On a cloudy November day, EPISO/Border Interfaith celebrated the initiation of a $13 Million project that will provide 816 Montana Vista residents with water and wastewater services in a colonia far east of El Paso. El Paso Water Utilities publicly recognized the organization for its leadership in ensuring that residents have access to these essential services.
For years, Montana Vista felt like a forgotten community due to poverty, isolation and a lack of relationships with elected officials. Residents appealed to their then-priest at San Juan Diego Catholic for support in getting much needed basic streets, parks and wastewater services. A longtime leader and co-chair of EPISO, Father Ed Roden-Lucero and EPISO organizers worked with resident leaders, guiding them in their efforts to seek essential infrastructure.
Part of those efforts included community education about the Economically Distressed Areas Program, a program created in 1989 by EPISO/Border Interfaith and sister Texas IAF organizations to address lack of infrastructure in the colonias. That same year, EPISO/BI and Texas IAF organizations got out the vote to amend the Texas Constitution to provide the Texas Water Development Board $200 million dollars to issue grants and loans to install water and wastewater infrastructure in colonias and economically distressed areas. Since 1989, over $1 Billion dollars have been invested in colonias and economically distressed areas across Texas.
Change is coming to Montana Vista. In January, a long-fought for (and separately funded) road extension was newly opened, with four lanes, bike routes, sidewalks, lighting, and landscaping. Now, to community acclaim, El Paso Water is breaking ground for Phase 1 of its water and wastewater project -- scheduled for completion within 18 months.
...When developers platted Highland Oaks in 1959 there were no rules or regulations in place regarding roads. County officials rejected pleas from residents to have the roads fixed. Officials said the streets had been improperly built and were never properly deeded to the county, making the roads private. The county maintained that position even after a 2015 Express-News Editorial Board investigation revealed the county had accepted the roads as part of a settlement in a lawsuit 30 years ago.
In 2016, after continued media scrutiny and intervention by COPS/Metro Alliance and the Southside Independent School District, county commissioners had a change of heart. Commissioners decided to inventory all roads in the county that might be in a similar situation to begin tackling the problem.....
When Lucia Hernandez (top photo above) was hit from behind by a car speeding through a blind curve, she turned to her parish, Our Lady of Guadalupe Helotes, and COPS/Metro for help. With other leaders, Hernandez organized an assembly of 170 parish and community members to discuss ways to address a blind spot on FM 1560 near her church and Helotes Elementary School. Helotes is a rapidly growing suburban community outside San Antonio.
At the assembly, engineers and officials from the Texas Department of Transportation were confronted by angry parishioners. Declared Hernandez to the team of uncomfortable engineers: “There’s evidence that you’ve made a terrible mistake. Didn’t you study those angles?”
Other parish and community leaders weighed in, agreeing that the curve between FM 1560 and Bandera Road had become deadly due to the construction of a new wall that now obstructed drivers' view, and would only get worse when school started again in the fall.
The Mayor of Helotes and TXDOT Advanced Planning Director pledged to work with the leadership to "refine" the traffic situation, and to meet again within three weeks.
At the follow up meeting, COPS/Metro leaders brought in their State Representative and State Senator who affirmed that funding was available. Put on the spot, TXDOT agreed to set up temporary signs and to meet with church/organizational leaders on a monthly basis until a permanent solution was created.
[Photo Credit: Carlos Javier Sanchez, San Antonio Express News]
Helotes Drivers Want Quick Solution to 'Free For All' Intersection, San Antonio Express-News
In a 2018 summer house meeting campaign involving more then 500 families embedded in Des Moines schools, churches and nonprofits, AMOS leaders asked, "What matters enough to you, your family, and your community that you would raise your own taxes to see it happen?”
The stories heard in these meetings, and the leaders who emerged from them, formed an agenda AMOS took to the city manager and city council last Fall, asking them to include these items in an upcoming local option sales tax vote. In December, AMOS celebrated when the city council passed a spending resolution for the tax measure that included five key AMOS priorities and agreed to endorse the measure and get out the vote. For two months, AMOS leaders held civic academies, phone banked, signed up hundreds of people up to vote, and gave rides to the polls on Election Day.
On March 5th, more than 70% of Des Moines voters voted YES on Measure A, the one-cent local option sales tax measure in the city of Des Moines. Turnout for the election was 20% higher than a similar effort last year that did not include AMOS priorities, and the margin of support for the measure was 30% higher this year than in previous years. AMOS worked with a diverse coalition of organizations who endorsed the measure, including AARP, the Central Iowa Taxpayers Association and the Firefighters Union.
The results are particularly impressive considering efforts by a Koch Brothers-funded group to torpedo the measure with negative campaigning.
Because of AMOS:
- Libraries in Des Moines will expand the number of days they are open from 5 days per week to 6 days per week, while the Downtown and Franklin branches will open 7;
- 4-6 new Rental Inspectors will be hired to improve rental housing conditions;
- 150 dilapidated and abandoned homes will be torn down or renovated each year across the city, a ten-fold increase over the 5-15 homes the city is able to address now.
- Des Moines will help fund the creation of mental health crisis services for children, with a commitment from the Mayor and other public officials to get these services up and running by June 30, 2020.
The one-cent tax will also enable the city to maintain 13 firefighter positions, speed up the building of a new fire station on the northeast side of Des Moines, and make critical investments to improve streets, sidewalks, and sewers.
As if that were not enough, on February 25th, the city council approved funding to install lights on the basketball courts at Evelyn K Davis Park — another AMOS priority.
Vote YES for Measure and Des Moines' Future, Des Moines Register
Des Moines Metro Voters Weigh 1-cent Sales Tax, Promise of Lower Property Taxes, Des Moines Register
Des Moines voters should support the local-option sales tax on March 5, Des Moines Register
Group Pushes Des Moines to Use Sales Tax Money to Extend Library Hours, Des Moines Register
Des Moines will vote on sales tax increase in March, Des Moines Register
Local option sales tax planned for March 5 vote in Des Moines, Business Record
In preparation for the Oklahoma City Council Election on February 12th, leaders of Voice OKC held an accountability session with candidates to hear their positions on aspects that tie in with concerns they have identified at their institutions through conversations. In a full sanctuary, the candidates addressed the questions posed by Voice OKC leaders regarding the importance of improving sidewalks and bus stops, the need to raise the $200,000.00 city's budget for social services such as healthcare and housing, the emphasis on MAPS 4 projects that actually benefit the daily life of voters as opposed to large-capital projects and the search for a new Police chief who will avoid unrest and racial profiling.
By engaging with candidates through this accountability session, VOICE OKC leaders secure commitments from the candidates on issues identified by VOICE members and part of the community agenda. Following the accountability session, the leaders return to their institutions to reflect on the candidates’ articulated positions on each of the issues and proceed to the polls to make an informed voting decision. In this way, VOICE OKC leaders fulfill their mission: “to work within the democratic process with civic leaders and public officials on issues of concern to families.”
Oklahoma City council candidates hold forum, Fox 25 News
AMOS Announces Support for Des Moines Local Option Sales Tax, Big Step Forward for Children's Mental Health
During the summer of 2018, AMOS leaders in Des Moines engaged more than 500 families around the question, "What matters enough to you that you would be willing to raise your own taxes to see it happen?" Out of these conversations, AMOS leaders crafted a proposal of six funding priorities to include in the city's upcoming a one-cent sales tax proposal. The now released and approved city spending resolution includes five of our funding priorities, and AMOS leaders have secured a separate commitment from the city to address the sixth.
At a press conference Monday, AMOS announced support for the local option sales tax initiative. AMOS Children's Mental Health Team co-chair Connie McKeen, of Walnut Hills United Methodist, proclaimed it a big step for another AMOS priority: children's mental health services.
Mrs. McKeen announced the formation of a Task Force of elected officials, mental healthcare providers, and community leaders who have committed to work together to implement a Children's Mental Health Mobile Crisis Unit and Crisis Observation. This team will identify the staffing, funding, and location for these crisis services to open by June 30, 2020.
Co-Chairing this Task Force on behalf of AMOS are Dr. Linda Krypel, of First Unitarian of Des Moines and co-chair of the AMOS Children's Mental Health Team, and Teresa Bomhoff of NAMI Greater Des Moines.
Members of the Task Force include, to date, the Mayor of Des Moines, Polk County Supervisor, Des Moines Public School President, CEO of Broadlawns Hospital and other key public and private health executives.
Local Option Sales Tax Planned for March 5 Vote in Des Moines, Business Record
Des Moines Will Vote on Sales Tax Increase in March, Des Moines Register
Group Pushes Des Moines to Use Sales Tax Money to Extend Library Hours, Des Moines Register
In August 1974, the same month that President Richard M. Nixon resigned amid the Watergate scandal, COPS members marched on City Hall and demanded better drainage.
Some areas of the city lacked paved streets, running water, sanitary sewer service, adequate police protection and other basics.
The group won the support of Mayor Charles Becker, who worked to pass a $46.8 million bond issue to fund long-neglected drainage projects on the West Side.
With a power base that was rooted in Catholic parishes, COPS members focused their anger in a positive way, remaining vocal but never violent, and brought lasting change.
[In photo: Candidates for District 6 listen to a question in a 1983 COPS “accountability session.” Staff File Photo, San Antonio Express-News]
Grassroots Group Energized Hispanics: COPS Launched Efforts in 1974 to Improve Basic City Services, San Antonio Express-News [pdf]
After summer floods in Hidalgo County left countless homes destroyed and neighborhoods damaged, Valley Interfaith leaders researched a $190 million bond proposal to upgrade Hidalgo County’s drainage system. Leaders were soon angered to discover that almost no funding was planned to be allocated for the poorest neighborhoods of Hidalgo. “Never before has Las Milpas received money to improve the drainage in this community from Hidalgo County,” said Valley Interfaith leader Eddie Anaya.
Valley Interfaith quickly mobilized, reaching out to their elected officials and ultimately negotiating upwards of $15 million in drainage work in South Pharr and $1 million dollars for South McAllen -- not originally in the bond proposal.
Community Groups Urge 'Yes' Vote on $190 Million Bond Election, Rio Grande Guardian [pdf]
At a fateful meeting with the youth of Grace United Methodist Church in 2004, AMOS organizers and leaders learned that young people not involved in organized sports needed more recreational opportunities. Although several “skate zones" or "plazas” were located in neighborhood parks outside the city, there was no large dedicated skate park in the City of Des Moines.
AMOS leaders conducted research actions, including site visits to skate parks around the country, and began to build the political will for the park. At an AMOS assembly with over 200 people, leaders challenged Councilmembers Christine Hensley and Chris Coleman to support the building of a dedicated park for skateboarding. Both agreed.
Since then, AMOS leaders were at the center of action to promote the park, conducting meetings with Parks & Recreation staff and succeeding in persuading the City to build its first skate park: the Four Mile Skatepark in Northeast Des Moines as a short-term measure.
When efforts to identify funding for the larger park stalled, leaders persisted -- helping develop a plan to raise $3.5 million in private funds. Fundraising was supercharged in 2015 when The Leadership Circle of the Community Foundation awarded a challenge grant of $500,000 in the hopes of encouraging other contributions. Since then, Nix and Virginia Laurisden, for whom the park will be named, donated $1 million. Other individual donors and community foundations invested monies towards the effort.
On October 15th, a groundbreaking ceremony was organized to celebrate the culmination of this AMOS-initiated effort. The park, to be completed in 2019, will be the largest open-air skate park in the United States, with additional designs to meet Olympic-level qualifying competitions.
Skatepark Breaks Ground, Donor Backs $250K Sculpture, Business Record