Sunday, May 31, 2015

Broadcast Ban of Public Comments Hovers Like a Dark Cloud Over City's Participatory Democracy

City Attorney Mark Sossi Caricature by Nena Barton
Certainly, Argelia Miller had no idea of the far-reaching effects of her August 25, 2010 letter to City Manager Charlie Cabler about a $167,323 judgement awarded to City Attorney Mark Sossi' former employer, Willette & Guerra for theft of funds.  What Miller was upset about was that the City of Brownsville seemed to be paying off Sossi's debt by utilizing Sossi's old firm to represent the city in legal matters.

When this obviously compounded conflict of interest was later mentioned during the Public Comment section of a subsequent City Commission meeting, Sossi had heard enough and issued the ludicrous legal opinion to Mayor Pat Ahumada and the City Commission that the continued broadcast of public comments on City of Brownville's Channel 12 would make the city vulnerable to lawsuits.


Sossi knows a thing or two about lawsuits, being on the receiving end of, not only the Willette & Guerra judgement, but a $20,711.66 judgement from the Texas Workforce for stealing monies, a $100,000 lien from the Internal Revenue Service and two malpractice lawsuits from locals who wrongfully assumed a City Attorney might be someone to engage for personal legal matters.  In hindsight, perhaps the City of Brownsville should have considered a banishing of the City Attorney instead of banning the broadcast of public comment.  But, no, Sossi hangs on as a Tony Martinez lap dog, facilitating the mayor's backdoor deals on a $10,000 per month contract basis, also netting $5,000 per month from the Greater Brownsville Incentives Corporation for a net of $180,000 annually.(Ironically, the payee for Sossi's payroll checks is The Good Government Firm.  Lol!)


A couple months into the Tony Martinez tenure as mayor, former City Commissioner Melissa Landin(Zamora) introduced an agenda item to consider rescinding the ban on the broadcast of public comment. Shocking those who thought they'd voted for a democratically-oriented mayor, Martinez voiced his opposition to lifting the ban:  "I'd like to continue doing things the way the previous administration did them. It's been working pretty good so far. I don't want to change that."

The former commissioner was set to introduce the agenda item to restore the broadcast, but behind the scenes Mayor Martinez and City Attorney had worked up a little surprise for Lindin. Sossi, who could never seem to find 15 minutes to work on an ethics code, something this city of 200,000 doesn't have, had spent all week working up his infamous pie chart to demonstrate to the City Commission audience how pulling the switch on the broadcast of public comment had actually enhanced representative democracy, not stifled and choked the life out of it.  Here is our reporting of the incident from 2011:

"Melissa Hernandez-Zamora seemed dumbstruck when City Attorney Sossi stood up to give opposition testimony concerning the broadcast of public comment item she had placed on the agenda. It was obvious that Commissioner Zamora had not been advised of the behind-the-scenes manipulation by Mayor Martinez and his eager cohort Sossi. Sossi, afterall, had the most to lose from public comment broadcast since it was comments about his questionable ethics that triggered the ban in the first place. As Zamora got her bearings, Martinez waved Sossi the "go ahead". Sossi made no attempt in his feeble, highschoolish power point to express a legal opinion. There was no mention of free speech, the first amendment, the constitution or even the phony liability issues he has pretended previously. Those might have been worthy legal issues. Instead he expressed only viewpoints, unscientific at best, but most likely simply wrong. With a straight face he used a pie chart to illustrate the greater "diversity" of commenters since the ban, not even having the honesty to acknowledge that many of those new participants were speaking out against the anti-democratic ban. He also railed against grandstanding as he grandstanded."

Tony Martinez was once heard bragging to a commissioner after a City Commission meeting:  "I told you I could get this thing done in 45 minutes."  That is not what conducting the city's business should be all about, rushing things through without discussion. Agenda items that involve the hard-earned tax dollars of Brownsville's citizens should be carefully, judiciously considered. Commissioners need to come to City Commission meetings prepared to discuss each agenda point intelligently, articulately.

In a city where 10% of registered voters actually vote, our city needs more participatory democracy, not less.  The broadcast of public comment should not only be restored, but enlarged.  Our city needs, not only Robert Uresti and Letty Perez-Garzoria speaking up with ideas, but also Teresa Saldivar, Trey Mendez, Dennis Sanchez, Daniel Lenz, Abraham Galonsky, Larry Jokl, Craig Grove, Peter Zavaleta, Tony Zavaleta, Dino Chavez, Laura Miniel and others. Expand the session to 30 minutes.  Martinez can TIVO Boston Legal.  Hopefully,  someone who actually "believes in Brownsville" will have the intestinal fortitude to introduce this matter.  Cesar??????

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Apathy, Low Voter Turnout, Weak News Coverage All Benefit Tony Martinez

Caricature by Nena Barton
The 10% or fewer of registered voters who will likely vote in the June 13 runoff mayoral election include Tony's cronies at United Brownsville, who have positioned themselves, despite being an "informal," unelected entity into the primary force, along with Imagina Matamoros and the City of Harlingen, into controlling development of the industrial corridor along FM 511/550.  Our braindead City Commission excluded themselves in a resolution yielding control of such highly profitable development in a resolution passed March 4, 2014, sponsored by Debbie Portillo and Rose Gowen:  

"Consideration and ACTION on Resolution Number 2014-034, in support of the creation of a Bioned(sic) Coordinating Board to be made up by Equal Representation from United Brownsville, Imagina Matamoros, and the City of Harlingen in order to promote and plan the development of the Bi-Ned Zone. (Commissioners D. Portillo/R. Gowen)"

La Casa del Nylon, purchased in 2012 for triple  its value,
$2,300,000, now sits idle, decaying, off the tax rolls
If the Tony Martinez victory party is assured, credit not only low voter participation, but also an uninformed electorate.  The voters should be livid about the resolution published above, the $3.5 million in downtown property, including La Casa del Nylon, foolishly purchased by the mayor and city commission for no good reason, the Lincoln Park con job, the 1/4 interest in an 800 megawatt power plant contracted in secret negotiations, that burden the P.U.B. ratepayers with $350,000,000 in increased rates to provide power for up to 5 liquefied natural gas plants stretching from the Port of Brownsville to Port Isabel, but they are not.  The majority of voters are simply unaware.

While voters have a personal responsibility to get informed on the issues, two Brownsville institutions have failed miserably in providing such information, the Brownsville Herald and the University of Texas at Brownsville.

Notice former Attorney General Herbert Brunell, Jr's description of the responsibilities of the free press guaranteed by the First Amendment:

"Our free press brings to light corruption, injustice, dishonesty, wrongs of every kind and description in all corners of the world. It is a bar to Star Chamber proceedings. It enables the people to know whether our system of justice is being administered honorably and impartially"

With respect to bringing "to light corruption, injustice, dishonesty, wrongs of every kind," the Brownsville Herald's performance falls well north of chickenshit, but not far south of morally reprehensible. The Herald has chosen again and again for decades to protect the corrupt politicos, the advertisers, ignoring the corruption and injustice crippling our town.  

Illustrative of the Brownsville Herald's utter failure is a letter to the editor just two days ago asking about La Casa del Nylon's sale to the City of Brownsville for triple its appraised value.  My God! The local blogs have been talking about this for THREE YEARS!  If the Brownsville Herald had done its job, the reader would have known the answer to his questions. Instead of fulfilling its First Amendment responsibilities, the Brownsville Herald has been functioning as an informal Public Information Officer for Tony Martinez, Juliet Garcia and United Brownsville.  Our local newspaper couldn't have been more quiet on official corruption had it been under control of the Soviet Glavlit.  All of Martinez' back door deals would have been so much more difficult to slip past the community with an active, diligent local newspaper.

Students taught at the former University of Texas at Brownsville have a history of zero participation or interest in local government. Candidate forums held at UTB draw zilch from the student body. Whatever the late Father Armand Matthew did to earn his salary at the so-called UTB Center for Civic Engagement did not result in any awareness on campus of local politics.  Walking through the campus to the Gran Salon or another venue for candidate forums, students never seemed to even know about the event despite the university having their email addresses.  When UTB's Mary Rose Cardenas Hall was used as a polling place among for 13,000 students it processed 151 voters during 61 hours of operation, 2.47 per hour.

While voter ignorance and apathy has given Martinez room to operate, a weak City Commission has acted as an enabler. Everything Martinez has done was with support, acquiescence or tolerance from the City Commission.  No one on the commission has successfully articulated a counterpoint to any of Tony's wasteful and foolish agenda.  Some have said that the release of the City Commission agenda on the Friday before Tuesday's meeting does not give the commissioner's time to prepare themselves.  They come to the meeting flat-footed, unprepared, unorganized, with nothing to say with only one week day to confer with city staff and learn the specifics of proposals.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

A Brownsville Paradox~Zero Interest in Curbside Recycling While Leading the Nation in Actual Recycling

Rose Timmer Caricature by Nena Barton
Despite Popeye the Sailor Man, 50's kids never learned to like soggy, canned spinach, although the same baby boomers now consume tons of the fresh form of the green leafy vegetable in salads.

It almost seems as if Rose Timmer, the Executive Director of Healthy Communities of Brownsville, has been trying to force the old soggy, stringy, overcooked canned veggie down our collective throats in her relentless push for curbside recycling in this paid-for All-America City of 2014.  The response of the taxpayers so far has been mixed:  "No," "Never!" or "Hell, No!"

Last September the indefatigable Ms. Timmer set up a Curbside Recycling Workshop at the Brownsville Police Department's Southmost substation.  According to Timmer, Health Director Art Rodriguez, Public Works Director Santana Torres and Ruth(Assistant City Manager Ruth Osuna?) were the only ones to show up.  No taxpayers made the meeting.  A January 6, 2014 curbside recycling trial run, involving 1,200 homes. garnered an actual participation rate of 5%, yes folks, 5 out of 100 homeowners.


Alley Recycler, Mr. Rodriquez, Posing with his
triciclico de carga
The absolute paradox of Brownsville's rejection of mandated curbside recycling is that 24/7 the city's downtown alleys, shopping center dumpsters and West Brownsville's trash cans are combed relentlessly, like crazy, for anything of value.  Old men on triciclos, sturdy trikes, that can be purchased in Matamoros for $300, search the alleys of downtown and West Brownsville for cardboard, aluminium, steel and salvageables.  

During the night, but well into mid-morning, men in pickups make a daily tour of dumpsters behind the malls, strip malls, shopping centers, sorting American and Chinese cardboard, picking up pallets, discarded shopping carts and anything of value not tied down sufficiently.  Covertly, these drivers make deals with retail clerks to control certain dumpsters or get a "call" when something of value is discarded as in a store reset or remodel.  


Recently, at a car wash's vacuuming station, two men carefully lifted each trash can, emptying it's contents on the pavement. Aluminum cans, coins, plastics were sorted out and the remaining trash was redeposited into the trash receptacles.  Those who insist Brownsville doesn't recycle just don't get it.  It's done daily, relentlessly, out of sheer economic need, but not under the control of city administrators.


Much of this country's discarded clothing arrives in Brownsville and the RGV on freight trains, tied into 100 lbs pacas.  Central and South America, Africa and the world get this ropa usada, after it is sorted out in warehouses around town and throughout the valley.  A little known fact is that much of donated clothing in the U.S. never reaches the shelves or hangers of the Salvation Army, Goodwill, etc.  There is simply not enough retail space.  Much of that merchandise, along with store returns, out of season items, etc. eventually reach Brownsville.  

The handling of this clothing is based on movement and varies from establishment. Lawani Souleiman, who has operated a ropa
Lawani Souleiman
segunda for many years across from the Brownsville Historical Association on Washington Street, starts new merchandise at around $3.00 per pound, with a reduction in price each day. After one week, the merchandise is shifted to the other side of his store, where it remains for yet another week with prices approaching $1.00 per pound. Other stores in downtown simply shift older merchandise to a "monton," a large mound of assorted clothing piled to the ceiling. Still, Souleiman's primary business, as well as that of other downtown ropa usadas, is shipping recycled clothing around the world.  Recycling at it's zenith!


USS Forrestal, Towed into the Port of Brownsville
 for Scrapping, Recycling
We haven't touched on the illegal pilfering of copper from construction sites or AC units, the lifting of manhole covers, etc. Scrap yards do ask questions, but only the legally required ones. Not long ago, I watched a man and woman pushing an H.E.B. shopping cart down E. 14th, headed for the salvage yard. Another shopping cart was turned upside down on top of the cart being pushed. Other metals stuck out of the carts, all headed to the scrap yard to be sold for a tiny fraction of H.E.B.'s replacement cost for one cart.

There is yet more to Brownsville's recycling picture. Dozens of small stores downtown as well as vendors at the Hwy 77 Flea Market sell small appliances like coffee makers, juicers, ice crushers, radiant heaters, etc. The boxes have been carefully retaped. These are return items or sometimes items with product recalls. They are purchased in so-called pallet sales from vendors from up north with the reseller bidding on the pallet. It's just another form of recycling in the city.


Recycling:

1. To extract useful materials from garbage or waste.
2. To use again, especially to reprocess
3. To recondition and/or adapt to new use or function


Well-meaning city leaders like Ms. Timmer constantly try to force-fit Brownsville into the Austin model.  Brownsville is not Austin, never will be.  It is driven by its own forces and unique needs. Until that is understood, nothing works.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Surprise! Surprise! Tony Martinez Gets Support of Infamous Linebarger Law Firm

Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, LLP. Thank you for your confidence and your valuable time to open your office doors to us. We appreciate it.
‪#‎BelieveinBrownsville‬

Thursday, May 21, 2015

How the City of Brownsville, Cameron County and the Port of Brownsville Have Yielded Control to An Unelected Board of Opportunists to the Detriment of Our Environment and the Future of Our Children

Congressman Filemon Vela Meets with United
Brownsville, Imagina Brownsville
While the Imagine Brownsville Comprehensive Plan, so vigorously pushed by former Brownsville Mayor Eddie Trevino, Jr. at a cost of $900,000 to the taxpayers, sits on the shelf like a dusty vintage comic book, never implemented, now totally obsolete, the inertia created by that publication and the vacuous meetings it recommended have resulted in a dramatic shift in control of public assets.  Out of initial thrust came the United Brownsville Coordinating Board with no initial idea what it would be coordinating.


IBC Bank President Fred Rusteberg
For those connecting the dots, it appears that coordinating board, primarily including Fred Rusteberg, Carlos Marin and Juliet Garcia is now rearing its ugly, carnivorous head with the proposed FIVE liquefied natural gas plants to extend from the Port of Brownsville to the city limits of Port Isabel, destined to spew millions of gallons of hot effluent daily into the Bahia Grande while mercury, hydrogen sulfide, helium, carbon dioxide, hydrocarbons would be "dispersed" into our air supply.

It was interesting that mayoral candidate Pat Ahumada, responding to our question about the proposed assortment of liquefied natural gas plants at the Port of Brownsville, stated that "you know the city has no jurisdiction in the Port of Brownsville governance, which is where these proposed plants are to be built."

While the City of Brownsville may have no jurisdiction at the Port of Brownsville, the City Commission yielded in resolution control of a so-called "Bi-ned Zone," including the port, the industrial corridor along FM 511 as well as manufacturing entities across the river to a "Bi-ned Co-ordinating Board" including the City of Harlingen, United Brownsville and Imagina Matamoros.  Here is a resolution relinquishing control, actually ceding control of the industrial corridor to Harlingen and two non-governmental entities that was actually passed by the mayor and city commission:

Consideration and ACTION on Resolution Number 2014-034, in support of the creation of a Bioned(sic) Coordinating Board to be made up by Equal Representation from United Brownsville, Imagina Matamoros, and the City of Harlingen in order to promote and plan the development of the Bi-Ned Zone. (Commissioners D. Portillo/R. Gowen)

This resolution, coupled with Congressman Vela's participation in the Bi-ned Conference held at UTB in 2012 and representation at United Brownsville meetings since, has added credibility to the shadow government, once described by City Attorney Mark Sossi as "informal," not subject to the Public Information Act.  Of course, United Brownsville has always been more than willing to have a young city commissioner serve as an out-of-the-financial loop tri-chair of the coordinating board.  Lol!

Mean Mister Brownsville with Robin McCaffrey, Author
of the $454,000 Industrial Corridor Plan
It was actually the Greater Brownsville Incentives Corporation that approved a $454,000 study for development of the industrial corridor, then $180,000 more to allow Jacobs Engineering to proceed with Phase 1 of the implementation of the initial plan. While  BEDC Director Jason Hilts insisted that Jacobs Engineering was the only one to bid on the $750,000 plan to implement the $454,000 study, Jacobs Engineering named young Oscar Garcia, Jr., Juliet Garcia's son, with no experience in such things, as Project Manager.  Are you having fun at home connecting the dots?

 While young Oscar Garcia, Jr. left his service on the Brownsville Public Utilities Board to accept the new challenge at Jacob's Engineering, it was not before he and PUB Board member Tony Martinez help seal the purchase of a quarter interest in an 800 megawatt power plant to be built, yes on the FM 511 industrial corridor by the Tenaska Corporation.  Many in Brownsville, as well as the internationally acclaimed Fitch Bond Rating firm viewed that purchase as an extremely poor financial deal, especially when financed by a $350,000,000 burden on the ratepayers.

Of course, no one knew at that time that LNG plants have extraordinary power needs, actually needing their own power plant, to compress natural gas into a liquid, storing it at -44 F under great pressure, so it can economically be shipped to other countries, namely China and Russia.  Connect the dots.

Of course, Rusteberg, Vela, Marin, et al, have a short window of opportunity to cash in.  China and Russia are said to be five years away from their own LNG plants.  By that time the bird estuaries of the Bahia Grande and the atmosphere above Cameron County, Port Isabel and South Padre Island will not be nearly as pristine, but more like Channel View, Houston and Corpus Christi.  Connect the dots. 






Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Carlos Marin, the Leech Sucking Brownsville's Blood

Carlos Marin, Quietly Draining the Lifeblood
from Brownsville
First of all, the revelation from Julie Olvera that Carlos Marin kicked in four or so thousand to Rick Longoria's campaign in a secret fundraiser will not draw official interest.  

The fact that the event was "men only" raises some questions:  Did Marin invite strippers, prostitutes or even transvestites to the event? Who knows or even cares? Marin does what he does behind closed doors and answers to no one.  He plays city politics to make money for his engineering firm, Ambiotec.  Another prominent engineer told me that he only bids on smallish projects.  Ambiotec automatically gets all the large ones.  Why waste his time?

Marin, along with IBC buddy, Fred Rusteberg, has positioned himself to control development in the FM 511 industrial corridor including the Port of Brownsville.  I'm told that leases have already been signed to allow LNG plants to operate from the Port of Brownsville to the city limits of Port Isabel, dispensing mercury, hydrogen sulfide, helium, carbon dioxide, hydrocarbons and other impurities from the natural gas into the state's most pristine atmosphere. 

The air pollution will be joined by millions of gallons of daily hot effluent pumped into the pristine estuaries of the Bahia Grande, threatening the habitat of birds, ocelots and other game on life support in the region.

We all want Carlos Marin to make some money, keep his family off welfare, but why must all of his grandiose projects threaten the future and health of all Brownsville families?  Is Carlos that big of an asshole? 


Mariano "Bean" Ayala, Painting by the Numbers in Tourism and Campaign Contributions

Mariano "Bean" Ayala, President of Brownsville
Tourists & Convention Bureau
Some of us are not true believers in economic impact numbers, the gist of the hype frequently used by Tourism Guru "Bean" Ayala in presentations before the City Commission, that seem to demonstrate a huge financial impact from the thousands who travel to Brownsville each year, but also justify his six figure salary as tourist director.

In "the cup is half empty" view, that minivan from San Antonio contains relatives who will sleep on the couch, the daybed, a cot, eat in grandma's kitchen, maybe spring for a pound of barbacoa and fill their gas tank on the way out of town.

"Bean" begs to differ.  He is of the  "cup is half-full, but will soon be overflowing," mindset seeing the same San Antonio minivan as loaded with out-of-town tourists who will stay at the Holiday Inn, eat at the Palo Alto Steakhouse, shop at Sunrise Mall and then dance all night at SPI clubs.  Those mega-dollars, Ayala infers, will trickle down to the hardworking wage-earners of the poorest county in the United States.

Lest the tourist office at FM 802 and Interstate 77/83 be overrun, Ayala has created another in a red brick building at 700 E. Ringgold to handle the hordes of tourists invading the Mitte District.  No signage anywhere announces a tourist office on Ringgold Street, so the occasional tourist who stumbles into the building is either a super sleuth or someone bringing Assistant Director Feliz Espinosa his lunch.

Economic impact studies always seem overly optimistic. Promoters of Alltel Arena, now Verizon Arena, built in a North Little Rock ghetto, promised that the structure would bring fancy hotels and eateries to the area.  Actually, almost nothing changed except a huge sports and entertainment facility is now surrounded by a dilapidated neighborhood.  Also, religious conventions repeatedly disappoint as the adherents are said "bring a ten dollar bill and the Ten Commandments" to town and break neither.

City Commissioner Rick Longoria
Yet, Mr. Ayala may be preoccupied with other numbers these days, namely the $240 Julie Olvera, Rick Longoria's former girlfriend, claims she saw Bean hand Rick through a vehicle window in support of his campaign for City Commissioner, District 1.  Two things could make that contribution illegal:  1. If the contribution is not represented in any way on Mr. Longoria's 2015 campaign finance reports.  2.  The contribution was made in cash, as claimed by Ms. Olvera, in violation of the Texas Election 
Code.

Seeking some answers, my grandson Jack and I approached the clerk window at the City Secretary's office Monday morning to request an "inspection" of Rick Longoria's 2015 Campaign Finance Reports.  In short order we were invited inside the cubicle to City Secretary Micheal L. Lopez' office.  We were directed to a table adjacent to the secretary's desk displaying the documents.  I photographed each sheet, thanked Mr. Lopez and his office for their courtesy and left.

A quick perusal of the photographs reveals no listing of a contribution by Mariano "Bean" Ayala, but $200 from County Commissioner Sofia Benavides, $500 from Attorney Eddie Trevino, $500 from Ezpara & Garza, LLP, $500 from civil engineer Juan R. Mendez, $500 from Mare Haws and, of course, $500 fron the Linebarger Law Firm.

Where is the listing of your contribution Bean or did Ms. Olvera lie about seeing you pass money through a car window to Rick?


Saturday, May 16, 2015

Jerry Mchale Defends Rick Longoria on Social Media While Montoya Weighs in on Carlos Marin Connection

Jerry Mchale
Social media journalist Jerry Mchale published an editorial today on his Facebook page defending BISD colleague, City Commissioner Rick Longoria, Jr.  The gist of Jerry's argument is highlighted in yellow in the article below.  

IN DEFENSE OF RICK LONGORIA!!!

"I have endured the travail of women scorned. They play the victim even though behind closed doors they have put their men through hell. She is pissed because you decided to part ways with her. She doesn't want a pound of flesh. She wants a ton of flesh as part of her revenge.

It is easy to see by her irrational interviews with the different bloggers that she suffers from low self-esteem. Since you didn't live up to her unreasonable expectations as a result of her own inferiority complex, you have become her scapegoat.

None of us is perfect, but this woman is pathetic. As much as she has tried to embarrass you, she has only embarrassed herself. She has no pride. If she thinks you made a fool out of her, she has made a bigger fool out of herself with this public spectacle. Any reasonable person would have resolved a personal matter privately.


She does a disservice to the BISD with her immature behavior. Does she think she is the first person to have loved and lost? I am more than willing to date her for the next three months until she is over you and is ready to embrace her next lover. What are buddies for?"


Jerry Mchale

City Commissioner Rick Longoria was also active on Facebook with a message to his friends and constituents about the property dispute reported on this blog.  Here are the commissioner's words:

"The following is not an explanation, but merely a plea of respect for my daughter, family and myself. There are publications (blogs) and people sharing information of a personal nature and have been publishing one sided versions. I have police reports, statements and a pending investigation into malicious lies about me and my character. A break up is never easy and how a person is going to react is beyond my or anyone’s control. To the friends and people that have been
Commissioner Rick Longoria
dragged into something that you know nothing about; I’m so very sorry. If you know me and trust in me I will only ask you to please let this pass and let the law take its course. When things like this happen you hardly see it on the news or social media, but because of what I do the blogs’ will not resist publishing what is told to them. Please note that if you do read these publications that they do not include my version of what really happened and I will once again ask that if you really know me; that you do not judge me. With time the truth will come out and all will be forgotten. Once again to all directly involved; I am so very sorry!!"


Ricardo Longoria, Jr.

From the editor:  Just a note on Rick's picture above.  It was sent to us by ex-girlfriend Julie Olvera, but not before it was cropped by the sender.  We were not interested in genitalia, however diminutive or grandiose. 

Perhaps, more damaging than a nude pic of Rick brandishing his weapon of choice, a Star Wars lightsaber, or even a property dispute, was a report in Juan Montoya's El Rrun Rrun blog linking Longoria to secret campaign financing events sponsored by puppet master Carlos Marin:

" 'Ms. Olvera said Ambiotec honcho Carlos Marin staged a
Carlos Marin
'private fundraiser' for Longoria, during he was handed $4,000. On other occasions, she said Longoria would meet people (Jaime Escobedo, for one) at La Rancherita Cafe across the street from J.T. Canales Elementary, where he would receive as much as $2,500 in cash campaign donations.'
*One other individual mentioned by sources include city employee Mariano "Bean" Ayala, director of the Brownsville Visitors and Conventions Bureau. Ayala reportedly gave Longoria a $240 cash donation through a car window that was also not shown on the last two campaign contributions reports.

Under state law, any contribution made to a candidate of $100 or more must be reported in the campaign and expenditures and contribution reports filed with the Brownsville City Secretary's Office."

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Commissioner Rick Longoria's Home Visited by Police in Property Dispute

 Commissioner Rick Longoria, Jr.
"May the Force Be with Him!"
City Commissioner Rick Longoria's home at 2928 Impala Street received a visit Thursday afternoon from Julie Olvera, Longoria's longtime girlfriend, accompanied by an officer from the Brownsville Police Department.  Olvera was attempting to recover, with police supervision, $4,000 in cash stored in the home as well as a spare key for her personal vehicle she claimed was in Longoria's possession.

According to Ms. Olvera, a BISD schoolteacher, the police located her money in the top drawer of a dresser in Longoria's home, but only in the amount of $1,300.  Those monies were returned to Olvera by police.  

"I asked that a report be filed about the missing money, but Mr. Longoria called the police supervisor for the area requesting the matter be kept quiet," stated Ms. Olvera.

"I want to recover the missing $2,700.  I've requested a police report on the missing money.  I don't care if Mr. Longoria files a claim on his homeowner's insurance or simply repays the money.  I just want my money.  I also need the spare key for my truck or Mr. Longoria to pay for a change of locks.  I can't rest easy each night knowing there's a spare key out there that would allow for the theft of my vehicle."

Julie Olvera, Hoisting Campaign Sign of Ex-Boyfriend
Ms. Olivera, in a phone conversation, stated that she'd accidentally encountered her longtime boyfriend in bed with another woman.

"We've broken up.  It's over.  I want the voters to know the character of Mr. Longoria, that he's a liar, a cheat and not the religious man he pretends to be.  I worked very hard on his campaign, soliciting signatures, placing signs and campaigning for him.  He is not the man he pretends to be," stated Olvera.

Commissioner Longoria was quoted early in the campaign, responding to questions about asking for signatures to certify his campaign:  "Only Ms. Julie Olvera, my dad and I solicited signatures in District 1."

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

There's More Than One Way to Skin A Cat~Neutering Tony Martinez

Mayor Tony Martinez, Brownsville's Worst Enemy
In brutal, indiscreet, inappropriate language: No one has fucked* the City of Brownsville and its taxpayers more than Tony Martinez.  Only the inept "reporting" of the Brownsville Herald, the apparent apathy of the registered voters, yes, the lack of education pounced upon by Tony's Austin ad agency, Message, Audience, Presentation, Inc, can possibly account for Martinez receiving 43% of the vote in the May 9 mayoral race.  In even a semi-perfect world, Tony Martinez would be jailed for his crimes against Brownsville, assessed fines for restitution in the millions of dollars.  My apologies to PAWS, but no Brownsville cat is more in need of neutering than Tony Martinez.

Every move Martinez has made as mayor has been to placate and curry favor with Juliet Garcia, the former President of the University of Texas at Brownsville, UTB.  Our lovesick mayor has giddily offered his dear Juliet City Plaza for "administrative space," Lincoln Park for her overhyped America's Institute and $3,500,000 in downtown buildings to "keep UTB downtown."  Even the proposed tripling, but eventual doubling of downtown parking fees was about creating a slush fund for UTB's successor, UT-RGV.

Yet, we face the reality of only two options to stymie, squelch and stifle the incredible recklessness of the smug, but, firmly entrenched mayor: 

1. Former Mayor Pat Ahumada, who garnered 17.83% of the vote as runnerup May 9, creates a sufficient consensus among supporters of his four non-incumbent opponents to overcome the 43-18 Martinez lead in the May 9 general election and win the runoff.

2.  At least two of the current candidates for City Commissioner emerge as "independent voices" on the commission and one current commissioner, not involved in a re-election campaign, asserts his or her independence.  That would add three independent voices to District 2 City Commissioner Jessica Tetreau, who has gradually grown into the role of speaking up for her constituents, even if it brings down the wrath of the mayor.


City Commissioner Elect Cesar de Leon
While option 1 seems like a long shot, there are distinct possibilities for option 2.  Cesar de Leon, by far the largest vote-getter in the 2015 city elections with 4,335 votes or 54% in a four man race for City Commissioner At Large "A," did receive financial support from Martinez crony Abraham Galonsky, but has shown signs of independence.  When someone approached young Cesar at a campaign event, saying, that, if elected, he should simply say "no" to anything Tony suggests, he simply laughed, not a nervous laugh, but a "I know what you mean" laugh.  Perhaps, that is why Gerardo Martinez, with ties to Martinez and United Brownsville, was a late entry to the race.  This afternoon, I observed Cesar, accompanied by a City of Brownsville administrator, being given a tour of downtown.  Many are hopeful that Cesar could be more independent than originally suspected.


District 1 City Commissioner Candidate Roman Perez
Another blogger has suggested that District 1 City Commissioner incumbent, Ricardo Longoria, Jr., is the independent voice Brownsville needs. Longoria has spoken out on a couple of issues, including the proposed sale of Lincoln Park, but, only belatedly, after public pressure from constituents.  By and large, Commissioner Longoria has gone along to get along, sometimes grandstanding with a counterpoint, but, almost always falling back into compliance with Mayor Martinez.  His opponent, Roman Perez, would easily be ten times the balancing alternative to Tony Martinez that Longoria has been.  No one currently on the commission or elected to serve knows the City Code, state and federal law, or even Robert's Rules of Order as well as Perez.  He would not be a blind opponent to Martinez on every point, but would force the mayor and others to do their research, dot their i's cross their t's and explain why something was needed, needed now and needed for that price. While I've had issues with the way Perez has shared information with me, I've no doubt he would potentially be Brownsville's most substantial protection against Tony Martinez.





*Nena did not approve the use of this word.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Mayoral Candidate Pat Ahumada Comments on Proposed LNG Plants at Port of Brownsville


Pat,

The voters will be interested on where you stand on the four applications for LNG plants at the Port of Brownsville. The plants may offer a few temporary construction jobs, although the engineers will be shipped in and the plants themselves likely built in South Korea. Millions of gallons of hot effluent would be dropped daily into the Bahia Grande while mercury, hydrogen sulfide, helium, carbon dioxide, hydrocarbons would be "dispersed" into our air supply. 

Tony Martinez, his cronies at United Brownsville and Filemon Vela all support the plants. Where do you stand?





Jim, 

Obviously you do not know my record as an environmentalist. To answer your question is that I do not support anything that will put public safety at risk. Having said this, if you will go back to 1990, I opposed the development of Boca Chica Beach and pushed hard to keep the beach in its' natural state. I introduced recycling in the 1990's and work hard to reforest our city, passed landscaping ordinances that we have today to bring balance into a sea of parking lots that we had back then. 

In 2007, we expanded recycling and introduced a "Going Green" agenda with the ordinance to reduce plastic bags in our environment and landfill. Having said this, you know the city has no jurisdiction in the Port of Brownsville governance, which is where these proposed plants are to be built. 

I am committed to work with what I have, which includes Space-X and LNPG plants by getting educated on how they will impact our city and doing what is within my power to protect public safety and hold those accountable that do not adhere to the guidelines or the standards that would put public safety at risk or our environment. 

As a former shrimper, I am concerned for the estuaries and need to learn more about these proposed developments that can affect our waterways, soil and air. 

Thank you for the question.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Congressman Filemon Vela, the Face of LNG~A Handful of Jobs for Out-of-Towners in Exchange for Incredible Pollution of Natural Environment


San Antonio Current~The Huge Threat Liquified Natural Gas Poses to South Padre Island

Texas' Most Beloved Beach is at the End of the Natural Gas Pipeline 

click to enlargeDANNY CUEVAS
  • Danny Cuevas
click to enlargeMIGUEL MENDO
  • Miguel Mendo
Shallow-water fishing trips, dolphin-cove sightseeing tours, bird-watching excursions, sunning and playing on South Padre’s velvety sand—these are some of the thrills that draw more than a million tourists each year to the poorest metro region of the United States, making tourism and eco-tourism the biggest economic driver here at the Rio Grande Valley’s southern edge.

Chances are that any San Antonio resident reading this story has visited South Padre at least once, and if you’ve been there once, you’ve probably returned. Home to just 3,000 permanent residents, SPI offers first-world amenities such as restaurants, bars, retail shops and night clubs, yards away from world-class sport fishing, bird-watching and beachcombing. Unlike Corpus Christi and Galveston beaches, South Padre Island, its bays and estuaries, remain relatively pristine. But perhaps not for long.
Ten miles southwest, sharing a coastline and an economy, sits Brownsville, the nation’s poorest city, home to 200,000 residents. Local politicians and energy industrialists are busy pushing a new fossil fuel economic-development scheme in this small border city, this time in the form of liquefied natural gas, or LNG–natural gas that has been chilled and condensed so that it can be easily shipped over long distances.

Energy companies are looking for Texas ports where rent is cheap and space is copious, hoping to build Leviathan complexes of smokestacks, refrigeration chambers and sewers that will produce LNG for export to China and beyond. Because Brownsville’s deep-water channel is edged by plenty of inexpensive land, four LNG conglomerates are trying to set up shop in this coastal zone, which is populated by brown pelicans, ocelots, sea turtles, dolphins and a host of other endangered and protected wildlife. There are now more than 30 proposed LNG export terminals in the U.S., though the only one under construction is in Sabine Pass, Louisiana. In Texas, LNG terminals are also being proposed in Freeport and Corpus Christi. The projects must go through a lengthy review and permitting process with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which approves permits to export LNG to countries that are part of the World Trade Organization. The four proposed Brownsville facilities— Texas LNG, Annova LNG, Gulf Coast LNG and NextDecade LLC—have yet to clear Department of Energy and other federal hurdles that would make them candidates for a FERC permit.

Liquefying natural gas is a dirty and unsightly enterprise. In Brownsville, the proposed LNG facilities would dump millions of gallons of heated effluent each day into one of the healthiest shallow-water bays in the world. The plants’ 500-foot flaring towers—which release mercury, hydrogen sulfide, helium, carbon dioxide, hydrocarbons and other impurities from the natural gas—would burn a couple of miles downwind from the state’s most popular beach. Local environmental groups estimate that air pollution will quadruple in the Brownsville-South Padre Island metroplex, a 10-mile stretch of coastline, residential neighborhoods and small businesses that may soon sit under the brown-cloud haze of pollution already familiar to residents of industrialized regions like Corpus Christi, Galveston and Houston. The purification and refrigeration process for LNG is so energy-intensive that the amount of greenhouse gas emissions for this region would be staggering.

The Energy Department has restructured the LNG permitting process to require the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to prepare an EPA impact statement for each proposed facility. Last week, the EPA questioned FERC’s dismissal of the impact a Corpus Christi LNG facility would have on minority neighborhoods. Although the EPA can raise concerns about an environmental review prepared by FERC, ultimately the commission can issue a permit over the EPA’s objections. FERC’s decisions can be appealed to the Council of Environmental Quality, but it’s a rarely used and difficult process that requires objectors to show there was a misstep in the review process.

BUILD IT AND THEY WILL COME

Leading the charge to bring LNG to Brownsville is U.S. Congressman Filemon Vela. The first-term Congressman is part of a trend: Texas Democrats who’ve broken with a broader caucus that’s against fast-tracking oil and natural gas exports, a caucus composed of Dems like Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey, who has warned that, “[LNG] exports could cost consumers and businesses tens of billions of dollars in higher energy bills.” Vela is one of seven Texas representatives who voted last month to approve construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline, and he has consistently voted for Republican-sponsored bills that are designed to fast track the export of LNG. He’s brokered deals between political subdivisions and companies hoping to ship LNG from the Port of Brownsville, helping arrange more than a billion dollars of infrastructure on the taxpayers’ dime. These construction projects include deepening the Brownsville ship channel, building an 800-megawatt power plant and constructing an expansive network of roads and rail lines intended to connect the coming and going of materials, personnel and machinery. In return, the new industry promises short-lived jobs for a handful of local workers, and plenty of pollution.

click to enlargeSTEFANIE HERWECK
  • Stefanie Herweck
Vela did not respond to repeated interview requests, but one of his first official acts as Congressman was to submit an op-ed to his district’s daily newspapers titled “Exporting liquid natural gas would benefit Texas.” In the column, Vela describes a new Texas economy inspired by the state’s history as a powerfully lucrative place to extract fossil fuels from the earth. Vela is far from an outlier. 

A host of professors, EDC directors, chamber of commerce presidents, mayors, county commissioners and other South Texas leaders have joined the booster committee. In a letter of support for one of the energy conglomerates trying to build an LNG facility at the Port of Brownsville (one of more than 30 similar letters, often containing the same verbatim phrases) Carlos Cascos, the Cameron County judge recently tapped by Greg Abbott for Secretary of State, writes: “I support the Gulf Coast LNG project because of the significant job creation and positive economic impact it will have in our community. … the project will help the Cameron County community by creating thousands of jobs … all while promoting clean natural gas energy here and around the world.” 

If LNG is produced at the Port of Brownsville, there will be considerable and measurable economic benefit, mostly in the creation of temporary construction jobs for building pipelines. The actual construction of liquefication facilities—which require the bulk of energy company investment—wouldn’t happen in Brownsville, or even on American soil. Most of these facilities would be built in South Korea and elsewhere, then shipped to Brownsville. The real question for constituents isn’t how many jobs might be gained through LNG development, but how many existing jobs in the eco-tourism industry and how much property value, too, might be lost.


Bill Berg is a retired chair of the UT-Brownsville Engineering Department and one of several dozen local activists who are raising questions about the dangers of LNG development to the Brownsville-South Padre Island coastline. “If the LNG companies are promising jobs, we want to know which jobs and at what pay rate,” Berg said.

Nowhere in Vela’s op-ed, or in the dozens of interviews he’s subsequently given on the topic, has he mentioned any of the potential drawbacks of LNG to the local economy. He doesn’t mention the millions of gallons per day of treated water that will be dumped near the saltwater inlets for the Bahia Grande—27,000 acres of land and 10,000 acres of estuary. It’s the largest estuary restoration project in North America, home to tens of thousands of birds on their migrations to and from Canada and Mexico. The lower Rio Grande Valley is one of the top 10 birding destinations in the U.S., according to numerous rankings, and a stop at the Bahia Grande during a late October dawn demonstrates why.

You wouldn’t build a municipal dump next to the Alamo. And bringing LNG to estuaries near South Padre Island makes just as little sense. SPI is a tiny town that annually generates $6.4 million in property taxes, $6.5 million in hotel-motel taxes and is responsible for $1 billion in economic development and more than 20,000 jobs in an otherwise economically deflated job-poor region. All of SPI’s tourism-related jobs aren’t necessarily great jobs. But some are. Quite a few restaurateurs, boat shop owners, eco-tour entrepreneurs and real estate investors here clear easily more than $200,000 annually. It’s doubtful one LNG job will pay that much money. Though the energy companies tout the creation of thousands of jobs, at most only about 500 of those jobs per LNG plant will be permanent. And in a volatile energy market they’re not necessarily long-term jobs. Unspoken by the industrialists and pro-LNG politicians is the simple truth that if the U.S. government permits these LNG export terminals, Asia and Europe will get America’s natural gas, corporate offices in Houston and Dallas will get the profits, and the Gulf Coast will get the pollution.


A LOSER EITHER WAY

This year, several U.S. cities voted to ban hydraulic fracturing because of health concerns, water and air pollution, and earthquakes. But South Texas leaders are still trumpeting it as the next big thing since big oil. Websites, television commercials and pamphlets promoting the use of natural gas don’t mention that methane—the fossil fuel most associated with hydraulic fracturing—is the supreme greenhouse gas, 21 times more successful at trapping heat in the earth’s atmosphere than carbon dioxide. We’re assured that methane burns much cleaner than coal or oil, which is true, but in its raw state it’s much more destructive to the environment than either. U.S. fracking companies haven’t done a good job of keeping natural gas from escaping into the atmosphere. NASA satellites show a cloud of methane floating over most of the central United States. Perhaps the biggest objection raised by opponents to LNG is that the commodity totally obliterates the potential to use natural gas to reduce global warming, even if fracking operators get well and transportation leaks under control. Federal studies have estimated that in total greenhouse gas emissions, shipping fracked LNG to Asia is worse for the atmosphere than burning coal.

But even if you’re an unmitigated fan of natural gas—even if you believe that the world’s recent unprecedented heat waves, blizzards, tornadoes, floods, hail storms, cyclones, hurricanes and more are part of a cyclical, naturally occurring weather pattern—you might be wary of the plans to export LNG. These companies are trying to lock in foreign buyers while the market is favorable. Most foreign countries haven’t advanced hydraulic fracturing to the level it’s achieved in Texas and other U.S. fields, which are collectively producing a surplus of natural gas. But there’s a short window of opportunity to sell natural gas overseas while prices abroad are high and U.S. supplies are bountiful. Within five years, China, Russia and other countries that are currently paying top dollar for imported natural gas will have increased their own hydraulic fracturing capabilities. Depending on the market and American reserves, the United States could find itself importing natural gas at the highest market prices. Chris Nelder, an energy analyst who blogs at getreallist.com and who contributes to a healthy list of major media on energy topics, has catalogued public misconceptions about natural gas. He’s found that their sources are often industry press releases.

click to enlarge
Danny Cuevas


click to enlarge
Miguel Mendo


In an article for Slate, Nelder points out that the projection of a 100-year supply of domestic natural gas was first found in a 2011 report by the Potential Gas Committee, an organization of petroleum scientists and engineers. That claim, found in one press release, continues to fuel misconceptions that exporting natural gas will not raise costs for American consumers, because America has an inexhaustible supply. Nelder argues that extremely optimistic modeling might project a century-long supply, but based on the United States’ current usage there is just an 11-year supply of proven reserves. The 11-year estimate is fairly consistent with federal projections, which estimate a 16-year supply. And these models don’t take into account the companies now applying for permits to ship natural gas abroad. In that case, 16 years might look more like 4 years, or fewer. Exporting natural gas is potentially such a bad economic idea for the U.S. that large companies such as Alcoa and Dow Chemical are opposed to the unchecked export of LNG because a shortage would drive up costs for their businesses.


SEEDS OF A REVOLT

In a small stucco and adobe art gallery in downtown Brownsville, college students, graphic designers, retired teachers and others concerned about the implications of LNG discuss such nuances. They’ve been meeting monthly here here since early 2014, amid art created by the painters and photographers of south Texas. A steel stretch of the border wall towers across the street. Jim Chapman, a member of the Lone Star chapter of the Sierra Club, helped found this group of humble but obstinate stalwarts known as Save RGV from LNG. They’ve printed bumper stickers, published news articles, launched a website and helmed information booths at festivals to provide Valley residents with the facts about LNG that energy industrialists and politicians aren’t sharing. They also regularly attend public meetings at the Brownsville Navigation District, the political subdivision that owns the port and its land, voicing their objection to LNG-based development during public comment sessions, and keeping an eye on the dockets. “The Rio Grande Valley has tremendous environmentally sensitive resources that our economy depends on. We need to be protective, to be mindful … we need to be good stewards,” Chapman said.

While no South Padre Island or Rio Grande Valley politician has publicly criticized LNG development along this stretch of coast, South Padre Island City Councilwoman Julee LaMure has cast doubt on the feasibility of LNG exporters because of regulatory issues.

"The fact is that our region provides immense challenges to an exporter with regards to regulatory issues because of our delicate ecosystem," LaMure said. "Eco-tourism is critically important to the economic well-being of the island, and our sister city, Port Isabel, relies heavily on fishing and shrimping to support their economy. One accident could potentially be devastating to both communities."

With SPI’s property values dwarfing others in the Rio Grande Valley, and with a tourist economy that the entire region’s chambers of commerce and economic development entities hang their hats on, the power of South Padre Island to affect the LNG dialogue—and outcome—on this stretch of Texas coastline is extreme.

Tourists and condominium owners, however, seem quick to notice and willing to speak about the threat to SPI’s clean air and water. Eddie Bills owns a residential electric company near Fort Worth, the epicenter of Texas’s natural gas boom. He spends a week or two most summers on the Texas coast with his wife and four children, renting condominiums, buying beach gear, taking eco-tours and enjoying the restaurants.

“In the last few years, I've spent time in Corpus Christi, in Galveston and on South Padre Island. One thing that really jumps out about South Padre is the clean sand and the fresh air,” Bills said.

“Galveston is too close to the refineries. Corpus is an over-trafficked highway to the water's crowded edge. South Padre has the best mix of sun, sand and air…. As someone who lives near Fort Worth—ground zero of the Texas natural gas industry—I would hate to see the natural richness of SPI compromised by the water and air pollution folks have to stomach up here.”

City of Brownsville Finally Discovers Food Trucks

From the editor:  While this blog has been pushing for food truck permission and regulation in Brownsville since 2012, Comprehensive Redevelopment guru Ramiro Gonzalez appeared today in a Brownsville Herald article ostensibly discussing the pros and cons.  

Below are reprints of our February 4, 2013 article and August 10, 2012 comment on the subject:

McAllen Authorizes Food Trucks While Tony Martinez Sticks His Head in the Sand

first published February 4, 2013 by Jim Barton


Do you remember last summer when Walter Underwood, then owner of Philly's Americana, asked the City of Brownsville for a food truck permit?  He was stonewalled by city bureaucrats and when it came to the attention of Mayor Martinez, he was not interested.  Here is the MMB report from August 10, 2012 including Martinez response:

“We have so many different issues at the city that probably need addressing, such as public works and city maintenance and things of that nature,” said Martinez, who owns Lola’s restaurant on Palm Boulevard. 

“I would not put food trucks at the top of my list right now.”

Evidently, Walter Underwood, the former owner of Philly's Americana in Brownsville, stopped trying to fight bureaucracy and regulation in our city and took his food truck to Austin, a city that has dozens of such trucks offering all kinds of unique and sometimes gourmet items.

Now, we have learned that the City of McAllen has created a new ordinance allowing up to twelve new food truck permits to be issued in the city. McAllen Health Director Josh Ramirez is finalizing the rules food truck operators will need to follow according to a report by KRGV.com. 

"Something you ingeniously build at home is not going to be allowed," Ramirez said.

According to the report, while the permits issued will initially be limited to 12, officials will review the program in a few months amn may consider expanding the number of trucks allowed in the city.

The City of Austin, of course, has an entire city block near 6th Street dedicated to food trucks. This format allows purveyors of all kinds of cuisines to produce them without the overwhelming overhead of a brick-and-mortar building. 


So, while cities like Austin and McAllen recognize and respond to trends and current technology, Tony Martinez and Brownsville officials continue to stifle growth with their lack of imagination and lethargy.

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