Phoenix Owner of Downtown El Paso Parking Promises a Fight for his Property: Newspaper Tree, El Paso TX, 12/27/07

By Rene Leon

Downtown redevelopment efforts may encounter another obstacle as one property owner has threatened to take an eminent domain-related measure to the voters.

Leon Woodward, a Phoenix resident and owner of U.S. Parking Systems, on Dec. 18 went before the El Paso City Council and warned he will bring forward a voter initiative calling for a 10-year wait on future uses of eminent domain if he feels his properties are in danger of condemnation.

Under Section 3.11 of the El Paso City Charter, Woodward can place an item on the City Council agenda with a number of voter signatures equal to five percent of those who voted in the last general municipal elections. Upon receipt of those signatures, the item must be placed on the agenda within 30 days. If the council votes down the proposed ordinance, Woodward would have the opportunity to again collect the appropriate number of signatures and submit them to the city clerk, who by law would be required to place the proposed ordinance on the ballot for the next general municipal election.

Woodward claimed he would need at least 2,018 signatures for his initiative to go before council, which would be five percent of 40,360 voters. However, Tony Rivera of the El Paso County Elections Department stated only 26,045 people voted in the May 2007 municipal general election, setting the required number of signatures at 1,301.

Anthony Washington, who is an assistant city manager in Phoenix, where Woodward had previously threatened similar voter initiatives when faced with condemnation of his properties there, said Woodward is a successful businessman who follows through on his commitments.

“He was prepared to exercise his rights. My experience with him is that he is a person who doesn’t make idle threats; he follows through,” Washington said of Woodward, who threatened but later withdrew his eminent domain initiatives after negotiations with Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon.

Oddly, Woodward left the meeting soon after making his comment during the meeting’s Call to the Public session, even though an item was scheduled later in the meeting calling for the expansion of Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone, or TIRZ, No. 5, which includes the Downtown area. He said he scheduled his trip to El Paso two weeks prior to the meeting and was unaware of the TIRZ item.

Included in a document packet given to the media are several letters written by Woodward and addressed to Mayor John Cook and the council in which Woodard describes what he feels are instances of intimidation on the part of Bill Sanders, a principle member of the Paso del Norte Group, or PDNG. The PDNG was a key supporting organization in the development of the Downtown 2015 Plan, which has been criticized by some for not including input from residents and business owners in its creation.

“Billie Sanders and his associates approached me several months ago with the intention of purchasing my business and downtown properties. I refused to sell and Billie Sanders decided to even the score by canceling my parking contract at the Chase Bank building,” writes Woodward in his letter to the mayor and council. He further states that he was contacted in October by an attorney who he claims informed him that the reason for the contract’s cancellation was because he refused to sell his properties to the Borderplex Community Trust, which owns the Chase Bank building and Bassett Tower.

Sanders, though, said in a written statement that he has never dealt with Woodward.

“Up until the recent City Council press coverage, I had never heard of Leon Woodward - and certainly had never spoken with him,” Sanders said in the statement. “Mr. Woodward appears to have quite an imagination."

Also included in the document packet was a photocopy of a Phoenix Gazette editorial column written by Dennis Wagner and titled, “Crazy Leon.”

“He runs parking lots downtown. And when someone gets him mad he becomes the most relentless man in Arizona. Leon produces nasty buttons and bumper stickers. He wears out the phone calling talk radio. He researches his foes, uses the system to find a weakness, then files lawsuits or complaints. He hangs on like a pitbull.”

Scribbled in marker in the margin of the photocopy page (possibly by the boisterous and unapologetic Woodward himself) was one simple statement: “Leon won again!”

Newspaper Tree, El Paso TX: http://www.newspapertree.com