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Saturday, Aug 23rd

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Judge hears plea to put El Paso ballpark to vote

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Pacific Coast League

A U.S. District Court judge heard arguments alleging the process to move ahead with a new downtown El Paso ballpark was the result of racial prejudice, with a decision expected before the end of the month.

The lawsuit, filed by former Mayor Ray Salazar, David Ochoa and Jesús Ochoa (no relation), asks Judge David Guaderrama to halt demolition of City Hall to make way for a new Triple-A ballpark because a) the civil rights of the two Ochoas were diminished due to the ballpark decision-making process and b) a petition drive could end up putting the matter before voters in March.

It doesn't sound like the racial offense went too far -- invoking the Voting Rights Act to halt a development you don't like isn't really the most legally sound of arguments -- and it's dubious whether Guaderrama wants to issue an injunction over something that might not happen. Here's the deal: In El Paso, there's a two-step process to putting citizen initiatives on the ballot: a initial drive must be certified as hanging enough signatures, and if the City Council decides not to play the initiative on the ballot -- which happened this fall -- then citizens can go another round to gain more signatures to override the council decision.

That's where we are: the city is in the process of certifying a second round of petitions. Because this hasn't been finished, Guaderrama was hesitant to issue the injunction:

"Should I issue an injunction now if there's not enough signatures?" Guaderrama asked. "I would look foolish."

The city, in the meantime, argues there are no federal issues at play here: the city followed its own procedures to come to an agreement with MountainStar Sports to build a new downtown ballpark for the relocating Tucson Padres (Class AAA; Pacific Coast League).

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