San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

May 17th, 2010
Editorial: Groundhog Day

By the San Marcos Local News editorial board

On May 4, the San Marcos City Council declined approval of a zoning change at 705 West Hopkins Street, which is located in an historic neighborhood. The council decided correctly.

The property owner, Bernice Rainosek, wants to change the zoning from Office Professional (OP) zoning to Neighborhood Commercial (NC) zoning. Neighborhood residents are quite concerned that the requested zoning would open the location in an historic neighborhood to a variety of high-traffic businesses, such as convenience stores, washeterias, or even tool rentals. Even if Rainosek has no intention of bringing in those types of businesses, the zoning change would make those businesses legal at that location if she decides to sell the property, and it is difficult to change a location from less restrictive zoning to more restrictive zoning, though it has been done.

Councilmembers Chris Jones, Fred Terry, John Thomaides and Ryan Thomason voted against the zoning change. Mayor Susan Narvaiz, along with Councilmembers Kim Porterfield and, surprisingly, Gaylord Bose, voted in favor. Neighborhood residents were relieved that the council prevented the zoning change.

But their relief did not last long. Because the council did not vote on a motion to specifically deny the zoning change — it merely voted against approving the change — the request still is in play. Indeed, it is back on the agenda Tuesday night, reprising a tiresome theme in the governance of San Marcos.

Ordinarily, when the council votes against approval of some motion, the matter dies. Only four times since 1987 has an item gone back on the city council agenda in San Marcos after the council had voted against approval.

But split council votes, such as the 4-3 vote against the Hopkins Street zoning change, have a way of re-introducing issues these days on the San Marcos council. Two of those events have occurred in the last 16 months. In the first case, the council reversed a previous decision and approved a zoning change clearing the path for the Purgatory Creek apartments project near Hunter Road and Wonder World Drive last March. The second case is this Hopkins Street matter.

As we noted a year ago, Narvaiz and City Manager Rick Menchaca, who set the agenda, probably aren’t bringing back an item on which the council previously withheld approval unless they have the votes to render a different decision. Thus, residents have reason for serious concern about the fate of the Hopkins Street property.

In those last 16 months, this city administration has consistently fought back against the demonstrated will of its constituents, whether by its lack of regard for long-term plans drafted by dozens of citizens who had been on the planning and zoning commission, or by its bizarre insistence that sales taxes are the basis of sound financial planning even if the pursuit of incentives for out-of-town retailers jeopardizes existing local businesses, or by simply ignoring geological reality and attempting to loosen watering restrictions in the middle of an historic drought.

It is counter-productive for the city council to continuously cover the same ground over and over again simply because those who write the agenda wish to bring back the same matters until they can secure votes for the outcomes they desire. We don’t disparage the uses of legal and procedural tools available to policy makers in the effort to pass legislation, per se. However, we do object to this persistent defiance of the public, of which the matter of re-opening the Hopkins Street re-zoning because it hadn’t been specifically denied is yet another example.

We urge the mayor, the administration and the city council to focus on the fixing the city’s infrastructure, stimulate better and higher paying jobs with benefits, create a walkable and bikeable community where our speed limits in neighborhoods are enforced, enhance public safety and work to keep — perhaps we should say, “make” — our taxes low. Time and energy spent back-tracking over previously covered ground with the hope of generating different outcomes is time that can’t be spent on the city’s more suitable priorities.

The members of the city council are duly elected at large by all registered voters in our city. The councilmembers collectively represent all of us. When the council majority says “no,” then, unless there are significant changes in the facts, that means “no,” and let’s move on. Instead, it seems that citizens who win close council decisions can never rest against these continuous assaults on their political will by city leaders. Citizens who watch the agenda and express their views to the council are forced back before the council to take up these matters again and again.

When the Hopkins Street re-zoning matter goes before the council once again Tuesday night, we urge to council to not merely vote against a motion to approve. We urge the council to entertain a specific motion to deny, then vote for that motion. And, in the future, when split votes go against the keepers of the agenda, we hope motions to deny will immediately follow, putting such items to rest for good.

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0 thoughts on “Editorial: Groundhog Day

  1. Thanks for the editorial – I think it is well written – something all too often missing in today’s media. But, it would be nice to fully disclose any interest by the “San Marcos Local News editorial board” in the particular property on Hopkins street.

    “No means No” (and “Yes means Yes”) can cut both ways depending on which side of the issue you stand on. I would like to think that new information or an insightful viewpoint should be given adequate attention when matters return to the agenda. I suspect there are quite a few folks that would like the Buie discussion to come back over and over again… While it seems like a good idea to just decide and move on, your editorial suggests that there have not been good decisions by this council – if that’s the case then I would want to see those “bad” decisions come back over and over again.

    Indirectly, you raise the issue of our lack of single-member district representation – i.e. the fact that all of the city council is “at large” thereby elected by and representing ALL city citizens. Do you really think each and every city council member has the interests of each and every citizen in mind as they serve their term (and collect their paycheck and expense reimbursement check)??? I, for one, do not think so.

    It is time for single-member districts and a council that reflects the interests of THEIR constituency. It would be nice to have a council, boards and commissions that, at the very least, reflect the ethnicity of our community. How many Latinos are on the city council? How many Latinos are on P&Z? What % of San Marcos is Latino???

    Maybe your next editorial will explore the history of ethnicity in San Marcos and equity and access by historically under-represented populations…. Our problems here are MUCH BIGGER than a zoning change on Hopkins Street.

  2. I agree we need to do a better job with the fundamentals first. Things like maintaining existing infrastructure, jobs, walkable and bikeable community, public safety, and fiscal responsibility (living within our means). In the past few years we (the City of San Marcos) have more than doubled our long-term debt (and certificates of obligation) to almost $300 million dollars. The past few years have been very difficult for many of us (individually and in our businesses) from an economic perspective. Many of us have tightened our belts in expenditures. Yet during this time of economic turmoil, our city leaders have significantly increased our debt. $300 million is an awful lot of money for a small town like San Marcos.

  3. Remember when that building was built. Odd at the time for a commercial building to go up in a neighborhood. It’s still odd. But to zone it NC is a slap in the face of everyone who lives around there.

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