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Thursday, May 30, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Plan to Demolish El Paso City Hall Passes Scrutiny

AUSTIN (CN) - A Texas judge gave El Paso the green light to demolish city hall and replace it with a minor league baseball stadium for an affiliate of the San Diego Padres.

Hoping to draw the triple-A affiliate of the Padres from Tucson, Ariz., the city of El Paso sought to finance the $50 million project by issuing bonds, and the measure won voter approval.

Travis County District Judge Tim Sulak endorsed it, too, finding that opponents of the plan failed to "sufficiently show just cause" against the bond issuance.

"I believe and it is my judgment, based on the evidence, authority and arguments that the authority to issue, and the actions taken to obtain, public securities are legal and valid," Sulak wrote.

Opponents of the plan have 30 days to appeal and must set a $1 million bond if they choose to do so. Plaintiff Carl Starr told the Times an appeal would require him to pay $100,000, which he does not have.

The last day of business at city hall was Jan. 24, according to the city's website.

Judge Sulak had refused to intervene on a May 11 ballot measure asking voters to approve the demolition of city hall. The city council approved that measure last week.

Attorneys for the city and MountainStar Sports Group, which owns the Tucson Padres, told the Times that the ballot measure is worded in such a way that if even approved, it would not halt the demolition. Starr said the vote will be "symbolic," as city hall may be torn down by the time the measure reaches voters.

"We're laypersons and we're trying to write this thing," Starr said. "We made a good faith effort to express what we wanted to say that this was being shoved through and we wanted the opportunity to vote on it."

In October, former mayor Ray Salazar and several city officials filed a federal complaint against the city, claiming the plans violate the Voting Rights Act and the city charter. They claimed that the city failed to reply to efforts from Latino leaders who want to revitalize the Segundo Barrio district, including having it named a historic district.

City manager Joyce 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 she had conspired against Latinos since 2004, they added.

"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 stated.

Salazar and the officials said the San Diego Padres had insisted that El Paso build a downtown baseball stadium before it would move there.

They claimed that city officials sought suggestions from citizens about how to improve the city, generating more than 5,000 comments, as well as "cheating, ballot stuffing and maybe even fraud."

Roughly 500 comment cards were signed by the same person, according to the complaint.

An initiative to ban the demolition was rejected on Sept. 18, that same day that the city council approved a measure demolish the building and build the stadium, the complaint adds.

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