By Juan Montoya
It's a wonder that local folks know whether they're coming or going.
First they're told that their city is the poorest community in the United States.
Then the local dignitaries plunk down over $50,000, travel to Denver, and are told they're an All-American City.
So which one is it?
Millionaires (and billionaires) seem to think it's a nice town. Elon Musk, of SpaceX, looked out on the lomas of Boca Chica Beach and saw $15 million there for the taking. Using the disingenuous argument advanced by the Sunshine Boys over at the Brownsville Economic Development Council, SpaceX honchos stoically withstood the blatant shibboleth that their commercial launch site would bring 1,000 high-paying jobs of over $55,000 when and if the local folks would accept the closing of the public beach at least 12 times a year, if not more, for trial runs.
Why let facts get in the way?, figure the BEDC gurus Jason Hilts and his trusty sidekick Gilbert "Tonto" Salinas.
What if Musk's SpaceX application to the Federal Aviation Administration states in black and white that after 10 years in operation, the most full-time employees they would use would be less than 200 and not all of them close to the $55,000 carrot dangled by the BEDC yokels?
Brownsville Herald quoting BEDC's VP Gilbert Salinas and BEDC CEO Jason Hilts:
"If constructed, the new launch site is reported to directly or indirectly create about 1,000 jobs, all paying in excess of $55,000.
Environmental Impact Statement SpaceX submitted to the FAA:
Approximately 30 full-time SpaceX employees/contractors would be present at the vertical launch area and/or control center area in 2013... During a launch campaign, an additional 100 local or transient workers would be working at the vertical launch area and/or control center area. During launch campaigns, the additional workers could work extended hours; however, 2 days prior to launch, full-time SpaceX employees/contractors and the local or transient workers would need to be on-site for up to 24 hours per day. Staffing on-site would return to normal levels (approximately 30 full-time SpaceX employees/contractors) within a day or two after the actual launch.
Table 2.1-2 shows the number of full-time SpaceX employees/contractors working on site plus the local/transient workers necessary during launch campaigns that would be present between 2013 and 2022.
Table 2.1-2. Personnel for Proposed SpaceX Texas Launch Site Operations
Year Full-time SpaceX Full-time SpaceX
Employees/Contractors Employees/Contractors plus
Working On-Site Additional Local/Transient Workers
during Launch Campaigns
2013 30 130
2014 75 175
2015 100 200
2016 100 200
2017 110 210
2018 130 230
2019 150 250
2020 150 250
2021 150 250
2022 150 250
We could go on an on with the hype generated by Hilts and Salinas, but that is enough for now. For those measly 150 full-time jobs and another 100 part-timers at launch, Musk gets $15 million, tax abatements, undying praise, and a jingle in his pocket. Local residents can get a thrill for their money by standing some 10 or more miles away to watch a rocket take off and dirty up their beach and destroy the serene habitat of endangered species.
That's not the only giveaway that we are asked to contribute and "sacrifice" to do our part for economic development.
Tenaska, a private energy producer, somehow managed to talk the Brownsville Public Utility Board and the city commission to fork over some $325 million to help it build a 800 MW power plant of which the city would one one-quarter. Oh, but they don;t need it all at one time. Instead, we have easy installment payments in the form of increased utility rates for the foreseeable future.
During a special meeting last December, the commissioners adopted upwards rate hikes that will see city residents pay a 36 percent increase in electric rates over the next three years, a 20 percent increase in water rates over the same period, and a 6 percent hike in waste water costs over two years.
Under the plan approved by both bodies, electric rates alone will go up by 14 percent by October 2013 and another 22 percent by October 2016.
Not everyone was convinced that adding an additional $325 million in debt to the existing $200 million already owed by PUB was a peachy idea.
What did Leandro Garcia, PUB's chief financial officer say about this mounting debt? He said that the utility's financial adviser (who has a huge stake in the project in the form of commissions) will put together "the numbers" that will convince the Doubting Tomases that $535 million in debt for a utility serving the nation's poorest community is a good thing.
But a Fitch Ratings report from March indicated that the Tenaska project would add the extra $362 million to the roughly $200 million PUB was planning to spend on capital projects through fiscal year 2017. The extra capital expenditures would be funded completely with long-term debt, according to the report. As a result, it downgraded the utility bonds to "negative."
If Brownsville did not encumber itself with the enormous debt, would the private energy producer have come here at all?
Then there's the continuing debacle with the UT System which has an obligation to educate all the citizens of Texas, jot just those north of the immigration checkpoints at Sarita and Falfurrias. The UT Regents were making noises about purchasing real estate north of Alton Gloor if the city did not form over some real estate and other"considerations" so it would stay. Da Mayor Tony Martinez, who apparently is well versed in "la mordida," immediately spent many city bucks and effort to entice the oil-and-gas wealthy university to stay offering cut-rate prices on prime real estate for its consideration. Only later we found out that the UT System was not considering enlarging its footprint here, but rather to go back to the good old days before the "partnership" and make the Brownsville campus a satellite for the main campus at Edinburg. But it will take the land, thank you.
Still, Da Mayor was able to wrest victory from the jaws of defeat by convincing his city commissioners to plunk down $2.3 million for his buddy Abraham Galonsky's Casa Del Nylon since the UTB would buy it from the city. No such luck. Era perica. It turns out the university had no need for the shell of a building anyway and the city is stuck with yet another Brown Elephant. But Martinez made Galonsky happy and put a couple of coins in his purse. Come reelection time, we're sure Galonsky will prove to be most appreciative. Believe in Brownsville, indeed! Abraham does.
How about the Port of Brownsville negotiating a franchise with billionaire Broe Group from Denver (again!) to take over the profitable operations of the Brownsville Rio Grande Railroad for nebulous promises based on its projected success at building an industrial park with the port's own land? At the end of seven years, the port will have no railroad, and if at the end of six years the industrial park and small-business incubator doesn't pan out, OmniTrax (the Broe railroad) will simply give back exclusive control of the undeveloped portion of land that didn't pan out.
Meanwhile, the board of trustees of the BRG Railroad will probably be dissolved and members Fred Rustber (IBC President) and local contractor Terry Ray – who rammed through the franchise agreement through the Brownsville Navigation District board of commissioners – will be free to do business with the Broe Group since there will o longer be any conflict of interest. Pretty neat, hey?
To these guys, Brownsville is not a poor community at all, but rather a community that is easy to fleece with the help and acquiescence of facilitators like Rusteberg, UTB's Juliet Garcia, the United Brownsville bunch and our illustrious city commission.
The local cops have already started prosecuting the beggars and panhandlers from the frontage roads and chasing them from the public eye. Next will probably come the homeless and destitute who live in the doorways of downtown buildings. It just won't do have these n'er-do-wells on the streets. Next thing you know, visitors to our All-American City might imagine that we have a 12 percent unemployment rate and that nearly half the people here live in poverty. Can't have that, no sir.
But they will gladly open their doors and the public purse to thieves in suits and ties in exchange for the crumbs they leave behind.