September 10, 2008
The comment of the day came from City Attorney Charlie McNabb, who as the day wears on tends to loosen up a bit. "I was going to apply for a job until I learned I had to be fit and charismatic," he said, after a presentation on a pedicab service starting operations soon. O-for-2, McNabb said, surprising the Council into laughter.
It was a light moment toward the end of a surprisingly quick meeting. The usual divisions on council did not erupt to any great degree, and several council members -- Eddie Holguin and Steve Ortega -- held their peace for the most part.
The big story of the day was going to be discussion regarding the Farah building shopping center proposal. But that was held for a week on a motion from Mayor John Cook.
Other action included some discussion about Downtown street vending, financial disclosure for members of city board and commissions, the growth of churches in neighborhoods -- spurred by the St. Mark's/Love Road issue -- and a presentation on the above-mentioned pedicab service.
Pedicabs are a fixture in many cities. In fact, El Paso had a pedicab service about 10 years ago, when Downtown was hopping with night clubs. It didn't catch on (neither did the club scene, which went under for several years before re-emerging in the Union Plaza area).
Enter Green Leaf Pedicab, operated by Charles Lauser, who was with Raymundo Campos to present the concept to council.
Lauser was looking for the city to create a section in its vehicle-for-hire ordinance that would address pedicabs. He now is cruising mostly the Downtown area offering rides, but cannot charge and use city streets without an ordinance that makes it legal.
He said that the pedicabs have a top speed of 20 mph, and will average about 15 mph. A motor aids starting and uphill climbs, but the bulk of the work is done by two legs, he said.
City Rep. Beto O'Rourke, who brought the item forth, said that the city focuses on big business sometimes, to the detriment of small businesses that can provide the unique and interesting services that help define quality of life in a community.
The item was a proposal to eliminate the annual financial disclosure requirements for members of city boards and commissions.
During the discussion, city staff told members of City Council that eight members of city boards and commissions had been removed from their positions in August for failing to file. The information also was contained in a memo sent by City Clerk Richarda Momsen to members of council, and was included as agenda backup.
City Rep. Emma Acosta said that in light of public corruption issues, "we need transparent government."
There was some discussion about the relative importance of boards and commissions, and the requirement that financial disclosure be accompanied by a notarized signature.
Acosta ended up making a motion to maintain the financial disclosure requirements, but eliminate the requirement for a notary and add the ability to file electronically. The motion passed 5-3, with Acosta and city Reps. Melina Castro, Rachel Quintana, Eddie Holguin and O'Rourke in favor.
The city currently allows 22 food venders to operate Downtown, in fixed locations that are awarded via a lottery.
The discussion was whether to extend the ordinance that established the system. There are differing opinions as to the value of street food venders, and what type ought to be allowed. See this opinion piece by EPMG Editor Lisa Degliantoni, and the responses, for a discussion of some of the issues.
In the end, the council did unanimously extend it, while at the same time directing the city staff to review the ordinance, with an eye to modifications.
O'Rourke noted that with the "fluid" nature of Downtown pedestrian movement, fixed locations might not be the best idea. In the second such reference of the meeting, O'Rourke said that city staff ought to "look from the ground up" for ideas how to manage street food vending Downtown.
Not feeling much love on Love Road
The City Council unanimously directed city staff to look into an ordinance regulating the size of "places of assembly" in neighborhoods after hearing from residents of the Love Road neighborhood complain about St. Marks United Methodist Church.
The church has been subject of much controversy because of its growth. The residents showed satellite images of the church's sprawl, painting an ugly picture of the impact on their homes and of the city's complicity in failing to properly apply its own codes.
City staff denied any conspiracy to allow the church to grow illegally -- residents used the phrase "unusually high motivation" to describe city staff response to St. Marks permit applications -- but allowed as to how there may have been inconsistencies in how the codes were applied while pointing out that a legal challenge from the neighborhood was dismissed.
The residents did receive any assurances of aid from the city, even as the possibility continues for even further growth of the church, which did not have representatives at the meeting.