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El Paso History Social Media Alliance Questions District 2 Candidates

Ahead of the special election on May 7th to replace outgoing City Representative Larry Romero, a group of 34 local social media sites that focus on the history, culture and environment of El Paso banded together to ask the 8 candidates their positions on 6 issues.

The group, now known as El Paso History Social Media Alliance, and chaired by Max Grossman,Ph.D. emailed the 8 candidates the questions from March 20th through March 29th, with a deadline of April 8th for all the responses to be returned.

Only five of the 8 candidates answered the group’s questions by the deadline; they were: Jim H. Tolbert,  Cemelli de Aztlan,  Abraham Monteros, David Nevarez and Gordon Ray Thatcher. Thatcher submitted his answers on April 14th.

Angel Del Torro, Dolores Garcia Baca and Rene Abilez did not submit responses.

In our continuing bid to inform the public about issues and news that truly matter, we have partnered with the group to bring our readers the questions and the candidates’ answers as submitted, with no editing or rewriting.

Each of the candidates was aware that their answers – as written – would be shared with the public.

As stated in the letter below, neither the El Paso History Social Media Alliance nor the El Paso Herald-Post, will endorse or announce support of any of these candidates.

The introductory letter is followed by the questions and answers.

***

Dear Mr.______________,

I am the Chair of an informal alliance of 34 Facebook pages that focus on the history, culture and environment of El Paso. Through our vast Facebook network we have a combined reach of 114,726 “likes” as of today, which makes us one of the largest constituencies in our region.

I have attached six questions that we have formulated for all candidates for District 2. I invite you to respond to us with your written replies and I will then share your answers with our alliance and the media. I also invite you to post the questions and your replies on your campaign website and Facebook page so that as many El Pasoans as possible can be made aware of your official positions.

To be clear, we will not endorse any candidate for office. We will, however, ask you and your opponents these questions and share your answers with the voting public as a service to our community.

We look forward to your reply and wish you the best of luck in your bid for election.

With many thanks,

Max Grossman, Ph.D.
Chair, El Paso History Social Media Alliance

***

1. Which civic or community organizations do you belong to and why?

Cemelli de Aztlan

I was born and raised in El Paso, TX and after I graduated from Harvard University in 2009, I returned to El Paso to make my community a better place. I currently serve the community of El Paso as a Board member of Wise Latina International, proud faculty member at UTEP, and Community Organizer, Capacity Builder, and PR Representative for the El Paso Equal Voice Network. Previous

Abraham Monteros

I belong to Philosophy for Children in the Borderlands. Philosophy for Children in the Borderlands is dedicated to work with community partners to teach children how to think critically of their world. Philosophy for Children in the Borderlands targets El Paso’s most important and most overlooked population: CHILDREN.

This organization is important to me because children are the future of our city. I believe by teaching children to think critically for themselves prepares children to be active citizens of our great city.

David Nevarez

I currently am the Commander of American GI Forum Greater El Paso Veterans Service Organization. I became involved in Veterans Advocacy in 2011 after my injuries caught up with me in 2011. After some research and discovering I am a direct desendant of Felix Longoria who was killed in on a beach in the Philippines. Due to racial and prejudicial issues he was not allowed to have his wake in the funeral parlors in his hometown of Three Rivers, Tx. It was Dr. Garcia Founders of American GI Forum who acted on behalf of the Mr. Longorias family and had his body interred at Arlington National Cemetery.

I am also the Chairman of the Veterans Affairs Advisory Committee City of El Paso. I feel that Veterans in El Paso are not properly represented and approached City Council last February about creating a Veterans Affairs Committee. The resolution passed and Oct of last year we had our First meeting in which I was voted as Chairman. I have represented Veterans in this city who feel they have no voice and we as a Committee act on their behalf and I do so daily from Washington D.C. to the streets of El Paso. My family alone has over 100 yrs of service to this great nation.

Gordon Ray Thatcher

I am a volunteer deputy voter registrar for El Paso County. I am also a volunteer for Madd-Mothers Against Drunk Drivers.

I a member of Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church & a member of the Knights of Columbus. Our Knights of Columbus Council organizes a lot of local and civic activities & events.

Jim H. Tolbert

For forty years now I have served on a variety of boards for community organizations and have chaired many of them. I helped to found and was the first President of a shelter in the Texas panhandle for battered women. I served on the advisory board for a center for troubled youth. I helped to begin, served on the board and did the newsletter for a farmers market in Western Washington. I have served on the City’s Building and Standards Commission, the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, and I am currently Vice-Chair of the Open Space Advisory Board.

I am also Chairman of the West Texas Urban Forestry Council, a Board 3 member of Eco El Paso and Vice-Chair of the El Paso Group Sierra Club. I am President of the Newman Park Neighborhood Association, a member of Senator Rodriguez’s Environmental and Sustainability Committees. I am also the Director of Celebration of Our Mountains, El Paso’s fall program of outdoor nature events. I serve to help people, solve community problems and preserve our natural and historical treasures.

 

 

2. What have you done specifically to promote the history and culture of El Paso?

Cemelli de Aztlan

Throughout the years I have promoted the vibrant history, art and culture of this community in diverse ways, to include advocacy campaigns, classroom presentations and community trainings. In 2012, I advocated for the restoration of the Aztec Calendar stone located in front of the Courthouse, in 2014, Save Lincoln Center organizing and the restoration of the UPLIFT art piece, by Margarita Cabrera. Alongside those endeavors, I’ve worked as the Racial Justice Manager at the YWCA where I conducted presentations and trainings about the diverse history of El Paso; I created an installation with Museo Urbano, “Healing Hands, Healing Ways” exhibit at the El Paso Museum of History, promoted the Chicano Power exhibit at Mercado Mayapan in 2011 and the Legacy of La Mujer Obrera Museo exhibit at Café Mayapan. Recently, I commissioned a local artist to create the El Paso Equal Voice VOTERIA game set, which features various historical highlights of El Paso, to include El Pachuco, La Estrella, Los Lagartos and Lincoln Center.

Abraham Monteros

Specifically, every Summer I attend the Plaza Classic Film Festival. I usually buy tickets for 10 different films and spend the entire day in downtown. Recently for Spring break, my wife and me took the Sun Metro from our home to tour downtown El Paso and admire the historical buildings up close on foot. As a UTEP student, I actively enroll in Chicana/o classes and Mexican-American history classes that allow me to learn more about our culture as a city and as an individual. Aside from that, I also volunteered at my local collection site and I have participated in a clean up at the Socorro Mission.

David Nevarez

In the times that I have traveled to and from El Paso I’ve taken great pride in promoting the history and culture of this city. We were able to witness the Mexican American War from our mountains with Zapata himself a resident and would have ice cream Socials downtown. Our Culture is heavily based on Hispanic origins given our proximity to the Border being Hispanic with descendants from Spain I embrace my culture from All Saints Day where we honor our deceased to Quinceandas and enjoy making tortillas and tamales from scratch as my mother taught me and make it a point to teach others. Hispanics as a whole have been losing bits and pieces of our heritage I try every day to preserve it.

Gordon Ray Thatcher

I have not been involved in any projects to promote the history or culture of El Paso.

Jim H. Tolbert

As Director of Celebration of Our Mountains I have ensured that a number of our events over the years have a history component or are a tour of heritage sites in El Paso. As President of the West Texas Urban Forestry Council I have seen to the donation of trees to Keystone Heritage Park. I have taken part in demonstrations to save our downtown historical buildings and I have supported doing an historical survey of downtown El Paso. I stood by the El Paso County Historical Commission when it went before City Council and I stood with them when they presented their case to the County Commissioners. I was overjoyed that the County of El Paso unanimously voted to do such a survey after the City Council of El Paso tragically failed to do so last year.

 

 

3. El Paso is the sixth largest city in Texas but attracts only 2% of tourism dollars. What do you feel that the City of El Paso should be doing in order to claim a larger share of this growing multi-billion-dollar market?

Cemelli de Aztlan

I’ve worked as an economic consultant for the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo, and the model of successful economic development that we recommended was approved to by YDSP Council to implement, includes cultural significance/historic connection as a prime denominator in guaranteeing success.

Abraham Monteros

As someone who was born and raised in El Paso, I have always struggled with that same question whenever thinking about our city. I think we should first acknowledge two things about El Paso: 1) its isolated geographical location on the border, and 2) our cultural uniqueness as a result of it. El Paso is a city with over 80% of the population tracing their history to Mexico. Another key stat is that over 70% of the population also speaks another language at home (Spanish). Instead of trying to be like Austin or Seattle, El Pas should embrace its uniqueness as a border town. I would promote cultural events that highlight Mexican culture. Also, as Ciudad Juarez is calming down, I would promote cross border tourism that offers access to Ciudad Juarez and El Paso’s shared history. We have to remember that a lot of revenue and business comes from our neighbors from Ciudad Juarez and Chihuahua.

I think about the state of New Mexico when I think about what El Paso could do in order to embrace its uniqueness. Instead of running away from its past El Paso should promote it. There were gun fights in downtown, so recreating the scenes on weekends would attract more tourist. El Paso is also home to Fort Bliss one of the major Army bases in the U.S., El Paso should invite and work with base offices to promote tourism of our city as well. In short, we have to first identify El Paso’s strengths as a tourist destination and go from there.

David Nevarez

El Paso in my opinion needs more family type attractions there’s been talking of Sea World etc. and it was just talk. In order to improve tourism dollars we must capitalize on our strengths whether it’s our culture, our mountains or more family oriented attractions. We have a major artery with I-10 running east and west we have taken it for granted long enough.

Gordon Ray Thatcher

Promoting tourism in El Paso is a good investment. But we have to always address the same issues: 1) what kind of attraction do we want to promote? 2) where is the attraction going to be built? 3) how much of our natural resources are going to be consumed? 4) do we have the infrastructure to handle large crowds?  Many young people & families tell me they would like to see a theme park built here (Six Flags or a large water park). This sounds great but I always go back and ask the second, third and last question.

We can all agree that a big theme park would attract jobs & increase our tax revenue but will that be a healthy choice for the beautification of El Paso?

There are so many other attractions already here in El Paso that we can promote. I would suggest that we advertise in out of state areas with higher than average income communities.

Jim H. Tolbert

Along with my answers to questions 4 and 5 below, there are several actions that our city can take to claim a larger share of the multi-billion-dollar heritage tourism industry. Although there is some brief information about cultural and historical sites on Destination El Paso, the web site of the El Paso Convention and Visitors Bureau, there is a total lack of information about our architectural treasures not just in downtown but throughout our city. Architects such as Trost, Thorman, Welch, Patton and many others adorn our town including District 2 with their commercial and residential creations. The CVB can do more with its public relations and City Council can do more with its policies to bring more people to El Paso and to get more El Pasoans familiar with our architectural masterpieces. Both City Council and the CVB can begin to work side by side with the heritage community in El Paso – our Trost Society, the El Paso County Historical Commission, Six Guns and Shady Ladies, the El Paso History Radio Show, El Paso Gold, our history museums, historic districts, the Mission Trail, El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, our historic sites and historic districts.

City Council should and must build links between the heritage community and Destination El Paso. It should and must advocate for heritage tourism and look for every opportunity to promote heritage tourism.

 

 

4. What do you feel the City of El Paso should be doing in order to preserve its historic architecture?

Cemelli de Aztlan

El Paso harnesses a wealth of history and I am dedicated to promoting the preservation of that history and incorporating the arts/culture, architecture and our historic places into the economic development plans of El Paso.

Abraham Monteros

Presently, the Mayor and city council appoint nine members to the Historic Landmark Commission and that in itself can be politicized. I would look into making appointments based on qualifications. Also, the City of El Paso should review and update its municipal codes in order to attract new redevelopment but at the same time protect our historic buildings. In order to that I feel we must work with all the resources available to come up 6 with a specific plan to progress the revitalization of historic areas while at the same time respecting their history. UTEP has a great wealth of knowledge and people eager to help with historical surveys and groundwork that is needed to review the municipal codes.

David Nevarez

As a plumber who has worked on various structures including historical sites I appreciate these structures and great deal. I believe in the preservation of historical bldgs and homes and would welcome them as historical sites in the city and county. Every structure we tear down is a piece of history that can never be recovered. It’s in the city’s best interest to promote talks with University’s who can assist in that matter. I would welcome the opportunity to assist if the opportunity arose.

Gordon Ray Thatcher

I think the City is doing a great job in preserving the historic architecture of El Paso.  I am not an expert on this topic but I am sure we can obtain state and federal funds to help landowners to preserve the historic significance of these beautiful buildings.  We also need to educate the public on how they can be involved in the process and remind them of the importance of preserving these building.

Jim H. Tolbert

We need to preserve and protect our historical sites thus making El Paso more of a destination city known around the country and worldwide. The resulting heritage tourism will be a boom to our economy, will help our small businesses, and will cut our debt due to higher Hotel Occupancy revenue. The city’s role in historic preservation has been limited to regulation, much of it burdensome. I want our City to become more of an advocate, working with building owners to find the resources and the partners to invest in their buildings.

City Council stupidly failed to do an historic survey. Thankfully our County Commissioners agreed to the survey. I stood with our El Paso County Historical Commission at both the City Council meeting and the Commissioner’s Court meeting. This survey will result in a national historic overlay that would mean huge incentives for property owners who wish to restore their buildings to historical standards. A property owner can receive up to 20% of the cost of restoration from federal funds and 25% from state funds based on how faithful they have been to historical restoration. No property owner is compelled to make any restorations; and, as a private property owner, they can do what they wish with their property including tearing it down and putting up a parking lot.

 

 

5. Do you feel that the Central Appraisal District’s system for taxing commercial properties creates a disincentive for investors wishing to restore their properties and, if so, how would you propose to fix the problem?

Cemelli de Aztlan

We need representation to address the economic disadvantages that affect our community in order to encourage truly local small business in District 2. We need to simplify the incentive system for small businesses and increase access to incentives like Chapter 380 and the Tax Abatements. This is the most attractive way to boost our commercial tax base so we can hold the line on property taxes. It’s also the most efficient way to create good jobs in our district.

Abraham Monteros

You know, this is a common concern for many commercial property owners. As with the Historic Landmark Commission, it is important to revise the tax codes for specific properties and make smart decisions. What I want to emphasize is being pragmatic. Being pragmatic means not politicizing these important decisions. I definitely understand the importance of saving our existing historical properties and I want to work together with experts, like yourself to make the best decision.

David Nevarez

I feel that the CAD system needs to be revisited and refined in a way to not be so taxing on the investors who are wanting to preserve their historical building etc. By forming Committees etc designed to make improvements within the CAD and create solid regulations that would benefit the investor.

Gordon Ray Thatcher

In regards to issue of the Central Appraisal District taxing commercial system, I do not not have enough information to have a plan to satisfy the commercial investors.

I think it should be handled case by case.  If we give the potential investor a huge tax credit, how is that going to be fair to the local business owner?  Any tax credit given is not going to be fair for any business owner or business investor.

Jim H. Tolbert

The Central Appraisal District system for taxing commercial properties does create a disincentive for investors. Immediately after the restoration of a property, taxes are raised sharply. A better system would be to freeze taxes where they were prior to restoration for a year or two. Then taxes can be raised incrementally over a period of years to allow the commercial building to begin to generate income.

 

 

6. In 2015 over 6,000 El Pasoans signed a Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition petition asking that all of the undeveloped land owned by the City of El Paso on the western and eastern slopes of the Franklin Mountains be preserved in its natural state in perpetuity – https://franklinmountains.wordpress.com/issues/ – Do you support this petition?

Cemelli de Aztlan

Yes!

Abraham Monteros

I do support this petition. Our Franklin Mountains are beautiful natural treasures in our area. Not only are they aesthetically pleasing but the Franklin Mountains are home to a diverse and important eco-system.

David Nevarez

Before my legs quit on me, left leg had a 30mm plate below my knee n right knee replacement I was found in the Mountains in and around Pikes Peak Colorado. I truly appreciate the outdoors and natural beauty of the Franklin Mountains and the Wilderness. I would like to include some type of accessibility for our ADA individuals in El Paso without disturbing the natural beauty. That would be a very confident yes.

Gordon Ray Thatcher

I do support that all land owned by the City be preserved in its natural state in perpetuity. First, we need to control our growth.  El Paso is expanding at an alarming rate. We do not have the natural resources to support the growth. We are running out of water. We are running out of land. Our taxes are increasing but everyone’s solution seems to be expand & develop. I think we need to be proactive in preserving the beauty of El Paso.

Jim H. Tolbert

Not only do I support the petition, I authored it. The petition resulted in the creation of the Preservation and Conservation Group which I chair. This group is being facilitated by the Public Service Board/El Paso Water Utilities. EPWU’s attorney, Lupe Cuellar, and I invited experts in development, ecology, wildlife biology, parks and recreation, city planning, and resiliency. The purpose of the group is to establish criteria for the PSB when selling the city land that it manages. We want to establish what can be preserved, what should be developed, and what can be conserved within developments.

Previously I was successful with another petition that called for the preservation of land adjacent to the State Park along the Transmountain scenic corridor on the west side of the mountain. That petition resulted in the preservation of 800 acres of land and the use of smart code, green-infrastructure/low impact development when developing the rest of the land in the Northwest Master Plan. Arroyos are now preserved and protected.

 

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