Thursday, April 7, 2016

Socorro Street Paving Project Draws Concern

Back when the City of El Paso was dealing with their street paving issues that came under scrutiny following some decisions by then-City Rep Larry Romero I made the point that it was so shady that a move like that wouldn't even happen in Socorro.

Turns out, I could be very, very wrong. 

In 2014 the Socorro City Council, through certificates of obligation, allocated $100,000 for paving projects per district for each of the 4 city council districts in the county's second-largest municipality. 

According to this email between then-Interim City Manager Adriana Rodarte and Douglas Lobdell, Public Works and Parks Director for the City of Socorro, the members of council had to submit the streets for payment overlay by April 27, 2014. 

The final plan was approved on May 1, 2014. 

This screenshot indicates the streets that were submitted by the various city representatives along with the costs for the pavement overall for the streets. 

I draw your attention to the area circled in blue which indicates the district requesting the overlays on the streets that are pointed to with the red arrow. The cost for the two streets is underlined in red, for a total of $14,627.66.

For context let me explain that paving of streets is a project that constituents in Socorro have wanted for quite some time. Socorro doesn't have the tax base of El Paso because they only have a population of about 32,000 people. A lot of roads haven't been paved over in decades and there are even a few roads that lead to a major arterial that until recently were dirt roads. 

Here is an arial view of the two streets in question from google maps. 

For context, the Livery Stable & Saloon that you see on the map fronts Horizon Boulevard. Its frequently used for political events in the valley by State Rep Mary Gonzalez and very famously by Dora Oaxaca and Willie Gandara. Oscar's barbershop is next door and that is where Chente Quintanilla, who was one of Oaxaca's opponents for county commissioner back in the day just happened to be getting his hair cut on the day of her announcement. He lives in Tornillo, about 20 miles away. 

Sorry, back to this post.

As you can see Vera and Joe Plise, the streets that were recommended for pavement by the District 1 representative intersect with one another. This arial was taken after the pavement project was completed.

But if you look closely, you will see a couple of things that are very interesting. First of all, you can see why the projects were done together and it makes sense. 

The next thing you'll notice is that Joe Plise doesn't go anywhere. The street has no outlet what so ever. You can tell from the arial, Joe Plise was until recently a dirt road. 

The way policy makers determine which streets get taken care of for pavement overlays is typically based on prioritized need. The more traffic on the street, the more likely it is to get pavement overlays, which makes sense right?

As you can see in the list above District 2 City Rep Gloria Rodriquez made her dollars stretch by thoughtfully coming up with the most streets that would benefit from pavement projects. 

This map shows streets like Jo, Supima, Sundan and others that need repairs but were passed up in favor of the paving of Vera & Joe Plise.

So what is so special about the corner of Vera & Joe Plise that it would warrant paving a dirt road that doesn't have an outlet to another street?

Well according to this email from Mario Benavidez, a code compliance officer for the City of Socorro to Sam Leony, Planning and Zoning Director, the house on the corner was issued a citation. Not normally a big deal right?

Except one thing - take note of who is said to be the owner of this property on the corner of Vera and Joe Plise?

The owner of the property, highlighted by the arrow, is a gentleman by the name of Sergio Cox. 

Who is that?

Well for those of you that aren't from Socorro I'll fill you in - Sergio Cox is a former El Paso police officer and CURRENT District 1 City Rep for Socorro.

Socorro City Rep (Dist. 1) Sergio Cox

Yes, you read that correctly. A sitting city representative appears to have submitted a street for pavement that was a dirt road and does not have a real public use. But the $14,627.66 of public dollars that were spent on the project will likely have one impact.

It will likely improve the value of the property owned by Mr. Cox.

When the streets were proposed and later when they were approved by council there was an opportunity for City Rep Cox to disclose that he was the owner of the property that would benefit from the pavement.

In fact, he had multiple opportunities to disclose that information.

And prior to the Public Works Director having had the project completed (on October 8th, 2014), city officials were made aware by the code compliance officer than Representative Cox was the owner of the property on that street in the email I referenced before about a code compliance violation.

Vera and Joe Plise streets were paved despite other streets nearby, as you can see in this map, having more traffic and connecting to major arterials like North Loop and Horizon, not being paved.

Socorro City Council has a regularly scheduled meeting this evening at 6:00pm.

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