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Brouhaha Over Padres Ballpark in El Paso

EL PASO (CN) - The former mayor sued El Paso to try to stop it from demolishing City Hall to make way for a $50 million baseball stadium for the San Diego Padres' Triple-A team.

Former Mayor Ray Salazar, city Board Member David Ochoa and retired attorney Jesus Ochoa Jr. sued the city, its Mayor John Cook, City Manager Joyce Wilson and city representatives Cortny Niland, Steve Ortega, Ann Lilly, Michiel Noe and Susie Byrd, in Federal Court.

"Defendants City Representatives Cortny Niland and Steve Ortega, acting on the suggestion of defendant Joyce Wilson, voted to deny moneys to repair City Hall as requested by the City Engineer," the complaint states. "The only reason for this vote was because they well knew that plans to demolish a thirty-year-old multimillion-dollar building were in the offing by powerful monied interests in the private sector, although these plans were artfully concealed from the public."

The plaintiffs want the demolition enjoined and sent to voters as an initiative in early 2013.

They claim the defendants have failed to reply to efforts from Latino leaders who want to revitalize the Segundo Barrio district, including having it named a historic district.

Since 2011, Latino activists have repeatedly asked the city to renovate the Lincoln Center building under Interstate 10, to no avail the complaint states. The plaintiffs describe the building as a historic former school and cultural center.

Meanwhile, the plaintiffs say, the city has taken over a former YMCA building, invested $5.2 million into renovations and named it after a deceased Anglo politician.

They claim City Manager Wilson's "personal and political activities are grounded in an animus which she feels and displays toward Mexican-American-Chicano members of the city's population," and that she has conspired against Latinos since 2004.

"She has demoted or replaced Mexican-American-Chicana women employees of the City with younger white men, or has fired outright Mexican-American-Chicano employees of the city who disagree with her on a given political position," the complaint states.

The plaintiffs say the San Diego Padres insisted that a downtown baseball stadium be built before they would move their AAA minor league club from Tucson to El Paso.

They claim Wilson brought in architect Evan Rose to seek a site for the stadium, the same man who formerly worked for Simon Martin-Vegue Winkelstein Moris, an urban renewal firm the city hired in 2004 to design a downtown revitalization plan.

"This was the same Evan Rose who formerly worked for SMWM and who was widely regarded by a large portion of the public as a pitchman for the downtown revitalization plan produced by his firm," the complaint states. "The public had made known its substantial disagreement with the proposal for a Downtown Arena, part of the original plan."

The plaintiffs say Rose did not seek better, alternative sites for the stadium. They say the city tried to seek public comment for the plan, parts of which will be on the November ballot under a "quality of life bond issue."

They claim city officials sought suggestions from citizens about how to improve the city and that more than 5,000 comments were submitted, but that "cheating, ballot stuffing and maybe even fraud" occurred: that roughly 500 comment cards were signed by the same person.

On Sept. 18, an initiative to ban demolition of City Hall was rejected but that same day the City Council approved a measure demolish the building and build the stadium, according to the complaint.

The plaintiffs seek damages and injunctive relief for conspiracy and violations of the Voting Rights Act, the City Charter and due process.

They are represented by Fernando Chacon of El Paso.

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