Thursday, February 26, 2015

On the Other Hand, NOT So Good News

The Open Space Advisory Board agenda for next Wednesday, March 4th, does not contain an item for discussion and action on the scheduled building of a trash collection station next to Keystone Heritage Park. The Chairwoman, Katrina Martich, had promised at the last meeting that the item would be on the agenda. Apparently, Rep. Cortney Niland, has interfered.  Here is an email from City Planning's David Coronado:

From: Coronado, David A. 
Sent: Thursday, February 26, 2015 11:06 AM

Good morning,
I’m sending you a copy of the draft agenda for next week’s OSAB meeting. Please let me know if you have any changes.

The only item that I know is not included in this is the Keystone MSC proposed expansion. I reached out to Ms. Niland’s office earlier this week and she asked if the Board can hold off on taking an action at this time. She wants to reach out to residents and the Board herself at a later date. Her office will coordinate those efforts when they are ready to do that. I will make sure to contact Mr. Wakeem and let him know of this as well so that he can perhaps be the Board’s liaison on these efforts moving forward.

Please let me know if you have any questions.

Let me be clear. The Board - not a Rep - determines its agenda. A majority of the Board could force the item back onto the agenda.

Let's see what happens.

BTW, it appears that Cortney Niland will run unopposed for District 8. This is bad news for El Pasoans. Bad news for the future of our water. Bad news for the PSB. Bad news for open space values. Her upcoming fundraiser at the baseball stadium is likely to raise quite a few dollars. Money that she can now save for a run for Mayor. Good Lord deliver us.

Good News

At least it appears to be good news. The proof, as you know, is always in the gordita.

The fiasco with the San Jacinto Plaza park has spurred some real action by the City Manager's office. elpasonaturally has learned from several sources that there have been some shake-ups in Engineering. Also, and here is what is delightful, we have learned that Tommy Gonzalez is a tree person as is his wife. I have now heard that from three solid sources. That's good news.

Let's hope that our City Manager will take time to listen and to learn from experts about the planting and proper treatment and pruning of trees. He can find great expertise from the City Arborist, Brent Pearson. He can also find expertise, support, cooperation and partnership from the West Texas Urban Forestry Council. WTUFC's Board is a Who's Who of tree, irrigation, landscaping and sod experts. Brent Pearson is a member of that Board. So is Oscar Mestas, the State's Urban Forester. John White is a former County Extension Agent, a horticulturist and the Curator of the Chihuahuan Gardens at UTEP. Debbie Hradek manages Sites Southwest El Paso office. Jennifer Barr knows irrigation and landscaping. I could go on and on about the Board membership. Here's WTUFC's mission statement:

"The mission of the West Texas Urban Forestry Council is to promote the preservation, health and expansion of community trees in the El Paso region. Together with the friends of WTUFC, 'Los Tree Amigos', we work to promote desert green - shade friendly and water smart."

Mr. Gonzalez needs to work with WTUFC. AND, he needs to revive the City's Tree Board established by Mayor Wardy following the recommendations of his Green Sweep team. That Board was eviscerated by Joyce Wilson and her minion, No No Nanette Smejkal, the former (thanks be to God) Parks and Recreation Director. Tommy Gonzalez would go a long way by re-establishing the Tree Board.

One more thing that our City Manager can do to foster great tree growth in El Paso: make the City Arborist an independent office. Currently Pearson works under Transportation and is ignored by Engineering that ignores everyone any way. (That may be changing with Gonzalez at the helm.) As an independent office with some real powers to oversee the planting of trees and shrubs by the City, good practices for the planting, care and maintenance of trees would be put into practice. Engineering will not be able to ignore him.

Let's do hope that Tommy Gonzalez will turn over a new leaf for the City of El Paso.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Kill this Vampire or Is It a Zombie?

At a special City Council meeting yesterday, Dr. Noe asked whether the 10% of stormwater money designated for open space could go to finance some projects around the city. He suggested that the money could be borrowed and paid back. Although Diana Drain wasn't mentioned, this was one of the specific projects that the Mayor wanted to address with the open space funds. The Mayor's old proposal which seemingly died on the vine and the recommendation of that proposal subsequently was rescinded by the Open Space Advisory Board.

Emma Acosta (recently I've been agreeing with her) said that voters had designated that 10% for open space and their vote should be respected. Paraphrasing Carl Robinson, he said that people vote on lots of things but it is no big deal to change that vote. The Mayor said that he might try to approach open space people again. 

Somebody kill this vampire. Or, is it a zombie that just keeps coming? To take the open space money for something for which is is not designated undermines that fund, the acquisition and preservation of open space, the stormwater utility and the Public Service Board.

Dr. Rick Bonart, a candidate for City Council District 1 and a former PSB member, suggests other ways to finance emergencies such as Diana Drain or flooding along Transmountain or I-10 and so forth:

1. If there are real emergencies John Balliew, CEO of EPWU, could pull from the O&M budget because there is elasticity there.

2. The increase in the stormwater fee should, via revenue bonds, be able to generate more that enough cash - a product of the recent rate increase.

3. Implementing a stormwater impact fee is more appropriate than diverting funds the public specifically voted on and decide to use as open space money. 

Dr. Bonart stated unequivocally: "This money [the 10% of the stormwater fee] should be used for genuine open space projects only and that's it.

By the way, HERE is the agenda for yesterday's special council meeting. The conversation drifted from the agenda to flood issues to funding issues to taking open space money. Obviously, until the Council gets the fact that voters (i.e., citizens - and, no, Mr. Robinson you cannot overturn a vote just because you don't like it) designated 10% of their stormwater fees for open space, they can't contemplate its use for something else. More importantly, until they value the preservation of open space, they will continue to contemplate using that money to finance their shortfalls.

Also by the way, there were only 2 citizens from the general public in attendance. Perhaps 30 or 40 staff members were there.

Are these special council meetings (which now seem to be more often) a means to get around public comment and participation? Another vampire. Or a zombie.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Save El Paso's Valuable Keystone Heritage Park

The City and the PSB respectively own El Paso’s two major nature preserves: Keystone Heritage Park and Rio Bosque Wetlands Park.  Both contain wetlands supporting numerous wildlife.  Keystone Heritage  Park also has a major archaeological site

These nature sites have been developed and maintained without any public support (i.e., no Parks and Recreation involvement at all) for nearly two decades.  Volunteers have done all the work at Keystone.   
UTEP manages Rio Bosque, and one staff member has dedicated a substantial part of his time to it for many years. A volunteer group, Friends of the Rio Bosque, organizes support. 

Both of these important nature sites face difficulties ahead of the result of plans by the city and the PSB.   

The most immediate problem confronts Keystone Heritage Park. The City has five Citizens Collection Stations where items such as hazardous waste and bulky material such as unwanted furniture and appliances can be discarded.  Current rules require that the individual put the trash in the 7 ft-high rolloff bins. This, not surprisingly, is difficult for many persons, particularly if large items are involved.  So the Environmental Services Department, which manages the collection of trash and recyclables, has come up with a plan for a major re-do of one of these sites – the Westside site, at Atlantic and Doniphan.  Unfortunately, this site is next to Keystone Heritage Park.  

There are numerous reasons to object to the current design for the expansion, and to the proposed expansion itself, including the possibility of damage to the archaeological site   The most important is the blow to the economic future of Keystone, which could be an anchor for ecotourism in the city as well as a quality of life improvement for the residents.  

A longer-term issue may face Rio Bosque, as the PSB-owned land to its southeast side is slated for development as an industrial park.   This is said to be part of an economic development plan for the city.   The future of Rio Bosque as the second link in ecotourism and quality of life apparently is not part of this plan.

Step back and consider how other wildlife refuges have benefitted their communities. The Fish and Wildlife Service reports that the Bosque del Apache in central New Mexico is the major draw of all tourist attractions in Socorro County.   “Nonlocal visitors (93 percent) spent an average of $64 per person per day in the local area; local visitors (7 percent) spent an average of $41 per person per day. In 2011, the refuge’s 165,000-plus visitors spent more than $5 million during their stay. This spending, in turn, generated more than $7.6 million worth of state economic activity and supported 94 jobs outside the refuge.”  

The Friends of the Bosque del Apache issued a very powerful statement about the importance of such wildlife refuges in general, and in particular that of the Bosque del Apache, noting that “For every $1 of the refuge budget, there is a local economic effect of nearly $8.”

Why would the City of El Paso, and its associated Public Service Board, even consider for a moment undertaking works near Keystone and Rio Bosque that would destroy the long-range future of these potential “green” economic drivers for regional tourism and residential benefit?
- Helen Marshall

For further reading:

The Economic Benefits of of Southern New Mexico's Natural Assets

Sign the Petition

The Monday Links: Colorado Snow Pack, Smart Building, Gluten and Trees

[Monday is "Links Day" with links gathered over the past week to online "stuff" to read and sites to surf that impact us directly or offer information about our regional issues. Please feel free to send me links to any conservation, environmental, simple living, city planning, energy and water, etc. stories that you have come across online.] 

John Fleck's Blog (Definitely bookmark and read.) 2 recent entries:

Bad January, worse February in Colorado, Rio Grande basins (If you only have time to read one of his posts or even one of these links, this is the one to read.)
"half-told stories about the value of water"
Water in the desert, Fountain Hills edition


California, Here Dry Come!

Energy Efficient Architecture and Building:

Aggressively Passive Maine Dorm

Off the subject but interesting:

The Real Problem with Bread (It's Probably Not Gluten)

Visit, bookmark and surf these sites:
Open Tree Map

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Tree-gate: Girdling at High Ridge Community Park

Click to enlarge image.
Tree-gate continues.

The picture above was taken by someone who knows trees and plants and gardening and owns a dog. Here is his report:

"This is the west side dog park at the bottom (west) end of High Ridge. This is the section for small dogs where I've been walking my dog for the last three years since the official ribbon cutting. The trees that the city Parks Dept. people planted the first year died, so they were replaced the second year. Those trees didn't make it either, so last year the trees, ten of them, were replaced yet again! These trees will never leaf out, because they have been girdled around the base; the living bark has been stripped away by the mowers and/or weed-whackers. This is really ignorance in action. Any suggestions? Call the Mayor?"

Quoting from the Policy and Standards Manual for the Care of Trees and Shrubs in the City of El Paso, section 10.4 (Other prohibited actions):

"Taking any action foreseeable leading to the death of a tree or shrub or permanent damage to its health, including but not limited to excessive pruning, cutting, girdling,poisoning, improper irrigation, unauthorized relocation or transportation of a tree, or trenching, excavating, altering the grade, soil compaction, or paving within the drip line area of a tree." [Emphasis mine]

Usually Parks and Recreation (or, up until recently, General Services) subcontracts the mowing of parks. Were the sub-contractors informed about the prohibitive actions not to mention the entire City's Tree Manual? Were they properly trained? Did Parks and Rec inform and consult with the City Arborist? Did Parks and Rec supervise and/or inspect? 

No. No. No. And Hell No.

Three years in a row and ten trees have died each year. Thirty trees! And El Paso needs more trees.

When will Parks and Recreation properly manage our parks and our park trees?

Advice on who to contact: Your City Representative in this case Cortney Niland, Also, Parks and Rec Director, Tracy Novak, Most especially Tommy Gonzalez,, our esteemed City Manager.

[One warning about Gonzalez. He doesn't know proper tree care either. In an email from him to Fred Lopez and others on December 10, 2014 with subject of San Jacinto Plaza, he wrote: "I saw a tree today that I was told was used for a Christmas tree. It is not representative of a xmas tree. Would you make sure we trim it in the shape of a true xmas tree….don’t make it a Charlie brown tree – but for sure make it triangular. That make sense? Make sure we get that done this week. Thanks! Tommy Gonzalez." More on what email shows about Tree-gate soon.]

BTW, the main search engine for the City web site still won't take you to the Tree Manual. A friend pointed out that one could find it at the Parks and Recreation page. Indeed you can, if you look under "Administration". In essence still hidden. Certainly not intuitive - requires psychic ability. A casual visitor would never take the time to find it.

Vote for Dr. Rick Bonart City Council District 1

Click on image to enlarge.
From Rick:

I am running to be your city council representative. I look forward to meeting you on the campaign trail and learning more about what you want from your city government. 

As your city council representative, I will focus on:

1. Ensuring that your tax dollars are well spent. The demand for city services are high, and available resources for meeting that demand are limited. When I served on the El Paso Water Utilities-Public Service Board, I played an active role in making sure that we constantly reviewed all of our operations to ensure that we were providing the highest value to the ratepayer at the lowest cost. Sometimes that meant challenging existing practices that were ingrained in the culture of the organization and looking for creative solutions to better manage our limited resources. As we look forward to the public investment from the 2012 Bond Election, I want to work with you to make sure that we maximize the value of each of those projects for the public’s benefit.

2. Partnering with the residents of District 1 to solve problems and capture opportunity. As an owner of a small business and as a citizen activist, I know that City Hall can sometimes throw up confusing road blocks that discourage active participation from the public. But it doesn’t have to be that way. I want all the citizens of District 1 to know that you have a partner at City Hall, someone who is willing to work with you when you have a great idea for improving their neighborhood or when you are trying to solve a neighborhood issue. As an avid open space advocate, I have been party to some great wins for open space preservation that were only possible because of active participation from the community and active support from City Hall. 

3. Promoting sustainable growth that preserves what is special about District 1 and El Paso.  As our community grows, we have do so in ways that are both sustainable and affordable to taxpayers. We can grow as a community while preserving those things that make us unique. There are innovative development methods that will help us to save our mountains, arroyos and lush valleys without stifling development. This type of development adds more value to our tax base and builds attractive neighborhoods that people are proud to call home.

I want this job because I love the work! Having served four years on the PSB has given me the experience I need to hit the ground running. I will be your voice on City Council. You will be involved in the decision-making process

I hope I can count on your vote in this election. I want to hear from you. If you have questions or ideas, please email me at


Early voting starts Monday, April 27 and ends Tuesday, May 5. Election Day is Saturday, May 9.

About Rick

Dr. Rick Bonart grew up in El Paso, graduating from Coronado High School and UTEP. He received his Veterinary degree from Texas A&M. He came home to start a thriving veterinary practice called Belvidere Animal Clinic. 

Dr. Bonart served for four years on the El Paso Water Utility’s Public Service Board. He was the first chair of El Paso Open Space Advisory Board. He played a critical role in ensuring that the Northwest Master Plan preserves key arroyos and significant open space along Transmountain Road and provides safe access to the Franklin State Park.

Dr. Bonart is an active mountain biker who loves that his home is a ten minute bike ride from some of the best mountain bike riding in the Southwest.

Monday, February 16, 2015

We the People

Click on image to enlarge.

We the people want preserved, in its natural state and in perpetuity, all of the undeveloped land owned by the City of El Paso on the western side of the Franklin Mountains that is north of Transmountain Road, east of the EPNG Pipeline Road and south of the New Mexico/El Paso boundary and on the eastern side of the Franklin Mountains that is north of Transmountain, west of Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. and south of the New Mexico/El Paso boundary.

The Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition, the Sierra Club El Paso Group and elpasonaturally have launched a new "We the People" petition for everyone in El Paso to sign calling upon our leaders to work together in saving what remains of the lower elevations of the Franklin Mountains. You and your family and friends can help send a message to our City by printing out a petition today and collecting signatures between now and May 1.

Go HERE for the petition.

Completed petitions can be scanned and emailed to me (Jim Tolbert) at or snail mailed to me at 2701 Frankfort Ave., El Paso, TX 79930.

You can find the petition, a map of the lands covered and a fact sheet including instructions at

Be sure to read the Fact Sheet which gives 6 good reasons for preserving this land including lowering our onerous property taxes.

Want an impassioned plea to save our mountains? Read Joseph Pacheco's comment to my post about preserving Castner Range.

Here is his comment in full:

I truly hope this [preserving Castner Range] can be done, but I am doubtful. After all the western portion of the park is, in my humble opinion, lost as development will fully engulf the whole are within 5 years. It is truly sad that El Pasoans could show so little interest in protecting their mountains, placing shopping and access to McDonalds of higher importance. Once I finished my graduate degree in central TX I fully planned on returning home to El Paso, but each time I go home to visit the direction the city has taken and the urban sprawl that El Paso's leaders have progressed makes me sick to my stomach, making my return very doubtful. 

I constanlty avoided going thru loop 375, because I did not want to see what was done to my beloved desert, but when I finally did it was very sad and I almost wept at seeing what has happened to the entire area: new neighborhoods springing up only a mile or so from the park, a giant freeway closing the entrance to Franklin State Park, a new giant medical complex right on Transmountain Rd. I am all for a new hospital, but not on Transmountain Rd. More and more development will happen. Neighborhoods are almost at the base of the picnic/scenic area of South Franklin Mountain. In my opinion the entire mountain range is under siege and the park itself in a few short years will no longer be worth visiting, because who wants to see the roofs of homes or traffic as part of the outdoors experience. 

El Paso leaders or its residents just don't see the tragedy happening right before their eyes or they do and just don't care. A perfect example is the Tramway. A wonderful idea that is a tourist magnet. But, it being right next to a giant quarry ruins the entire experience and destroys the point that El Paso was trying to make by resurrecting the Tramway in the first place and that is El Paso is a unique city, wild and mountainous, respectful of nature and appreciative of our natural geology. But, again instead tourists who go to the tramway are shocked by the giant eyesore of a quarry which destroys the whole purpose of the tramway. Not only that, McKelligon Canyon is also a victim of this rock quarry. 

As if El Pasoans are not satisfied enough with destroying the Franklin Mountains they seem fully set on tearing down the Hueco Mountains as well. 

El Paso had the opportunity to be a unique city and setting an example. It could have been an opponent of urban sprawl and protected the cities natural beauty. It could have built smart, set a new pathway for cities of the 21st century. El Paso could have become a tourist city by promoting its natural beauty and becoming a green city. But the city chose the corrupt way, the way which required little vision and no wisdom. Only short term financial and political gain.

It does not surprise me of El Pasoans apathy regarding this topic. I would always speak to fellow El Pasoans about the mountains and tell them just how lucky we are to have such beauty in our city. I would tell them El Paso is the only city in the Untied States that has a mountain range right in the middle of it and I thought that has always been awesome! However, most of the time I would just get a glazed over look as if my fellow El Pasoans had no idea what I was talking about. They just did not care or think much about it.

While our fellow neighbor Las Cruces protects its mountains and has gone so far as to get the Organ Mountains designated as a National Monument. El Pasoans only care is to get from the Northeast to the West side 15 minutes faster so the can stop at the new McDonalds to eat and shop at the new Wal Mart, both of which are being built right next to the former great Franklin Mountains State Park. 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Urban Forester Oscar Mestas to Present at Tree Workshop

Click on image to enlarge.

The Texas Urban Forester for our region, Oscar Mestas, will be a presenter at a Tree Workshop sponsored by the Sustainability Office of the City of El Paso. The workshop is set for next Thursday, February 19, from 2 to 3 PM at the Memorial Park Library, 3200 Copper Avenue. (MAP) Oscar is also one of the founders and current Secretary of the West Texas Urban Forestry Council and a regular lecturer at Master Gardener educational events.

Other speakers include David Parra, Principal Landscape Architect at Greenway Studio, LLC, and Nicole Ferrini, Chief Resilience Officer at City of El Paso.

The event is free and open to the public.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

"The 50 foot pine tree will remain in the Plaza"

Click on image to enlarge.

Those were the words from an official City of El Paso press release dated yesterday.

Read Diana Washington Valdez's story, San Jacinto Plaza reopening delayed until May, in this morning's El Paso Times. Yesterday afternoon she called me for a comment. That is when I learned about the press release. I chose to wait to do a post about the story until this morning after the Times had published. It was her story and so many of us are so glad that she has stayed on top of it (along with many other "stories" from City Hall.)

No doubt elpasonaturally's online petition helped to save the tree. (It is now clear that the City had no intention of saving the tree in the first place and was going to use "damage" as an excuse.) 

What really saved the tree was the fact that elpasonaturally and then the Times brought to light that the tree was on the "chopping block". (Sadly, the pun is intended.) This resulted in the City Manager, Tommy Gonzalez, decrying the fact that the story had come to public attention followed by a concerted effort to cya the entire affair.

Of course, there is more than just the saving of El Pasoan's beloved Holiday Christmas tree. elpasonaturally learned and posted that the Plaza's California palms had not been salvaged but disposed in a landfill. More revelations about the failure by the Department of Engineering to follow city guidelines and policies keep coming to light. Clicking on the link to the "Policy and Standards Manual for the Care of Trees and Shrubs in the City of El Paso" on the new City web site still results in a 404 Error. If you want to read the manual or download a copy, go HERE. Otherwise it will probably be deleted from memory. So much for the strategic goal to "Promote Transparent and Consistent Communication Among All Members of the Community".

By the way, the public didn't even participate in developing those strategic goals. Or does "all members of the community" refer just to a tight-knit City Hall group?

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Things Don't Change in Tree-gate Town

Click on image to enlarge.
The picture above was taken several years ago when some work was done in Vista de Valle Park in El Paso's Cielo Vista neighborhood. Where was the supervision of the site in accordance with the Policy and Standards Manual for the Care of Trees and Shrubs in El Paso? Engineering failed. Parks and Recreation failed. The City of El Paso failed. The trees were damaged.

As you can see the total disregard of city policy by its inspectors and city engineers has been going on for years.

By the way, elpasonaturally has a link to the Policy and Standards Manual for the Care of Trees and Shrubs in El Paso as found on the city web site. That link is no longer good.  Now when you search for that document, you get this:

So elpasonaturally has uploaded that document HERE just in case the City has either lost it or intends to lose it.

Tree-gate continues.

Monday, February 9, 2015

The Monday Links: Trees, Bad Legislation, Best council money can buy

[Monday is "Links Day" with links gathered over the past week to online "stuff" to read and sites to surf that impact us directly or offer information about our regional issues. Please feel free to send me links to any conservation, environmental, simple living, city planning, energy and water, etc. stories that you have come across online.] 

City of El Paso Government, Sprawling and Water:

Best council money can buy (I too missed out on developing our city's strategic goals. However, I'm being told that, as a member of the Open Space Board, I need to follow in lockstep with it.)

Another Reason to Keep the PSB:

Thanks to PSB for Rescue Mission solution

Trees, Smart Growth, Resiliency and Mental Health

Trees and Green Infrastructure Key to “Climate Smart” Cities (". . . using green infrastrucure to make communities 'climate smart,' which can also help improve resilience to natural disasters.) 

Living Near Trees May Reduce Antidepressant Use

Climate Change

Climate Change Indicators in the United States

Learn more:

Water in the Western United States (a free online course)

Get involved:

Restore the Rule of Law in Our Borderlands!
(Proposals in Congress could expand the border waivers. Click for a larger image. A small group of lawmakers have introduced militarization-only bills that would spend $10 billion building a massive industrial complex of walls, roads, towers, drones, bases and other unnecessary infrastructure in our U.S.–Mexico an U.S.–Canada borderlands. Please urge Congress to oppose this destructive proposal.) 

Tell Congress: Reject the “No More National Parks” Bill

Environmenatally damaging border security legislation (Hat tip to Professor Liz Walsh for sharing this info sheet with many links)

Visit, bookmark and surf these sites:

Common Dreams

I Love

Friday, February 6, 2015

The Friday Video: Another Double Feature!

Short videos but powerful - one on climate change the other on democracy or rather the end of it and the rise of oligarchy in our governments. Hat tips to Judy Ackerman and Michelle Tan. Enjoy.

Goodnight Democracy from on Vimeo.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

City of El Paso Now Threatens Keystone Heritage Wetlands

True to form, the City of El Paso intends to shred its Open Space Mater Plan and build a collection station next to Keystone Heritage/Wetlands Park. 

Here is what the Open Space Master Plan says about the park:

"Keystone Heritage Wetlands Park is a key cultural site as well as the remnant of a unique wetlands zone. Preservation of undeveloped lands around the park should be a high priority of the city in the near future." (page 5-32, emphases are mine.)

So, rather than preserving lands around the park, the City of El Paso, which is notorious for shelving Plan El Paso and ignoring the Tree Care Manual, now intends to put a collection station abutting Keystone contrary to its open space plan. Here's a slide show about the proposed nasty, dirty collection station:

There are 4 reasons why Keystone is an identifiable open space asset: it is a wetlands and wildlife habitat, it is an historical site and an archaeological site as well as an eco-tourist asset. The Open Space Master Plan mentions 3 of these: "key cultural site" (history and archaeology) and a "unique wetlands zone." 

In spite of the Open Space Manual mentioning these relevant features of the park, current OSAB Chairwoman, Katrina Martich (who likes to bang on the manual like a fundamentalist preacher bangs on a floppy Bible) claims that the archaeological features of the park are outside of the purview of the Open Space Board. Since being a cultural and a wetlands treasury make the park an identifiable open space asset, then both of these traits are relevant for preserving it as that open space asset just as the Manual prescribes: "Preservation of undeveloped lands around the park should be a high priority of the city . . ." [emphases mine] This is the purview of the Open Space Advisory Board.

From about 8,000 years ago to about a 1,000 years ago, humans have lived in and around the current park. It is hard to believe that those habitations now identified at Keystone obeyed modern El Paso street boundaries. One suspects more archaeological finds under the land where the city wants to put a collection site. The mere proximity should trigger the Antiquities Code of Texas.

Keystone is also a wetlands, the home of many bird species. On September 28, 2013 the Kevin von Finger Wetlands were dedicated.

Although not mentioned in the Master Plan, Keystone is a tourist destination which, of course, makes it a valuable asset for El Paso. Eco-tourism and heritage tourism have the potential of being a billion dollar industry in and for El Paso.

But what does the City of El Paso want to do? Build a collection station next to the park. Just the noise of such a place will disturb the bird habitats. And, the station, will probably cover-up key archaeological sites. It will also be a deterrent to tourist trade and the use of the Botanical Gardens at Keystone. But when has the City of El Paso cared about its treasures or even its written policies?

More on Keystone in the days ahead.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

What We Know about Tree-Gate So Far

Click to enlarge image. Picture taken 1/12/15. Note protective netting around the trunk and not the dripline. Where was the Department of  Engineering project inspector?
elpasonaturally will be getting more information soon about Tree-gate, the scandal surrounding Elpasoans' Holiday Christmas tree in San Jacinto Park. At first the City claimed that negligence may have damaged the tree beyond the hope of saving. Now they claim that they might be able to save it. 

The scandal, of course, is more widespread than one tree. It has to do with the negligence of the City Engineering Department.  Here's what we know:

The palms in the park were not salvaged nor taken to the El Paso tree farm. They were cut down and they were taken to the landfill. They could have been used elsewhere in the city. This in total disregard of the city's Tree Care Policy Manual.

The project drawings indicate that Tree 5, a Pinus halepensis - the beloved Christmas tree, was to be protected. Project drawings indicate that the contractor knew to protect the tree below the dripline. Yet, the orange netting to protect the tree was just around the base or trunk of the tree when this story broke. It has since been extended but only to half of the dripline, the circumference of the canopy. Look at the image above and see that the orange netting was wrapped tightly around the base/trunk of the tree when Tree-gate began to be exposed. Now see a web cam from about January 29th. The netting was extended but still not according to the project spec drawings or the requirements of the City Tree Policy Manual. Web cam today reveals the same thing which means that the project inspector from the Department of Engineering has still not obeyed city policy. (Thank you elpasospeak for the January web cam post.) 

It is the City's responsibility - the responsibility of the project inspector of the Department of Engineering - to make sure that the project guidelines are followed. Obviously, he/she did not do so. As noted before, City Engineering doesn't follow rules that they don't want to follow. They do not listen to the City Arborist or anyone else.

In an Open Records Request I asked for the project specifications. I received only the drawings - enough nevertheless to see that guidelines for tree protection were not enforced by the Department of Engineering inspector. However, I wonder why I did not recive the specs. Oversight or an attempt to cover-up? We already know that City Manager, Tommy Gonzalez, sent an email decrying that the condition of the tree had gone public. He wanted to keep the scandal under wraps.

The Public Affairs Coordinator for the Engineering Department sent out what was obviously dictated memo to the Mayor and City Council when the scandal was first brought to public attention. By itself the memo authenticates that the project inspector had not been doing his job. The memo also said that the palms had been salvaged. That's just false. They were hauled to the landfill!

Hearsay of course, but people are coming forward to tell about mordidas and the Department of Engineering at other projects. Those stories will be checked out.

Monday, February 2, 2015

The Monday Links: World Wetlands Day, Bottled Water and Why Greg Abbott is an Idiot

[Monday is "Links Day" with links gathered over the past week to online "stuff" to read and sites to surf that impact us directly or offer information about our regional issues. Please feel free to send me links to any conservation, environmental, simple living, city planning, energy and water, etc. stories that you have come across online.] 

Today is World Wetlands Day. Although it is late in the day, it is always good to understand wetlands and their importance to us, our health, and the sustainability of water.

Environmental Defense Fund petition

Another water issue: bottled water 

American Dream's resources about bottled water

Take Back the Tap

The Story of Bottled Water (an Annie Leonard video)

Better Communities/Better Living:

Office tenants choose mixed-use centers

Walking is Going Places

Tiny House Living, Off the Grid? Here's How to Do It in Style

Climate Change

Mourning Our Planet: Climate Scientists Share Their Grieving Process

(Keep an eye out for this Friday's video.)

Politics and Government 

Abbott Targets Local Bans

Gov.-elect Abbott: End local bans on bags, fracking, tree-cutting

(I can't let this one go without some comment. 2 points: 1. Word from Senator Rodriguez's office is that this ban on banning has a good chance of passing. So much for the good old-fashioned conservative value of local control. 2. Great! Since private property is so sacrosanct in Texas, I'm going to open up a whore house in my home and also drill for water which I will then mine and bottle as Franklin Mountain Water and sell all over the world (through WalMart of course). Hell, it's my property! I'll do whatever I want. Never mind sucking the Hueco Bolson dry.)

Bookmark and surf these sites:

Food & Water Watch


Buy Nothing