Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Bad News, Good News

Some bad news and some good news:

The current policy shift in the City from sustainable planning to development for development's sake is taking a toll on morale among Development and Planning personnel. The word is that Plan El Paso is being shelved. Long range planning is out while pushing permits is in. Conventional building is in; smart development is out. Mixed use building is out; single use building with extensive parking lots is in. I've heard that some of this is a bit exaggerated but that morale is low nevertheless. 

According to my sources the shift in policy is being driven by the Mayor's Office. This is too bad because conventional building is actually a huge economic drain on the city. Less energy efficient buildings and the favoring of sprawl depletes the disposable income of El Pasoans who must pay for higher energy and transportation costs with their monthly income. Consequently the sales tax base is low. With such policy combined with the tactics of TxDOT to favor automobile/petroleum industry over mass transit and bicycle infrastructure and even cultural heritage, El Paso will continue as a poorer city that can, at best, attract only low paying call center industry but little more. The Mayor would do well not to tout Prudential's opening a call center here. Answering calls and flipping hamburgers and being paid meager wages in the building trades - all keep El Paso from becoming a rich metropolitan center where we all prosper.

The good news is that an attempt to scuttle the Sustainability Office failed and that office is now safe under General Services and bolstered by the new Resiliency Grant.

The grant leads to more good news for the City and for a potential Conservation Cooperative tool.  From an email this afternoon from Janae' Reneaud Field, the Director of Frontera Land Alliance:

Dear Franklin and Organ Mountains Conservation Cooperative, El Paso Update: Last week Wednesday, April 23, 2014, the Resilience Grant by the Rockefeller Foundation agreement was executed by El Paso City Council. The City’s next step is to recruit a resiliency officer. The city will move forward with developing a Resilience City Plan that will help El Paso withstand shocks while still maintaining its essential functions. The Rockefeller Foundation defines resilience as "the ability of a system, entity, community, or person to withstand shocks while still maintaining its essential functions and to recover quickly and effectively." Simply put, resilience is what enables people to survive, adapt, and thrive in the face of acute shocks and chronic stresses. 

We will stay in touch with the Resilience Program with the goal of participating and adding our objective of developing a mapping tool that will identify and classify lands that best accommodate development and gray infrastructure while also considering lands to conserve. The Land Conservation Inventory Tool is a collaborative approach specifically designed to obtain community input, create goals, assist in designing policies, identify land protection focus areas and develop funding mechanisms to create a lasting legacy in our region. This tool will strengthen and provide scientific data to assist in managing the Plan El Paso, Northwest Master Plan, the El Paso Sustainability Plan, the El Paso Open Space Plan, Dona Ana County Comprehensive Plan and other regional efforts that identify preserving large, connected natural areas. Again, the purpose of the project is to provide scientific data to assist in providing better information to organizations, government agencies, individuals, developers and business owners about the existing resources which will assist in their decision making. The Franklin and Organ Mountains Conservation Cooperative’s goals are: (1) safeguard natural and cultural features, (2) improve wildlife habitat and connectivity, (3) address the health of our regional watershed and (4) contribute to the local economy of our communities.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Pipeline to Bosque Schedule

Why it takes longer for public entities to get from A to Z is a mystery to me. Perhaps someone knows. Many have anxiously awaited for a long time to see the schedule for a pipeline from the Bustamante to Rio Bosque Wetlands Park. EPWU CEO John Balliew has been pushing on and for this for a long time. Thank you, Mr. Balliew! Here it is:

Do click on the image to enlarge and give 3 cheers.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Friday Video: The Portable WIND TURBINE That Can Charge Your Phone

The day is coming when we will all be off the grid no matter what the Koch Brothers and their puppets in Congress and State houses want.

El Paso Needs a Water Summit

Rio Grande River Bed 
Former State Senator Eliot Shapleigh said the same thing that I've been saying for a long time now - viz., El Paso needs to have a major summit on water. 

"The flat truth is that EP farmers can no longer plant in most of the Valley due to an allocation of six inches," Shapleigh said. "Larger farmers are buying acre feet from smaller farmers mostly to keep pecan trees alive. Water tables are falling. Old wells from the 50's no longer touch available water."

What is required is major leadership - the kind that Senator Shapleigh gave us especially when he crafted a bill to do a Climate Change summit statewide - something Republican reactionary Dewhurst fought tooth and nail. (We don't want to upset our puppet masters in the oil and gas industry and industrial agriculture after all.)

The Texas Agriculture Law Blog shared a link to the Texas Water Report with this introduction: "Earlier this year, the Texas Comptroller’s Office put out the Texas Water Report.  This document provides a great overview of a variety of water issues currently going on in Texas.  It covers everything from current court cases to international treaty disputes to water ownership in Texas to the impacts of drought and the oil boom on water supplies.  If you are interested in Texas water issues, I would highly recommend reading over this report. . . "

Some major concerns remain: Will Texas actually have the will to address the stress on the water supply caused by fracking for oil and gas? Will Texas have the foresight to begin to promote small, independent, local, organic farmers? Will it have the foresight to regulate the use of water so that farmers will plant crops that don't require as much water? Will Texas promote green infrastructure/low impact development or continue spending billions of dollars on mega-reservoirs with lots of concrete? I'm afraid that Prop 6 money will benefit the large corporate firms and not thirsty citizens. 

El Paso also must deal with many of these water issues. But El Paso must also begin to limit sprawl. We have more land than water. Perhaps if developers and building contractors would begin to pay wages commensurate with the rest of the country, then they would have less to manipulate elections and elected officials. The higher wages would go far to spur a depressed El Paso economy so that sales taxes not property taxes could contribute more to financing city services. Infill would also mean that the financial resources of too many El Pasoans won't be drained by mortgages plus transportation plus energy demands. Again, infill would mean more people keeping more of their hard earned money and thus having more money to spend to help the economy. 

Water and the economy - they go hand in hand especially here in El Paso.

Time to listen to the Senator. Time for a water summit.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

State Park Entrance on Track to Start Fall 2014

Picture appropriated from Robert Gray, El Paso Inc.
TxDOT Regional Engineer, Bob Bielek, was City Representative Carl Robinson's guest at the District 4 breakfast last Friday. Judy Ackerman asked him about the State Park entrance. Here's what Bielek told her in a nutshell: "Expect to start in Fall 2014.  Will take 3 – 4 months to complete.  Not a difficult project, because it is a short-span bridge.  Costs a bit over $1,000,000."

Ten Eyck Featured Speaker for 2014 FlorFEST at UTEP

Click on image to enlarge.

Pre-eminent landscape architect, David Cristiani, principal of Quercus and author of It's a Dry Heat blog, says of the FloraFEST Lecture: "A must-attend for anyone into better public spaces, native plants, and water harvesting. The UTEP plant sale following on Saturday and Sunday is good too."

Ten Eyck is simply one of the best designers in North America.

Click on image to enlarge

Be sure to take advantage of the native plant sale at the Centennial Museum that weekend as well. Renowned Chihuahuan Desert Garden Curator, John White, manages the event and will be on hand along with Master Gardeners to answer any question that you might have. "As a lifelong area resident, John has lived and worked in the Texas/New Mexico area writing gardening advice columns for the area newspapers, co-hosting the PBS television series, Southwest Yard & Garden, developing gardening classes such as the SunSCAPE program and the Extension Master Gardener Program, as well as numerous television and radio programs." - from UTEP's Centennial Celebration

Earth Day at Union Plaza This Saturday

Click on image to enlarge

Monday, April 14, 2014

Please Support Public Education in Our Community

The following is an emailed newsletter from El Paso Grassroots written by Xavier Miranda and published yesterday, April 13, 2014. Sustainable communities need great education. Investments in students, teachers and classrooms are critical. Spending money on top heavy administration and frivolous remodels while imposing austere measures on teachers and our children (our future) is unsustainable. Clearly the El Paso Independent School District is in the hands of the 1 percent oligarchs. It is time for a change. Read Mr. Miranda's excellent letter:

Please Support  Public Education in Our Community

Your support is requested at the EPISD Board of Managers Meeting on Tuesday, April 15, 2014 at 5 PM. Teachers, parents, and students will be speaking at the meeting, in addition to holding demonstrations in support of public education.
Issues plaguing our community are having a detrimental effect on our children. The struggling middle class is having to contend with the rising costs associated with ineffective operations at government levels, judicial courts, stadium projects, and school districts with some of the highest administrative expenditures in the state. Meanwhile the solution is inevitably the same: a prescription of austerity cuts. Whether it is increasing workloads, raising teacher-student ratios,  imposing parking fees, re-allocating Quality of Life/School Bond monies to build swimming pools and stadiums at affluent parts of town, or having the audacity to propose tax increases via Tax Ratification Elections (TRE)---the debt incurred now belongs to our children. Business-model reforms demonstrate little nurturing or compassion. Rather, these reforms are manifested by $100,000 renovations in buildings where the lease will not be renewed, exorbitant contracts, and corporate tax breaks. Little wonder our citizenry is absent at the voting polls.
Former Director of the U.S. Census Bureau and renowned demographer, Steve Murdock has presentedto El Paso legislators, educators, and business folks of the changing demographics in Texas. Mr. Murdock stresses investment in education. Unfortunately, Texas ranks at the bottom of education attainment levels, which is already having a negative impact on our economy. An apartheid model is evident, wherein Latinos and African-Americans are denied equitable educational opportunities. Current political divisions detract from a glaring reality: the key to economic prosperity is through education. Sadly, education funding has not been restored to 2010 levels despite increasing petroleum revenues.
As stated in previous emails, trust in appointed and elected officials is waning. In context to the appointed EPISD Board of Managers, the following concerns exist:
  • Board Manager President Dee Margo---a campaign contributor to conservative Tea Party favorite Ted Cruz, has re-structured teacher contracts; is proposing privatizing custodial services; limiting citizen input at Public Forum; and is on record for slashing education funding when serving as a Texas State Representative from 2010-12. Mr. Margo is now determining the 2014-15 EPISD budget.
  • Board Manager Carmen Candelaria-Arrieta---serves as the City of El Paso Chief Financial Officer, of which appraisal figures and baseball stadium costs have been glaringly inaccurate. Ms. Arrieta is also determining our EPISD budget.
  • Board Manager Ed Archuleta--- previously served as president of the Public Service Board, wherein questionable policy allowed for construction contracts awarded to PSB members.
These individuals are responsible for the $480+ million EPISD budget. Educators and administrators in our district are very concerned how our students will be affected by the Board of Managers' next steps.

Once again, the call goes to community to show up in support of our public education system.


Xavier Miranda
El Paso Grassroots
Below is  copy of my address at Public Forum to the Board of Managers on Tuesday:

I've attended town halls where Mr. Cabrera, Board Managers Candelaria, Margo, and Archuleta have all claimed to heed the voice of our community. Yet discontent, fear, and anger are conveyed in letters to the editor, news reports, blogs, forums, and in this meeting room, by employees and community members facing austerity measures. It is quite evident, the Board fails to acknowledge its constituents. 

Your primary goal as a Board was to restore the integrity of our school district, yet you've taken punitive steps in applying business reforms to our education system. You've demonstrated a desire to dismantle and privatize public education. 

I view democracy and social justice as integral components of education. Sadly, what is being modeled by the Board of Managers and District Administration is just the opposite. You show contempt for teachers by restructuring contracts, you raise teacher-student ratios, you mandate instructional models without paradigm support, and you have arrogantly dismissed educators when asking for inclusion. As a Board with extensive business acumen, you must realize that policies crafted without educators' input simply hurt our children. 
Despite the exploitative practices of your predecessors, the teachers and staffs at each of our schools remained steadfast in providing authentic learning opportunities for our students. We took the helm when leadership was in transition and moved this district forward. You simply need to spend a day in our schools and classrooms to see for yourselves. 

At the Coronado High School Community Meeting, you smirked at my response to your question of me, Mr. Margo, when I stated that I wanted my students to be critical thinkers. Indeed, I want my students to question why individuals entrusted with our school district, disregard taxpayers, and unilaterally re-allocate bond monies to build stadiums and pools on the affluent part of town. I want my students to see how a profit-model denies health and retirement benefits to our custodians, and subsequently hurts our local economy. I want my students to understand how our constitutional rights are infringed when duly-elected officials are denied a seat at the table. More importantly, I want my students to be critical of oppressive systems, and uphold democratic ideals that are equitable for all. 

To Mr. Cabrera, it is appalling to witness the expensive remodeling of your office, in a building with a short-lived lease, when 130 educators are being surplussed. It is disheartening to see you add more six-figure salaried administrators to an already top-heavy district. 

Please serve our children before profit. 

Friday, April 4, 2014

The Friday Video: Dr. Martin Luther King Still Speaks to Us Today

One year to the day of his assassination in 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King delivered this speech at Riverside Church in New York on April 4, 1967. King speaks not only of civil rights, but of peace, economic justice, and a turning away from greed and materialism. His words are as true today as they were then.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Castner Range Is Being Destroyed Not Preserved

This past Saturday, the Frontera Land Alliance unveiled a new video produced by Jackson Polk entitled "Conserving Castner". Elpasonaturally posted it this last Monday. It has been a dream of many El Pasoans, the Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition and Frontera to conserve this land now owned by Ft. Bliss by making it a part of the Franklin Mountains State Park. Since it was used for artillery practice, the Army has been reluctant to turn it over until unexploded munitions have been accounted for and destroyed. One would think that the range remains in pristine condition since it is off limits. Trespassing will result in a heavy fine . . . if you are caught that is.

Think again about that pristine state. The truth is that people do explore Castner particularly the higher elevations. There are places of great beauty - that is, there were places of great beauty. Castner is not protected. The United States Army cares nothing about natural beauty (including huge sections of the Hueco Bolson that they now trample and destroy playing war games). The longer Castner remains without real conservation, the more of it gets destroyed. 

Although members of the FMWC and others have tried to get Castner transferred to park land for decades now, the issue remains unresolved and seemingly no closer to resolution. All the while, gangs despoil the natural beauty with graffiti and camp sites. Litter and paint are left behind. There is little outcry from the media probably because there has been little publicity about the matter. The Range is off-limits, remember.

It is high time that people see the destruction of pristine canyons and arroyos in their Franklin Mountains. It is time that the U.S. Army deed land to the State Park if only the higher elevations in the beginning. If the Army cares, they should send up battalions to wipe-off the graffiti from the rocks of the Franklin Mountains. After all, they have been stewards of this land for a very long time and their legacy is nothing more than unexploded ordnance and ugly graffiti.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Unanimous Reaffirmation

Photo by proud grandfather, Tommy Young

Thanks to Rep. Ann Lilly an item was placed on today's City Council agenda reaffirming the Northwest Master Plan and its use of SmartCode development. Sticking to that comprehensive plan and a SmartCode regulating plan for development means that a Conservation Easement, at least for now, just isn't necessary. Thanks to efforts between the EPWU and City Planning, under the direction of Matthew McElroy, an additional adjustment to how an "adjustment" can be made on the code further tightens the fact that SmartCode will be the way to go. Council voted unanimously to approve.

One thing that has become clear to me over the past two weeks of dealing with this issue is this: so many people above and beyond the original petitioners are invested in seeing that the legal, binding agreement which includes the NW Master Plan gets realized. It's not just petitioners. It's City staff and EPWU officials and Council representatives and, at the top, Mayor Leeser. We are all invested. So, once again a positive note has been struck through the collaborative efforts of petitioners, the Mayor, City Council, City and EPWU staff. Reaching this kind of collaborative understanding over the past two weeks has been draining in many ways. Nevertheless, we did it - collaboratively. 

Certainly those of us responsible for the original petition will keep a watchful eye and certainly re-doing the old petition or doing a new one calling for an easement isn't off the table. But who likes to scratch until he itches? The number of people invested in the success of the NW Master Plan, our mutual collaboration, and today's Council vote means that there isn't an itch.

Of those petitioners who met together over a week ago to respond to "threats" of removing SmartCode, I spoke personally with several last week, two more yesterday, and several more prior to the meeting. (Personal conversations not emails.) I mentioned before the Mayor's reassurances in a meeting. Some of us worked with EPWU and City persons. All of us plus I'm sure several more persons in separate meetings, collaboratively together, made sure that the City would get on record a reaffirmation of the NW Master Plan. That unanimous reaffirmation came today - collaboratively.