San Antonio 1. After the Flood 0 N JUNE 2, as the rains fell on their home on the near northwest side of San Antonio, Raul and Dora Flores began to worry about Martinez Creek. The creekbed, usually empty save for the random mattress or sprung easy chair deposited there as part of the centuries-old process of shedding that marks civilization, bisects the Flores’s block, just east of IH 10. It had flooded several times during the 16 years the Flores family had lived there. The night of June 2 it flooded again. By the evening of July 1, any damage suffered by the impeccable lawn and house of Raul and Dora Flores was not immediately evident. But across the street, two houses down, rotting furniture was piled on a lawn and a mud line was visible at window level some three to four feet off the ground. Across the creekbed, at the other end of the Flores’s block and on several others along Martinez Creek, people had been stranded, could not be reached by firefighters, sat on roofs, lost their dogs, cars, furniture. The flood gauge showed seven and one-half feet of water had come roaring down Martinez Creek. That July evening some 20 neighbors gathered in the Flores’s living room to talk about the flood damage and the proposed cap on city government spending scheduled for a city-wide referendum on August 9. Many had lived in the area for 30 years or more. J.G. Vasquez, who’d lived on Pasadena Street for 30 years, testified that he’d had water in his house five times. “The improvements that are needed for our area we will not get if they pass the spending cap,” Raul Flores told the gathering. Raul Flores is a neighborhood leader of the Metropolitan Congregational tion based in north and northwest San Antonio. Along with its sister IAF organizations, Communities Organized a large part of its energies in recent months to defeating the spending cap proposed by another San Antonio northside organization, the HomeownerCounty and its leader, C.A. Stubbs. Flores is a longtime postal worker and said he’d worked with MCA for several years, laid off for a year to have more time for himself and his family, and now has returned to working with the group. The issue of flood control in his neighborhood has been one of his chief concerns for a number of years. Back in the mid-1960s, Flores explained to the gathering, “funds that we once had for the creek were diverted to Hemisfair. We know that. That was before singlemember districts. We don’t mind paying our way. But we want our money to pay for our projects. All of this [the proposed spending cap],” he continued, “deals with the creek indirectly. Your property value will stay the way it is [if the cap referendum passes].” Flores told his neighbors that, following pressure applied on the city council by MCA, the city had scheduled the North Fresno flood control project to alleviate flood conditions in the neighborhood. They would no longer, he said, be “staying awake at night to put your belongings on tables.” The cap, however, would kill the North Fresno project and any hope for flood control. Flores then gave a brief explanation about how city revenues and spending work, talking about the city’s capital fund and general operating fund. He reported the fact that the city manager of Galveston had been on the news that evening, saying how that city’s expenses had skyrocketed because the cap on city spending prevented road repairs, which had resulted in lawsuits. But most of the concern in the paneled room centered around the flood. When Flores finished his talk on revenues, he asked his neighbors for their reactions. A woman in her mid-thirties talked about losing her dogs in the flood. A woman who said she didn’t “have so many years left” and so didn’t worry as much about the future as about the present, said she had filed a claim with the city for damages to her home of 30-plus years. In answer, the city’s insurers had told her the flood was an act of God and they would not pay up. The woman said that she thought it was more a case of the city’s negligence they’d had the money for drainage in the area and did not use it. A middle-aged man urged an older neighbor to tell the group how C.A. Stubbs’s organization had gotten him to sign the petition putting the spending cap resolution on the ballot by telling him, “otherwise they will raise your property taxes.” The older man nodded that it was true. “I joined HTA,” a Mr. Longoria volunteered, “because there’s nobody to represent the people against our elected officials. It don’t matter if you vote for it [the spending cap] or don’t vote for it because they’ll always use the money some place else.” Longoria not only lives in the neighborhood but also owns a small business in the area. When his neighbors complained that it takes police an hour to respond to a call, he said he has personal relationships with police officials and never has a problem getting police help. The problem, he added, is with the permissive legal system. Later in the discussion, he argued that some people bring the flooding upon themselves, by clogging the creekbed with discarded furniture. “We had two neighbors who got flooded,” he said, “so you know what they did? They put their [ruined] furniture out by the creek.” According to Raul Flores, he and Longoria had worked together for several years trying to get the city to do something about the creek. But while Flores recognized in MCA a force that might be able to effectuate some change, Longoria continued to wage his personal crusades. ACthe same time, it is in Longoria that you find the appeal that the populistsounding rhetoric of C.A. Stubbs has for people who have felt relatively powerless in confrontations with their government. Talking about this attraction, Longoria explained, “The main factor that got them interested [in Stubbs’s proposition] was that there was somebody who would check these people [elected city officials] out.” Stubbs, he explained, was looking out for the “little guy.” And so, in Raul and Dora Flores’s living room on the near northside of San Antonio, among the framed photographs of children, parents, relatives graduating and in wedding dress, the spending cap debate was joined. How is the little guy to hold government accountable? Longoria echoed the Stubbs contention that less government spending is better government. In response, Flores presented his case to Longoria and the assembled neighbors. “The city budget is open to the public,” he said. Later, The Turn of the Screw The San Antonio Spending-Cap Battle By Geoffrey Rips 12 JULY 31, 1986
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