Editor’s Note:

As I put together last month’s “novel length” newsletter, I gained a whole new appreciation for our Council Members, City Staff and the citizens who are devoted to the betterment of South Padre Island.  The countless hours of preparation, research, groundwork, follow through, etc., etc., in addition to the public workshops, trainings and meetings … hats off to your dedication and commitment to this community.  Thank you!

Mass Gathering Workshop Notes:

On March 1st, attendants packed Council Chambers with a standing room only crowd.  Overflow spilled into an area downstairs at City Hall for spectators to watch via video as the Spring Break Workshop began.  Intended to review and update the current ordinances, City Manager, Susan Guthrie, fashioned the agenda to inform participants of current procedures before proceeding to public comments.

Review of current ordinances, review of current policy and procedures, and review of legal parameters were presented by City Staff.

Facts presented are as follows:

3 ordinances currently on the books deal with Mass Gatherings.  Dune protection, sanitary facilities, temporary structures and sales on the beach are all specific to Spring Break.  An entire separate set of ordinances pertain to Special Events.  Events permitted on the beach involve the GLO approval.  Some ordinance currently in effect conflict with one another; Assistant City Manager Darla Jones called for one clear and concise ordnance that deals with all events.

City Manager Susan Guthrie explained permitting is currently being done by Development Director, Dr. Kim, “who is pulling double duty” while a new Parks and Rec Director was being hired.  Susan shared the current permitting process was being vetted over past couple of months as applications have come in.  The goal has been to combine the various processes into one.   At this time, event applications can come in from the CVB, through the Shoreline Department, through TXDOT, all depending on multiple factors (beach event, CVB event, road closures needed, etc.).  She stated “It was important to bring all these applications in through one department, providing a process that is transparent”.   More than one department is effected by most events and streamlining the application into one document, where all departments sign off, is the objective.  Expediting this process has been a challenge but the CM thinks “we are there”.   The current ordinance is ambiguous and staff is requesting objectivity with clear parameters which will also provide Event Planners predictably and ability for cost projection.  This one form concept has opened the lines of communication for everyone.

Economic Impact was presented by CFO Rodrigo Giminez.  Sales tax and occupancy tax were analyzed for the past 3 years, averages were as follows:  In July, 15% of the total sales tax and 24% of total occupancy tax is collected for the year.  June figures are 13% for sales tax and 15% for occupancy; August, 12% and 15% respectively.  March is the 4th biggest month for tax revenue, coming in at 11% for both sales and occupancy (Texas Spring Break week being responsible for the majority of the total).  The remaining 8 months average 6% sales and 4% occupancy.  Rodrigo continued with several graphs and charts breaking down exactly from where this money comes.   His final chart summarized: $30.5M gross sales were recorded in March of 2016 and the City’s Tax collection was $1.594M.

Keith Arnold – CVB Director noted “the imperial data was strong but other things don’t meet the light of day unless you have a lot of experience and a lot of encounters with visitors”.  He went on to speak about an increasing phenomena seen on a regular basis, “heritage tourism or legacy tourism” where people who come here for Spring Break, come back as young families.  He also spoke on the businesses who “crawl through” the winter months awaiting the resurgence of capital during Spring Break.

Next a statement from City Attorney, Kathy Cunningham was read regarding content brought by certain artists.  Her statement spoke to the US Supreme Court’s protection of the Constitutional Right of free speech, free assembly and equal protection. In fact, lude, vulgar, profane, unpopular or offensive speech is protected under the First Amendment noted the CA and the City cannot regulate which performers an establishment hires.

Dr. Kim presented a combination of all the comments, recommendations and input brought forth by the public, including the Gober Group, into a matrix which he explained in detail.

After his explanation, a 15’ break was declared and participants were asked to mark the issues they felt were most important on the enlarged poster size copies of Dr. Kim’s matrix which were placed around the room.

On return from the “break” public comments were received.  Some are as follows:

Beginning with speaker comments along the lines of “don’t mess with Spring Break”, the majority of comments pertained to “public safety”, “noise levels” and “updating the current Mass Gathering Ordinance”.  One of the final comments came from Paul McGee, Owner of UME (Ultimate Music Experience) and SPLASH stating he hoped the City of South Padre could come up with some solutions.

With no further public comments, Mayor Patel emphasized, “we want kids to come to South Padre to have a good time and we want them to be safe”, whether they live near or far.  He then invited everyone to attend the next open forum meeting scheduled for March 29th after which Staff will come up with some ideas for ordinance revision.

Mayor Pro-tem Dennis Stahl thanks participants for their input and squelched any misnomers that Council was trying to “kill Spring Break”; the goal is to make it better.

Workshop adjourned at 2:37pm.

The next Public Workshop concerning Mass Gathering and Special Event Ordinances is scheduled for Wednesday, June 14th, 5:30pm at City Hall.

Regular City Council Meeting held on March 1, 2017.

The planned presentation was removed from the agenda.

Consent agenda Items 5(a-g) were all approved.

Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for fiscal year 2015-2016 was presented by Quentin Anderson from Carr, Riggs & Ingram.  The audit indicated information being presented is accurate and the controls and procedures in effect are solid.  City of SPI financial position is strong and the net position has grown by 1.4M from the previous fiscal year.  Quentin reiterated the excellent record keeping and reporting by Rodrigo Giminez, CFO as noted by the numerous awards lining the walls of City Hall.  Rodrigo’s high integrity, goes above and beyond and many thanks were given to him and his staff for job well done!

Item 7 would have been the 5th update and discussion on Venue Tax projects however, a workshop had just been held 2 days prior and no further public input was offered.  Executive Session (Item 12) will involve deliberation and discussion of real property related to the Venue Projects with respect to the findings revealed in the workshop on Monday, February 27th.

Budget amendment in the amount of $15K was approved for improvements and plants at the Butterfly Park, after concerns were voiced and questions were clarified.

Morningside road drainage improvements were awarded to the lowest bidder in the amount of $62,496.  The budget amendment was approved.

Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ) Board of Directors were reappointed for a 2 year term upon staff request, City Council Members will fill the 6 positions as before.  Mayor Patel was named Chair and Mayor Protem, Dennis Stahl, Vice-chair, both being one year terms.

Item 11 appointed members to vacancies on the following committees:
(a) Board of Ethics- Deborah Dawson
(b) Keep SPI Beautiful- DeeOnda Ahadi, Alexandra Brotzman, Kimberly Dollar, Javier Gonzalez  and Mary Tannenbahm
(c) Parks, Recreation & Beautification Committee- Bella Hernandez

Council enter into Executive Session to deliberate and discuss real property as related to both Venue and Grant Projects, at 6:07pm.

A Special City Council Meeting was called for March 9, 2017.

Public Comments revealed Mayor Barry Patel, Mayor Pro-tem Dennis Stahl, City Manager Susan Guthrie and Shoreline Director Brandon Hill had just drove in from Austin where they met with Legislatures including Commissioner Bush and the GLO (Texas General Land Office).   A record breaking number of bills will be “on the floor” this Session and SPI Officials and Staff are working to ensure our shorelines (both beach and bay) are on pace with Corpus and Galveston for funding opportunities.  Below are the 5 Resolutions brought forth for consideration as these Bills will directly affect the stakeholders and citizens of South Padre Island.

Item 4: Discussion and action to approve Resolution No. 2017-08 supporting Bills filed by Senator Lucio and Representative Oliveira, allowing the use of HOT (Hotel Occupancy Tax) revenue for infrastructure of sporting facilities, fishing being “the sport” on SPI.  Council approved the resolution supporting this bill.

Item 5: Discussion and action to approve Resolution No. 2017-09 supporting House Bill 2690 which will allow for increased funding for CEPRA (Coastal Erosion Protection and Response Act) through a portion of the State HOT.  Resolution was approved.

Item 6: Discussion and action to approve Resolution No. 2017-10 opposing Senate Bill 451 relating to proposed regulation of short-term rentals.  Council Members agreed this issue should continue to be regulated on a local basis and not determined by the State, hence they agreed to oppose the bill.

Item 7 and 8 were taken together as they basically deal with the same issue: one being Resolution No. 2017-11 in opposition to Senate Bill 2 (Item 7) and (Item 8) Resolution No. 2017-12 in opposition to House Bill 15, both bills relating to revenue caps.  Council recommended amendment language that would not punish communities who are already fiscally responsible (ie: The City of SPI who has one of the lowest property taxes in the State of Texas).  Council approved the opposition to both bills, but did offer the solution of amendment language that would effectively level the playing field.

Meeting Adjourned

POWC Public Forum-Solution Session held March 29th

POWC President, Shane Wilson, scheduled an open forum Wednesday evening, March 29th in place of the rescheduled City Public Workshop. He offered an opportunity for citizens to voice solutions and ideas for future Spring Breaks on the island.  City Council members, City leaders and nearly 200 community members attended.  Speakers offered up an abundance of ideas for positive change, stronger ordinances, police involvement, traffic control, dispersement of responsibilities and liabilities, marketing alternatives and the list of solutions goes on.

Some suggestions included promoting a “Texas Fest” and hosting multiple activities in various locations on the island throughout the day.  Focusing on Texas music, food, fun and activities both afternoon and evening events featuring Texas performers.  Providing daytime activities such as volleyball tournaments, eco adventures, fishing, boating, wind surfing, horseback riding, sand castle building and other “sober” activities benefiting more of the island’s businesses.

Others focused on traffic and suggested build a parking garage, charge for parking and encourage walking, biking and bus riding, limit vehicles and golf cart travel, provide shuttle services, create one-way streets, barricade residential areas, ban parking on side streets, create a pedestrian only island for the week plus several other ideas.

Control and deterrence of drunkenness brought about numerous comments.  A litany of philosophies revealed ideas from require IDs be worn at all times in public, to temporary jails set up around the island, to inspect ice chests and check IDs on the beach and more.

Police involvement recommendations were prolific. Run ID’s at the bridge for warrants,  more uniformed police presence, bring in the National Guard, use more K-9 drug dogs, citizen patrols, use “riot” techniques and beyond.

Hold property managers accountable, make venues more responsible, fine home owners if occupancy limits are exceeded in rental properties, require promoters to post security bonds to cover City expenses, Cameron County should contribute to cost of Spring Break…

Imposing noise ordinance after 10pm, enforcing existing ordinances, limit size of mass gatherings, ban mass gathering inside city limits, and still to be compiled are the written suggestions submitted by citizens at the meeting.

City Council will certainly have plenty of ideas and suggestion from their constituents and SPI is sure to have a good plan of action in place very soon.  To insure a future plan of action in place soon, Shane Wilson and several others sponsored a petition and passed it  around at the meeting and have posted it on www.change.org.

Thanks go out to Spring Break first responders and volunteers!

Tens of thousands of cars crossed the causeway for Texas Week and the surrounding Spring Break weeks in March.  In preparation, an EOC (Emergency Operations Command) center was set-up at City Hall this year.  Fire Chief Doug Fowler stepped-up to command the EOC due to his prior experience with the City of Austin in this area.  City Management, the Fire Department, the Police Department, Beach Patrol and IT Department personnel, among other staff, worked together in an effort to coordinated EMS demands, traffic situations, crowd control and more.  This central command area provided an overview allowing officials to coordinate and prioritize immediate needs on the island.  With camera outlooks from both sides of the causeway, up and down Padre Blvd and in key spots on the beach.  Personnel were able to monitor crowd activity, traffic patterns and medical evacuation routes from this one location.

State, Regional and Local Personnel plus volunteers came from far and wide to assist our island on all levels of need.  Medical professionals flocked the sand and streets, Beach Reach volunteers carted and fed thousands of people in need, City Workers performed incredible feats of cleanup, everyone on the island was involved one way or another.

Many thanks go out to all the City Leaders, staff, first responders and volunteers for all their hard work and effort: morning, noon and night, a constant crusade was in action mode on our boulevards and beaches.  Community Member Timothy Beavers spearheaded a shrimp and crawfish boil to thank everyone.  Held at the Community Center, numerous people donated food and fixins, brought loads of deserts while mounds of shrimp and crawdad were boiled for everyone to eat to their heart content!

After this year’s Spring Break, things are “sure to be a changing” for the betterment of us all!

Property Owners Who Care welcomes our newest members:

Martha and Dean Isaacson, David and Letty Rutledge, Mike Shaw, Marlene Roehl, Bruce and MaryLee Hix, Dr. David and Joy Dolezal, Anthony Leffert and Melinda Cox.
Many thanks also to Las Ventanas Condominiums and all the people who renewed their membership this month.