Victory for Government Accountability

July 24, 2017

Cassie McCrae 915 585 5151;
Nancy Nusser, 512 374 2764 or 410 934 9588;

TRLA Attorneys Declare Victory for Clients and “Government Accountability” in Union Plaza Arena Case

EL PASO, Texas – Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (TRLA) attorneys, who represent El Paso residents in their battle against construction of a sports arena in the Duranguito district, declared the recent court ruling on their case a victory for their clients and government accountability. After two days of testimony in Austin, District Judge Amy Clark Meachum decided last Tuesday El Paso city government does not have the authority to use $180 million in general obligation bond funds to build a 15,000-seat sports arena in Duranguito, a historic neighborhood in the downtown Union Plaza area.

During a Monday press conference in El Paso, TRLA attorney Veronica Carbajal said, “Judge Meachum agreed that when citizens voted in the 2012 bond election, they did not authorize the city to use general bond funds for a massive sports complex that will displace people who’ve lived in Duranguito all of their lives. Those bonds, paid for by our taxes, were supposed to be used for improving cultural centers, museums, libraries…”

On Tuesday, Judge Meachum also denied the city’s request to preempt efforts by residents to petition to turn Duranguito into a historic preservation district. “That means that we can continue our fight for our community that represents the roots of this city.,” said Antonia Morales. “Many of our families have been here for generations. The historic buildings here are part of our cultural heritage, and we want them protected. We want our neighbors returned to the neighborhood. We didn’t vote for another sports arena. If private interests want a sports arena, they should pay for it themselves.”

In the complaint filed on behalf of Duranguito residents, TRLA attorneys Cassandra McCrae and Veronica Carbajal along with their co-counsel Carmen Rodriguez pointed out that their neighborhood, in the footprint of the city’s proposed arena, is El Paso’s oldest continually occupied district, home to residents who enjoy “the walkable, mixed-use nature of the community.” At issue, TRLA argued, is “the city’s plan to use general obligation funds approved by voters in 2012 for projects related to libraries, museums, cultural arts, and performing arts to construct a new, 15,000-seat sports arena where the Duranguito community now stands.”

TRLA was joined by Dr. Yolanda Chavez Leyva who brought forth a claim of civil rights violation by the city against the Mexican American elders of Duranguito. She is a historian and founding member of Paso del Sur, a community group that works in South El Paso barrios to demand respect and dignity for the people.

Earlier this summer, TRLA attorneys requested a temporary restraining to stop the city from demolishing buildings in Duranguito to make way for its proposed arena. TRLA pointed out that the city had begun including requirements for demolition in its contracts with residents selling their property to make way for the arena. Such action was premature, TRLA argued, considering that yesterday’s trial over the merits of the arena had not yet happened.

Judge Meachum granted the temporary restraining order, halting all actions leading to demolition until at least Aug. 1. “This case is about government transparency and honesty,” said Cassandra McCrae. “The city needs to do what it has pledged it will do with the bond funds – not engineer some kind of end-run around the citizens in order to build a sports arena instead. The city has been acting as if it’s all a done deal, and Judge Meachum’s ruling on Tuesday clearly means that it’s not. The Duranguito residents will keep fighting for their neighborhood, and we will be with them.”

Established in 1970, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, Inc. (TRLA) is a nonprofit organization that provides free legal services to about 25,000 low-income Texans in 68 counties. TRLA’s mission is to promote the dignity, self-sufficiency, safety and access to justice for low-income Texans by providing high-quality legal assistance and related educational services