“There’s no trick to being a humorist when you have the whole government working for you.” – Will Rogers
El Paso, Texas, was our home from 1970 until we moved to Dallas in 2004. We owned three separate homes during that time, and raised our family there. We have now been back in El Paso since last July, and have settled into a little (rented – and, that’s another story) condo where we propose to spend however many years we have left on this earth. And, I am starting to have second thoughts about choosing to be back here. First, I should explain that El Paso is the epitome of a City with terminal brain drain. All the best and brightest young people, who have to go to University elsewhere, find their careers elsewhere.
Why do I say that these young people have to go to University elsewhere? Because the truth is that the local University has absolutely nothing to recommend it. The University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) has no national reputation in any field. UTEP does not offer a Medical Degree, nor does it have a Law School. It does not excel in any of the sciences, and all it really churns out is teachers – teachers who are content to stay close to home for their entire careers.
Now, to be fair, I should mention that there is now a medical school of sorts in town, but it is affiliated with Texas Tech University from Lubbock. That is another school which has no real national reputation academically. Speaking of their medical school, as a matter of fact, when I worked for the State Board of Medical Examiners, the consensus among my fellow investigators was that Tech ranked last in terms of the quality of their graduates. The only reason I can think of to explain how El Paso allowed Tech to get their foot in the door has to be due to the desperate belief that we needed our own Medical School, so I guess the all-wise city fathers figured that a poor one was better than none. And, that is what has caused El Paso to finally be nothing more than a second rate city. The city has always been willing to settle for what it could get, rather than make the most of what is there, or waiting for something better.
Now, let’s take this serious brain drain problem, and couple it with this thought: All my life, everywhere I’ve lived (except Costa Rica, which is another story entirely), I have noticed a rather constant clamor for ‘our’ city, state, region (or whatever grouping is dominant), to grow. And grow more. And grow some more. And, continue to grow. Don’t get me wrong. El Paso has grown. But, it’s growth is due more to its location (on the border with Mexico; there is a constant flow of immigrants, many of whom are willing to settle for second rate, especially since the Drug Cartel thing has gotten so out of hand in Mexico) than to anything else.
I started following the El Paso Times’ web site for the last few months that we were in Costa Rica, to catch up on what is going on here, and I have to say that I am dismayed and disturbed to see that the so-called city leaders are still playing that same old tired litany of ‘we must attract new business, new factories, new employers, and we must offer them tax incentives to come to our fair city, county, state, region.’ And, of course, the second chorus for that song has to do with creating – at taxpayer expense – new structures or environments to help a private businessman make more money than he already has.
And, finally, I have to ask – why? Why is it necessary to continue to outgrow our government buildings and facilities, our schools, all of our infrastructure? Why can’t we just take care of what we have, preserve the good things for future generations, and exist in a setting with adequate housing, or healthcare, or police protection, or whatever? And, let those ‘new’ businesses or factories or employers either take care of themselves, or go somewhere else.
I have heard all the arguments about the need for a larger tax base so as to ease the burden on the individual, but after all these years I realize that is nowhere close to possible, and is just another political lie. If this was true, somebody please explain how is it that every election we find yet another bond issue, yet another issue that requires more and greater expenditures of the public monies? I mean, the point here is that I cannot recall ever seeing my taxes go down. Nor have I ever received any sort of rebate or refund from local taxing authorities. Have you?
The worst scheme that came out of City Hall (evidently cooked up by the current City Manager and some business ‘leaders’) is that the City has now – at its own expense – torn down the City Hall (which I understand had recently gone through a major upgrade of its heating and cooling system, that was supposed to ‘pay for itself over a long period of time,’ but of course that period of time has barely begun). Then, by raising the hotel/motel taxes citywide (they’re already the highest in the state; remember, this is a second rate city, as in, who the hell wants to stay in a hotel here?), they are now poised to begin construction on a 7-9,000 seat baseball stadium. This is supposedly because the local business leaders (the guys with the bucks, who stand to make a lot more bucks with minimal risk, since it will be City paying bills for this crap) have already inked the deal to bring in a Minor League Baseball team (Triple A, no less). Supposedly, the league in question will only come if there is a stadium located in a downtown area. The scheme calls for the City to relocate its offices and employees to various locations around downtown, to be rented in any of the many vacant office buildings already there. At a later point in time the City may then build a new City Hall, but they are not saying where that will be located.
As one City Rep, evidently the only voice of reason in City Council, a Carl Robinson, has said, “Now, I put it this way: I own a building or I own my house and you come along with a deal that says let me have your house. By the way, you get to tear it down, and you get to build a new structure that meets my specifications. By the way, after you do all that I got a building that you can rent.” Robinson said this in reference to the possibility of the city leasing space at the Mills Building, which is owned by Paul Foster. Foster is a member of the group of private investors that says they are bringing a minor league baseball team to El Paso. We also learned recently that Foster, who owns our local oil refinery, has become our only billionaire.
Believe it or not, El Paso really does have a history of affiliation with Major League Baseball, going back to the 60’s, and beyond. In the 60’s, The El Paso Sun Kings were an affiliate of first the Giants, then the Angels, and finally, the dodgers. They were successful, both on and off the field, which was the Old City-owned Dudley Field, located near what was then pretty much the center of the City (not downtown). Then, beginning in 1974, when the team was purchased by Jim Paul, El Paso had a for real team; one that we were all very proud to call our own. Mr. Paul changed the name to Diablos, and under his ownership, affiliated by this time with the Brewers, they served as a model for Minor League ball all across the nation. A new stadium was built in Northeast El Paso (not downtown), and guess what? The Diablos set attendance records for AA ball. National attendance records. Did I mention that their stadium was not downtown?
I grew up in Tacoma, Washington. Guess what? Tacoma had, and still has today, a triple-A team for which a new ball park was built way back in the late 50’s or early 60’s. And, guess what else? That park is not now, nor was it then, located in downtown Tacoma! So, how come now we are being told that having a ballpark downtown is a requirement for this same league to come to El Paso?
My prediction: The new ball park will be just another hole in the ground that people will wonder about as they drive by looking for city services [that will soon be scattered all over the place] that used to be in City Hall. And, this will be the situation in less than five years.