Facts found in the 2019 Planning Division Annual Report should be a sobering sight for anyone living in El Paso.
The report warns if development continues the way it has in our city, there is a threat that we will “hollow out the residential and commercial tax base.” It also says that our city’s population is stagnant and is only growing its physical footprint.
To put it simply, we are stretching ourselves thin and we will not be able to support further eastward development in the near future.
What does that mean for all El Pasoans?
When our city rubber stamps waivers or allows for subdivisions to be built on the fringes of the city, the burden will fall back on everyone paying taxes in the rest of the city. Our resources are spent providing services to those subdivisions rather than bettering the existing neighborhoods we already have in the city.
Those services include public safety needs, trash collection, and access to parks. They also require newly needed electricity and water connections. Those costs are then put on the rest of the city to pay for.
It is a problem that creates a costly cycle.
A cycle that requires the city to increase the tax rate or look for other ways to raise revenue in order to address the need in older parts of the city. Recently, we raised fees on the utilities to pay for streets and other infrastructure. The utilities then pass the expense onto ratepayers.
We cannot continue financing the city this way because it’s not a responsible approach. And, it’s not sustainable.
Why are we losing $5 million a year?
District 7 is greatly impacted by subdivision improvement waivers. Specifically, the valley has seen the greatest concentration of waivers compared to other communities.
Waivers are granted to developers who do not want to build required subdivision improvements, which include: roadways, hike and bike trails, sidewalks, landscaping, and right-of-way. These are improvements that residents are constantly asking for and we are not requiring developers to meet these requirements.
On average, the city estimates it has lost nearly $5 million a year since 2012 because of the number of waivers that have been granted.
The planning division’s report shows how much was waived between 2015 and 2019:
- Right-of-Way – 74,998 square feet
- Roadway – 24,002 linear feet
- Hike and Bike – 17,612 linear feet
- Sidewalk – 18,796 linear feet
- Landscape – 30,584
A heat map found in the report shows the greatest concentration of waivers are in the valley. For a part of the city that is historically underserved, that’s abhorrent.
My opponent has been quiet on this issue and has done little to address how much our district is being impacted by these losses. We need a change.
If we don’t act now, more and more people will continue to move further East. That’s not good news for school districts who are losing students. And, that threatens older neighborhoods that are not seeing newer generations of families who stay and help the neighborhoods.
We cannot lose sight of the impact further development has on our resources. We live in a desert and there is only so much access to water. We need to be smart in how we are dividing that precious resource that only gets more scarce every year.
Continued development also puts a strain on our services and the electric grid. It contributes to a negative ecological footprint.
We need to pressure our utilities to begin implementing renewable energy practices.
What can be done?
The core of the city has a lot of vacant lots and there are pockets of land we are not utilizing.
We need to develop a robust strategy to incentivize families to consider making the core part of the city their home. And, we need to implement a sharp policy that discourages further eastward development.
I will advocate for policy that requires developers to pay their fair share of improvements.
In office, I will work with my colleagues on “impact fee” legislation that will require developers to cover the costs of the impact their projects have on the city.
The city is still drafting its East Side Master Plan, and while in office, it will be my mission to ensure that these ideals are reflected in planning for the next several decades.