Mayor's race: Haddad jabs, Cook bobs; 10 candidate melee still to come
by David Crowder
Posted on February 17, 2009
Mayoral candidate Gus Haddad has taken his first shots at the incumbent, John Cook, accusing him of switching his position on requiring developers to pay impact fees.
A news release Haddad issued Monday, headlined “Recent Cook flip-flop only one in a long line,” came out Monday after Cook told NewspaperTree.com last week that he was leaning against the imposition of impact fees after seeing the figures from a consultant’s study.
“The change from supporting to opposing the impact fees is exactly the kind of indecisiveness that leads many to question the lack of leadership in the mayor’s office,” Haddad said in his statement.
Haddad's volley is the first sign of life in a mayor's race that is shaping up to be a 10-way contest in which Cook is the only candidate who has ever run for election, much less won one.
The other candidates for mayor in the city's May 9 election are Alexander F. Catucci, John Eyberg, David E. Henderson, Fred J. Jackson, Lee Mendez, Alejandro Mendoza, Leo, Carlos Rivera and Craig Sharp.
Impact fees, who pays, them or us?
Impact fees, which many cities use but El Paso does not, are assessed on new developments based on the number of houses and commercial properties that will go up. The fees are a way to pay city costs for major streets, other public improvements such as police stations and water and sewer infrastructure. Developers pass those fees directly to homebuyers, raising home prices.
Then, cities use the income from impact fees to hire contractors to build the major streets, water facilities, parks and other improvements. Sometimes cities do the work themselves.
El Paso uses what Haddad called a hybrid system, covering its costs by requiring developers to build their own streets and water lines.
But taxpayers and PSB customers across the city share the costs of new subdivisions with developers, new homebuyers and new businesses.
Major off-site water facilities, such as water towers, are usually paid for by the water utility through the sale of bonds that are repaid through water and sewer charges paid by everyone who gets a water bill.
And fire and police stations, libraries and other public improvements in newly developed areas are paid for by the city through taxes on all property owners.
Cook conceded that his view was changing on whether developers, and ultimately homebuyers, should pay impact fees for major water and sewer facilities need off-site to serve a new subdivision. That is the question coming to City Council.
The reason, he said, was that the city current method of having developers pay for improvements in new subdivisions recovers about as much of the costs of infrastructure development as impact fees might but with less effort on the city’s part.
“On the water and sewer side, we’re probably not coming up with the same amount that we would with impact fees. But, we’re close to it, we’re extremely close to it,” he told
Newspaper Tree last week. [link]
Cook also said this was not the time for imposing new fees on development.
“I can tell you that the position the economy is in is difficult,” he said. “Taking away the ability of homebuilders to put an affordable housing project on the table is not the answer.”
Haddad, when asked what his position is on impact fees, said the same thing as Cook, but he emphasized that his position had never changed.
“Quite frankly my position is I don’t think we can tolerate impact fees at this time,” Haddad said. “I think the way we do development in El Paso is an excellent hybrid of the way other cities do development.
“We’re looking at trying to provide more affordable housing for the troops, and instead we’re going the wrong way in increasing fees which would raise the price of a house.”
The president and CEO of the El Paso Public Service Board, Ed Archuleta, has strongly advocated impact fees since the early 1990s as a way to keep El Paso’s ratepayers from paying for expensive water infrastructure in new areas on the city’s edges.
And at least four of the eight city representatives want to see new developments pay for themselves through impact fees.
That is why the PSB, at the City Council’s request, commissioned the Red Oak consulting company to study the costs, pros and cons of imposing impact fees for off-site water facilities and for streets as well.
The council last week postponed a public hearing on the subject of impact fees until March 24.
Haddad, who runs a mortgage company, said commissioning such a study showed little common sense and was a waste of money.
“The point is if we had more of a vision on council and more experience on council, we wouldn’t be wasting these millions on studies,” Haddad said. “We’d be able to take a look at the market and say we don’t need to do this.
“Without common sense we’re spending millions of dollars on studies. Is that the best way to spend the taxpayers money?”
Asked to back up his claim that the city is spending millions of dollars on studies, Haddad conceded that he has not looked into how much money the city has spent on consultant studies.
“Let’s just say ‘dollars’ instead of ‘millions of dollars,’ ” he said.
Asked why he would criticize Cook for arriving at the same position on the issue that he himself holds, Haddad said, “We have to have leadership that is leadership and is willing to stand up for something.
“That leadership has to stand for something, take a position and continue with that position.”
While several council members argue that new development should pay for new development, Haddad disagrees and believes that the traditional arrangement by which new development costs are shared among El Pasoans citywide is the better way to go.
As such, he said, “I would never have supported impact fees.”
A long line of two ‘flip-flops’
Haddad referred to Cook’s flip-flop on impact fees as being “one in a long line,” but he had to go back six years for the first example and seven years for the second.
“In March 2003, after leading the City Council in rejecting a Stage 2 drought plan by the EL Paso Water Utilities, he changed his mind a few days later and said he wouldn’t object to the water restrictions,” Haddad’s statement read.
“We need leadership willing to take a stand on issues, not give the public a song and dance routine,” Haddad said referring to Cook.
Cook said he had opposed the drought restrictions because, though the city was getting little water from the Rio Grande because of a snow drought in Colorado, the PSB had reconditioned 12 wells along the river that he thought made the restrictions unnecessary.
“The argument in favor of restrictions were from the Fire Department, which said they wouldn’t have the water they needed to respond to fires if everyone was using water,” Cook said. “I said I wouldn’t object to the restrictions after the Fire Department told us their concerns.”
The second instance Haddad cited was in April 2002 when, Cook quit his position as president of the city’s Housing Finance Corp., created by Mayor Ray Caballero.
Haddad said Caballero’s program “provided money to first-time homebuilders in the Central area” and that Cook called the revitalization attempt a “doomed social engineering attempt.”
"Today, Cook is all for Downtown revitalization," Haddad said.
Caballero had sought to reserve some state bond money intended to finance first-time mortgages and commercial multi-family projects for the Central area because, historically, one major mortgage company, Rocky Mountain, had been reserving large chunks of the state funds that went for home mortgages on the city’s outskirts.
Caballero’s effort had a few successes, notably two small apartment buildings on Kansas near Downtown, but was highly unpopular among the city’s developers and homebuilders.
“I just got fed up with Caballero at the time,” Cook said regarding his resignation. “We just had an argument over the program.”
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To reach David Crowder, write to email@example.com or call (915) 351-0605, ext. 30
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