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.