Thursday, April 30, 2015

An Open Letter to Representative Cortney Niland

Dear Rep. Niland,

I’ve taken some flack (not a lot) recently for not having endorsed you and, in a comment to a comment on my blog, endorsing your opponent, Josh Dagda. I did so even after the good news from you about your wanting to preserve land next to Keystone and saying that you were not for abolishing the PSB. I wrote a post about that and even sent the link to you. I was surprised and curious – but definitely not peeved – when you didn’t respond. I took it that it was either no big deal to you or that you took my praise for granted.

Let me be clear. I like you and always have. I like the energy and passion that you have brought to City Council. I think that you are a good person. I’ve never met your husband but have received very thoughtful emails from him in the past. I hope I can meet him someday.

I realize that people can’t agree one hundred percent all of the time. I don’t even mind to agree to disagree with folks most or all of the time. You have a reputation for getting things done for El Paso and you are a strong leader. Contrary to the belief of many, I’m very pro-business and support any and all efforts to help our local businesses. However, I don’t like unchecked, cancerous sprawl and know that we can do better. We can also be more energy efficient and do more with our building standards to conserve water. I am for open space and here lies my problem with your policies.

You haven’t been a friend to open space. You recently wanted to raid open space funds for $3 Million. You now are opposed to development next to Keystone yet that issue has been alive for three or four years now. Had you spoken with the neighborhood associations near Keystone, you would have heard their dissent and their concerns a long time ago. You can’t just blame the head of Environmental Services and not take ownership yourself. Land conservation is inextricably linked to water. Yet, you have tried in City Council to change bond language which would have led to the City taking over the PSB’s prerogative to declare when land is inexpedient if not a step toward abolishing the PSB itself. Also, I don’t believe that you were ever confused about the franchise “fee” or that there was some kind of communication break-down between the PSB and City Council. The “fee” originated in Council not the PSB and the PSB tried to make it less onerous.

So, it’s a matter of trust. I really struggled because I wanted to endorse you. It's just that trust was the trump card. The best way to predict the future is to look at the past. Hopefully you will support conserving land around Keystone and hopefully there will be no more attempts to use bond language as a backdoor to undermine the PSB. Hopefully you will become a strong advocate of recommendations that come out of the city’s Open Space Advisory Board.

I hope so because I’d like to be one of your biggest supporters. As I said, I like you and you are a good person. Rumor has it that you might run for Mayor in two or six years. I’d love to be on your bandwagon. I just need – and other conservationists need – a record of doing as much good for our environment as you have for downtown and business development. After a few years more and a few more actions by you on Council supporting open space, Keystone, the PSB and smarter planning and development in El Paso, then you will have our trust, endorsement and vote.


Jim Tolbert

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Water in the Rio Bosque Wetlands Park!

White-tailed Kite at the Rio Bosque Wetlands Park. Photo by Lois Balin
Join the Celebration 7:45 AM this Friday, May 1st, at the Tornillo Trailhead in the Rio Bosque Wetlands Park.

After 13 years with no reliable water during the growing season, John Sproul, Manager of the Rio Bosque Wetlands Park, plans to turn the valve to release water from the Bustamante Waste Water Treatment Plant through the new pipeline into the Park at 8 AM.  

Join us for this historic event!

Go HERE for a map.

Directions from I-10:  Take the Americas Ave. (Loop 375 South) exit (Exit 34B) and head southwest towards the Zaragoza Bridge.  Cross North Loop Rd. (FM76) and take the onramp onto Loop 375.  Stay in the right-hand lane of Loop 375 and exit immediately at Exit 47 for Alameda Ave., Socorro Rd. and Pan American Dr.  Proceed across both Alameda Ave. and Socorro Rd.  At Pan American Dr., turn left.  After driving approximately 1.1 mile on Pan American, you'll cross a bridge over the Playa Drain.  At 1.5 miles, you'll reach a second bridge, which crosses the Riverside Canal right before the gated entrance to the Jonathan Rogers and Roberto Bustamante water-treatment plants.  To get to the Park itself, cross the bridge, turn left onto the gravel levee road and proceed for about 0.75 miles.  You'll be at the northeast corner of the park, at the Tornillo Trailhead. 

Monday, April 27, 2015

City Council Appears Ready to Seal the Deal on Kern View Estates

Hikers get exercise and enjoy the trail where Kern View Estates II could have gone.
City Council seems poised to pass an amendment to Title 19 which will seal the deal on Kern View Estates II. (The amendment is stated in agenda item 16.2 for tomorrow's meeting.) The amendment allows the owners to get a refund on a park dedication fee that they had to pay. That reimbursement is part of the deal to purchase the land from the owners and re-zone as Natural Open Space. Without the reimbursement, the sellers would call the deal off.

Last week Representative Noe said that he would oppose the amendment on the grounds that it was giving money to rich west siders. Will the politics of envy never stop in El Paso? Will the forces that eternally seek the lowest common denominator rather than the best for El Paso ever quit? The land to be preserved is for all El Pasoans. People from all around the city are doing more and more hiking in our mountains. For a city with such a high rate of diabetes and obesity, the increased outdoor activity is good news and should be encouraged.

Of course, Noe may see what some owners are doing: threatening to develop land on the mountainside so that the City will buy and preserve that land. So what? The land only has value as developed or preserved. As owners, they have a right to be recompensed if turning the land to the City for preservation.

There are also other good reasons for supporting the amendment and, thus, closing the deal. The development would have negative impact on stormwater and emergency services. It's not a matter of protecting "rich west sider's" view of the mountains; it's about safety and recreational opportunities.

Dr. No strikes again - oops - I meant Dr. Noe.

However, there are clear indications that the amendment has at least 5 solid "yes" votes. It may turn out that only No - I mean Noe - and Limon will be the only negative votes.

Here is an email from activist, Ellen Esposito, sent out yesterday evening:

"On Tuesday, April 28th, City Council will vote on an ordinance which directly impacts the approved purchase of Kern View Estates II.  One of the conditions of the purchase is that the owners receive a refund of the fees already paid to the city. These fees must be paid when the development plan is submitted for approval if park lands will not be dedicated in the development. Because the owners are conveying the property to the city, the City Planning Commission supports this refund to the seller. 

"There will be discussion and dissension is expected at the city council meeting. Because it is next to impossible to build a park in mountain development zoned property, a landowner would be required to pay these fees.  Many of us recognize that this reimbursement will encourage landowners of mountain development zone properties to abandon their plat and convey the property to open space.  In the interest of protecting open space as designated in Plan El Paso, we believe that City Council's approval of this ordinance is vital. The Franklin Mountains are ecologically sensitive areas which we have a responsibility to protect for future generations of El Pasoans. 

"Please mark your calendar to attend the city council meeting this Tuesday. It is important that city council see that their constituents care about protecting the mountains from development. It is important that they pass this ordinance to facilitate the purchase of Kern View Estates II.  The meeting begins at 8 AM, though I am sure this will not be addressed until later in the meeting."  

Next time Noe wants something for the east side, maybe it should be voted down because all the rich east siders have too many new and fine restaurants. Hmmm? No, Noe, it is better never to play the politics of envy.

El Paso County Commissioners Court Passes Anti-Fracking Resolution

Click image to enlarge.
Kudos to Cemelli De Aztlan who has worked tirelessly to stop fracking in Hudspeth County. Today by a nearly unanimous vote the El Paso County Commissioners passed a resolution opposing fracking. (Only Republican Haggerty opposed it.) Here is what Cemelli posted on her Facebook page:

"El Paso County Commissioners Court passed a Resolution to Ban Fracking in El Paso County. Next step, Hudspeth County Commissioners and our El Paso Water Utilities, who plan to sell us water from the basin above Fracking, despite evidence of Fracking toxins contaminating water basins. CALL ALL TEXAS SENATORS TO OPPOSE SB1165. [SB1165 is the Senate version of HB40.] Also, demand that UT System divest from Oil&Gas Companies. — with Aurolyn Luykx, Virgil Esquivel, Dan Monahan, Robert Leal, Mary Gourdoux, Jim Tolbert, Bill Addington, Nayra Vizcarra, EL PASO NATURALLY, EL PASO EQUAL VOICE NETWORK and WEST TEXAS WATER PROTECTION FUND."

Friday, April 24, 2015

Please Vote for Rick Bonart

An Open Letter to District 1 Voters

Please vote for Rick Bonart for El Paso City Council, District 1. He will be an effective leader who will champion your concerns. Certainly I agree with all of Rick’s platform and you can read more about his views online as well as in the mailers that you have probably received. However, let me tell you why I esteem this man personally and know that he will be a great City Council Representative.

Rick Bonart is conscientious. He does his homework – thoroughly. He doesn’t skim through anything regarding the important policy issues that matter to you. He delves into them. He does so because he cares about people – taxpayers, ratepayers, citizens, people; and he takes his fiduciary responsibilities very seriously.

Rick Bonart has the courage of his convictions. He wants what is best for the people of District 1 and all El Pasoans. He never backs down to those who put politics and pettiness over caring and doing the right thing for people. More than ever we the people of El Paso need a really strong advocate on City Council – someone who knows that people come first and not special interests. He not only believes in open government, he has paid personally for that belief. As the citizen advocate on the Public Service Board, Rick was tireless as he looked out for ratepayers. He even opened up the selection process to that board to the public. For such transparency he was vilified by those who protect their power over the interests of the people of El Paso and he was not re-elected by City Council for a second term on the PSB in spite of the fact that he had been designated as the number one choice by a selection committee.

Rick Bonart is a doer and not just a talker. Many advocate for this thing or that. Rick rolls up his sleeves and makes it happen. He has helped to create recreational trails throughout the Franklins. He did the hard work to open El Paso’s first complete trailhead at the Lost Dog Trail. He has been the leader for open space and conservation for decades now. He was the first Chairman of the Open Space Advisory Board. He was a leader in the successful effort to preserve 800 acres of land in the northwest.  He helped to fashion the Open Space Master Plan and the stormwater utility including setting aside 10% of the stormwater fee for purchasing needed open space.  He worked with TxDOT and conservationists alike to develop a good plan for an entrance to the Tom Mays Unit of the Franklin Mountains State Park. (That entrance is scheduled to be completed early next year.) On the Public Service Board he introduced the need for potable reuse of water to continue to supply El Paso’s increasing need for water. He fought hard for a pipeline to the Rio Bosque Wetlands Park, a key eco-tourist and local recreational wildlife preserve in El Paso. He always stood strong for open, inclusive and transparent government.

Rick Bonart built a very successful business (a veterinary clinic) from scratch and managed it for 35 years. (I can tell you that he was one very knowledgeable and caring vet because both of my cats were patients.) He recently retired which means he can give 100% to serving you as your Representative. He won’t be part-time and he will be wholehearted.

Rick Bonart is honest and ethical some would say to a fault. But honesty, ethics and high standards are the ingredients of his integrity. Rick doesn’t want the lowest common denominator for El Paso. He wants the best.

Rick Bonart is a friend. Yes, he is my friend but I’m not saying that you should vote for him just because he is my friend. I’m saying that you will do well to vote for him because he is a friend. He takes people just as they are. He doesn’t hold a grudge. He’s never judgmental. He’s not spiteful nor is he power-hungry. He strives to do the right thing and he cares deeply about each individual person. He is passionate about his views. Yet I’ve always known him to listen and to understand. In all matters he has a great sense of humor and he has the humility not to take himself too seriously.

Early voting begins this Monday. For sure there are some very good people running for District 1. Rick Bonart is your best choice.

Jim Tolbert

P.S. Please see his web site and his Facebook page.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Local Communities Should Have the Right to Protect Themselves from Fracking

It's unusual for the Drudge Report and the Huffington Post to run the same news stories or even agree on the top story. However, this morning they both headline the same study and link to the same Los Angles Times story: Man-made earthquakes increasing in central and eastern U.S., study finds.

What's the story about? The USGS has mapped earthquakes that apparently are caused by fracking for oil and gas and injecting millions of gallons of the spent water (and noxious chemicals) back into the earth. (Be sure to look at the map and the charts in the story.)

In spite of the growing data that fracking (or, more probably, injection wells) cause earthquakes, cities such as Denton, Texas may be denied the right to protect themselves from this dangerous technology. As posted yesterday, HB 40 is racing through the legislature of Texas, the state sponsored by the oil and gas industry. HB 40 would ban banning and take the right of local communities to protect themselves away and give it to the Texas Railroad Commission - the cronies of the oil and gas industry.

Texas prides itself as a state that enshrines the right of anyone to bear arms and to use those arms to protect life and property. Yet, the right of citizens to protect themselves against the greed of the oil and gas industry is disallowed.

With fracturing trumping democracy and corporations slurping up water from local communities, one wonders how long it will be until those rifles come off the racks of pick-up trucks and den rooms.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Happy Earth Day?

It's Earth Day. It's good that there is a day to remind some that it is important to be kinder to Mother Earth. However that "some" are already in the choir singing about environmentalism and conservation. Hopefully more join the choir each Earth Day each year. The real work though happens the other 364 days of the year. That's especially critical now in the State of Texas which is sponsored by the oil and gas industry and whose legislators for the most part are bought and paid for by the oil and gas industry.

Forget the will of voters in local municipalities. In last November's election, the people of Denton, Texas voted to ban fracking in their town. Now House Bill 40 is racing through the legislature. That bill will ban bans. According to Nicholas Sakilaris: "The controversial bill gives the Texas Railroad Commission authority to preempt city laws when it comes to subsurface oil and gas operations, including hydraulic fracking." Read Bill that would ban fracking bans breezes through the Texas House

A Louisiana Judge handed down a similar ruling in effect banning bans.

What you should also read is the public relations propaganda put out by the Texas Oil and Gas Association. (Let's call them "Lola" as in "whatever Lola wants, Lola gets.")  Be sure that you watch the video. George Orwell could not have done better. 

Despite the above bad news, the El Paso Commissioners Court seems poised to pass an anti-fracking resolution. Judge Veronica Escobar favors it and the matter will come to a vote at next week's meeting.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Monday Links on Tuesday

[Monday (or, in this case, Tuesday) 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.]

Water issues (always at the top of the list):

The Rio Grande:

Mighty Rio Grande Now a Trickle Under Siege

A glimmer of good water supply news for New Mexico’s middle Rio Grande farmers

California's and the West's water woes:

Nestlé’s despicable water-crisis profiteering: How it’s making a killing — while California is dying of thirst

Drought Spurs Protest Over 'Unconscionable' Bottled Water Business

Petition to Nestlé: "Stop taking water from drought stricken California"

Another Petition: Tell the U.S. Forest Service: Stop Nestlé’s Illegal Water Extraction

As water runs dry, Californians brace for a new way of life

You'll see more of this in Texas (and everywhere):

Hays County Water Fight Tumbles Into Committee

County to buy land for groundwater


The Facts on Fracking

Fracking is causing Oklahoma’s earthquake “swarm”

The Power of the Energy Industry:

Teaming Up with the Fossil Fuel Industry NPR’s Gas Pains

Monday, April 20, 2015

Update on Light Polluters

elpasonaturally has just learned that the ordinance favoring Clear Channel's wish to continue their light pollution has been postponed for four weeks. That's great news because it means more time to email your City Council Representative. Just remember to do it.

You can continue to get updates here at elpasonaturally naturally.

Light Polluters Ordinance Up For Action at City Council Tomorrow

Marcia Turner reminds us that our action is needed TODAY.

Tomorrow, Tuesday, April 21st,  City Council will discuss and vote on item 17.1 on the agenda.  This item reads as follows:


An Ordinance amending Title 18, Chapter 18.18 (Outdoor Lighting Code) Of the City Code by amending Chapter 18.19.310 (Nonconformance) to add an exception for upward directed sign lighting for off premise signs and by amending Chapter 18.18.120 (Externally Illuminated Sign Standards) to provide for an exception for upward directed sign lighting. The penalty being as provided in Section 18.02.111 (Violations And Penalties) of the El Paso City Code.

Marcia reports: "'off premise signs' means billboards.  Clear Channel is asking for an exemption from our Outdoor Lighting Code (Dark Sky Ordinance).  They are requesting permission to continue using upward directed lights on their billboards.

"They are also requesting a one year extension to change their lights to LED. LED lights produce the same amount of light pollution as the current lights, but will save the company money."

Clear Channel has had 10 years to comply with the current dark sky ordinance. 10 Years!

You can email your City Council Representative and tell her or him to vote NO. Verbiage for your email can be found HERE in red. Or you can just express your disapproval of item 17.1. Tell them "NO LIGHT POLLUTION. Clear Channel must comply."

Your representaive's email is as follows:

District 1 Ann Morgan Lilly
District 2 Larry Romero
District 3 Emma Acosta
District 4 Carl Robinson
District 5 Michiel Noe
District 6 Claudia Ordaz
District 7 Lily Limon
District 8 Cortney Niland
The Mayor Oscar Leeser

Tell your friends to email their representatives also. Give them the link to this post at

To learn more about light pollution and the benefits of "dark sky" read Paul Bogard's The End of Night: Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light." Just click on the book icon at the top of the right column.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Recycle Electronics and More at EPCC during Earth Week

Click image to enlarge.
A message from EPCC Environmental Specialist, Mayra Cordero-Villalobos:

El Paso Community College Recycling Program in conjunction with KEPB and many other wonderful organizations will be celebrating Earth Day in the month of April.

We are aware of the importance of reminding people, not only about recycling, but conserving all our resources as well as taking care of our health, in one word: SUSTAINABILITY! That is why we would love for EVERYBODY to join us at these FREE great events. Attached and below is the flyer.

Don’t forget to bring old clothes, which will be donated to people in need, and electronic waste, this includes any TV's, appliances, computers, printers, cell phones, home phones, anything you can plug into an electrical socket to RECYCLE and everybody participates in the door prizes such a 40’’ TV, gift cards, and free food!

We look forward to work together for a GREENER & healthier community!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Fracking Open Letter to El Paso Officials

Click image to enlarge.
Dear El Paso Elected Officials,

As a resident of El Paso, Texas, I am concerned about the threat of water contamination, health and environmental damage to our community if Hydraulic Fracturing is permitted in the our area and/or areas near our water supply. Unfortunately, The University of Texas System has leased over a hundred thousand acres to Torchlight Energy Resources, Inc. for the sole purpose of fracking.

Fracking endangers the health, safety and welfare of people, pollutes the air and ground, results in rising crime and social and medical costs, utterly destroys ecosystems and permanently contaminates underground aquifers with toxic compounds and consumes billions of gallons of water. 

Due to an overwhelming scientific consensus regarding methane contamination of water supplies and additional threats posed by the process, to include:

*Companies using fracking fluid have resisted disclosing the contents of fracking fluid, claiming the information is proprietary. However, samples from well sites indicate that the fluid contains: formaldehyde, acetic acids, citric acids, and boric acids, among hundreds of other contaminants.

*It has recently come to light that, despite the illegality of the action, companies have been caught using diesel fuel in the fracking fluid.

*Fracking removes millions of gallons of precious freshwater from the water cycle.

*Each well uses between two and five million gallons of locally-sourced freshwater which will be permanently contaminated by ground contaminants and toxic chemicals contained in the fracking fluid.
About half of this water returns to the surface, where it is stored in steel containers until it can be injected deep underground in oil & gas waste wells.

*The toxic water used to frack remains underground, and this toxic cocktail makes its way back into the water supply.

*Fracking causes a range of environmental problems.

*At least eight other states have reported surface, ground, and drinking water contamination due to fracking.

*In states like Pennsylvania, over 1,400 environmental violations have been attributed to deep gas wells utilizing fracking practices.

*Pollution from truck traffic, chemical contamination around storage tanks, and habitat fragmentation and damage from drilling to environmentally sensitive areas have are all related to fracking.

I urge our community's elected officials to take action. We would like to present a Resolution to Ban Hydraulic Fracking:

*Monday, April 20th @ 9:30am @ El Paso County Commissioners @ Court House, Room 303

*Tuesday, April 21st @ 8am @ El Paso City Council @ 300 N. Campbell

*Wednesday, April 22nd @ 12pm UTEP Union ::: EARTH DAY ACTION!

I would ask that you consider enacting this Resolution banning Hydraulic Fracturing on any property that the county and state owns, maintains or leases, at least until the EPA has completed environmental analyses and appropriate regulations have been imposed to protect our health and safety. 

This Resolution, like those passed by other communities in our area, would result in the oil and gas industry being unable to use hydraulic fracturing procedures under the roadways maintained with our tax dollars and would send a message to citizens in our community that hydraulic fracturing is unsafe and under-regulated.

Also, to support our the growing voices against fracking, please sign the petition to UT System against their lease to TorchLight Energy, a fracking company.

Thank you for your consideration and I look forward to your response.

El Paso Residents 
Hudspeth Residents 
The West Texas Water ProtectionFund
El Paso Naturally

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

City Purchases Mesa View Estates

From El Paso Development News
This morning City Council voted unanimously to purchase the land from Piedmont Group, LLC known as Mesa View Estates II. Community leader, Ellen Esposito, announced the purchase with this message:

"Today, the City of El Paso City Council approved the purchase of 15.57 acres known as Kern View Estates II, owned by Piedmont Group LLC.  The purchase and preservation of this critical open space resulted from the collaborative efforts of El Paso city staff and Piedmont Group LLC. The support and guidance of Representative Ann Lilly were invaluable. 

"Please extend your thanks to the City Representatives and Mayor Leeser for approving this purchase.  And thank YOU for your interest in protecting  the Franklin Mountains of El Paso."

El Paso Development News did a story about it the other day and has received two negative (and, quite frankly, ignorant) responses from one unidentified person who seems spitefully envious of the people in Kern Place and Mesa Hills. The fact of the matter is that the citizens of El Paso voted to have $5 Million of the Quality of Life Bonds go to open space. Another $5 Million was set aside for parks. They are two different items. The land on the western slope of Crazy Cat provides an access to the State Park other than the Palisades or the North Stanton and Kenyon Joyce trailheads. The development presented both traffic and stormwater challenges. 

Land on the mountain sides should be preserved. QofL open space funds are now about $4.5 Million. Could it be that some of that money can be used to purchase from the Knapp family the mountainside portion of Sierra del Puente?

Monday, April 13, 2015

Clear Channel Wants More Light Pollution

[Tomorrow an ordinance will be introduced at El Paso City Council to grant an exception to the Dark Sky Ordinance of 2005 when it comes to signs. El Paso's billboard and digital sign advertiser, Clear Channel, is behind the request for a grant. A 2002 ordinance banned such billboard and digital lighting and the 2005 Dark Sky Ordinance gave all businesses 10 years to comply. Item 10.1 on the City Council agenda reads: "An Ordinance amending Title 18, Chapter 18.18 (Outdoor Lighting Code) Of the City Code by amending Chapter 18.19.310 (Nonconformance) to add an exception for upward directed sign lighting for off premise signs and by amending Chapter 18.18.120 (Externally Illuminated Sign Standards) to provide for an exception for upward directed sign lighting. The penalty being as provided in Section 18.02.111 (Violations And Penalties) of the El Paso City Code. [POSTPONED FROM 03-31-2015]"

Clearly Clear Channel wants light pollution, favors energy waste and does not want to protect El Paso's wildlife.

Marci Turner of the Mesa Hills Neighborhood Association has written the following open letter to City Council members:]

It’s sometimes difficult to remember what El Paso looked like a decade or more ago.  Back then we were trying to figure out the definition of an arroyo, and whether or not El Paso had any.  The concept of “open space” didn’t exist as yet in our community.  As early as 2002, in his apt description of our city's billboard pollution problem, Charlie Edgren of the El Paso Times asked whether El Pasoans even still cared about their city. El Pasoans did care in 2005 when the Dark Sky Ordinance was passed (Outdoor Lighting Code), and we did care in 2008-9 when digital billboards first appeared in our city and residents throughout El Paso were outraged at this blatant disregard of our city’s 2002 ordinance banning them:

 “20.18.300 Lighting.  Billboards which contain, include or are illuminated by any flashing, intermittent or moving light, or lights, to include changeable electronic variable message (“CEVM”), or LED technology, are prohibited.”  

When the Dark Sky Ordinance was passed in the spring of 2005, the entire city was given 10 years to come into complete compliance.  May 7th, 2015, is the deadline.  These past 10 years have brought about a real change in the El Paso environment.  We no longer have corner convenience stores engaging in “light wars” – thinking that with brighter light comes more business.  In 2005 we were able to show City Council that this ordinance would not only provide our residents with a healthier, safer, calmer city but would also be economically beneficial to the city.  In 2005, the savings the city would realize in the course of one year was estimated at $2M.

Immediately after the ordinance was passed,  businesses both large and small invested time and money to come into compliance with this ordinance.  The entire landscape of the city has changed with the reduction of light pollution emitted from poorly planned fixtures crowding our sky with distracting and unnecessary light.  Prior to the passage of our Dark Sky Ordinance, a representative from McDonald Observatory in Ft. Davis remarked that the only thing they could see between there and the west coast was the light pollution from El Paso.  This is not true today.   The idea of “Dark Sky” is widespread throughout the world.  Visit online the International Dark Sky Association at    When El Paso City Council passed this ordinance we received national recognition for our determination to join other cities with this progressive legislation.  Looking out over El Paso you can easily see the difference, and you can also see with clarity which lights have not as yet conformed.

When digital billboards first appeared in our city residents city-wide banded together against this illegal act.  By requesting a seemingly innocent “electrical permit” from the city, the billboard company was able to squeeze around the code and convert already existing billboards to digital.  The ensuing fight between the residents and the company was agonizing, and the citizens lost the battle despite the fact that the company’s actions violated city ordinances.  No matter how dedicated citizens’ groups are, it’s difficult to successfully compete against a huge company that has so many more resources at its disposal.   Nevertheless, we did make some progress.  In 2009 our City Council voted for an ordinance that would prohibit the construction of new billboards, as over 1,500 cities in the US have done.  Unfortunately, three days later our mayor vetoed the vote.  

Again, this is not unique to El Paso.  Billboard companies have followed the same pattern throughout the country, and in fact, throughout the world.  "Billboard control improves community character and quality of life -- both of which directly impact local economies. In fact, despite billboard industry claims to the contrary, communities and states that enact tough billboard controls enjoy strong economic growth."

And here we are today, one month from the Dark Sky total compliance deadline of May 7, 2015, and our primary billboard company is requesting City Council to allow upward directed sign lighting. Compliance with the ordinance would mean that billboard lights would be affixed to the top of the billboard and shine down, not to the bottom and shine up towards the sky.

Instead of complying with the ordinance, as they promised to in 2009 when they were requesting more billboards, our primary billboard company is asking permission to change the bulbs on existing upward directed billboards to LED, rather than directing them downward and/or shielding them as is required by the 2005 ordinance.  LED lights produce the same amount of light pollution as the existing lighting, are less expensive to operate, and will save the company a great deal of money over a period of time. 

There is no legitimate reason why this or any other company should receive an exemption from the ordinance.  I’d like you to carefully consider the damage our community would suffer if this exemption is granted.  These lights would not only increase the night sky pollution we have almost succeeded in obliterating,  but such an exemption would also send the message to our community that if a company has enough power it can manipulate our City Council into voting against the will of the people who elected them. 

Clear Channel had 10 years to bring its billboards into compliance.  By allowing “upward directed sign lighting” you will completely defeat the purpose and intent of the Dark Sky ordinance.

In light of the information above, and the clear wishes of the residents of El Paso, I ask that you deny all requests for exemptions from our current Outdoor Lighting Ordinance.

Submitted by Marci Turner, Upper Mesa Hills Neighborhood Association

Friday, April 10, 2015

The Friday Videos: Megadroughts Projected for American West and "Cool Water"

Today is a double feature. First a video by NASA about megadroughts. And the second - a Hank Williams song sung by Marty Robbins.

All the talk now about droughts and water scarcity and fracking and ground water, etc. reminds me of this old song:

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Knapp Land for Sale?

Flooding in "Sierra del Puente" arroyo in 2013. Photo by Richard Allen
Almost immediately after last week's Open Space Advisory Board Meeting, Sierra del Puente land owner, Dan Knapp indicated to me and two other people that he would be interested in selling the mountainside land. He also has told me that he has in all 600 acres on the east side of the mountain that he would be happy to sell to the city. That land includes acreage above (to the west of) Stoney Hill Drive as well as a smaller portion on the east side of Scenic Drive.

People packed the last OSAB meeting. They were there either to speak about the Sierra del Puente development or the issue of a collection station next to Keystone Heritage Park. Both topics took up nearly two hours of time. Both groups were passionate about preservation: the preservation of mountainside and arroyos instead of the Sierra del Puente development and the preservation of the land south of Keystone Heritage Park. OSAB passed a motion to preserve the land next to Keystone and asked staff to find an alternate site for the station to recommend to City Council. OSAB could not take action on Sierra del Puente but plans to discuss the item in Executive Session at the next meeting.

The fervor to preserve the mountainside was revealed in an ABC/7 news report by Darren Hunt.

A little background on the Sierra del Puente property from mountain historian, John Nuñez:

"This all started in the early 1980s with a proposed development for a tennis club and then the Rotary Club was going to build a clubhouse somewhere near the mouth of Hondo Canyon. The late 90s came around and that is when the big scar across the foothills was carved in for the supposed extension of Hondo Pass Rd/Edgar Park down to Hercules. Over the last 35 years, pieces of that mountain have been carved out in the name of development when in fact much of the material hauled out was used for fill dirt for the overpasses on highway construction (Patriot Freeway/ Loop 375). Then a little shimmer of light was announced in the mid 2000s that Representative's Suzie Byrd and, at the time, Joe Moody were working with Knapp to purchase the property and then have it transferred to the state park system. Then that plan [never came to fruition.]"

Several options for purchasing the land are being considered. However, the process can be long and drawn out. The fact that so many are interested in the preservation of the mountains (including Knapp) should give all of us hope.

Monday, April 6, 2015

The Monday Links: Water, Fracking, Big Ag, Big Oil and Better Ways

Link to A 2,500 Square-Mile Methane Plume Is Silently Hovering over Western US below
[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.]

Water issues (always at the top of the list):

The Water of the West (Use this tool to see just how bad our water situation is by tracking reservoir levels in the west.)

Water shortages are coming. It's time for us to act.

In Dry California, Thirsty Oil and Big-Ag Industries Exempt from Water Regulations

Transition - Water to Fracking:



Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Fighting Against Animal Cruelty

[Neighbor, Rita Brown, asked me to publish this. Although the beheadings occured some time ago, animal cruelty should always be a concern for all of us. Rita gives us valuable advice.]

The cat beheadings in Manhattan Heights created unease within the community. Many pet owners feared for the safety of their pets, worried they might be targeted. The person behind the attacks has still not been caught, and the community must remain vigilant.  Brutal  animal abusers rarely stop on their own, and normally have deep psychological issues. These can range from a child abuse victim causing an animal pain to make sense of the cruelty enacted on them, to a person predisposed to violence, who gets enjoyment out of torturing animals.  Only by reporting animal abuse can we save the animal and people trapped in a terrible situation. 

According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), animal cruelty falls into two categories: negligent cruelty and intentional cruelty. Negligent cruelty occurs when pet owners unintentionally cause harm, such as: 

Underfeeding:  Pet owners do not provide adequate food and water.

Poor Housing: Pet owners may not have adequate shelter for their pets during extreme weather, believing their fur is enough to keep them warm.

Confinement: Keeping dogs in crates or tied out for long periods of time causes emotional distress to them. Owners might be unaware that dogs are not meant to be tied up all day.

Fortunately, education on proper pet care usually rectifies this. The Humane Society and other welfare groups focus on teaching pet owners how to properly care for their animals before resorting to seizing pets.  

Intentional cruelty, on the other hand, is when a person maliciously harms an animal. This includes beatings, mutilations, dog fighting, and torture. Violence against animals manifests for several reasons:

Domestic Violence: Batterers often torture family pets to manipulate and control their victims. 

Child Abuse Victims: Children who are abused at home often express and make sense of the cruelty they suffer by mimicking the abuse onto the pets. Others kill their pets to spare them the violence at home.

Behavioral and Psychotic Disturbances: People who have violent disturbances in thinking, lack empathy or impulse control. These individuals torture animals out of boredom to feel a rush. Studies show many eventually graduate to human targets. 

Reporting abuse to the humane society and police helps pull both animals and people out of dangerous situations. With juvenile offenders, psychological help is mandated to teach them how to control their impulses, and manage any mental issues they may have. Adult offenders face felony charges.

When reporting animal cruelty, the Humane Society of El Paso states reports should be as detailed as possible. The more  information that is provided, the better the case is against the abuser. It is important to include the date, time, and place when reporting. If possible, taking pictures or video also provides invaluable evidence. 

For acts of extreme cruelty, immediately call 911. If you suspect abuse, please call the following numbers to report:

El Paso Animal Services: 915 - 842 - 1000
El Paso Police Department: 915 - 832 - 4400
El Paso County Sheriff’s Office (outside of El Paso city): 915 - 546 - 2280
Las Cruces Animal Control: 575 - 528 - 4100 or 575- 526 - 0795

After reporting, keep all documents for your records. Call again after reporting to ensure the authorities have followed through with the report. 

Educating others on the importance of fighting against cruelty, and reporting abuse when witnessed are two important ways to fight abuse. Calling to report can save an animal’s life, as well as the people also trapped in a desperate situation.