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

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.

Image above added on 11/11/2018.  Image via Google Maps.

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.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

This Day In Laredo: December 5

Photo via 1987 Pitahaya Yearbook

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt visited Laredo and Nuevo Laredo.  She wrote fondly of her experience here.  The Plaza Hotel served as host for Mrs. Roosevelt.  The building still stands but has taken on a new name and purpose.

UPDATE: July 19, 2021 -- information found online.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Narrative We Choose To Believe

Author and honorary Laredoan Fernando Piñon greeted old friends yesterday as he signed copies of his new book at the Laredo Public Library.  

On the first page of "Searching for America in the Streets of Laredo: The Mexican American Experience in the Anglo American Narrative" the author inscribed, a Laredoan who knows the culture & history of being part of a privileged group of people - a Laredoan.  I think that means me.  Kinds words from a man I've never met before.

(Image via KGNS)

I was impressed by the turnout.  It was a sizable gathering that included a Who's Who of Laredo.  (I did not spot not a one current elected official in the bunch.)  Regardless of whether the crowd was mostly made up of Pinon's friends, I think everyone wanted to get his take on Laredo culture.  

Mr. Piñon grew up in El Azteca, one of Laredo's first barrios.  As the author recalled, there were no Anglos in that neighborhood.  His earliest exposure to the Anglo American culture was through comic books, or movies he enjoyed at the Plaza Theater.  The heroes he admired, the ones that battled the evildoers, however, were always white.  Piñon enjoyed the tales of good versus evil, but he eventually acknowledged the fact that people of color were featured in different roles, occasionally as characters who were, how you say, less than admirable.  And this is where the conflict arose for Piñon.

According to the author, America's sense of superiority is always rooted in the Anglo American version of history.  It's the white person that is better than the minority; beauty is measured by how much more fair one's skin is.  It's that 'narrative' that sets the standard for the rest of us to strive towards.  But in believing that we are, somehow, less than our Anglo counterparts, we set limits for ourselves that keep us from succeeding, from reaching our full potential.

What we need is a swift kick in the pants.  Actually, Mr. Piñon believes that, through a sense of mission and self confidence, we can attain our dreams.  It's through our own struggles that we empower ourselves.  We all have the capacity for something better; However, he suggests meting out a little motivation to each other every now and then to get us out of the rut of second-guessing ourselves.  

When we can prove that Latinos, Blacks and every person living in this country helped to mold this nation, then we can prop up the ideals that America flaunts, that we all have a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  It's when we can equally embody the notion that all men are created equal that our nation can evolve and be the example it sets out to be for the rest of the world.  Countries come and go, Piñon said.  What makes up a nation is its people at that certain point in time.  In the foreword to Searching for AmericaPiñon cites Edmund Burke's concept of society:
Since the objective of this partnership cannot be obtained in one generation, this contract becomes a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are yet to be born.
The Anglo narrative is far-reaching, and that was grossly evident last night as I was eating dinner at Fuddruckers with one too many a George Washington's Birthday Celebration (WBCA) poster around me.  We all glorify our Founding Fathers, and that's fine to a certain point.  They deserve props for what they did, but everybody who helped build this nation, and everybody who has influence in modern society equally deserves their due.

The Anglo American narrative has run its course.  We have to acknowledge that America today is made up of much more than the Ward and June Cleaver family model.  We have to acknowledge that the American narrative today is made up of people of different colors and stripes.  If we dismiss the contributions of all cultures in America, then we will constantly be in a state of dissonance, as Fernando Piñon describes.    

As far as I know, the book is not available through any retailer.  Contact the public library to see if they have a copy.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

This Day In Laredo: August 10

Somewhere in a Laredo barrio.

August 10, 1977 - Mall del Norte was open for business in Laredo, Texas.  The first stores to open at the shopping center included Sears, Bealls, Musicland, Chick Fil-A and Montgomery Ward.  Hachar came in 1978.  Riverdrive Mall, in the downtown area, differed in that it had J.C. Penney, but no movie theater.

United Artists movie theaters were located near the food court (Sal's Pizza, Silver Coin) and the Cowboy's Corner kiosk.

The image above was taken from a high school year book (1981)

I remember browsing their inventory and maybe buying a thing or two.  The "Urban Cowboy" (1980) look was all the craze then.  The owners surely capitalized on it.  It's things like this, Cowboy's Corner and Silver Coin, that I remember from cruising the mall on weekends.  A lot has changed and the mall has gotten bigger.

I don't frequent Mall del Norte as much anymore.  It's rare when I actually walk from one end of the facility to the other.  When I do visit I can't help but recall the stores that have come and gone from the mall.  The movies are still there, albeit in a new location.  But no longer does the public have a need for record stores or arcades.  Nevertheless, on this day we pay tribute to one of Laredo's icons.

Ticket booth for movies at the mall, circa 1986, via La Pitahaya.

Image of Whistle Stop grabbed from a YouTube video.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Cockamamie Pipe Dream

It's hard to take Esteban Rangel's recent comments seriously after I caught an elderly woman, using a Rollator Walker no less, filling her plastic container with water at an Igloo (or whatever they're called) station.  I was driving by the Super S on the corner of Clark and Springfield when I noticed the lady making her purchase.  Apparently the senora de la tercera edad didn't get the memo from Councilman Rangel:  "Since we are in the water business, it somewhat seems it would be doable." (LMT - Kendra Ablaza)  Rangel was commenting on his idea to take over the water treatment plant in El Cenizo, TX.

(This is an old photo I dug out of the LaSanbe vault.  Don't look for the lady.)

I don't know if it's shear ego or incompetence on the part of Rangel to think that the City of Laredo could and should take over water-cleaning responsibilities from the county.

Two years ago the TCEQ urged the citizens of Rio Bravo and El Cenizo to boil water meant for consumption because water treatment plant officials apparently weren't up to the task of managing the facility properly.  Now the county is trying to remedy all its water plant woes and its former utilities director is facing criminal charges for fraud.  So, of course, *you know, Esteban Rangel would think that, *you know, now is the perfect time to relieve Webb County of, *you know, its water duties.  He can offer up his plan because, naturally, Laredo has its ship together.

Just yesterday a water main break reportedly took place along McPherson Rd & Manadas Creek, affecting the upper crust enclaves of Laredo, such as Plantation and Regency.  In south Laredo, people who live on Gates St. have had the misfortune of dealing with blockades and heavy equipment because of some street work going on.  Water pipe work?  Most likely.


Business owners situated on San Bernardo Ave. are none too happy with all the water service interruptions that have occurred as of late.  I happened to come across that water line break last week when I was making my way out of the downtown area.  Again, there was a blockade and I had to take an alternate route.

If the streets of Laredo are all bumpy, uneven, it's probably because the utilities department has been there to patch things up.  The photo below I posted on Twitter on June 28.  This street crater I found right in front of the Civic Center Pool....Perdon! The Cecilia May Moreno Aquatic Center.

There's always a reason to celebrate, or so the new Laredo motto suggests.  There's also always a reason to watch where you're going because our streets are treacherous from all the water infrastructure deficiencies and their subsequent repairs.

I think it's arrogant of Esteban Rangel to want to wrestle control of the Webb County water plant when the city has its hands full with its own water system.  How can he expect to ease commissioners of its "headache" of a water treatment plant when we've got headaches of our own?  Quien chingows se cree?  So the city has invested heavily in new water treatment systems, so what?  That gives you no right to overstep your boundaries (literally) and insult your county counterparts in the process.  Let the county leaders handle their own problems, just like the city allowed them to manage their own fire and EMS needs five years ago.  They're big boys and they can handle their own big boy problems.  

Stop it with these cockamamie pipe dreams, Mr. Rangel.  (I might just trademark that phrase)  Having your political agenda play out through the media is embarrassing.  It's one thing to be diplomatic and sit down with all interested parties in a courteous fashion in order to come to a solution.  What seems to have happened instead is that you didn't do your homework, or consult anybody, and went on about suggesting a plan for the city that may or may not be feasible.  Basically, you're revealing your inner Johnny Amaya, incompetent and ill-equipped as he was.

Do us all a favor and go score some cheap political points somewhere else.  

(*you know refers to Esteban Rangel's Tourette's.  He can't utter a single sentence without inserting those two words several times)

Monday, August 3, 2015

This Day In Laredo: August 3

The Laredo Lemurs played their first game on May 17, 2012 in Laredo, but it was on August 3, 2011 that the team name and logo was unveiled to the public.  The Laredo Broncos, who played at West Martin Field for five seasons, started their last stretch of games in August 2010.  At that point, the City of Laredo was already working to part ways with the organization.

$23 million in construction costs later, naming rights for Eduardo Garza (Uni-Trade) and three years without me setting foot inside the baseball facility, I couldn't tell you anything about Lemurs baseball or if the whole scheme was worth it.  For now, games are being played at Uni-Trade Stadium; however, what the public response is is beyond me.

Other fun fact: On August 3, 1983, the unemployment rate in Laredo was 27.2 percent.  (peso devaluation)