Photo courtesy Jon Eckberg
In roughly the same amount of time that it took the city to show, then tell everyone exactly how the new arena would be shoehorned into Downtown El Paso, the normally intransigent machinery that is local government caved to public pressure (after yet another self-inflicted wound) in record time and restored the much-beloved (dare I say ‘historic’) Nativity Scene to San Jacinto Plaza.
Which got me thinking, ‘this seems familiar, somehow…’ Information, but no real details. ‘Very familiar, indeed…’
The city, as far back as November 4th, hinted at – but didn’t come completely clean – on the ‘cataclysmic’ changes to come to the beloved Christmas lights.
“We are excited to bring a brand new lighting display to historic downtown San Jacinto Plaza! This year we will celebrate the 101st anniversary of the park, and will celebrate the holidays with this new version of lighting,” said El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser.
Vague, but encouraging…something to look forward to.
On December 3rd, within minutes of Mayor Leeser flipping the switch on the Christmas lights in the heart of the city, residents immediately put the spotlight on what wasn’t there. Photos were taken, as families wandered the newly renovated area, all in a search of the Baby Jesus and his parents.
It was all for naught, as the city had decided months earlier to modernize the light display, in the same vein as the revamp of the entire plaza, leaving the Holy Family out in the cold.
For many El Pasoans, this could not…would not…stand.
Outraged residents commented on countless Facebook posts and photo galleries; local TV stations jumped in, as did radio morning shows. “War on Christmas” was even uttered by some. By Monday, December 5th the city realized the error of their lighted ways.
“The City of El Paso will install the nativity scene that’s been displayed at San Jacinto Plaza as part of a longtime tradition. The nativity scene will be visible as you drive on North Mesa.” Interim Managing Director Quality of Life, Dionne Mack.
And all was well with the world.
Except for a one-and-a-half block (or four block depending on the day/release) area of Downtown El Paso. Where real people live, and have lived since the first saplings were planted at the original San Jacinto Plaza, nary a plastic Holy Family in sight.
Is this a “1970’s-style urban renewal project involving mass demolition”? No. This question seems to ask whether the City is wiping out an entire “old” neighborhood to replace it with something new. This project is being designed to fit in the smallest footprint possible, incorporate existing facilities, and create foot traffic to support local businesses.
Sure, there’s been outrage and protests, meetings and charrettes all chock full of impassioned prose and the murkiest legalese money can buy; but the decision stands: We’re building there, and you are out.
“Everyone impacted will be relocated in accordance with the law,” City Attorney Sylvia Borunda Firth said. “It is absolutely our goal to negotiate in good faith with property owners to reach agreement on purchase prices. We will work diligently to develop a relocation plan that works for each situation, keeping those who want to remain downtown in the area.”
There is irony here.
Some of those residents, who can take a stroll and see the newly reinstalled Nativity Scene, are set to lose their homes right about the same time the lights will be pulled down in 2017.
Real people, set to lose their homes, staring at plastic people who have a place in downtown – thanks to a change of heart by the city.
Such outrage, and then quick action, to resolve a decision that a majority of the public deemed a mistake. All over the physical representation of a displaced family, denied lodging at every turn, finally given only the barest shelter at their most vulnerable point in their lives.
The same could be said over the decision to put the arena in that place. Same outrage. Same posts. Same fury. Different outcome.
It would seem that our elected officials – and some of our fellow El Pasoans – are more concerned over plastic people and their shelter, rather than living human beings and their homes.
‘Tis the Season, I guess.