The following is the text of the statement read during public comment at Tuesday morning’s El Paso City Council meeting on behalf of state Sen. José Rodríguez:
The City of El Paso is growing. As it does, we consistently are faced with decisions at every level about how to support the growth, how to encourage it, and how to manage it for the benefit of our residents and newcomers.
One way to do that is through quality-of-life investments. Most recently, municipal voters in 2012 gave the City of El Paso permission to sell bonds for almost $500 million in projects. Included in that were more than $200 million for three signature projects.
Those were the Children’s Museum, Hispanic Cultural center, and a multipurpose performing arts and entertainment facility, which was introduced under the heading of “Museum, Cultural, Performing Arts, and Library Facilities.”
El Paso voters gave this permission because they wanted to invest in themselves. I myself was one of them. We wanted quality of life amenities at both the neighborhood level in the form of parks and other amenities, and at the regional level in the form of museums and other cultural facilities.
We still want this. However, we require two things to make it happen the right way.
- We need to know that these projects will enhance our community, which means respecting the people, places, and history that is so special and unique to El Paso.
- We need to know that we are getting exactly what we asked for, that there was a process that was consistent, transparent, and inclusive every step of the way.
People did not vote for an arena. They voted for a “multipurpose center” meant for performances and cultural events.
Down to the terms used for the facility, the process has lacked transparency.
The vote to impose the facility on Duranguito was Oct. 18, 2016, only days after a proposed location was announced not by the Mayor or any City Council members but by city staff.
On that day, members of the public were able to see a presentation regarding the site selection for the first time. This presentation was not included as backup on the agenda. There was conflicting information regarding whether property owners and residents had been contacted, and what they had been told.
There were questions about parking and traffic. There were inconsistent assertions made about efforts to discuss other properties, specifically the railroad; spokesmen for Union Pacific had to clarify incorrect statements made about contacts made with the railroad, and about supposed demands by the railroad for a number of crossings to be closed.
The extent and nature of the facility “footprint” itself, and the impact on surrounding areas has not been clear throughout the process. Neither has the question of federal beautification monies put into the neighborhood not for economic development, but for the residents themselves.
And importantly, there is the question of respect for history. That has been particularly concerning to me. Both the major bodies set up to help restore, protect, and nurture El Paso’s historic neighborhoods voted to oppose the location, as did the City Plan Commission, and the city itself in 1998 called for detailed study and long-term preservation. Yet, the city is moving towards the destruction of an irreplaceable piece of the “First Ward,” part of the first Anson Mills plat map of 1859.
These questions pile on top of the original question – the nature of the facility City Council put forth and the voters approved – and are of such deep concern that I am in support of whatever means may be necessary to stop an irreversible action that will wipe out history and community.