Friday, February 28, 2014

Airport Advisory Board Meeting, 2/25/14~New Air Terminal Proposed

By every measure, style, functionality and size, the Brownsville/South Padre Island "International" Airport needs a new terminal.  As we reported, we were not allowed to snap a picture of architect Calvin Walker's conceptual drawing as he insisted on approval first from Aviation Director Larry Brown, who was in executive session.  The thrust of Walker's design was to merge design elements of Brownsville's historic Pan American Airways terminal with those of the Santa Barbara, CA terminal.

Santa Barbara Airport
Walker and fellow presenter, Jerry Ferrar, emphasized that an historic facade did not preclude a high tech, state-of-the-art interior.  Running the numbers, Brownsville has a 35,000 sq. ft. terminal, but needs 51,000 short term(5 years), but 75,000 long term(20 years).  Three plans were presented, all emphasizing running an airport while adding on and future expansion opportunities.

Post 9/11 security requirements will mean a longer walk, for passengers, from their cars to the terminal.  Instead of vehicle drive-ups, long covered walkways will front the terminal.  

Aviation Director Larry Brown
The new $20,000,000 terminal will largely depend on FAA funding for very specific terminal elements.  It's all in the numbers, which, as we know is in Larry Brown's wheelhouse.

$65.000 is being spent to repair the leaking south passenger bridge.  

"Brownsville Bike Initiative" to be Unveiled at City Commission Workshop March 4 at 5:05 PM

Pursuant to Chapter 551, Title 5 of the Texas Government Code, the Texas Open Meetings Act,
notice is hereby given that the City Commission of the City of Brownsville, Texas, in accordance
with Article V, Section 12, of the Charter of said City, will convene a Workshop, an Executive
Session and a Regular Meeting, on Tuesday, March 04, 2014, at 5:05 P.M., 5:45 P.M., and at
6:00 P.M. in the Commission Chambers, on the Second Floor of the Brownsville City Hall – Old
Federal Building, located at 1001 East Elizabeth Street, Brownsville, Cameron County, Texas,

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
a) Workshop regarding the preparation of the City’s Capital Improvement Plan (CIP). (Pete
Gonzalez – Deputy City Manager – 20 mins.)

b) Presentation regarding the Bike Brownsville Initiative. (Ramiro Gonzalez – Planning – 10 

c) Presentation by Cargo USA Logistics. (Commissioners R. Longoria, Jr./J. Villarreal – 10
* *

Several things could be at work here.  As we reported, the City of Brownsville did receive a $786,000 grant to connect the Battlefield Hike & Bike Trail with Fort Brown, although the grant application greatly exaggerated the actual ridership on the trail as "averaging 1,000 daily riders."

Downtown property owners were concerned about a rumor that parking spaces would be removed on one side of Adams Street downtown for the bike trail connection, although de facto City Planner Ramiro Gonzalez said:  "That's not happening."

Despite Ramiro's reassurances, the charts on the original grant application shows Adams Street to clearly be part of the original plan.  Here is an excerpt from a 2/4/14 Mean Mister Brownsville article:  

"Now, it's entirely possibly that, after some downtown owners expressed concern about parking meters being removed for a bike trail through downtown, that City Planning is looking at alternate routes, but the diagram to the left submitted in the grant application CLEARLY shows the trail going through Adams Street as downtown property owners feared.

Actually, it's worse than they feared as Adams is closed to one lane for auto and truck traffic, but still is just one-way as a bicycle lane. In the city's proposed plan, Jefferson Street is also used as a bike lane, eliminating twice as many parking meters as feared.

City Planning, as they would say in Arkansas, is talking out of both sides of their collective mouth. On one hand, they say
City Planner Ramiro Gonzalez
downtown Brownsville has a parking congestion problem that can be solved by tripling parking meter rates, then add to the problem by proposing to eliminate meters on two downtown streets, Adams and Jefferson, for a bike trail.

Of course, now Planner Ramiro Gonzalez says 'That's not happening.' We will see."

Another possible aspect of the so-called "Brownsville Bike Initiative" may be the promotion of the city as a mecca for bicycle tourism. Here is part of our report on the 2/12/14 BCIC board meeting:

"Yet another image of Brownsville greets visitors as they disembark at the Harlingen Airport. Walking through the terminal, Southwest Airlines' passengers are greeted by two postcards or billboards, rented annually by the BCIC for $7,000 to advertise Brownsville. One billboard advertises the city's new medical academy or high school, while the other proclaims Brownsville, "The Bicycling Capital of the Rio Grande Valley."

BCIC Board Chairman Rose Gowen commented during the
meeting on the worthy demographics of "cycling tourists," stating that somewhere she had read that they had "an average yearly income of $190,000, no, $200,000 and averaged an advanced degree educationally, possibly a masters." So, hot damn! Hopefully, these "cycling tourists" coming into the valley at HRL from Seattle, Chicago or New York, thought to have a their high end bicycles put into baggage so they can take advantage of Brownsville's hike & bike trails and bike lanes."

Please stay tuned!

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Another Ambiguous Agenda Item for March 4, 2014 City Commission Meeting

Do you recall how vaguely, ambiguously the agenda item was written that would have tripled parking meter rates downtown?  It almost passed without a whimper, but for Commissioner Longoria's interjection.

The March 4 City Commission meeting agenda contains yet another covertly phrased agenda item:

11. Consideration and ACTION to adopt budget amendment Resolution Number 2014-029, to amend the General Fund Budget by providing $22,200.00 funding for the Brownsville
Chamber of Commerce. (Pete Gonzalez – Deputy City Manager)

Please cry foul if Pete does not totally detail this GOBrownsville merchant program designed to increase Chamber of Commerce memberships.  Discount cards will be made available to patrons of Brownsville businesses who are C of C members.  Maria Hall Joiner, the new Chamber of Commerce director, states that membership has declined from 1,600 to 650 in the last ten years,

Another waste of hard earned taxpayer dollars is the $17,500 the City Commission allocated to the Rio South Texas Council.  The only rationale given by Mayor Martinez for joining was that Port Director Ed Campirano chairs the group.  The Brownsville Community Improvement Corporation also committed $17,500 of 4B taxpayer monies for an organization not fitting their "quality of life" group designation.  When questioned about the odd expenditure, BCIC Director Rachel Flores said the Rio South Texas Council would combat the negative image of a region experiencing border violence.

If  the taxpayer supported Port of Brownsville adds $17,500 To the RSTC kitty, the taxpayers of the poorest city in the United States will have $52,500 earned from the sweat of their collective brows tossed at non-elected regional board.

From the Archives, 11/18/13: City Entities Pay $454,592.08 for Greater Brownsville Infrastructure and Development Plan

Ruben Gallegos, Jr.
We received today the final cost for the Greater Brownsville Infrastructure and Development Plan reviewed in a slide presentation by Needham-McCaffrey & Associates Inc. at a meeting of the GBIC Board October 31, 2013. Board member Ruben Gallegos, Jr. inboxed us with the information we had been seeking for nearly three weeks:
Ruben Gallegos Jr.
"Hi Jim This is what I received today from Mr. Hilts.
"Ruben, the total cost of the study was $451,260 and each entity, GBIC, PORT, and BPUB agreed to pay 1/3rd the cost which equals $140,420 per entity and all entities are up-to-date with their payments. We have only one invoice left of $3,332.08 which will be divided three ways as well."
Ramiro Gonzalez
MMB with architect, urban planner McCaffrey
In a personal test of transparency, accountability and cooperation I asked both City Planning Director Ramiro Gonzalez and Gallegos for the final cost of the study, phoning Gonzalez the day
after the presentation and inboxing Gallegos. While Gonzalez never responded, Gallegos finally did November 18.

Robin McCaffrey of Needham-McCaffrey & Associates, Inc. moderated the third leg of a slide show presentation to theGBIC on October 31, outlining an overall plan for a 22,000 acre industrial corridor including the Port of Brownsville. Earlier, the Port of Brownsville and Public Utilities Board heard the same proposal.

Here is part of our report from October 31:

"The plan organizes the Port of Brownsville and the surrounding area south of the port and east of the Brownsville/South Padre Island Airport. Specific areas are segmented for heavy industry, light industry and organized according to power and water usage. Simply lining up industry along the ship channel is discouraged, but companies with similar energy and/or infrastructure needs are organized perpendicular to the channel.

McCaffrey preached to the choir as he stated that extending the airport runway to 12,000 feet and dredging out the ship channel were prerequisites to the plan's implementation.

Brownsville's uniqueness is that it has rail, air, sea and road transport and a border location according to McCaffrey. Infrastructure permitting, he claims Brownsville holds a competitive advantage over other U.S. locations and Mexico. McCaffrey estimates manufacturing companies employing 500 workers, using 100,000 kilowatts annually save $5,000,000 on labor in Mexico, but $16,000,000 on energy in Brownsville. The plan is that Brownsville be an a manufacturer, an exporter, not merely a transporter of goods. Steel plants particularly foster spin-off companies. McCaffrey's plan foresees an aggregation of industry, including manufacturing, but also lighter industry, even agri-based in what he calls an industrial corridor."

Unfortunately, Brownsville taxpayers may recall a similar plan for the City of Brownsville, Imagine Brownsville, that was never put into action. Here, again, from our October 31 MMB article:

"There is a sense of deja vu here as we recall the Imagine Brownsville Comprehensive Plan purchased for $900,000 from Carlos Marin's Ambiotec Engineering five years ago. In retrospect, that was a huge waste of tax dollars as the never implemented paperback plan now gathers dust on city shelves, obviously dated and unworkable."

The resume' of Robin McCaffrey is not in question here. He has numerous successful projectis attributed to him, including acknowledged work for the Dallas Museum of Natural History. But, a plan is only as good as its implementation. The original Imagine Brownsville plan was never implemented, only morphing into a behind-the-scenes, shadowy, unaccountable, supervisory board for the city and county now called Greater Brownsville.

From the Archives, December 26, 2012: BISD Coaches Threatened with Action by Athletic Director Mark Guess

Mark Guess

The following was sent in as "an email from the head of the BISD athletics to all of his head coaches":
From: Mark Guess
Sent: Wednesday, November 28, 2012 5:36 PM

To: David C. Cantu; Hector Garcia; Jorge R. Medrano; Michael Ramirez; Tom Chavez; William Deen; Alberto A. Alegria; Arthur D. Cantu; Charles R. Alaniz; Cornelio Landin; Gilberto Garces Jr.; Isaac Solis; Juan J. Gonzalez; Randy Medina; Richard Sosa; Robert O. Lopez; Ruben Martinez
Subject: Rank One Sports


I have been checking to see if schedules have been put up on Rank One. There are several sports from all schools that haven’t done so. I asked for this to be done before basketball season started, but we still have many who either just haven’t done it, or just don’t care to do it. Whatever the case, I will make note of it, and will be sending out letters of concern to all involved parties. I need you to get on and check to see which sports and levels have not been put into the system, and get it taken care of. Have the coach do it, one of your coordinators, I really don’t care, just get it done.

The same goes for game reports. Some are doing well (I get the Hanna basketball reports the night of the game), while others haven’t turned in a single report. If the coach will email it to you and me the day after the game, all is good.

Cash payments are a concern also. First of all, they are supposed to be turned in within a week of the contest. Secondly, you know that once a season is over, the head coach of that sport is responsible for clearing all cash payments with Sherry. It is stated in your coaching manual. But for some reason, some of your coaches don’t feel they need to follow the rules, yet they expect their student-athletes to do so. If you can’t take care of this, let me know, and I will find a solution. Volleyball, Football, and Cross-Country needs to be taken care of by the end of next week. Those that choose not to clear their meals by this deadline will get letters of concern.

I haven’t been here too long, but in the time I have been here, I have witnessed some of the laziest and apathetic coaches I have ever seen, which unfortunately overshadows the many great coaches we do have. If they don’t want to do what is asked of them, then they are in the wrong place and need to go elsewhere if they want to be a check collector. I am not going to tolerate it.

You need to take control of your campus athletics programs/coaches so I don’t have to step in and do it for you. You are charged with leading your athletic programs, take charge. I have been very patient about all of these things, but am now running out of it.

M. Guess

BISD Athletics Director

From the Archives, November 29, 2013: Livin' La V.I.D.A. Loca with the Greater Brownsville Incentives Corporation

Myra Caridad Garcia,
V.I.D.A.  Executive Director
We know what job training is. We know what assistance includes, especially so-called public assistance as in welfare, food stamps and other help given to the needy, aged and homeless.
What V.I.D.A (an acronym for Valley Initiative for Development and Advancement) offers, according to the I.R.S. Form 990(Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax) is to provide "job training assistance." Job training assistance is neither job training, that is teaching the skills that make a person hireable, or any form of tangible assistance.

It involves, according to information provided by V.I.D.A., one hour of consultation per month with a V.I.D.A. counselor and a once a week group session with other V.I.D.A. trainees about what they're doing to find work and get off welfare.

One might assume that most of those bases were already covered by the Texas Workforce, our public schools and universities and the welfare system, but clever people find little niches where a charity can fit and promote itself and V.I.D.A. has done a great job doing just that. The first two GBIC meetings we attended, V.I.D.A. reps were there, either to kindly thank the Brownsville taxpayer entity for their generous stipend to their work or express in economic development code language how well their work was going. The GBIC gave the group $302,000 this year. To justify that kind of money, the V.I.D.A rep claimed more than once that, during the past calendar year, the group had assisted 43 Brownsville residents, who had been on welfare, into jobs paying "on average $35,000 per year. There was no documentation of this claim. One GBIC board member was curious as to what companies or types of companies were hiring these people at that rate. The answer was extremely vague, as in "mostly technology, but sometimes nursing."

The Harlingen City Commission chose to no longer fund V.I.D.A., based on a recommendation of the Harlingen Economic Development Corporation, despite the fact that V.I.D.A.'s claim of success in Harlingen was even grander than Brownsville's, 93 off welfare in one year, but at the same "average salary of $35,000." My email to Harlingen Mayor Tom Boswell for more detail was returned "undeliverable," so I was not able to get more detail on their reasoning.

Someone sent me a link to V.I.D.A.'s I.R.S. 990, which has some interesting numbers. V.I.D.A. received $4,175,516 in grants and contributions from cities in the Rio Grande Valley during 2011, $913,907 of which was spent on salaries, $124, 467 to Myra Caridad Garcia, the Executive Director. Despite the economic hard times and all the work V.I.D.A. does for us, they had $731,300 in the bank at the end of the year.

Eleven officers are listed including Carlos Marin as a director, which may explain the GBIC's unquestioned participation. In addition to nearly $1 million in salaries, $89,565 was spent on "management and expenses," $57,070 on "occupancy," $17,879 on "travel," $13,675 on "conferences, conventions and meetings," $40,207 on "in-kind expenses," and $10,961 spent on "non-cash raffle prizes."

While we wish to thank the anonymous commenter who sent us a copy of V.I.D.A.'s Form 990 return, we never got a response from Executive Director Myra Garcia with out request for more information about the program. Below is our request sent 10/9/13:

More detail on V.I.D.A.‏

Jim Barton


Ms. Garcia,
The rep for V.I.D.A. shared some of your group's successes at the recent GBIC board meeting. He mentioned 43 graduates from the Brownsville program in the fiscal year, now finding jobs with income averaging $35,000 per year.

Would it be possible to get more detail on this? What companies in Brownsville are employing these people? What is the salary range for low to high? How many salaried personnel does V.I.D.A. employ? How many volunteers, if any?


Jim Barton

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Rolling Stones - Out Of Control 1 of the best Keith Richards riffs

From the Archives, June 28, 2012: Imposing Wellness~Protecting Us From Ourselves at the Sports Park

New York City Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, has successfully imposed wellness on the 8 million residents of NYC and the millions of annual visitors. During his administration three health initiatives have already passed:
1. Smoking is banned in all eateries.
2. Trans fats are outlawed in restaurants
3. Restaurant chains must post calorie counts on menus and menu boards

As of June 1, Bloomberg has submitted a 4th proposal; the ban of sale of sugary drinks larger than 16 oz. The justification for such a measure? New York City's high rate of obesity.
Add caption
The closest thing Brownsville has to Mayor Bloomberg is City Commissioner Rose Gowen. To describe her as Brownsville's self-proclaimed health and fitness guru would be unfair because she has made no such proclamation. Nevertheless, the commissioner has taken a strong public role on behalf of fitness and fighting obesity with the "Biggest Loser" program.

Recently, Commissioner Gowen has added responsibilities which may enable her to extend the wellness message further in the Brownsville community. After the orchestrated firing of Delina Barrera, Gowen has assumed the chairwomanship of the Brownsville Community Incentive Corportion or BCIC. Mean Mister Brownsville has learned that Ms. Gowen is concerned about the menu served at the Brownsville Sports Park, now somewhat under her control as the new chairwoman. Unhealthy foods such as nachos, chili dogs and sugary soft drinks may no longer be served, replaced by healthy alternatives.

Not since former mayor Pat Ahumada was hit in the chest by a flying plastic bag while riding his motorcycle has Brownsville faced the imposition of rules for its own good. The plastic bag ban was poorly thought out and remains poorly implemented, actually reducing the quality of life for Brownsville residents, not raising it. H.E.B. shoppers, for the most part, simply have their groceries loaded loose into the shopping cart. I recently saw a family pushing a fully loaded cart with meats, vegetables, canned goods, ramen noodles, etc. Three large dozen and a half egg cartons were on the bottom of the cart as it negotiated the slight incline down to the parking lot. The eggs slipped out, crushing about half of them. So much for improving our quality of life.

WalMart has never even acknowledged Brownsville's plastic bag ban. The outfit forces Brownsville customers to bag their own groceries on top of the old spinning plastic bag rack with a surface area on top of about one square foot. Again, quality of life lowered for Brownsville residents by a poorly implemented program.

So now, we may face some dietary restrictions at the sports park if rumors are true. It might be helpful now to identify some of the problematic food items known to create health issues. Certainly anything suspected of contributing to obesity, cancer, hypertension, gout, diabetes or even halitosis should be curtailed.

Foods contributing to hypertension(high blood pressure):
Salty foods: canned soups, chips, pretzels, condiments(soy sauce, ketchup, salad dressing), salted nuts, alcohol(beer, wine, liquor), trans fats.

Foods high in fat:
chocolate, cheezes, butter, cream, ice cream, fried foods, chips, fries, pastry, sausages, pies, pizza

Foods causing gout(arthritis):
red meat, game meats, shrimp, sweetbreads, peas, spinach, lentils, beans, asparagus, alcohol, gravy

These are just a few of the foods that may or not be considered acceptable in the Brownsville Sports Park.

From the Archives, December 26, 2012~Pat Ahumada and Tony Martinez~Dissimilar Styles, But Equally Offensive

Pat Ahumada
Pat Ahumada frequently seemed to be at war, at war with his alleged partners on the city commission, in verbal combat with citizens who disagreed with him. His insistence on having the last word could keep him up past 3:00 AM on Facebook stating and restating a position or viewpoint.

He was not a consensus builder, but a leader who expected others to follow. Unwittingly describing his own leadership style, he referred to himself as the "quarterback" with the others on the city commission as "blocking lineman." With that approach, it's little wonder that Ahumada was unable to push many of his ideas past the City Commission with the ignominious exceptions of the plastic bag ban and the undemocratic blockage of public comment in the City Commission broadcast.

A proponent of the Weir Dam, a project designed to satisfy metropolitan Brownsville/Matamoros future water needs while providing water sports recreation for the community, Ahumada failed not only to get consensus from the city commission but never received cooperation from Mexico. A possible tipping point for the future of downtown Brownsville was an agreement he claimed to have with a business group for the purchase and renovation of the El Jardin Hotel largely using federal funds for the renovation. Of course, when, as mayor, you can't get others on board with your plan, including the public, whose fault is that? Isn't that what skilled political leaders do every day across the country?

A last minute motorcade by Ahumada down International Blvd. in a convertible with Cepellin the Clown, escorted by an American Security pretend police vehicle did not stem the tide of his political reprimand in the 2011 mayoral election. No doubt Ahumada's reputation as a bully and a grandstander contributed to his garnering a mere 9% of the vote, unheard of for an incumbent, even in a 5 candidate race.
Tont Martinez
Replacing Ahumada was the easily elected Tony Martinez, a medical malpractice lawyer raised in Harlingen. Martinez ran a successful "Believe in Brownsville" campaign orchestrated from Austin. Because Martinez said nothing of substance in the campaign, he was an unknown. It was like all the voters in Brownsville collectively said "I thought YOU were the one who knew him!"

Expecting perhaps a kinder, gentler administration than that of the tumultuous Ahumada, what Brownsville got instead was a quieter, more secretive, less inclusive one. Martinez seemed almost annoyed at the give-and-take of a city commission meeting, hellbent on getting them over with in record time.

In his opening commission meeting Martinez snatched the board appointments right out from under two neophyte commissioners, sending them instead to his cronies running United Brownsville for review. Betraying his severe lack of understanding of gender equality, he referred disparagingly to the females on the commission as "girls" and used made-up Robert's Rules of Order constraints to block Ricardo Longoria from dissenting comments or questions. Martinez quickly used up the political capital of his landslide victory by seeing no need to tweak a poorly-thought-out plastic bag ban and by not restoring the broadcast of public comment. In fact, when Commissioner Zamora put the broadcast of public comment back on the agenda, Martinez engaged the City Attorney Mark Sossi to interupt the discussion with a ludicrous pie chart commentary in opposition to the agenda point.

What Martinez lacked in charisma and communication skills, he overcame with planning. Well before he declared his intentions for the mayorship, Martinez financed and ran the successful at-large candidacy of Rose Gowen, at least partially financed that of Estela Chavez-Vasquez, both while renting a house to Melissa Zamora. If this didn't give a 100% cooperative voting block, it did give him a leg up in pushing his agenda.

This flying wedge on the city commission enabled the mayor to push through for the purchase a number of downtown city properties without so much as a hint to the taxpaying public as to the purpose of these speculative real estate purchases. These purchases include: The San Fernando Building at $315,000, The Mother of Perpetual Hope Home for $195,000, a downtown restaurant and its next door space for $41,000 and $42,000 respectively, the Old Nat'l Guard Armory for $431,200 and the Casa del Nylon building for $2,300,000.

The mayor initiated the purchase of these properties with such disdain for the taxpaying public, not a smidgen of voter support or understanding was even solicited. Tony's disrespect for the taxpayers, the city commission and democracy itself actually exceeds that of his predecessor. Yes, he is quieter, less publicly combative, but no less of an autocrat.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

From the Archives, 2/14/14~City of Brownsville Claims Battlefield Hike & Bike Trail Has "1,000 Daily Riders"

Battlefield Hike & Bike Trail at Linear Park
The Story of Brownsville is "A Tale of Two Cities"; one fanciful, fabricated and currently non-existent, the other, "the poorest city in America, hardworking, uneducated and oblivious to the political leeches sucking their blood.

Nothing illustrates the divide between the "eye test" and what City of Brownsville officials portray as reality than an obvious lie on the application for a grant to connect the Battlefield Hike & Bike Trail with Fort Brown by running a bike trail through downtown Brownsville.  The application for federal money stated that "1,000 riders, on average, use the Battlefield Hike & Bike Trail daily."

City officials lied because they wanted the grant. The lie was rewarded with a $786,000 federal grant to extend the bike trail through town.  Ordinary citizens, who look left and right before crossing the bike trail, seldom see cyclists.  It's not that a protected bike trail isn't a good idea.  But, its use and need has been oversold at the very least. 

Billboard hanging at Harlingen Airport
terminal on $7,000 annual contract
Our attendance at the recentBrownsville Community Improvement Corporation board meeting this week, revealed another cycling concept being promoted by the City of Brownsville; cycling tourism.

BCIC Chair Gowen
BCIC Board Chairperson Rose Gowen opined at the meeting that she recalled reading somewhere that cycle tourists had "an average annual income of $190,000, no, $200,000 and typically held advanced educational degrees, masters degrees on average."

Cycling Tourists
Intending to attract these cycle tourists, BCIC spent $7,000 taxpayer dollars on the billboard inside the HRL terminal to advertise the city as the "Bicycling Capital of the Rio Grande Valley." Let's not categorize that as a lie, so much as a hope, a Field of Dreams "Build it and they will come" strategy to advertise Brownsville's cycling opportunities to passengers landing at the Harlingen airport. 
Real World Brownville Cyclist/Recycler

But, let's be honest.  No cycling tourists have placed their high-end bicycles into baggage on a Southwest Airlines flight with the intention of riding Brownsville hard during their vacation.  Even Cyclopedia is a trumped up city event, funded by BCIC, not something generated by local, popular demand.  It's an orchestrated photo-op for the city's agenda.  Again, fantasy and reality in play.

Anyway, here are recent comments to this blog about the state of Brownsville cycling:

Comment #1: The whole BCIC organization is a big joke and should be audited. Spending thousands for billboards with fictitious wannabe city adopted titles is clueless. This group thrives on milking the government for freebie "quality of life" projects that people refuse to participate in. I pass by the Beldon Bike Trail at least twice a day through St Charles Street by John Villareals Tortilleria "La Milpa" and have never seen anyone ride a bike there since it opened. What a joke!!!

Comment #2: The whole BCIC organization is a big joke and should be audited. Spending thousands for billboards with fictitious wannabe city adopted titles is clueless. This group thrives on milking the government for freebie "quality of life" projects that people refuse to participate in. I pass by the Beldon Bike Trail at least twice a day through St Charles Street by John Villareals Tortilleria "La Milpa" and have never seen anyone ride a bike there since it opened. What a joke!!! 

Comment #3:  The city and especially Commissioner Rose Gowen have given this title to themselves. I drive the streets around the city daily and I can clearly see that the bike lanes are used mostly as turn lanes or for parking. Go to Alton Gloor any afternoon when Burns School (or Paredes Line at Vela School) and see that the bike lanes are parking lanes for parents picking up their children. Very seldom do I ever see a bike in those lanes. Perhaps on the weekend one or two bikes might be seen further outside the city. This advertisement of a "bike city" is laughable and is truly a vision of some who never drive around the city. City offiicials seem to have the cart before the horse....unrealistic and untrue.

Comment #4: You notice that these PR mavens modestly limit Brownsville to the bicycling capital of the Rio Grande Valley. That is like saying Miami is the snow mobile capital of Florida. And, what in the hell is with the mountain ridge in the background? Or, is that an overpass with trees growing out of it?

Comment #5: AS they say in Mexico "Pueblo Bicicletero" meaning the village is so small that the only way of transportation needed is a bicycle!! 

Comment #6: As long as you are willing to take your life in your hands! The bike lanes here have become "turning lanes or parking lanes" for the public. The city doesn't enforce any type of protection for bikers. This community is a plague for bikers as long as the bike lanes are allowed to be used for parking and passing.

blog suspended until hand heals

I have some comments on the 71 page Casa del Nylon appraisal, the meeting of Airport Advisory Board and the artist's conception of the proposed new airport terminal.

Actually, we asked for permission to take a picture of Calvin William's conceptual drawing of the new terminal , but were denied. We were told that Alan Hollander would be given that opportunity for the Brownsville Herald, not represented at the meeting.

Hopefully, I'll be able to type with both hands in a few days.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Martin Sarkis' Vision for Downtown Goes Beyond Parking

Martin Sarkis at 13th Street Office
Martin Sarkis has lost two races for City Commissioner.  He expected the first loss, bitterly disputes the second, but has heard nothing from the Attorney General's office after submitting evidence a year ago. The regret is not simply personal, but based on the knowledge, that having made a living in two countries, he's in a position to give full-time service to his adopted city.

Sarkis, from the office of his business on 13th Street, still thinks about what could work for the city. He envisions something similar to what Austin has done, adjacent 6th Street, starting with the available land under the Interstate, but going further to include not only parking, but tourism.

Unused grassy land beneath Interstate 77/83 between 6th
Street and International Blvd. 
The land, under the Interstate, is maintained by high dollar mowing contracts.  Sarkis feels the state would eagerly turn that maintenance over to the city in at least one portion of the highway, as they have done in Austin.  The City of Brownsville now has competent grant writers who could secure grants for that purpose.

But, there is more.  Sarkis envisions trolley cars transporting visitors and tourists to downtown, possibly with members of the Heritage Department giving brief narrations on Brownsville history, starting at the cemetery on 6th, continuing through downtown. Grants for alternate transportation, like trolleys, is currently available.

Continuing with Sarkis' concept, what if the newly remodeled, but seldom used Brownsville Downtown Revitalization Information Center were converted to daily use in some form of visitor center with information about Brownsville and unloading and  reloading of visitor trolleys?

Brownsville trolley circa 1900
Parking revenue should not suffer if cars parked under the Interstate are charged a rate similar to those parking downtown, but certainly downtown congestion could be alleviated as downtown workers could also use the trolleys.

In any event, private citizen Sarkis has an idea, that, if implemented, could be more impactful than simply relieving congestion on two downtown streets.

Surprise! Surprise! Taxpayer Dollars Doing Real Work at El Tapiz City Annex

Arrco Roofing Employee Uses Cherry Picker Lift to
Remove Metal Bars from Windows at El Tapiz Building
We spoke with Jorge, a supervisor with Arrco Construction, the winning contractor on El Tapiz Building roof repair.

Jorge stated that his company had received the $122,500 contract from the City of Brownsville to "remove the metal window bars, repair the cracks in the roof's parapet railing and give the roof a composite coating" with a three inch insulation underlay.

The repair's anticipated completion date is within 75 days.

Simultaneously with the roof repairs, Rio Elevator is repairing the building's three story elevator, that has been inoperative for the better part of a year.  Rio Elevator supervisor James expects the repairs to take "three to four weeks."

Rio Elevator is pulling out and replacing the elevator's hydraulic jack that had been in service approximately two years.

"The hydraulic jack was placed in a PVC sleeve, but it was set in mud.  In a short time, the thing was completely corroded," stated James.

When asked how his company will prevent a repeat of the previous short-lived hydraulic jack repair, James stated:  "We will put a PVC cap underneath the sleeve to prevent contact corrosion."

Rio Elevator employees pulling defective hydraulic jack of of El Tapiz elevator

City Unveils New Dual-Use Parking Meters Downtown

A near-brilliant adjustment to city ordinances on parking meters has been suggested to the City of Brownsville Planning Department.  New credit-card accessible meters would double as bicycle racks downtown.  While the city plans to triple the current parking rates for motorists, cyclists can park free.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Hidalgo County District Attorney Rene Guerra Blocks Justice in 1960 Murder Case

Monday, June 3, 2013

District Attorney Rene Guerra
With Cameron County's outgoing District Attorney Armando Villalobos convicted on 7 of 9 criminal counts, his Hidalgo County counterpart Rene Guerra is having his integrity questioned from a very different angle.  The arrogant Guerra is blocking, stifling, carefully controlling the pursuit of justice, despite numerous breaking events in the 1960 McAllen murder of Irene Garza.

The story, of course, is not new, but has been firmed up over 53 years with new revelations, admissions, independent corroboration  of statements, etc.  The latest expose' by Anderson Cooper, The Beauty and the Priest, aired three times in the last 24 hours, brings many of the details already out there in The Best Crime Writing of 2006.  One research article lists severalBrownsville Herald stories by Emma Perez-Trevino in its bibliography.

The story, related as succinctly as I'm able:

Irene Garza, a 25 year old former Miss South Texas and school teacher did not return from her weekly visit to the Sacred Heart Church in McAllen.  The last person to see her alive, the 27 year old Reverend John B. Feit, chose to  hear her confession in the rectory. While Garza's car remained in the church parking lot, her body was found four days after Easter just three miles away in an irrigation canal with a slide viewer belonging to the young priest and a candelabra from the church nearby.  Police theorized at the time that the two heavy objects had been used in an attempt to keep Garza's body at the bottom with the cord of the slide viewer around her neck.

Father John B. Feit in 1960
24 days before the Garza murder, Reverend Feit had been arrested, charged with the attempted rape of another young woman, Maria America Guerra, in an Edinburg church where Feit was "helping out."  Ms. Guerra had noticed a man with horned rim glasses stalking her as she washed up in an outside bathroom at her home.  Later, at the church, Feit, wearing horn rims, attacked her, only turning her loose when she bit his finger, drawing blood.  Feit eventually plead no lo contendre to aggravated assault, paying a $500 fine. 
Several suspects to the murder submitted to lie detector tests including Feit.  All, except Feit, passed.  Of course such tests are not admissible evidence.   Fifty years later, McAllen police, the Texas Rangers and other enforcement agencies believe Feit is the murderer.

So did Father Joseph O'Brien, the McAllen parish priest at the time of the murder.  He admitted years later that he knew Feit murdered Irene Garza, but he was instructed to transfer Feit to the New Melleray Abbey in Dubuque, Iowa, where Feit attempted to attack a woman getting out of her car.  Feit was transferred again to theOur Lady of Assumption Abbey in Ava, Missouri.  There a monk named Dale Tacheny, but known as "Father Emmanuel,"  was told to take charge of the former McAllen priest:  "The abbot called me in and said, 'There is a priest who murdered a woman in the guest house.  He wants to become a monk.  We are instructed to take him in.' "

When the Texas Rangers attempted to reopen the case in 2002, they ran into a stone wall in Hidalgo District Attorney Rene Guerra.  Guerra discounted the testimony of Father Joseph O'Brien, who he described as 
Irene Garza
"senile."  Guerra also brassily declared that the statements made by former monk Dale Tacheny(Father Emmanuel) had been "fed" him by Texas Ranger Rudy Jaramillo.(George Sadler, San Antonio homicide detective states that Tacheny gave him the same information months before he told Jaramillo.)

District Attorney Rene Guerra finally gave in to pressure from the public and the family of Irene Garza to seek justice in the case, but he had a devilish, fuck-you ace up his sleeve.  A grand jury was called in 2004 and convened for 15 days.  Waiting to testify were Father Joseph O'Brien, former monk Dale Tacheny, Texas Ranger Rudy Jaramillo and others.  But the only witness called by the reluctant District Attorney was a lady who testified for the defense in Feit's earlier trial years ago.

Who knows what Guerra is thinking or what motivates him?  Is he protecting the Church, Feit or some sort of coverup?  He claims that, after 30 years in office, he is not seeking re-election.  If he backs off of that promise, hopefully the voters of Hidalgo County will put him out to pasture for fumbling the biggest criminal case in McAllen, Hidalgo County history.

Charro Days Fiesta 2014~Brownsville, Texas

Claudia Henry(photo by Miguel Roberts)

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Original Borderland Beat Story on El Chapo Arrest Today

Mexico’s Sinaloa Drug Chief ‘El Chapo’ Arrested

Borderland Beat

More on the news on possible Chapo arrest with some background information (this from the AP). Mexican authorities are announcing a possible press conference later today in respect to the operation.  

By Alicia A. Caldwell and Katherine Corcoran
Associated Press 

In this June 10, 1993 file photo, Joaquin Guzman Loera, alias "El Chapo" Guzman, is shown to the media after his arrest at the high security prison of Almoloya de Juarez, on the outskirts of Mexico City. A senior U.S. law enforcement official said Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014 that Guzman, the head of Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel, was captured alive overnight in the beach resort town of Mazatlan, Mexico. Guzman faces multiple federal drug trafficking indictments in the U.S. and is on the Drug Enforcement Administration’s most-wanted list. His cartel has been heavily involved in the bloody drug war that has torn through parts of Mexico for the last several years. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)

The head of Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel who was the world’s most powerful drug lord was captured overnight by U.S. and Mexican authorities at a hotel in Mazatlan, Mexico, The Associated Press had learned, ending a bloody decades-long career that terrorized swaths of the country.

Comparison made by BB reporter Chivis on forum of a picture of El Chapo after his capture that is making its rounds on the internet.

A senior U.S. law enforcement official said Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman was taken alive overnight by Mexican marines in the beach resort town. The official was not authorized to discuss the arrest and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Guzman, 56, was found with an unidentified woman. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the Marshals Service were “heavily involved” in the capture, the official said. No shots were fired.

Another Picture CNN got hold of from a law enforcement official as posted in Borderland Beat forum.

Guzman faces multiple federal drug trafficking indictments in the U.S. and is on the DEA’s most-wanted list. His drug empire stretches throughout North America and reaches as far away as Europe and Australia. His cartel has been heavily involved in the bloody drug war that has torn through parts of Mexico for the last several years.

A legendary outlaw, Guzman had been pursued for several weeks. His arrest comes on the heels of the takedown of several top Sinaloa operatives in the last few months and at least 10 mid-level cartel members in the last week.

The son of Sinaloa’s co-leader and Guzman’s partner, Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, was arrested in November after entering Arizona, where he had an appointment with U.S. immigration authorities to arrange legal status for his wife.

The following month, Zambada’s main lieutenant was killed as Mexican helicopter gunships sprayed bullets at his mansion in the Gulf of California resort of Puerto Penasco in a four-hour gunbattle. Days later, police in the Netherlands arrested Zambada’s flamboyant top enforcer as he arrived in Amsterdam.

Guzman’s capture ended a long and storied manhunt. He was rumored to live everywhere from Argentina to Guatemala since he slipped out in 2001 from prison in a laundry truck — a storied feat that fed his larger-than-life persona. Because insiders aided his escape, rumors circulated for years that he was helped and protected by former Mexican President Felipe Calderon’s government, which vanquished some of his top rivals.

In more than a decade on the run, Guzman transformed himself from a middling Mexican capo into arguably the most powerful drug trafficker in the world. His fortune has grown to more than $1 billion, according to Forbes magazine, which listed him among the “World’s Most Powerful People” and ranked him above the presidents of France and Venezuela.

His Sinaloa Cartel grew bloodier and more powerful, taking over much of the lucrative trafficking routes along the U.S. border, including such prized cities as Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez. Guzman’s play for power against local cartels caused a bloodbath in Tijuana and made Juarez one of the deadliest cities in the world. In little more than a year, Mexico’s biggest marijuana bust, 134 tons, and its biggest cultivation were tied to Sinaloa, as were a giant underground methamphetamine lab in western Mexico and hundreds of tons of precursor chemicals seized in Mexico and Guatemala.

His cartel’s tentacles now extend as far as Australia thanks to a sophisticated, international distribution system for cocaine and methamphetamines.

Guzman did all that with a $7 million bounty on his head and while evading thousands of law enforcement agents from the U.S. and other countries devoted to his capture. A U.S. federal indictment unsealed in San Diego in 1995 charges Guzman and 22 members of his organization with conspiracy to import over eight tons of cocaine and money laundering. A provisional arrest warrant was issued as a result of the indictment, according to the state department.

Guzman is still celebrated in folk songs and is said to have enjoyed deep protection from humble villagers in the rugged hills of Sinaloa and Durango where he has hidden from authorities. He is also thought to have contacts inside law enforcement that helped him evade capture, including a near-miss in February 2012 in the southern Baja California resort of Cabo San Lucas just after an international meeting of foreign ministers. He was vacationing in Cabo during a visit by then-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

“There’s no drug-trafficking organization in Mexico with the scope, the savvy, the operational ability, expertise and knowledge as the Sinaloa cartel,” said one former U.S. law enforcement official, who couldn’t be quoted by name for security reasons. “You’ve kind of lined yourself up the New York Yankees of the drug trafficking world.”

Borderland Beat: El Chapo Update

Update: Positive indentification of Chapo Guzman-Arrested members "gave information"

Saturday, February 22, 2014 |  
Borderland Beat 

Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman Loera, leader of the Sinaloa cartel, was captured, officials confirmed the United States and Mexico.  According to reports, the drug dealer last night was located by soldiers and the Attorney General's Office (PGR) in a hotel in Mazatlan, Sinaloa, while he was on a visit.  The operation also was collaborated with  U.S. intelligence, officials said. 

PGR is performing DNA testing to ensure the arrested man's identity is Guzman.
For five days, Sinaloa was a target of the authorities, mainly from the Marina and the PGR, which began with a series of raids in search operations for  "El Chapo" and Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada.
At one raids conducted on 20 January, the Navy I found a property Griselda Pérez López, former wife of capo. 
At that location they  arrested Jesús Peña González "El 20" and other members of the cartel, who provided information the authorities. 
The Sinaloa cartel leader faces multiple federal drug charges in the United States and is on the list of most wanted DEA.  His drug empire stretches throughout North America, but also reaches as far away as Europe and Australia .
In January 19, 2001, “Chapo”  escaped from  Puente Grande prison, located in Jalisco, exiting while hidden in a laundry basket..  REFORMA published on January 19 of his  13 years of evasion.  The federal government was betting the recapture of the Sinaloa leader with screening of family, friends, partners and managers who protected him.
The Security Cabinet prepared , mid last year, a detailed report of his inner circle, information which was updated in October.  Including biographical information documenting 70 family members, employees and  other persons close to the inner circle..  Additionally in the report are rare photographs of these people, including seven romantic partners of the leader of the Sinaloa Cartel and their children. 
According to the report, the Guzman last decade has remained, most of the time, hidden in inaccessible areas of the Golden Triangle, mainly in the six points of Sinaloa and 12 in Durango .
In more than five years, the government only detected  "El Chapo" in two urban areas:  Culiacan Sinaloa and Los Cabos, Baja California Sur. In both places he escaped.

Announcement----but no Chapo; "Chapo used 7 tunnels to move between buildings (homes)", the operation was "flawless", and identification process occurred this morning:

Lalo introduces AG Jesus Murillo Karan, Semar Chief Vidal Soberon Sanz, Defense Department commander Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda, CISEN Secretary Manuel Mondragon DeKalb.

Karam: Hello. At  6:40 this morning Semar personnel arrested (Chapo Guzman) in Mazatlan, along with a collaborator. We made you wait this long for a press conference because we wanted to be completely sure of his identity, which has now been done by PGR investigators. We are 100% certain. He has been examined by doctors and shortly will be transferred to an appropriate prison.

This operation took several months of work and planning between all Federal agencies who have collaborated on this matter, and the arrest was performed impeccably by Semar personnel.

During this last month, this operation had several definitive moments leading to the capture. From February 13 to February 17, we located several homes where he was in the habit of staying. The 7 homes were connected by tunnels to other homes in the area and to the sewer drainage system. The doors to the homes were steel reinforced, and the few minutes it took to get through them were enough to allow them (suspects) to escape through the tunnels. 

Be the investigation was so thorough and complete that we continued to follow up. (We kept up with Chapo) constantly and could have taken him on several occasions. But we used caution and common sense and chose to take him in a way tht did not endanger the public. We took him down without a shot being fired, with nobody hurt.

This coordination between all (Mexican) security agencies also had information from certain U.S. agencies. This arrest is the 75th arrest of the targets we said we were going to get. We will keep working to make Mexico safer.

I just want to say that in this simple operation, we seized the following:

13 detainees
97 rifles (armas largas)
36 pistols (armas cortas)
2 grenade launchers
1 missile launcher
43 vehicles, 19 of which were armored
16 homes
4 ranches,

This is a clear demonstration of the effort we are making in this country to disarm organized crime groups.
Thank you.

 Reforma-Universal-RioDoce-Twitter-FB-YouTube- press announcement translation by JLopez


Grandson Jack in Market Square Walking with grandson Jack downtown is a challenge.  He frolicks, skips, cuts in front of you, runs ahead,...