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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