Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Well, That Was Fast...

If there is a record for how quickly a city rep steps in it, City Rep Svarzbein may be the new record-holder. Ideally you want to spend your election honeymoon going on the offense on something. Svarzbein is already having to play defense thanks to being at the intersection of campaign donors and his support of preservation.

The El Paso Historical Commission is having a bit of a public meltdown over the fact that the city turned down grant money.

I tried to reach the commission by messaging them through Facebook to see if their social media posts are the official position of the commission or if its just one member posting. Without hearing otherwise one would have to assume that this is their official position since its on the organization's Facebook page.

For those of you who are living under a rock and somehow missed it, here is a screen shot of what they had to say about Rep Svarzbein following yesterday's meeting ahead of today's city council meeting.

I don't know that I've ever seen another entity in town react that way in public to an issue like this and it begs the question about whether or not it will impact their effectiveness in the future when it comes to persuading members of council on a given issue. 

It also underscores a critique that many in the business community made about the ability to work with members of the historical commission. This is actually a text book example of why they don't like to work with them. 

As I wrote a couple of weeks ago I think people should be more upset at the fact that it was a city staffer that turned down the grant and not a decision made by policy makers. That is the bigger issue, but what do I know?

Clearly the commission lays a fair and accurate critique and its very difficult to see this as anything other than Svarzbein selling-out to big money campaign donors. 

But I think he misplayed his hand and had the perfect opportunity to advocate for the grant and let Niland be the bad guy. Rep Niland sticks to her guns on policy issues and was certainly not shy about where she stood on the issue. Her philosophy was pretty much, bring-it.

The votes weren't there on council to pass it. This would've been a perfect time for him to force an up or down vote on the issue and it would've died and he would've been able to say he tried but was out-voted. 

And trust me, I get the position he is in too. Those are big financial contributors breathing down his neck. But he has four years to kiss and make up with them. Caving in so quickly to them sets a bad precedent because now they are going to figure that all they have to do is lean on him hard enough and he'll go with the flow. 

Svarzbein sent out a statement on his position and I'm posting it below so that you can see what both sides had to say. Svarzbein posted a comment that he had released a statement on the issue to the Historical Commission's Facebook page and there was a somewhat confrontational response left by the page.

Gotta love El Paso politics. Here is Svarzbein's statement, my favorite part is where he invites people to his first community meeting. That should be very interesting:

On Monday, I voted to continue dialogue between downtown property owners and those El Pasoans interested in historic preservation. Since there was not enough support for the current grant application, I am concerned about building long-term solutions that create results. There was a lack of community support and consensus that outreach efforts by City officials managing the survey grant project needed time to build awareness. In many cases, even El Pasoans with long roots in downtown never even knew of the survey until very recently. 

The solution I offered urged fellow council members to support the creation of a downtown citizen's task force to review historical survey grant findings, and make recommendations to Council. This body would be comprised of preservationists, developers, and downtown stakeholders to establish common understanding for sustainable downtown development and restoration. This approach is currently being explored by city management. Specifically Council assigned the Economic Development team to reach out to preservation groups and building ownership on historical designation efforts.

Historic Preservation and our downtown is not a cheap slogan to me. It is something that I have been involved in and have invested in since I moved back to El Paso. I am a member of the Paso Del Norte Streetcar Preservation Society and have fought tremendously to bring our Art-Deco PCC Streetcars back to life which will have tremendous economic and cultural impact on our city and our Downtown.

We are closer than we were three months ago...or even last month. This survey and possible nomination of a national register district would not prohibit demolition of buildings. But we need far more buy in and stronger dialogue for downtown and El Paso to move forward. Name-calling and demonizing people on both sides of the issue, does not bring us closer. In fact, it had a large part to do with the delay of this grant.  No plan, survey or historic designation will work without robust support from the folks who live and own property in that district.  When we have only private or public special interests pushing forward a plan or designation, time and time again, we as a city have seen resistance and failure.  This is the way things have been done in the past, and we deserve a fresh approach.

Politics is the Art of the Possible, and we need to have everyone on board if we plan to think bigger about the future of El Paso. This will take time, patience, and a lot of communication. We are closer today than we were yesterday and El Paso’s past must be part of El Paso’s Future.

P.S. Please join me tomorrow Wednesday July 22 at 7:30 am for our first constituent meeting at Village Inn at 2929 N. Mesa St., El Paso, TX, 79902. This is a great opportunity to come out and discuss any ideas and concerns you have for your neighborhood.  You may also contact me directly at 915-212-1001/2 or email district1@elpasotexas.gov.

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