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Commentary: El Paso voices say canceling arena could renew confidence in city government

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By Kathy Staudt

El Pasoans have tried to communicate with city officials through emails, but their voices are invisible to the broader public. Alas, the mayor and council representatives rarely answer emails. Civic engagement is crucial to democracy. Without voice and responsiveness, El Pasoans could lose confidence in their city government.

The 2020 health and economic crisis laid bare some reckless city budgetary and staffing choices. Many voices say the following: NO Downtown multipurpose arena during the financial crisis. By April 18, Oscar Martίnez’s change.org petition, “Terminate the El Paso Sports Arena,” got 928 signatures.

I offer these excerpts from diverse people who emailed City Council.

Retired teacher Eva Ross: “As governmental leaders, redirect your attention to lower taxing, public health, the needs of our lower income citizens. Abandon the arena, any new construction for at least 3 years. Let’s fully utilize the Chavez building, the Museum of History, expand library services. Let young families revel in the shaded playgrounds in existing parks.”

Father Rafael Garcίa: “My hope and my sense is that a large number of El Pasoans are in fact against this arena project. … The challenge is how to get people to express their thoughts on how they want a major sum of tax money spent during this time of serious economic hardship.”

Marsha Labodda, Friend of the Downtown Library: “We are in debt of more than $2 billion and more so due to the virus. We need to reconsider the (Mexican-American Cultural Center) and the arena. Upgrading the Library and the Abraham Chavez Theater will be far cheaper than continuing these projects as originally planned. Since the county declared the Downtown area as an Historic District, we can preserve the history of El Paso so critical and vitally needed for our population instead of destroying it with an arena. … We have two arenas for sports: UTEP and the Baseball Arena. We don’t need another one.”

Retired Foreign Service officer Marshall Carter-Tripp wrote to express her “enthusiastic support for renovation of the Chavez Theater with the funds from the 2012 Bond Election for “improvements in multipurpose performing arts and entertainment center. The Chavez is the only facility that meets this description! And the Chavez needs renovation to make it the world-class facility that it should be. Other parts of the Convention Center could also be renovated with the 2012 funds, with money to spare – helping our city avoid Bankruptcy!”

Lawyer Enrique Medrano: “It is imperative that all spending on non-essential services, especially including so-called quality of life projects, be immediately halted. Homeowners have had to pay a greater and greater share of ever-increasing property tax revenues for the City in the last 15 years, coinciding with the city manager form of government. Homeowners need property tax relief more than ever.”

Callie Weston: “Remember that memorable phrase ‘If you build it they will come?’ That was a fantasy. I urge you to face reality. The Arena? If you build it who will come? The city of El Paso is now encountering a budget shortfall, unemployment, sharp decline in tax revenues. … Sales throughout our local economy will continue to drop. Already we are seeing far fewer customers from Ciudad Juarez and other parts of Mexico. Local residents will not make up the difference. Nor will tourists or people traveling on business from other parts of the US. … Need I point out that raising property taxes again will not be an answer to … essential costs to keep the city running. And not for the Arena — not for projected costs and not for costs due to the budget over-runs which are sure to follow. … Keep El Paso sane and solvent. Cancel the arena. Concentrate on the basics.”

Father. Bob Mosher wrote that the pandemic tragedy “must lead City leaders to re-think ‘quality of life’ priorities and budget allocations. Moving forward with the arena project, as presently envisioned by the city government, with an estimated price-tag now around $250 million, would be irresponsible, socially and economically, in my judgment. Certainly an arena is not a priority. An arena could be built by the private sector. … Let the people decide what is important to them with regards to ‘quality of life’ and a major expenditure! Eight years have passed since the 2012 quality of life bond vote. El Paso has endured various tragedies, and needs do change. Let the people decide.”

Kathy Staudt is a member of Community First Coalition, CommunityFirst915@gmail.com. A retired professor, Staudt founded the Center for Civic Engagement.

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