Photo & Video courtesy KTSM | Andra Litton

Op-Ed: County Commissioner David Stout – …They Lied!

While the fight with the city over Duranguito has been going on for quite a while, it is just now, with the dramatic actions taken and the media focused on the issue, that many people are giving it some thought.

Unfortunately the City, whose plan is to demolish the neighborhood and build a sports arena, has purposely tried to confuse the public.  How much misinformation and lack of transparency must we endure from City officials before we say, “!Basta!”?

It started with the omission of sports in both the ordinance and the ballot language when the bond election was held in 2012. If everybody knew that they were voting for sports, as arena supporters argue, why not be up front and transparent and just include it in the language?

Could it have been because of the fallout regarding the way things were done with the baseball stadium?

If you recall, we were told that it would be paid strictly with hotel-motel taxes paid by out-of-town visitors, yet taxpayers ended up paying the difference when a multi-million dollar shortfall was announced. Taxpayers also are paying for police and other ongoing costs for services associated with the games.

For the record, I am a supporter of the baseball team, but I support transparent, honest government even more.

The City knew they couldn’t pass the bond if it said sports, but they also knew the project wouldn’t be viable without sports, so, thumbing their nose at transparency, they omitted it the language with the idea that later they would figure out how to convince the public they voted for it.

The no transparency game they decided to play has really gotten the City into trouble because the omission of sports is the basis of Max Grossman and his team of attorneys’ lawsuit, and now, after wasting millions of dollars, a judge has ruled the City cannot use bond money for anything sports related.

And speaking of the ballot language, though I have always advocated for a downtown location other than Duranguito, nothing we voted on states that the arena must be downtown. However, the City continues to lie to the public, stating that it did.

The City’s game continued when, on October 18th of 2016, the Council voted to place the arena in Duranguito. The announcement came just a few days earlier, however no information was provided to the public regarding how it was determined El Paso’s oldest neighborhood was the best site, nor was there any backup on the agenda item on the 18th.

A public presentation was given for the first time during the meeting in which the vote took place. A “study” was and continues to be quoted, but never publicized, and it took months for the City to post any relevant public documents on its website.

To add insult to injury, when information regarding other possible sites came out, the City claimed that the site east of the new City Hall, owned by the Union Pacific Railroad, was vetted and not an option. That was a lie.

What really happened was, when the City approached UP for land to build the ballpark, UP agreed to give it to them, but with the condition that they close a number of railroad crossings throughout the city. A wish-list of 31 closures was provided, and UP asked for 7.

When the City was moving to its new home, the option to purchase the railroad’s land behind that location came up. However, UP told the City there would be no negotiations until they made good on their first promise: closing 7 crossings. It was 2013 and there were still 4 open.

Fast forward again to 2016, nearly 10 years from the original deal, and the City still had not made good. The railroad company told us they never had discussions with the City regarding a possible arena location because of this. There was NO vetting of the railroad site.

The only reason the railroad site wasn’t a viable option was because the City duped UP.

So, to keep the public from finding out about it, they made up a huge lie. They said Union Pacific would ask the city to close as many as 31 railroad crossings in exchange for its land, and predicated on that one, huge lie, members of Council began to throw out excuses as to why the rail yard wouldn’t work, saying traffic would be hugely disrupted, people’s access to I-10 would be cut off and that it would be too costly.

Another story the City fabricated was that the arena had to be built within 1,000 feet of the convention center so they could receive $25 million in state incentives that was needed to expand from 12 thousand seats to 15 thousand. That one was completely debunked by the El Paso Inc. in an article written in January of this year.

One more on the long list was that the rail yard was so contaminated and it would cost millions upon millions to remediate. This absurd claim was never substantiated because, again, there was absolutely NO of the site.

There are so many lies.

Duranguito is the site not only of the first urban neighborhood, it also is the site of the first European settlement in Paso del Norte, the Ponce de Leon ranch. It is a historical treasure trove, yet the city denies these plain facts, too.

The sports arena has already cost us dearly, in both taxes and in the damage to public trust. I implore the current City Council and the business community that supports the arena to quit looking the other way and to say, “! Ya basta!”!





Author: David Stout, El Paso County Commissioner, Pct 2