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

March 2nd, 2009
Bill Peterson's Blog: Swinging times for swing votes

For more about the March 3 San Marcos City Council meeting, watch Newstreamz “City Beat.”

Executive Editor

When a city council refuses to approve a request from a developer, the matter is ordinarily settled. Because the request is not approved, it is, in practical terms, denied. The developer moves on, perhaps with an amended request later.

But as the latest San Marcos saga about 22.5 acres near Wonder World Drive and Hunter Road tells us, the proposal isn’t really denied unless the city council specifically motions for denial and then votes for a denial.

A proposal to re-zone the 22.5 acres from commercial to multi-family use failed on Feb. 17 by a 4-2 vote. That is, four voters thought the re-zoning made too little sense and two thought it made good enough sense. But the matter is going right back before the council Tuesday night, because City Manager Rick Menchaca placed it back on the agenda with the blessing of Mayor Susan Narvaiz.

Why on Earth would Menchaca and Narvaiz return the item to the council right after it fell short of approval by a 4-2 vote? One supposes it’s not merely a parliamentary exercise. It would be utterly pointless to place it back on the agenda, only for a councilmember to motion specifically for denial and for the council to approve that motion.

As Ed Mihalkanin reported earlier this week on Newstreamz, only three times since 1987 has an item gone back to council after a motion to approve had failed. And, of course, the number of times a proposal failed before council and didn’t go back would be virtually incalculable.

One supposes, then, that Menchaca and Narvaiz believe they have the votes Tuesday night to change the council’s decision on the re-zoning for Larry Peel & Company, which wishes to build apartments on the property after saying they found no takers for commercial uses.

It’s well worth noting that the two minority votes on Feb. 17 came from Narvaiz and Councilmember Kim Porterfield, who, as Mihalkanin and Justin Fahey told us recently on Newstreamz, voted together 94.11 percent of the time in split votes from the last city council. It’s even more worth noting that Councilmember Pam Couch was absent from the Feb. 17 meeting. Couch voted with Porterfield 88.23 percent of the time in split votes on the last council, and with Narvaiz 82.35 percent of the time in split votes.

Let’s just say that if Couch is at the Tuesday night meeting, there’s at least an 82.35 percent chance she’ll vote with Narvaiz and Porterfield in favor of the re-zoning. The three vote together so often that Mihalkanin and Fahey dubbed them as the “NPC group.”

If NPC stays tight on this matter, then the group is one vote away from winning approval for the re-zoning. And the the fact that the item is going back to the council suggests that Menchaca and Narvaiz believe one of the “nay” votes from the last go-round will turn into an “aye,” thus finishing the job. Otherwise, why bother packing the matter onto a very busy agenda and risking the embarrassment that the proposal will be turned away a second time, perhaps with an emphatic denial?

So, which vote is going to change?

History, we know, only tells us what has happened. It doesn’t tell us what will happen. But more often than not, we all know, what has happened in the past will happen again. So, let’s ask history, again with help from Mihalkanin and Fahey.

On the last city council, Councilmembers John Thomaides and Gaylord Bose, widely thought of as the core of a loyal opposition to NPC, each voted with Porterfield, Couch and Narvaiz a minority of the time in split votes, and with each other a majority of the time. One supposes they will remain opposed to the re-zoning.

As Mihalkanin and Fahey pointed out, quite often NPC prevailed by appealing to one of the other councilmembers, Chris Jones or Daniel Guerrero, but not as often to both. Indeed, Jones and Guerrero were one of the least frequent pairings in split votes, agreeing only 35.29 percent of the time.

Guerrero and Jones voted with each NPC member between 58.82 percent of the time and 64.7 percent of the time in split votes. Meanwhile, Jones went with Thomaides 41.7 percent of the time and with Bose 35.29 percent of the time, while Guerrero went with the opposition much less often – 29.41 percent with Thomaides and 23.52 percent with Bose.

Jones won re-election in November. However, Guerrero did not run for re-election, so Fred Terry won the seat without opposition.

Quoting Mihalkanin and Fahey, “Hazarding a prediction about the current council, it may be said that the NPC grouping will continue to exist, as will the Bose-Thomaides grouping. If the past is prologue, Jones may vote with the NPC group more than 50 percent of the time, but the pattern may not be fixed. Jones’ swing vote status makes Terry’s votes a key towards reaching a council majority on issues dividing the community.”

Case in point: Tuesday night.

Of course, the re-zoning isn’t the only hot button on the Tuesday agenda. The council also will consider a controversial revision to a “host responsibility” ordinance, microchip registration for pets, and the possibility of 2 a.m. bar closing times. All are issues dividing the community. We might expect a lot of weight to fall on swing voters in the next few months.

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12 thoughts on “Bill Peterson's Blog: Swinging times for swing votes

  1. Well they definitely need to deny that action. San Marcos has been literally destroyed by the apartment complexes that have been developed here over the past 10 years. We used to have a moratorium of sorts against apartments. I’d like to see that come back permanently. Ever wonder why there aren’t that many apartments in New Braunfels, Kyle, and Buda?

  2. Amy, we have a lot of apartments here because there is a market for them. And as for why there is a market for them, I have three words, Texas State University. As for the “moritorium”. In the late 80s there was an overbuilding for apartments, and we had a glut, and it took a few years for that glut to to work its way through the sysstem. If we get a glut of aprtments again, the same thing will happen.

  3. Larry, you hit the nail on the head…TSU is growing and there aren’t enough beds for the student growth. If one is a single renter, not living in section 8 or an over 55 community, the selection for renting means living among the students. What a joke! Do you know what the parking lots look like full of garbage and broken beer bottles after a weekend of drinking. Makes you want to move to Kyle or Buda or New Braunfels as Amy pointed out.

  4. Actually, there are far more apartments in San Marcos than there are students living in the city (and off campus). I would guess that there are probably 30,000 non-students and 10,000 students renting property in San Marcos (according to the university, half of the students commute from outside of San Marcos – traffic counts on Aquarena Springs support this hypothesis as well – and the dorms have a capacity of 5500).

    The problem is that there are too few people who can afford houses. The students graduate and they stay in the apartments until they settle into a career and move away.

    Bring some good jobs to town and you’ll start to see less demand for the apartments as people’s financial conditions improve and they look for homes to buy.

    There just aren’t that many jobs at the outlet mall that pay enough to cover a mortgage. Hell, most of them don’t pay enough to cover rent without a slew of roommates.

  5. You’ll probably see a different relationship with the students evolve if there is something to keep them here after graduation. Stop chasing JC Penney and focus your energy and resources ($$$) on bringing real jobs to town and so many problems will start to go away.

  6. I agree with Ted on both counts. San Marcos has always been plagued by lack of industry infrastructure, and there are so many apt complex’s available. All you need to do is drive down Aquarena Springs to see the For Rent signs. Kyle was able to get Seton to build a hospital, what will the Mayor of San Marcos do for her city beside adding more apts? Does this help the average resident? Or to build up the reputation of our schools? I am a long term resident who’s son goes to school here but seeing this makes me think about where our Mayors priorities lie.

  7. Ted, you hit the nail on the head. The students work one or two “outlet mall type jobs” have multiple room mates, borrow on student loans and then turn to mom and dad when they have emergencies. What about the rest of us who want to live and work in San Marcos that aren’t college students?

    BTW Ted, can you tell what apartment community would be suitable for a 30 something single in San Marcos?

  8. Instead of the property mentioned, what about building them (apts) at the springtown center? Has their been any mention about that? Seems like a good location for apartments if we are talking about the student population. Just curious.

  9. The current city council is a “runaway mind train” and the citizens need to apply the brakes before they not only bankrupt our tax dollars but our integrity!

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