Much of the controversies in El Paso’s public policy agenda can be traced back the notion that El Paso has a “vision” for greatness. The Chihuahua’s ballpark was to be the catalyst to a downtown renaissance. Before that it was the Border Health Institute (BHI) that was supposed to transform El Paso into a medical mecca. The BHI has evolved into the MCA along the same “vision” originally laid out by the BHI. Visions of trolleys going back-and-forth between El Paso and Cd. Juárez led to the revival of the trollies in El Paso. El Paso leaders have expressed “visions” for a greater El Paso. All the “visions” to be funded by tax dollars.
Ray Caballero offered many “visions” from trolleys to medical meccas, but one “vision” remains the most outlandish of all. In 2002 Caballero offered a “vision” of a Central Park over the abandoned railyards on central El Paso, along the I-10 corridor.
With a list of potential funding sources in Caballero’s back pocket – he refused to disclose the list because it was some secret – El Paso would embark on a twenty year build out of a central park in the abandoned railroad yards near downtown. The railroad yards are considered “brownfields” and the cost to clean them up is prohibitive. Leaving that aside for a moment, the obvious stumbling impediment was that the railway yards were owned by someone else and not the city. Supporters of the Central Park idea argued that the railways could be donated and yet there was no incentive to do so.
The city’s website, nonetheless, argued for the vison of a Central Park.
It said, “The Mayor proposes to depress the rail lines and convert the Dallas Union Pacific rail yard into Central Park. This will add much needed green space and may serve as a flood control and a water reclamation project.”
According to the Caballero administration, the Central Park would have sports fields, trees, lots of them, apparently, hiking and biking trails and lots of grass – in the midst of the controversy over the lack of water in El Paso.
During the visions of the Central Park, El Paso water ratepayers were being told that El Paso was about to run out of water and that draconian water conservations matters needed to be implemented, including doing away with yards that were not xeriscape. Apparently, there was enough water for a Central Park but not enough for homeowners to water their lawns, notwithstanding the water emergency created by Woody Hunt.
The Caballero administration argued that in addition to providing El Pasoans grassy fields in the middle of a water crisis, the Central Park would also offer emergency flood control. The “vision” of a Central Park never rose above the city’s website during the Caballero administration but it remains the “vision” that is driving El Paso’s economic failures paid for by tax dollars. It is the ongoing Plan El Paso. In our next article we will explore the “vision” behind the downtown sports arena further.
Martín Paredes extensively covered city politics from 2001 through mid-2005 for the online publications: El Paso Metro and the El Paso Tribune. Unless specifically noted, the information presented in this article comes from contemporaneous notes taken by the author at the time of the events depicted here.