Ray Adauto, who represents the El Paso Association of Builders, wrote a response April 17 to a guest column I had previously submitted to the Times. His response contains so much misinformation that I must respond to it.
Before I do, please remember that I served on the Capital Improvements Advisory Committee with Adauto for five years and we’ve always treated each other cordially and with respect. Nonetheless, Adauto serves his industry. I serve no one (except El Paso) when I serve on boards and committees.
I am not now nor have I ever been against development. Development is vigorous business activity and healthy for any community. The question is not whether there should be development, but how and where it should take place.
Adauto states that “there are dozens of reasons people live in El Paso.” He’s right, but one reason should be “quality of place.”
Land development is the industry that is most responsible for our city’s appearance together with good but fair city codes which promote complete neighborhoods, multi-modal transportation and walkability.
Adauto states, “One thing that makes our community special is the ability to find affordable housing…”
Providing affordable housing is important, but it should not place an excessive burden on taxpayers who subsidize it and eventually pay for the infrastructure that the developers leave out.
Adauto states: “Proponents of impact fees, like Charlie Wakeem, keep espousing the notion that if you raise fees then you can keep growth out.”
That is not true at all! Impact fees are not designed to punish developers or stifle growth. They are designed to make sure new growth is financially fair to all stakeholders. (Why should residents of older neighborhoods subsidize the development of new neighborhoods?)
This concept is set forth in Chapter 395 of the Texas Local Government Code.
Adauto states: “Surprisingly, it is conveniently never explained that a large portion of the monthly water/sewer rate a new home buyer pays goes toward subsidizing replacement of older, outdated infrastructure.”
He should know better. Chapter 395 strictly forbids the use of impact fees for replacement of old infrastructure. The fees can only be used for infrastructure necessary to serve new growth. All taxpayers and/or ratepayers are obligated to pay for repairing and replacing old infrastructure.
Adauto states: “That’s why the PSB purchased thousands of acres of desert back then (early 1950’s) to have land to sell to try to keep the cost of water and sewer service down.”
Just the opposite is true. The Public Service Board purchased the land so that El Paso wouldn’t run out of water (as it almost did in 1952). The PSB determines whether the land is “inexpedient to the system” and can be sold.
When it established the PSB in 1952, City Council wisely assigned it the responsibility for “management and control” of the city’s water and land resources. The more we sell the PSB land, the scarcer our water resources become.
The PSB Selection Committee met in late 2014 to recommend—to City Council—someone to fill the “engineer” position on the PSB. David Nemir was the incumbent and was eligible for another four-year term.
A policy states that land-development engineers don’t qualify to serve on the PSB due to a possible conflict of interest. One of the applicants was such a person. I pointed this out.
The committee was told that the applicant had recently sold his firm and retired. If he did so, then why is he still representing land developers at the City?
The committee recommended Nemir by a wide margin. However, Council inexplicably appointed the land-development engineer.