• May 17, 2022
 Op-Ed: City Caves on Plastic People, Ignores Real Residents

Photo courtesy Jon Eckberg

Op-Ed: City Caves on Plastic People, Ignores Real Residents

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.

 Photo gallery courtesy Jon Eckberg

Chris Babcock

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  • “…charrettes all chuck full of impassioned prose…” What are charrettes? And, should the term be chock full? Other than this one murky phrase, I like the editorial, and would like to see it more widely read.

    • Thanks for the extra eyes, Mr. Dungan, correction has been made. As for the term charrettes, it’s a fancy term the city has adopted from other cities meaning ‘meeting.’ And thank you for your kind words.

  • Yeah! these are real people and it’s time they get a real life because they are wasting precious time,who can you justify living next to a major convention center without expecting any future development?
    Enough with the lame excuses about an old neighborhood getting destroyed to build a new voter approved downtown arena.There are plenty of old unoccupied houses in the downtown El Paso proximity so maybe these people can start a new better life moving into some of these old homes.
    I saw them yesterday in the news most are located on Myrtle Street and I’m sure there are others as well that were not shown on the news.
    As for those plastic people at San Jacinto Plaza,that is just a temporary nativity display that comes around during the Christmas Holiday Season. So makes no sense comparing the living to the plastic ones unless it’s within your own conscience that the plastic people must remain still 24/7 in a cold weather environment.
    While the living people can easily relocate away to a more nearby secure neighborhood without fear of ever having to move again.Not to mention that the living people are also getting moving and financial assistance from the city to relocate.And the plastic people will all be packed into boxes and stowed away at some warehouse till next season,and the city best better not forget about them again.
    You can’t mess with tradition and you can’t mess with quality of life progress!

    • Common Cortney Niland, we all know your wrote this ehy must you hide under the “Albert” moniker.

      • WOW BETO! if that is really who you are! what’s with the ‘we all know your wrote this ehy’??? must you hide under the “Albert” moniker. Common Cortney Niland.Some Good Advise to you is don’t drink booze at work and take a cab home after work.

  • Don’t you know, the liberal enligntened city government knows what is best for you, and you must OBEY!

    • Sure Mad Mike,if city council was all full of right wing republican NAZIS! these living people would just end up getting kicked out into the streets and left to die along with all their baggage. At least they are given the option to receive moving and renting expenditures free of charge.
      No right Wing Conservative republican would ever do that!
      And it’s not that they must OBEY! given the circumstances they must move elsewhere,a republican city council would have already evicted them and arrested those that refused to vacate with fines.

    • And if it was a republican city council they just throw them out in the street and those that refuse to move would get arrested by the EPPD and fined at the same time.
      It’s better that they comply and get on with their move.

      • You do know that you have “issues” don’t you?

        • Issues, only according to you because fear and common sense continues to keep you at bay!

  • Fantastic photos! It really makes me appreciate this area all the more! In fact, it should made into a calendar!

    • Thank you!

  • Your use the city’s Christmas faux pas as a selective straw man is disappointing. The irony here is that you think insolence a remedy. You would be better served by trying to learn how it is – why it is – that people can see “plastic people” as meaningful and elemental symbols of faith while not having the same regard for what you consider historic and meaningful. Keep in mind too that the plight of those about to be victimized the city’s eviction proceeding is a tool you’re using to defend the preservation of buildings… things that evidently don’t resonate in the consciousness of the populace as does “staring at plastic people.” Your high-handed dismissal of a religious tradition and representation won’t help your cause.
    A better parallel you could have drawn from this is the Gospel parable of the dishonest steward. “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.” Then you might have anticipated the city’s betrayal of our historic heritage by their “oversight” of what they too evidently dismissed as a trifling Christmas decoration.

  • Mary and Joseph were not compensated to stay in a manger. Do not equate the sacred birth of The Christ Child with a corrupt city council’s lunatic expansion project no matter how misguided it may be. ✝✝✝

  • Well now the city has come up with another stupid idea,instead of destroying this eyesore armpit ghetto we know as Union Plaza.Why not destroy the Judson F. Williams convention center seems like a more appeasing easy target slated for destruction,because the city owns the property.Let’s forget about the El Paso taxpayers that voted on a bond issue back in the late 1960’s to build this complex called the Civic Center.And again not long ago to expand it from 60 thousand square ft to 80 thousand square ft.
    Yeah forget about them besides most of them are mostly all dead by now as the rest already have one foot in the grave.But that is El Paso’s fabulous mayor Oscar Leeser the Good Boy and district 8 representative Cortney Niland greatest idea as of yet.What is not taken into consideration is how the Civic Center got built and what it’s purpose was to be for considering. That El Paso city leaders were never able to attract major hotel chains to downtown El Paso even until now 46 years later and still waiting.
    The real issue is the cost to demolish the Judson F. Williams convention center,that is upwards of $60 million dollars alone. So then you subtract $60 from $180 million and by the time all construction estimates and dust are cleared from the ground up. El Paso might end up with an open air 5 thousand seat stadium or smaller,because that is what this inept city council is getting ready to do.
    Instead of moving forward they move backwards,so there is only one other solution,ask El Paso voters for another $180 million dollars to build itself a downtown arena.That is the only way these inept buffoons can build a 20 0r 22 thousand seat arena as they just mentioned. Or make the Texas Historic Commission Max Grossman foot the entire bill. I much rather see Max Grossman pay for the entire arena complex relocation instead of trying to save an armpit eyesore ghetto he calls Durangito.That’s a fair deal and he can also get all these protesters that come from the Segundo Barrio to help him pay for the arena’s relocation as well.
    That way He can keep his Historical Mansion Whore House Brothel, an old FireHouse that was not designed by architect Henry Trost and the old Chinese laundry and the rest of the dilapidated rundown dwellings that he calls historical Durangito.These out of towners like to call all the shots then let them pay for it,bottom line.

  • Well the moral of the story is that the Union Plaza people fooled city council members yesterday and now the city will have to find another area to locate the voter approved downtown arena. Which will end up costing way more money or be way much smaller than the original plan and the convention center location is not a good idea.
    The residents that live at Union Plaza are all Welfare recipients,obviously they don’t work as the get $500. in food stamps plus the monthly welfare check and they pay cheap rent. Besides that they are all very healthy and plumed looking heavy weights. Probably eat better than anyone reading these comments, and that homeless person sitting on the park bench in the beginning of this story,is that a Photo ops picture to make people feel sorry about those living in Union Plaza?
    That’s too bad because all this does is derail all the downtown revitalization progress.

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