Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Person Of The Year: El Balli

Laredo attorney and man who pronounces his last name like that of an Indonesian province, Roberto Balli, is this year's Person of the Year. 

Earlier this month, Balli was dealt a crushing and well-deserved blow to his political career: he lost his re-election bid to a write-in candidate.  Sure, that candidate came from a respected family and had plenty of resources to beat an unscrupulous incumbent, but those are the breaks in local politics.  Serves him right.  Balli treated his female challenger with the same contempt that Henry Cuellar used against Jessica Cisneros.  There was nothing honorable about his attitude.  

But apart from his boorish behavior, Balli was embroiled in a scheme that should be a topic of discussion today.  People went on record to state that the former ferret face council member, along with firefighter union members, solicited votes from District 8 residents as they went around distributing bags of food. The food packages were paid for with federal money.  Balli, of course, denied the allegations that his actions were nefarious.  That plan failed to win him another term; he is now history.  

Far be it from me to drag Balli's good name through the mud.  I mean, it's not like the man did the same thing before -- rounding up needy people and showering them with gifts, in return for their votes.  THAT'S NOT HIS M.O.!!!

Balli's legacy as District 8 council member does have its merits.  He hosted a mean movie night event at St. Peter's Plaza.  He installed a gym space and food panty-like store at the Southern Hotel, after the downtown HEB closed.  He signed a steel beam for the outlet mall downtown.  He landed on the FBI's target list of public officials suspected of corruption.

And he went along with buying expensive property from political insiders, instead of pushing for the use of vacant, city-owned spaces for the relocation of the Planning & Zoning Department.  Oh! and he named a downtown building after his campaign manager.  

Balli kept busy.  But now he can ride off into the sunset and rest on his laurels.  He can take a load off from having to constantly insist that he really did live in District 8, and not at his lavish north side estate.  He can let go of having to keep public records private, because he used to be a highfalutin attorney and NOT because it showed that he was using a fake homestead address to gain favor.

Balli did more dubious things in his short stint than most politicos do their whole careers.  And it looks like he'll go unscathed.  I would say so long to him, but I have a feeling we haven't seen the last of Roberto Bali.  Thanks for the memories, sir.  You showed us how the game is played.  The old patron system is long dead, but you kept the spirit of their immoral character alive.  And for that, you are La Sanbe's Person of the Year.  

Bravo, Mr. Balli, or Bali, or whatever the fuck your name is.     

Saturday, December 26, 2020

The Man Could Tweet


(Passage from Armando Cisneros' obituary)

It will be two weeks tomorrow that we learned of Armando Cisneros' sudden passing.  The news shocked everyone that knew him.  There had not been any hint of a recent illness; and Maximiliano, as I knew him, had been very active on Twitter.  Through online communications with acquaintances and his brother Luis, I found out what happened to our friend Max. 

The last time I ran into him was in July 2019, during a meeting in city hall chambers.  The purpose of the gathering was the ethics commission deciding the fate of his friend "Vish."  The outcome was not favorable for the private citizen.  Max, it seemed, lived for that sort of civic engagement.  If city leaders were going to meet, I knew Max would be there.  He was so committed to being involved, aware and to bettering his community, as the testimonial above states.  He served on several municipal committees.  In 2014 he helped to start Our Laredo, a band of local activists whose mission was to educate the public of the goings on concerning city government.  

Max's devotion was something to be admired and emulated.  He showed us how to speak for ourselves and those who didn't hold positions of power.  

What made Max more special was his wit and laid back demeanor.  There was no air of pretentiousness.  He brought to the table a wealth of knowledge with a sense of accessibility.  It was apparent in his tweets.  He was a smart individual, willing to be a part of the world outside of his own, without being overbearing.  I'm so thankful that he was very active on Twitter, something rare for many Laredoans.  His presence on the social media platform made me feel connected to him.  I won't get a chance to meet Max again, but I want to share some of his tweets, to give people a different look at the man who stood up to power.

The "apparently" tweet was his response to a viral video of Laredo Karen, a woman that went on a rampage at a local trail against people that were wearing masks.  The video maniac used the word apparently several times and Max referenced an old clip of a precocious, budding news person.

Xesus Xeriscaping was Max responding to one of my obsessions: native plants.  Did I mention he was creative?

Leonid Brezhnev.  Who in the hell namedrops Leonid Brezhnev?!  Max! that's who!  I'm losing my shit just reading that tweet.  I criticized Donald Sutherland's bushy eyebrows in HBO's "The Undoing."  Max upped the ante with a reference to a former world leader.  Bravo, Max.  That tweet I may have to frame.

One feature I share with Kirk Douglas is a chin dimple.  But don't call me Spartacus.  As a fellow blogger and tracker of Laredo lore, Max was keen to the peculiar editing of the movie "Eddie Macon's Run," a movie that was filmed in Laredo in the early 1980s.  Max brought to our attention another movie with a more nonsensical plot: "Viva Max."  The movie has a Mexican brigade, trying to cross into the United States by saying that they are going to march in the WBCA parade.  It's an obscure movie with a crazy story.  Just my kind of viewing.  Viva Max Cisneros for the heads up!

Laredo's Border Blaster was Max's suggestion at naming my podcast.  Ultimately it was decided to use The Tweets of Laredo, an homage to "The Streets of Laredo."  Max may have joined us in the podcast debut, albeit, as a fly on the wall.  He didn't join in in the conversation.  I was really hoping to having him on as a guest in future recordings.  

BOLAS, or Blogs of Laredo Association Statistics, or something like that, was a Max original.  The man was creative AND PROLIFIC!  Max came up with that acronym for Laredo's small circle of bloggers.  In the tweet he was asserting the veracity of my status as Laredo's Most Imposing Blogger, a label appropriated by another local writer/blogger/historian.

Less is less was Max's entry for a slogan for Laredo.  Mine was: Laredo: don't expect much.

Blogger. Brezhnev. Borat.  Not sure if Max was familiar with Borat's work but he was able to take a stab at the character's language.  Magnifico!

There is a Tic-tok video that features workers at a border fence construction site. In the background there is a Mexican immigrant scaling the tall structure and scurrying to freedom in the U.S.  As that is happening, one of the workers exclaims, miralo, miralo, iralo, iralo!  That caught Max's ear; and ours too.  Language is flexible in our part of the world and Max was masterful at putting it to use.

Someone tweeted the word mollycoddle.  Having a steel trap for a brain, he shared with us having read the word in "Main Street" by Sinclair Lewis.  Guess what my next book purchase will be. 

In the T minus mooch tweet, Max was referencing the days counting down to the November election.  Mooch refers to Anthony Scaramucci and his short-lived tenure in the Trump administration.  One Scaramucci is 11 days or so.  

Max grew up on Laredo's west side.  When I tweeted about a man that drove a truck around my neighborhood selling menudo, he shared a similar story.  The vendor he knew, however, sold Baaar-ba-cooa!!!!!  Max was an educated man but son had street cred!!!!!  

Speaking of flexing his street credentials, max could provide advice to newcomers who had trouble deciphering the nuances of our language.  To TPR reporter Maria Mendez he offered the term Ladero, easing her anxiety about the right way to pronounce Laredo.  Max made it known that, here, all is fair in love and wording.

The mosca tweet alludes to VP Mike Pence's eye malady and his allure for flies.  Max was just speculating on Pence's red eye and throwing in some code switching. 

Church's Fried Chicken opened its dining area in late September.  I made a joke about how only three customers could fit.  Max imagined the consequences after patrons downed a "3-piece with the works!"  I'm guessing that includes an apple pie and jalapeƱos.  I could be right.  

This is only a taste of what Armando Cisneros tweeted while he was with us.  His presence on Twitter was reassuring and delightful.  The man had a knack for it.  I'm definitely going to miss his humor and insight. I'll definitely go back to reading Max's tweets.  I'm sure they're bound to inspire a host of emotions.   

RIP Max.  We'll try to hold down the fort for you.  

Sunday, December 13, 2020

The Song And Dance Is Over


Four runoff races were decided yesterday:

Ruben Gutierrez is the new District 5 council member, replacing one-term incumbent Nelly Vielma.  Gutierrez was interviewed on KGNS last night and said something to the effect of, the people are tired of the same old politics.  That's funny, considering that he took $23,000 from the Fire Department PAC and $9,000 from the Laredo Police Officers Association to fund his campaign.  One thing that's ingrained in city hall's functioning is the pay-to-play schemes.  Local first responder unions have made it a habit of backing candidates and they expect reciprocity when their contracts are renegotiated.  

Congratulations, Mr. Gutierrez.  You're a part of the game and you haven't even been sworn in yet.

Outgoing District 7 council member and political martyr George Altgelt will be replaced by newbie Vanessa Perez.  She edged out veteran Betty Flores.  Flores face-timed with KGNS' Ruben Villarreal last night, while eating fajitas at the Firefighters Union Hall.  This union-backed candidate lost her bid, but won our hearts with her online video mastication.  

Making history was write-in candidate Alyssa Cigarroa, daughter of local cardiologist, Dr. Ricardo Cigarroa.  She rode the family's coattails to victory against a defective Roberto Balli.  Balli could've ridden off into obscurity, without leaving a trace of actual progress for District 8, but he managed to rack up a list of questionable activities that should be studied in the coming months.  And I may just do that. 

(Brenda Camacho from KGNS posted the results of the races on her FB feed last night.)

For Laredo College Place 7 trustee, Karina Elizondo beat Ricardo Gonzalez.  

One last thing I wanted to mention about election night is the gatherings that took place after the polls closed.  In the Laredo Times photo above, you can see the candidates mingling with MANY people, NOT social distancing and probably violating the city's curfew.  Covid-19 has brought us a worrisome spike in cases and both hospitals are experiencing high census numbers and staffing issues.  Candidates didn't want the virus to spoil their campaign activities, though.  Win or lose, they were going to go celebrate the end of the political season.  I hope and pray for them that no one gets sick now.     

Saturday, October 31, 2020

A Little Something For Everyone


Local print media has done a great job of exposing the suspicious relationship between Councilman Roberto Balli and the Laredo Fire PAC organization.  They are under scrutiny for allegedly assisting the Laredo Regional Food Bank with deliveries in District 8 and telling the food recipients that Councilman Balli was responsible for the assistance.  People who were paid a visit by the PAC members and Balli were asked for their votes.  The General Election, in which Balli is facing several challengers, is scheduled for November 3, 2020.  

The food that was packaged into bundles was purchased by the food bank with CARES Act funding.  City council approved that federal funding for the non-profit agency.  

Apparently, the Laredo Fire PAC had helped the food bank before, but what called this occasion into question was that the food deliveries were almost exclusively made to registered voters in Balli's district.  

In an affidavit presented to city council, people vouched that they were led on by the PAC members and Balli, either to misrepresent information or to reward Balli with votes.  The notarized statement was delivered to city hall by a local activist and posted on Facebook by Our Laredo.  

Props to the writers and local activists who have shed light on this matter, one that could have deleterious consequences for our community.  I can only bow to their masterful efforts and humbly compose a timeline of events, as a lowly blogger is prone to do.  I give you TIMELINE #8:

Summer 2020: city council discusses the disbursement of CARES Act funding.

Firefighters take leave hours and pay in order to help the Laredo Regional Food Bank. They also collect pay from the union for the off-duty activity.  Spouses, too, are hired by the union to deliver food. 

July 2020: Firefighter Daniel Perez offers Lorena Gomez the job of delivering food to people. Perez would prepare talking points for those who made food deliveries: vote for Balli

August 2020: Gomez was employed by the Laredo Fire PAC.

Perez also told Lorena Gomez, other PAC members, and their wives to take bags of food for themselves. 

Paychecks labeled with "Food Drive #8" were handed out by firefighter Andy Mendoza.

Apart from delivering food to private, needy citizens, it was also delivered to: Roberto Balli's wife; a campaign worker who lived at 1415 Sanchez; and Balli's campaign manager Martha Narvaez

August 10, 2020: Lorena Gomez was let go by the PAC, supposedly because she did not support Balli's campaign. That same day she was hired by the Alyssa Cigarroa campaign, a competitor to Roberto Balli.

The Laredo Regional Food Bank broke ties with the fire PAC after getting word of the nefarious details.

August 17, 2020  Laredo Times headline: Political ties questioned as Laredo Fire PAC, food bank team up.

City staff start an investigation into the misappropriation of funds

September 28, 2020: Veronica Villarreal (political precinct boss) told private investigators (Sepulveda and Winterroth) that she received several bags of food from Balli himself. She, however, did not support his re-election campaign. Villarreal gave the food to her neighbors, instead. 

Councilman Balli delivered bags of food to several locations. (food recipients attested to this in an affidavit)

October 5, 2020: investigators compared the list compiled by the fire PAC to the names of registered voters in District 8, Balli's district. An overwhelming majority of those on the PAC's list were voters from the councilman's district. 

Union President David Gonzalez avowed that PAC members were to identify themselves to homeowners as firefighters and that Roberto Balli asked for the PAC's help. Furthermore, he said that food deliveries were to be attributed to Roberto Balli. 

October 19, 2019 council agenda item: discuss the saga of the food packages and its delivery people.

City staff said it was not done with its investigation.  Council voted to NOT have city employees participate in partisan activities. Local activists helped to spread the word regarding the contents of the affidavit. 

October 25, 2020  Laredo Times headline: more questions emerge in food delivery partnership.

October 25  LareDOS headline: Sworn affidavit alleges fire PAC members delivered federal CARES Act food to District VIII registered voters rather than to elderly, disabled. 

October 30, 2020  City of Laredo dedicates remodeled building in downtown Laredo (District 8) to Roberto Balli's campaign manager Martha Narvaez. 

Thursday, October 15, 2020

The Days Seem So Long


On the first day of early voting, October 13, 2020, there were a total of 4,056 votes cast.  People posted on social media photos of voters lined up at the Laredo Fire Department building on Del Mar and at the City Hall Annex.  While it's a decent number, it doesn't compare to the record-breaking counts that were seen in other Texas cities, such as Houston.  

Joe Biden has a double-digit lead in polls, over Donald the con artist.  Texas may be in play.  If the current White House occupant lost Texas, there would be no path to victory, whatsoever.  

19 days to go until the General Election.  There is a pandemic going on.  Flu season is upon us.  (Already got my flu shot.)  And a mediocre female judge is on the verge of being installed to the Supreme Court, to fill the position left vacant by Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  Crazy times. 

UPDATE: October 31, 2020 (Saturday)

Yesterday was the last day of early voting in Texas.  A total of 54,000 votes were cast in Webb County during early voting.  Webb has almost 138,000 registered voters.  Texas overall has seen record turnout; and younger voters, between the ages of 18 and 29, are fueling the current surge.  The 2nd/3rd wave of the Coronavirus pandemic is in progress, so it's impressive to see people standing in line, for hours in some cities, to cast their vote.  

Sunday, August 30, 2020

They Come And Go


Jaime Canales was sentenced to prison on August 20, 2020.  The details of the case paint a bleak picture of politics in Laredo. 

(Edits to follow)

And just as that happened, we learn of the new spate of candidates seeking office in November.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Twelve Weeks To Election


This clipping is from August 9.  Alyssa Cigarroa is running against Robert Bali in November.

A person by the name of Dorantes is also running.  This is the corner of Sanchez and San Dario.

I don't know if Alberto Torres has a challenger, but his signs have been plenty in central Laredo.  Apparently he has money to spend on air-brushed images of himself.  These things started popping up in late July.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Justifying Death With Language

I am pissed that the local media says covid deaths with underlying health conditions. This makes people think they're immune from it. Guess what people, underlying health conditions: high blood pressure, diabetes, over weight..... Everyone has underlying health conditions. (Comment via Twitter)

I fully understand where that sentiment is coming from. Laredo officials pop up on our social media feeds to give us the new tallies of those affected by Covid-19. As of early this afternoon, 2,163 Laredoans have tested positive for Coronavirus; and the new death toll is at 36. The practice of having our leaders go through a presentation by roll call has become rote. Worse yet, they remind us that those who have perished had some sort of underlying condition.  

It's useless information for the layman, really. Death should be death. It shouldn't be qualified with vague language. And underlying conditions can be any host of medical ailments. You turn 40 and you automatically join the underlying condition peer group. If I jump onto a scale right now and refer to a BMI chart, I'll be reminded that I fall into the obese category. I don't consider myself obese. However, researchers have come up with a system to help me gauge my well being. They're saying, watch your weight and eat better for improved results over the long term. Still, I gorge on chips and down them with a sugary soda, because I still haven't crossed the event horizon. I'm doing okay and I have plenty of time to make corrections. That's my thought process.

The messaging that's echoed by our leaders and media outlets is doing the same: it's reassuring us that this new virus has an ugly fate for the weakest among us. Those with unmanaged comorbidities, those who are frail are the ones with one foot in the grave. The others will die, not us! Our doctors have never uttered the words underlying condition to our face, and thus, we should be fine.

We rationalize death to assuage our own fears and neglect to think that anyone with a medical condition can live a productive life.

In looking at inspirational thoughts for people with cancer, I came across this one: Cancer is a word, not a death sentence. In our current public health crisis, Covid-19 plus underlying condition equals death sentence. At least, that's what the wording tells us. Uttering underlying condition time and again is repetitive and vacuous. Meaning is stripped away from a person's death.  

36 Laredoans have died -- they probably didn't have to. But because of our lack of leadership, they did. Our response has been inefficient and marred by bickering. Medical treatment is reactive and there's no telling when we'll have a useful vaccine to combat our virulent enemy. Blacks and Latinos are disproportionately affected by Covid-19. All of this should be flagged as the contributing cause of death, not underlying condition(s).

There's too much confusion, however. The only consistent messaging thrown at us is underlying conditions. We'll use it as a salve for the psychological wound inflicted upon us. It's all we've got at this point.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Bland Comments From City Leaders

The tweet from Congressman Henry Cuellar makes no mention of police brutality.  His thoughts on the current crisis around the country go as far as the Twitter character count rule. 

I unequivocally support our country's law enforcement, who work every day to protect our communities.  However, supporting law enforcement doesn't mean we can't have transparency & accountability.  We must do better to provide liberty & justice for all, including #George Floyd.

LPD Union President Rogelio Nevarez sticks to the noble causes of police officers.  It's tone deaf, among other things. 

We've been out in the community for six decades now, and we've given thousands of dollars in scholarships and have provided thousands of backpacks, we've done Christmas presents for all of the kids, so we've been doing things in the community, and part of the union is community service.  I don't know what perception they have of it, but our whole purpose is to make sure that we are here for our officers and their rights as employees and that they are equipped and trained properly.  (Another role the union plays is negotiating salaries for officers, making sure compensation is commensurate with the dangers that come with the job.)

And finally the city.  Mayor Pete Saenz and City Manager Robert Eads give the killing of George Floyd a little more thought.  There are hints of reassurance towards the public, that acts of violence from police can be reported.  See if you can spot them.

The City of Laredo firmly believes in the right to peacefully assemble and have your voice heard. The tragic death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and the death of countless people of color throughout history, has spurred nationwide protests and reignited the dialogue about institutionalized racism and justice in this country. We send our condolences to the family of Mr. Floyd during these most difficult times.

We are not silent on this issue. Our city leaders have taken progressive approaches to protect the rights and safety of our citizens and have a zero tolerance approach to racism.

Our police force is composed of a highly trained, experienced, and diverse group of men and women who reflect the faces of our citizenry. 

The Laredo Police Department has consistently engaged the community residents in a meaningful way that show not only are police officers here to protect them, but that they are also available and within reach so that they can communicate any concerns, make suggestions and network with their police department to make their community safer and more progressive.

Public activities such as Coffee with a Cop, bike rodeos, collaborations with our local university and community college are just a few of the many ways that we invite and open lines of communications with our citizenry to allow them to get to know us and understand the specific issues in our city.

Citizen engagement through our social media channels, which gives alerts and news updates 24-7, and the Laredo PD app which allows citizens the opportunity to participate in the reporting 

of crimes with complete anonymity, have become meaningful venues of communication.

New technology and continued citizen engagement opportunities are the progressive, proactive paths to better communication and citizen engagement.

All of this is done with the well-being of every citizen in mind and inclusive of new innovative ideas and adopted best practices which make the Laredo Police Departments one of the best police departments in the country.

We welcome this opportunity to have a city-wide discussion about injustices in our community. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, City Hall and all public buildings have been closed to the public since April 14, 2020. Online, phone and drive-thru services remain uninterrupted.

Given the current COVID-19 safety precautions that are in place, anyone can request a virtual meeting with the Mayor, the City Manager, or any elected official by contacting their office and going through the proper channels.

Our city and our employees continue to work for the safety and justice of all Laredoans.

(I emphasized some words)

No mention is made of past lapses by local police.  And there is no emphatic denouncement towards police brutality.  There is no mention of the process by which a person can submit a complaint of police abuse and the recourse that one has. 

A rally was held at city hall, on May 30, relating to the death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement.  No city officials were present at the event.  And when rally organizers attempted to speak to city officials this week, nobody from a position of power made themselves available.  They can meet with the media, face to face, but they can't make time for their own citizenry. 

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Rally At City Hall

A local activist group, Red Wing United, held a rally outside city hall yesterday afternoon.  The focus of the event was to call attention to the death of George Floyd, the black man who died on May 25 as a result of a Minneapolis police officer kneeling on his neck for several minutes.  Laredoans converged peacefully to ask for justice and policing reform.  

Critics wondered why locals would speak out on the death of a man we didn't know, and who wasn't part of our community.  One of my social media followers even said that cases of police brutality didn't exist in Laredo.  To him I pointed to the case of Frank Carter, the former Laredo police officer who assaulted a person that was handcuffed.  Carter was sentenced to prison in 2013 for violating the person's civil rights. 

In 2014, Laredo police unloaded dozens of rounds on Jose Walter Garza at a truck stop on Santa Maria Ave.  As he laid dead, officers approached Garza's body, fist-bumped and then handcuffed him.  His demise was determined to be suicide by cop.  The incident was recalled at the event yesterday.

Priscilla Villarreal, aka La Gordiloca, turned herself in to authorities in 2017.  She was charged with misuse of official information.  A court ruled that the statute used against her was vague.  Villarreal claimed that police and the district attorney pursued charges against her as a form of intimidation.

An immigrant woman from Guatemala, Claudia Patricia Gomez Gonzalez, was gunned down by Border Patrol in 2018 in nearby Rio Bravo, TX.  An BP officer fired at Gomez Gonzalez because officers were being attacked with "blunt objects."

Our community does not have a significant African-American population, but we should relate to instances where officials overstep their authority.  Brown people have also died at the hands of police officers.  Because it doesn't happen here doesn't mean we shouldn't comment on police brutality or call for justice.  People of color are disproportionately mistreated by police, when compared with whites offenders.  Laredo seems to be far flung from the rest of the nation, a town that most people can't find on a map.  But we shouldn't go about our lives thinking that we are immune to the ills of society.  Shit happens here too and we shouldn't be silent or willfully ignorant of it.  


Sunday, April 5, 2020

Laredo Covid Timeline: April

Wednesday, April 1, 2020: Officials announce third death from Covid-19. (The person passed away March 31.)

April 2: Laredo Times prints numbers of Covid-19 cases, including deaths, below their masthead.

April 3: The number of positive Covid-19 cases: 83. Five total deaths reported.

April 4: First death from Covid-19 occurs in Nuevo Laredo.

April 6: The number of positive Covid-19 cases: 122.  

April 7: City of Laredo ordered people to wear a mask any time they were out in public, including for activities like walking or bicycling. 

April 11: No live update given by city officials, only new numbers of Covid cases.

April 12: Easter.  Two more deaths are reported by officials, bringing the total to 8.  

April 15: 10 deaths reported, 239 positive cases of Covid-19.  
[Laredo firefighter dies of gunshot wound in an apartment; CBP officer is arrested.]

April 16: Drive-thru testing begins.  11 deaths reported, 267 positive cases.
[The bodies of 4 family members are discovered in south Laredo; a 20 year-old male was arrested.]

April 18: 267 positive cases of Covid-19. 

April 20: City council meets, decides to open trails and let people walk outside without a mask, unless there is someone else nearby. 
Positive Covid-19 cases: 281. 

April 21: 295 positive Covid cases. 

April 22: 302 positive cases and 12 total deaths. 

April 23: 321 positive cases.

April 24: 13th death reported, person was a nurse aide; 338 positive Covid-19 cases.  Retail-to-go started, with businesses allowed to sell their products curbside: customers not allowed to go inside stores.

April 25: 14 deaths total. 340 positive cases. 

April 26: 15th person died, a man in his 20s. 

Monday, April 27: HEB now open 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.  Governor Abbott will allow retailers, movie theaters, malls, restaurants, museums, libraries to open May 1st, with occupancy recommendation capped at 25 percent.  Stay-at-home order will expire April 30. 

April 30: 363 positive Covid-19 cases -- 16 deaths. 

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Pandemic In Photos: Laredo

An online flier posted online by the health department. (photo via City of Laredo FB alerts)

El Metro accepting ten riders per bus.  Some seats are cordoned off to allow for space between passengers. (photo via Univision live stream on FB)

Grocery stores were encouraged to set aside hours for the elderly to shop. (photo via FB)

Schools started providing meals for students.  Parents were advised to Grab & Go.  (photo via Cigarroa H.S. Twitter)

Front page of the Times from March 17, 2020: first case announced.

Photo taken Sunday, March 15, 2020.  Customers lined up at HEB before the store opened at 8:00 a.m.  I walked to the store, just to take a picture.

TX-DOT reminding drivers to stay safe and healthy.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Coronavirus In Laredo: Timeline

The United States and South Korea each reported their first confirmed case of the coronavirus to the World Health Organization on Jan. 20. (The News Tribune)

Read more here: https://www.thenewstribune.com/news/coronavirus/article241386441.html#storylink=cpy

February 26, 2020: Dr. Hector Gonzalez states that no confirmed cases of Covid-19 exist in our community.

Sunday, March 1:  LMT headline: Webb County officials say they are prepared for coronavirus. 

Tuesday, March 3: No plans for closures.  Dr. Hector Gonzalez: But at this time it is acting like a seasonal cold-like virus. 
Texas primary election: Super Tuesday

Wednesday, March 4, 2020: Health department staff members meet with LISD nurses.
Covid-19 hotline is set up by health department.
Robert Eads is selected as Laredo City Manager.  

Friday, March 6: No testing kits available locally. 

Sunday, March 8: city leaders travel to Washington, D.C. as part of their yearly jaunt.
LMT story: Jorge Vela quoted Dr. Hector Gonzalez: He pointed out that this is due to the fact that COVID-19 is no worse than the regular virus that causes the common cold and that 80% of people don't have symptoms and quickly recover. Therefore, large amounts of medical supplies are not needed. 

Monday, March 9: Texas Department of State Health Services present information to county commissioners regarding Covid 19. Attention is given to jail facility.

Wednesday, March 11: Tom Hanks and wife Rita Wilson quarantined in Australia after testing positive for Covid 19.  NBA season is suspended.
The World Health Organization declares Covid-19 a pandemic
City officials hosted "Laredo Day" in Washington, D.C.
City of Laredo officials: No state of emergency and therefore, there is no need for community-wide social distancing.
Grocery stores are seeing a run on: water, toilet paper, Clorox and anti-bacterial soap. 

Thursday, March 12: UISD statement: Family self-reported that they recently travelled to a European country.
2 patients at Doctors Hospital in isolation tested for Covid-19.

Friday, March 13: LISD teachers send extra work home with students, in case that Spring Break is extended.
Laredo spelling bee postponed.
Laredo College extends Spring Break one more week, until March 27, 2020.
City of Laredo: no confirmed cases of Covid-19; city events canceled for 30 days.
UISD cancels practices, the use of open courts, fields, weight rooms.

Saturday, March 14: The Tecolotes Dos Laredo's suspend preseason games, postpone regular season.
HEB stores close at 8:00 p.m.

Sunday, March 15: Announcement is made by city officials that 2 patients at Doctors Hospital tested negative for Covid 19.

Monday, March 16: First case of Covid 19 is confirmed by health department.  Person had not travelled to any hotspot areas.  Infection was classified as community-acquired.
TX-DOT announces that employees will start working remotely, starting on Monday.
Emergency declaration is announced by city and county officials.  The emergency management plan is set in motion.

Tuesday, March 17: City council convenes an emergency meeting. They vote on a 2-week lockdown. Residents are encouraged to stay home; grocery stores, pharmacies and doctors offices are allowed to stay open.
Facilities that are ordered to close are: bars, bingos, 8-liner joints and entertainment facilities.

Wednesday, March 18: Outlet stores remain open but foot traffic is minimal.
El Cenizo orders a lockdown.
Diocese of Laredo cancels services.
Laredo Police Department headquarters is closed for visitors.
Sheriff's downtown office limits visitors who want to pick up information, reports.
Rio Bravo issues lockdown order.

Thursday, March 19: County judge signs emergency order, restricts gatherings of more than 10 people.
City of Laredo launched text alert app for Laredoans to get Covid 19 updates.

Friday, March 20: Three people tested positive for Covid 19, bringing the total to 4, according to city officials.
The bridges didn't close, but non-essential travel was prohibited.

Saturday, March 21: parks were closed at noon to discourage groups of people from congregating.
Regular unleaded: $1.77 per gallon in south Laredo.
Laredo Federal Credit Union to be open only Monday thru Friday.

Monday, March 23: Schools started Grab & Go meals, providing food for students.
Two more people test positive for CoronaVirus, bringing total to 6.

Tuesday, March 24: City officials report 3 new confirmed cases, bringing total up to 9.
[persons #1 & #2 were co-workers at Hillside Rec. Center; person #2 is teacher at Dovalina Elem.; person #3 CBP agent; person #4 is co-worker of person #1 at Zaffirini Elem.]  
Mexican Consulate in Laredo suspends community activities.

Wednesday, March 25: Total confirmed Covid 19 cases is up to 13.

Friday, March 27: city reported a total of 22 positive cases. 

Saturday, March 28: at 12:01 a.m. shelter in place order to start, with partial curfew.
Laredo Times: Laredo officials deny report of death of a coronavirus patient at LMC. 

Sunday, March 29: 1st death from Covid-19 is reported in Laredo.

Monday, March 30: School districts extend break until April 24, 2020.  
LMT business section: Local restaurants battle to stay open under emergency order that allows only takeout.
City reports 37 positive cases of Covid-19.

Tuesday, March 31: Second death from Covid-19 is reported.
Governor orders schools to remain closed until May 4, 2020.  Only essential services to remain open.
City of Laredo holds meeting, installs curfew for all citizens from 10:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. and people should wear a face covering when going to public places. 

Sunday, March 1, 2020

The Outdoor Stage I Like

Webb County will embark on a major upgrade to LIFE Downs.

It's a unique place for the public to enjoy.  Not my kind of scene but I wish them luck.

Comment via press release:

Laredo, Texas – (February 28, 2020) – Webb County Judge Tano Tijerina along with members of the County Commissioners Court held a Groundbreaking Ceremony and officially unveiled plans for the new Webb County Fair and Expo.

Hundreds of attendees gathered amid the ongoing Laredo International Fair and Exposition. The sounds and aromas of the annual fair permeated the area while the Lamar Middle School Band welcomed attendees with their lively and familiar tunes. 

County Officials emphasized the importance of bringing everyone together as one of the many attributes of this new multi-purpose facility. The new Webb County Fair and Expo will support a wide variety of community events year-round. It will feature flexible and adaptable spaces for numerous civic and community events. It will be place well known for celebrations – where memories are made; a place that allows children to showcase their talents, abilities, and accomplishments.

“The Webb County Fair and Expo has been a top priority for me since taking office. For many of us, some of our earliest and fondest memories were made at the fairgrounds. It has served as a hub for community activities and involvement for years in Webb County. It’s time to reinvigorate this institution to its full glory so that our community and future generations in Webb County will enjoy the fairgrounds for many more years to come”, said Webb County Judge Tano Tijerina.

The venue is designed to host numerous events such as conventions, conferences, concerts, sporting events, graduations and more.

The new 140-acre project will be designed as a park-like campus with an efficient, visitor friendly layout with beautifully landscaped areas, professional on building and way finding signage. 

The new Webb County Fair and Expo will include new:

·         Main Event Arena
·         Banquet Hall
·         Two Exhibition Halls
·         Show Rings
·         Horse Barns
·         Stall Barns
·         Festival Grounds and Outdoor Concert Stage
·         RV Park for Participants
·         Baseball Fields
·         Soccer Fields

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

The Inevitable Wall In Laredo

The newspaper screen shot above is from December 15, 2019.

Federal officials have released their proposal for the location of a fence -- it'll be alongside the river.  If that's true, if the border fence is constructed along the path of the Rio Grande, then the landscape that we've known all our lives will be dramatically altered.

No longer will we have access to one of the great wonders of the world.  The natural beauty of the world which is our tie to another nation will be obstructed by a heap of metal.  We will have given in to fear.  

Saturday, February 15, 2020

The Money Is Not Quite There Yet

Federal funds, which have not yet been secured, are being tagged for major work along Chacon Creek.  Henry Cuellar and city officials held a press conference, on February 3, to announce the millions of dollars that are expected to fund the creek's restoration.  Press conferences like these bolster everyone's image.  We're supposed to think that elected officials are constantly hard at work for the community.  Let's just hope everything falls into place.

$14 million will go towards flood risk management, which includes buying out about 73 property owners that have their homes too close to the creek, where flooding is prevalent.

The people whose homes are bought out will be allowed to relocate wherever they want and receive relocation assistance to help pay for their new home by taking into account how much their property is worth along the creek.  The process is expect to be all voluntary, but imminent domain can be used by the federal government for anybody that is reluctant to sell. 

(Jorge Vela, LMT)

Translation: nobody is going to get Canseco House, or downtown office building, kind of money for their property, not like political insiders are used to getting.  Residents along the Chacon Creek will be lucky if they're offered $150,000 for their homes.

I hope city officials, and the councilman representing this area, especially, are transparent in their dealing with the people that will be relocated.