Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Protest before City Council Meeting yesterday

Protest against the current downtown 'revitalization' (demolition) plan before a special city council meeting early yesterday evening.

Francisco Delgado's painting El Plan. Francisco is pictured on the left.

Over 60 people spoke up at the city council meeting and a few hundred were in the audience clapping for various sides throughout the evening. The divisions remain clear. Many plan proponents who will not need to sacrifice anything continue to encourage others (residents and business owners) to sacrifice their livelihoods for the future of the city. (Many younger proponents also cited how this plan is going to ensure their future and the futures of their own children too but did not give any specifics beyond faith.) My goodness, since when did upscale or big box stores or strip malls truly brighten our future? Are their children going to own a Target store or such in the Real Estate Investment Trust? Will their children have more bars and clubs to go to and therefore not leave their families for another city? I apologize for the rhetorical questions... I simply can't understand the logic of many who say they believe in "their hearts" that this plan will transform the lives of all El Pasoans as justification for supporting the plan without question. It seems like they really believe in manifest destiny (they don't even cite the possibility of increasing the city tax base as a reason why they support the plan... they really seem to believe that the cosmetic changes will save the city's image and bring an abundance of everlasting happiness). They really seem to believe they have a right to destroy a portion of Segundo Barrio and many local businesses to build into their playground.

The city proposed to give Segundo Barrio residents in the proposed demolition zone relocation assistance of equal value. So if a family lives in a 2 bedroom apartment right now, they will get a nicer, equally-sized 2 bedroom apartment somewhere else (that is how the city and others justify taking over... they suddenly pretend that this plan is saving people after continual neglect by the city to maintain city codes in substandard apartments). At one point someone cited how plan proponents are truly helping residents... how some residents have up to 10 people living in a small space. So I guess that means the city will move all 10 of them to another 2 bedroom apartment. Well that sounds "progressive," the word many keep using like a mantra. In this city, the so-called "progressives" seem more and more like Machiavellian capitalists as the days pass. And what about any undocumented residents in the area. Will they qualify for any government housing assistance? I believe if the city were truly concerned about the residents and that area of Segundo Barrio, they would help build it back up in a way that celebrates its cultural survival and importance, not hand it over to private investors because "location, location, location" is of utmost importance in this economic development plan at the expense of the cultural and historical destruction of one of El Paso's oldest neighborhoods. Where are the plans for increased education and outreach? Increased social services? I don't believe these things come along with the proposed Real Estate Investment Trust, only more low-paying service jobs, and a historic neighborhood gone in exchange for a gentrified one.

(The expensive promotional video for this plan states, “Now think about big, urban retail chains just like in larger cities. We’ll have great shopping downtown, including stores that are America’s favorites.” And: “Even more exciting, an urban lifestyle mall. A collection of lifestyle stores like you’ve seen in other cities. Exactly the kind of mall you probably planned a vacation to see—except now it will be right here, downtown.”) Progressive and creative? I don't know too many people who plan vacations to visit malls, and if they exist as I'm sure they do, I really worry for them no matter how much money they have to burn. And it sounds like this part of the video is targeting El Paso shoppers. And while this is only one piece of the plan, it's really indicative of what we're dealing with here.

Many, many opponents spoke against the current plan last night, and nothing much has changed. A significant area of Segundo Barrio is still in the demolition zone and many residents will still be displaced. Many business owners will be forced to forfeit their businesses under the current plan. City council passed a resolution for a 12 month moratorium on the use of eminent domain in the downtown plan to try and silence the opposition. It makes for a good newspaper article about the city's sudden concern (in fact, several tv news clips I watched make it sound like the Segundo Barrio is not going to be touched at all, or that the city is suddenly saving it... terribly sloppy--or intentional--reporting? How are the majority of El Pasoans who don't attend the city meetings ever to know the manipulation they are being fed? I can't believe the amount of misinformation spread through the news media). The city created the opposition by having a plan that did not come from the people but from a private group of elite business folks who paid $1800 to join this so-called "civic group" that hired a San Francisco-based firm to work with them on the plan (with $250,000 of taxpayers' money in addition to additional funds they raised). So now many community members are upset as they should be (except those who do not have to sacrifice or who do not recognize that the sacrifices others will have to make are unjust). And now the city council makes it appear like they are "kind" and "listening" because for 12 months they won't use eminent domain to take away properties for private investment even though they'd need longer than a year to really get started on obtaining the properties for the plan. Unfortunately, there are only three city council members who are clearly against the use of eminent domain in this plan.

As a community member, it was disturbing to see some city council members chatting with each other last night while people were addressing them. One council member in particular often gives his good ole boys the thumbs up sign and smiles when they get up to speak in favor of the plan. It is embarassing to watch his ego on display.

We spent hours last night listening to public opinions again. If city council had voted before the public voiced opinions last night, they still would have voted the same. They have been "listening" to the community for months now after the plan was unveiled but it's as if many of them have not heard a word. It is clear why they did not want to hear from us during the initial planning stages when the maps were drawn and destruction of certain areas was decided upon. Their publicity campaign for the formal adoption of this plan continues. They seem to enjoy wasting everyone's time in this so-called effort to gather community input. Their decisions are firm and their so-called resolutions are calculating, appear scripted, and continue to further their publicity campaigns. Their methods are transparent and their "empathy" disingenuous. They are banking on the disinterest, mild interest, or genuine interest of thousands of uninformed and misinformed El Pasoans who don't or can't attend city meetings and might read the Times or catch a grossly inaccurate news blurb on tv here and there. They must also assume that El Pasoans are easily manipulated. Less than six degrees separate many of the good ole boys and gals that are on their side. It is all so transparent. We are all in a game that has just begun. They are hoping the opposition will give up in exhaustion. But each time there is another meeting of significance, even more voices of opposition speak up. This is only the beginning.

Some excellent interviews David Romo conducted with local leaders in today's Newspaper Tree (Voices of Dissent: Interviews with Pete Duarte and County Attorney José Rodríguez). I recommend these interviews and www.pasodelsur.com for anyone who is interested in what's going on around here.


Sheryl said...

Great photos of the protests! Wow! Getting it on in EPT.

Emmy said...

Thanks, Sheryl. These are pictures from the very beginning of it all but the amount of people holding signs grew soon after, including many local business leaders who joined us.