Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Bosque to Get Pipeline from Bustamante

Click on image to enlarge.
From Richard Teschner just now:

"All: Good news. The EPCWID#1 Board just passed, unanimously, Item 1683, which will allow the B-to-B Pipeline to cross over District land. Hooray!"--Richard

The "District" is the El Paso County Water Improvement District #1. Their agreement allows a pipeline to be extended from the Bustamante Treatment Plant directly to the Rio Bosque Wetlands Park. The agreement was necessary because the District owns a narrow strip of unused and abandoned land over which the pipe needs to be laid.

What does this mean? A true wetalands all year round with numerous bird species and other animals nesting and living there. It means more ecotourists and birders coming to El Paso spending money and paying sales tax.

Hooray indeed!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

El Paso Sierra Club Hosts Public Event at Chamizal for Conserving Casner Range

Click on image to enlarge.

Did you know that, if it wasn’t for a group of El Paso citizens back in 1978 coming together to support protecting the Franklin Mountains, we might not have the Franklin Mountains State Park today?  If you have ever traveled across Trans Mountain Road you know that in the northeast there is a large area of the Franklin’s administered by Fort Bliss.  This area used to be an artillery range and over the past ten years a new movement has developed to protect what is called the Castner Range as an addition to the State Park. 

Click on image to enlarge.

A growing number of people across the city are showing their support for this effort and a number of organizations are hosting a free public presentation on conservation efforts to protect the Castner Range at Chamizal National Memorial next to Bowie High School on Wednesday night, January 28 at 7pm. (MAP

After introductions by El Paso Zoo Education Curator, Rick LoBello, El Paso's renowned documentary producer, Jackson Polk,  will show his film about Castner Range. Then Judy Ackerman of the Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition will speak and give a presentation about conserving Castner Range. She will take questions at the end of her presentation.

Learn more about the program HERE.

elpasonaturally urges you to attend and bring family and friends.

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Monday Links: Rio bosque, PSB, City Planning and More

[Monday is "Links Day" with links gathered over the past week to online "stuff" to read and sites to surf that impact us directly or offer information about our regional issues. Please feel free to send me links to any conservation, environmental, simple living, city planning, energy and water, etc. stories that you have come across online.] 

The Rio Bosque Wetlands Park

Austin bird lover had great visit to El Paso, wetlands (A must read proving the point so many of us have made. Austinite writes: "The Rio Bosque wetlands were a real jewel that the whole city can be proud of. Please appreciate the intrinsic and economic value of your unique local wildlife, and preserve and restore habitat where they can continue to flourish."

EPWU, irrigation district working together on pipeline, drain, new lake Looks like the Rio Bosque will finally get a steady, permanent supply of water. Birds and birders will flock to El Paso now.

The Public Service Board (PSB)

David Nemir: City Council must leave El Paso PSB alone (online the Times now has it right)

Keystone Pipeline and Climate Change

Heinrich Speech In Opposition To Keystone Pipeline (It's not just the pipeline that's bad. What's worse is the vast ecosystem destruction caused by tar sands mining. We need to realize that we are part of these vast ecosystems that have evolved with us. Destroy them, and we undermine our survival.)

This chart of rising ocean temperatures is terrifying (Drives home more of what Sen. Heinrich was saying)

City Planning

Green Cities Provide Demonstrable Health Benefits (Note to City Manager Tommy Gonzalez: trees work.)

Online course and webinar

WEBINAR: Green Infrastructure and Flood Resiliency – Land Use Management as an Adaptation Strategy in the Built Environment 
January 29, 2015 – 12:00 PM EST
This webinar addresses assessment, planning, and adaptation to not only better prepare for the next emergency, but to sustainably manage flooding, and stormwater to maintain human health and a vibrant local economy. Participants will leave this webinar with knowledge about the latest innovative approaches to understand the effects of inland flooding and apply low-impact development (LID), site design, and smart growth practices at different scales of implementation. There will be reference to pioneering hydrology-based, sub-watershed approaches that have shown mitigation potential not only for storm water and flooding, but to the loss and degradation in water quality. 
Learn more and register here.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

City Council Must Leave the PSB Alone

[This is an op-ed piece written by David Nemir who just recently left the Public Service Board. It was published in this morning's El Paso Times. Their title: "City Council must not leave El Paso PSB alone" was a huge mistake. Read David's op-ed piece and you will understand why City Council must leave the PSB alone and not try to take over its management and trusteeship of land nor must it attempt to reduce the EPWU to a department of the City of El Paso. Leave the PSB alone. If you forward any link to an elpasonaturally post, this is the one to forward.]

As an outgoing member of the Public Service Board, I have had a front row seat in observing water management in El Paso, both present and past.   This history guides El Paso’s water future.

In 1951, El Paso was out of water.   Drought, depleting wells and dwindling river allocations compelled El Paso leaders to seek bond approval to acquire needed assets and infrastructure.   When voters said no, El Paso leaders formed an independent Public Service Board and made it custodian of El Paso Water Utilities, the revenue from which could be pledged to servicing debt.   With the combination of an independent management and an independent revenue source, the PSB could raise bond money without voter approval, using bond proceeds to expand water and sewer systems. 

The model has worked well.   For much of the past 63 years, the PSB has used bond funding to leverage its asset base, addressing water needs proactively.   Indeed, strategic planning has been fundamental since the PSB’s inception.    Capital projects are planned and budgeted years in advance and are almost always completed within 5% of budget.   

The result is a water utility that is among the best in the country --- winner of awards and provider of some of the lowest cost water services in the state.   And as part of its planning, the Public Service Board has acquired significant land assets, paid for by ratepayers, that will play an important role in funding El Paso’s water future.

However, water ratepayers are falling victim to this success.   Since its inception in 1952, the PSB returns 10% of all water revenue annually back to the city as a franchise fee.    But recent City Councils have sought to modify that arrangement in order to generate new revenue for the City.  

In 2012 Council formed a blue ribbon commission to analyze the revenue share model and to benchmark it against franchise fee and payment in lieu of tax models used for water utilities in other cities throughout Texas and the U.S.   This resulted in a July 2013 report to Council that concluded that El Paso’s revenue share model is in line with other communities and is fair to both ratepayer and taxpayer.   

Unfortunately, City Council chose to ignore this report and in August of 2014, increased the revenue transfer to the City by a whopping 30%  by imposing an annual  “street rental fee” on El Paso Water Utilities, advocating that this be raised by new fees on non-residential ratepayers (eg: churches, schools and business).  

When City Council imposes a dollar of pass-through fees to the ratepayers, zero cents of that dollar go to meet water needs.  Regardless of whether a new fee is called a franchise fee, a street rental fee or an easement use fee, it is still a cost to the water ratepayer without an offsetting benefit in water services.   And it sets a dangerous precedent.   

Through 63 years of strategic planning the PSB has acquired an inventory of land and water infrastructure which it holds in trust for El Paso’s water future.   Through those same 63 years, City Councils have often had a shorter term, less strategic focus.  The PSB, its asset base and its operations should be left alone until Council can articulate a good reason for change.  City budget challenges are not a good reason.   

David Nemir

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Friday Video: The Andidote to Apathy

In 2013 just 6.97% of registered voters elected the new bunch to City Council - the bunch that promised more transparent, open government. Only a whopping 5.43% of voters participated in the run-off.

The low voter turnouts aren't because people don't care. It's because they believe that they don't count. 

In today's video Dave Meslin addresses a Toronto Canada audience. Although his examples are drawn from Canadian political culture, they easily apply to the United States and, yes, to El Paso. 

Meslin says that we live in a world that "actively discourages engagement by constantly putting bariers in our way." He names 7 barriers:

  1. City Hall
  2. Public space
  3. Media
  4. Heroes
  5. Politcal parties
  6. Charitable status
  7. Our elections

This video will only take 7 minutes of your time. Listen to it and think about El Paso: a closed, non-transparent City government, a City Manager who clamps down on "leaks", the price-tag on freedom of expression, the lack of news about how to get involved, the message that we can't act unless called upon or chosen, the lack of really bold, creative ideas, the inability of organizations such as the Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition or the prohibition of city employees to get involved politically - all while corporations and powers are considered people who can be involved - and the message that we just don't count.

Ask yourself this: Why do we have to ask for information via open records requests? Why aren't records just open?

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Mr. Mayor, Tear Down that Barrier to City Hall

In my last post, More Than Just One Tree, I explained that Tree-gate is more about the lack of openness and transparency in our city government and the cavalier way that many city departments disregard policies and procedures.

Have you been to the new City Hall since the 2013 elections? We supposedly elected a whole new group that was going to bring more openness and transparency to city government. If you have been to the new City Hall over the past year or so, you will know that it is not easy to visit with the Mayor, your Representative or anyone else. You must first sign-in. A guard/receptionist asks for your destination and they call to confirm that you have an appointment. You then must pass through a metal detector - something that was only required for City Council meetings in the now demolished City building. 

Not long ago I had a meeting with the Mayor at his invitation. Although I made it through gestapo-gate, I was detained downstairs and not allowed to go to the Mayor's waiting area on the 2nd floor until I was summoned. 

On another occasion I went to another city building to get something from a friend who works there. I was confronted by one of El Paso's finest (really?) and had to explain where I was going and why I came through a door supposedly for city officials only. 

None of the check-in procedures represent good customer service or openness. 

I have never been to Mayor Leeser's Hyundai dealership but something tells me that there is not the check-point with the guards that clear you before you can gain entry to see a salesperson.

Not only is the El Paso government our government - they serve us and we don't serve them - we are their customers.

Here's a modest proposal: Move the Mayor and City Representatives and the graduate of the Tricky Dick Nixon School of Government, our City Manager, to offices downstairs, each office having a large glass window. Now that would be openness and transparency. The bunch who got elected because the previous city government and staff were supposedly so secret wouldn't be able to hide behind check-points and intimidating officers. Well - at least not the ones who are accountable enough to be full-time servants available to citizens at all time.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

More Than Just One Tree

I didn't catch this but I should have. However, elpasospeak caught it in their post Naturally Secret. I quote:

"Also troubling is what the city manager wrote in an email to city council:

'Staff has proposed alternatives to me, and apparently somehow the information has made it out to the public.' [Emphasis mine]

"The very thought of a public servant serving the public is evidently an abnormal event and it sounds like he plans to investigate the leak.  Maybe they should kill the tree in executive session." 

OMG! The public found out! How horrible! We need to find the source of the leak and clamp down or punish. We also need to stop future leaks.

What happened to all that talk about transparency during the last City Council and Mayoral elections? Weren't El Pasoans fighting mad that the decision about a ballpark was all done secretly? 

Check out transparency talk in the final 2015 Strategic Plan for El Paso:

5) Promote Transparent and Consistent Communication Amongst All Members of the Community
5.1 Set a climate of respect, collaboration and team spirit among Council, city staff and the community
5.2 Leverage and expand the use of current and new technology to reduce inefficiencies and improve communications
5.3 Promote a well-balanced customer service philosophy throughout the organization
5.4 Enhance internal communication and employee engagement 
5.5 Advance two way communications of key messages to external customers

5.6 Strengthen messaging opportunities through media outlets


Even in violation of a Strategic Plan that he helped to fashion, our City Manager sends out a memo that strongly suggests that information about our San Jacinto Plaza Park's remodel and the damage done to our Holiday Christmas Tree somehow should have been kept under wraps.

The issue facing us is more than just one tree. It is the LACK of transparency in this City and the total disregard of citizen initiatives, ordinances, procedures such as the Tree Manual and all the work done by Mayor Wardy's Green Sweep Program. 

I don't know Mr. Gonzalez. I've never met him and my attempt to get a meeting with him resulted in his getting surrogates to contact me. He may be a great guy but I'm beginning to wonder whether he isn't a graduate of the Tricky Dick Nixon School of Government. (Google "Watergate" if you are too young to know the reference.)

elpasospeak says it the best: "We deserve better."

Much more later. Stay tuned.