subsequent brainstorming resulted in the Heritage Tourism Summit. 

We know that the Texas mystique is a powerful magnet that draws visitors from all over the world.  Well, El Paso plays a huge role in that story. Through this collaboration, we have taken a giant leap forward on capitalizing on our rich heritage.

History lovers know that we have a profound cache of cultures and stories in our region:

  • indigenous people, 
  • Hueco Tanks, 
  • the earliest trails in the Southwest, 
  • the place where North America begins, 
  • the Camino Real, 
  • our important Mission Valley communities, 
  • railroad history, 
  • hundreds of years of military history, 
  • renowned architecture, 
  • our heroic patriots, 
  • the Mexican Revolution,
  • international migration and Segundo Barrio,
  • the history and impact of our five international bridges, and 
  • the beginnings of the movimiento for social justice in our state. 
Just to name a few!

Our citizens have recognized the merit of our cultural treasures and have made the investment, through bond projects like the Digital Wall, the Hispanic Cultural Center, Children's Museum, to strengthen the sites and cultural attractions that contribute to livability and build awareness for our residents and tourists about our great city. 

Through mechanisms that combine the wisdom and values of our citizens with public agency skillsets and resources, I believe El Paso can emerge as a leader in citizen-driven initiatives that are inclusive, inspiring and which will continue to set us apart as a city of vision and entrepreneurship. 

Monday, February 10, 2014

50 Tucson Tourists Make Heritage Community's Point

In yesterday's post I announced arrangements for the El Paso Heritage Tourism Summit on March 22, 2014. There are some meetings leading up to the event and some opportunities for volunteering.

Over the weekend, the El Paso Inc published this story: A ‘historic’ architecture event - El Paso Inc.: Local News.

Read it. Pay attention the numbers and the money spent by the tourists. The El Paso Heritage Tourism people are right. We are looking at a billion dollar industry. Now if we can just keep the Jerry Rubins of the city from tearing down any more Trost or other treasured historic buildings, we might have something for people to see and spend their billion dollars annually on El Paso. Maybe with the sales tax collected for heritage tourism, we can roll back the property taxes that are now killing us.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

El Paso Heritage Tourism Summit Seeks Sponsors and Volunteers

SAVE THIS DATE for The El Paso Heritage Tourism Summit

The first Summit event was on January 3, 2014 for the Party-Meeting-Mostly-Party to explain the Summit and ask for volunteers. El Paso Gold video recorded that meeting - all 19 minutes of it:

This coming Wednesday, February 12, 2014 at 10:30 a.m. there will be a NEWS CONFERENCE announcing the Summit, followed by a meeting of volunteers, at 11 a.m. The conference and meeting will be held at 400 W. San Antonio, the location of the historic Locomotive No. 1. Parking is at the same building. MAP

On March 11, 2014 at 8:30 a.m. City Council Meeting, 300 N. Campbell (MAP) City Council will declare a Proclamation for the El Paso Heritage Tourism Summit.

We Need Your Help!   

We are looking for sponsors to help make El Paso’s Summit on Heritage Tourism happen. Hundreds of people turned out or tuned in online for the 2013 summit and town hall discussion on El Paso History Radio Show, and we plan to outdo ourselves this year. Your donations help make this event free and open to the public, as well as fund El Paso focused TV programs.

Last year’s summit on El Paso’s history made history itself in providing a forum for discussion among the public about concerns for our local landmarks. We were even able to stream the town hall live online so that El Paso’s history was available to the world.

Your sponsorship funds help make this all possible again so that the world will see the best of what El Paso has to offer: Our Heritage!

PLATINUM SPONSOR - $7,500 and beyond

Featured in the name of the event (The El Paso Heritage Tourism Summit, presented by ABC Company and XYZ Incorporated)
VIP treatment for up to FIVE people the day of the event, including lunch and a behind the scenes look at the production set-up the day before the event
Name and logo will appear on all materials related to event, including printed materials, signs, and website and in the credits of all TV programs originating at the event.

GOLD SPONSOR - $4,000-$7,499

VIP treatment for TWO people the day of the event, including lunch and a behind the scenes look at the production set-up the day before the event

Name and logo will appear on all materials related to event, including printed materials, signs, and website and in the credits of all TV programs originating at the event.

SILVER-LEVEL SPONSOR - $1,000-$3,999

Name and logo will appear on all materials related to event, including printed materials, signs, and website and in the credits of all TV programs originating at the event


Name and logo will appear on website and in the credits of all TV programs originating at the event

All funding arrangements will go through the El Paso County Historical Commission, which can issue tax documents for donations.

Please make checks payable to: El Paso County Historical Commission, c/o Bernie Sargent, 819 W Sunset Rd, El Paso, TX 79922; 915-581-7920. 

For info contact Jackson Polk at 915-833-8700 or

Volunteers please contact Shelley at 915-244-6487 or

Friday, February 7, 2014

The Friday Video: Designing Healthy Communities

Following Eco El Paso's successful symposium this week, today's video features keynote speaker, Dr. Richard J. Jackson. It's a bit over an hour so make time to watch it. You can also see it on your Smart TV or stream it to your television with a device such as Roku. 

New Urbanism makes sense. El Paso continues to sprawl. Some builders insist that the market is for homes with backyards in communities on the edge of nowhere that were created for the V-8 engine and the petroleum industry. One builder even told me once that people want a backyard for their kids to play in. Play what? Video games while texting? Our children (and too many of our El Paso population) suffers from the epidemics of obesity and diabetes. We sit inside. We drive everywhere. We get fat. We become diabetic. Yet our current City Council may be rolling back impact fees thereby encouraging more sprawl and they have shown not just a reluctance to follow Plan El Paso but a desire to promote unhealthy urban designs. What's ironic is that the real estate market is changing and people are beginning to prefer to live in settings more consistent with New Urbanism. 

Few builders attended the symposium. However Eco El Paso President, Fred Dalbin, reported that there were some developers and members of the building association and they were talking to the speakers. There is hope and that is exciting.

Enough preaching for now. Time for the video but first much thanks to Fred Dalbin of Eco El Paso and Laura Kissack of City Planning and many others who did influence the mindset of El Paso with an excellent symposium.

The video:

Check the right hand blue column for two books - one edited by Jackson and one by him. Order them to learn more.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Eco El Paso City Development Symposium Kicks Off

The two-day Eco El Paso 2014 Symposium on New Urbanism began this afternoon at the Scottish Rite Temple in downtown El Paso. It is co-sponsored by Eco El Paso and the City Planning and Development. Architect Laura Kissack with City Development worked tirelessly to line-up a team of expert speakers.

This conference will help promote learning about New Urbanism principles, which can potentially add value to our community. Through the use of high-performance, value-creating, mixed-use neighborhoods we can reduce sprawl and bring energy to public spaces and our local businesses. 

New Urbanism supports design that promotes compact neighborhoods that bring people, goods, and services together with welcoming sidewalks and public spaces. This makes places more pleasant and adds value to these homes and businesses. 

By promoting complete streets and thoughtful street design, we can create a well-connect transportation network that encourages biking, walking, and other outdoor activities. This leads to healthier, high-performing communities.

Supporting local food production has been proven to add value to communities. A new report from the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture shows that institutional purchases of local food added nearly $9 million to the Iowa economy in 2012 . We will have Aaron from La Semilla, a food co-op based in New Mexico, speaking about sustainable food systems on Thursday.

Another study in Indiana showed that homes within a half-mile of Indiana’s Monon Trail sell for an average of 11% more than similar homes farther away . New Urbanism design supports walking and biking trails near homes and businesses because they add value to local areas. In Minneapolis-St. Paul, another study showed that for every quarter mile nearer to an off-street bicycle trail, the median home value increases by $510 . Lastly, in New York City, after the construction of a protected bike lane and other improvements on 9th Avenue, local businesses saw up to a 49% increase in retail sales, compared to 3% increases in the rest of Manhattan . 

New Urbanism changes the way we think about our community—promoting design that connects people to their neighborhoods and environment.

New Urbanism design uses less energy, saves money, and reduces infrastructure costs and promotes a greener lifestyle, increases public safety.

Learn more about New Urbanism HERE.

Eco El Paso (EEP) was created in 2008 by a group of volunteers from different professional organizations including the AIA, USGBC, ASID, ASHRAE, UTEP, TTU, EPBA, and APA. It became a 501c3 in 2009. Founding members include architects, engineers, interior designers, planners, educators, landscape designers, material and systems consultants, manufacturers and general contractors. Mission Statement: Eco El Paso’s mission is to promote eco-­‐sensitive and energy efficient community planning, building design, construction and facility maintenance in the Hot-Arid Climate. We provide educational training seminars and presentations for professionals in the design, construction and building maintenance industry, from experts in the various trades for sustainable residential, commercial and institutional projects. EEP has organized and co-­organized various conferences with over 30 speakers and over 40 Continuing Education Units on subjects matters for attendees from beginner to advance level of knowledge about planning, building and sustainability issues.  Eco El Paso is a community work group dedicated to fostering a learning environment for sustainable systems and life styles while integrating workforce and economic development concepts.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

USPS Could Provide Non-Bank Financial Services for the Underserved

With the continuing chatter about payday predatory lenders including the revelation in today's El Paso Times that gubernatorial candidate received more campaign cash from them than previously stated, please take a look at blog post on Huffington Post that I shared already on Facebook. Consumer rights advocate, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, seconds an idea that the U.S. Postal Service offer some of the services payday lenders offer to people without bank accounts. Read her post HERE

The idea came from the Office of Inspector General and you can read it HERE.

It's a good idea although probably doomed by the fact that the multi-million dollar lobby of the payday industry will purchase enough Congresspersons and Senators to oppose it. But one can hope.