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ow, Misleadingly called “PGA Village,” the 2,861-acre golf complex will sit atop the last remaining open acreage in the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone. euphemistically named Cibolo Canyon Conservation and Improvement written by Lumbermen’s Investment lobbyists, the Texas law allows PGA Village to be a separate governmental entity with full taxing authority if the city council gives approval. Such new governmental units are called Special Taxing Districts, the latest fad for greedy developers to circumvent regulations and taxation. According to the law, Lumbermen’s Investment will be allowed to in effect create a new city with PGA’s Special Taxing District, whose developer-selected governing board can “impose ad valorem taxes, sales and use taxes, hotel occupancy taxes, assessments, and impact fees and apply the proceeds of the taxes, assessments or fees to the payment of debt, to contract payments, or to maintenance and operating expenses.” The Cibolo Canyon district is one of 18 such “designer districts” in Texas. Under the special districts, developers not only levy taxes, they can secure loans against future taxesessentially giving them a license to print money. Unbeknownst to many outside the negotiating room, Lumbermen’s Investment can also add additional property to expand their taxing zone, notes Councilwoman Conner. For 15 years, under the current plan, the massive PGA resort, including its three golf courses, two luxury hotels, a 35-acre golf instruction center and an array of houses, apartments, and condominiums will pay taxes to itselfa deal estimated to be worth at least $60 million.The developer and its political allies promise all of these incentives will help create jobs, the vast majority of which, critics assert, will be low-wage. When community activists try to defend the aquifer, Lumbermen’s Investment counters with the possibility of something much worse.Thanks to a loophole created by the city council, the developer has a project that is grandfathered from current stringent environmental standards, which it claims would allow a subdivision of 9,060 water-guzzling homes to be built on the same location. This possibility was apparently real enough to convince the Edwards Aquifer Authority, which voted on February 19 in favor of PGA Village. Susan Hughes, one of the Aquifer Board members, told the San Antonio ExpressNews earlier that it was “a devil’s choice.”_ Reasoning that the impact of 9,000 homes would be greater, the Aquifer Authority gave in quickly to the developer’s golf resort offer. Although they now say they were merely commenting on the water quality provisions in the contract, a letter accompanying their recommendations states that they are “pleased with the environmental and monitoring plans provided by the [Lumbermen’s].” But the political momentum might be starting to shift as politicians get nervous before the groundswell of PGA critics. “They tell us we have to choose between two options,” commented Mario Salas, who is running for Bexar County commissioner. “That was a shrewd trick. I say, ‘Get your golf bags and get out of town.'” His opponent, incumbent Tommy Adkisson, called the tax incentive “obnoxious” and vowed to send letters to his fellow elected officials urging them to shut down the project. The extraordinary coalition that has formed to oppose the project will try to do just that in what many see as a cross roads in the city’s growth. San Antonio’s sister interfaith organizationsthe primarily Hispanic Citizens Organized for side Metro Alliancealong with environmental and civic groups ranging from the Sierra Club to the League of Women Voters, under the banner of the Coalition for Smart Growth, are trying a variety of tactics to stop the PGA and Lumbermen’s Investment. Now that there is plenty of political heat, they want to go back to the Legislature to move the debate away from the secluded negotiating tables at City Hall. And indeed, the support of many local legislators who had voted for the special taxing district is starting to waver. The citizen groups also plan a petition drive the moment the city council greenlights the project to become a Special Taxing District. Signatures are already being collected to force a referendum. COPS led a successful petition drive in 1975 over a similar aquifer issue. This time forcing a referendum will require that 68,000 registered voters sign a petition within 40 days of the city council vote, tentatively scheduled for March 28. With characteristic arrogance, when Lumbermen’s’ Investment heard of the possible referendum, it declared itself immune to such action because of its status as an independent governmental entity. The city’s attorney, who reviewed the legality of a referendum, declared on February 28 that it would be binding. Opponents of the project even have San Antonio Archbishop Patrick Flores on their side. He added his support on February 27 by issuing a statement urging San Antonians, and especially priests and lay workers, to protect their water and sign petitions against the development. But this is Texaswill that be enough? Thanks to the Legislature and the city council, those who want to protect the aquifer and keep tax revenue public are behind the developers by several strokes. It will take more than a few holes-in-one to pull out a victory. Belle Zars is a writer living in SanAntonio. 3/15102 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 13