Reckless endangerment

October 25, 2014

I do not understand.

Ebola is highly contagious.  We do not understand it well enough to develop an anti-virus for it.  Arguments persist about the methods of transmission and the period at which it becomes contagious.

Yet we have health care professionals that know that they have been in direct contact with the virus who go out in public before the 21 day incubation period that the CDC is telling us about has passed.  Now the World Health Organization is telling us that they think the incubation period is 42 days.

The latest case is that of a physician who travelled to west Africa to help with the crisis.  Good for him.

When he returned to the United States he did not show his fellow citizens the respect that I would expect.  He has told us that he rode the public subway in the city of New York.  He also went to a bowling alley and at least one restaurant.  He feels he was symptom free at the times.

Now he has Ebola.

Now businesses in New York will suffer economic disasters.  People have been exposed needlessly.

Why wouldn’t a highly trained medical professional like this doctor quarantine himself voluntarily until the currently understood incubation period  passed?

Then again why haven’t the authorities mandated quarantine for these people?

We deserve better


We need some real jobs

October 24, 2014

I found this chart on


Take a look at the bars on the left.  The data for females also showed higher percentages of people involved in public administration here in El Paso than in the rest of the state.

We deserve better




October 23, 2014

From Jerry Kurtkya:


# 2 – Save the Land

A city has few opportunities to preserve its land for future generations. El Paso is fortunate in that much of our land is under control of the PSB and its charter to assure the city’s continuing water supply. Plan El Paso, created by the city’s Planning Department, is actually a pretty good template for how El Paso can use its land endowment to best advantage. In its preface. The document states, “Plan El Paso establishes priorities for public action and direction for complementary private decisions. Plan El Paso contains illustrative plans, diagrams, maps, and pictures to make its concepts clear and accessible to City officials, residents, developers, community groups, and other stakeholders.”

It is hard to argue with that but a lot of people do, as El Paso has observed these principles more in the breach than in the spirit. Still, there is much that could be done and I want to say to El Paso, why don’t you try being beautiful? A city is not renowned for its proliferation of billboards and urban sprawl but rather for its visual control and balance of the necessary elements of commerce, housing and recreation. So ignore Courtney Niland’s bellowing for a while and try this approach.

Priority #1 is to save the mountain slopes from development on both sides of the mountain north from Transmountain Road in perpetuity. This beautiful part of the mountains can be saved by an ordinance of City Council as a natural heritage for future generations before it is consumed by housing development or quarries. There is an active petition effort to the City Council – The Franklin Mountains Conservation Petition – on Jim Tolbert’s blog that you can access, sign and get your neighbors to sign, too. Do it.

This one act will define El Paso nationally as an urban leader in the conservation of wilderness. And, by the way, an environmentally progressive city is one that attracts the kind of people you want for neighbors, too: educated, professional, engaged.

Priority #2, per Plan El Paso, is to save the natural foothills, bosques, wetlands, critical arroyos, and other natural features owned by private or public entities but currently without protected status. Examples include the Castner Range and private tracts in and around the Franklin Mountains and Hueco Tanks State Parks. City regulations and policy decisions should help keep these lands in their natural state for drainage, natural habitat, and scenic protection. Public acquisition should be considered especially when key drainage features can be protected, as we have learned so well recently. Make environmentalism the city’s theme. Then, maybe, it will be “all good” someday. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. And when it is all gone, the people who built it will leave for the next place they can sprawl over.

Priority #3. A more compact city (and I’m not talking stack-and-pack because we have plenty of space on which to grow) is a more efficient city. Planners have found that, for every doubling in population, a city gains a 15% increase in productivity; there are real economies of scale. And we need the productivity because our growth is not producing prosperity at the same rate. See it at: But in order to gain the productivity, we need to compact our growth instead of continuing to spread outward. At 45 miles end-to-end, El Paso is one of the most spread out cities in the country. Infill and Smart Code are good ways to start.

When I was executive director of the Housing Finance Corporation, I looked at many vacant lots in the older areas of town such as Rio Grande, on Cotton and above Arizona. The lots are scattered among the old craft homes that define the area and city codes have been relaxed to encourage the redevelopment of these lots. But little has happened. Back then (2005) builders were too occupied with the housing boom on the east side to worry about one-off infills.

One reason little has happened, I discovered, is to just find out who owns a vacant lot in order to acquire it. There is always an address to which to send the tax bill, but identifying an owner is not as easy and then there is the issue of acquiring the land, sometimes divided among multiple heirs. To me, this is one great make-a-job-for-yourself business opportunity for some bright UTEP grads. It certainly beats answering a phone in a call center and it would be worth having the city encourage such businesses, perhaps through organizations like The Hub of Human Innovation. Maybe even the Builders Association can kick in some help? No, it’s not high-tech, but it is high-value and low risk and it is just waiting for someone to find the key to unlock its potential. There are hundreds of such vacant lots in El Paso and, if we can find a way to acquire them in bulk, the city can solicit bids for builders to redevelop these lots.

Recently, a Joint Land Use Study was drafted that encompasses multiple counties in the Borderland Region. This is a worthwhile process in which to educate and involve yourself, as there are many different and sometimes competitive land uses in this huge area: urban; housing; agricultural; recreational; military. In case you haven’t noticed, the country is preparing for decades of warfare. The military and its demand for sequestered land is a looming presence on our horizon, not all positive.

Get informed. Get involved.

NEXT – #3 Socialize the Benefits of Growth


October 22, 2014

A  22 year old man was convicted a few weeks ago of setting a fire in the Coronado Tower building.  He was sentenced to five years in a federal prison followed by three years of supervised release.

He evidently confessed so  he is now guilty and should be punished.

What caught my eye first is that he was prosecuted in the federal system instead of ours here in Texas.


Interstate commerce

The fed’s position was that the Coronado Tower is involved in interstate or international commerce.  By that rationale almost every building in El Paso would qualify.

Why did the feds prosecute the crime instead of the state?  Could it be that they are interested in keeping their volume up to justify their size?  Is Texas incapable of administering justice in a toilet paper fire case?  Don’t the feds have enough to do without handling cases that can be handled by the state?

Five years

Another thing that caught my attention is the severity of the punishment.  I can’t help but wonder what kind of a citizen he will be at 27 years old having spent five years in prison.

Have we lost our bearings here?

We deserve better


Good appointment

October 21, 2014

Also on the Tuesday, October 21, 2014 city council agenda is an item that would appoint John Karlshruher to the Camino Real Regional Mobility Authority.

I’m not in favor of the existence of the authority.  To me it is just another way for council to do things that we don’t want and then deny responsibility.  I recognize that some good can come from the authority but would prefer that city council not hide behind an appointed board.

If the Karlshruher in question is the one that I am thinking about, he is eminently qualified.  His company’s web site includes this statement from him:  “I bring a no-nonsense approach to applying engineering principles to construction with the firm knowledge of the needs of the owner and the design professionals.”

No kidding.  His reputation for competence, honesty, and straight shooting are well deserved.

On the other hand

Part of the executive session will evidently include consideration of the software piracy case that an out of town vendor has brought against the city.

Companies rarely sue their clients.  It isn’t good for future business.  In this case two companies have taken the unusual path of taking their client into federal court.  There evidently was at least one mediation session that has failed to bring results.

The former city manager, the former chief financial officer, and the former budget chief are no longer with the city.  The city is using out of town lawyers to defend itself.

This doesn’t look good for the taxpayers.

We deserve better


Well refined zoning change

October 20, 2014

The Tuesday, October 21, 2014 city council agenda has an item on it that proposes changing the zoning of a city owned parcel from R-5 residential to S-D special development.

The backup material shows virtually every city department either recommending the change or at least not opposing it.

Neighborhood opposition

According to the backup material:

“The San Juan Neighborhood Association was opposed to the rezoning request citing concerns over commercial uses close to their existing homes and submitted a petition with 32 signatures from the association members.  The petition did not trigger a 211 based on State Code requirements.”

Well I guess if the petition did not force a 211 then the city ought to go right ahead and ignore the neighbors.  By the way Texas local government code section 211 gives property owners near a proposed zoning change the right to protest the change.  If they meet the requirements of the code city council would have to have 75% of it’s members vote for the change in order for it to take place.  Since the petition did not qualify council can do this with a simple majority.

In order to have qualified the petition would have to have included signatures from the owners of 20% of the property area within 200 feet of the land in question.  In other words this is not one man one vote, this requirement is based upon a percentage of the area around the land in question.

Wonder why?

Take a look at this graphic:


It’s nice to know that oil refineries have rights too.

It is interesting to note that four of the people who signed the petition gave their address as TxDOT and their phone number as a TxDOT office.  Which office?  A TxDOT document lists the phone number in a list of district environmental coordinators.

The people promoting the petition probably did not know that the signatures had to be from property owners within 200 feet of the land to be rezoned and that they would need to get about 40% of those owners to sign since about half of the land appears to be owned by commercial interests.  Somehow I doubt that our city staff went out of their way to explain this to the San Juan Neighborhood Association.

We deserve better



What’s fair here?

October 19, 2014

The  Tuesday, October 7, 2014 city council approved the purchase of a private residence and the land surrounding it to provide a place for the aquatic center that we authorized as part of the 2012 bonds.

The city approved spending $275,000 for the property.  The property is  valued at $113,865 by the central appraisal district.

City staff tells us that the taxpayers are getting a good deal.

How can that be?  Is the central appraisal district wrong here?  Has the property owner been benefiting from a low valuation?

Is the city giving our money away?

Good choice

It looks like the city is actually right here.  The property is adjacent to an existing city park.  That will allow them great flexibility when configuring the aquatic center into the combined properties.  The center will be close to the North/South freeway and thus be quite accessible.

The central appraisal district has the land valued at $1 per square foot.  They have the surrounding properties valued at about $1.50 per square foot.

The city could have used its power of eminent domain to take the property.  I’m glad they did not.

Maybe lightning struck here and the property owner just won the lottery.  Obviously the land is worth more than it is on the tax rolls for.

We have to wonder how many other undervalued properties we have on the tax rolls.

We deserve better



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 176 other followers

%d bloggers like this: