Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Open Space Moratorium Makes Sense

At its stormwater budget review meeting last night, the PSB recommended raising the stormwater fee by 8% over the next several years. Mayor Leeser proposed that for the years 2015-2017, that portion of stormwater fees that goes to the purchase of open space be diverted to other flood prevention projects which have become immediate priorities following the recent September rainstorms flooding. Identified projects include Fairbanks, the Diana Ditch and the Fort Bliss Slump. You can read more about these proposals in today's Times story.

I first became aware of the Mayor's proposal at an October 22 meeting. He invited Charlie Wakeem, Rick Bonart, Richard Teschner and myself to meet with him and Rep. Niland to discuss their proposal and get our feedback. Initially he was proposing a 5-year moratorium. With feedback from EPWU officials and ourselves, the 2-year proposal seemed more appropriate. We met again as a group on November 3rd. The proposal comes up tomorrow at the 3 PM meeting of OSAB of which I am a member. The meeting is held in the Trost Conference Room in the basement of the City 3 Building, 801 Texas Avenue. MAP

I have had reservations about the proposal all along. I was mainly concerned about the impact that it might have on future open space funding. However, I had decided to vote for it on OSAB because I had given my word to the Mayor and he and I agreed that we were only discussing a difference in how one does their arithmetic with the money - not the sum.

Although I could not attend last night's budget review meeting, Charlie Wakeem did. He reported to me this morning that he felt very positive about supporting the Mayor's proposal. What he reported to me also removed doubts in my mind. Here is what he said in an email to me and others just a little while ago:


"Attached is the Open Space portion of the Storm Water Workshop presentation.  As Jim said, he and I both struggled with the proposal to support suspending the 10% for open space for 2 years.  I wanted assurances on 3 things before I could make up my mind, (1) A guarantee that the 10% suspension would last only 2 years with no extensions, (2) that the $3 million [$3.2 million] would be used for immediate public safety needs, and (3) and most importantly, that Lupe has sufficient funds to complete the open space acquisitions on the current OSAB list.

"I went to the Storm Water Workshop Monday evening with an open mind. After Marcella's [Navarrete] presentation I decided to support the mayor's proposal for the 2 year suspension.  The third slide shows the status of the open space acquisitions. It's the slide that convinced me not to oppose the 2 year suspension.  This is a good way to show the community that we want what's best for the city and not ourselves.


Here is the presentation from last night's meeting:

Charlie got the assurances that he was looking for and now so have I. I will vote for the Mayor's proposal tomorrow at OSAB.

Kudos to Mayor Leeser for an inclusive leadership style.


  1. I disagree with Jim and Charlie. In my opinion, we give up two years of funds that should be designated to purchase critical open space that has a stormwater function (about $2 mil). In return for this sacrifice we get nothing but their “word” that it will not happen again. Our environment gets exploited and sets a precedent for more of the same at any time.

    Why not ask for ALL the money back in the future – say in 5 or 10 years. Take it from future stormwater fees or the Quality of Life bond or elsewhere.

    We fold too easily, showing that the environmental community has no strength or resolve to protect what cannot be replaced once it is paved.

    In the meantime, this city council marches on trying to develop all land as fast as possible.

    David Brower’s observation: ‘All of our (conservation) victories are temporary, all of our defeats are permanent.’”

    1. How I wish I could disagree with you.

  2. I have not been able to read the slide scan. Is there somewhere it can be read as a pdf?

    Meantime, I confess I do not understand. Either the $3.2 million will be diverted to "concrete on the ground" and it will never be used for open space purchases, or future fees in 2017 and on will be increased to return this to open space funding.

    Not only was open space conservation intended, as I understood it, to conserve land that was essential to stormwater control - such as the Palisades - BUT also to conserve land from development that would lead to further flooding problems - the Palisades, again, whose previous owners wanted to fill it with 200 townhomes and a golf course, which would immediately be vulnerable to the flood waters that sweep through the Palisades on their way to what used to be a river.

    Which is it? Will we have higher fees two years from now to make up for two years of no open space purchases, or will we just lose $3.2 million for open space purchases as that money is diverted, with no compensation, to building projects???

  3. Two possibilities: Either the $3.2 million will be only temporarily diverted, and then the fees will have to go up to repay it - OR the money will be permanently used for "concrete" projects and the open space purchases will shrink (especially if the interpretation of the use of this 10% as encompassing "park ponds" is allowed to stand).

    Will the people making this guarantee be in office when it comes time to make good on it?

    I am absolutely horrified by the language at the end of Charlie's statement: "This is a good way to show the community that we want what's best for the city and not ourselves." So we fight for open space just as an ego trip, and preserving open space is not "what's best for the city?"

    That pretty much cooks the open space goose.

  4. Sorry I can't be more active in "soldiering" with you all on things like this. Bad health, loss of hearing, and low, fixed income pretty much puts me on the sideline. But let me say I think kudos are in order just for making reclamation, finally, such a high priority, as ya'll have done. Indeed, a simple point on the irony of this says it all: There are probably few other places on earth (in a desert; in drought conditions) like El Paso where local residents have to pay as much $12-$13 million or higher each year just to limit storm runoff damages, and the message seems to be "The Good Lord Above" for years has been telling folks to start using resources better. Feel proud you chose to step forward. My 2 cents, it is.