New petition seeks to spare El Paso City Hall
Jan 03, 2013 (El Paso Times - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
A fourth petition looking to stop the implosion of the City Hall building has been filed with the city clerk's office.
"The wording is very simple and succinct, and it asks that the demolition of City Hall not take place until and unless the citizens of El Paso vote for that in May," said David Ochoa, a retired city parks maintenance employee who filed the petition for a group calling itself Citizens for Taxpayer Justice.
The 272-page petition was filed Dec. 26, and Ochoa said it contains 2,472 signatures supporting the initiative.
The petition asks that the city repeal the council action of Sept. 18, which authorized the city manager to establish construction guidelines to build the ballpark where City Hall now stands;
that the city or any corporation or business be forbidden from preparing for the demolition of the building; and that City Hall not be demolished unless voters during the May 11 election approve it.
"The strongest feeling out there from people who oppose this is that the whole baseball idea was forced on them," Ochoa said.
He added that many support bringing minor league Triple-A baseball to the city, but not at the cost of tearing down City Hall and relocating city services. Ochoa was one of the plaintiff's who sued the city in federal court, seeking to stop City Hall from being torn down. The federal lawsuit was dismissed in November.
The city clerk has 30 working days -- to about mid-February -- to verify that the
petition contains the signatures of 1,548 registered voters.
If the petition is certified, the City Council would have to vote whether to adopt the petition's wording as an ordinance or reject it altogether. If council rejects it -- like it did an earlier petition -- the group could again attempt to collect signatures and take the matter to voters.
The council has until Feb. 19 to introduce an ordinance calling for the election, and until March 1 to officially call for the election and approve what will appear on the ballot, city attorneys said.
Another petition by Salvador Gomez of the Coalition for Responsive Government was certified by the city clerk, but was rejected the City Council in September. Gomez submitted a second petition, which was also certified, though the City Council in December rejected putting that on the May ballot.
At the time, the mayor and council argued whether the wording on Gomez's petition was clear and whether it could be modified on the ballot.
The council decided to hold off on any decision until after Jan. 10, when the city is expected to be in state court. The city is now preparing a response to Gomez's request for a permanent injunction preventing the city from tearing down City Hall until after the election.
The city's legal counsel on the ballpark-related petitions and lawsuits, Lowell Denton, has said that the right to initiative is derived solely from the City Charter itself, but that it does not provide citizens the power to repeal prior actions or reject proposed legislation through a referendum.
The city plans to implode City Hall as early as March 31, and has already begun moving city employees and renovating buildings it purchased to relocate city services. The ballpark is expected to open in April 2014.
A first petition by a group called Quality of Life Voters for Democracy failed to gather the required number of signatures.
Cindy Ramirez may be reached at email@example.com; 546-6151.
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