Upset that city voters aren’t being asked to approve a $50-million ballpark for a Class AAA team, El Paso activists are planning an “Occupy City Hall” protest for next Monday.
The issue: the city went ahead and negotiated a new downtown ballpark for a local group buying and relocating the Tucson Padres (Class AAA; Pacific Coast League). Since negotiations were in secret — and the ballpark plan was presented as a fait accompli — voters were not asked to approve the project. Instead, voters are being asked to approve a ballpark funding plan based on a two-percentage-point increase in the city’s hotel/motel tax, but even if that tax fails at the fall ballot box, the city is still obligated to build the ballpark.
City officials say they needed to act quickly on a ballpark plan in order to snare the T-Padres — other cities, like Boise, had approached team owners about a possible purchase — and didn’t have time to put together a ballot issue. Besides, they say, the ballpark is a clear improvement for downtown El Paso and replaces a City Hall that needs replacing.
But that argument isn’t placating opponents, who already submitted signatures in an effort to force the issue on the fall ballot. Whether or not this effort is successful — signatures are still being verified, and a provision that it be applied retroactively is very questionable on the legal side — remains to be seen. From the El Paso Times:
Stephanie Townsend Allala, a local attorney, is one of the organizers calling for a “peaceful, law-abiding protest.” She said the group is asking that any group or individual upset at the City Council’s decision join them.
“This is about citizens being heard and so they feel that (City Hall) is their building,” Allala said. “They are our offices with our officials.”
The group plans to read the U.S. Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and its petition.
Whether or not this changes many minds remains to be seen. The arguments from protesters that they’re not against a new ballpark is more than a little disingenuous: property or sales taxes aren’t being used to fund the ballpark, and the desire from city officials to bring in pro baseball has certainly not been a secret.
Image courtesy City of El Paso.
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