The Segundo Barrio Under Siege—The Timeline
The Verde Group—Paso Del Norte Group Plan for South El Paso, Downtown and the border region
October—Bill Sanders is invited to redevelop downtown El Paso by El Paso mayor and group of developers.
December—Sanders forms the Verde Group and Paso Del Norte Group in El Paso.
Group obtains millions of gallons of water rights for Santa Teresa
binational development project without any public process thanks to
governor Richardson’s intervention.
of El Paso votes approves contract with PDNG to create downtown
redevelopment plan. City Council grants them $250,000.
grants PDNG an extension to develop plan. Representative O’Rourke
defends plan secrecy otherwise residents and small business owners
would “tear it apart and you’d never be able to keep it
March 31—The PDNG Plan is unveiled by William Sanders and theCity
Council at the Plaza Theater before an audience of enthusiastic
business leaders on the same day of a large immigrant rights march on
Cesar Chavez day.
April 12—Bill Sanders tells 500 downtown businessmen eminent
domain will be used if they refuse to sell. O’Rourke says he has
no conflict of interest because his father in law does not own property
in the development zone.
April 13—Sanders and O’Rourke face stiff opposition from South El Paso residents at Armijo Park meeting
May—City holds meetings to sell plan to the public. Most people
there speak out against the plan. Police have to intervene to stop
Manager Joyce Wilson sends her staff an email instructing them how to "downplay" displacement,
"neutralize the losers" and "pacify" the opposition.
25—More 250 Southside residents organized by La Campaña
and Sin Fronteras farmworker center meet at Senior Citizens center to
defend their neighborhood.
June 7—El Paso Catholic Diocese writes an open letter to City Council declaring the plan as unjust and divisive.
July 10—Council votes to postpone use of eminent domain until 2008 for owners who do not wish to sell.
July 19—The Glass Beach marketing study that adopts racist imagery to support the PDNG plan is approved by City Council.
October 5—City Planning Commission approves PDNG plan, increases
“redevelopment zone” to 168 acres from original 127.5.
October 6—Bill Sanders changes his mind and states he will invest his own money after all at the behest of mayor.
October 11—City Ethics Commission refuses to hear evidence of O’Rourke’s conflict of interest.
October 26—200 citizens organized by Korean business owners march against eminent domain abuse.
October 31—City Hall votes 5 to 3 to accept the PDNG plan.
November 8—Sanders sets up Borderplex REIT to buy up downtown and
South El Paso property. You must have a net worth of a million dollars
to invest in downtown REIT.
December 18—City pass the Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone that declares entire redevelopment zone as blighted.
February 10—Inauguration of historic mural in the Sacred Heart
gym. About a thousand people attend cultural resistance festival.
March—PDNG member indicted for 250 million dollar coupon fraud scheme.
March 31-More than 400 people chant "El Segundo Barrio no se vende!" at the Cesar Chavez march.
April 4—Several artists are banned from La Fe clinic cultural
center by executive director-PDNG executive member because they oppose
April 7—National Chicano organization denounces the El Paso downtown-Segundo Barrio redevelopment plan.
May 4—Texas Observer publishes article by Eileen Welsome titled
“Eminent Disaster: A cabal of politicians and profiteers targets
an El Paso barrio.”
May 9—El Paso Times poll shows 62% of El Pasoans oppose the use of eminent domain for the PDNG plan.
July—FBI investigations shows corruption is rampant at the city
and county level in El Paso. Ten of the targets of the FBI belong to
November 19—UTEP forum connects the struggles of Lomas del Poleo
and Segundo Barrio. The Binational Coalition Against Displacement and
Dispossession is created between residents of two communities.
November 24—Groups respond to City reps comments that binational connection is “intellectually dishonest.”
December 6—TIRZ board votes to expand the “redevelopment zone” to 302 acres.
December 20—Cross border alliance expands. Las Cruces, El
Paso and Juarez activists meet in Las Cruces to find common ground in
their struggle against dispossession and displacement.
December 21—PDNG banker pleads guilty to bribing city and countil
officials. He has obtained more than 1.5 billion dollars worth of
contracts from the city.
January 9—PDNG unveils "Promatura," city-funded study supporting its gated communities in Santa Teresa.
January 15—Simultaneous protests for the Segundo Barrio and Lomas
del Poleo take place before consulates in Juarez and El Paso.
January 29—Segundo Barrio residents try to speak before City
Council to support ordinance that will limit eminent domain only to
particular blighted properties, not entire areas. City Rep Robert
O’Rourke casts deciding vote not to let them speak and against
the ordinance, despite admitted conflict of interest.
February 5—Residents return to City Council to support the
ordinance and denounce O’Rourke conflict of interest. The City
takes no action.
March 8—The North American Human Rights Delegation Connects Displacement at Lomas del Poleo with the Segundo Barrio.
October—Bill Sanders is invited to redevelop downtown El Paso
Mayor Ray Caballero and a group of El Paso
businessmen ask real estate tycoon Bill Sanders to come redevelop
downtown El Paso. He accepts on the condition that “downtown
revitalization” is part of a broader regional development
plan. “I felt that a redevelopment of Downtown at that time
would be frankly a waste of time. One was that there, really, I felt
you had to put together a dynamic plan for the region in order to have
a successful downtown,” he would later to the El Paso City
December—Sanders establishes the Verde Group headquarters in El Paso
In December 2003, Sanders “completes the
capitalization” of the Verde Group, a real estate company that
invests in binational projects along the entire U.S.-Mexico border,
including maquiladora manufacturing plants in Mexico. The Verde Group
was founded by William Sanders in the second quarter of 2003. [See Ron
Blankenship testimony in Crowder bankruptcy case, December 23, 2003].
The Verde Group bought 21,000 acres from Paseo Del Norte Ltd, owned by
Santa Fe developer Chris Lyons. It also purchased 18,000 acre-feet of
water rights for 6.4 million dollars out of the U.S. Bankruptcy court
through a deal that has been criticized by environmental groups for its
total lack of public process. The Santa Teresa land will be part of a
“master-planned binational city” involving Santa Teresa and
San Jeronimo, a 40,000 acre parcel of land owned by Verde Group board
member Eloy Vallina Lagüera. The purchase included all of the
Santa Teresa Real Estate Development Corp.’s industrial parks.
Those parks include the Santa Teresa Border Park and Intermodal Park,
which includes a Union Pacific rail line. According to an El Paso Times
article published in August 15, 2004, “the Verde Group also has
plans to develop thousands of acres of vacant land in San
Jeronimo.” The New Mexico Business Journal quotes Mark Lautman,
economic commissioner, District 7, and general manager of Santa Teresa
Real Estate Development Corporation. "An unprecedented
bilateral cooperation is going on,” Lautman says. In the same article, he also said Eloy Vallina
regularly meets with Mexican and U.S. developers and planners to lay
the groundwork for the binational city. In 2003 Eloy Vallina becomes a
member of the Verde board of directors. Other board members include
William Sanders, Ron Blankenship, Texas oil man Ray L. Hunt and five
The Verde Group also acquired more than 5,000 acres of undeveloped land along the road to the proposed border entry port.
In El Paso, Bill Sanders founds the Paso Del Norte Group, using the
Commercial Club of Chicago as his model. The PDNG is made up of more
than 350 business and political leaders from both sides of the border.
On the El Paso side the group includes his son-in-law City rep Robert
O’Rourke, Army housing developer Woody Hunt, and Chris Balsiger
who was indicted by the FBI for an alleged $250,000,000 coupon fraud
The Juarez and Chihuahua City members of the PDNG include:
1. Sergio Bermudez-president and CEO of Bermudez International. His
family owned 600 hectares in Juarez. His father Jaime Bermúdez
Cuarón (PRI) was mayor of Juarez when he brought those lands
for Sergio. Jaime was in charge of the Plan de Desarollo Urbano,
an urban development plan, and through craft and corruption put his own
acreage place to get services while skipping other colonias like
Satelite, that should have had priority for services.
2. Jorge Contreras Fornelli- owner of Sofamaster, , member of the Juarez Strategic Plans Steering Commitee.
3. Carlos Fernandez-Fundación del Empresariado Chihuahuense,
member of the Plan Estratégico de Ciudad Juárez.
4.-Miguel A. Fernandez Iturriza— Property of the Iturriza
family, is the Coca Cola bottling company in Juarez, Sonora, Baja
California and Sinaloa, as well as being an important construction
company in Ciudad Juarez. He is the president and director general of
Sistema Argos, which in 1997 had an income of 2 billion, 569 million
pesos. With a long history in the PAN, he is the archetypal businessman
who likes to get involved in politics. He was alternate to Luis H
Alvarez as municipal president of Chihuahua (1983-86) and then, after
losing the election to the same position in 1986, he was in charge of
the national finances of the party for seven years (1987-1994) He was a
member of the state committee and the national committee of the party,
presiding over its national Public Finances Commission. In 1997 he was
included in the list of the 100 most important businessmen in Mexico.
Fernandez Iturriza coordinated the gubernatorial campaign of Enrique
Terrazas, one of the owners of Chihuahua Cementos, a subsidiary of
Cementos de Mexico (CEMEX). In 1995 he had co-ordinated Jose Antonio
Badia San Martin’s campaign for municipal president of Ciudad
Juarez, a notorious member of DHIAC (Wholly Human Development, an
extreme right-wing organization). In 1992 he was the treasurer of
Francisco Barrio’s campaign.
5. Miguel Fernandez- Founder of Trans Telco Juarez.
6. Alejandra De La Vega Arispe - daugher of Freire de la Vega and the
fiancé of fellow PDNG billionaire Paul Foster. (The wedding is
scheduled for April 5, 2008). Her family is involved in the beer and
7.Ing. Héctor Murguía Lardizábal- Former PRI Mayor
of Juarez (2003-2007). Calls himself a good friend of Pedro Zaragoza
Fuentes. There are accusations of corruption and conflict of interest
surrounding the construction of the Camino Real highway.
8. Carlos Murguía- restaurant owner “Barrigas” in
Juarez and El Paso presidente de Desarrollo Económico de Ciudad
Juárez y representante del Consejo Coordinador Empresarial. He
argues that the word focus on the Juarez femicides are part of a
complex conspiracy flamed by the Chinese to give Ciudad Juarez a bad
name in order for the maquiladoras to leave the city for China.
9. Lucinda Vargas-is chief executive officer if Plan Estratégico
de Juárez, A.C. –a private –sector led, non-profit
organization aimed at formulating and implementing a long-term
development strategy for Juárez.
10. Eloy Vallina Garza- Son of Eloy Vallina and vice-president of Grupo Chihuahua.
January—Verde Group obtains millions of gallons of water rights for Santa Teresa binational development project
The approval of the bankruptcy settlement agreement allowed the
Verde Group to co-own water rights with Dona Ana County. The Verde
Group develops commercial, industrial properties and residential
properties in what they call “New Towns.” The
company’s master plan calls for New Town developments on both
sides of the border from Brownsville, Texas to San Diego. The Verde
Group and the county co-own 18,773 acre-feet of water. Verde pays 6.4
million dollars for the water rights. It’s quite a deal. The
going rate for an equal amount of water today would be more than 40
million dollars. Many believe the substantial contributions the Verde
Group makes to New Mexico governor Bill Richardson—in 2006 alone,
Verde officials and associates contribute more than $66,000 to
Richardson’s gubernatorial campaign— has a lot to do with
the special deal and the total lack of transparency.
February 15—City of El Paso votes approves contract with PDNG to create downtown redevelopment plan
The El Paso City Council, under mayor Joe Wardy,
votes to approve contract with Paso Del Norte Group to create a
downtown redevelopment plan. Before the vote took place, however, a
series of questions emerged about the scope of the project.
Rep. Robert Cushing asked Bill Sanders whether the city's money would
pay for the first part of the plan. In the process of responding to the
question, Sanders explained that "What we hope to end up with is No. 1
the key drivers that will have a dramatic impact on the area. I would
also tell you that strategically our planning zone goes from Interstate
10 to the border from Union Station to the new Texas Tech facility
because if you do this right you’re going to have waves of value
creation and we hope to basically have that done in as logical a way as
"… You have political considerations, you have ownership
considerations, so in a perfect world the planners are going to come in
and they’re going to say this is the area of the city where this
should take place, and we are going to look at that and say
you’re right but it isn’t feasible to put it there, we need
to go to an A- area and basically revitalize that instead. "So I would
hope that by the, after Labor Day we will actually be able to show you
Plan A and B, i.e. the optimal locations and the practical location or
zones where the various types of development will take place."
Toward the end of the discussion, El Pasoan Ric Schecter brought up the
question of whether the contract was specific enough." Correct me if
I’m wrong, but you’re voting on a contract with this entity
to carry out something and your contract doesn’t actually specify
other than the dollar amount what it is that you’re getting," he
Wardy responded: "Mr. Schecter, you know what I think? You bring up a
good point. You bring up the greatest point of all, and that’s
why many of us ran for public office, because we get so tired of
debating bureaucratic, I can’t use that word here council,
bureaucratic bleep, we sit there and we shoot ourselves in the foot
"We’re being asked to contribute funds to a public-private
partnership, council has been briefed in entirety, the council is
totally comfortable in how we go forward with this. There is some
discretionary ability on the Paso del Norte Group on how the funds go
forward and the phases and other studies that tie into this and you got
to believe a little bit, there has to be a little faith in this
exercise. And you know what? The less the city has to do with it the
better off we are because we’re not good at this kind of stuff,
So I’m going to tell you that there is a motion and a second on
the floor, you do bring up some valid points, but we’re not going
to, we’re not going to beat it to death here today."
Before they could vote, however, Schecter made several other comments.
One of them was that "you have a separate private entity that is going
to develop a community plan there doesn’t seem to be any
necessary direction to them to involve the neighborhood associations
and to look at the neighborhood association plans that they’ve
developed for their own."
Wardy said: "Mr. Schecter, this is a Downtown master plan. What does that have to do with the neighborhoods?"
Schecter replied: "Because you’re talking about Chihuahuita and
other neighborhoods and you’re calling it a community plan for
the Downtown neighborhoods, so, I ... "
Wardy jumped in: "We’re getting the cart ahead of the horse here,
Mr. Schecter. The scope hasn’t all been laid out yet. We can do
what-ifs here until about midnight, but it’s not going to do
anybody any good. Why don’t we let the professionals that know
how to do this, give them the opportunity to execute. You know, we are
our own worst enemy in this community. We continue to shoot ourselves
in the foot and then look around and want to know who did it. You know,
why don’t we just dare to dream a little bit and allow the
professionals, with the proper guidance, with input from the public and
the private sector, to do a comprehensive exercise for us?"
Schecter said: "Mr. Mayor, I was simply suggesting to you that the
people that are the experts in their neighborhoods are the people that
live in those neighborhoods."
Then Cobos spoke: "Are you speaking on behalf of the Chihuahuita Neighborhood Association?"
Schecter replied: "Did I say I was speaking on that?"
Cobos said: "No. But you’re saying they have concerns, that those
neighborhoods should be taken into consideration when you don’t
represent them in any way shape or form."
Schecter replied: "Representative Cobos, what I said, you’re
talking about neighborhoods, those neighborhoods have associations, and
those associations are making neighborhood plans. They should all be
considered by these experts as they try to change those communities."
Wardy said: "Sure. We agree with you." With that, the motion was made
by Cobos to authorize City Manager Joyce Wilson to negotiate a contract
for a Downtown Plan. It passed unanimously.
The city gave $250,000 toward the plan’s approximately $750,000
cost. Another third came from federal funds, and the PDNG raised the
rest. It was the PDNG Downtown Redevelopment Task Force that oversaw
the plan development. The SMWM firm from San Francisco is hired to
develop the plan.
September 13—City grants PDNG an extension to develop plan. Representative O’Rourke defends plan secrecy
When asked why City Council members needed to sign confidentiality
agreements that they will not divulge the plan to the public or why
even the names of the members of the PDNG involved in the planning
process is kept hidden from the public, Council member Robert
O’Rourke, son in law of Bill Sanders told El Paso internet
magazine Newspaper Tree:
"There will be a process to bring people in. You can't do something
this big with everyone involved up front or we'd still be talking about
what we're going to do. So we get the advice and sit down and figure
out how to implement it and then start bringing in the partners," he
said. "If you brought in every single stakeholder from day one there
would be so many special interests pulling it apart you'd never be able
to keep it together."
O'Rourke, who seconded the motion from East-Central Rep. Alejandro
Lozano to approve the contract extension, is a member of the Paso del
Norte Group. He said he did not feel it was a conflict for him to vote
on the issue.
"I'm not really an active member. I'm a dues-paying member but I
haven't been able to attend a meeting since I got on the council,"
O'Rourke said. He did not disclose his membership, he said, "because
the Paso del Norte Group isn't getting anything out of this. I feel
that the group is helping us get something done we wouldn't have been
able to get done ourselves."
March 31—The PDNG Plan is unveiled
The PDNG Plan is unveiled to a packed house of
mostly business executives at the Plaza Theater while thousands of
protesters march for immigrant rights on Cesar Chavez day. As he
introduced the six-minute video touting the El Paso Downtown Plan, Bill
Sanders quoted Chicago urban planner Daniel Burnham: "Make no little
plans. They have no magic to stir men's blood.” Upon conclusion
of the presentation and vote, there is a standing ovation. “It is
going to be very difficult for everyone in this room,” Sanders
said and urged the Council to have courage in moving forward. That's
because it’s likely to involve eminent domain, a process by which
governments can take private property for a public purpose. Generally,
this means major infrastructure, such as roads, or schools. However,
after the Supreme court’s controversial ruling on the Kelo case
in 2005, cities can also use eminent domain to transfer property to
private owners for commercial redevelopment projects if the area is
“Proponents of the use of eminent domain for private enterprise
argue that it enhances economic activity, which translates into jobs,
tax base and other financial gains for the city,” writes
Newspaper Tree. “However, the flip side is that it also leads to
displacement of residents, which critics have called "urban removal," a
takeoff on the phrase urban renewal, often-used in the 1950s and '60s
when inner cities were emptied and the residents packed into public
housing or scattered throughout the community.”
Historically, eminent domain for this has overwhelmingly been used to
move out African-American and Latino residents and small business
City Council member Robert O’Rourke, who represents Downtown,
said that families were forced to leave the Alamito Housing project
during reconstruction there, and that it was an emotional process. He
asked during the Plan unveiling whether the Plan was flexible, or
whether it could change based on community input.
O’Rourke, who is the son-in-law of Sanders, made the motion to
begin the process of adopting the plan, calling Downtown “one
piece of El Paso that was missing on the road back to greatness." The
vote was five in favor, with City Rep. Eddie Holguin abstaining, to
some boos. After, Holguin said, "I wasn't ready to say yes. I'm halfway
there. I want to know what incentives will be offered.” Reps.
Presi Ortega and Melina Castro were both absent.
David Baron, who will not face eminent domain, said when asked his
thoughts of the plan, “I’d like to know who’s going
to be pushed around.” Martha Arcos, 32, owner of Isamara’s
Second Hand Store on Oregon, one block south of Paisano, said her
grandmother, of Lebanese descent, owned the store building and an
apartment next door. said, she’s not in favor of losing her
business, once a home, to “progress.” “I grew up
here, I went to school here, I lived in this house, and I want to keep
it for my children,” Arcos said. “If they want to do
something for the city, do it for the businesses that are here
Sanders tells 500 downtown businessmen eminent domain will be used if
they refuse to sell. O’Rourke says he has no conflict of interest
The property owners saw a presentation of the plan April 12, at a
Central Business Association lunch, where more than 500 people packed a
conference room at the Camino Real hotel.
Sanders told the mostly small business owners that the plan does not
entail “one project breaking ground on Day 1. It will be a
sequential series of major projects.” Building owners will be
contacted as their property is needed, and shown locations to which
they can move, Sanders said. “It won’t be an easy
conversation. Hopefully it will be compelling enough it will convince
you to choose one of three options,” Sanders said. The options
are to sell the property, trade it for shares in the REIT, or swap it
for other property. If none of those happen, the next step is eminent
It’s a clear conflict of interest. It happens to be his
father-in-law and he should recuse himself from any
decisions,” downtown businessman said. "It’s a clear
conflict of interest. It happens to be his father-in-law and he should
recuse himself from any decisions.”
O’Rourke, in a telephone interview later, said he didn’t
see the conflict. “You’ve got Bill Sanders, who is my
father-in-law but has decades of experience in developing and
redeveloping, helping build up American cities, and he's volunteering
that expertise and his time to help make El Paso a better place. He
doesn’t own property Downtown, and doesn’t stand to
personally profit from this. Then you've got me, a City Council
representative who makes $18,000 a year. Part of my reason for running
for office was to help build up Downtown El Paso, and we're both
working toward the same end to make this a leading American city. I
just don’t see where the conflict is,” O’Rourke said.
Abstaining from voting would remove any questions, he said, “but
... it's not fair to the people I represent to remove myself from the
decision-making process just because there might be a perception (of
conflict). It might be the politically correct thing to do, it might
look right and make some people feel good, but that's not what
I’m here for. I just don’t see where the conflict
is,” O’Rourke said.
April 13—Sanders and O’Rourke face stiff opposition from South El Paso residents at Armijo Park meeting
Bill Sanders and his son in law City rep Robert O’Rourke tried to
sell their plan to South El Paso residents during a meeting at the
Armijo Center, about 10 blocks outside the zone targeted for major
demolitions in the Segundo Barrio. They both bomb. Sanders, the major
driver behind the plan, explained that the home and business owners
within the “redevelopment zone” in downtown and the heart
of the Segundo Barrio will be given an option to sell their businesses
to Real Estate Investment Trusts, an entity to be formed as a master
property owner, initially would take roughly $15 million to $20 million
to capitalize at $10 a share. He said that he had planned to invest in
it, but decided not to because he doesn’t want people to think
he’s promoting the plan for economic self-interest.
Trini Acevedo, Magoffin neighborhood activist, said that there was no
reason to trust that the plan would include protection or benefits for
residents .“I would be all for it but I think we should be
invited to the table. It's apparent that no one with our socioeconomic
status is at the table now. I myself see it as a plan for the rich. We
must be realistic. Mr. O'Rourke, listen to the voters; we don't want
it." Acevedo also criticized Council members for some of the details in
the plan he said didn’t make sense. For example, the Centro De
Los Trabajadores Agrícolas Fronterizos is shown on the map of
the Redevelopment District as a parking lot. “How ironic of Miss
(city Rep. Susie) Byrd, O’Rourke, all of them marching with them
on Cesar Chavez day. How can you march with those people and try to
demolish their structure?”
She said perhaps the farmworker’s center relocation is a benefit
to the farmworkers: “It has become almost a full-time shelter
instead of what it was originally intended to be, a place for hang out
while waiting for jobs, so maybe it’s an opportunity to build
housing for farmworkers. As for Acevedo’s charge of irony, Byrd
said, “My understanding is Cesar Chavez was about building
opportunity, and that’s what this plan is about. We can go Mr.
Acevedo’s route, which is keeping things as they are, locking
people out from opportunity and a continued decline, or we can
Like Acevedo, the overwhelming majority of the South Side residents at
the meeting expressed strong opposition to the plan. Bill
Sander’s later told the El Paso Inc., a pro-business newspaper
owned by a fellow PDNG member, that the neighborhood’s opposition
took him by surprise.
Manager Joyce Wilson sends her staff an email instructing them how to
"neutralize the losers" of the PDNG redevelopment plan.
"Without these items being addressed effectively," Wilson writes, "I
believe it will be difficult to get this plan through...without
substantial changes." The email systematically lists the strategies to
eliminate the opposition without changing the plan including
instructions how to "downplay" the high cost to the tax-payers for the
proposed arena since this is "the lightining road for the tax
increase folks", demphasize the displacement of residents, "pacify" the
Koreans separately, take photographs only of the worst buildings in the
demolition zone, "pressure" and discredit the downtown business owners,
and "engage and neutralize the losers" who will have their homes and
businesses forcibly expropriated. [See Wilson email.]
May—City holds meetings to sell plan to the public. Most people there speak out against the plan.
Public meetings take place where the City
tries to sell the plan to the public. While plan proponents try to
downplay the opposition as a few loud naysayers, the majority of the
hundreds of people who show up oppose the plan. The planners from San
Francisco have participants at some their meetings play a kind of
monopoly game with a map of South El Paso and Downtown. They are
instructed to pretend the Segundo Barrio and Downtown are currently
uninhabited and to place cards showing the kinds of coffee shops,
restaurants and big box retail stores they would like to see there once
the residents and current business owners are relocated. Protesters who
want to speak out against this are prevented from speaking. In one case
a microphone is stripped away from an El Paso Community College
administrator who is questioning the legitimacy of Westsiders playing a
board game on the map of a Segundo Barrio in which the current
residents have disappeared. The police are called in by Mayor Cook to
remove the protesters.
May 25—Southside residents meet at Senior Citizens center to defend their neighborhood
More than 250 Segundo Barrio residents and farmworkers meet at the
senior citizens center in South El Paso to plan ways to defend their
community against the plan. Members of La Campaña pro
Preservación del Barrio, the farmworker center Sin Fronteras and
Paso Del Sur are organizations represented at the meeting. Salvador
Balcorta, a PDNG executive committee member who is closely allied with
Bill Sanders, sends his employees to disrupt and videotape the meeting.
There is a physical altercation and the police are called to remove
June 7—El Paso Catholic Diocese writes an open letter to City Council declaring the plan as unjust and divisive
OPEN LETTER TO CITY COUNCIL:
REGARDING VALUES FROM THE CATHOLIC CHURCH THAT THE DIOCESE OF EL PASO
UPHOLDS; DEEP CONCERNS THAT WE AND OUR LOCAL PARISH, SACRED HEART, HAVE
and GENERAL COMMENTS with regards to the Downtown-Segundo Barrio
Re-Development plan presented by the Paso del Norte Group.
1. The Catholic Church, Christian tradition (not to exclude other
faiths) building on the Jewish Scriptures and the Gospel upholds the
value of welcoming the immigrant. The Gospel of St. Matthew reminds us
that Jesus himself is welcomed in the person of the immigrant,
“…for I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” (Matt.
25: 35). With a great deal of national attention focused on
immigration, the Church insists that we will be judged as to whether we
followed Judaeo-Christian, biblical values or others that are in
conflict with it. The Catholic Church has initiated a national
campaign, “Justice for Immigrants”, which the Diocese of El
Paso will officially launch on Saturday, June 10th with a pilgrimage to
the top of Mount Cristo Rey.
2. The Segundo Barrio in South El Paso has traditionally been the
welcoming land for the poor immigrant from Mexico. In particular,
Sacred Heart Church was founded in 1893 by Jesuit Father Carlos Pinto,
along with Sacred Heart School (1892) for the purpose of serving the
Mexican population of this area, who were predominantly of low income.
Sacred Heart has consistently served the poor and the immigrant,
generation after generation, and continues to do so today. It is
predictable, given the growing economic disparity between Mexico and
the U.S., that poor persons from Mexico, drastically seeking work to
support their families, will continue to come to El Paso and settle in
the Segundo Barrio. Many of those immigrants have chosen to live in the
Segundo Barrio for decades because they have found comfort and formed
cherished relationships in this vibrant neighborhood.
3. Downtown and South El Paso do need re-vitalization. The outcome of
re-vitalization should take into account the hopes, dreams and desires
of all affected, including the poor. There is a rich heritage, a unique
culture, a true sense of neighborhood and historical architecture in
the affected area. The plan should consider all of these as valuable
realities and not focus only on economic benefit and tax revenue. It
was disturbing to learn that the present plan was conceived without any
consultation with residents, area businesses, key institutions. We are
in disagreement with a re-vitalization program that was planned without
public backing or the input from those affected. A planning process
typically places consultation and input prior to drawing-up a plan;
just the reverse of the Paso del Norte Group’s way of proceeding.
4. In the present plan/drawing for re-vitalization, proposed by the
Paso del Norte Group, four Catholic Institutions are eliminated from
their present location, namely, Sacred Heart Church’s gymnasium
and classroom facilities (S. Mesa and Fr. Rahm St.); Villa Maria, which
is presently being equipped as a home for poor women in crisis (S.
Oregon and 8th St.); Las Alas Prayer/Christian Community, founded by
Jesuit Father Richard Thomas, (Paisano between Kansas and Campbell);
Annunciation House, guest house for immigrants (San Antonio and St.
Vrain), and serving approximately 80,000 guests since its founding.
These institutions focus on service and ministry of various types to
the poor and the immigrant. What population does the plan envision
residing in the affected area if it considers these institutions
dispensable? We uphold that these institutions are much needed in the
South El Paso community.
5. In the midst of the anti-immigrant sentiment by many in the U.S.,
the residents of South El Paso face yet another obstacle in the
re-vitalization plan proposed by Paso del Norte Group. This plan, if
implemented, would displace numerous area residents, as well as small
businesses. The fact that the proposed low-cost housing will be
subsidized only for four years predictably will force those lower
income residents to move to another area of the city after the subsidy
is over. Where? The poor from Mexico typically prefer closeness to
downtown and to Ciudad Juárez. The inevitable result of the
present plan will be less affordable housing opportunities for the
poor, especially the poor immigrant in the South El Paso area. We
reject a plan that diminishes the number of low-cost housing units.
6. The plan of paying an owner “market value” as opposed to
a real “replacement value” will leave those affected in a
very difficult situation if they plan to continue their business
elsewhere and were forced out of their present location by eminent
domain. The same with housing. Those who own a home will be paid very
little according to “market value”. What are they to do if
they – who are typically poor and many elderly – need to
buy a new home elsewhere? Compensation based on market value for an
area such as the Segundo Barrio will be unjust in many cases.
7. The proposed use of “eminent domain” to force downtown,
Segundo Barrio and Union Plaza land owners into a Real Estate
Investment Trust (REIT), managed by a select, few individuals, negates
the possibility of cooperation by a present property owner (and the
tenant), from improving their property, if the free, legal choice of
the owner is in conflict with the plan and its goals. If a landlord
desires to cooperate and improve the building for low-cost housing, it
appears that he/she would have to sell if his/her building is not
in-line with the present plan. Eminent Domain should only be used for
the “common good” of the community as in the building of a
public hospital, fire station, public school, etc.; not for exclusively
personal or corporate profit.
8. We have very serious concerns with the Real Estate Investment Trust
approach to re-vitalization. A Real Estate Investment Trust is a
business entity which exists to maximize cash flow of the real property
in the Trust in order to maximize profit. Decisions by a REIT are made
by the Officers of the Trust and are made to accomplish its
maximization-of-profit goal for the benefit of the investors in the
Trust. Therefore, a REIT appears to not be accountable to the community
or to the City government, other than to abide by applicable laws and
The City government, on the other hand, is accountable to the community
and its citizens. Moreover, decisions by the City government are based
on considerations of different factors such as: quality of life;
respect for culture; historic preservation; betterment opportunities
for its citizens, such as low-income housing, job training,
small-business opportunities and growth, development of industries,
maintaining infrastructure, etc.
9. Taking advantage of the immigrant occurs in our South El Paso
community, in particular by apartment owners who maintain their rental
property in substandard conditions. This unjust practice of renting
inadequate housing has gone-on for years without any effective
intervention by City Inspectors or Officials. Any plan for a South El
Paso re-vitalization must NOT diminish the number of units of
affordable, low-income housing. Instead, if the Segundo Barrio and the
Union Plaza District are to be included in a downtown re-development
plan, their residential character MUST be maintained and improvement of
the quality of housing and an increase in the number of units of
available, affordable housing for low-income persons in those two
residential communities should be adopted AS A GOAL OF THE
RE-DEVELOPMENT PLAN. The City should also adopt an effective,
aggressive plan that demands apartment owners to maintain their units
according to acceptable standards and codes.
The City presently has the power and mechanism to force negligent
landlords to improve sub-standard housing, i.e., by the
“Municipal Regulation of Housing and Other Structures, Loc.
Gov’t 214.003; Receiver.”
Landlords should relate to their tenants in a way that is just and non-threatening.
10. Also, the Paso del Norte Group’s membership of 300 plus, was
kept secret until very recently. The list of members was available from
the City through the Freedom of Information Act. Why were the names of
the members withheld from public knowledge if the Paso del Norte
Group’s plan received public funding?
11. If maximizing profit and land value is the driving force of the
plan, there is a threat of major chain stores, i.e., Walmart or Home
Depot being able to purchase land from the REIT and moving into the
Segundo Barrio-downtown area. Although the residents of the Segundo
Barrio may benefit from Walmart’s lower prices, we are aware of
the certain elimination of area small businesses – many existing
for many years and part of the tradition of the neighborhood --
attempting to compete. We oppose the establishment of these mega-stores
which would also destroy the unique cultural and historical character
of the Segundo Barrio as well as small businesses.
12. As Church, we want to stand in solidarity with the poor, with the
immigrant, with the marginalized, with the rejected one. There is a
long history of neglect and discrimination with regards to the Segundo
Barrio. We are not opposed to progress, economic development,
improvement and construction of buildings. We are opposed to any plan
that disregards and displaces the poor, that ignores the plight of the
immigrant, that divides the community, that perpetuates injustice and
inadequate housing, that diminishes low-cost housing; one that seeks to
enrich a select group.
Most Rev. Armando X. Ochoa
Bishop, Catholic Diocese of El Paso
Rev. John Stowe, O.F.M.
Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia Diocese of El Paso
Fr. Rafael Garcia, S.J.
Pastor, Sacred Heart Church
July 10—Council votes to postpone use of eminent domain until 2008
The City approves resolutions about the plan's "guiding values" (i.e.
legally non-binding declarations of intent) by a vote of 5 to 3. They
make a verbal promise that the farmworker center and the Sacred heart
gym will not be demolished, but refuse to put that in writing. Often
the politician’s promises contradict the city maps showing, for
instance, a big box retail store where the buildings that are
supposedly no longer under threat of demolition presently stand.
Furthermore, the 1,800 residents of the zone targeted for demolition
and the large majority of homes and properties are still under threat
of forced expropriation. In order to placate the intense
City-wide opposition against eminent domain abuse (EP Times poll shows
that 62 percent of El Pasoans oppose the use of eminent domain for the
PDNG plan) also propose that home and business owners will be given two
years to negotiate the sale of their property, until October 2008,
before eminent domain is used to force them to sell.
July 19—The Glass Beach marketing study that adopts racist imagery to support the PDNG plan is approved by City Council
The Glass Beach firm was a branding consultation firm that the City
paid $100,000 of public funds for a focus group study. It is available
in the form of a power point presentation from the City Clerk's office.
Mr. Patrick Buchanan, president of Glass Beach, made the presentation
before a special City Council meeting that was held on 7-19-06 at a
special executive meeting at the Convention Center that was not open to
the public. The study was criticized for being unprofessional as well
as prejudiced against the elderly Hispanic population of El Paso. The
study includes images of an elderly Hispanic man with the words
“dirty, lazy, gritty, uneducated, Spanish speaker.” It
represents the image of El Paso that the Glass Beach firm would like to
replace with images of an Anglo-American actor—Mathew McConaughey
and a European actress—Penelope Cruz—as the models of the
new upwardly-mobile creative class of young people who “enjoy
entertainment.” These are the young hipsters who will replace the
current residents of South El Paso once the PDNG plan is implemented.
Glass Beach no longer exists, at least under that name. Glass Beach
also did not exist before this study. It appears to have been formed
for the sole purpose of conducting this focus group study. The study
was approved unanimously although the City Council reps had no
opportunity to ask questions.
On the City website the minutes read as follows:.
SPECIAL CITY COUNCIL MEETING
JUDSON F. WILLIAMS CONVENTION CENTER, ONE ClVlC CENTER PLAZA
WEDNESDAY, JULY 19,2006
11 :00 A.M.
The City Council met at the above place and date at approximately 11:09
a.m. Mayor John F. Cook present and presiding and the following Council
Members answered roll call: Jose Alexandro Lozano, Presi Ortega, Jr.,
Steve Ortega, and Beto OIRourke. Late arrivals: Ann Morgan Lilly,
Melina Castro, and Eddie Holguin, Jr. Absent: Susie Byrd.
Presentation, briefing, and discussion by Glass-Beach Brand Consultants
relative to El Paso Brand Market research, findings, and preliminary
Mr. Bill Blazieck, General Manager with the El Paso Convention and
Visitors Bureau and the El Paso Convention and Performing Arts Center,
introduced Mr. Patrick Buchanan, President of Glass-Beach
Brand Consultants. Mr. Buchanan presented a Powerpoint presentation (on
file in the City Clerk's office) and answered the questions of Council
Members. A quorum of City Council was lost at 1:50 p.m.
APPROVED AS TO CONTENT:
October 5—City Planning Commission approves PDNG plan
The commission recommends that 168 acres rather than the originally
proposed 127.5 acres be declared a “redevelopment zone”
where major demolitions will take place for commercial development.
October 6—Bill Sanders changes his mind and states he will invest his own money after all
After having stated publicly when the plan was first unveiled that he
would personally not own property in the redevelopment plan so that his
son in law would not be accused of conflict of interest, he changes his
mind at the behest of Mayor John Cook. Cook proposes that from now on
O’Rourke should recuse himself and thus allow Sanders to invest
in the plan because without his investment the plan is economically
October 11—City Ethics Commission refuses to hear evidence of O’Rourke’s conflict of interest
THE CITY ETHICS COMMISSION, appointed overwhelmingly by the same
politicians who support the PDNG plan, voted yesterday that there is no
"just cause" to hear any evidence that Rep. O’Rourke should
recuse himself on voting on PDNG-related issues given his own
connection to the group.
The commission decided that there is no need to carefully weigh the
evidence demonstrating that it is wrong for Mr. O’Rourke to vote
on a plan charted by the PDNG—a secretive organization that he
was a member of that for two years refused to divulge its list of
members. The PDNG members, including public officials, were required to
sign a confidentiality agreement. Not only was Mr. O’Rourke a
dues-paying member of this organization, but his father-in-law, his
mother and his wife are members as well. His internet company has also
been doing business with the PDNG. In June 2006, Myrna
Deckert—PDNG director—publicly misinformed the community
that Mr. O’Rourke’s company was not getting paid for the
services he was providing for the PDNG although he is. (Mr. O'Rourke
told the ethics commission that he and Myrna Deckert forgot that the
PDNG was paying his Stanton Street Technology Group for their
services.) Mr. O’Rourke was still a member of the PDNG while he
voted on issues related to the plan. He did not resign from the PDNG
until October 2005. On September 13, 2005, O’Rourke was still a
PDNG member when he voted to extend the PDNG contract. (O'Rourke's
lawyer argued that this was perfectly okay for Mr. O'Rourke to do because
it was actually the Paso Del Norte Foundation that requested the
extension and not the Paso Del Norte Group. Sure, it's the same group
of people, the lawyer admitted, but one has 501-c3 status and the other
doesn't.) Mr. O'Rourke's vote was taken before his father-in-law Bill
Sanders, the founder of the PDNG, had indicated that he would not
invest in the plan to avoid “the appearance of
conflict-of-interest.” A few days ago, Sanders changed his mind
to say he would invest after all but that he would write-off his
profits by giving them to a charity of his choice (one where the
director of the non-profit is a PDNG member such as La Fe Clinic perhaps?). If Mr. Sanders
changes his mind again and decides later that he does want to keep the
profits, or that he and other members of the PDNG (a.k.a. the PDNF)
wants to make large contributions towards Mr. O’Rourke's future
political ambitions, well by then it will be too late to point out the
conflict of interest. The vote will have already passed. At
yesterday’s meeting City committee members were instructed by the
City Attorney not to hear the entire list of alleged
conflict-of-interest violations brought before them including recent
information that he "secretly received personal financial services from
a real-estate company backing the downtown plan."
The ethics commission Chairman Jerry Mangrum questioned the wisdom of
ending the process abruptly without hearing or seeing formal evidence.
"I think there's some questions out there, and we will never have the
opportunity to clear them up," Mangrum said.
October 26—200 march against eminent domain abuse.
ABOUT 200 DOWNTOWN business owners, workers and residents marched
today from the foot of the Paso Del Norte Bridge to City Hall in a show
of solidarity against the Downtown-Segundo Barrio demolition plan. A
majority of the demonstrators were members of the Korean business
community who stand to lose their livelihoods if a Wal-Mart is
constructed in South El Paso. "Every time debate about the plan starts,
they say that only a handful of Downtown landlords are against the plan
and that most people favor the plan," said Walter Kim, president of the
Korean Chamber of Commerce, which organized the march. "As you can see,
that is not true. About 99 percent of the businesses closed today
because they are against the plan. They want to be in El Paso's
Downtown. "During the march, only five businesses on South El Paso were
open; the other 60 or so were closed. Some businesses on Stanton,
Oregon, Paisano and Overland were also closed. Juárez and
Segundo Barrio shoppers said they supported the march against the Paso
Del Norte Group plan.
October 31—City Hall votes 5 to 3 to accept the PDNG plan.
November 8—Sanders sets up Borderplex REIT to buy up downtown and South El Paso property
Bill Sanders creates the Borderplex Community
Trust, a REIT set up to buy property in downtown and South El Paso. He
sends out an invitation inviting anyone with a net worth of $1,000,000
and who earns at least $200,000 a year, preferably $300,000 to apply.
The REIT is incorporated in Maryland because that way it will not have
to make its actions public even to its own stockholders.
December 18—City pass the Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone
CITY HALL PASSED the Tax Increment
Reinvestment Zone by a vote of 5 to 2 today. The TIRZ sets the stage
for eminent domain to be used on any property—blighted or
not—within the 188 acre zone. As a result of today’s vote,
for the next three decades, all increase in property tax revenue within
this zone will be diverted to the Real Estate Investment Trusts and
away from the other city, county and school districts that normally
receive them. Cities cannot use the TIRZ monies to pay for operations,
public safety or maintenance, which are by far the largest share of
municipal budgets. That part of the tax increment that would have gone
to the city's general fund will now be lost, and will now be mostly for
the benefit of the new landlords in the “redevelopment
zone.” After you bring in the TIRZ, the city will have
money to build a stadium, strip malls and big box retail stores, but
less for police, fire fighters and librarians. El Paso taxpayers will
have to make up the rest. During public comment period, many of
the city reps yawned, left their seats to go to the bathroom, get a cup
of coffee, stretch their legs, etc. (O’Rourke recused himself
from the vote and left the chamber. It’s not clear why he feels
he does have a conflict of interest on the TIRZ zone, but not on the
Paso Del Norte Plan as a whole.) The only surprise was that Alejandro
Lozano not only voted for the TIRZ zone but has now changed his tune on
eminent domain abuse as well. A few weeks ago he was the leading voice
on City Council against eminent domain abuse that transfers ownership
of mom and pop stores from local business owners to national
chain stores. It seemed that he was staunchly opposed to this kind of
abuse based on firmly held convictions. Suddenly today, he said this
kind of forced land seizures might be OK if the city pays
“replacement value.” Representative Presi Ortega praised
Lozano for his “transformational politics.”
February 10—Inauguration of historic mural in the Sacred Heart gym
A festival attended by 800-1000 people celebrated a mural painted by
Francisco Delgado, Mauricio Olague and about fifty Bowie high school
students. Several speakers including Father Garcia, pastor of Sacred
Heart Church and Los Angeles urbanist David Diaz spoke out against the
PDNG plan at the event. City rep Susie Byrd called the organizers of
the cultural festival “fear-mongers” for saying residents
will be displaced. See video of festival.
March—PDNG member indicted for 250 million dollar coupon fraud scheme
Chris Balsiger, PDNG member and major contributor to several city
politicians behind the plan, is indicted by the FBI for a $250,000,000
binational coupon fraud scheme.
March 31-More than 400 people chant “El Segundo Barrio no se vende!” at the Cesar Chavez march
April 4—Several artists are banned from La Fe clinic cultural center because they oppose the plan
El Paso Reggae musician Ernie Tinajero and the Radio La Chusma band
have been added to a long list of artists who are now officially banned
from La Fe Clinic by orders of its director Sal Balcorta. Several La Fe
employees, including former La Fe cultural programs director Frank
Varela, have also been fired by Balcorta—a member of the PDNG
Executive committee—because of "disloyalty" or because of their
opposition to the PDNG displacement of barrio residents. Radio La
Chusma played in front of the Sin Fronteras center at the end of the
Cesar Chavez March this Saturday where more than 400 people marched in
celebration of the farmworker leader and in opposition to the
destruction of the Segundo Barrio.
April 7—National Chicano organization denounces the El Paso downtown-Segundo Barrio redevelopment plan’
The National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies (NACCS), the
oldest and largest national organization of academics focusing on
Mexican origin people in the United States approved a resolution
denouncing the City of El Paso's downtown plan. The organization
approved the resolution on April 7 after learning of the ways in which
the City and plan supporters have the devastating effects of the plan
on renters, homeowners and business owners and washed aside conflicts
NACCS was founded in 1972 and just held its 32nd annual conference.
Over 400 faculty, students, and community members attended the
conference April 4-7 in San Jose, California.
The organization was founded with the belief, stated in its preamble,
that NACCS "contends that our research generate new knowledge about the
Chicana and Chicano community. It should also help solve problems in
the community. Problem-solving cannot be detached from an understanding
of our position in this society. Solutions must be based on careful
study and analysis of our communities. Concern with the immediate
problems of our people, then, is not separated from a critical
assessment of our conditions and the underlying structures and
ideologies that contribute to our subordination."
Resolution Concerning El Paso Downtown Plan
Submitted by the Tejas Foco
Approved by NACCS April 7, 2007
Whereas the City of El Paso approved a downtown revitalization plan in October 2006.
And whereas the plan will result in the demolition of over 130 acres of historic South El Paso neighborhoods.
And whereas the plan will displace over 1,800 people.
And whereas the City has funded a report using racial images of Mexican people to justify the plan.
And whereas the City has failed to adequately address questions regarding the future of renters, homeowners and business owners.
And whereas the City has ignored clear evidence of conflict of interest.
And whereas the plan has divided the city.
And whereas the City and supporters of the plan have created and fomented a culture of intimidation against critics of the plan.
And whereas the city has sanctioned a plan that is part of a larger
binational development plan that has resulted in violence and murder in
Therefore, let it be resolved that NACCS call on the City of El Paso to
stop implementation of this plan, create a new planning process that is
devoid of corruption and conflict of interest and truly utilizes the
community's creative resources, talents, and priorities.
Observer publishes article by Eileen Welsome titled “Eminent
Disaster: A cabal of politicians and profiteers targets an El Paso
May 9—El Paso Times poll shows 62% of El Pasoans oppose the use of eminent domain for the PDNG plan
July—FBI investigations shows corruption is rampant at the city and county level in El Paso
10 of the 21 targets belong to the PDNG. None of the mainstream media reports on this connection to the PDNG.
Here is a list of Paso Del Norte Group members publicly linked by the
FBI and the media to ongoing fraud and public corruption investigations:
1. Thomas Chris Balsiger- former president of the International
Outsourcing Services. Current PDNG member. Balsiger has been indicted
for a $250,000,000 international coupon fraud scheme. The criminal
indictment alleges that Balsiger and 8 other defendants submitted
millions of dollars worth of coupons that had never been legitimately
redeemed in connection with the purchase of a product. He is a
contributor to the political campaigns of City reps Robert
O’Rourke and Susie Byrd who signed a “No Corruption
Pledge” this summer near El Paso’s Scenic Drive. In
December 2007, "conspiracy to obstruct justice" charge was added by a
federal grand jury to the 25 other charges filed previously against
Chris Balsiger and other former International Outsourcing Services
executives. Read FBI indictment.
2. Roberto "Bobby" Ruiz- Investment banker & former managing
director of Bear Sterns financial services company. Current PDNG
member. On December 21, 2008, Roberto Ruiz pled guilty to four counts
of conspiracy to commit mail, wire fraud and a scheme to defraud the
citizens of their right to the honest services of elected officials of
the City of El Paso, the El Paso Independent School District, the El
Paso Community College District, and the members of the El Paso County
Commissioner’s Court by seeking to bribe elected members of those
respective boards and councils to secure their votes for certain
vendors seeking to do business with the various public entities. Bear
Sterns is the financial service company for Thomason Hospital. Thomason
president James Valenti denies charges by ex-County Commissioner Betti
Flores that she sold her vote to award " financial advisory contracts
at the county and for the Thomason bond initiative." Jim Valenti, also
a current PDNG member, told the El Paso Times he made the decision to
hire fellow PDNG member Roberto Ruiz' financial advisory company, a
decision that was approved by the Thomason hospital board.
3. Charles F. “Paco” Jordan-Founding owner of C.F. Jordan
construction company. Current PDNG member.County Commisioner Betty
Flores was paid $10,000 in exchange for a favorable vote on a contract
for the $20 million El Paso County Parking Garage Annex, and to
advocate change orders to the contract. The contract was awarded to
C.F. Jordan in May 2004. The former county commissioner’s son
Adrian Pena, worked for CF Jordan. His phone was tapped by the FBI. The
C.F. Jordan company has completed nearly $4 billion in projects
including border patrol stations, health care centers, processing
centers, hotels, resorts, medical facilities, industrial plants,
warehouses, sports complexes, apartments, airports, zoological
facilities and military defense projects. Other works include Sea World
in San Antonio, the Insights Science Museum in El Paso, and Hotel ZA ZA
in Dallas. It is a 300 + million dollar a year company. Chairman
Charles "Paco" Jordan started the firm in 1988. The company has
satellite offices in Dallas, San Antonio, Tucson Arizona, and
Hawaii. C.F. Jordan contributed $3000 to Texans for Rick Perry.
He is one of more than 70 current PDNG members who contributed to the
Robert O’Rourke campaign.
4. Darren Woody-President and CEO of C.F. Jordan construction company. Current PDNG member.
He has denied charges by a former county commissioner that his company
was part of the $10,000 bribe she received in exchange for awarding a
20 million dollar contract to his company, C.F. Jordan. He told the El
Paso Times (7-10-07): "At this time, we do not know the facts
surrounding Ms. Flores' information or even if they involve our company
or its employees. We are attempting to ascertain more information at
this time." Darren Woody contributed $1500 to Texans for Rick Perry. He
is also an O’Rourke contributor.
5. Ruben “Sonny” Garcia Jr.- owner and president of LKG Enterprises. Current PDNG member.
El Paso Times reports that the FBI suspects him of having bribed
officials to protect him and LKG "from a referral for criminal
activity, repayment to the County of El Paso of over $600,000 of
fraudulently obtained federal funds and a lawsuit by the county." The
company was dumped by the county earlier this year for not providing
services that were paid for and required for the Border
Children’s Mental Health Collaborative. In December 2007, County
Attorney José Rodríguez filed suit against LKG
Enterprises Inc. and its president Ruben "Sonny" Garcia Jr., earlier
this week. In the lawsuit, Rodriguez accuses LKG and Garcia of failing
to provide professional services for the Border Children's Mental
Health Collaborative, a federal grant program. The county seeks to
recover the $550,000 it paid to LKG under the contract.
6. Frank Apodaca-President and CEO of Access HealthSource, city’s
leading administrator for public health benefits. Current PDNG member.
Frank Apodaca, is an apparent target of the FBI and U.S. attorney's
office public corruption investigation in El Paso,” the El Paso
Times wrote on 7-9-07. “In one of those [six conspiracy] charges,
Flores pleaded guilty to taking a bribe for her vote to extend the
county's contract with Access HealthSource last year. Access' parent
company, Access Plans USA, put Apodaca on paid leave last week and
warned stockholders of a potential $2 million loss if Access lost its
government clients in El Paso. According to Access' public documents,
the company managed more than 700,000 claims for more than 60,000
public employees and dependents last year totaling more than $400
million. The FBI has conducted searches of Apodaca's Access offices and
his home. Apodaca, whose assets along with two cars and a motorcycle
have been seized by the FBI, was recently placed on paid administrative
leave by Access' parent company, the publicly traded Access Plans
USA.” Frank Apodaca contributed $2250 to state senator
7. Charles Roark- El Paso school district trustee, Former executive
Director of Hospice El Paso. Current PDNG member.“In June, the
U.S. attorney's office leveled the first allegations at Access and its
contracts with school districts,” reported the El Paso Times
(7-9-07) “Charles Roark, an El Paso Independent School District
trustee and executive director of Hospice El Paso. Hospice was searched
by FBI agents in April 2006. Court records filed by prosecutors last
month claim Roark is connected through ‘a free-rent scheme’
provided by NCED for Hospice." He received a $500 contribution from
fellow PDNG member and huge contributor to Republican causes, Stanley
Jobe, whose wife has also been named as part of the FBI investigation.
8. Raymond Telles- public finance lawyer and former City Council
representative. Current PDNG member.His name appears on a search
warrant issued by Federal Judge Frank Motalvo as part of the
FBI’s public corruption investigation. In March 2008 he pleads
guilty to bribing two current County commissioners in exchange for
votes and Socorro Independent School District trustees.
9. David Bernard-current PDNG member. Bernard is the chairman of the El
Paso law firm —Scott, Hulse, Marshall, Feuille, Finger &
Thurmond, P.C.—that is being investigated for possible ties to
the IOS international coupon fraud scam. According to the El Paso Times
(7-30-07): “Prosecutors have told U.S. District Judge Patricia J.
Gorence of Wisconsin that federal investigators are looking into the
possibility that lawyers for International Outsourcing Services, or
IOS, may have obstructed justice by giving false information to
officials, that some lawyers were used to harass one or more government
witnesses and that some witnesses were coached before they were
interviewed by federal investigators.”
10. Hector Zavaleta- Former vice president of First Southwes Company, current PDNG member.
The El Paso Times reported on August 8, 2007, that Zavaleta, former
vice president of First Southwest Company who has been the bond counsel
“to the city of El Paso and the county in numerous bond-sale
transactions involving hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years,
has been cooperating [with the FBI corruption investigation] concerning
various ‘government entities and officials.’”
According to the El Paso Times, it is not clear if Zavaleta is
cooperating with the FBI under the advice of his attorneys to get a
lighter sentence."Maybe he did something wrong and the lawyers are
starting as right now to put a good spin on their client," William
Pizzi, a criminal law professor and public corruption expert, said.
County Commissioner Veronica Escobar, a pro-PDNG politician who
initially rejoiced that her political enemies were among those under
suspicion of receiving bribes, recently went to bat for Zavaleta,
calling him a "victim." Now that those doing the bribing are
increasingly among her list of Paso Del Norte Group allies, she has
called for an end to the federal investigation. "Folks need a sense of
closure," Escobar told the El Paso Times.
November 19—UTEP forum connects the struggles of Lomas del Poleo and Segundo Barrio against displacement
The Residents of Lomas del Poleo and the Segundo Barrio Connect
“It’s the same plan on both sides of the border. It’s
the same land speculators who sit on each others boards and who are
carrying out large-scale displacement and land grabs. If the powerful
are organized at a binational level, then those of us at the bottom
also need to join together. We need to form binational coalitions
against el despojo—against the theft of our homes and our
barrios—that is being carried out in the name of regional
—Cristina Coronado, Juárez activist from La Otra
TWO HUNDRED PEOPLE attended a UT El Paso forum Monday evening where
they witnessed a unique, and perhaps historic, conversation between
residents of two neighborhoods located across the international fence
from each other that are fighting against very similar threats to their
Panelists Petra Medrano, who has lived in Lomas del Poleo in
Juárez for 15 years and Lupe Ochoa, who has lived in El
Paso’s Segundo Barrio for about an equal amount of time, shared
common stories of struggle against developers from both sides of the
border who want to move their communities out the way to make room for
binational redevelopment projects. Petra Medrano described the feelings
of anger and fear that she and her neighbors have experienced at the
hands of armed guards hired by powerful Juárez developers who
have systemically terrorized them for the last four years to force them
to accept relocation. “We lived in peace Lomas del Poleo for 12
years until recently when the Grupo Zaragoza showed up... Now we are
under much pressure. One of our neighbors, Luis Alberto Guerrero, was
beaten to death by the guards while the guards were razing a home...We
feel so powerless...I know I'm a target now, but I must speak out.
Maybe only a miracle will save us."
“Why now?” Ms. Mendoza asked. “Why have they decided
to kick us out of there now after we were there for so long?” The
sentiments of Lupe Ochoa echoed those of Medrano. “We used to
live happily in our barrio, even with all of its defects, but now this
[Paso del Norte Group] plan has us all living in a state of
fear,” she said. “The residents of the barrio have been
selling their homes because they're afraid that they will be forced out
by this plan. "I think the biggest connection between Segundo Barrio
and Lomas del Poleo is the love for our neighborhood and for our
people,” Ms. Ochoa said. “And the love we feel for our
homes that we built with great sacrifice, either on this or that side
of the border. And I say this love is what will unite us. Segundo
Barrio es igual a Lomas de Poleo...The people that are doing this to
our neighborhoods either on that side or this side are not invincible.
If the tallest trees have been toppled, why shouldn't we be able to
topple these powerful groups even with all their money. Even though
they say power is all about money. But they don't have the heart that
we the poor have,” Ms. Ochoa said.
"It's the same people who are responsible for what is happening to us
at Lomas del Poleo— Héctor Murguía [former
Juárez mayor who is a member of the Paso Del Norte Group] and
Eloy Vallina [board member Verde Realty Group] who now want to take
over the Segundo Barrio," said Medrano. "It's the same group of
businessmen who are threatening us. They're the same ones that want to
take away our lands." During the screening of short documentaries about
both communities at the forum—including “Poleo
Speaking” and “Voices of Dissent: The Segundo Barrio is Not
For Sale!”—the the residents of both neighborhoods used
almost identical phrases to describe their feelings in the face of
displacement and the seizure of their land. Several of them said they
felt “powerless” or “impotent” but that they
were willing to fight for their homes “come what may.” The
videos also linked the struggles in other ways. The "Grupo Zaragoza,"
Eloy Vallina's "Grupo Chihuahua" and Bill Sander's "Grupo Verde" in
Juárez have all targeted the northwestern zone in Ciudad
Juárez for binational redevelopment projects that, those
interviewed in the videos argue, have excluded the people that
are currently living in that zone. Father Bill Morton, one of the
panelist at the forum who was pressured to leave Mexico in 2006 because
of his work on behalf of the colonos, made the connection between these
developments and the state of siege of the Lomas del Poleo residents in
the documentary Poleo Speaking. "It's a project between Anapra, Sunland
Park, New Mexico, San Jeronimo, Santa Teresa, El Paso and Juárez
that involves billions and billions of dollars. It's all part of the
whole enchilada," Morton said. But beyond anything said at the forum,
that very direct and palpable connection that we witnessed between
Petra Medrano and Lupe Ochoa and the other residents of our binational
neighborhoods under siege, was the most important thing that came out
of Monday’s forum.
It was the first time that many of them became aware of each
other's situation. It was also an evening where voices that
hadn’t been heard before were heard for the first time.For the
first time, neighbors from both sides of the fence connected. And just
that in itself was an important victory for the binational movement
against displacement and despojo—the theft of our homes and
November 24—Groups respond to City reps comments that binational connection is “intellectually dishonest”
"I think they (the Paso Del Sur Group) are being intellectually
dishonest. The armed militias are really depriving people of their
human rights, and that's not comparable to anything in Segundo Barrio,"
she said when contacted after the forum…She also went on to say
that while the group had good things to say,"Their (Paso del Sur Group)
tactics of misinformation and vitriol have made them so that they're
not a part of the conversation anymore."
—City rep Susie Byrd, quoted by NPT
THE MEMBERS OF La Otra Campaña in Ciudad Juárez who have
joined together with the colonos of Lomas del Poleo along with other
social and political organizations of the border not only share, but
publicly espouse, the position of Paso Del Sur regarding the connection
between the struggle against land theft and displacement that is taking
place today on both sides of the border. This natural
relationship that has been created recently between the colonos of
Lomas del Poleo and the residents of the Segundo Barrio—who are
fighting from below to save their lands, properties and
livelihoods—is the beginning of a trans-border movement in the
Ciudad Juárez-El Paso area similar to those taking place in
other parts of the world. It is “intellectually
dishonest” to think that behind this nascent movement there are
individuals or organizations that are merely inventing this connection.
The true source of this connection are the very people who, in the name
of a false development and a primitive notion of progress, endeavour to
change the face of our cities in order to fill their pockets with cash.
We ask City representative Susie Byrd if it is not
“intellectually dishonest” to believe that the residents of
the Segundo Barrio and Lomas del Poleo can’t think for themselves
and thus need others to invent the idea of “ binational
connections” for them? We must ask City representative Susie Byrd
if it is not “intellectually dishonest” to be on the side
of wealthy investors who endeavour to erase a large part of this
history of this city through real estate expropriation? —La
Otra Campaña de Ciudad Juárez
Paso Del Norte Civil Rights Project Responds:
City rep. Susie Byrd's statements are absurd for the following reasons:
1. City representative Susie Byrd attacks Paso del Sur individually
despite the fact that ten other organizations co-organized the event at
UTEP [including the Paso Del Norte Civil Rights Project, Amnesty
International, the UTEP history department, La Otra Campaña,
LUS, ALDEA, the Committee for the Second Forum at Lomas del Poleo,
CAUSA, Comité Universitario de Izquierda and Circulo
Zihuatekpatzin). The panel included residents of Segundo Barrio and
Lomas de Poleo, not members of Paso del Sur. Ms Byrd’s accusation
that the speakers on the panel are “intellectually
dishonest” is tragically ironic and frankly hilarious. All
of the events surrounding the Downtown “Revitalization”
Plan have been fraught with dishonesty and double-talk that would make
George Orwell cross-eyed.
2. Ms. Byrd conveniently fails to recognize that physical violence is
not the only type of human rights violation. No one is accusing the
Council of carrying actual weapons into the Barrio. However, the
underlying issues and methods are the same. In both communities
developers identified property that could be profitable to them, but
which was inconveniently occupied by families, shop owners, and
churches. Subsequently in both communities developers and politicians
partnered in efforts to “clear the land.” In Lomas de Poleo
the methods are burning and destroying homes. Here the methods are
eminent domain, designating entire communities as blighted in order to
circumvent new legislative protections, and even creating blight by
refusing to maintain City infrastructure downtown. Either way, the
result is the same.
3. Ms. Byrd is shockingly insensitive to the fact that comments
like these as well as the Glass Beach marketing study, references to
lice and roaches in Segundo homes, and other threatening and degrading
rhetoric by the City creates an environment of fear and send the
message “You don’t matter. We are coming for
you.” This same message is communicated in Lomas de Poleo.
4. The one thing Ms. Byrd is right about is that we should all be
concerned about what’s going on in Lomas de Poleo. However, if
Ms. Byrd had actually attended the event, she would know that people
there have already been harmed, and indeed everyone should be concerned
about Segundo Barrio as well. We must ensure that they are not
harmed. Assuming that Ms. Byrd is correct, and the Mayor and the
Government are the ones to call on when faced with forcible removal
from your home, who do we call?
5. Who is she to decide who gets to be a part of “the
conversation” (What conversation? Isn’t that the
problem?)? She is an elected representative. In fact, some of
us are voters in her district. She is supposed to speak for us.
To be clear, she does not. Further, if she had attended the event she
would know there were over 200 people there. Is she saying that the
opinions of all of those people are meaningless? The members of the
panel were victims from Lomas de Poleo and probable future victims from
Segundo Barrio; her comments undermine their experience and deny their
right to engage in public debate and fight to save their homes. While
we realize it is more efficient to exclude people who disagree with you
from “the conversation,” in a democracy, that is not how it
—Paso Del Norte Civil Rights Project
December 6—TIRZ board votes to expand the “redevelopment zone.”
THE TIRZ BOARD, chaired by Paso Del Norte Group plan zealot Veronica
Escobar, has recommended that the boundaries of the TIRZ zone—the
area that has been declared “blighted” by City Council
where major demolitions and future eminent domain will take
place—be expanded. The expanded Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone
would include the “Historic Incentive Zone” which was
previously exempted from the threat of eminent domain under the initial
PDNG plan. The TIRZ expansion will be introduced to the El Paso City
Council on December 11, 2007 [
The number of acres where the City will have expanded powers to use
eminent domain has gone up from 168 acres to 302. This just goes to
show that many of the past promises by the pro PDNG-plan
politicians— that certain properties were safe from the threat of
forced expropriation—have proven to be exactly that. Nothing but
It’s also becoming increasingly clear to many residents of the
border that, unless we put a stop to it, “The Plan” will
slowly keep threatening to swallow more and more of our homes,
businesses, neighborhoods, roads, water and resources.
December 20—Cross border alliance between Las Cruces, El Paso and
Juarez meet to find common ground in their struggle against
dispossession and displacement
LAS CRUCES, NEW MEXICO — Activists and residents from Las Cruces,
El Paso and Ciudad Juárez met yesterday at the Center for Latin
American & Border Studies at NMSU to discuss the negative effects
of the Verde Group binational development plans in the region. They
included residents of Lomas del Poleo and South El Paso, faculty
members of UTEP and NMSU, as well as members of Paso Del Sur of El
Paso, La Otra Campaña of Ciudad Juárez and the Quality
Growth Alliance of Las Cruces.
The participants at the meeting pointed out connections and common
strategies that the Verde Group uses in El Paso and Las Cruces
including extreme secrecy, conflicts of interest, influence peddling
and forcing public officials to rush their vote before public awareness
is built. The issues of displacement, eminent domain abuse, public
corruption, human rights violations and the the draining of taxes and
other resources to fund these private development projects on both
sides of the border were also discussed.
Quality Growth Alliance of Las Cruces activists oppose the Verde
Group's attempt to control Doña Ana county taxes to help pay
their for its mega-development project in Santa Teresa. They believe
these public monies should be spent instead to pay for urgent projects
such as the creation of infrastructure and health services in the
poorer neighborhoods of the city. They pointed out that the Verde Group
has tried to rush the decision at the local and state level and often
added certain amendments to the TIDD act at the last minute such as a
loophole that would allow the use of eminent domain in Santa
Teresa. They also expressed concern about the power peddling by
the Verde Group and the potential for public corruption taking place at
both the local and state levels. According to the Albuquerque Tribune,
subsidiaries of Verde and a Verde executive contributed about $66,000
to Richardson's gubernatorial re-election campaign in 2006.
Members of the Paso Del Sur Group said they were struck by the
similarities between the actions of the Verde Group in Las Cruces and
the actions of these developers in El Paso. [The Verde Group
creates a number of “shadow organizations” often hidden
from the public eye. In El Paso they work under the auspices of the
Paso Del Norte Group and the Borderplex Community Trust REIT—both
of them organizations headed by Verde Group owner Bill Sanders.] Just
as in Las Cruces, the pro-Sander’s political alliance has created
a Tax Increment Zone in Downtown and South El Paso that will drain
public monies from other uses throughout the city. These tax-payer
funds can now only be used to create infrastructure for the new
PDNG-dominated redevelopment plan that includes the threat of eminent
domain in 2008 to force unwilling property owners to sell their homes
The Paso Del Sur group pointed out that the conflict of interest and
corruption is similar to what is taking place in New Mexico. In
Doña Ana county, at least one of the commissioner’s
campaign is heavily subsidized by the Verde Group. In El Paso, not only
are several pro-plan politician’s electoral campaigns heavily
subsidized by the Verde Group and the PDNG members, but they’re
connected to a City Council representative through the bonds of
marriage. City rep Robert O’Rourke is the son-in-law of the Verde
Group owner Bill Sanders.
The residents of Lomas del Poleo shared personal accounts of the
destructive effects of the binational redevelopment plans by Eloy
Vallina (who sits on the board of directors of the Verde Group
corporation) on their own neighborhood. Since 2003, when Bill Sanders
and Eloy Vallina announced their plans for “master - planned
binational cities” in Santa Teresa and San Jerónimo, their
community has been facing a systematic campaign waged by a powerful
group of developers known as the Zaragoza Group to displace them
through violence and terror from their lands.
The Grupo Zaragoza is part of a coalition of Juárez developers
known as the Plan Estrategico de Ciudad Juárez that was formed
around the same time that the Paso Del Norte Group was formed in 2003.
Supporters of the Lomas Del Poleo residents said they believe Eloy
Vallina, Sanders and the politicians who support these developers on
both sides of the border share complicity for the actions of the Grupo
Zaragoza and the human rights violations they’re committing in
Lomas del Poleo. Another issue that concerned activists from the three
cities was that these binational mega-development projects will drain
water from the border communities — specifically, the projects
currently being carried out by Bill Sanders, Woody Hunt and Carlos Slim
to monopolize and privatize the water aquifers that presently supply
water to the El Paso-Juárez-Las Cruces area.
Perhaps the main point that came out of yesterday’s tri-city
alliance meeting was the understanding that the negative impact the
Verde Group-Grupo Zaragoza binational development project on the Las
Cruces, Segundo Barrio and Lomas del Poleo communities differs only in
matters of degree. In Las Cruces, the binational development project
threatens the community’s public funds and resources. In El Paso,
it is people’s homes and livelihoods that are at stake.
In Lomas del Poleo, people are fighting not only for their lands that
have been targeted by the developers, but for their very lives. But at
the end of the day, it is all part of the same plan. As one of the
participants put it, "it's same creature with many tentacles."
21—PDNG banker pleads guilty to bribing city and countil
officials. He has obtained more than 1.5 billion dollars worth of
contracts from the city
THE US DISTRICT COURT, El Paso Division (12-21-07)
THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY CHARGES
“ROBERTO GERARDO RUIZ conspired and agreed together with others
known, but not charged herein, and others unknown, to commit offenses
against the United States, that is to knowingly devise a scheme and
artifice to defraud the government and the citizens of the City of El
Paso and the right to the honest services of elected El Paso City
Council Representatives, in the affairs of the City of EL Paso; and
conspired to knowingly devise a scheme to obtain money and property by
means of material false and fraudulent pretenses, representations and
promises; that is, the defendant and others agreed to pay cash money to
elected El Paso City Council Representatives, and said Council
Representatives agreed to receive cash money in exchange for the
Council Representatives’ support and vote in their official
capacity as El Paso City Council Representatives, in violation of their
fiduciary duty as elected representatives of the City of El Paso, for
agreements between the City of El Paso and vendors seeking business
with the City of El Paso; and in furtherance of the scheme to deprive
the City of El Paso and its citizens of the honest services of the
elected El Paso City Council Representatives, and to obtain money and
property by material false and fraudulent pretenses.
January 9—PDNG reveals city-funded study supporting the Verde Group's gated communities in Santa Teresa.
THE PASO DEL NORTE GROUP and the City of El Paso have teamed together
again to fund a study telling us what is wrong with our city and to
sell us on the Downtown-Segundo Barrio “Redevelopment
Plan.” Our tax dollars paid $15,000 for the study and another
$176,000 will pay for the startup of the retiree attraction program.
The PDNG solicited the study and paid $15,000 as well.
On Tuesday, January 8, the City heard a report from ProMatura
Group—a consulting, research and marketing firm based in
Mississippi. According to the report, the Paso del Norte Group began
studying “Retiree attraction” in 2004. In June 2007, PDNG
and the City hired ProMatura to conduct a study and develop a plan to
create a retiree attraction program. According to the PDNG-solicited
study, “the Paso del Norte region will be a premier retirement
destination location chosen because of its quality of life, climate,
lifestyle and opportunities for 50+ households.” Number 1 on
ProMatura’s list of “opportunities” in the Paso del
Norte region is…no surprise: The Downtown "Revitalization"
Plan. In other words, senior citizens from all over the U.S.
can’t wait for a Starbucks, strip-malls and a Wal-Mart to come to
the Segundo Barrio once the natives are kicked out. Some might find
that a bit difficult to believe. We have no problem believing, however,
that our tax dollars are paying for a self-serving report, solicited
and financed by the Paso del Norte Group, which justifies the
PDNG’s demolition plan as good for the City.
The report focuses on El Paso, with frequent references to the Paso del
Norte region, which they define as El Paso, Juárez, and
Doña County—particularly Santa Teresa. The region, not
unexpectedly, is the same tri-state, bi-national area that Paso del
Norte members, particularly Bill Sanders and Eloy Vallina, have their
sights on and own a huge chunk of.
Similar to the GlassBeach Study, the ProMatura report states that
“The Paso del Norte region is somewhat rough around the edges,
lacks attractive streetscapes and suffers from the perception that it
is a dusty border town” (read “ dirty Mexican border
town.”) Also, the report finds that senior citizens
don’t like our city because “some people in El Paso have
accepted the status quo.” (Again, it seems highly unlikely that
elderly Anglos throughout the U.S. would adopt the exact same jargon
and talking point of the local "progressive" pro-PDNG plan crowd.) They
also point out that many neighborhoods “have a ghetto-like
appearance” (read “barrio-like appearance,” as if
that in itself is a terrible thing. Then again, for the retirees from
New Jersey and Arizona the Republican Bill Sanders wants to attract to
town, it probably is.)
The ProMatura report echoes of the previous, also self-serving, report
created by GlassBeach firm that characterized El Paso as “gritty,
dirty, lazy, speaking Spanish, uneducated.” Just like the
GlassBeach report called for a new kind of El Pasoan (using images of
Penelope Cruz and Matthew McConaughey to represent the new, beautiful
people who would move to El Paso), the ProMatura report also points to
the new El Pasoans. The new El Pasoans envisioned by ProMatura and PDNG
are 55 and over with average home prices of $180,000. The report
concludes that the City should create a four year start up retiree
attraction program with a budget of approximately $176,000 (David
Crowder of the El Paso Times—a newspaper heavily subsidized by
the PDNG—misreported this figure as $156,000).
When will the City pay for a Paso Del Sur Group study—or any
other home-grown study for that matter—that will document how an
alternative vision that is based on our community’s true needs
and it’s underappreciated cultural vitality can eliminate the
stifling big-box-infested blight of urban mediocrity that is pervasive
throughout our city? Probably not until the local political class is no
longer in the pockets of the Paso Del Norte Group.
15—Simultaneous protest for the Segundo Barrio and Lomas del
Poleo take place before consulates in Juarez and El Paso
RESIDENTS FROM JUÁREZ AND EL PASO held demonstrations yesterday
at the consulates of both cities in protest of the destruction of
hundreds of homes and buildings in El Paso’s Segundo Barrio to
build a commercial zone. While some of the members of the Committee in
Defense of Lomas del Poleo held a demonstration outside the U.S.
Consulate in Ciudad Juárez, some of the Lomas del Poleo
residents joined the demonstration across the river in front of the
Mexican consulate in El Paso. The Committee’s spokesperson Juan
Carlos Martínez, said the demonstration in El Paso is to
denounce the barbed-wire fence put up by the Grupo Zaragoza that
surround the Lomas del Poleo neighborhood.
“It’s a joint, simultaneous protest. We are supporting each
other because this is a binational struggle against
despojo—displacement and dispossession—by powerful
developers, many who belong to the Verde Group,” said
Martínez while behind him demonstrators carried signs bearing
the letters “Segundo Barrio” and shouting “La tierra
no se vende, se trabaja y se defiende!” (Our land is not for
sale, it is ours to work and to defend!). Martínez explained
that developers from the Verde Group and the Paso Del Norte Group plan
to demolish hundreds of homes and businesses in the Segundo Barrio to
build shopping malls and big-box retail stores. The Paso Del Norte
Group (PDNG) is made up of more than 350 business leaders from El Paso,
Ciudad Juárez and New Mexico. “There are historic
buildings in the oldest neighborhood in El Paso. It’s an area
that played a very important role in the Mexican Revolution, for
instance, that’s where Los de Abajo by Mariano Azuela was
published and now they want to put up a Wal-Mart and other shopping
malls there,” Martínez said. Since 2006 the PDNG has been
trying to buy out some of these building with the threat of eminent
domain. The Juárez demonstrators handed out about 1,500 flyers
and presented a letter to the U.S. Consul General explaining their
opposition to the binational development plan.
In El Paso, María Guadalupe Ochoa, resident and one of the
leaders of the Segundo Barrio movement, said people from both sides of
the border support each other’s struggle because “just like
they want our barrio here to disappear, they also want to destroy the
homes of the Lomas del Poleo residents.” El Paso District 8
representative Robert O’Rourke argued that it is not the
intention of the redevelopment plan to displace residents but to
promote the region’s economy. He said only buildings along S.
Mesa and S. Oregon in the Segundo Barrio will be affected by the plan.
He excluded Chihuahuita.“I think these people (the protesters)
are confusing the public and aren’t giving them a clear idea of
what is happening,” the representative said. The Paso Del Norte
Group project plans to redevelop the Segundo Barrio by building a
big-box retail store and a shopping mall in this zone.
January 29—Segundo Barrio residents try to speak before City Council to
support ordinance that will limit eminent domain only to particular
blighted properties, not entire areas. City Rep Robert O’Rourke
casts deciding vote despite admitted conflict of interest
ALTHOUGH CITY REPRESENTATIVE Robert O’Rourke has signed sworn
affidavits in the past admitting to conflict of interest regarding all
issues related to the Downtown-Segundo Barrio “redevelopment
plan,” he failed to recuse himself during yesterday’s vote
on an ordinance that would disallow “blight” condemnations
on buildings that are in perfect condition. Instead he cast the
deciding vote with the 4 to 3 majority of City Council that wants the
local government to have broad powers to condemn and forcibly
confiscate any building it wishes within the “redevelopment
zone” even if the building is well-maintained. The homes and
small businesses that are thus expropriated will be handed over to
private developers including O’Rourke’s father-in-law
William Sanders. As owner of the Verde Group, the Borderplex
Community Trust (that is currently buying property within the
redevelopment zone) and founder of the Paso del Norte Group, Sanders is
the major driving force behind the plan to demolish a 30 acre-zone of
the Segundo Barrio and displace more than 1,800 residents from this
Since December 2006, O’Rourke has consistently recused himself
because of admitted conflict of interest from votes related to the
redevelopment zone, a 302-acre area also known as the TIRZ (Tax
Increment Reinvestment Zone) that includes the heart of the Segundo
Barrio. For instance in October 17, 2007, he signed a sworn affidavit
stating that “I, and or a person or persons related to me have an
interest in property in the proposed TIRZ district.” Oddly
enough, instead of admitting the obvious conflict of interest involving
his father in law who is currently buying up land in the TIRZ zone,
O’Rourke states that “my wife’s employer is a
landowner in the proposed district.” In other affidavits he
states that his wife, Amy Sanders O'Rourke, works for the La Fe
Community Development Corporation, a for-profit entity that owns
apartments and several businesses within the TIRZ zone. Ms. O'Rourke is
currently the executive director of the La Fe Preparatory charter
The executive director of La Fe Clinic, Sal Balcorta is a member of the
executive committee of the Paso Del Norte Group that developed the PDNG
plan and charted the zone within the Segundo Barrio where residences
and small business could be forcibly expropriated.
O’Rourke gave no explanation why, if has signed sworn statements
in the past admitting to conflict of interest in the TIRZ zone, he
believes it is ethical to cast the deciding vote on a matter related to
this same zone.
Was it that O’Rourke felt he could safely recuse himself from
votes in the past where the outcome was safely on the pro-eminent
domain side, but now things have changed with the recent resignation of
former city rep Alejandro Lozano? Yesterday’s vote would have
resulted in a 3 to 3 tie if O’Rourke had chosen to continue to
abstain and the Mayor would have been forced to cast the tie-breaking
In the past, Mayor John Cook has stated publicly that he supports the
use of eminent domain condemnation only against “specific
properties” that fit the definition of blight and not properties
whose only crime is to have the misfortune of being located within a
TIRZ zone. If Cook had been forced to break the tie, it would have been
a lose-lose situation for the pro-PDNG crowd. Either Cook would have
been forced to drop his mask of being against forced expropriations for
non-blighted properties, or he would have cast the winning vote for the
ordinance to limit eminent domain abuse.
O’Rourke could not afford either of these scenarios. That’s
why he now has to explain why one day he swears to conflict of interest
and another day, although nothing has changed, he decides his sworn
statements no longer apply.
Part II. The voice of the Segundo Barrio residents is squelched again.
Why can’t we at least pretend there’s a democracy here? one
speaker asked O’Rourke at City Council chambers yesterday.
“Some Segundo Barrio residents were told the vote on the
ordinance was postponed for a week and they left. It’s not going
to hurt you to postpone it for a week. You should always err on the
part of the citizens. You’ve obviously already made up your mind
how you’re going to vote anyway. But at least let them speak
before you cast your vote. Please postpone it for a week. It’s
not going to hurt anything. Otherwise the people will go with a real
bad taste in their mouth.”
The speaker, who is a regular at City Hall meetings, spoke in support
of a group of Segundo Barrio residents who had shown up at City Hall on
Tuesday morning to sign up to speak on the eminent domain ordinance but
left after they were told that the vote and discussion on the issue had
been postponed for a week.
“We arrived at City Hall at 8:30 in the morning to sign up to
speak and we were told by a City employee at the sign-up table that the
issue was postponed for a week,” say Gaby Garcia of the Paso Del
Norte Civil Rights Project. “She showed me a postponement notice
that said “postpone one week as per representative Castro.”
Segundo Barrio resident Lupe Ochoa was also told the vote on the issue
was postponed but then she found out the City Council decided to
rescind the postponement. When she found out she rushed back to City
Hall, but this time by herself because it was too late to inform the
Both Lupe Ochoa and Gabby Garcia returned and asked the council members
why they had been told that the eminent domain abuse ordinance vote was
postponed but now they were actually going to vote on it. “Could
you wait until next week so that the Segundo Barrio residents get a
chance to speak? Or at least put it back a few items on today’s
agenda so that we can call them and they can come back today”
Gabby Garcia asked.
Representative Melina Castro, who introduced the ordinance on forced
expropriations, apologized whatever misunderstanding occured and moved
to postpone the vote for a week to give the barrio residents a chance
O’Rourke responded with a clear-cut no. “I’m ready to
hear and decide on this issue now. I represent the residents of the
Segundo Barrio. I met with them a numbers of times to the point of
going door to door. I’ve met with groups of barrio residents
twice. Once at the Boys and Girls Club and another time I met at Sacred
Heart Church where I was ambushed by the Paso Del Sur Group. [editors
note: The meeting that took place in the summer of 2007 was in fact
organized not by Paso Del Sur but by the church and a group of lawyers
representing the residents.] You can see my meeting with the residents
there on YouTube. We’ve heard this issue ad naseum for two years
and I’m ready to vote on this. I moved to deny this proposed
postponement,” he said.
Guadalupe Ochoa approached the podium and addressed O’Rourke,
“Why are you excluding us from your plan again? Many of the
people of the Segundo Barrio were here this morning but we were turned
away, then I find out you’re going to vote today after all. Why
can’t you understand that we love our barrio and we’re
happy there before your plan came along? Why can’t you fix our
homes and property rather than destroy it? We are willing to defend our
barrio because we love it. But I know not everyone shares this love for
it. Remember (looking at O’Rourke) that you are where you are
because we put you there, so think carefully before you do what you
intend to do.”
At this point, O’Rourke interrupted Mrs. Ochoa and asked,
“Señora Ochoa, is it not true that you live in Eighth
Street outside the redevelopment zone? [Mrs. Ochoa actually currently
lives on Ninth Street but lived on Mesa Street for close to 20 years.]
I have many projects to repave that street and add additional lighting
and security there.”
Mrs. Ochoa responded: “I’m not here to fight only for my
street. I’m here to fight for my barrio and my people."
The City voted 4-3 to deny the request for postponement. O’Rourke
again cast the deciding vote.“The residents are free to come back
next week and address the council if they wish during the open comments
period,” O’Rourke told Mrs. Ochoa. He did not inform her
that next week whatever the residents have to say will not affect City
Council's vote on Segundo Barrio expropriations. That vote has already
February 5—Residents return to City Council to support the ordinance and denounce O’Rourke conflict of interest
"You cannot do this to people," Father Edwin Gros, Sacred Heart pastor tells City Council
A GROUP OF Sacred Heart Parishioners who call themselves (Comite Voces
del Segundo Barrio) and their supporters from the Paso Del Norte Civil
Rights Project, Paso del Sur, Anunciation House and other organizations
addressed city council yesterday asking them to reconsider their vote
prohibiting the misuse of eminent domain on non-blighted property. They
asked that O'Rourke recuse himself due to conflict of interest. The
vote however, had already been cast last week and there is no
discussion on the issue.
March 8—The North American Human Rights Delegation Connects Displacement at Lomas del Poleo with the Segundo Barrio
A delegation of human rights observers including members of Amnesty
International, the National Lawyers Guild and La Raza Centro Legal
carry out a one week visit of Lomas del Poleo and the Segundo Barrio
and come to the following conclusion.
“Displacement of poor local communities is currently taking place
due to potential industrial and corporate development on both sides of
the border. In addition to Lomas Del Poleo, Segundo Barrio, one of the
oldest neighborhoods in El Paso with many historic buildings of rich
cultural significance, is also at risk of disappearing. the pedestrian
bridges from Ciudad Juárez currently terminate in El
Paso’s Segundo Barrio. Segundo Barrio has been called “a
localized version of Ellis Island” for the Mexican community
crossing into the United States.
“Much like Lomas del Poleo, residents are being displaced by a
closed and non-public process which benefits some of the same
developers. According to one resident, Maria Guadalupe Ochoa, in lieu
of violence, residents of the Segundo Barrio are faced with dilemmas
such as developers “offering $20,000 for your house and you have
to take it because your children have needs.” In Segundo Barrio,
the displacement would impact roughly 1,800 current residents.
“Again, like the displacement happening in Lomas del Poleo, there
is a strong economic motivation for the displacement. Developers, like
the Paso Del Norte Group stand to gain huge profits from appropriating
a portion of this neighborhood. The proposed use of eminent domain to
recuperate property for private development is effectively a land grab,
which benefits real estate developers. Rather than being used for the
common good, in this instance the land being “reclaimed”
would be turned over to a private Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT)
whose goals are determined by the trustees and not by the general
public and thereby not accountable to the community or city government.
To a certain degree, when faced with the possibility of losing their
homes through eminent domain, the residents are facing economic
“According to Father Edwin Gros, residents went to a City Council
meeting to speak on a proposal that would limit the use of eminent
domain. The proposed ordinance would have limited the use of eminent
domain to declaring a specific building a blight, but not a whole area.
They were told to go home because consideration of the proposal had
been postponed. The Council then went ahead and voted down the proposal
after residents left. To add insult to injury, residents said a City
Council member who in the past had recused himself on the issue due to
conflict of interest voted against the proposal.“The is the day
we stopped living in a democracy and started living a
dictatorship,” an El Paso resident said.
“The North American Human Rights Delegation concludes that human
rights violations are taking place against the residents of Lomas del
Poleo, with the tacit consent of the local government. The land
development driving the displacement of residents in Lomas del Poleo is
reflected in other areas of the immediate border region, including
Segundo Barrio in El Paso, Texas. Rather than being isolated cases of displacement, the cases described in this report appear to be interconnected.”