City Council: “If we’d known the truth, we probably would have chosen the rail yard.”

Did you see this story in the El Paso Times?

A majority of City Council members told the El Paso Times that the rail yard site, which would not have required demolition of any privately-owned buildings, was their preferred choice. The rail yard, behind the City Hall building on Campbell Street Downtown, is about a mile east of Union Plaza.

But the city representatives said they changed their minds when city staff told them that, in exchange for the land, Union Pacific would likely ask the city to close streets in as many as 31 railroad crossings — potentially costing millions of dollars and severely disrupting traffic across the city.

Union Pacific officials said the company did not formally discuss the arena with the city and made no such demand.

Huh? City staff decided on their own that they shouldn’t talk to Union Pacific, the owner of the rail yard property, because they might ask them for stuff?

So they didn’t even talk to them?

That’s gross incompetence, at least. Compounded by deception bordering on lying.

In a recent email response to the Times, City Attorney Sylvia Borunda Firth said the rail yard site was not chosen because initial discussions with Union Pacific indicated that a deal could have required more quiet zones. Under a quiet zone, railroad crossings are closed to traffic, which in turn allow trains to pass through at faster speeds and without having to sound their horns.

But Ms. Borunda Firth, Union Pacific said they didn’t “formally discuss the arena with the city.” I can’t imagine any reason Union Pacific would lie.

Borunda Firth said the rail yard could have also been costly because it would have included expenses associated with closing rail crossings, tearing down two city buildings that were recently renovated, an environmental assessment and the remediation of the land.

“. . . tearing down two city buildings. . . .” I just walked down there and I couldn’t see which two buildings they’d have to tear down, unless they’re talking about that metal shed across the street from Cinco Puntos. And there’s a lot of rail yard out there. Maybe we could put the arena where those two buildings aren’t.

And that’s funny, after the city blew up City Hall to build the ballpark.

“Our outside counsel initiated preliminary conversations with Union Pacific and determined that Union Pacific’s willingness to convey their property in the rail yard site was conditioned upon the City undertaking additional rail crossing closures,” [Ms. Borunda Firth said.] “It was the City Council’s position that the proposed closures were not beneficial to the residents of El Paso.”

I guess she means she didn’t ask them because she thought that they’d say no.

If the City Manager lies to City Council, City Council can fire him. I reckon Ms. Borunda Firth knows where too many bodies are buried to get fired.

I try really hard not to be cynical, but then I pay attention.


  1. “Borunda Firth said the rail yard could have also been costly because it would have included expenses associated with closing rail crossings, tearing down two city buildings that were recently renovated, an environmental assessment and the remediation of the land.” Wrong! First, neither City 3 nor 4 would have to have been torn down, the footprint of the whole Union Plaza area would have fit into that area starting at about the alley behind the buildings. The environmental assessment and remediation of the land would have fallen on Union Pacific since they’re the ones who polluted it. I was at the “meeting” tonight at the Trost firehouse. Firth stated that exact same crap again there and got booed for her statements. Remember one thing, they want to break ground before the next city council is elected in May. That way nothing can be done.

  2. And, there they go again, with “outside counsel.” Why did she not initiate preliminary talks with Union Pacific. And, why hasn’t it occurred to these greedy bastards that maybe it is time for those rail yards to be moved further away from the city’s center anyway?! And, yes, that would sure as hell free up a lot of land, without displacing people!

  3. “Deception bordering on lying?” I’d call her remarks flat-out lies.
    Meantime, Cohen Stadium sits there next to US-54, with easy access from many parts of the city via I-10 or Transmountain, and Juárez as well. Right now it represents a giant middle finger gesture to the TIguas, who made the mistake of having a baseball team that had to be thrown over the side so the downtown ballpark would be the “only game in town.” Acres of parking are available. What’s not to like???

  4. 1. The rail yard was never considered because the idea of a new arena is to attract more convention business. Thus, if it is going to be built at all it is going to be located near the convention center, as well as the Camino Real, Doubletree and the Courtyard Marriott that will be built, and existing restaurants.
    2. There are quiet zones where railroad crossings remain open and trains pass through at SLOWER speeds as they are not sounding their horns (of course, there are still flashing lights and gates).
    3. To what degree Ms. Firth is out-and-out lying and/or to what extent she is incompetent is irrelevant, as either way she needs to be fired.

    1. Yeah, no. There are ONLY two hotels within walking distance of the Kay Bailey Hutchinson Center in Dallas. The rest are at least a 15 to 30 minute walk. This 1000 foot “rule” is nothing more than a way to get the arena where it will benefit a few wealthy land owners downtown. Why were the Paso del Norte and Plaza suddenly important to renovate at this time, why are there three new hotels going up now? Which came first, the ideas for the hotels or the arena? If you and city council did any research, you’d find numerous reports that show multi purpose centers, arenas, and ballparks are NOT the way to go when it comes to downtown revitalization. Remember how the owner of Kip’s Cheesesteak was an eager proponent of the ball park? Remember within 6 months he was out of business? How many people are going to walk 10 blocks (parking isn’t being considered) to an event and eat or shop on their way there? How many stores or restaurants are going to be open when the eent is over? Since there’s no plans for loading or unloading or parking fo semis, are they planning on tying up traffic to unload in the street? The whole idea is ill conceived, poorly thought out, and a waste of taxpayer money. And for this “glorious” event center that’s going to be smaller than the Don, we’re supposed to cheer and destroy the first neighborhood in El Paso?

  5. Very simple, neither the city attorney or the city manager have the legal authority to make such decision. This is a public matter that needed it to be discussed openly by City Council. Both overstepped their authority by making decisions beyond their job description. Both must be reprimended and if necessary dismissed.

  6. “Formally discussed” does not mean that is was not discussed at all. If staff talked to railroad reps without setting up a formal meeting that doesn’t mean that they didn’t speak to them, it just means that that they spoke and a formal meeting was not set up. If I say that we can have the meeting but this is what I am bringing to the table and you chose not to have it, talks were had but informal. Let’s not twist things to mean something they dont.
    That said I don’t if those ever happened, just pointing out that union pacific keeps saying that they never “formally” meet, not saying they never met period.

  7. Since I know nothing about El Paso, How close to the WALL will this all be? Will the WALL be involved in any way?

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