AUSTIN -- A district court judge on Wednesday allowed the city of El Paso to charge ahead with plans to build a minor league baseball stadium.
Travis County District Court Judge Tim Sulak ruled that the city of El Paso can issue bonds to finance construction of a $50 million baseball stadium that was approved by voters last year.
"I believe and it is my judgment, based on the evidence, authority and arguments that the authority to issue, and the actions taken to obtain, public securities are legal and valid," Sulak said in his ruling in an Austin court.
Sulak said opponents of the demolition of City Hall did not "sufficiently show just cause" on why the city should not be allowed to issue bonds for the project.
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The ruling increased the difficulty opponents face in trying to halt the project. It gives city leaders the ability to move forward with plans to tear down City Hall and start construction of the Triple-A minor league baseball stadium.
"I think the ruling was pretty clear," City Manager Joyce Wilson said. "The bonds are valid and the stadium is valid. We have full legal clearance to proceed."
But opponents said they still have recourse because Sulak did not give the city the broad authority it was seeking to quell opposition.
The judge said he would not weigh in on whether the City Council should put an initiative on the May 11 ballot that would ask voters to approve razing City Hall.
Sulak said he would let the council decide what to do because it's made up of elected officials who are responsible to the voters. He also said he did not believe his ruling would prevent anyone, including opponents, from taking actions that are available to them under any statutes, ordinances or the law.
"They were asking the judge to tell them they didn't need to put it on the ballot, and he refused to do that," El Pasoan Carl Starr said.
Opponents have 30 days to appeal the decision, but Sulak set a $1 million bond for those seeking an appeal. Starr, who is considering an appeal, said that would require him to pay $100,000, an amount he cannot afford.
Starr said he hopes the City Council follows through with the initial step to put a petition that calls for a vote on whether to demolish City Hall on the May 11 ballot. The City Council will take final action on the measure Tuesday.
The City Council approved placing the Sal Gomez and his Coalition for Responsive Government Save City Hall petition on the ballot last week after city Rep. Eddie Holguin pushed for the measure. The petition, which has drawn criticism for its language, asks to repeal the council's action taken on June 26, most of which has already occurred.
Attorneys for MountainStar Sports Group, which owns the Triple-A Tucson Padres, and for the city of El Paso said the petition is worded in such a way that even if it's approved by the City Council and placed on the ballot, it would have little effect and would not halt the demolition of City Hall.
"We're laypersons and we're trying to write this thing," Starr said. "We made a good faith effort to express what we wanted to say that this was being shoved through and we wanted the opportunity to vote on it."
Starr said he understands that City Hall may be torn down before the petition reaches voters. He said the vote would be "symbolic."
Holguin said Sulak is placing a lot of faith in a City Council that has a record of not allowing the public to vote and of disenfranchising citizens.
"We all know the intent of the voters, but I have zero faith in this council to honor that, and I encourage people to remember how each member of the council voted," Holguin said.
City Rep. Steve Ortega said he was happy with the ruling and not surprised at the outcome.
"At every step we have followed the law even though the enemies of progress have tried to put up hurdle after hurdle after hurdle," Ortega said. "El Paso continues to improve and get better."
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