Thursday, September 5, 2013

Rethinking Progress

Now that we have a new city council, El Paso is beginning to rethink--at least to some degree--the Smart Code driven master plan that our last "progressive city council" forced on us. One of the preludes to implementing our new Master Plan for the city was the implementation of high impact fees on builders to disincentivize building in the outskirts of the city.

Because land is available cheaply just outside the city, builders have purchased tracts of land cheaply to build affordable housing. To stop resulting "sprawl" which requires that the city connect these outlying areas with utilities and sewer, the city implemented "impact fees" as high as $820.00 per unit on the builders so that they, and ultimately the purchasers of the new houses, would pay a premium for building and living in the suburbs. Since our new Master Plan was implemented, bringing with it Smart Code and Sustainable Development, mixed use communities with retail on the bottom and apartments or condos on the upper levels are springing up all over El Paso. These mixed use, walkable communities have the type of high density housing that Agenda 21 demands.

Now, however, at least one of our city reps, Michael Noe, is questioning whether Smart Code is really the right plan for El Paso. Noe argues, correctly, that the price per square foot of the housing provided by Smart Growth is out of reach of many El Pasoans. El Paso has tried to emulate Seattle or Portland or even Stockton even though our median income is substantially less than those cities. We have embraced the philosophy that if we build it--whether "it" be a new Downtown Arena Stadium at a massive cost to taxpayers or new high priced mixed use housing--the hip urban young people we want so much to attract will come. The whole concept is rather amusing if you consider that the major complaint of all young people in El Paso is that our city has nothing to offer and nothing to do. Since we had housing and minor league baseball in a relatively new stadium more than half a billion dollars ago, when people were eager to move because they complained of "nothing to do", why will these same young people want to live here after we build more rental housing and a new downtown stadium?

Now Michael Noe has the revolutionary idea that El Pasoans should be able to live where ever they want and that impact fees to builders should be reduced. Mathew McElroy, the city development director, argues that not encouraging inner development in the city costs the taxpayers too much money since the inner city already has the infrastructure. This is hilarious from a department that brought us massive new debt in the name of progress. Why wasn't the city worried about saving money before they tore down city hall and moved the city offices and built a new stadium we did not need? The bottom line here is that the City Development office does not really have any interest in saving the taxpayers' money. And they don't really care how much they spend--in fact more is better--as long as they continue to advance the liberal radical green ideals of Agenda 21.  Anything that works against Agenda 21, with its demand for densely populated urban housing and walkable communities, is bad and must be fought. Anything that promotes Agenda 21 is good, no matter how much it costs.

I don't hold out much hope that our new city council will act on Councilman Noe's suggestion to revise El Paso's new progressive vision. But I do hold out hope that an already disgusted populace will put an increasing amount of pressure on city council to stop spending money we don't have for projects we can't afford and return to market-based city development determined by what El Pasoans actually want rather than socialist-style central planning providing, as Randal O'Toole from the CATO institute describes it, "housing nobody wants at prices few can afford." At the end of the day, it is not the central planners or city council who have the final say--it is we the citizenry. We either reward socialists and those who think like them with more votes and more responsibility or we kick out these politicians and replace them with others who will listen to us. The choice is ours.

For more on Agenda 21 and the cost of El Paso's Downtown Renovation watch this video:

Alexandra Swann is the author of No Regrets: How Homeschooling Earned me a Master's Degree at Age Sixteen and several other books. Her novel, The Planner, about an out of control, environmentally-driven federal government implementing Agenda 21, is available on Kindle and in paperback. For more information, visit her website at

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