Friday, December 25, 2015

Expansion From A Building


This photo I took several years ago on the 1600 block of Guadalupe.  I thought it was a good photo for a blog post: a residential setting, on a busy Laredo street, selling towels and rugs out in the open.  If it wasn't for the products on display, the property would be unremarkable.  The mundane is what we specialize in here at La Sanbe.

That white house on the corner of Guadalupe and Mendiola wouldn't be with us for much longer.


(Image via Google Maps)

The house was eventually torn down, a point of pride for Councilman Alex Perez.  Apparently, demolishing outdated homesites is a political selling point for District 3 campaigns.  Bigger things were in store for the area.


This is what the property looks like now: expansion from the building in the middle of the block.


1610 Guadalupe used to be the home of a Laredo fire station.  The space eventually became a boxing gym.  Like Rocky Balboa, you can go there and train by chasing a chicken around, or you can go to Popeyes next door to enjoy some cajun fried chicken.  Your choice.


The old Laredo neighborhoods slowly evolve.  Some things remain.  And that's what makes them unique.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

End of December

This day in Laredo history:

December 16, 1996 City council discusses discrepancies at the Fleet Management Division.  Then-councilman Louis Bruni questioned why repairs on police cars cost more than the cars were purchased for.  The case is reminiscent of the street department investigation that Lawrence Berry conducted in the late 1970s, where rampant corruption was discovered.  In the 90s, however, nothing became of anything, as far as I know.


  
Yesterday, former mayor Raul Salinas stopped in at the KGNS studios, with fresh eyebrows and mustache, to speak to Richard Noriega.  Salinas is apparently going to conduct his last toy drive for the needy.  In the interview, he managed to say 'there is' five times.  No Raul Salinas interview would be complete without him saying FBI at least once.  Thank you for what you do, sir.  Keep rambling on.

In Tuesday's Laredo Times, Kendra Ablaza reported on the Webb Co. water plant:


The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality said it's found eight new violations at the Rio Bravo Water Treatment Plant, Webb County officials said.


Some problems drag on for local governing bodies, but this mess with the county water plant seems to have no end in sight.  Mike Montemayor might exit prison one day, and we'll likely still be talking about the water plant in Rio Bravo.  It's tragic because people's lives are immediately affected.  County has to make clean water its number one priority.  Christmas is ten days away, however.  I would be surprised if county commissioners would have one more regular meeting before calling it a year.      

Friday, December 11, 2015

The Changing Scenery


(The photo above is from a blog post from December 2007.)

The wording for the post from eight years ago focused on the issue of protecting our border.  I wonder now how it was that I came upon this scene.  Apparently I didn't set off any alarms for the Border Patrol agent(s) when I took the photo; I wasn't hassled by the man like in another instance.    Looking at the image now, my eyes focus more on the KLAR sign.  The radio station, KLAR 1300 AM, was located somewhere behind that thicket of mesquite trees along Zapata Highway.

In the 1970s, KLAR had a Top 40 format.  It now programs religious content in Spanish.


As you can see now, a change has taken place.  It was about two weeks ago that I noticed the land getting cleared.  A friend at work told me that a used car lot was going in to that space.  Of course, what else?


(I shot the photo from a gas station on the other side of Zapata Hwy.)

I'm drawn to scenes like these throughout Laredo.  What seems mundane one day - a sign, a building - will be transformed the next day.  The physical remnants of years gone by are etched in our memories.  We see them daily in our commutes until they're gone.  And then we try to recall how things used to be.

I'm sure I'll come back to this post in five years and marvel at the many changes that have taken place, as trivial as they may seem.  Today, however, I toast to Laredo icons and to progress.  Cheers!


Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Cuellar's Immigration Scorecard



In case you missed it, Laredo is the nation's largest inland port.  What that means is that, as a Laredoan, you likely know a handful of friends or relatives that have had a hand in the business of international trade, be it legal or not.  What that also means is that the cargo that has passed the Rio Grande in both directions largely drives the local economy.

Recently, however, much has been mentioned about the large influx of immigrants from countries other than Mexico.  Julian Aguilar (The Texas Tribune) makes note of the huge increase in the number of Cubans showing up on our doorstep.  
In 2015, about 28,400 Cubans entered Texas through the Laredo field office of Customs and Border Protection, which extends from Del Rio to Brownsville. 
The Cubans apparently got the memo that our port es chingon.  At the very least we should show them our hospitality.  But Henry 'not my given name' Cuellar doesn't want Laredo to turn into Ellis Island.  What the congressman wants to do instead is revise the pact that has granted Cubans asylum in our country for decades.  According to him, the policy is a "Cold War leftover enacted when the country was trying to prevent the spread of communism."

If anything, Cuellar is being an asshole consistent in his approach.  Last year he was all for promptly deporting women and kids from Central America when Laredo was flooded with immigrants.  This year he wants tougher vetting of Syrian refugees.  

It makes sense now why Laredo got rid of its nickname, The Gateway City:  we no longer visit Mexico as before and some of us don't want immigrants coming in.  Local officials are all for the cargo that fills warehouses and store shelves.  Apart from that, the love is stretched thin.  

Henry Cuellar seems to be evolving on immigration, but not in a good way.  He wants to make it tougher for people who are choosing to come to this country, all to appease the conservative base of District 28.  It's no shock, really; Laredo is not exactly a liberal hotbed.  And it's favorite son isn't exactly going to reverse track on his long-held 'center right' beliefs.

In Cuellar's quest for consistency on immigration, I would only suggest that he think about removing another Cold War leftover: the words In God We Trust from our currency.  That's compromise - something that HENRY is well aware of.  




  

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

There Used To Be A Cigarroa Field


A family member shared with me a copy of Martin High School's "Laredo Journal."  The paper is dated Wednesday 16, 1974.  The main story notes the changes that had taken place in the LISD athletics program at the time.  For Shirley Field, seating capacity was increased and facilities were added.  The upgrades would provide the Martin Tigers and Nixon Mustangs a main field to share and compete from.

Concern from both sides eventually surfaced.  Nixon parents were wary about letting their kids go "down to Shirley."  And Martin-ites didn't want their east side rivals playing on their turf.  Nixon, however, didn't have proper facilities to host football games; They only had Cigarroa Field.

I was confused by the mention of Cigarroa Field in the Journal story.  As far as I knew, Cigarroa High School didn't open until 1983.  But it turns out that a football field located next to Nixon H.S. had the name Cigarroa in it.  Local attorney Armando Lopez explained the field's history as such:
When Nixon was built, they had their own football stadium for a bit. It was called Cigarroa field and the Mustangs used it as their home stadium until about 1973 or 1974 when Shirley became the central LISD football field. For a while it became know as Montes field, named after David Montes, a current Nixon teacher who became paralyzed playing football in the early 1980's.
Good summation, counselor.  And yes, the field was eventually dedicated to David Montes in 2005.

 
Fellow blogger Maximiliano recalls Cigarroa Field being a shabby locale.  It hosted locals games, nevertheless.  Max shares:
I remember attending the Martin-Nixon game at Cigarroa field in 1970, with Martin winning 14-8 during a very windy and blustery night.
LISD now has several top-notch football fields to host games.  Nixon's field, on the other hand, was being encroached on by portable teaching rooms in 2012.


In all my life, I've never attended a game that took place at Nixon HS.  I've only known Shirley Field to be the main arena for many sporting events.  Laredo football, obviously, is made up of so much more.


(Image above via LISD newsletter)

Rangel Running


(courtesy image)

Laredo council member and snappy dresser Esteban Rangel is all in for the County Commissioner Pct. 1 race.  The primary election is just 3 months away, but the ambitious Rangel is spending mightily on his campaign.  Around town you see large billboards, bumper stickers, people holding signs, all to promote the candidate.  It's pretty aggressive campaigning, I think.  Usually it's not until 30 days before an election when candidates start making their push.  Economics plays a role in that.

Rangel apparently wants to get out ahead of the pack.  Whatever that means.



Rangel's website calendar so far has nothing scheduled for December.  He's probably been busy.  It doesn't look good, however, for someone who is looking to take on another full-time job.  Give us a hint, sir, that you are the man for the job.  Empty website pages don't bode well for anyone.

He should still be the Transportation Director for LISD.  How is he going to juggle that responsibility with that of being a commissioner, basically having 2 full-time jobs?  (your thoughts, Jaime Canales)

The candidate's future is not set in stone yet, so let's just look back on Rangel's last five years.


  • October 2010 Interviewed as candidate by Laredo Times.  (wins election)
  • November 2011 Urges action on Mami Chulas joints and its expressive dancers
  • August 2012 LISD appoints Rangel as Crime Stoppers Coordinator. (tenure short-lived)
  • January 2014 His car is stolen while he's in a meeting at city hall.
  • October 2014 His pay as a council member is called into question.
  • November 2014 wins re-election
  • April 2015 Rangel's face on south Laredo library billboards seen as self-promoting
  • August 2015 Suggests city take over Rio Bravo water plant.
  • November 2015 Announces bid for county commissioner.


Enjoy the campaign season.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Taking A Knee (In The Giblets)


Image above courtesy of the Laredo Times

It was 2008 that I ran my first Guajolote 10K race.  It was the first time I ever took part in any organized long distance meet.  I was proud of the accomplishment.  But more interesting was just being a part of this Laredo institution.  The inaugural Guajolote 10K took place in 1979.  There I was 29 years later, running alongside la raza and marveling at the logistics of it all.

This year there seems to be something oddly afoot*.

When I saw the photo (above) in the Times this weekend, I thought back to my experience with the Guajo race.  Something seemed off about the announcement but I didn't pay it too much mind.  The turkey foot with a sneaker appeared a little crass, but I just owed that to the generic whims of the organizers.

  
It turns out that whomever is organizing this year's race has nothing to do with the original planners.  Apparently the Hamilton Trophy family that started the Guajolote 10K decades ago is not spending their Thanksgiving 2015 with the running community.  Instead they're spending on ad space to say that they'll be back next year.  They also go on to distance* themselves from the impostor who's supposedly carrying the torch* for the yearly race.

Numerous questions abound.  Why is Hamilton Trophies sitting out this year?  Who is Santiago Sanchez?  And how many racing puns(*) can I make?  This odyssey might go the distance*.

This holiday season I'm taking part in a more low-impact meet.  As for the case of the Guajolote 10K, I'll sit back with popcorn in hand and see what transpires.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

On This Day In 1988


(Photo recovered from the murky depths of the internet)

A blog reader shared with this corner the day that U2's "Rattle and Hum" movie debuted at a theater at Mall del Norte.  Our faithful follower became an avid U2 fan after the success of "The Joshua Tree."  Oh sure, the band was on regular rotation on MTV in the early 1980s, but their fifth studio album struck a chord with the Laredo native.  To see them on the big screen was akin to making out to one of their concerts.

What the fan recalls from that fateful night is that Martin and Nixon met for their yearly face-off at Shirley Field.  Unfortunately, a local game of football was no match for a group of Irish rockers on a huge screen.  Our reader, with friend in tow, opted for the rockumentary, but they got so much more.

Once inside, they were treated to door prizes courtesy of KRRG 98.1 FM staff.  A source confirmed with this writer that the station went by the handle ENERGY 98 at the time.  That was when they played rock and pop music.  Kirk Davidson, Program Director at KRRG, was present at the movie premiere.  He emceed the event and handed out U2 merchandise to some lucky moviegoers.  

1988 is a long time ago and many things have changed.  U2 is still creating new music and packing stadiums.  And coincidentally, they're appearing in a new documentary that will be featured on HBO very soon.  ENERGY 98, however, has gone in a different direction.  Their frequency is still around, but the format is now country, and they no longer broadcast from downtown Laredo.  The whereabouts of Kirk Davidson are unknown.  If you know where he might be, drop us a line.

The Martin/Nixon game is coming up in three days.  Some Laredoans will surely forego that game again and instead wait to enjoy the sights and sounds of U2, even if on the small screen.  Funny how some things stay the same.  Rock on!

Monday, October 26, 2015

The Antenna Is Left Behind

On October 6th, I drove by the former KVOZ radio station building and noticed that crews had been busy knocking the place down.  I didn't get a good look at the structure because the sun had already gone down and traffic on Zapata Hwy was brisk.  So I made it a point to return to document the occurrence.  When I got there, the bulldozer was already packed up and ready to leave.


At the site of the old radio station there was nothing left, not a single shred of debris to collect as a memento.


The only thing that remained was the old antenna.  A friend who used to work at the radio station recalls the format changes and the layout of the facility.  When you walked in, the DJ booths were readily visible.  The broadcast team seamlessly went from playing music to sharing the news by motioning to each other through glass dividers.  KOYE was also housed in this nondescript space.  They took on a more visible role in the building when KVOZ was sold and moved on.  

In the late 1990s, the former DJ recalls the station having a country radio format.  The stations there always had a strong signal to transmit their content.




I remember the facility being used as a doctor's office.  This was likely when both KVOZ and KOYE had vacated the premises.  It's all gone now, like so many other things that curiously have gotten demolished this month.

Image below via Google Maps


UPDATE on 6/13/2016: A friend of the blog posted an image of an old KOYE bumper sticker on social media.  The sticker is fixed on a home's window.  The vestiges of Laredo past.  (Thanks for the share, buddy.)


Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Meg Guerra: The La Sanbe Interview

I had lunch with the former publisher of LareDOS on August 28.  I got up to speed with what has happened in the year since she retired from writing.



The anniversary of closing the Journal of the Borderlands:

I closed LareDOS in September of last year.  It had been a 20-year haul and I felt it was time to close the door on something that was never really profitable.  Of course it brought me a lot of pleasure because I love to write; I love to write stories that matter and that were germane to this town of ours.  But the time had come, I think, to undertake other things.  I wasn't in bad health when I closed it but I was extremely exhausted.  And then as it turned out, in December of the same year, just a few months later, I was diagnosed with cancer, and that has pretty much occupied my time.  Getting through the cancer since then, it's been a real journey of sorts, unlike any I've ever taken.  And in many aspects it's been a very positive, meaningful journey.  I'm learning a lot of things I didn't know before, a lot of things I'd like to put to good use.  I know what I'm made of now; there's definitely meddle in there, and resiliency.  And I can't wait to get well enough to use my new tools that I've acquired over the last 8 or 9 months.

The journey of cancer:

The first hurdle was understanding that not everything was in my hands. and certainly doctors had a large role in what would happen to me.  Having established relationships with doctors it made me feel like my best interest were their best interests, and that did happen and it was a meaningful thing for me to acquire that kind of medical help, to help myself to that kind of medical help.  There were other parts of the journey that had to do with faith; That was really important.  Another part of the journey was understanding who your friends were, in this case, those people who had unflagging commitment to - and by friends I mean members of my family as well - unflagging commitment to: when I got to the doctor, if I got there on time, what day my next appointment was, how I was going to feel after the chemo treatments.  The first couple of chemo treatments are almost a piece of cake; you think, oh well, this is nothing.  I'm still Tarzan's mother, I can still do this.  But then around the third one it really kicks in, it starts adding up in your system.  And you become increasingly fatigued.  And it takes a toll on different parts of your body, such as your feet and things you take for granted.  I mean, your feet always work, right?  And then all of a sudden, they don't work as well.  We all take feeling well for granted, I think to a large part, and then all of a sudden you don't and that's a really big surprise, especially if you've never been ill.

 But the reason for closing the paper was just understanding that the model I was using to publish an independent news journal in Laredo wasn't working out.  It had no economic feasibility for me.  The paper had never taken care of me the way I had taken care of the paper.  No 401K, no savings for retirement, that kind of stuff.  So it just became clear to me that at some point it had to stop and this seemed like a good place.  And I never got a chance to find out what the new normal was going to be after the paper closed.  I was looking forward to so many things: fishing, being at the ranch, more time with the grandkids.  But pretty quickly, by December the 8th, my life changed again with the diagnosis and my life took another sendero, another path.

Meg the fearless (in my opinion):

The fearlessness that I'm reputed to have had while running LareDOS escaped me on the day of my diagnosis.  I had great fear, great trepidation.  I was alone when I was given the diagnosis and that was almost unbearable -- to find out what the results were of the biopsy, hoping against hope that everything was well.  But it wasn't.  I don't know if I was fearless when I published LareDOS; I have no idea if I was or not.  I have no idea if I acted fearlessly in this cancer process but you muster all kinds of things to cope, and to deal with things.  And as I was telling you earlier, the invasion on your body, of surgery, and needle pokes in your arms, IVs and transfusions, and the place where they place the port in your chest for the chemo to go in -- all those assaults on your body, you don't have time to think, they come one right after the other.  So you're not really thinking: oh I can't really bear this, or  this isn't going to happen.  You do whatever you're being told to do.  And as it turns out I hope it's to a good end.  We finished the chemo and we're waiting for final prognosis and hope that it all went well.

Positive prognosis:

Things look positive but the final word will come after this last CAT scan.  I think that will be able to tell us if we're out of the woods for a while.  And no cancer doctor ever tells you, you're well now, you're going to be well forever.  The best they'll tell you, if your lucky, is you just bought yourself five years of remission.  And if you take very good care of yourself , you'll be alright.   Now, the changes in my life as a result of the diagnosis were wholesale.  They had to do with everything I ate, how much water I drank, wheat grass juice, eating only the cleanest of foods.  I was able to exercise really well for the first three months, and then the chemo dominated what would happen as far as how well I was going to walk or how well I could exercise.  Chemotherapy brings with it something that people call chemo fog or chemo brain. It just dominates your thought processes .  I don't mean, it's always on your mind, I mean it dictates how clearly you're going to think, what you're going to be able to get through.  Somehow I've still been able to write, sometimes I think a little bit better than I used to write, because my heart is somewhere else now; it's not where it was when I was roasting and toasting politicians.

Still writing, still present:

I've had the urge to comment on local politics.  What I haven't had is the energy to stir up the kinds of documents you need to write a good story.  So, while i'm interested, it's sort of from a distance.  My priority really, even though I'm interested in what happened in Rio Bravo with the water plant, and I'm mystified by the not-guilty verdict of Mr. Amaya, I don't have the energy to jump into stories like that right now.  I do come across on my computer some of the really great stories that we ran in LareDOS about what was happening in the environment, and I'm so grateful to have had the opportunity to have written stories like that. I don't know that I will ever again write stories with that much of me in them because at this point, really, I'm just trying to resurface from this process , this huge chemical process that I've undergone in the last nine months.

I'm very much interested in what happens in our town and many times I've missed not being at the epicenter where I could write about it.  But for the moment that's not possible.

Opinion on local matters:

Outrage never leaves you if you have a political conscious.  I've been outraged many times.  It's another thing to muster the energy.  I have to say my focus is really different now.  For a change, my focus has been my own welfare.

Johnny Amaya and the water plant:

I think this went on for so long, the negligence, and thats what is at heart here: the kind of negligence that could kill people if you don't follow the kinds of rules put forth by the governing agencies.  The focus shifts also to all the years that he was involved with the water system there in Rio Bravo. What about the commissioner from that district? What about all the other commissioners? What about the sitting county judge from that time, the judge before this one?  They all knew there was a terrible problem in Rio Bravo but they all chose not to deal with it.  Whether they believed those people didn't matter - which is kind of what it boils down to - you couldn't have gotten away with that had you had that problem in north Laredo: with filthy water, telling people they had to boil their water on a daily basis, or that contact with their water was dangerous.  That wouldn't have flown at all in the north.  So I think where the finger points, it points at the whole system of county commissioners and the judge at that time.  And we all know Mr. Amaya had great political utility; He was a vote harvester and a fundraiser.

He was a great use to other elected officials.  But for that to be an excuse to be negligent, I mean, they were all negligent

County Auditor being exiled from Commissioners Court:

I've always gotten along with Leo Flores.  He's always been forthcoming when I've made open records requests, sometimes even before the requests came to my desk.  He was always forthcoming with information.  I felt like he was a good watchdog of the public money.  The way it looks from the outside is that he stepped on some very big toes, or he offended somebody in some way, and now it's coming back to bite him.  I always thought he was a rather good public servant.

I think one of the most egregious things about these types of accusations is when you drag it on.  The longer you drag it on, the more he appears guilty in the public eye.  I think they should just come forward; I think they should just hurry up and give him his day in court or exonerate him.

City changes:

One of the most progressive things that I've seen happen downtown is that somebody now cares about the four blocks that approach international bridge 2, that will be upgraded to reflect better on the city.  It won't be such an eyesore.  And maybe it will be a more welcoming place for visitors.  Beyond that it sounds like the members of the American Institute of Architects, that have been on this project with the city, they have great plans to make this be sort of a showcase, a bit of a historical venue that gives a nod to parts of the El Azteca that were torn out to build that bridge and that approach.  It'll be a nod to the escuella 'marilla, the historic escuela 'marilla, and la plaza de la noria,  which was there at that time.  To me that is a bit of progress, for us, that we care about things like that.  And certainly the farmers market downtown, I think, has been a real positive thing for the City of Laredo.  It says something about the city.

Grand designs of art for downtown:

It's a start.  Certainly they'll have to clear all kinds of hurdles with the city: how much can be spent on things like that, where the money will come from.  But I think it was a great start.  And I was very taken by the commitment of those architects that work pro bono, to host these events, to get input.  I was taken by the number of citizens that showed up to give input; that was real important.  So I think what you may have seen as grande or grandiose -- and I've heard that from other people too: too modern, not in keeping with the historical theme -- I think those things will come about in the best way possible with a lot of public input, and certainly with the city as the balance for what it wants to look like and be like.

The future for downtown:

I think there's already so much in place downtown with private investment in old historical properties.  I think it's just a matter of connecting the dots, place to place, from the Webb County Heritage Foundation, to the museums, to La Posada, to San Agustin Cathedral, Plaza Theater, Plaza Hotel.  All those places are beautiful within blocks of each other; we just need to fill in what's in there.

And I wanted to go back to the four-block area.  In essence, whatever you think of the prototype of the monuments that the architects came up with , the heart of it is going to be the nod to history. Maybe it will be statues, maybe it will be a walkway that portrays important things of our history, xeriscape landscape, conservation of water.  I mean, all those features will be part of that.  So regardless of what we think of the first drawings for the features, the monuments and the plazas, those other elements are really critical

Connecting the dots:

For now, neither the city nor the county have jumped in to revitalization in a large way.  If you read between the lines, will is lacking.  There is no will to really put some muscle into saving downtown.  Actually, saving it is the wrong word to use.  So much of downtown is intact; the beautiful buildings are still there, they just need to be put to good use and re-purposed.  Someone needs to believe that there's viability in downtown.  But neither the city nor the county have had the will to do that.  I think a real huge example of what neglect can do when you really don't care about the history of your town, or its buildings, it's this beautiful courthouse annex that seems to be imploding upon itself .  It used to be called the Latin American Club.  It's right across from the historical courthouse and adjacent to an IBC location.  If years ago the Commissioners Court had the will to re-roof it, or take care of it, it wouldn't be pulling itself down to the ground.  That's one thing that the Webb County Heritage Foundation calls demolition by neglect, and there's a lot of that here.

There are probably still historical architects that, for a pretty penny, will tell you: yes I can save this;  we're going to need to do this.  Obviously the will is lacking because this county can't get its hands on enough parking lots, or the city can't get its hands on enough parking lots

Parting words:

If we don't speak up as citizens in whatever it may be, whether its your voice at a commissioners court meeting or city council meeting, a letter to the editor or a newspaper article, if you don't have a voice, you really don't have anything.  You have no say and that also goes to your vote.  Your vote is your strongest measure of your voice, and if you don't vote then you get the government you deserve.

Monday, September 28, 2015

On This Day In Laredo: September 27

 

The county courthouse annex building, which sat vacant for years, was demolished yesterday.  It was built in 1916 to house the Latin American Club.  The site was host to many social events.  In 1929 it became property of Webb County.  Via the City of Laredo Historic Preservation Plan of 1996:


County officials evaluated the building's unstable roof this summer and blocked off parts of San Agustin Ave. and Houston St. when it was determined to be a hazard.  Commissioners Court sought input on what steps to take, but it was clear that the building posed a danger to the public.  Advocates for preservation shared their concerns.  Their cause, however, would not prevail.

This issue certainly provided for some interesting commentary from the public, with some being too quick in wanting to rid the community of this eyesore.  I would've loved for the annex building to be saved, but alas, the county didn't have the wherewithal, financially or otherwise, to do that.  I think the statement on the City of Laredo's preservation plan sums it up nicely:
Heritage education programs can instill a sense of civic pride in the contributions of Laredo's industrious ancestors to the built environment. 
(Public History and Heritage Education, page 7)

When we preserve our buildings, and tell the stories of the past, we honor those that came before us.  Their sacrifice is what we should pay tribute to.  It matters that we take care of our history.  It's apparent that preservation wasn't a priority at the county level.

 
 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

First Recycling's Tag Team: Villarreal And Holliman


A group of citizens recently spoke before city council to voice their concerns about the recycling facility contract that city hall awarded to First Recycling (FR).  The group argued that FR was not the best option for Laredo.  Mr.Luis Cisneros commented, "three years later, the city has not received a single cent from First Recycling."

The statement from Mr. Cisneros (excerpts above) was also shared in the Laredo Times OpEd page.  It goes on to urge the city to reconsider the 15-year contract with First Recycling.  The company claims that it had nearly $1 million in expenses a year ago.  However, the watchdog group questions that assertion, noting that the City of Laredo (Laredo taxpayers) has heavily subsidized the operations for First Recycling.      


Apart from the money that seems to be largely flowing in First Recycling's direction is that FR Managing Partner Saul Villarreal and Public Relations Manager Marcus Holliman are connected to the Laredo Lemurs.  Both belong to the Laredo Baseball Investors and Holliman is listed as the president of the Laredo Lemurs organization.

Saul Villarreal is associated with the Laredo Development Foundation, an organization that gets third party funding from the City of Laredo.


Marcus Holliman is a little more ambitious.  He belongs to the local appraisal board and was appointed by Councilman Juan Narvaez to the Economic Development Advisory Committee.


These two have their hands full with the public's money.  And city council would have their work cut out for them if they had the will to look into things like, why do the same individuals have a hand in so many city operations?  Why did First Recycling get a 15-year contract?  The present council won't be here in 15 years.  But FR will probably still be making a shitload of money.

VIDA, another Laredo watchdog group, questioned the city about its dealings with the cold storage facilities at two area international bridges.  The city spent $9 million to build the facilities, but it was the company that was allowed to manage the sites that was pulling in the big bucks.  When city management was asked about this, Jesus Olivares said, "It wasn't so much that we wanted to recoup all our money.  It was more of a service that we wanted to provide."  

In 2014 the City of Laredo made $59,000 from the cold storage facilities.  At that rate, I don't know how the city expects to make ends meet.

It's funny how the city conducts its business.  Whether its moving deadlines to accommodate investors (Khaledis), awarding contracts to campaign contributors (Eduardo Garza), or not minding that conflicts of interest exist (Marcus Holliman), it seems like city council is all too generous towards certain individuals, or perhaps they don't give these types of transactions a second thought.  All 8 council members are part-time reps for us, so I don't expect too much from them.  But it would be nice to have one of them, or a group of them, be more rigorous in questioning the legitimacy of every deal that's doled out of city hall.  As a taxpayer, I would appreciate that.

I really hope that Mr. Cisneros and his colleagues keep applying pressure on city hall.  We deserve to know if our money is being spent wisely and that everything is on the up-and-up.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

You Realize It's Week 1, Right?

It was with great joy that I watched the New York Giants beating the Dallas Cowboys last night.  The NFC East rivals played in prime time for week 1.  Costly Dallas turnovers had the Giants leading by ten points at AT&T Stadium.  But the 'boys, staying within striking distance throughout, persevered.  A last-minute drive put them over the top by one point, thus handing the Giants an unfortunate, heartbreaking defeat.

I don't consider myself a Cowboy hater, but it does please me when they lose.  My animosity for "America's Team" has been tempered by the fact that friends and family members, people that I respect and admire, are rabid fans of the Cowboys.  I can't get too excited about my distaste for the team; I would risk alienating those around me.  So I'll describe my attitude as a fevered indifference (if there is such a thing) towards the organization, because their success, or lack thereof, doesn't affect my life one iota.

But perspective is everything, especially on the part of Dallas fans: they seem to have none.  There are some followers who curse the team when they're doing badly; but as soon as things turn up, and the team somehow ekes out a win, that fervor is directed at detractors and most often in a combative way.  Cowboy fan is passionate, bordering on pathological.  The best response from us non-fans is just to give them their space.


Cowboy fan can get as excited as he/she wants to get.  The season is full of opportunities.  Hell, it took John Elway 14 seasons to win his first Superbowl.  (minor detail: that win came at Elway's fourth Superbowl appearance)  Tony Romo is just a mere 12 years into the league.  It could happen.

And if by some miraculous chance the Cowboys won a Superbowl, fans could accordingly use the phrase, "how 'bout them Cowboys?!!!"  It's a catchy phrase, but from what I remember, it was immortalized by Coach Jimmy Johnson after the team won an AFC Championship game in the early 1990s, back when the Cowboys won Superbowls.  Now it's used freely after any hint of success.

It's funny the way Cowboy fan acts.  If the team is performing horribly, Cowboy fan recedes from social media.  But as soon as they win, they flood Facebook or Twitter with chutzpah and seek out their haters.  Oddly enough, that also happens when the team loses.  Cowboy fan, regrettably, is not a graceful beast.  They will fight for their honor, even though the team hasn't won a single thing in twenty years.

When the team wins the big game, I'll be happy for them and their fans.  I'll be quick to congratulate my friends on their victory.  But for now they need to check their Dez-Bryant-yelling-in-his-underwear bravado at the door.  Wait until you're world champions to start thumping your chest.

Bring on week 2.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Look Out


When I got back to blogging last year, I started a new series called 'Laredo's Greatest Hits.'  In those posts I featured reckless Laredo drivers that damaged public or private property with their vehicles.  It was my attempt to highlight the frequency in which these crashes were occurring, even if I was putting a trivial, insensitive spin on them.  But this week has been a little heavy in terms of people having motor vehicle accidents.

In less than a week since three female joggers were run over by a motorist on Jacaman Rd., there have been a slew of crashes throughout the city.  They include:

A car, with a woman and two children inside, hitting an embankment on Arkansas & Montgomery.
A United High School student who ran into a cement fence with his motorcycle.
A motorist who ran into somebody's yard. (see photo above)
A 20-year old who crashed his sports car on Winfield Drive.  He died.
And a young man who ran into a parked truck and damaged other property. (see photo below)

We all lament the lack of proficiency on the part of some Laredo drivers.  They either drive to slow, too fast, or commit some other egregious traffic violation.  However, the recent happenings cannot be downplayed.  The driving culture in Laredo is in serious trouble, and you know it's true when our former sheriff, Juan Garza, was busted last weekend for driving under the influence of alcohol.  If he can't be trusted to take the public's safety into consideration when getting behind the wheel of an  automobile, then why should we expect it of the rest of us?

This Labor Day weekend, law enforcement will be out looking for drunk drivers and those who might be distracted by cell phones while driving.  Good for everybody.  However, I don't see things improving long term for Laredo drivers, pedestrians and property owners.  The only suggestion I can offer is for people to drive and act defensively, because you never know when tragedy is going to strike.

One of the joggers, and the motorcycle rider, are both recovering in a San Antonio hospital.  Our thoughts are with them.  I'll keep my fingers crossed for the rest of us.


Photo courtesy of KGNS

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Dead Tree


Courtesy photo

Laredo was struck with windy conditions and a chance of rain Monday afternoon.  A huge dust cloud blanketed the Santa Rita area before sunset.  (that's south Laredo, yo.)  Alas it was all a teaser.  No measurable amount of rain fell on our beloved hamlet.  All I found in my backyard were things tousled about.

At the city cemetery a dead tree was toppled.  From the photo above, the tree appears to be a heavy, tall liability.  LaSanbe news did not receive word on any damages or injuries.  What's clear is that the cemetery grounds are in questionable conditions.  The dry grass is understandable; we practically live in a desert.  But there's no reason to have dried-out trees in place in public venues.

Last week I read a Letter to the Editor in the Laredo Times from a person who was complaining of the regrettable condition of the Catholic Cemetery landscape.  The writer described how some parts of the cemetery were bone dry and devoid of grass, while others were watered regularly.  My personal preference for a more xeric cemetery landscape aside, I do agree that a more attentive attitude should be taken with our local camposantos.  Gawd forbid someone should be injured because of lax procedures.  I'm sure the last thing the city wants is a lawsuit.      

Be aware of your surroundings at all times.  You never know when a tree might fall.

Monday, August 31, 2015

He Stands By His Uncle


Former Justice of the Peace Ricardo Rangel begged for leniency at his sentencing trial Friday.  He probably thought he was going to get the book thrown at him like Mike Montemayor.  Montemayor, the former county commissioner, received six years in prison for taking bribes.  Rangel is getting 3 years.

I know I did wrong, but I did more good than wrong.  I know I was getting paid as a justice of the peace, but sometimes it just wasn't enough to do good for people.  

I applaud all the public servants who reach out to the community to lend a hand.  Before school started last week, some were out handing backpacks to needy students.  Others provide school supplies or clothes.  Rangel was one who put himself out there for the residents of south Laredo.



Photo above courtesy of LaredoBuzz.com

But what he sees as good deeds on his part are actually patron-like tactics that the natives are far too familiar with.  His paltry $85,000 yearly JP salary apparently wasn't enough to carry out his compassionate acts for the people -- he had to resort to taking bribes.  At least that's how he rationalizes it.  But how does the Las Vegas trip, courtesy of one bail bond company, fit in to his altruism?  He's supposed to carry out the law, not pervert it for his own sake.

I realize that people go into public service for different reasons: they want to do right by the community; they want to leave behind a legacy; they want to take advantage of the spoils of the system.  Whatever the reason is, I think they get too lax with the rules they're supposed to abide by.  A Rolex watch gift or sporting event tickets are just perks for all the work politicians put in.  It's not really corruption especially if nobody is paying attention.



Councilman Esteban Rangel, Ricardo Rangel's nephew, offered his comments to the LMT's Phillip Balli.  Rangel was quoted in yesterday's paper:
As elected officials we're always understandably in the spotlight.  If you walk down the streets in south Laredo, anyone will tell you that my uncle was a man that was willing to help the people.  There are still those who call him judge because he earned that title through his service to the community.  At the end of the day we respect the law and let it run its course.
It's clear that Councilman Rangel is supporting his now-inmate uncle.  It's natural for family members to stand alongside one another when another commits a crime.  What Rangel fails to realize is that his uncle is supposed to be held to a higher standard, as is he.  The younger Rangel, however, is a political novice and it shows.  He and Ricardo Rangel don't understand that all his supposed good work is now tarnished, and undone, all because the JP was quick to take plenty a kickback.  And spare me the use of "at the end of the day."  That word filler phrase is one of his favorites, and he'll surely use it freely at tonight's city council meeting.

The Rangels of the world can pretend to be Robin Hood all they want.  What we see, instead, are people who are willing to participate in a system that's rigged to their advantage.  No backpack giveaway or turkey dinner hosting can undo the crimes that one person commits.  And for someone else who tries to downplay it all is shortsighted in his/her assessment.  This is a plague upon our society and nobody should stand for it, even if you're related.

Every Laredo politician's "service" is now in question because of what Ricardo Rangel did.



Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Things Changin'



San Bernardo, aka La Sanbe(r), is seeing some changes.  The development of retail and hotel space is coming along ahead of the outlet mall, which will be located at the site of the old Riverdrive Mall.  Pictured above is the new Best Western located on San Bernardo Ave. and Sherman.  The landscaping, which is one of the last things to go in, has been installed.  I applaud them for using native plants in their design.

The Best Western is about 1.5 miles from downtown Laredo.  It'll make for a convenient stopover for shopping tourists.  Good luck to the new Sanbe resident.

Before Best Western became a reality, the city block was occupied by El Cortez Motel.


(courtesy photo)

El Cortez had seen better days.  About two years ago I posted photos of an abandoned Cortez that had turned to blight.


My mother shared with me her experience working at El Cortez when she was a young lady.  My aunt and uncle also worked there before they were married.


 New things are upon us throughout the city.  We here at LaSanbe headquarters like to look back a little.  Enjoy.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

He Walks



Johnny Amaya was booked last year for allegedly tampering with government records.  As the water utilities director for Webb County, he received numerous reprimands.  In his trial last week, one of Mr. Amaya's subordinates changed his 'not guilty' plea and testified against him.  Amaya was the person who signed off on the water quality reports - the ones that employees said that he ordered them to alter.  Yet yesterday he was found not guilty of tampering with records or engaging in criminal activity.

It all seemed like a slam dunk for prosecutors.  Here they had a man who dressed down for his own trial.  He was so incompetent in his courtroom attire choice as he was in the handling of the water treatment plant.  And the co-defendant turning against Amaya meant a guilty verdict was a lock.  But this was the trial where focus was shifted to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ).  Apparently they were the ones who were responsible for providing rural residents with contaminated water.  Via the Texas Tribune:
Is it because you think Mexican Americans have a high tolerance for dirty water?
The TCEQ was on trial and Armando Trevino, Mr. Luis Camacho's attorney, was quick to use the race card.  Fausto Sosa, Amaya's lawyer, claimed there was a systemic failure at the state and county level.  How convenient that Mr. Amaya never realized that a systemic failure existed when he was gladly collecting a paycheck from the county.  How convenient that he never knew of a systemic failure when he was reprimanded by the county numerous times and was even eligible for termination.  Of course, he never knew anything about that.

Johnny Amaya was not part of the far-reaching systemic failure in running the water treatment plant; he was only the director of the facility.  And for that he can go home and sleep well at night.

It would be interesting to know if heads were going to roll at the DA's office after this disappointing result.  I don't know, however, if that's the way things work around here.  All I know is that we as taxpayers got screwed after the county kept this clusterfuck of a man on as water utilities director.  All I know is that the people of El Cenizo, and Rio Bravo got screwed for being fed E.coli-laden water.

Johnny Amaya is everything that is wrong with local government.  He was a willing participant in a system that thrives on cronyism.  He is gone now, but his case will be a reminder that people around here, more often than not, don't face consequences for their actions.  

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

What Is Their Motive?


Just as Esteban Rangel wants to score political points with the people in Rio Bravo and El Cenizo, I think that Roberto Balli is trying to do something similar.  Rangel proposed taking over the water plant in El Cenizo, TX to make life easier for Webb County officials.  Rumblings around town have indicated that E.R. is planning a run for county commissioner.  That remains to be seen.  Me thinks his plan for the water plant is a ploy for him to look good with the constituents of south Laredo and Webb Co.

Balli, on the other hand, wants to install a fitness center for senior citizens at the vacant Southern Hotel, a property that the city owns, apparently.  While I think the idea has some merit, my cynical side nudges me into thinking that Balli would have at his disposal a place to influence elderly voters.  For his runoff contest, Balli treated adult daycare members to a party where he offered gifts to those who attended.  If he had a captive audience that he could manipulate, he could easily cruise to victory for another term.

In 2008 I posted a story about voters being assisted in voting.  Again, it was the elderly that were being led by the hand, literally, to cast a vote.  It seems that Laredo politicians will stop at nothing to gain an advantage.