Saturday, May 26, 2012

BROWN FARM FIASCO--THE SAGA OF FOIBLES AND FAILURES CONTINUES




The saga of the Brown Farm Fiasco continues to illuminate the foibles and failures of City Hall under Robert Garza, the City Manager. The latest in the series is his response in two attachments to his City Manager’s Newsletter (23 May): “Brown Farm Facts” and “Brown Farm Map.” Garza targets “one of the homeowners [who] has become angry and questioned if staff knows what they are doing.” Since my column “City Hall Makes a Mess and Walks Away” (19 May) addresses only incompetence, fraud, and waste, someone has identified and seemingly communicated an additional charge of ignorance.

This charge is a serious one, and, despite my disagreements with Garza, I do not think that it should be accepted without question, especially from an anonymous source. So I decided to fact-check Garza’s “facts,” though all I had to work with was knowledge of the site gleaned from conversations with City Hall staff, a few relevant public documents, and my observations of looking over and walking through the area for five years.

Under the page 2 heading “Challenges Continued,” Garza writes:

Residents in adjacent neighborhoods would like to see the property put to some higher and better use than what is currently in place and contrary to the approved project plans for flood control. They would also like the City to retain and maintain vegetation and “natural” areas adjacent to their properties. City crews have focused maintenance work in these areas but not in a way that meets the wishes of some adjacent homeowners. One of the homeowners has become angry and questioned if staff knows what they are doing. That resident would like to believe that water within the ponding area should flow from south to north while the site conditions dictate flows from the north to the south carrying water from the Edgewood Arroyo to the low area of the property.

Since another neighbor and I on Cedardale Loop have been meeting with various officials for nearly a year on behalf of others, I am not sure what contact Garza has had with what residents in what neighborhoods. But I know for certain that he does not speak of my neighbors or me in his comments on what we want done at the site.

Garza claims, “Residents in adjacent neighborhoods would like to see the property put to some higher and better use than what is currently in place and contrary to the approved project plans for flood control.” On the contrary, my neighbors and I have not sought to have the property put to an alternative use. We have sought to have it serve the purpose for which it was intended, but to have storm runoff routed to an existing, but enlarged, remote northern basin, to which storm runoff was routed before the City botched its work. Our primary concern has been the threat of West Nile Virus from multiple, nearby holding ponds, some marshy and hard to treat. I can think of no reason why Garza does not have command of these facts since he and other city officials have repeatedly heard our wishes and have agreed to implement them.

Garza also claims, “They would also like the City to retain and maintain vegetation and “natural” areas adjacent to their properties. City crews have focused maintenance work in these areas but not in a way that meets the wishes of some adjacent home owners.” Again, on the contrary, my neighbors and I have wanted only for the City to restore the vegetation and ground surface throughout the site to reduce dust during heavy winds and vegetation-destroying erosion during heavy rains and storm runoff. Our secondary concern has been dust mitigation or control by habitat restoration. I can think of no reason why Garza does not have command of these facts since he and other city officials have repeatedly heard our wishes and have agreed to implement them.

I have difficulty thinking that Garza and his staff could have misunderstood our wishes after so many discussions in the presence of so many officials. But I have even more difficulty comprehending not only Garza’s misstatements of “facts” about the drainage of the site, but also his indictment of his source, the angry homeowner, for ignorance.

Let me give a brief overview of the site. It is oriented about 45 degrees counter-clockwise from the four cardinal compass points. So, for example, “north” here is really “northwest,” and so forth. An escarpment runs on the east and south sides of the site, parallel to Spitz Avenue and Cedardale Loop, respectively. To the west of the escarpment paralleling Spitz Avenue is a high berm, which creates a channel between the escarpment and the berm. The channel rises from the south until it reaches the Edgewood Arroyo and then drops to the north away from that arroyo. The long-range plan for the site is to grade the entire channel to move all storm runoff up it to the north and then, through other conduits or channels, to the Rio Grande. The intermediate plan continues to be to store storm runoff in three holding ponds on the site south of the farmland of Brown Farm itself.

Garza claims that the Edgewood Arroyo sends storm runoff south to the site. In view of the photographic evidence which he provides, it is hard to understand how he could make such a statement. For the arroyo cuts straight west across the channel, and its storm runoff goes west into its delta, which bulges into farmland. The picture shows this delta and makes clear that, contrary to Garza’s assertion, that storm runoff does not run south to the ponding area. The only storm runoff entering this area comes from the Jasmine Channel and Cedardale Channel 1, which empty near one another at the southeast corner of the site into a southeast holding pond; and Cedardale Channel 2, which empties at the southwest corner of the site into a southwest holding pond.

Garza claims that the storm runoff within the ponding area is supposed to flow from north to south. His claim is difficult to understand. Until the City began its work last year, storm runoff from the southeast sources entered a southeast holding pond, then over-flowed into the southwest holding pond, joined storm runoff from the southwest source, and then flowed through two connecting channels into the northern holding pond. The aggregate flow of storm runoff was a circuitous route from south to north.

All of Garza’s claims about storm runoff flows are countered by the work which the City did either to implement the out-of-date plan or to attempt to remedy its faulty implementation.

1. The City enlarged the existing northern holding pond, which has no sources of storm runoff except from the south, for the purpose of receiving it from the southwestern holding pond. It would have made no sense and much waste for the City to dig a larger and deeper holding pond if it only received rainfall.

2. The City developed a site design which included a large conduit collecting the storm runoff from the Jasmine Channel and Cedardale Channel 1 and moving it directly to the northern holding pond. If that pond was supposed to drain south, the conduit should have aligned to move storm runoff south, to the southeastern holding pond which first receives storm runoff from those channels. (The site design omitted Cedardale Channel 2.)

3. The City widened the channels to move storm runoff from the southwest holding pond to the northern holding pond. When its failure to properly grade those channels to move storm runoff from south to north became known, the City returned to grade them properly (and failed). It would have made no sense and much waste for the City to return to re-grade the channels if they had been properly graded in the first place.

4. The City removed a recently reinforced berm in order to (pretend to) move runoff from the two southeastern sources northward up the channel. If, as Garza claims, storm runoff from the Edgewood Arroyo flows, and is supposed to flow, southward, it would have made no sense and much waste for the City to do work to make storm runoff flow northward.

What I have learned from reviewing the facts is that the angry homeowner’s allegation of ignorance has merit. Not one of Garza’s “facts” in this passage—I did not examine the other passages on this “fact sheet—is, in fact, factual. So it is most unfortunate that city distribution of his misrepresentations of citizens’ views and misstatements of the facts will be received and perhaps believed by other officials and many citizens. Certainly, the honest thing for Garza to do would be to issue a correction or a retraction.

Whether he does or, more likely, does not, the deficiencies of this “fact sheet” raise questions about City Hall’s leadership. Apparently, despite many months of meetings and site surveys and designs, Garza and his staff have no grasp of the fundamental realities on the ground. Understandably, they are then sensitive to criticism and unfriendly toward citizens. Their false assurances and broken promises, and now these non-factual responses to an allegation of ignorance, suggest how difficult it is to work cooperatively with City Hall. I can understand the homeowner’s anger; I have felt a good deal of frustration verging on anger for a long time in futile efforts thus far.

One final instance. In this and other messages, Garza has promised to communicate with affected residents in doing work on this site and to be mindful of vegetation on the site. Yet yesterday, the City, with word to no one, sent out a thrasher to cut the native vegetation slowly returning to a flat field which it had denuded the previous year. The effect will be an increase in dust already blowing from this dustbowl. No one to whom I have talked understands the purpose of this work and any other possible effect of it. Garza has not responded to my query about it. I provide two pictures of this part of the site as it appears today, far more brown than green, and very dusty.


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