Friday, April 29, 2016

The Friday Video: Climate Narrative: 3 Climate Message That Win

In case you didn't attend the lecture and didn't see the story earlier this week in the Times, HERE is the story again about the Udall lecture at UTEP on climate change and drought in the Southwest.  According to the Times, Udall "explained how climate change and future water scarcity in the West are inextricably linked."

Yet, there is still a large population of climate change deniers who influence policy and marketing decisions in the United States and around the world.

A strategy to persuade climate deniers is conversation. Check out Download their free guide. discusses climatenarrative's conversational approach in How to convince the climate slacker to get serious. and tells us everything they know about how to talk about climate change

So here's our Friday video, Climate Narrative: 3 Climate Messages That Win:

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Lights on Transmountain?

There has been some email chatter today about the possiblity that TxDOT is planning to "light up" Transmountain with a string of light poles. I'm not sure how this rumor got started, but here is the response from TxDOT's Regional Engineer, Bob Bielek:

"There is no lighting included as part of the current project and we currently have no plans to install lighting along TransMountain.  In the future, if there were a drastic increase in the number and severity of nighttime accidents along the roadway we might consider continuous lighting; however, given the lack of electric service and the cost of such an installation I expect we would look for other options first.  Let me be clear however, I don't expect there to be a sudden increase in accidents along TransMountain so any discussion of what might happen is just speculation."

Rest easy.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

A Modest Proposal

At this time I am very skeptical about utilities ever working with the rooftop solar industry. What the utilities want is an assurance that they will be the only game in town. If they own the solar panels, that's one thing. If you own the panels, that's another. Besides, the Koch Brothers and the petroleum industry do not want to lose control of their monopoly over energy. That is, of course, until peak oil has really peaked. By that time, the dinosaurian oil and gas industry will just about become extinct.

As Jim Schwarzbach posted yesterday on Citizens Against El Paso Electric's Attack on Solar, EPEC believes that it "has an inalienable right to any and all rate increases" and that they are "entitled to anything and everything they ask for."

By the way a prominent El Paso businessman who does business on both sides of the border told me yesterday that he pays more for electricity in El Paso than he does in Juarez. El Paso already has the highest rates in Texas.

So, here is my modest proposal. For every additional fee (or whatever EPEC calls it) that they tack on to the bill of rooftop solar owners, those owners get twice that amount by way of a reduction in or refund on their property taxes.

El Paso can go a step farther. They can reduce the cost of going solar by the same means—a property-tax reduction or refund.

Sooner or later, when there are so many mini-generating stations on homes and businesses, the City can tell EPEC that they are no longer needed … or even wanted for that matter.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Stop Mountain Development in Northeast El Paso

From our friends at Franklin Mountains Wilderness Society:

ATTEND City Council! 
An outpouring of attendance at City Council can spur their action.
!!  Attend  !!
What:  City Council Meeting, Call to the Public
Date:   Tuesday, 19 Apr 2016
Time:  8 am
Location:  City Hall, 300 N. Campbell. MAP
Sign up to speak during Call to the Public HERE.  
Sign up to speak on “Save Our Sierras” (SOS) even if you change your mind later.  That way your opinion counts.  

Why:  City Council must commit to, and initiate negotiations with willing land owners in order to preserve privately owned land around our mountains.  The owners of this land have stated their willingness to sell or trade.
Background:  Land owners plan to develop over 600 acres in Northeast El Paso between Hondo Pass and McKelligon Canyon, including the Sierra del Puerte development.

Recent Events:

On 5 Apr, SOS and Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition (FMWC) members asked City Council to stop the Sierra del Puerte development on our mountainside in Northeast El Paso.  City Council heard us.  Now we need to follow through.  Our message is simple: “Only City Council has the power to protect our mountains.” and “What has the City done on negotiating with the land owners?”   You can view the entire 5 Apr meeting HERE under City Council Meetings for that date.

On 9 Apr, the El Paso History Radio Show interviewed land owners Sherry Mowles and Dan Knapp about their plans for developing and the history of their land.  You can listen to the entire interview HERE.  

On 24 Mar City Planning Commission approved all exceptions to the Planned Mountain Development subdivision code that the developer requested.  The reason the developer needed exceptions was because of “severe topographical conditions.”  Members of Save Our Sierras spoke in opposition and you can view the entire meeting HERE under City Planning Commission for that date.

!!  Attend  !!
!! Sign up to Speak!!

Our Mountains need your presence and your voice.

Save Our Sierras!

Friday, April 15, 2016

Bosque in Bloom Family Event

Click on image to enlarge.

Friends of the Rio Bosque has partnered with El Paso Water Utilities on “Bosque in Bloom.” The public is invited to experience the display of wildflowers coming into bloom at the Rio Bosque Wetlands Park. El Paso Water Utilities began piping cleaned wastewater to the park last year to replenish plants and wildlife after several years of drought took its toll. The water has helped bright yellow blooms of bitterweed (a native wildflower) return to large areas of the park.  

WHAT: “Bosque in Bloom”, a FREE event where families can take guided and self-guided walks of the Rio Bosque Wetlands Park and learn about the wildlife that call it home. Enjoy bird-watching and interactive fun for kids.

WHERE: Rio Bosque Wetlands Park
Park at the corner of Pan American Dr. and Winn Rd. (MAP) Shuttles will be provided to park site

WHEN: April 17, 2016, 1:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.

For more information about Bosque in Bloom visit; or call Bill Hoover at 915-487-7154 or Sylvia Price at 915-252-1897.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Friday Video on Wednesday: OPEN YOUR EYES

The following video is sponsored by the Plastic Pollution Coalition. It's an overview narrated by Jeff Bridges.

The dude abides . . . 

Hat tip to Rick LoBello and Judy Ackerman for sharing this video.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Political Influence Costs Taxpayers Millions

[Below is an op-ed piece written by Charlie Wakeem and published by the El Paso Times in yesterday's Sunday paper. It was published under the title of Wakeem: City backslides on development issues. N.B.: Charlie is a gentleman. He won't name names but I will. Brad Roe replaced David Nemir who was a stellar member of the PSB. The attorney for the PSB/EPWU at the time was Bob Andron. Fortunately he retired and was replaced by Lupe Cuellar.]

In light of the recent revelations about the dysfunction and mismanagement in City Hall, I feel it’s time for me to speak about other issues I’m aware of.
One only needs to look at the difference in city government since the 2013 municipal election and decisions City Council has made since then.  Most of the problems are already well-documented, including but not limited to issues with the city manager and Rep. Larry Romero and City Council’s lack of vision and transparency.

I have served on several city boards and committees during the past decade, the latest being the Open Space Advisory Board.  Among others, I also served on the Subdivision Ordinance Rewrite Committee, the Comprehensive Plan Advisory Committee, the PSB Selection Committee and the Capital Improvements Advisory Committee, which makes recommendations to City Council regarding impact fees.

I was formerly chairman of the Open Space Advisory Board, which advises City Council on the Open Space Master Plan.  I was term-limited from the board last summer.

OSAB accomplished a great deal in the first few years of its existence.  However, things started to change after the 2013 municipal election.  City staff began to keep board members from having a say in setting the agenda and posting items for ineffective and useless Information and Discussion only instead of Action, thereby limiting the collective voice of its citizen board members.

I can only surmise that it’s the people with political and financial influence that are behind the silencing, since OSAB is unpopular with many of those people.
The City spent several years at a cost of millions of dollars, in large part provided in grants by the federal government, for Plan El Paso, El Paso’s nationally-recognized, award-winning comprehensive plan.

It has since been shelved.  Proof of this is that it is no longer available on the city’s web site.  Once again, it seems apparent that some people with influence have convinced the City to ignore it, because Plan El Paso discourages urban sprawl.

Impact fees are strictly regulated by the state and are designed so that new growth pays for itself, instead of the taxpayers or ratepayers subsidizing the new growth.  El Paso has imposed impact fees on new growth for water and wastewater infrastructure since 2009.

Impact fees are calculated by anticipating how many new housing units will be built in new growth areas over a ten year period and the cost of infrastructure to extend water and wastewater service to those new units.  The calculation was originally roughly $2,000 per new water meter (unit) in the city’s three new growth areas when the impact fees were imposed in 2009.  City Council approved 75% of that amount in impact fees.  That left the rest of us still subsidizing new growth for about $500 per unit.

Every five years the state requires impact fees to be recalculated.  In 2014 the El Paso Water Utilities calculated about $35 million more for infrastructure to serve the East and Northeast new-growth areas with a slight increase in the West.

I had term-limited off the Capital Improvements Advisory Committee by then.  The East and Northeast new growth areas are now approximately as much as $4,000 per unit.  The Capital Improvements Advisory Committee, the majority of whose members belong to the El Paso Association of Builders, convinced City Council to withhold any increase.

You and I are now left with subsidizing new growth for water and wastewater costs at up to $2,500 per unit.

Also, in late 2014, the PSB Selection Committee, met to select the engineer position on the PSB.  The incumbent was the very highly qualified David Nemir, who had already served on the board for the previous four years and was eligible for another four year term.  One of the other applicants, who I will not name, was a land development engineer.

There is a policy that land development engineers do not qualify for membership on the PSB due to a possible conflict of interest.  I pointed this out at the meeting.  However, the attorney for the PSB/EPWU said the applicant had recently sold his engineering firm and retired.  If he sold his firm and retired, why is he still representing land development clients at the City?  I’ve personally seen him do so.

The mayor, who serves on the PSB and chairs the selection committee, was absent at this PSB selection meeting.  The selection committee proceeded to re-nominate Dr. Nemir by a wide margin. 

When the committee’s recommendation subsequently went to City Council, the land development engineer was inexplicably appointed in place of Dr. Nemir. City Council has the right to appoint anyone it wants, but we have to ask ourselves whether political influence was involved. 

The best way for citizens to make change is elections.  Let’s choose the candidates with integrity and a vision for our city, who work for us and not self-serving financial interests. 
Charlie Wakeem

Thursday, April 7, 2016

The Knapps Want to Sell but Who Is Going to Buy?

Sherry Mowles and Dan Knapp will be the guests on the El Paso History Radio Show with hosts Jackson Polk and Melissa Sargent this Saturday, April 9th beginning at 10:05 AM on KTSM AM 690 and online at Dan and Sherry are owners of the 600+ acres of land on Mount Franklin known as Sierra del Puerte.

Just this past Tuesday members of Save Our Sierras (SOS) spoke to the El Paso City Council. They are lobbying the City to buy the Knapp property using Quality of Life and stormwater funds and doing some kind of land swap with the City.

The Knapps would prefer not to develop the upper portions of their land. Those parts will be expensive to develop. However, it is either develop or continue to pay taxes. So the Knapp family is seeking a buyer before they have no alternative but to build.

Can the City do it? The better question might be: WILL the City do it?

Open Space Advisory Board members are reportedly working on a resolution to City Council recommending the sale. However, why has the City done nothing so far? Indeed it would seem that there has been every effort made to thwart OSAB's discussions of the land to move to actionable items. Why? 

Simple. The City wants the tax money especially after development.

If a buyer is going to be found, it may have to be the State or the State in partnership with the federal government. Afterall, the Knapp land abuts the State Park and it is a favorite area for beginning hikers. A hike through that land is a staple event for the El Paso fall program, Celebration of Our Mountains.

SOS may be barking up the wrong Desert Willow.

Dan and Sherry will also share some great El Paso history stories. 

By the way, they will be followed by El Paso author L.C. Hayden who will talk about her novel, Secrets of the Tunnels. Hayden says that there is an extensive network of tunnels underneath downtown El Paso.

Check out the El Paso History Channel this Saturday beginning at 10:05 AM on KTSM 690 AM.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Winton Homes Sees Multiple Benefits

The author of this blog and candidate for City Council District 2, Jim Tolbert, holds up the sign "Save Castner"
[The following op-ed piece appeared in yesterday's El Paso Times. It is written by Mr. Scott Winton, the Vice-President of Business Development for Winton Homes in El Paso. Scott is also a board member of the Frontera Land Alliance.]

Winton Homes recognizes that a healthy environment makes for a healthy city and people want to live in healthy cities.  Much of Texan identity can be attributed to the state’s diverse landscape. We are proud of our heritage, both cultural and natural. Our lands make up the special fabric of our home state. We have regional differences – lakes in the Dallas area; deserts in the Far West; beaches along the Gulf Coast and rolling Hill Country in between – but it is all these features that combined make our state unique.

El Paso is diligently working to attract new businesses to the region and part of that appeal is the wealth of outdoor activities.  A Castner Range National Monument within the City limits would be a major attraction to businesses thinking of setting up shop in the Sun City. Research on the economic contribution of national monuments in the West created in the last generation found that adjacent economies grew, adding new jobs, and per capita income increased, in real terms, in every case after the creation of these national monuments., Winter 2012

Simultaneously, within the last five years, 88% of Texas experienced an exceptional drought. While the drought conditions have eased for many of us, the drought of 2010-2015 was the second worst in the history of our state. And scientists have warned us that frequent droughts may become a permanent part of our lives. Nothing is more important for our lives – and livelihoods – than having clean water to drink. Conserving land will ensure that more of the precious little water that falls will soak into the ground and our aquifers, replenishing our water supply. 

We draw on lessons learned from landscape ecology, open-space development, and regional planning. Winton Homes weighs the biophysical, economic, and institutional evidence for and against conservation development. We have learned that conservation development offers many potential environmental and economic advantages. As we develop with conservation as a part of the process we have seen relatively high home values and appreciation rates and lower development costs. It is also wonderful to know that we have helped protect and actively work to use native desertscapes at our homes. It is not always easy to achieve conservation criteria since it may take longer to meet institutional regulations and regional planning, it is not always more profitable than conventional development. But to address the drop income would be to offer subsidies or incentives. Winton Homes believes that conservation development could be a viable strategy for sustaining biodiversity and ecosystem services in changing landscapes.

Investing in the conservation of Castner Range is an investment in clean water, air and energy, all natural resources, and an investment in our community. Conserving Castner Range as a national monument will preserve the fragile lands at the urban fringe around the Franklin Mountains State Park. A national monument will address many needs and will provide benefits to public health, education, natural resource management and the El Paso area’s economy, and will preserve the breathtaking view-sheds of and from the Franklin Mountains. Dedicating these lands as a National Monument will safeguard cultural resources and a network of natural areas that enhance our community’s unique character, culture and sense of place. Conserving Castner Range as a National Monument will save hundreds of millions of dollars in infrastructure costs and maintenance, now and for scores of years to come.

Winton Homes is supportive of seeing natural areas and the opportunity to be physically connected to our natural and cultural heritage.  We can create opportunities for our local economies to grow by investing in land for outdoor recreation, for wildlife, and water. Such investments have a ripple effect. In addition, investment in a nature-based park, such as Castner Range National Monument, can create more jobs and lead to more visitor spending. Locally, in 2006, the Hueco Tanks State Park brought in $582,207 in county sales and $331,774 in county residents’ personal income.  In 2007 Hueco Tanks and Franklin Mountains State Park brought 72,644 visitors to El Paso County (Texas State Parks, Natural Economic Assets).