The Problem With El Paso

The problem is El Paso’s not growing.

All the costs of those Quality of Life projects would be easier to bear if more people were sharing the load, but our population growth has stagnated since we began this grand experiment in city building back in 2012.

All the models were predicated on a least a modest increase in population. One percent a year, Plan El Paso projected. But since 2012, El Paso’s population has only grown by one an half percent through 2019, over seven years.

The Quality of Life bond election rammed the bonds through. That, and the ensuing relentless tax increases, ignited popular dissent, with the bond proponents clinging to their plan in the face of dismal results.

The ballpark was the most divisive issue to drive a wedge into an already fractured population. El Pasoans who opposed the ballpark were belittled by local government officials and the media. “Crazies,” they called us.

El Paso’s not homogenous. We’re divided culturally, linguistically, and geographically. According to the census bureau, sixty five percent of El Pasoans speak a language other than English in the home. But the people who are driving the bus don’t talk to the people riding in the back. They claimed to know where we were going. And now they’ve steered us into a ditch.

The next tranche of bonds is always supposed to be the game changer. First the arena, now the Children’s Museum. Better days are right around the corner. We just need to invest a little more. We can spend our way into prosperity.

The problem is that the Quality of Life bond projects were focused on the wrong demographic. The bond proponents focused on the likely voters to ensure that the bonds would pass. The problem is likely voters don’t create a dynamic, thriving, society.

Families. Old people. Business interests. They’re all great, but they’re not sexy. Amenities for established citizens don’t attract new arrivals. Established citizens aren’t going to move to El Paso from wherever they’re at, because they’re already established wherever they’re at. Families, old people, and business interests aren’t going to pull up roots and move to El Paso because we’ve got Triple A baseball and a trolley.

All those Quality of Life projects might be great if we were trying to pitch El Paso as a retirement community, but El Paso has the highest property tax rates in the country. For retirees, property taxes are more important than income taxes.

Right now, El Paso’s public policy is centered on people who are anchored here, either by work or family. Well, I hate to point out the obvious, but focusing exclusively on solid citizens with ties to the community doesn’t attract outsiders.

We’ve entrusted out economic development to the Borderplex Alliance, nee the Paso del Norte Group, an entrenched group of insiders. Are they likely to open up the local economy to outside entrepreneurs who might compete with their own interests? Instead of promoting economic development, the Borderplex Alliance has thrown up a fence around it. The City of El Paso spends millions of dollars a year on economic development, including some money we pay directly to the Borderplex Alliance and its masters, and gotten very little in return.

Fifteen years ago we fired REDCo for the exact same reason. We’re fifteen years older, but just as dumb.

To create a thriving, growing, city, El Paso’s public policy needs to focus more on young people. Young, anchorless, people. People who can live anywhere, because those are the people who are leaving El Paso. Those are the people who make a vibrant community.

Those are the people who aren’t rigidly defined by personal circumstance.

They’re like t-cells. Like embryonic t-cells, they can become anything.

Unfortunately, it’s tough to make a buck off of young, anchorless people. But you don’t harvest fruit from a tree the first year you plant it. Enjoying a garden is a nice thing, but watching it grow is exciting.


  1. Hey there…in case you haven’t noticed, the trolley is toast…meantime, as the city grows, how far out should it sprawl? Up to the state line? Down to Horizon City or beyond…? And where will we get the water for all those additional people? Oh, right. “Toilet to Tap.” A perfect slogan to attract new people!

    There are other cities with about the same population, who seem to do pretty well….but they might have better-paying industries and no walled-off border next to a dry ditch that used to be a river all year…

  2. Very insightful piece, Rich. I agree with you about the need to focus on attracting young, rootless people, including enticing the ones who already live here to stay and convincing those that don’t live here to move here. If you were king of El Paso, how would you go about doing this? It seems like our city leaders are out of ideas so I’d love to get your perspective.

  3. Let’s not forget the Certificates of Obligation which increase my property taxes without my voice; my vote. Also remember the School districts with their taxing authority.

  4. High taxes do not attract people from outside El Paso to come or keep El Paso people from leaving El Paso. High income earners leaving el Paso can be stopped by having opportunities for El Paso graduating students with high earning jobs. But El Paso offers high taxes and low paying jobs instead. That creates high taxes and encourages high earners to leave El Paso and the low paid people are left to pay the high taxes.

  5. So many people who live in El Paso don’t appreciate where they live. What I mean is I read posts by El Pasoans every day who have no idea the city has nine beautiful historic districts. They’ve never taken a Trost tour. They’ve never toured the Mission Trail. They have no idea who Mabel Welch is. Believe it or not people are attracted to beauty, and El Paso has many beautiful neighborhoods, including downtown. It’s never properly celebrated one of its best attributes. It costs almost nothing to shift our focus on promoting what we have. This is what will help draw people here. It’s why Santa Fe draws millions of tourists each year. It’s why Old Town in Albuquerque prospers. It’s why people flock to Savannah and Charleston and want to live there. Look around and really get to know El Paso architectural gems.

    1. We gave the reins of development to people who don’t love El Paso. People who moved to El Paso with the idea that El Paso needed to be fixed. That’s what those QoL bonds were all about. We put the carpetbaggers in charge. The carpetbaggers were easier for the developers to manipulate.

      You’d think the elected officials would have put a stop to that, but the elected officials wanted to be career politicians, so they followed their campaign donations.

      If you see those “progressives” on the street, spit on the sidewalk.

      But this is El Paso, so spit on the sidewalk in a nice way.

  6. El Paso is not for everyone. But those of us that appreciate it wouldn’t live anywhere else. It ain’t a tourist Mecca. I think the whiz kids that think we’re just one indoor sky diving joint or Chili’s restaurant away from international notoriety should move to Phoenix. They love that shit over there.

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