Sunday, November 6, 2016

Union Plaza and Downtown Arena: Not Surprise City Move. Big Failure in Community Outreach

Union Plaza and Downtown Arena: Not Surprise, Big Failure in Community Outreach

Note: There are some formatting issues with Blooger that we were unable to fix. On some images, the articles text wraps around the image. Our apologies.

The City of El Paso’s recent of announcement of the location of the Downtown Arena was not a surprise to some.

The main issues with the proposed location are that Union Plaza is probably the only Downtown initiative that has worked. A mixed entertainment, business, and residential district, where a many other parts of Downtown revitalization have failed -- Union Plaza has been a success.

Furthermore, other than a few locations north of East Paisano Drive, Union Plaza is one of the few places poor people live north of Paisano Drive.

This is a beginning of a series on Downtown and how El Paso has become the poster child of displacement of the poor, eminent domain abuse, and lack of transparency in urban revitalization.

We will explore some of the academic literature that shows El Paso in not bad light, as a model of how urban planning is not to be done.

Arena in the Works

In the last fifteen years, the City of El Paso has published reports of various locations for a proposed arena, including the one they eventually chose.

We will be looking at the 2015 Downtown Plan, but take it with a grain of salt, as even in the publication page at the beginning of the plan, it says it is published by the City of El Paso, SMWM Architecture Planning Urban Design, and the frequent nemesis of the poor in the Sun City, the Paso del Norte Group (a.k.a Borderplex).See PDF page 5.

Of course, notable is the absence of Latinos and Chicanos in the list of names. Patricia Adauto, Salvador Barcorta, Sandra Almanzan, are among the list of turncoats.

 2015 Downtown Plan-Adopted.

Below is a map from the 2015 Downtown Plan in which they put Union Plaza in the “Santa Fe: Entertainment/ Convention Center/ Arena/  :

2015 Downtown Plan-Adopted. p. 13

Is the City Taking a Leap Back?

With all the Downtown revitalization that has been in talk about in the last two decades, Union Plaza has been one of the successes. 

In a recent Barrio Tour, sponsored by the El Paso Chicano(a) History and Preservation Project, the tour attracted more than 50 tourists. Life-time resident, Gilbert Gullien promoted the district of one of Downtown's success, and how revitalization can be down right.

Want people to live Downtown, they already do  -- in Union Plaza!

In fact, in its 2015 Downtown Plan Adopted, it published photos of the District, further pushing it as one of its successes.

The City states:

El Paso has invested considerable energy in expanding and developing cultural and civic assets in the area bounded by the Civic Center to the north and Paisano and Union Railway yards to the south. Current exciting improvements include the construction of the Main Library and park and
planned Museum of History. This complements the recent streetscape
and park improvements to the Union Plaza area, the opening of the Art
Museum of El Paso, and the recent renovation of the Plaza Theatre. Within
the area south of the convention center and west of Santa Fe Street the
City has constructed a new district Fire Station along Leon Street and a
new public parking facility along San Antonio. The Convention Center was
expanded and renovated in 1999. South of Paisano Drive a new international
transit terminal is proposed to serve as a central terminal for international
and long haul bus facilities.

Despite this public investment, the area still lacks energy and street life
one would expect to find in an active area of cultural and entertainment
uses. Very little retail or commercial development has made its way into
the Union Plaza area. This area continues to be a fragmented neighborhood
of partially occupied warehouses, bus yards, scattered single family
and multi-family residences, and vacant lots. The street improvements to
this area and new Union Plaza park has sparked some entertainment uses
in the blocks bounded by San Francisco, San Antonio, and Durango, but
the district has gone largely unchanged.

 2015 Downtown Plan-Adopted, p. 23.

The City’s analysis talks about improvements. Remember this was published in 2015, but the City fails to focus on the residents of Union Plaza. It’s clear that’s its goal is an “Entertainment District.”

On page 23 (see above) of the plan, it highlights all the improvements the City has made in this district. One is the new Fire Station on Chihuahua Street, which is in demolition zone.

Debates on What is Historical and What is Not

Silvia Firth recently garnered the wrath of historians in stating that nothing in the proposed demolition area was “historical.”

The City of El Paso is not foolish. They are not going to call something “historical” if it is in the right of way. I use “right of way” was s euphemism for the path of demolition by eminent domain.

2015 Downtown Plan Adopted, p. 32. 

Notice on page 32 of the 2015 Downtown Plan, the City is careful not to include anything as “Historical and Significant” in the Union Plaza District, anything in Segundo Barrio east of Santa Fe Street and south of Paisano Drive, and almost nothing south of East San Antonio Avenue to Paisano Drive. 

Any historian, from popular historian Fred Morales, Leon Metz, and Bernie Sargent, to academic architecture historians like Max Grossman, to academic historians like David Romo, Dr. Mario T. Garcia, Miguel Juarez, Dr. Oscar Martinez, Dr. Yolanda Chavez will strongly disagree if you say nothing is “historical” in these areas.
Interestingly, focusing on Downtown’s history, on page 34, the Plan includes a photo of Sacred Heart Catholic Church, but is it not listed as “Historical and Significant” on page 40.

2015 Downtown Plan, p. 34.

When one looks at the “Neighborhood Planning Game” as explained in Appendix B, which is dedicated to describing the City’s community outreach, an example of the game is shown in one photos. The relating text says:

 Example 2: The group placed housing throughout the Mercado Retail District focusing
on low-rise apartments and affordable housing. A large number of public amenities were
provided to serve the community. A community recreation center, day care facility, community
garden, farmer’s market, public art, street vendors, interpretive signage, and open
spaces were selected. In addition, the group added a pharmacy. Concern was raised
that the planning process respect the historical and cultural significance of the Segundo
2015 Downtown Plan Adopted, Appendix B.

However, if you revisit the map published on page 32 above , the City didn’t really care what residence thought was historical in this 8-block area, as nothing south of Paisano, east of Santa Fe was considered “Historical or Significant” (see map below):

2015 Downtown Plan Adopted, p. 32.

Community Outreach or Lack Thereof

As you see, the City recently announced its choice for location of the arena. It did not hold any neighborhood meeting beforehand either with residents or businesses.

Page 43 of the plan exaggerates the City of El Paso “community outreach.” When advocating for the Downtown Plan, the City has said it had community outreach.

However, to the best of my knowledge, I could not locate any record of any meeting held in Union Plaza.

With the goal of giving a fictional community outreach ploy consists of meeting with residents of Chihuahuita and the Southside Neighborhood Association. The later, the Southside Neighborhood Association, is a ghost organization consisting of two people, Osvaldo Velez and Pablo Lopez, usually provides the farce, but that is a whole other rabbit hole. See Appendix B 1

For the 2015 Downtown Plan, the City record their “community outreach” in Appendix B of their plan.

Interestingly, the outreach was half-ass, or more so a quarter-ass. Two meetings were held at the Convention Center. Now, both the City, “representatives of the Paso Del Norte Group” and SMWM answered questions from participants.

Is this real outreach?

Having oligarchs answer question for participants. Remember, the Paso del Norte Groups is an invitation-only membership know to discriminates against Latinos (unless they are those that advocate positions of White El Paso oligarchs).

Dues are $1000 for each member.

I am sure the City will say that this is their outreach to Union Plaza residents since the center is adjacent to the barrio.

The City event brags about its “Downtown Planning Game” for participants in the workshop. But then the reports admits, the game only covered an “8 Block Area” from Stanton Street to Santa Fe Street. Appendix B. PDF p. 157.

The appendix says “Historical Significant” cards were given to the people who participated in the workshop, but then again, it was only limited to this 8-block area.

It did not include Union Plaza.

2015 Downtown Plan Adopted, Appendix B

"Arena Square"

In the 2015 Plan, it maps out an Arena Square at First Street and Santa Fe and a “Pedestrian Connection” to the Union Plaza Area.

2015 Downtown Plan Adopted, p. 91.

A preview of where they wanted the arena located in seen on page 56 described as the “Convention / Arena Anchor.”

On Page 58, again, they place the arena in the Chihuahua Street area.

Page 52 of the plan shows the proposed areas for an arena. Of course “A” was our former City Hall, now baseball stadium. Of course in the plan, they are advocating an 18,000-capacity arena.

On page 61-2, it compares the three proposed sites for the area:

Humor: Interesting Comments from the 2015 Downtown Community Outreach Neighborhood Planning Game
If you look at PDF page 160 of the plan, Appendix B labeled Community Outreach Overview, on the photo example of their Neighborhood Planning Game, there are some interesting comments written by participants onto the game and on post-its posted to the game.

2015 Downtown Plan Adopted, Appendix B. 

Above is a game piece labeled “Land Use” a participant writes: “Who’s going to pay for this?”
By a game piece labeled “Public Realm” a participants writes: "Bldgs should be maintained in Good Conditions or Condemned."

Again, looking at page 60 on the plans example of “Neighborhood Planning Game,” on example 2, the same participant writes:
“No Targets, No Walmart’s”

2015 Downtown Plan Adopted, Appendix B. 

By Sacred Heart, a participant puts a post it: “ Please respect the historical significance + cultural significance of Segundo Barrio.”

A post-it that reads “Neighborhoods that may be affected by changes” is conveniently cut off.

Another post it is “Democracy Begins with the people.”
2015 Downtown Plan Adopted, Appendix B. 

Another posts it says “Do Not Use Eminent Domain”
2015 Downtown Plan Adopted, Appendix B. 

A written comments says “Segundo barrio is not Downtown”
2015 Downtown Plan Adopted, Appendix B. 
“Why aren’t any residents from these neighborhoods here?”         
2015 Downtown Plan Adopted, Appendix B.

“Do not use eminent domain” is scrawled again.
“Learn from Mistakes”

In looking at this so-called community outreach, its evident is was a charade.

Even the input from participants on what was "historical" or “significant” was limited to an 8-block area of Downtown, and not taken into account in the final version of the plan.

Even if a community meeting was held in Segundo Barrio, comments in that neighborhood regarding what is historical and significant fell on deaf ears.

The Neighborhood Planning game that was given to groups, did not include all of Downtown, but either the so-called "Mercado Retail District" or "Mixed Use/Retail District" (see B3, PDF page 156, Appendix B).

Like a “charette,” these outreach meetings were just an effort to give the appearance of community buy in, but not to take the participant’s input seriously.