Monday, May 28, 2012

Looking the Other Way: The O'Rourke-Sanders Displacement and Clarence Thomas: Displacement as a Local and International Issue

Displacement as a Local and International Issue
Looking the Other Way: The O'Rourke-Sanders Displacement and Clarence Thomas


The recent congressional election in El Paso has had its amusements. One came at the behest of White liberals in El Paso not wanting to focus on the issues of displacement in El Paso. If it was displacement of people happening in the 3rd World, many of these White liberals would be at the forefront.

Also are the accusations as to why are we mixing race with gentrification. As some White liberals in El Paso, "they have nothing to do with each other."

However, when displacement occurs at our front door and local White liberals are confronted with the racism of much of El Paso's urban renewal plans, how gentrification hurts the poor, and how there is still a White elite that seeks to keep Whites in power, all the talk by these White liberals of displacement disappears.

Above, photo of proposed port of entry at Yarbrough Drive and Cesar Chavez Border Highway. O'Rourke served on the Metropolitan Planning Organization which O'Rourke was member while on the El Paso City Council (Evaluation of Ports of Entry for the EPMPO, MPO Presentation Slide 8, posted on MPO website)(See Note 2)

Displacement in El Paso

In the latter part of the last decade, the pushing the Downtown Plan, the events in Lomas de Poleo, and now in this decade Beto's Bridge (the Yarbrough Port-of-Entry)(see Collins), displacement is occurring in El Paso and Chihuahua. In fact, Sanders, O'Rourke, and the rest of the city council of that era are one of the most reviled in the social science literature when it comes to the study of eminent domain abuse. El Paso is frequently the prime example of this abuse in the academic literature.

The recent congressional race between O'Rourke and Silvestre Reyes, the issue of displacement has come up. 

O'Rourke's father-in-law Bill Sanders, is the major instigators of displacement in the El Paso region, often using his son-in-law to push his agenda. Furthermore, with Reyes opposing a port of entry built through a neighborhood, Sander's and his crones need a replacement in the U.S. representative's office.

On a various occasions while on the El Paso City Council, O'Rourke recused himself from numerous votes because he had a conflict of interest with his father-in-law.

  • O'Rourke, who seconded the motion from East-Central Rep. Alejandro Lozano to approve the contract extension for the Paso del Norte Group's work on the Downtown Plan. O'Rourke, at the time was a member of the Paso del Norte Group and he said he did not feel it was a conflict for him to vote on the issue. 
  • "I'm not really an active member. I'm a dues-paying member but I haven't been able to attend a meeting since I got on the council," O'Rourke said. He did not disclose his membership, he said, "because the Paso del Norte Group isn't getting anything out of this. I feel that the group is helping us get something done we wouldn't have been able to get done ourselves." (Paso de Sur Barrio Under Siege Timeline).
  • When the plan was introduced on March 31, 2006, O’Rourke, who is the son-in-law of Sanders, made the motion to begin the process of adopting the plan.
  • In October 2006, "Bill Sanders changes his mind and states he will invest his own money into the Downtown Plan." (Paso de Sur Barrio Under Siege Timeline). "After having stated publicly when the plan was first unveiled that he would personally not own property in the redevelopment plan so that his son in law would not be accused of conflict of interest, he changes his mind at the behest of Mayor John Cook. Cook proposes that from now on O’Rourke should recuse himself and thus allow Sanders to invest in the plan because without his investment the plan is economically less viable." (Ibid.)
  • In June 2006, Myrna Deckert — Paso Del Norte Group (PDNG) director — publicly misinformed the community that Representative O’Rourke’s company was not getting paid for the services he was providing for the PDNG although he is. (Mr. O'Rourke told the ethics commission that he and Myrna Deckert forgot that the PDNG was paying his Stanton Street Technology Group for their services.) 
  • Mr. O’Rourke was still a member of the PDNG while he voted on issues related to the plan. He did not resign from the PDNG until October 2005. 
  • On September 13, 2005, O’Rourke was still a PDNG member when he voted to extend the PDNG contract. (O'Rourke's lawyer argued that this was perfectly okay for Mr. O'Rourke to do because it was actually the Paso Del Norte Foundation that requested the extension and not the Paso Del Norte Group. Sure, it's the same group of people, the lawyer admitted, but one has 501-c3 status and the other doesn't.)
  • On Dec. 18, 2006, City Council passed the Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone by a vote of 5 to 2 . The TIRZ sets the stage for eminent domain to be used on any property—blighted or not—within the 188 acre zone.  "(O’Rourke recused himself from the vote and left the chamber. It’s not clear why he feels he does have a conflict of interest on the TIRZ zone, but not on the Paso Del Norte Plan as a whole.) (Ibid.)
  • January 29, 2007 - "ALTHOUGH CITY REPRESENTATIVE Robert O’Rourke has signed sworn affidavits in the past admitting to conflict of interest regarding all issues related to the Downtown-Segundo Barrio “redevelopment plan,” he failed to recuse himself during yesterday’s vote on an ordinance that would disallow “blight” condemnations on buildings that are in perfect condition. Instead he cast the deciding vote with the 4 to 3 majority of City Council that wants the local government to have broad powers to condemn and forcibly confiscate any building it wishes within the “redevelopment zone” even if the building is well-maintained. The homes and small businesses that are thus expropriated will be handed over to private developers including O’Rourke’s father-in-law William Sanders.  
  • As owner of the Verde Group, the Borderplex Community Trust (that is currently buying property within the redevelopment zone) and founder of the Paso del Norte Group, Sanders is the major driving force behind the plan to demolish a 30 acre-zone of the Segundo Barrio and displace more than 1,800 residents from this historic neighborhood.
  • Since December 2006, O’Rourke has consistently recused himself because of admitted conflict of interest from votes related to the redevelopment zone, a 302-acre area also known as the TIRZ (Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone) that includes the heart of the Segundo Barrio. For instance in October 17, 2007, he signed a sworn affidavit stating that “I, and or a person or persons related to me have an interest in property in the proposed TIRZ district.” 
  • Oddly enough, instead of admitting the obvious conflict of interest involving his father in law who is currently buying up land in the TIRZ zone, O’Rourke states that “my wife’s employer is a landowner in the proposed district.” In other affidavits he states that his wife, Amy Sanders O'Rourke,  works for the La Fe Community Development Corporation, a for-profit entity that owns apartments and several businesses within the TIRZ zone. Ms. O'Rourke is currently the executive director of the La Fe Preparatory charter school. " (Ibid.)
  • "O’Rourke gave no explanation why, if has signed sworn statements in the past admitting to conflict of interest in the TIRZ zone, he believes it is ethical to cast the deciding vote on a matter related to this same zone." (Ibid.)
  • Jan. 29, 2007 - “Some Segundo Barrio residents were told the vote on the ordinance was postponed for a week and they left. It’s not going to hurt you to postpone it for a week. You should always err on the part of the citizens. You’ve obviously already made up your mind how you’re going to vote anyway. But at least let them speak before you cast your vote. Please postpone it for a week. It’s not going to hurt anything. Otherwise the people will go with a real bad taste in their mouth” (Ibid.)
  •  "The speaker, who is a regular at City Hall meetings, spoke in support of a group of Segundo Barrio residents who had shown up at City Hall on Tuesday morning to sign up to speak on the eminent domain ordinance but left after they were told that the vote and discussion on the issue had been postponed for a week.The City voted 4-3 to deny the request for postponement.
  • O’Rourke again cast the deciding vote.“The residents are free to come back next week and address the council if they wish during the open comments period,” O’Rourke told Mrs. Ochoa. He did not inform her that next week whatever the residents have to say will not affect City Council's vote on Segundo Barrio expropriations. That vote has already been cast" (Ibid.)

Yet, when it came to votes regarding the demolition of the Segundo Barrio for the benefit of his father-in-law, O'Rourke did not recuse himself. This occurred even after Mayor John Cook recommended he do so.

What is displacement?

Displacement can occurs for many reasons, but most of the time, here in El Paso, or in other parts of the world, displacement is the forcing of communities and individuals out of their homes, often also their homelands, for the purpose of economic development.

The Supreme Court decision in Kelo v. New London the Court held in a 5–4 decision that the general benefits a community enjoyed from economic growth qualified such redevelopment plans as a permissible "public use" under the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment

In March 2008, "A delegation of human rights observers including members of Amnesty International, the National Lawyers Guild and La Raza Centro Legal carry out a one week visit of Lomas del Poleo and the Segundo Barrio and come to the following conclusion:
  • “Displacement of poor local communities is currently taking place due to potential industrial and corporate development on both sides of the border. In addition to Lomas Del Poleo, Segundo Barrio, one of the oldest neighborhoods in El Paso with many historic buildings of rich cultural significance, is also at risk of disappearing. the pedestrian bridges from Ciudad Juárez currently terminate in El Paso’s Segundo Barrio. Segundo Barrio has been called “a localized version of Ellis Island” for the Mexican community crossing into the United States.
  • Much like Lomas del Poleo, residents are being displaced by a closed and non-public process which benefits some of the same developers. According to one resident, Maria Guadalupe Ochoa, in lieu of violence, residents of the Segundo Barrio are faced with dilemmas such as developers “offering $20,000 for your house and you have to take it because your children have needs.” In Segundo Barrio, the displacement would impact roughly 1,800 current residents.
  • “Again, like the displacement happening in Lomas del Poleo, there is a strong economic motivation for the displacement. Developers, like the Paso Del Norte Group stand to gain huge profits from appropriating a portion of this neighborhood. The proposed use of eminent domain to recuperate property for private development is effectively a land grab, which benefits real estate developers. Rather than being used for the common good, in this instance the land being “reclaimed” would be turned over to a private Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) whose goals are determined by the trustees and not by the general public and thereby not accountable to the community or city government. To a certain degree, when faced with the possibility of losing their homes through eminent domain, the residents are facing economic coercion.

Demographics of Landgrabbing

The Takings Clause gave the federal government power to take land with just compensation. However, before the Supreme Court's decision in Kelo v. New London (2005), as early as the 1950s, the taking power was moving in a new direction. In the 1954 decision, Berman v. Parker, gave “urban renewal” a shot of steroids. 

Before Berman, “private property could only be taken through eminent domain for public uses.” 

However, the high court made changes in Berman that would bring a windfall to many White elites like O'Rourke and Sanders. Berman transformed the words “public use” as found in the U.S. Constitution to “public purpose.” This is saying that a government entity can “take” private land for not only for government use, but also for a third party's use.

So Berman was used throughout the 1950s and 1960s to remove so-called blight in many cities. But as often used in race studies, “blight removal” meant “negro removal” (Carpenter 3). 

But Berman's decision was not just limited to “blighted” properties. 

Even if your property was in good condition (not blighted) it can be taken by a government entity and transferred to a private entity (3). In Kelo v New London, the court held “that promoting economic development is a function of the government and provides a legitimate public purpose for private-to-private transfer of property” (Kelo). 

The court was closely divided though and its harsh self-criticism came from two conservative justices, Sandra Day O'Connor and Clarence Thomas (Thomas).

The warning from these two conservative justices was that “expansion” of “public use” would have dire consequences for the “poor, minority and other historically disenfranchised an comparably powerless communities...”(See O'Connor and Thomas dissents).

In their study, “Victimizing the Vulnerable: The Demographics of Eminent Domain Abuse,” Dick M. Carpenter II and John K. Ross documented "184 areas targeted by eminent domain for private development and found that it was more likely that these areas and population of poor, ethnic minorities as well as whose “with lower levels of educational attainment” (1):

  • 58% of the population of areas targeted for taking included minority residents, compared to only 45% in the surrounding communities:
  • the median income is less than $19,000 per year, compared to more than $23,000 in surrounding communities;
  • 25% live at or below poverty, compared to only 165 in surrounding communities;
  • a greater percentage of residents have less than a high school diploma and smaller percentages have various levels of college education compared to surrounding communities.
    (Carpenter and Ross 1 and 6)

As O'Connor and Thomas predicted, “eminent domain abuse is most likely to fall on the politically weak . Those often least-equipped to represent their own interests in the face of the use of eminent domain and their eventual displacement” (See O'Connor and Thomas dissents). 

This population bears “not only an economic burden but also a socio-cultural one through the loss of social networks and support systems inherent in neighborhoods, small businesses and churches” (Ibid.)

Justice O'Connor said:

  • "Any property may now be taken for the benefit of another private party, but the fallout from this decision will not be random. The beneficiaries are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power in the political process, including large corporation and development firms. As for the victims, the government now has license to transfer property from those with fewer resources to those with more” (O'Connor in Carpenter).

O'Connor's words were a dire prediction. Bill Sanders presently has his money invested in  3 of the city council members. We have not looked into his influence in 2006-2008, but the record shows even without any substantial contribution to his son-in-law O'Rourke, Sander's influence was prominent (see Paso del Sur Barrio Under Siege Timeline). 

O'Connor's words will come true as city council has/had the power to “transfer property from those with fewer resources to those with more” (see O'Connor's dissent).

Displacement as a Local Issues

For those White liberals who say there is no international issue in this election, I point to displacement.(see note 1)  And just when we thought Segundo Barrio was the end of it, Sanders has eyed the lower valley for a port of entry with the possibility of displacing thousands (see link to Verde Group properties in Cd. Juarez, listed under "Verde Bermudez" or "Bermudez":; see Collins on O'Rourke support of a Yarbrough port of entry).


Displacement is an issue here in the border area, both in Mexico and El Paso, as it is in other parts of the world. The only problem is some white liberals care when it happens abroad -- but cannot see it in their own backyards much less care about it. And it's sad when they can't see it in their own backyard and Justice Clarence Thomas can see it in his.


Carpenter, Dick M. and Ross, John K. Victimizing the Vulnerable: The Demographics of Eminent Domain. Institute of  Justice, June 2007. Downloadable at: A note, this study, like now countless studies in the social sciences uses El Paso's Downtown Plan as the best example of eminent domain abuse and abuse of public disclosure.

Collins, Daniel. City Council to debate bridge study. The Prospector. Posted Jan. 4, 2008. "While no official location has been selected for possible construction of a new bridge, the Yarbrough area has been most mentioned as a possible site." and "A location near Yarbrough, O'Rourke said, could be ideal for attracting manufacturing companies interested in doing business on both sides of the border and for it's proximity to the border highway." 

Evaluation of Ports of Entry for the EPMPO. El Paso Metropolitan Planning Organization Slideshow Presentation, Viewed May 27, 2012. Click under Documents, last presentation listed.

Stevens, J. P. (2005). Susette Kelo, et al., petitioners v. City of New London, Connecticut, et al.; Opinion of the Court. Washington, DC: United States Supreme Court.

O’Connor, S. D. (2005). Susette Kelo, et al., petitioners v. City of New London, Connecticut, et al.; Justice O’Connor dissenting. Washington, DC: United States Supreme Court, pp. 1-2.

Thomas, C. (2005). Susette Kelo, et al., petitioners v. City of New London, Connecticut, et al.; Justice Thomas dissenting. Washington, DC: United
States Supreme Court, p. 17.

Welsome, Eileen. "Eminent Disaster:A cabal of politicians and profiteers targets an El Paso barrio," Texas Observer, Posted May 3, 2007: Viewed on May 27, 2012.

Note 1. One can say that there are many international issues that effect us locally. Especially the drug war and border enforcement. And many criticize Reyes for his U.S. Border Patrol roots as well as his support from the defense industry and Dept. of Homeland Security contractors. However, Reyes is not the candidate he was 16 years ago and he has shown his support for border enforcement reform, his criticism against border enforcement abuses, and his support for immigration reform. We do not think that if O'Rourke is elected he will refuse contributions from DHS contractors. As for immigration reform, O'Rourke supports this but his displacement stance conflicts with his immigration reform stance as many people migrant to the United States due to displacement in their home countries only to face displacement in El Paso. If immigration reform and the drug war can be seen as an international issues important to El Paso's White liberals, why not displacement.

Note 2. "The El Paso Metropolitan Planning Organization / Transportation Policy Board is the regional planning and programming agency responsible for working with residents, neighborhood groups, local, state and federal agencies, along with transportation providers in El Paso County, Texas, southern Dona Ana and Otero Counties in New Mexico." (see The El Paso City Council appoints several city representatives to serve on this board. O'Rourke has hedged the issue about a port-of-entry (POE) at Yarbrough although he has gone on record supporting one. Before O'Rourke and Sanders became involved in this issues, the proposed site was south of the Zaragoza bridge, but this soon changed due to Sander's interests as well as interests from developers in the Butterfield Trail Industrial Park. O'Rourke has hedged this issues by passing the buck to the decision of the MPO and other entities which he was part and will not go on the record opposing a port of entry through a neighborhood. POE are hotspots for pollution, high levels of carbon monoxide, particle matter, and air toxics and a new POE at Yarbrough Drive has the potential to raze churches, schools, and lower valley landmarks. Ysleta Pre-K is less then 2000 feet from the border and 6 schools are near the proposed POE with 2,922 students. For this reason the Ysleta Indpendent School District has gone on record against this port of entry passing a resolution in 2009. Furthermore, whether intended or not, there is the possibility of increase wear and tear, stop-and-go traffic, pollution on Yarbrough Drive and to make potential to make Yarbrough Dr. into a highway with overpasses similar to what occurred in Chamizal (see El Paso Times Chamizal neighborhood residents upset over commercial truck traffic). As shown above, the  Metropolitan Planning Organization has already published maps to make Yarbrough Dr. a truck route to connect proposed POE to Butterfield Trail warehouses via Global Reach. · A truck bypass is already being constructed on the Mexican side opposite Yarbrough Dr. · City of El Paso Revitalization Strategies and  Weed & Seed for Chamizal and Segundo Barrio blame numerous problems in the neighborhood to its proximity to the POE at the Bridge of the Americas.

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