The MCA and the Public Trust
September 22nd, 2008
Although it's nothing like it was the first time around, judging from the comments at public meetings to discuss the Medical Center of the Americas, the biggest issue to come up is the hardest to overcome -- trust.
That's an issue at the core of politics at any level, and in El Paso politics, it is the lack of trust that is the underlying force behind the community's difficulty to unite completely behind proposals. The lack of trust sometimes is a natural outgrowth of government behavior, sometimes manufactured to galvanize a voting bloc, and often, a combination of both.
That was the case when the Medical Center of the Americas, then known as the Border Health Institute, was promoted in the Caballero administration in 2002. The resulting public outcry, and the political effort to encourage and harness that response, was part of the campaign against then-Mayor Ray Caballero, and was directly responsible city Rep. Larry Medina loss to Alexandro Lozano in 2003.
Now, back to the future, the MCA master plan is up for discussion Tuesday at a special City Plan Commission. Then it goes to City Council. Click here for the agenda.
While the process is different this time around -- a long planning period, followed by a series of public meetings -- many of the players are the same.
Lozano was one of those in the audience at a public meeting Sept. 10 at the Silva Magnet School Auditorium.
The meeting was to describe the Medical Center of the Americas project -- and specifically, the master plan under consideration -- to residents of the neighborhood and to the general public. For NPT background on the master plan, click here.
He also took the lead in raising questions during another, smaller meeting Wednesday night with about 40 neighborhood residents and business owners and city rep.
Emma Acosta, who took Lozano's seat when he ran unsuccessfully for county commissioner this year, and County Commissioner Veronica Escobar, who was part of Caballero's team during the first go-round for the project.
Somewhat ironically, Lozano was on board the MCA for two years when he represented District 3 -- in fact, his name is on the master plan posted on the city website as background. Click here to view that document.
Another familiar player is Vivian Rojas, who got into politics during the BHI battle because her grandmother's home is on Concepcion, the street next to Raynolds that is squeezed between Thomason and the new Texas Tech medical school buildings.
Rojas was the city representative from District 7, but was defeated by city Rep. Steve Ortega in 2005.
In one exchange between Escobar and Rojas at Wednesday's meeting, Rojas told Escobar, "you keep saying don't be frightened. Nobody is frightening anyone. We're here because we want to know."
Lozano, however, in the meeting and in an interview after, kept alive the issue of trust -- or lack of it.
While he said he supported the plan, he also said during an interview with NPT things like this: "All I'm asking the MCA is if they (property owners) can stay in the property or if they're going to be forced to sell."
Public officials and members of the MCA, both of which Lozano has been, consistently have said that the plan does not involve eminent domain. Nothing about the plan changes any government entities ability to use that controversial power, and the plan's only relation to land use is that the uses outlined in the master plan could be used as one basis for deciding a request for rezoning property in the future.
Lozano also said in the interview he was considering a run for mayor, but had not yet decided.
The biggest issue in the MCA master plan discussion continues to be about trust. But this time around, the issue is not a one-way street.