Friday, July 31, 2015

Save Our Sierras

[A new group has formed: Save Our Sierras. It consists of neighbors below the proposed Sierra del Puente and Stoney Hills developments. Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition is sending out a call to action in their newest e-letter. Below is a list of actions and how you can help.]

Development Next to Mountainside Neighborhood

Are you ready for a swath of new houses between your home and our Franklin Mountains?  The heirs to Dick Knapp are working on development plans for the hundreds of acres they own between McKelligon Canyon and Hondo Pass.  You may have seen bulldozers and graders “improving” roads so that surveyors will have access.  Land owners are carefully abiding by all regulations and are within their rights.

However, development of our pristine mountain sides is NOT inevitable.  Creation of our Franklin Mountains State Park (FMSP) in 1979 and preservation of Kern View Estates II in April of this year demonstrate that citizen action can result in critical land conservation.

To protect our mountains, all neighbors must organize and take action to inform City officials of their desire that the land at the eastern edge of the Franklin Mountains State Park remain in its natural state. 

Please attend the next Open Space Advisory Board meeting and bring your friends and neighbors.  Anyone can speak during “Call to the Public.”  The agenda should include items related to this development.

Wednesday, August 5th, 2015, 3:00 P.M.
City 3 Building, 801 Texas Avenue
Basement, Thorman Conference Room

Other options to TAKE ACTION:

1.      Join the Mountainside Neighborhood Association.
2.      Join the Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition at
3.      Stay informed with blogs such as
4.      Attend meetings such as City Council and Open Space Advisory Board.
5.      Make your voice heard!

YOU can help save our sierras!

To sign the petition and for more information contact judy Ackerman,, 915-755-7371.

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Thursday, July 30, 2015

Holy Hot Concrete! Shade Trees Really Do Make a Difference

Our Texas Urban Forester, Oscar Mestas, just forwarded an email from San Antonio Master Naturalist, Lissa Martinez. She measured the heat of concrete underneath some live oaks and concrete exposed all day to the hot sun. Here are the pics:

"At 3 pm, I returned home and parked the car in the expansive shade of the live oaks.  Shade is also provided by the neighbors’ live oak tree."

"Driveway temp - 93°

"Exposed driveway surface in the sun, where no car has been parking since about 0845.  Driveway temp 144°"

"Holy hot concrete!  Demonstrating clearly why trees matter to all of us in this climate."

And that's just San Antonio. Try El Paso.

Go to Click on Tree Selection. In the box select Tree Shade Type. In the box after "Tree Shade Type", select Shade. When is the best time to plant a tree after late fall or early spring? NOW. 

"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." Go HERE to become a Los Tree Amigo and help West Texas Urban Forestry expand our community shade trees.

Please support elpasonaturally©. Go HERE to donate and help turn El Paso "green".

Hire Local!

Two factors led to the demise of El Paso's downtown. First, urban flight to the suburbs spurred on principally by the advent of the Interstate. Sprawl continues today and massive road projects only encourage it. The next reason why El Paso's downtown is now dominated by vacant, unmaintained buildings was the flight of wealth from local banks and investors to out of town megabanks. Thus, to rebuild El Paso, to increase the "common" wealth, local businesses should be favored by the City, especially local businesses who bank locally.

Noting what happens with financial drain, please read David Karlsruher's blog post today: City of El Paso cuts out local contractors again. David didn't just hit a homerun, he hit it out of the park. I just heard the loud bang of a baseball hitting the top of El Paso's downtown library.

Why should hiring locally and banking locally be important to environmentalists? With more money staying in town, there is more money for creating or buying areas with recreational opportunities, health benefits and sheer beauty: open spaces in other words. And open space benefits entire ecosystems and wildlife. 

If you are green, then every word of what Karlsruher wrote should make sense.

Please support elpasonaturally©. Go HERE to donate and help turn El Paso "green".

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Torchlight Energy Resources Isn't Going Away

USGS map shows Monday's quake centered 40 miles north of Oklahoma City. Click image to enlarge.

Two pieces of bad news for environmentalists on the fracking front just a few miles from the El Paso County line: Torchlight Officials “Elated” By Test Well Results – Company Seeks Partner to Develop “Major New Oil Field”. That's the headline and story from the Hudspeth County Herald less than two weeks ago. Now this from a stock risk assessment news site: Torchlight Energy - A NewCo Turnaround Story That's Been Derisked

In short: Torchlight has solved its financial problems and they have struck paydirt at their first test well just over the hill from Hueco Tanks. That's the first test well. They anticipate 2,499 more to go and they are seeking help from bigger frackers.

Keep this information in mind as you read about Monday's 4.0+ earthquakes in Oklahoma.

Please support elpasonaturally©. Go HERE to donate and help turn El Paso "green".

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Invest in FMSP and Animal Hiking Corridor OR the Trolley Folly?

Racetrack Drive to Spur 1966
Neighborhood Development Services sent out a pdf of a recent issue of the Border West Expressway newsletter showing how 1-10 and Spur 1966 will look once the job is completed. You can read that letter and see the pictures HERE. A prominent El Paso environmentalist commented: "Cement everywhere! How about some animal/hike/bike crossings?" She was referring to the long anticipated project at the Tom Mays Unit of the Franklin Mountain State Park - one that will benefit the park and spark ecotourism dollars for the city.

But the "cement" and the I-10/Spur 1966 projects are just really a part of the story. 

One wonders how much TxDOT Regional Engineer Bob Bielek's hands are tied when it comes to funding. We can interpret his delayed promises as deceit or we can interpret them as agony. Let's get to what is truly agonizing.

The mega projects such as I-10, the Spur, 375, 601, yada, yada, yada (not to mention the much less expensive animal corridor with a hike and bike trail that will connect the north and south parts of the FMSP at Transmountain) are not the first priority of the backroom movers and shakers of El Paso. What is? The trolley folly. Bielek has pointed out that El Paso may have the worst highways in the state. Yet, the priority is the $97 Million unnecessary trolley folly that will enrich a few, cost a bundle and will probably fail in a few years. (Or maybe it won't fail because "enlightened" city leaders like Niland, Romero and Noe will just vote to borrow more money and raise our property taxes more. We will subsidize the fat cats and a trolley system to nowhere.)

A trolley system (even with the expense of refurbishing our old Presidents’ Conference Committee (PCC) streetcars) might have had tourist attraction if built from the downtown historic district to the Magoffin House. However, you can forget that because there won't be a downtown historic district, there will be an arena taking over 12 blocks and paying lots of money to building owners who have never intended to renovate their buildings. That's my bet.

A trolley system at the airport could have been a tourist attraction or one through Segundo Barrio or one to the zoo. But no.

More people are leaving El Paso than other major cities in the nation. Passenger traffic at our airport is down 20%. And, according to Scientific American, our toxic air is harming our school children's progress. Yet, what's our priority? The trolley folly. It is this "priority" of our city policy makers that complicates funds for an animal corridor at Tom Mays.

So, my green friends, we can all blame Bob Bielek for the delay with the animal corridor, or we can blame the colonialism of our backroom wheelers and dealers who wield the power and bank the bucks in El Paso. As a linguist friend told me: "It isn't vox populi, it's hoax populi."

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Monday, July 27, 2015

San Elizario and Clint Citizens Rightfully Concerned about Gas Pipeline

San Bruno, CA: "A massive natural gas explosion on Sept. 9, 2010, killed eight people, injured more than 50 others and destroyed or damaged more than 100 homes." From Naturalgaswatch.

San Elizario meeting video: Lower Valley residents concerned over proposed pipeline

Also read the El Paso Times story:

Check out

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Living Green in the Southwest: Ceiling Fans

"Good Lord, don't they have a ceiling fan?"
Mary Cassatt, Lady with a Fan
Or any old fan . . . but ceiling fans circulate the air through your home better. (I do have a tower fan that stays on while I work at my desk.) Here's what I've found out:

Because ceiling fans circulate the air in your home, you don't have to set the thermostat so low for your air conditioner or run the central cooling or evaporative cooler for so long during the day. And, at night, you can shut the cooler off and let the fans keep the home cool. It works. You don't have to have ceiling fans roaring at the highest speed - slow is fine for circulation, a bit higher for comfort when you are in a room.

All of this costs about two dimes per day per fan and you save big time on air conditioning costs. 

Dress cool. Drink more water and aqua frescas. Graze and eat light. Dress cooler. (Men tell your boss that the doberman trashed your suits and ties and you only have guayaberas and linen pants left.) Hang your clothes to dry if you can. Dryers produce lots of heat. If you have to use one, do it late at night or early in the morning. Keep the curtains and shutters closed.

And use those ceiling fans. Save energy. Stay cool.

Question for architects: Why don't more buildings have ceiling fans?

Please support elpasonaturally©. Go HERE to donate and help turn El Paso "green".

Friday, July 24, 2015

The Friday Video: What Is Wrong with Our Culture

[Alan Watts was an Episcopal priest, a philosopher and a populariser of eastern philosophy. He died in 1973. This fact makes this video all the more powerful. He did not know about smart phones, streaming, desktop and laptop personal computers nor did he know texting, apps, electronic games, tweeting and Facebook. Though true in his time, his words have become prophetic. The video was produced in 2013 using words from his speech, "What Is Wrong with Our Culture". Food for thought.]

Please support elpasonaturally©. Go HERE to donate and help turn El Paso "green".

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Knapps or the City?

I have an apology to make to Dan Knapp and his family. I was pretty critical of them in my recent post about their bulldozing above Stoney Hill. I stated that they were "tearing up the ecosystem". The facts are now plain: they were not plowing any new roads but old pre-existing roads. They also did not wander over into State Park boundaries. My understanding is that they want their surveyors to be able to access the area.

I suspect that most El Pasoans do not want to see more development on the mountainsides. I know that Dan has agonized about this. I also know that he and his family have tried to work something out with the City for six years or more now. There comes a point where you have to do something and you have no choice. The land has value and it is taxed. 

For some time now Charlie Wakeem, the former chair and long-term member of the Open Space Advisory Board, has asked that this land be looked at. For whatever reasons, it just never seemed to be given consideration. With the recent concerns voiced by many neighbors about the planned Sierra del Puente development, the matter of some Knapp land in the northeast has been in front of OSAB. A large crowd even gathered for one meeting. I had asked that the item about the Knapp land be placed on our June agenda for discussion. It was removed from that month's agenda. 

Many City Council members lust for park ponds to be paid for out of OSAB funds thus removing the ability to buy more open space with storm water function on our mountainsides. Park ponds may be political pork for a representative of a particular district, but they are worthless when it comes to preventing destruction by storm water running down our arroyos and they are certainly not preserving our mountainsides.

Our City government is perpetually in the hands of the monied interests - particularly those developers who promote sprawl. Little attention is given to landowners who would like to work with the City to preserve their land and this in spite of the fact that El Paso has a great land conservation organization, the Frontera Land Alliance.

Thus, people such as Dan and his family, are left with little choice. 

It's the same old, tiring problem: the people in power just don't value conservation and the environment. They don't get it and their bought and paid for representatives don't (and won't) get it either.

Leadership for real change must begin with We the People. We cannot afford to be complacent and disorganized any longer.

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Roadrunner Natural Gas Pipeline Meeting

A message from San Elizario Mayor Maya Sanchez:

Saturday, July 25 at 1pm at the Clint Community Center located at 200 North San Elizario Rd - Clint, Texas 79836. MAP

Your participation is HIGHLY encouraged to attend a public meeting, hosted by ONEOK Partners to present their plans for the Roadrunner Pipeline.

As a reminder, this is one of two natural gas pipelines headed our way. It is a 30-inch steel pipeline from Cayanosa, Texas, that will connect to the Tarahumara gas pipeline in Chihuahua.

If people do not show up, we'll send a message that this issue is not very important to our community. In reality, this affects more than just the landowners whose land may be directly affected. These lines will be mighty close to both Clint and San Elizario high schools and densely populated neighborhoods.

Please make plans to attend and bring your neighbors and family--and please share!

Previous posts:

Time running out to comment on San Eli pipeline
A gas pipeline under the Rio Grande? Watch out San Eli

El Paso Times story:

Proposed construction of gas pipelines concerns San Elizario residents

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Wednesday, July 22, 2015

"Storm water, Arroyos, and Slope Stabilization Recommendations for Arid Lands"

Arroyo 41A Pre-Development
Our friend, Lois Balin, our Urban Wildlife Specialist, just shared with us a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department recently released paper on arroyos: "Storm water, Arroyos, and Slope Stabilization Recommendations for Arid Lands". It's short and easy to read and should be read by engineers, developers, builders, city planners, parks and rec people - and people such as yourself who care about our mountains and neighborhoods. Especially now that we are in the midst of our monsoon season and have already experienced flooding due to poorly planned and managed sprawl, it would be wise to think about how we treat our arroyos in the future. City Council reps lust for park ponds. But park ponds don't do what arroyos can do if treated correctly. In upcoming posts, I'm going to be saying more about the flooding on the north-side of the Archaeology Museum/"Wilderness Park" grounds. This paper will give you some background as well as background any time arroyos and development are discussed. For now, some takeaway quotes (but please read the paper HERE):

"Traditional arroyo management using concrete walls, channels, and culverts, and building on floodplains creates unhealthy stream systems. Traditional methods are expensive to build and maintain and mostly lead to more problems while removing vegetation and wildlife."

"A holistic approach to channel systems must consider the vegetation as a key component. A 200’ buffer zone along arroyos would provide stability of the lands.  Vegetation has a huge influence on runoff, erosion, and sediment transport in arroyos.  Growth of vegetation protects the soil surface from erosion and crust formation, improves soil structure and macro-porosity by enhancing infiltration rates, and provides wildlife habitat."  

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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

No Sex, But Lies and a Videotape

[What follows are some of Max Grossman's comments about yesterday's City Council farce. He posted these on Facebook. Max is the Co-Chair of the El Paso County Historical Commission and the leader of the local Trost Society. The comments are lengthy but well worth reading.]


Oh Rep. Niland, how do we even begin? To say that you have betrayed the cause of historic preservation would not be properly descriptive of the immense damage you have wreaked upon our city, its economy, and its reputation throughout our region as a result of your action. If we are now the laughing stock of the preservationist community in Texas, much of the credit belongs to you and you alone.

Given your recent votes to demolish two Trost buildings, which were replaced by absolutely nothing, we were seething with anger and mistrusted you to the core. Nevertheless, we reached out to you nearly a year ago and met with you on three separate occasions in order to begin a dialog that would hopefully lead to positive reforms in downtown El Paso. You shook our hands firmly and insisted that you were on our side and that you supported our basic aim: to find a way to protect our architectural assets in a manner that would be acceptable to property owners and El Pasoans at large. We decided to adopt the basic approach that has been so incredibly successful in other Texas cities: conduct an architectural survey so that we can identify and catalog our buildings and then proceed with a national registry nomination for downtown. The new historic district would free up federal and state tax credits that would pay for up to 45% of the cost of renovating historic properties without otherwise imposing a regulatory burden. Who could possibly object? Property owners in other Texas cities have been profiting nicely as a result of their downtown national historic districts to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars already!

We met with every leader in our government and all the key staff, contributing hundreds of unpaid hours to our plan. We reached out to every stakeholder we possibly could, including all the major property owners downtown. We received strong letters of support from Austin, Dallas, Galveston and San Antonio, as well as from the executive directors of both the Texas Historical Commission and Preservation Texas. We won two of the state's most prestigious grants to pay for most of the survey. We had the unanimous support of our 22-member Commission and the 8-member Historic Landmark Commission, and overwhelming support from more than 90% of the El Pasoans we engaged--not to mention from organizations such as the Texas Trost Society, the El Paso County Historical Society, and countless other groups.

So what happened?

Just as our plan was to come to City Council for consideration, after years of careful planning and preparation, the City Manager yanked our item from the Council agenda at the behest of the Downtown Management District (DMD). Could you possibly have had anything to do with that, Rep. Niland? We have been unable to reach you for a long time, and you have avoided all media comment on the controversy. After yanking our plan from the agenda a second time, the media outcry was such that the City Manager put the item back on the agenda for yesterday's special session, which lasted nearly four hours.

Finally you showed us your cards! There you were, misrepresenting the facts to your colleagues, the press, and your fellow citizens. Among your claims were:

1. Our plan would have led to increased regulations for property owners. This is absolutely false and not worthy of further comment.

2. You claimed that the stakeholders had not been properly involved in the process. You yourself are well aware of our intense effort to meet with all the major investors. We met with a good many of them, but certain among them (especially in the DMD and CBA) simply refused to meet with us, and you did not lift a finger to help us in this regard. The fact is that there is no major property owner who was denied the opportunity to meet with us; and once Jessica Herrera in the Economic Development office finally began to take an active role in outreach, the CBA, DMD and everyone else had weeks to consult with her directly. Is our plan so complex that so much time is necessary to consider it? Why are we the only city in Texas that has to struggle to offer our investors no-strings-attached tax incentives?

3. You made the claim that Segundo Barrio, the largest and most significant area of downtown without any historic overlay, does not wish to be included in a national historic district. To that effect you brought in Pablo Lopez of the South Side Neighborhood Association, who announced that he is "not for it." Do you really expect El Pasoans to believe that this organization is the sole legitimate representative of a neighborhood as rich and complex as Segundo Barrio? We have met with Father Ron Gonzales of Sacred Heart Church and several other residents and leaders in Segundo Barrio and, quite frankly, we have received only enthusiastic support from everyone we talked to. Mr. Lopez obviously cares about his community and we are confident that if we were permitted to meet with him he would support our plan as well, as most other people have.

4. With your insistence that all the speakers from the general public yesterday announce whether or not they are property owners, you seem to imply that land ownership is a prerequisite for having a say in our downtown plan. We have news for you. Downtown belongs to every El Pasoan, including those who reside outside District 8, and yes, including those who do not possess property. Even those who cannot afford to pay taxes (and there are many in El Paso) have a stake in the future of downtown. We apparently differ on our definition of "stakeholder".

In short, you obviously intended to sabotage this plan from the very beginning, long before your re-election. You bloviated at length in your signature manner and treated your opponents with arrogance.

As for us, we are now asking ourselves some very pressing questions: If we are unable to get our City to conduct a simple architectural survey (mostly paid for by outside sources!), why even try to save any of our buildings at all? Indeed, why does El Paso have a Historic Preservation Officer and a Historic Landmark Commission if they are so routinely ignored? Most importantly, if you are so against our plan, then what is your motive? What is your true agenda? We expect that we will all find out soon enough.


Mr. Berg passionately argued against proceeding with a survey of downtown El Paso on several grounds. We at the El Paso County Historical Commission feel compelled to respond to his points one at a time in order to set the record straight and refute his false allegations:

Mr. Berg claimed that he had not been informed about our plan for a survey or national registry nomination when in fact we contacted him nearly six months ago in order to meet with him. Hence our email of January 27:

"Dear Mr. Salom, Mr. Hernadez and Mr. Berg, We at the County Historical Commission have been working on an ambitious plan for downtown El Paso that we feel will benefit both property owners and preservationists. Our proposal calls for transforming all of downtown, including Segundo Barrio and Chihuahuita, into a national historic district. The edifices within the new district would then be eligible for state and federal tax credits towards their renovation and maintenance, amounting to 45% of the cost of materials and labor. This tax credit is unprecedented and truly historic. The beauty for property owners is that the new historic overlay would come with no regulatory burden (unlike local historic districts). Other Texas cities have recently created such districts in their downtowns and are already seeing very encouraging economic results. We also have a plan for property tax relief that we are sure you will also appreciate. Bernie Sargent and I have already with each member of City Council, the mayor, the city manager, and various development and community groups, and so far our CHC plan has been very well received. We would like the opportunity to meet with you as well, in order to receive your feedback, answer your questions, and hopefully win your approval. Please let me know if you are willing to meet with us (next week?), and then we can schedule a time that is convenient for you." 
George Salom contacted us, stating that he would arrange the meeting, but Mr. Berg then declined to meet with us at all. The fact is we have reached out to most of the major property owners, and while some have met with us, many of them declined to even respond to our solicitations. Cortney Niland declined to arrange meetings between us and certain key property owners or to put us in touch with them directly, in spite of our three meetings with her at City Hall. Several months ago also met with Joe Gudenrath, Executive Director of the Downtown Management District, and he felt that it would be unproductive for us to meet with the DMD directly. Now we hear that there has been a lack of outreach. in any case, our plan is quite simple to comprehend and should not require weeks or months to consider.

Mr. Berg stated that the 1992 architectural survey is complete enough and we do not need another one. In fact, that survey was conducted over a very small area of downtown and completely excluded Segundo Barrio and other critical areas. Moreover, it was conducted poorly and not according to objective criteria. The City does not even know who was in charge of that survey. Cities in Texas are supposed to update their surveys regularly in order to be eligible for certain grants and to provide updated information to the public for a variety of important reasons. We are the only major city in Texas without a proper architectural survey and it is embarrassing.

Mr. Berg claimed that "16 buildings", mostly by Trost & Trost, are already protected and therefore the status quo is acceptable. He is dead wrong, as any El Pasoan with common sense understands. There are, in fact, hundreds of buildings in our downtown that are worthy of a historic overlay, and there are entire regions of our historic core (e.g. Segundo Barrio) that are still unrecognized in spite of their great historical significance.

Mr. Berg along with Rep. Niland, Rep. Acosta, and others among our city leaders kept insisting that our plan would somehow lead to new regulations. What part of "THERE ARE NO REGULATORY OBLIGATIONS IN OUR PLAN" do these people not understand? They completely ignore this basic fact as well as the huge success of the tax credits in other Texas cities, where private developers are enjoying substantial profits as a result. We met with every single council representative at least once and made certain that they understood this point. I am certain that Cortney Niland and Emma Acosta understand the basic difference between a national overlay (no regulatory imposition) and a local overlay (which comes with regulations and was not even on the table). Stefanie Block of the Sunset Heights Neighborhood Association was there to clarify that point, but apparently certain city representatives either failed to understand or, in the case of Niland, deliberately misrepresented the truth.

Now El Paso will fall economically behind other Texas cities even further. El Pasoans deserve better from their government. Thank you, Mr. Berg, from all of us at the El Paso County Historical Commission. Your special contribution to our community yesterday will be long remembered.

SEE VIDEO OF COUNCIL MEETING ONLINE AT: Go to "Special meetings" and click 7/20/15.

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Impressions of a Farce: City Council Rejects Historical Survey

As did many others, I sat for nearly 4 hours yesterday at the special City Council meeting regarding accepting grant money to conduct a survey that could have led to El Paso's downtown being declared a National Historic District. Council rejected the survey which is what they could have done in 5 minutes instead of four hours. (The extra hours did give Romero time to text and Robinson to sleep.) All the rest was a smoke screen and a forum for Cortney Niland's loud tirades. (CN gets the Ethel Merman Award for Ranting.)

In a post after this one I will publish some of Max Grossman's comments from Facebook. For this post, here are some of my impressions:

First, City Council reps are smart people (well - most of them). They know full well that an historical survey comes with no strings attached. They know full well that El Paso's downtown becoming a National Historic District would not place any restrictions on what a property owner could do with his/her building. They know that a Local Historic District does come with some restrictions - but that wasn't the subject. They also know that having a National Historic District means that a building owner can receive 45% of project costs from state and federal sources for restoring a building. They know this. Cortney kept using the carrot and the stick analogy saying that she wants incentives not mandates when that 45% would have been a really great incentive. So why was there a chorus of fear? The survey will lead to restrictions! It will be a mandate and not an incentive! Building owners don't understand! (They do. Their bright people too.) Why? Because there is another agenda. More on that in a moment.

Next there was also the fear-mongering about the trolley. Oh my gosh, we have this big, expensive trolley project about to start and we don't want to stress out downtown property owners any more than we have already. Give me a break. The trolley was a red herring. Why? Because there is another agenda. More on that in a moment. 

Third, Redevelopment Director, Jessica Hererra, took the fall I'm sure at the direction of T-Rex (Tommy Gonzalez). Over and over she restated that the survey came with no restrictions but over and over she restated that the City had not gotten buy in from property owners - that they had not been nor had Council been adequately informed and it was her department's fault and now we had to go about it differently. (She knows that yesterday's vote kills the survey and the Historic District no matter how much pretended communication there is now.) I'll let my next post of Grossman's comments elaborate further. Again, the aim was not to give time to better inform others and then come back and maybe do a survey later. The aim was to shoot down the survey altogether. Again, why? Because there is another agenda. More on that in a moment.

From the very beginning, Niland insisted that the Mayor ask each speaker from the public to identify whether he or she was a "stakeholder" - i.e., a property owner downtown. This was demagoguery. Fortunately, most speakers identified themselves as stakeholders by virtue of being taxpayers and sharing a common heritage with all El Pasoans which includes downtown. Certainly property owners have rights. They also, as do all of us, have a duty to the community as members of that community. As a traditional conservative I hold these values dear. Niland's Ayn Randish definition was intended to further the aim of her stakeholders (i.e., Mayoral voters in 2017): the ones who have another agenda. More on that in a moment.

Finally, although some in the preservation community won't, I will cut Peter Svarzbein some slack. He voted with the majority to reject the grant. But that wasn't all of the motion. The motion also called for having staff work with Niland's "stakeholders" and preservation advocates and come back with a recommendation. I want to believe - I do believe - that Svarzbein believed that a survey is still a possibility as well as having a National Historic District. I watched him agonize. I admired what I saw was someone trying to weigh all sides. I especially saw someone with a heart who seeks collaboration and communication. What he failed to recognize is that the point of yesterday's farce by Niland, the Downtown Management people, Tanny Berg, Joe Gudenrath, T-Rex and his staff was to shut down the survey and an Historic District altogether. Why? Well here's my speculation:

What's the hidden agenda? My speculation may be wrong. However, there is a hidden agenda. Remember that new arena? It must be only so far from the civic center. That doesn't give too much latitude and it points to downtown. I understand that the arena's footprint is around 12 blocks. This means that there is a mega-million dollar deal that will benefit a number of downtown building owners. A National Historic District would, in their minds, threaten that. Our Ethel Merman recipient and her cohorts wanted one thing: kill even the possibility of an Historic District. They succeeded.

P.S. Thank you Claudia Ordaz and Lily Limon for your "no" votes. You wouldn't vote for a motion that killed the survey. You got the farce.

P.P.S. I owe Larry Romero an apology. As I was walking up the stairs to the Council meeting yesterday, Romero was passing by above the steps. Out of civility and courtesy I said "hi". He shunned me. This is my City Council Representative!? So, Larry, I'm sorry. I forgot that not only are you a do-nothing dud whose only moment of near eloquence in a council meeting was your defense of pay day predators, you are also a detestable and despicable figure. I'm sorry for forgetting. I'll remember next time.

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Monday, July 20, 2015

Living Green in the Southwest: The Columban Fathers Teach Us a Thing or Two about Conserving Water

Father Bob Mosher empties dish water into a bucket stored under the sink.
Want to learn about conserving water? Listen to the Columban Fathers. 

The Missionary Society of St. Columban operates in countries around the world. They have done outreach along the U.S.-Mexico border since 1996. At that time, Father Bill Morton became interested in border issues during a visit to Brownsville and opened the new center on Magoffin in 2011 with the blessing of Bishop Ochoa. The Center is under the direction of Fr. Bob Mosher and does work in El Paso and Juarez.

The Society focuses on cross cultural issues, ecology, social justice, the dignity of women, immigration and "radical" options for the poor. The El Paso center hosts events and meetings with these concerns in mind. They conduct the Border Awareness Experience which reveals to student and parish groups of 24 or less what life along the border is all about especially regarding migrants and refugees. 

It is their work in ecology that drew my attention to how they walk their talk especially regarding water. The Missionary Society has a policy statement about water at their web site and it is worth reading. 

So here are some tips for living greener in the Southwest:

Father Mosher empties sink water onto some thirsty plants.
Father Mosher demonstrated for me what they do with their dish and rinse water. It goes in a bucket and the water is then used to water shrubs and trees. (I hear that Father Morton uses the old dish water to flush toilets as well.)

But it doesn't just stop there. There are signs posted in the kitchen and bathroom that teach water conservation to guests:

Kitchen sign. Click on image to enlarge.
Toothbrushing sign. Click on image to enlarge.

Shower sign. Click on image to enlarge.

Click on image to enlarge.
We all know that too much water goes down the drain as we await for the shower water to get warm. At the Columban Center, three gallon milk jugs with their tops cut off are used to collect water as it warms up. (You can also put a bucket under the diverter spigot if you have a combo bath tub and shower.)

So, want to conserve water? The Columban Fathers can tell you how to do it.

Oh - one last thing - want to learn about heating and cooling without heating and cooling? That's our next lesson from the Columban Fathers. Stay tuned.

Please support elpasonaturally©. Go HERE to donate and help turn El Paso "green".

Friday, July 17, 2015

The Friday Video: Good Morning from Franklin Mountains State Park

[Videos do not display when elpasonaturally© posts are emailed. To view, please go to The following video shows the beauty of the Franklin Mountains and states why sprawl should be contained on both sides of the mountain. You can still sign the petition to preserve our Franklin Mountains from Further Development.]

Please support elpasonaturally©. Go HERE to donate and help turn El Paso "green".

Documents Supporting Historic Survey Grant

This coming Monday, City Council will meet to discuss (and possibly take action) on accepting a grant to do an historic survey of downtown so that the El Paso downtown can be nominated for National Registry status and become a National Historic District. Becoming such does not obligate any owner to do anything. If an owner chooses to restore a building to its historic integrity, then she would have access to 45% of the project costs.

Please try to attend the meeting on June 20 at 9PM at City Hall. Please also consider contacting your city representative. A contact list is HERE.

Documents supporting seeking National Registry status can be found with links below. Peruse or read them thoroughly. You will easily see the advantage of having our downtown become a National Historic District.

The documents in the folder with link above are:

April 29, 2015 letter from Senator José Rodríguez to the Mayor and City Council supporting an historic preservation policy.

May 28, 2015 letter from Adair Margo supporting a National Historic District for downtown El Paso.

Letter from Steve Sandowsky, Historic Preservation Officer of Austin, TX supporting the survey.

Office of Economic Development, Dallas Texas report

Dallas Downtown Connection TIF District 2014 Annual Report

Letter from Eric Liefeld, President of the Mesilla Valley Preservation, Inc. urging Mayor and City Council and City Manager to value historical buildings in El Paso.

Letter to Max Grossman from Lloyd C. Engelbrecht, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, University of Cincinnati urging the historic survey.

Letter from Mark Wolfe, TX Historic Commission, pointing out the rich heritage El Paso has in its downtown historic buildings.

Letter from Catherine Gorman, Historic Preservation Officer for the City of Galveston touting their experience. [I've been there on a weeknight and the areas are crowded.]

Historic Preservation Essential to the Economy and Quality of Life in San Antonio, Feb. 18, 2015

Letter from David Bush, Deputy Directory of Preservation Houston giving financial benefits of having an Historic District.

Letter from Shanon Shea Miller, Historic Preservation Officer of San Antonio giving financial benefits of having an Historic District.

Letter from Leah Wood, President of Sunset Heights Neighborhood Improvement Association, urging El Paso to be pro-active and preserve history.

Letter from Geoffrey Wright, Wright and Dalbin Architects, Inc. of El Paso strongly supporting the creation of a national historic district in downtown El Paso.

Please support elpasonaturally©. Go HERE to donate and help turn El Paso "green".

What's Going on at the El Paso Museum of Archaeology?

Click on image to enlarge. The sign by which El Pasoans identified their Museum of Archaeology.

If you have never been to the El Paso Museum of Archaeology, make time to go. It "presents 14,000 years of prehistory in the El Paso area, the greater Southwest, and northern Mexico." The museum and the 17 acres on which it sits is dedicated to interpreting the ancient ancestors of 82% of El Paso's population - Mexican Americans, Mexicans and indigenous peoples in our region.

The carefully crafted landscaping around the museum is meant to display native flora as it blends into the Chihuahuan desert ecosystem surrounding it. What people learn inside is interpreted by the desert-scape that they experience outside and vice versa. The artifacts displayed inside came from the desert. Indeed, our identity as El Paso is more than just the magnificent Franklin Mountians - it is also the beautiful Chihuahuan Desert to which those mountains and ourselves belong. Our ancestors survived here and we can learn from them. That is why the museum and its grounds are so important and a key part of the education of all - adults as well as school children.

Yet, the City pays it sparse attention and has failed to act expeditiously to repair damage after recent floods. There seems to be little communication between the City and TxDOT or Ft. Bliss to resolve some of the flooding issues bedeviling the museum. 
Another ugly brown Parks and Rec sign is now displayed. Be sure to bring your binoculars so you can see it as you speed past the Musuem on Transmountain

Cosmetic changes are being made. There's a new sign (smaller and uglier than the previous sign that came to stand for the museum and grounds for so many El Pasoans for so long.) A fence has been removed although that fence diverted visitors away from the pristine desert floor to proper nature paths. Larry Nichols, the new head of Planning and Inspections, and Tracy Novak, the Director of Parks and Recreation, together have deemed the cherished gazebo as unsound. Of course, neither is a structural engineer and no inspection by an engineer is forthcoming.

There is a grounds crew that is untrained when it comes to caring for the native plants. General Services which once maintained park space no longer does so. GS was put under the direction of Ted Marcus of Transportation and you know where his focus is. By the way, Tommy Gonzalez's NOT Lean Six Sigma is based on eliminating staff and not making systems more efficient. Therefore, do not expect much attention to maintenance and do not expect a full-time head of the museum. 

I've just given you the tip of the iceberg. There is more to this story of neglect and mismanagement which will follow including the situation with Indian Springs Canyon.

For now, some good news. In spite of being the step-daughter of MCAD. the Museum of Archaeology offers some very fine programs supported by the El Paso Archaeological Society and others. Tomorrow's talk is especially noteworthy as it is being given by one of the heroes of the El Paso environmental/conservation movement, in fact it's Paul Revere: Mike Bilbo, who will speak about the life of soldiers in this region around 1858, was a key player in events that led to the creation of Franklin Mountains State Park, saving our mountains from commercial development. As a teenager, he and a friend were hiking in the Franklins looking for eagle's nests. They spotted a bulldozer going up to the top of North Mount Franklin and they quickly spread the word. It turned out that old man Knapp, the patriarch of the family now bulldozing more pristine mountain land, wanted to develop on top of the mountain. The rest is history and we have the Franklin Mountains State Park and the Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition the vanguard of protection for our mountains.

You can get more info about Mike's talk HERE.

Please support elpasonaturally©. Go HERE to donate and help turn the El Paso southwest "green".

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Questions Raised about Knapp Dozers

Area above Stoney Hill Drive
Alarms went off today including an investigation by the El Paso City Police. The Knapp family has taken up an old habit: bulldozing the mountain. The Save Our Sierra Group of local homeowners quickly spread the word that roads were being plowed.

There are some issues. Grading more than 20% of one's land may require a permit. Grading within the Mountain Development District does need a permit. Making sure that the dozing happens only on private land and not State land is imperative. 

I called Elizabeth Gibson in permits and asked her to check on permitting for the dozing. When she learns more, she will get back with me.

Also above Stoney Hill Drive
The bulldozer operators insisted that they were only plowing existing roads. Yet an eye-witness who hiked the area just two days ago says otherwise. 

A development plan for a portion of this area passed the CPC a few months ago. However, there is no final plan approved for building. Apparently in the meantime, the Knapps have no problem tearing up the ecosystem of the mountain area. 

If they had wanted to sell their land to the City, this isn't the way to go about it. To say the least, folks are up in arms.

Above Gunnison Drive

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Council to Discuss Historic Survey Grant

Street sign in the Congress Avenue Historic District in Austin, Texas
Should downtown El Paso become a National Historic District, here are the facts:

If you are a building owner of a building on the national registry and you want to tear it down, put up a parking lot or build something new, YOU CAN. It's your property.

If you are a building owner and want to update your property without preserving the historic character, YOU CAN. It's your property.

If you are a building owner and want to restore the building to its historic character (while updating the inside), YOU CAN. And you can get 45% of the project cost to do so!

It's all up to the property owner. Period. If indeed you want to preserve an historic building that you own and refurbish it to maintain the historic integrity, you will have to follow some rigorous requirements. But you get 45% of the project cost. That's up from just 20% available when the Mills Building was 

Not only does a National Registry National Historic District mean money in the pockets of building owners, it means money in the pockets of the city. According to Shannon Shea Miller, the Historic Preservation Officer of San Antonio:

"[o]ur historic downtown has contributte greatly to the heritage tourism industry that supports our local economy . . . The income generated by visitors has an overall economic impact of more than $12 billion and employment generated by the tourism industry tops 112,000 jobs. Most of these visitors are staying, eating and shopping Downtown."

So why did the executive director of the El Paso Downtown Development District Joe Gudenrath call City Manager Tommy Gonzalez and Gonzalez then order the return of grant money to do an historic survey that would have led to an Historic Register District, 45% of project money to willing owners and billions of dollars in heritage tourism for the city?

Not only does it not make sense BUT it doesn't make sense that the City Manager took it upon himself to return the money rather than letting City Council make that decision as Rep. Claudia Ordaz argues. (See Why didn’t City Council decide? Historic survey funds returned without rep vote in last weekend's El Paso Inc.)

According to an El Paso Times story "the Downtown Management District said it opposes the survey because 'the simple act of preserving historical buildings does not advance the DMD's goals of revitalizing Downtown El Paso and discourages other investment.'

What other investment? What's the hidden agenda?

Apparently there has been enough outcry to place the grant on next Monday's City Council agenda

elpasonaturally has much more to say about this particular item. For now, here is a message from Max Grossman, Vice-Chair, El Paso County Historical Commission:

We just learned that our plan to conduct an architectural survey of downtown El Paso and establish a national historic district there is not dead after all! On Monday, City Council, Mayor Leeser and City Manager Gonzalez will meet and decide once and for all whether to move forward with our plan or terminate it completely.

Please write to the them IMMEDIATELY and express your support:;;;;;;;;;

I just sent a letter on behalf of the El Paso County Historical Commission (below). Please make certain that your own letter is productive and positive. For background information, see the two recent front-page reports:

Feel free to share your letter with us as a Facebook message.

Many thanks,


Please support elpasonaturally©. Go HERE to donate and help turn El Paso "green".

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Mexican Wolves Need You! Rally Tomorrow in Las Cruces

Mexican Wolves Need You!

Come to a rally in Las Cruces tomorrow at noon

Congressman Steve Pearce (R-NM) has introduced a bill that would strip Mexican gray wolves of protection under the federal Endangered Species Act and turn management of wolves over to the states. This bill, disingenuously named the "Wolf Transparency and Accountability Act,” would essentially be a death sentence for wolves, since there are only about 109 left in the wild and the last time the states were in charge Mexican wolves went extinct in the U.S.

Please join us for a rally outside Rep. Pearce's office to show him that we love wolves and want them to roam the Southwest’s wildlands.

Where: U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce's office,  570 N. Telshor, Las Cruces, NM

When: 12-1 p.m., Wednesday, July 15

Bring: Your enthusiasm for Lobos, a sign (we will have some available), and if you wish an umbrella or hat for shade. Water will be provided.

Update: Parking around Pearce's office is extremely limited. Carpooling and drop offs are highly recommended. We will have a shuttle running from a parking lot about 1/3 mile away, at Spruce Avenue and Lewis Street, beginning at 11:45 am. Click here to see map.

Click her for more information. For questions or more details, contact Tricia at 575-522-5552 or

Please support elpasonaturally©. Go HERE to donate and help turn the El Paso southwest "green".