El Paso, Texas - Tuesday's City Council meeting was filled with residents and local leaders who delivered passionate arguments for and against the Downtown arena the City wants to build in the Duranguito neighborhood.
Council was expected to discuss the possibility of declaring a halt on all demolitions in the Duranguito neighborhood, but Council voted 5-2 to delete the item from the agenda on the advice of the city's legal counsel. City Reps. Alexsandra Annello and Cissy Lizarraga voted not to have the item deleted. Rep. Lizarraga's district includes tbe controversial site for the arena and she posted the resolution on the agenda.
In a statement, Lizarraga said, "I am opposed to taking this item off the agenda because the amount of time I propose - 90- days is short and reasonable. Only recently, now past the halfway mark of September, we find out that some of these matters are not even going to be taken up by the courts until October, and probably later."
Prior to the meeting, dozens of people who are pro-Duranguito marched from the Duranguito neighborhood to city hall. Many, carried posters and placards that read "Save Duranguito" and "Honk for Duranguito." Others help up signs that read "End Corporate Welfare."
The marchers headed to city hall where they held an impromptu news conference asking El Paso City Council members to not allow the demolition of any homes or buildings in the Duranguito neighborhood.
During the meeting, about a dozen people spoke during public comment. Almost all of the comments centered on the future of Duranguito.
Cassandra Reynolds, who spoke during public comment, told Council she is disappointed about an editorial piece written by several city representatives and published by the El Paso Times. Reynolds called the piece "propaganda and lies," saying the city representatives were trying to blame Duranguito residents for the state of the buildings in the neighborhood. Reynolds said the blame should lie with the City and property owners.
Jud Burgess also addressed Council in regards to the piece published in the El Paso Times. "Demolition by neglect. Any neglect occurring in Barrio Duranguito would be at the hands of City leadership who have known the conditions these slumlords have been forcing tenants to live in but did nothing to help until they set their eyes on Duranguito," Burgess said.
Gary Borsch, with the El Paso Chamber of Commerce, asked Council to proceed with the project. "I respect (Duranguito supporters) and their point, but this issue has gone on long enough. It has been approved by the voters, by almost a three quarters margin, more than five years ago. And contrary to what other speakers have said, it has been upheld by the court in Austin," Borsch said.
"You have the unique opportunity here ... I hope you follow through on this and see this project to its completion," Borsch added.
A local business leader also spoke out in favor of the project, which he hoped would provide a better future for the youth of El Paso. "There are no jobs, there are no venues to bring events to our city. We can't even compete with cities like Tucson," the man said, "All I hear is about how the rich get richer. Well, guess what? The rich invest in our community, invest in our city."
The local business man also had strong words for Duranguito supporters, asking Council and the crowd, "Where were these people when the money and investment needed to come forward to make Duranguito a better neighborhood? You know where they were: Nowhere! What have they invested? Nothing!"
Duranguito activists in the crowd became unruly and shouted at the local businessman as he exited Council chambers.
The council allows one hour for public comment, but there were five people who still wanted to speak after the allotted time. They demanded to be heard even though the representatives were trying to move forward on the agenda.
Mayor Dee Margo repeatedly asked for civility and asked people to leave if they could not abide by his request. His requests were ignored. At one point, the mayor called for a recess and city representatives left the council chambers.
Margo told ABC-7 the move by Council was simply about following the rules established by "Robert's Rules of Order," which are rules widely used by city governments across the US.
Margo says the time allowed for public comment is one hour, with each speaker getting 3 minutes.
If there are groups speaking from the same position, council lets five of them speak, as long as they fit into the one-hour timeline.
Once the hour was over, five people were not allowed to speak. The unruly crowd then began to chant and council decided to take a brief recess.
After a short break, the meeting resumed. Rep. Sam Morgan made a motion to allow the final five speakers to be heard. The motion was approved. All of the speakers allowed to speak after the recess are asking the City to spare Duranguito from demolition.