Fooling Pete Buttigieg

Vic Kolenc covers the downtown freeway deck park in this story from the El Paso Times:

A project to build a deck plaza in Downtown El Paso, tied to the Downtown I-10 project, has come closer to fruition thanks to a federal grant. But neighborhood groups and urban planners are skeptical of its benefits for the city.

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) awarded the City of El Paso a $900,000 grant for a design study of the proposed Interstate-10 deck plaza on Nov. 16. The project would create a 12-acre plaza with amenities over the sunken area of I-10 through downtown El Paso.

The DOT awarded grants to El Paso and three other Texas jurisdictions as part of the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) program. Under Secretary Pete Buttigieg, the DOT has allocated discretionary funds to address racial inequities in highway design. But whether the deck plaza project is in the city’s best interest and lives up to the goals of equity and sustainability is already subject of debate in El Paso.

. . .

Specifics of the design are still in development, but DOT project materials say the proposed deck would include “green space, public gathering space, and entertainment venues.” According to the DOT, the deck is “intended to remove barriers of opportunity for people of color in the project area.”

Entertainment venues. Where have I heard that phrase before?

Isn’t that what they called the downtown basketball arena when they were trying to fool the voters?

The deck plaza would require its own funding from private sources, donations and the City of El Paso.

“The City, in partnership with the Paso Del Norte Health Foundation, plans to make a combined $360,000 contribution as a match to the $1,440,000 being requested through the RAISE application process,” according to the RAISE grant proposal.

The City (that means you, the taxpayer) is already on the hook for some cash. This cannot end well.

Critics of the deck plaza raise several concerns: the potential cost to taxpayers, whether the project will actually benefit low-income and minority communities along I-10 and the environmental and social impacts of widening the highway.

El Paso historian Miguel Juárez has documented how I-10 impacted African American and Latino communities when it was constructed in the 1960s. African Americans were displaced from the Lincoln Park neighborhood by I-10 and Highway 54. In the past decade, new highway infrastructure threatened neighborhood landmarks, spurring residents to create the Lincoln Park Preservation Committee.

The RAISE funding proposal describes how the construction of I-10 in El Paso reinforced “patterns of racial and economic segregation which persist today.” 

But Sito Negron, president of the Sunset Heights Neighborhood Improvement Association, said the deck plaza proposal does little to right these historical wrongs.

“(The deck plaza) is not an equity issue,” he said. “It doesn’t provide housing for low income people, it doesn’t reduce the environmental impacts of the highway.”

The deck plaza is part of the ongoing top-down gentrification of downtown. Those “patterns of racial and economic segregation which persist today” will only be exacerbated by the deck park.

Who lives downtown today? For whom are they developing downtown? The Meyers Group just announced plans to build luxury condos downtown next to their luxury hotel.

Remember, back in 2014, Bloomberg CityLab.com wrote:

The most highly [economically] segregated metros are actually smaller and medium sized, many of them in Texas. El Paso tops this list, followed by second and third-ranked Laredo and McAllen. College Station comes in sixth place. San Antonio, which is first out of large metros, is eighth overall, and Brownsville is ninth. Outside of Texas, Bridgeport, Connecticut is fourth; Trenton, New Jersey fifth; Memphis eighth; and Jackson, Tennessee tenth.

That quote comes from a 2014 report in CityLab.com on income segregation. I’m sure El Paso is more highly segregated now, but the census data hasn’t been released lately.

Is the deck park going to reduce income segregation, or aggravate it?

Back to Vic Kolencs’s piece in the Times :

The RAISE funding proposal says the project will draw more development dollars downtown. Backed with letters of support from the El Paso Chamber of Commerce, MountainStar Sports Group LLC and the Downtown Management District, the deck plaza will “spur development on the vacant lots, and attract more businesses, offices, and residents to the area,” the proposal states.

Lookie there. MountainStar Sports Group LLC makes an appearance. I wonder if MountainStar’s support for the deck has anything to do with that now famous article on CBS4Local.com, where “[MountainStar’s] CEO Josh Hunt told CBS4 he would like the [soccer] stadium to ‘cap the freeway,’ or sit above Interstate 10.”

Do the math. MountainStar Sports Group + “entertainment venue” = another taxpayer subsidized sports facility for our local “philanthropists”.

Remember, back in 2016, when she was County Judge, current U.S. Congresswoman Veronica Escobar had this to say about the deck park soccer stadium (from that same CBS4Local.com story):

El Paso County judge Veronica Escobar said she supports MountainStar Sports Group’s efforts to bring a United Soccer League stadium to downtown El Paso.

“It adds to downtown revitalization,” Escobar said. “It creates a synergy that helps bring more people downtown and hopefully gets more people living downtown and increases the private investment as well.”

Escobar said before anything can happen, the public would need to give its input.

“There needs to be plenty of public involvement so people can get behind it and support it and feel ownership of it from the get-go,” she said.

I guess Congresswoman Escobar doesn’t feel the same way County Judge Veronica Escobar felt about public involvement. I guess now she’s comfortable hiding a soccer stadium behind the words “entertainment venue”.

I wonder how Secretary of Transportation Pete Butti Buttigieg would feel about Congresswoman Escobar and the Department of Transportation cramming the deck park through the keyhole of addressing racial inequities in highway design and to removing barriers of opportunity for people of color.

I bet he’d be pissed off.

8 comments

  1. Check out the smog every morning DwnTwn. Anyone who wants to immerse themselves in that is welcome. Maybe the Paso del Norte Health Foundation folks, proponents of the Deck will take care of them. (We might all do well to remember that being “decked” is not a good experience.)

  2. I noticed they quoted one Jennifer Wright in the story. Any chance you hold sway over her? I’ve heard there’s some close family relation.

  3. deck is… “intended to remove barriers of opportunity for people of color in the project area.”

    How? By destroying their neighborhoods? Giving them a soccer stadium they can’t use?

  4. Excellent idea to contact Secretary of Transportation Pete Butti Buttigieg. Let’s all contact him.

    This from his website: https://www.transportation.gov/meet-secretary/secretary-pete-buttigieg
    Call Us DOT Customer Service Center: 202-366-4000
    Monday through Friday between 8:30 am and 5:30 pm Eastern Time excluding Federal Holidays.

    Mail Us Correspondence to the Department may be sent to:
    U.S. Department of Transportation
    1200 New Jersey Ave, SE
    Washington, DC 20590

  5. Thank you for detailing this topic. Please continue the drum beat.

    I’d like to know who is really supporting this project. What is the actual total cost of the Deck and the expansion of I 10 in downtown? Who will pay? Then, ask the people what they want.

  6. All of the above being said, why is it that it seems like the only efforts to build, improve, or otherwise add to this city focus only on the downtown area? Have any of these people visited the downtowns of cities like Memphis, or New Orleans, or Albuquerque, or anywhere? Notice any differences? Like, maybe, successful, operating businesses? Restaurants, bars, shops, museums, stores? What have we got? Empty storefronts?

    1. Check out the smog in downtown….and the parking chaos. Who wants to go there if you don’t have to!

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