El Paso Then and Now

Perhaps they meant well. Maybe they were trying to seize the moment. Maybe they thought that the tide had turned, that El Paso was finally, after years of moderate growth, achieving its potential to become the jewel of the Southwest.

They talked about the twenties and thirties, when El Paso was the big city, when cattle barons and copper kings and cotton farmers smoked cigars under the stained glass dome in the Paso del Norte, when everyone travelling by car from San Antonio to Los Angeles would drive in on Alameda and leave on Paisano, the streets lined with cottonwoods and motor hotels and cafes and diners, and Juarez was a carefree stroll across the old wooden bridge.

And they believed it, I guess. They believed they could resurrect the past, never mind that overgrazing had decimated the rangeland, and that the smelter had closed, and that cotton farming was more profitable, now, in China and India and Pakistan, even Arizona.

Maybe they thought that the violence in Juarez would go on forever, and the wars would expand in the Middle East, and Fort Bliss would feed more troops to the machine, and training in our desert, so like the deserts of Iraq and Afghanistan, would expand.

And what would attract these refugees, fleeing the mayhem in Juarez, and these transient warriors destined for the front lines of a war in a foreign land so geographically like El Paso?

Leisure activities, of course. Not just to attract migrants and industry, but for the citizens. You deserve it, they told us. You’ve suffered long enough. Corruption has held El Paso back. Now, honest politicians are here to lead you into the promised land, of ballparks and arenas and air-conditioned driving ranges, of malls and upscale retail emporiums.

The ballpark? An increase in hotel taxes will pay for it. The Quality of Life bond projects? We’ll retire old debt, and build the new amenities with the money we save. And all the retail? We’ll lure them with tax incentives.

In retrospect we can see that our honest politicians weren’t that honest, or maybe they were just misguided. Willful gullibility is a line drawn in shifting sand. Accepting the flawed arguments of your patrons is easier and more profitable than seeking the truth. Alarms were raised but no action was taken when a Deputy City Manager got fired for telling City Council the truth. By then the corpse of respectability had started to stink and it was better to keep it under wraps, especially when so many critics had been kicking the corpse for so long.

And of course the patrons will make money. And why shouldn’t they? Aren’t they doing a great service to the community, with their vision and their investments? We owe them a debt, and not just gratitude, we owe them a financial debt, for the contributions they’ve made to the community, the schools and scholarships and hotels they’ve gifted us, so we should all dig a little deeper into our pockets, and send them a little more of our money.

And now where are we? Because our property is worth so little, our tax rates are among the highest in the nation and going up. The amenities haven’t stanched the exodus of taxpayers. And our leaders lack the political will to change course.


  1. I’ve always wondered what truth Ms. Shang was telling. I guess now we can only imagine. THAT would be a great story for some intrepid journalist to follow up on.

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