Stuff I Heard
August 17, 2017 | Issue # 696
Two decades ago in the late 1990s there was a race up State Highway 361.
The competitors lined up on each end, one in Port Aransas and one at Packery Channel, raced their engines and charged headlong into each other. They met at about the spot where Fire Station #16 now stands, a monument to a glass half full or half empty depending on your point of view. The simplest explanation for the competition is as old a civilization itself…money.
The race was partially to annex the tax vacuum between the two ends of the Island road that had created a property tax base that could fatten the coffers at both ends, even the vacant lots up and down SH 361 generated property tax just by existing. But that wasn’t what was fueling the race. The growth along the corridor, which was not in the city limits of either city, had snuck up on both Port Aransas and Corpus Christi, but Corpus Christi was looking for ways to pay for cost overruns at the downtown Convention Center and recently completed American Bank Center and the SH 361 corridor fit the bill.
The condos and townhomes that had risen up out of the sand on the sixteen miles in question allowed for overnight stay, like hotels, which meant that they would pay the Hotel Occupancy Tax (HOT). Vacuums that can produce potential tax revenue don’t remain airless for very long in the political world and this one was no exception. The HOT funds could, by state law, be used to fund the cost overruns downtown.
Free bite at the apple
The Hotel Occupancy Tax (HOT) is tacked on, currently at 9% in Corpus Christi, to the bills from visitors who stay here, or anywhere in the city. HOT revenues are a bit of an anomaly as taxes go. They are not a tax on local residents, they are tax on people who visit the area and pay the 9% tax on top of their hotel bill for the privilege of doing so. It’s the type of tax city councils love because the shoe doesn’t pinch the locals, and the people who pay it can’t vote in these parts. So you get to charge a 9% premium for a Gulf view, which the visitors never really differentiate from the hotel bill, and all a city has to do is provide city services. It’s a free bite at the apple for local government but comes with the caveat from the state that the money can only be spent on things related to the tourist industry.
The prize in this race was the then fairly new but very impressive Port Royal Ocean Resort and Conference Center which each month is now one of two top producers of HOT money in Corpus Christi at over $2 million annually. The resort at the time claimed the largest swimming pool in the state and has since expanded it. It is a top of the line resort and became the apple of the eye of the HOT collectors, especially in Corpus Christi where then City Manager David Garcia had come to town from San Antonio where the value of a HOT was well established. Corpus Christi revved its tax engine and began running north up the 361 corridor annexing developments and raw land and was halfway down the track before the City of Port Aransas realized what was happening and saddled up and headed south but it was too late to claim the prize. While Port Royal promotes itself as being in Port Aransas which has a strong brand statewide, in reality it is in the Corpus Christi City Limits and its $2 million flows into the Corpus Christi coffers each year.
And then on Tuesday…
An item placed on the Tuesday agenda of the Corpus Christi City Council by our councilman Greg Smith led to some interesting revelations that shows little has changed since the 1990s.
Several weeks ago a study was presented to the council at a workshop which pushed the idea of expansion around the downtown Convention Center at a total cost of about $75 million to be financed with Revenue Bonds that would lock up HOT funds for the next 30 years. The plan is in its infancy and what the final proposal will look like is yet to be seen. But the building blocks are in place and, according to what came out Tuesday, the mere discussion of possible city tax incentives for a new hotel adjacent to the Convention Center found its way into trade publications and several councilmembers, along with some city staff, said they have been getting calls from interested hotel operators. Smith made a motion to send the message that while the city will gladly entertain offers from any private investors interested in building a convention hotel, the council should state unequivocally here at the start of the process that there will be no tax incentives or direct tax subsidies involved. He cited the recent sale of a convention hotel in downtown Phoenix which cost taxpayers $100 million as a cautionary tale. The idea was to nip tax giveaways in the bud, but his motion died for lack of a second and the matter went back to city staff to push toward a Request for Proposals. The report, available for viewing at the CVB, cites potential economic benefits around $445 million.
But further discussion revealed that what appeared to be a majority of the council is against tax incentives for a convention hotel, primarily because there are current discussions to build a hotel on the opposite side of the current Harbor Bridge, near Whataburger Field, if tax incentives are given to one then by nature they will be given to the other, and further there seems to be an overall sense, judging by the discussion, that using public money to fund new privately-owned hotels that would compete against existing hotels whose HOT money would be part of the subsidies seems patently unfair.
Make no mistake this is political. Big money and big players are involved, none of them from The Island.
$23 million in annual losses
Smith, a dedicated budget reader, presented numbers showing that the Convention Center, American Bank Center, Selena Auditorium, and surrounding facilities cost taxpayers $23,701,000 per year. A total of $28,976,000 in tax money is paid in, and a profit of $5,274,000 comes back. In 2011 when the HOT generated $10 million and $3 million was put into reserves – the reserves that are now being eaten up by the spending deficit.
In fairness it should be noted that convention centers are never profit centers in themselves, the idea is they are a loss leader than spins off revenue and ours is old. The argument for expansion is that the current facility is not operating at capacity because it is ill-configured and not big enough. It is at the end of the day a question of Return on Investment.
Out of a total of $16 million generated this year in HOT funds, about $10 million goes to subsidize loses there with the remainder coming from other city revenue sources. About $4 million of that $16 million comes from The Island, primarily from the area where the race to annexation took place. Only about $1.2 million of the HOT revenue actually finds its way into the advertising budget to directly promote the area as a tourism destination – less than the City of Port Aransas with a fraction of the population. It is that direct promotion that is at the heart of the spirit of levying the HOT I the first place, but as is often the case, other entities creep onto the payroll over time.
Because the HOT revenue is not paid by locals it has flown under the radar for decades a wide variety of semi-tourist line items have been glommed onto the list at the HOT payout window: the Art Museum of South Texas $350,000, Whataburger Field $175,000; Art grants and projects $300,000. The payout to The Island for its $4 million is $1.9 million to clean the beaches, statistically speaking the major reason tourists visit the area.
A full accounting
Councilman Rudy Garza said Tuesday that he asked for a list of HOT funds and a total of other tax money flowing into the convention center and surrounding facilities “a couple of years ago” and never got it. On Tuesday new At-Large member Debbie Lindsey-Opel requested that city staff produce the numbers as part of their work on the proposed project, but here’s betting that Smith’s self-generated number of $29 million in tax money flowing in annually is on the mark.
The question here is a profound one for our future and the future of the city and it is whether now and in the future Island HOT payers are getting fair value for their $4 million, sure to increase with Island development, and if not is it time to begin the process of reversing the results of The Race by finding a way to keep the Island HOT money on The Island to promote The Island before it is locked up for the next thirty years to fund operational shortfalls at an expanded convention center.
It takes five votes on the council and it is a discussion whose time has come.
August 3, 2017 | Issue # 694
I guess it’s true that what goes around comes around. This week I found myself interviewing Tony Amos at the Animal Rescue Keep in Port Aransas who as he approaches his eightieth birthday is still working every day to help injured birds, turtles, and wildlife find a new life. If there is such thing as karma in this old world surely Tony has racked up a truckload of the good kind.
I recently began dabbling back in television news doing one story each Wednesday night on The Island for KIII and was interviewing Tony when the subject of a helicopter ride in 1988 – I think – came up. Here we were right back where we were when we were both starting out, him saving animals and me shooting video (not much doubt about who’s doing the greater good there).
We were having a water fight in the Hill Country and I had flown down to The Coast to do a series of stories on rivers as they flowed into the Gulf and was flying over the Nueces delta and doing a story on the beach with Tony. We picked Tony up at the U.T. Marine Science Center and went flying south down the beach and landed. I was sitting in the backseat with Tony when we touched down and I looked over and saw him write in this book, “helicopter landing, Mile Mark so-and-so, 10 a.m.” and the date.
“What kind of helicopter is this?” he asked pilot Mike Rice, and when told it was a French-made Aerospatiale he duly noted it in his book. Almost thirty years later Tony remembers.
“The photographer was out there hanging by a strap outside the helicopter,” he said. These days that seems as ancient as driving a Flivver, in fact television stations having a helicopter seems almost as ancient.
A boat is down
We dropped Tony off back at the center and as we spun the blades for takeoff he came running out waving his arms with the news that the Dolphin II had sunk in, as I recall, seventy two feet of water twelve miles offshore from San Jose Island. We had no floatation devices but a shot of survivors jumping off the back of a boat was too good to pass up and off we went. We arrived at the site as the last of the survivors were boated and headed back to Port A where we landed in a vacant lot on Cotter where some years later a Whataburger was built. I was interviewing survivors across the street when a police sergeant arrived and informed me that the helicopter had landed illegally and would be impounded. What the sergeant thought the city was going to do with a million dollar helicopter I don’t know, but I got on the radio and told Mike to get airborne. I headed for the city limits to try and shake the law dog but he followed right behind the satellite truck, waiting for Chopper 5 to land so he could arrest it.
It was barely an hour before I was to go live and my patience was wearing thin. I stopped at the airport and found a payphone – no cell phones in those days. I called city hall and asked to speak to the mayor and was given a number at Woody’s and called and asked for the mayor. I explained to him what had had happened and that we land on the beach every spring break and no one ever said anything and now this fellow wants to seize the helicopter.
“Let me talk to him.”
I handed the phone to the sergeant who was standing right behind me, “The mayor wants to talk to you.”
“I don’t have anything to say to Lila Cockrell,” he said – Cockrell was the mayor of San Antonio at the time. After listening in silence for a time the sergeant grunted and hung up the phone and got in his car and left. Helicopter justice denied.
A couple of years ago I related this story to Glen Martin, who owns Woody’s, “That was you! I was the mayor you called. But I did think it would be kind of cool for the mayor to have his own helicopter!”
Anther full circle
The next day I flew up the coast and did a story on San Antonio Bay. As I was about to leave the County Extension Agent who I had interviewed said, “If you want a real story I would like to introduce you to a guy up on Lavaca Bay.” I interviewed the man and he was a third generation shrimper who had recently taken a job at a newly built plastics plant there and, according to him, the job they gave him was dumping barrels full of black slime and plastic pellets into Lavaca Bay in the middle of the night – the reason the agent figured the man had stopped catching shrimp and pursued a carrier in plastics.
Last Monday a press release crossed my desk her on The Island with the news that residents have filed a $57 million lawsuit against the company alleging they have been dumping plastic pellets into Lavaca Bay for ten years – that’s not true, according to what the ex-shrimper and then dumper told me, they have been doing it for close to thirty years.
See what I mean by full circle. Here’s hoping the (alleged) pellet dumping stops and Tony goes on forever.
And so it goes.
July 27, 2017 | Issue # 693
There has been a lot happening of late, here is some of it.
Water Exchange Bridge
We get weekly questions about the progress on the Water Exchange Bridge planned to be built under SPID between Commodores and Whitecap. The canals are complete on each side of the bridge site, but the project is held up mostly because the last few hundred feet of canal on the west side of the roadway remains undug. As long as the canal on that side of the road doesn’t touch saltwater, the political class is understandingly not going to approve the $11.5 million in public money earmarked for the project and risk building “a bridge to nowhere.”
Currently, $7.5 million in bond money is available and awaiting final approval of the project by the Corpus Christi City Council, and the remainder – up to $4 million – has been approved from the Island Tax Increment Re-Finance Zone and is available. Bids on the project were opened several months ago but will expire in October, meaning if there is no progress, the project would have to be re-bid, and there would likely also be some permitting issues if things go that long without action.
It is accurate to say, at this point, that the project is stalled; the money is there but the political will is not. As I read the tealeaves at city hall, I don’t think there will be a vote on moving forward with the project unless/until the final piece of the canal is dug, and that is held up in a foreclosure proceeding on the land where the missing piece of the canal is located. That, in itself, is an addendum to a much larger legal quagmire involving the investors of the Schlitterbahn park and the land and development surrounding it.
I would characterize the project as uncertain at this point with its future hanging fire based on the outcome of the legal wrangling among the Schlitterbahn partners. At this point we are awaiting events.
Hotel Occupancy Tax Debate
The city council last week got a briefing from consultants hired to take a look at the future of the downtown convention center with regard to its expansion. The group recommended, among other things, committing $75 million in future money from the Hotel Occupancy Tax to, among other things, expanding the number of meeting rooms there from the current 22 which the consultants described as “useless.” Galveston by contrast does more convention businesses than Corpus Christi but lists only eleven meeting rooms. Essentially what the Chicago-based consultants said is that the reason we can’t fill up our convention center with conventions is because it is too small. More convention space and an adjacent convention hotel would allow the Convention and Visitors Bureau to go after more and slightly larger conventions. This is a chicken and egg question that cities all over the country wrestle with; you built a bigger convention center and if it doesn’t fill up the blame falls to lack of hotel space, you build a bigger hotel and if it doesn’t fill up the blame falls to lack of convention space. Happy mediums and states of equilibrium have often proven hard to find.
The pushback is that the plan suggested by the consultants would essentially tie up about two thirds of the total annual HOT revenue for thirty years. That’s a big decision.
Also in the recommendations were $69 million for the convention hotel on city-owned land and financed with debt, $10.3 million in improvements to the American Bank Center Arena funded with cash from the Arena Trust Fund, and another $10 million in improvements to the Selena Auditorium funded with city cash from an as yet undetermined source.
The HOT revenue is raised from a dedicated tax on hotel revenue across the city, for the amount of hotel money raised in various parts of town see the graph on this page. By state law that money must be plowed back into tourism related items.
Currently the tax raises about $16 million in HOT each year of which about $10 million goes to support convention center operations. About $4 million of the $16 million comes from hotels on Mustang and Padre Islands inside the Corpus Christi City Limits. It has long been the contention by many HOT payers on The Island that they do not get $4 million worth of value out of the money they are paying. Mayor Joe McComb told the consultants during the workshop that operators at one Island resort which ranks near the top of the HOT payers in the city regard the downtown operation as a “black hole” for HOT money, and further that “there is more to the city than twelve square blocks downtown,” and it looks like that may frame the debate that is about to begin.
Of the $16 million in HOT tax raised about $1.3 million of it actually finds its way to pay for advertising the area to potential visitors across the state and nation; an amount that CVB officials recently called woefully inadequate to fund meaningful advertising.
Council members instructed the staff to come back with a complete accounting of where all the HOT revenue is going and an accounting of exactly how much money from city sources is flowing through the convention center.
Convention centers are not in themselves money makers, they are designed to draw tourists to the area who then spend money elsewhere. But it seemed clear from the discussion at the workshop last week that before this group makes a long-term decision on what to do they want to see exactly where the money is currently being spent.
This is a complicated and important issue that is likely to pop up on the council agenda in the next few weeks and spark a discussion that might spill over to the next round of city elections.
It has great ramifications for The Island and we will have more on the subject as things develop. Once again, we are awaiting events.
July 20, 2017 | Issue # 692
Way back in the 1960s my now gone friend Chris Holtzhaus answered a classified advertisement in the San Antonio Express-News for a guitar player. He soon found himself in Port Aransas rehearsing for an upcoming record by the made-for-television group The Monkees.
It turned out one of the producers was from Corpus Christi and since the members of the group didn’t actually know how to play the instruments somebody had to do it and as it turned out those somebodies retired to a motel in Port Aransas and played in the only local music venue in town at that time. It was there, according to Chris’ story that the song Last Train to Clarksville was written after the coming album came up one song short.
I was reminded of all of this Saturday night when I went to Port Aransas to shoot a story on the music scene in Port Aransas for KIII television. Being an old married guy my soirees to Port Aransas these days are usually over well before sunset in the summer months. I leave before the kids show up. But much to my surprise the headlining bands in Port A last Saturday didn’t even take the stage until around ten o’clock. The two biggest drawing acts in town – Mickey and the Motorcars at Treasure Island, and the Dirty River Boys at the Back Porch – had opening acts that played early. Maybe it is my early hours but that is the first time I can remember opening acts at Port A gigs and usually the bands kick it off by nine and are taillights over the curb by midnight. Not so this summer season.
It seems that in my absence the music scene in Port Aransas has grown up. There are now about a dozen live music venue in town and they are frequented by touring acts from across the Laguna, most from the Austin-San Antonio-Houston areas, but in one case arriving by sailboat and leaving the same way.
We owe the genesis of the music scene in Port Aransas to the recently retired manager of the Back Porch Susan Powell who long ago owned the Ballyhoo Club on the south end of town before moving to the old Tortuga Flats located at the current spot of Virginia’s. The Salty Dog had some live music in those days – the 1980-1990s – as I recall, but that was about it for live music in Port A. Sharky’s on the south side of town also had some live music in the early aughts but live music venues were few and far between.
By the time I moved back to town in 2000 the Back Porch was in full swing. Susan brought in bands from up state and it was there, at least as far as I recall, that what has blossomed into the kinetic scene we have today began. These days Shorty’s, Giggity’s, Behringer’s, the Tarpon Inn, and others all feature regular live music. On Saturday our longtime friends the Toman Brothers from San Antonio played to a packed house at Giggity’s and Shorty’s was full as well for Ruben Limas and his band.
I was a little taken aback at how much music there was in town last Saturday and especially the size of the crowds. I read about it each week in Ronnie’s music column in these pages but until I saw it for myself I didn’t quite get the full measure of what is happening there. I think that Ronnie’s column has been a big part of the catalyst for that, as it brings attention to what is going on not only to the public but to working bands. Ronnie’s phone and e-mail are kept busy every week from bands looking for a gig in Port A and Ray Summy, who has been running sound for bands there since the 1990s and who is known far and wide as The Hardest Working Man in Show Business, says that touring bands now like to come down to do shows and work out new material as well as pick up a paying gig. Port A music is on the map.
I’m here to tell you that the selection of music in Port Aransas, with the exception of the big rooms that hold thousands, on any given weekend is as good in Port Aransas as in San Antonio and much better than in the remainder of Corpus Christ put together. We’re not Austin but there is a good cadre of local working bands and solo artists who make a living working The Island. There has yet to emerge an “Island Sound” that defines the music of our time and place, but the way things are going it will come.
I’ll be back at Treasure Island this Saturday for Statesboro Review and will make the rounds. I’m looking forward to it and I can’t help but wonder what my old friend Chris would think. He was hard on bass players but he loved playing live music and I got to believe he would love it.
I was impressed.
July 13, 2017 | Issue # 691
It all started with a swimming pool accessory.
“Something’s wrong with my Polaris and it’s spraying water all over my plants.”
“Isn’t that good, it will water them?”
“No, it has too much chlorine and it leaves brown spots, even more than the tap water.”
For the un-pooled the Polaris is that thing that wanders around in your pool and eats stuff. It has a tail, looks like a stingray, and acts for all the world like a living thing. It’s kind of scary. One night after a backyard picking party that went late a friend jumped in and checked it for gills.
“Inanimate sir!” came the report from the shallow end. “Water driven with no reproductive organs visible.”
I let go the obvious question of why he checked it for reproductive organs but was glad to know the thing wouldn’t be multiplying or crawling up my leg in my sleep. But it started me thinking that in the course of human events our problems here on our little sandbar are Island problems.
“I forgot my cell phone and by the time I went back to get it I missed my mani-pedi! I couldn’t reschedule for two days!”
“My dog has fleas”
“I went twenty six miles out in my boat and only caught two red snapper!”
“My yard guy didn’t show up and I had to pick up dog poo! I used my nine iron to chip it into my neighbor’s yard. He lives in Chicago.”
“I ran out of propane when my steaks were still rare!”
“How are we supposed to build a decent fire in the fireplace with those little packages of logs at Stripes?”
“Why can’t we buy non-ethanol gas on The Island? And why isn’t there a place to buy diesel for my boat?”
“My house doesn’t have sidewalks!”
“It’s hot, why doesn’t the wind blow?”
“Why is the wind blowing so hard!?”
“My neighbor listens to jazz music in the middle of the afternoon by the pool. My cell phone ringer is set to Thelonious Monk and I can’t tell it from his music. Last week I missed a call from my stock broker, it could have been a sell order! I gave him a Dizzy Gillespie cd but still he’s with the Thelonious Monk! Doesn’t everybody like a horn better than a piano? There’s just no reaching some people!”
“My pool guy got too much chlorine in my pool and it burns my eyes!”
“My pool needs more chlorine, I think the neighbors kid peed in it! If you don’t think location matters just think of the difference between peeing while you’re in the pool and peeing in it while you’re standing on the side. See what I mean!”
“Why don’t we have caddies at the county club?”
“The pilot light on the gas oven on my patio went out and I had to get down on my knees to light it!”
Oh the humanity!
“I went to the beach and somebody stole one of my flip flops. Who steals one flip flop!? I paid ten dollars for those things and now I got to hop through Aquarius Park on one foot!”
“I had to go OTB twice last week.”
“We have too many stop lights.”
“We don’t have enough stop lights.”
“Why is the speed limit so high?”
“My housekeeper left a cigarette butte in the ash tray on the patio.”
“When the power went out my Wi-Fi stopped working, I thought they were separate.”
“My neighbor left his garbage can over my property line, and you can see them from the street. Isn’t there a law.”
“I hit my tee shot into the rough and I think it went into a gopher hole. I’m not taking a stroke that’s a Natural Hazzard!”
“I need a bottom job.”
“I left the lid up on my Yeti and it filled up with rainwater, I pulled the plug and it was okay…but still.”
“It’s hot and humid.”
“The ice melted in my ice chest while I was at the beach and I still had two beers left and they got Rodeo Cool! I had to walk down the beach all the way to Mikel Mays to get a cold one.”
“I got stuck on the beach and somebody had to pull me out. I missed the first two puzzles on Wheel of Fortune.”
“My recliner doesn’t lean back far enough.”
“The crabs got my bait.”
“My bait got crabs.”
“My mother-in-law came down and she snores.”
“My mother in law came down.”
“My putter is too short.”
“Why is the water so salty?”
“Why doesn’t anybody have live shrimp today!?”
“My neighbor has a jet ski in his front yard and the POA won’t do anything, neither will the city.”
“I bought a raspa on the beach and I ordered cherry and I got strawberry. I know they look the same in the jug, but dang, you think the kid in the trailer would know the difference.” (Raspa” comes from the Spanish phrase hielo raspado, meaning scraped ice and strawberry ain’t bad.).
“My dog still has fleas, and I think he has gas too.”
“Why does Happy Hour have to end at seven? Sometimes I don’t get there until seven.”
“I saw a coyote.”
“Some dude went down the canal behind my house and left a wake so big it splashed water on my deck.”
“I lost my sunglasses.”
“My cousins are coming down for five days and they all snore.”
“I went to the beach and didn’t find a single sand dollar. Why aren’t there more shells?”
“Why do I have to pay twelve dollars to go to the beach, don’t we own it!?”
“I can’t believe they charge $4.50 for a beer.”
“This isn’t the way we did it in…California, Florida, Dallas, Minneapolis, Lake Charles, grade school, my dreams, Bermuda shorts.”
“I went on a cruise and they served green beans with everything.”
“I went on a cruise and the bed was too short.”
“I went on a cruise and my wife ran off with the conga player. But she came back!”
“The drain on my dishwasher backed up and I had to run it through two cycles!”
“I put shrimp tails down my disposal and it made my house smell like shrimp tails.”
“I got a lobster tan.”
“I need a lobster tan.”
“I painted my living room and now I don’t like the color.”
“My ceiling fan makes a noise.”
“I blew out a flip flop and stepped on a pop top. Cut my heel had to take UBER back home.”
“I left my surfboard wax on the dashboard and it turned to mush.”
“I got a ding on my surfboard when I dropped it on the hood ornament on the Cadillac Escapade.”
“I should have bought a green Corvette, the red one attracts the wrong kind of woman.”
“My BMW doesn’t have a Heads Up Display, what was I thinking?!”
“I had a flat tire on my boat trailer.”
“I don’t have a boat trailer.”
“We missed our connecting flight from Cancun and had to wait almost two hours in Houston.” (I feel your pain on that one).
“I drank too much El Guapo and my head hurts.”
“I ran out of El Guapo before I drank enough for a hangover.”
“No one goes to the beach, it’s too crowded.”
“The ferry line is too long.”
“Why do tourists feed the seagulls? And why do they like to dig a big hole on the beach and sit in it? What’s up with that?”
“Why do I have to drive all the way to Lubbock to get a Chilton? And why don’t they make them with tequila?”
“My boyfriend has feet like a runaway slave.”
“Why is the water so shallow next to the beach? It wasn’t that way when I lived in…Florida, California, Bora Bora…”
“The tax value on my house is more than I can sell it for.”
“The traffic was backed up on Saturday coming onto The Island.”
“The traffic on Sunday was backed up leaving The Island.”
“Why is it so far to Port Aransas? They should have made The Island shorter.”
“The wind is blowing too hard to go sailing.”
“I can’t get my sailboat out of Packery Channel. I’m going to have to downsize.”
“The wind isn’t blowing hard enough to go sailing and the motor makes too much noise.”
“We don’t have a grocery store.”
“My keister hurts and I can’t find my car. Where’s the last place you saw it? Well, it was right here on the end of my key. You know you’re not wearing any pants? Oh man, I think they got my girlfriend too!”
“Why isn’t there a bridge over Packery Channel at the beach? I had to drive all the way around.”
“Why are dunes so far from the beach?”
“Why are the dunes so close to the beach?”
“Why doesn’t Sea Pines have pine trees?”
“My solar panel faces the wrong way. The sun keeps moving!”
“I got stuck in the line at the Skid-O-Can and missed the first part of the free fireworks show.”
“I fell off my wind board and got salt water in my eyes. Had to jump in my pool.”
“I had to wait fifteen minutes to launch my boat at the free ramp.”
“Why isn’t there a place for me to land my airplane around here?”
“My RV is too big for my yard.”
“My friends’ boats are all too big to get down my measly canal.”
“The sand is blowing in my eyes.”
“I saw an old guy in a Speedo. Couldn’t find my Buck Knife to poke out my one good eye.”
You get the message. Our problems are Island problems. Not that they aren’t problems, but let’s take a deep breath here folks, as problems go they don’t fall into the category of catastrophic. We live in a place that people work all their lives to be able to move to and we got a beach that we can drive on and our dogs can run on. We have a great charter school where Island kids get a great education. All we have to do is flip a switch and lower our boats into the canal behind our house and be fishing the flats in twenty minutes. We have a fishing pier that we can use for a pittance.
It’s true we get overrun by visitors a few weekends out of the year but we got the Ski Basin, and besides, they leave on Sunday and leave money behind. It’s true we don’t have a dog park, and we got sticker patches where our parks ought to be, and pocket gophers, but we also don’t have air pollution, (bad) hippies, an Al-Queda or Hell’s Angels chapter (that we know of), crack houses (that we know of),chain stores, air raids, gunboats offshore, (confirmed) chupacabras, military coups (so far), (confirmed) communists, nor ice storms; we got a snow storm in 2004 and we still talk about it and can’t wait for the next one.
If a hurricane hits, we got gripes, but in the meantime let’s keep in mind that we live in a place that does not stink…except around the Stink Factory at Whitecap and Gypsy. Why just the other day I drove by there and it smelled so bad…ah, well, never mind.
And always remember, what happens on The Island leaves on Sunday.
July 6, 2017 | Issue # 690
When it comes to big holidays holiday around here we seem to be a bit snakebit on the publicity side.
It started at Spring Break 2016 when the City of Port Aransas took steps to control drinking on the beaches and the story that went out was that drinking had been banned on beaches there. Then on the Fourth of July last year it was reported in the markets that feed our tourist crowd that a man had contracted the flesh-eating bacteria Vibrio “while visiting Port Aransas” and the stories were accompanied by a photo of the man’s leg, which was eventually amputated. A closer examination of the facts found that the man had been wade fishing in the water near Rockport in the morning before going to the beach in the afternoon. No matter that Rockport is not on a Gulf beach, the damage was done, and another round of stories made the news in June of this year under the headline “Man dies from vibrio after going into the Gulf with a fresh tattoo.” The story referenced the case from a year ago and said that man had taken “a trip to the beach in Port Aransas.”
In early July, 2015 another round of stories hit the news of man who contracted Vibrio after wade fishing in Rockport. The stories are all clustered around the July 4 holiday when viewers are considering traveling to The Coast and newsrooms check to see if there is a story the there.
There were 35 documented cases of Vibrio vulnificus reported in Texas last year and invariably the reports say it was contracted “at the beach” when often, as was reported in the case again this year, the victim went to the beach after wading in the Laguna, then went to the beach later. But that distinction gets left out of stories in San Antonio, Austin, Dallas and Houston. We get regular inquiries from friends there asking if it is safe to swim in the water at the beach. We tell them it’s the rip currents they need to watch out for but when the idea is planted that the water around here is full of flesh eating bacteria a drive to the Frio River starts sounding like a better idea.
Add in the fact that during Memorial Day weekend last year we were under a citywide water boil order and we start looking like a swimsuit model with missing teeth.
The Texas Beach Watch website, maintained by the Texas General Land Office shows the latest count of bacteria and fecal matter in Gulf waters – none currently report any levels of Vibrio. But even if the level is low reports of elevated levels of fecal matter in the water don’t help much. A check of the site this week put the advisory level for fecal matter at Medium at Bob Hall Pier, which is better than High but a lot worse than None. But still Medium fecal matter in the water doesn’t exactly encourage people to get in their cars and drive to the beach.
The site tests water up and down the Texas Coast and currently shows fecal matter levels to be low at all but seven of the testing sites in this immediate area, five of which are around Bob Hall Pier, one in Rockport, and one in Corpus Christi Bay. The cause of the problem around Bob Hall Pier seems to be a mystery at this point but when reporters check the website prior to the holiday and find even slightly elevated levels it makes for a very disturbing headline. Nobody wants to swim in a toilet bowl. Nine sites near Galveston are currently cited as having elevated levels of fecal matter and they are clustered together much like the ones around Bob Hall Pier. Of fifteen sites checked in the Rio Grande Valley four are reporting higher levels of fecal matter.
Just prior to Memorial Day this year two television stations in San Antonio, both owned by the same company and operating out of the same newsroom, ran a story with a headline…”Thinking About Going to the Texas beach? There’s poo in them waters.”
“Hey, honey let’s take the kids and go swim in the poo water at The Coast, what do you say?”
One problem is sloppy writing. When the stories were written under the headline of Poo in the Water the dateline was Galveston, but we got tarred with the same brush. And the reports about higher levels of fecal matter get lumped together with stories about the flesh eating virus and make both seem to be end-of-the-worldish. The website for one of the San Antonio stations has three related stories under the Poo headline which read, “Texas Man Infected with Flesh Eating Bacteria After Visiting Port Aransas Beach, Man Contacts Flesh-Eating Bacteria at Galveston Beach, and Florida Swimmer Dies After Contracting Rare Flesh-Eating Bacteria.”
It fits the old tabloid model of scaring the most people possible with the fewest facts allowable. File them all under the heading of Plague on The Coast – Run for Your Very Lives! and it leaves the impression that we are venting raw sewage into the Gulf and if that doesn’t get you the bacteria will. It’s the stuff of horror films.
What I’m saying here is that a pattern is immerging and it’s not a good one. My suggestion is that the Convention and Visitors bureaus on The Coast get together and pay visits to the newsrooms in our four major feeder markets and explain to them that their language matters. There is a pattern here and it needs to be addressed.
In the meantime we probably need to find out who is putting the poo in the water and see if we can get them to stop. How about this headline, “Who is Putting the Poo in the Bob Hall Slough?”
I have an idea but I’m not going to state it here until I can do some checking.
June 29, 2017 | Issue # 689
We received this letter this week.
Hello island Moonies..
My wife and I have just moved to Flour Bluff a year ago. One of the things we always enjoy doing is to grab an Island Moon from our local HEB.
We enjoy it very much.
A little constructive criticism from a newbie. On page two of the June 22nd issue, the top left has three nice pictures of happy people. It made me interested in them and what they were doing. So I read the headline on the photos. "Holiday Inn Hosts June PIBA Mixer"
Not knowing what PIBA was I did a search.
- PIBA leggings....hmmm, probably not.
- PIBA insurance... maybe but if so I am much less interested in what they are up to.
When I was an active TI engineer we were always cautioned about acronyms when presenting to no-TIers. If you are not familiar with what TI is, then you should understand my confusion.
We love the paper, keep it up.
Editor’s note: We understand Danny, sometimes we get carried away with our own navel gazing. We do have to express some surprise though that there are such things as “AE’s”…Active Engineers…who knew!?
But seriously Danny, here’s a partial list of Island Acronyms to help you get up so speed. If you have any questions DBSTA (Don't Be Scared To Ask).
The Newcomers Guide to Island Acronyms
OTB – Over The Bridge. This is a term invented by the now departed Mr. Dick who was the pro over at Padre Isles Country Club who still holds the record for avoiding going OTB at around 435 days. He finally broke down and went OTB to visit his friend in the hospital.
This also passes for a Four-Letter word on The Island. It is to be avoided when at all possible. When used in a sentence it is usually followed by a rolling of the eyes, a sigh, or a real four-letter word - as in, “I had to go OTB today dang it. Had to get groceries,” which often prompts another OTB – “Oh, Too Bad.”
Some years ago there was a nascent movement to Drop The Bridge (DTB) in an effort to sever the Island’s umbilical cord and stop people in town from coming OTB. It was discarded as impractical because the Laguna Madre is too shallow for ferries.
BD’s – Bridge Droppers. This is the North Padre version of the FB’s (Ferry Burners) in Port A. In both cases it is often part of a diatribe about traffic, rising real estate prices, an OTBer who has managed to stick his Prius in three feet of soft sand he should have seen coming then complain about the driving conditions, a seagull feeder (exceptions are made for our intoxicated visitors as we get that), a garage bandit (no excuse for that), a fat man wearing a Speedo, a know-it-all who moved here last week but knows everything that should be changed to resemble Florida or California (or worse), or watching an OTBer throw twelve beer cans and four hotdog wrappers on the beach before driving off (we confess that last one has caused us to use words not found in the Bible).
WHOTHLOS What Happens On The Island Leaves on Sunday. This can take several meanings depending on whether it involves a party with people you had never met, or relatives. In either case, your transgressions are erased and you get a clean slate until next time. Unless of course it involves crimes against kids or dogs, in which case we invite you to not the bridge slap you on the backside on your way out.
Dumber Than...Sand! We cleaned this one up a bit for these pages but you get the message. Apply this to the fellow you see with his boat stuck in less than six inches of water because he drove it outside the markers and blames the markers.
POA is the Padre Isles Property Owners Association. It’s been around since the 1960’s when The Island was developed as a master-planned community. There are over 3000 single-family homes and 2000 residential/commercial sites in the POA boundaries. POA also maintains the seven boat ramps on The Island and the 30-plus miles of concrete bulkheads that keep our houses from sliding into the canals. Maybeth Christensen writes the POA column for the Moon and fields the calls over at the POA office. Most of these are complaints from people about barking dogs, the neighbor’s new deck (too big, too small, painted purple, etc.), cars in the street, cats in the trees, coyotes in the yards (for the record the POA does not control them), sandburs, fish guts in the canals, No Wake violators, trashy vacant lots, calls from people who are unhappy and don’t know why, and occasionally about the rules that say what can and can’t be built out here. It’s the job of the POA to enforce the deed covenants and collective rules that keep your neighbor from building the Tower of Babel in his backyard then sitting on top of it all night playing his ukulele and singing the second verse of Oh How I Want to Go Home over and over.
CRS – Can’t Remember…Stuff. This is often seen in our older citizens however, we do see it more and more in younger Islanders when accompanied by bloodshot eyes. Symptoms involve walking into a room and forgetting why you are there, driving away from your house with the strange feeling you forgot something and then discovering it was your pants, or serving cold pasta to your guests because you forgot to turn the oven on. CRS…try to remember it. (Hint: It doesn’t work with the IRS).
ISAC – Island Strategic Action Committee. This is the 14 member committee that the Corpus Christi City Council (CCCC) has established to vet issues and projects from The Island before they go to the CCCC. They meet (usually) the first Tuesday of each month at 5:30 p.m. (we always have to put the p.m. because we have some early risers) at the Veranda. The meetings are open to the public and if you have a question you would like answered go to a meeting with your question and they will put it on the agenda for the next meeting and the City Staff will come back next time with an answer.
IUPAC – This is the Island United Political Action Committee. It was formed about three years ago to provide a vehicle for Islanders to endorse candidates for city offices and vote colletively. All registered voters on The Island are eligible to join.
ICW – IntraCoastal Waterway canal – also known as The Ditch. This is the canal that goes under the high portion of the JFK Bridge over by Doc’s Restaurant. It was originally dug during World War II to allow ships to move around the country without going into open water where German U-Boats lurked. It goes from Brownsville to Carrabelle, Florida, then up the east coast to Norfolk for a total of about 3000 miles. It also connects to the mouth of the Mississippi River where you can head north all the way to the country’s most inland port at Catoosa, Oklahoma, almost all the way to Tulsa. See what kind of reaction you get when you tell your friends you going to sail to Tulsa.
Along our Island it is dredged to around twelve feet and is wide enough for barge traffic. It is popular with sailors traveling both near and far and its shores are a great place to watch a sunset.
Notice it is InTRAcoastal rather than InTERcoastal. Intercoastal is used when you are talking about two different coasts; Intracoastal is used when you are referring something within that coast itself. So there you go. See, we all learned something today now if we can just avoid our CRS kicking in we will be able to impress our friends and scare our enemies.
BSR – Belt Sander Races. These are a local phenomenon which recently made the History Channel. They are held every other Saturday at The Gaff on Beach Street in Port Aransas. The Gaff is the closest thing we have to a pirate bar and the belt sander track is out back. As the name implies racers bring their belt sander over and race it down the track. This is wildly popular with Winter Texans since the beer is cheap, BYOB is allowed, and the graffiti on the walls is way above average. Our personal favorite:
To those who wish us ill – may God turn their hearts
If not – may He at least turn their ankles so that we may know them by their limp
A pirate bar indeed.
OBB – Odessa By the Bay. This is a term often used in disgust to describe The Sparkling City By The Sea after an Islander has been forced to go OTB. As in, “I see why they call this town OBB after I had to go OTB today and when I got there my CRS kicked in and I just turned around and come back OTB.” Anyone who has ever been to Odessa understands this.
NMS – Naked Man Syndrome. This is the term used after someone has driven down Kleberg Beach and had to witness the naked men who run around down there in the altogether. As in, “I had NMS today and had to go looking for my Buck Knife to poke out my one good eye.” (Hint: a chop stick will work in a pinch). Avoid NMS if you can.
BIB – Bird Island Basin. This is a world class windsurfing spot where our friend Don Jackson operates Worldwinds for windsurfing and Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP). It’s a short drive down toward PINS and if you’ve never been it’s a great way to spend an afternoon either out on the water or just sitting and watching. They have all the gear you need and the water is shallow so if you fall off you can get right back on. During certain times of the year visitors come from literally all over the world to windsurf there due to the great conditions. But be aware that if you go you may fall victim to TMF, (Too Much Fun…As in, “the deputy sheriff came equipped with a gun, threw me in jail for having TMF).
PINS – Padre Island National Seashore. We all know what that is.
PICC – The old Padre Isles Country Club, now Schlitterbahn.
PIBA – Padre Island Business Association. The organization that represents Island businesses. They sponsor the PIBA luncheon at the PICC and the PIBA mixer each month at VL (various locations).
BHP – Bob Hall Pier. Mikel May’s is a great place for people watching or an evening dinner on the water.
TIF or TIRZ – The Island’s Tax Increment Financing Zone. This is the area which stretches roughly from Packery Channel, to Whitecap and to the base of the JFK Bridge. Part of the tax revenue raised from it is set aside to pay for Island improvements. It raises between $4 million and $7 million per year depending on how the economy is doing. The money is controlled by the City Council with substantial input from the ISAC.
IOD – Island Overlay District. This zone covers all the commercially zoned areas of The Island. It was established in 2004 after the giant shark was built at the souvenir shop at the corner of South Padre Island Drive (SPID) and Commodores to prevent, well, the building of any more Giant Sharks.
It covers everything from what color a business’ building can be to what kind of sign they can have, to how many parking places they need. To prevent another giant shark it says that a sign must be “at least one foot smaller than the object it depicts.” So if you painted a Giant Shark black and white and called it a killer what it would be fine; come to think of it that ordinance might need some work. What if someone decides to build the Titanic Raspa Factory? That would be one big sign and it would be legal.
DLHG-JLHT. This is probably the oldest acronym on The Island. It comes from the days before modern Island Time when there were but a mere few lost souls on The Island. If someone broke up with their spouse/significant other it was probably just a matter of time before they got back together because, well, there just weren’t that many options out there…hence the term – Didn’t Lose His Girlfriend – Just Lost His Turn.
June 22, 2017 | Issue # 688
Every time I think I’m out they pull me back in. A couple of months ago I started doing reports on things Island for KIII television. It marks the first time I have worked in television since 2005 when I was sent to New Orleans by NHK, the Japanese network, to cover the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. I thought that was my television swan song but that isn’t how things have played out.
The stories air Wednesday night at 10 p.m. and so far I have covered everything from belt sander races at The Gaff, to sea turtles, to real estate development. The first thing I realized when I got back into the act is that it and has always been a young person’s game. As the years went by I felt sillier and sillier standing out in one hundred degree heat in a coat and tie. There is no coat and no tie this time around. More like flip flops and Hawaiian shirts.
Duffus on the prowl
When I covered city hall and the courthouse in San Antonio I often did noon live shots when the sun was straight overhead and to light my eye sockets the photographers used a piece of plywood covered with aluminum foil, one side with the dull side of the foil facing out and the other with the shiny side which is the one I always got. After a particularly long live shot I was seeing yellow spots so big I tripped over the tripod and went sprawling across a bench in front of city hall where the mayor at the time Nelson Wolff was sitting and I ended up in his lap. Fortunately he had a sense of humor but I still felt like a duffus as I picked myself up and apologized. So far my latest detour into television has been duffus free for the most part, well, not really.
One of the things that has changed in the Television World since I last visited is that reporters now often shoot their own stories, something we thought was beneath us in the Golden Age of Television News. Photographers were/are the hardest working people in the business, half artist with a camera, and half pack mule schlepping around a forty-pound recording deck that after a few years caused blown out knees. Now the cameras are smaller but they still have a lot of switches and knobs that I am slowly figuring out how to use. Last week I went to the Port Aransas Museum and when I took the camera out of the bag and attached the battery I couldn’t get it to turn on. Every time I flipped the switch it came on then went right back off. Finally I called the station to ask someone if there was a switch somewhere I needed to flip…and there was. It was the on/off switch which I was pushing the wrong direction.
“Don’t tell anybody I couldn’t figure out how to turn on the camera,” I said, but I figured that he did anyway.
Sound is fury
The hardest thing about shooting a news story, for me at least, is sound. You never really know how sound is going to bounce around in a room and even if you do there are still a dozen things that can do wrong and usually do. How many soundbites have been ruined by a humming air conditioner caught by a directional mic that heard the buzz when the human ear didn’t? And how many times to you shoot a soundbite with a duffus waving in the background? Sound is tricky.
I once snuck a wireless mic into a courtroom in Pearsall in the trial of a guy who was being tried for Destruction of Public Property after a policeman broke a nightstick over his hard head. My photographer shot through the window in the courthouse door while I moved around like a brain damaged wrestler trying to aim the mic, which I had secreted under my shirt collar, in order to get sound from the various speakers. The fact was that I was risking arrest and had a lawyer on call to come bail me out if the judge caught me. The judge was known far and wide as the raiser of fighting roosters and ran his courtroom a lot like a cockfight. When I got back to the station and looked at the tape every bit of sound I had was punctuated by the incessant snoring of the fat guy asleep in the bench behind me. In those days of analogue cameras there was no way to separate the snoring from the judging. My only way to use to audio was to explain that some people found the process so boring they fell asleep.
So now I’m back in the television game but not really since it’s only once per week. I have to say it’s a lot like riding a bicycle and so far I’m having fun with it. The one thing it has brought to focus is how many colorful characters we have around here. When it comes to material there is plenty of low hanging fruit.
If I can just figure out how to turn the camera on.
May 25, 2017 | Issue # 684
Reader Wayne Williams wrote this week about the oleanders in the median of SPID and the problems they cause. (See letters to the editor in this issue). Those who lived here in 2008 will recall the Great Oleander Massacre of 2008 in which crews cut the plants down within a couple of feet of the ground. The problem then was the same as the problem now, the plants block the view of drivers trying to make the turnaround on SPID. In 2008 we had some near misses, and this time around we have had at least six incidents of wrong way drivers on SPID in recent months in part due to drivers entering the southbound lane but going northbound based on the mistaken belief it was a two-lane road because they could not see the lanes on the other side.
One of the problems with maintaining the oleanders, and the medians as a whole, is that the roadway is maintained by the state which has been slow to react to problems. It took two years of requests before the trimming was done in 2008 and that will likely be the case here. The light at the end of the tunnel may be in the form of the Park Road 22 Access Management Study currently underway at the Metropolitan Planning Organization. That report has not yet reached the 60 percent completion threshold that will bring it before the Island Strategic Action Committee, but early discussions last year included the possibility of removing all of the medians along SPID between Aquarius and Whitecap and using the space for turn lanes. That would solve all sorts of problems, including the sight-blocking oleanders.
In the meantime, Mr. Williams is correct, the plants need at least to be trimmed before they cause a fatal accident.
Island Patrol Boat
Last week I wrote about the possibility of funding for a boat to patrol Island canals and on Tuesday a measure containing possible funding for the boat made its way onto the city council agenda. The funding was part of the 2017 budget for the Tax Reinvestment Zone Number Two, not yet approved but soon to be, which includes $98,812 in the 2017 and 2018 budget for “Marina Patrol.” ISAC members who began looking through the budget quite appropriately asked why we have a budget for “Marina Patrol” when we don’t have a marina. It turns out the marina in question is located downtown and so is the boat which Islanders are paying $98,812 to keep patrolling the marina…downtown.
Funding for the boat to patrol Packery Channel was legally required immediately after the opening of the channel twelve years ago but is no longer required. Funding for the boat in 2005 was at $80,000 but annual three percent increases got it to the $98,812 mark, up from $92,500 last year (more than three percent for reasons unknown). If the money is not used to fund the marina patrol boat it then could be used for a boat to patrol our canals on The Island where the money was raised. A canal patrol boat is something that has been at the top of the Island wish list for decades. Once the budget is approved, assuming it is approved and the $98,812 remains available, it would then be up to ISAC to come up with a plan for using the money to patrol our canals.
This is a long way from a done deal but for the first time I am aware of all the pieces are in place and it could actually become a reality. I know that sounds like crazy talk after all these years of wishing, but for the first time the money is available and the Law of Unintended Consequences has landed this opportunity in our collective lap. All that is missing is a plan and the political will to get it done.
Stranger things have happened.