Emotions appear to be running high in the final days of the Helotes city council campaign. As I wrote about a few days ago, these elections pit three one-term, sensible-growth, incumbents, against developer-funded opponents, who appear to be aiming to take back the small town in the name of sprawl -- sprawl that is engulfing much of the Hill Country on the outskirts of San Antonio.
Another sign dispute has erupted, as reported by the Express-News yesterday:
Two informational neighborhood signs at the Cedar Springs subdivision have been at the center of several past disputes and recently sparked another controversy.
Around April 27, the signs just inside the subdivision's entrance and exit gates displayed messages that city officials said are in violation of a city ordinance and also could jeopardize the nonprofit status of the Cedar Springs Homeowners Association.
One read: "Green party respect CS private property ask B4 placing your election signs." The other said: "Helotes taxes going up 24 percent do U care."
The term "green party" refers to the color of the signs for City Council incumbents — Mayor Jon Allan, Place 3 Councilwoman Linda Boyer-Owens and Place 5 Councilman Stuart Birnbaum, who are seeking re-election May 12.
Allan said the statement about the tax increase is inaccurate and appears to be in reference to information from campaign literature of the challengers: Tom Schoolcraft is running for mayor; Jeff Ellis for Place 3; and Rich Whitehead for Place 5.
A city ordinance that governs signs like those in the 501-home Cedar Springs subdivision says the purpose of "residential subdivision changeable copy signs for gated communities" is to "provide non-commercial and non-political information related to the residential subdivision."
"Regardless of the specifics of what the signs say, they can't have any political information of any kind on them," Allan said.
But the HOA board members, who said they were responsible for posting the copy, disagree.
"We do not see the information as political, but rather as fact and for the information of the community," said Mike Taylor, board treasurer.
Board president Lorraine Shattuck agreed but would not comment further. Allan said he called Shattuck twice and left messages to try to resolve the issue, but his calls were not returned.
The evidence for the heated emotions comes in an anecdote related later in this article:
A Helotes Police Department report about the April 28 event at the corner of Cedar Point and Hausman Road indicates that Helotes residents John Eakin and Linda Montemayor were involved.
According to the report, Eakin was campaigning for the incumbents when Montemayor was driving into the neighborhood and an exchange occurred.
"I was trying to go into the neighborhood and John was walking toward me with fliers. ... I shook my head and he kept coming and I told him that 'I would not vote for y'all if my life depended on it,'" Montemayor said. "He then told me 'We don't want your white trash votes anyway,' and I called the police."
Eakin admits that he was there and was asked to leave by Apodaca [vice president of the homeowners association], but he denies making the comment to Montemayor.
"The police did come and make me sign a document about trespassing, and I did speak with Linda, but I did not saying anything like that to her. She was screaming obscenities," he said.
This particular homeowners association may be advertising political slogans attacking the sensible-growth incumbent councilmembers, but the homeowners who live there are far from unanimous in this feeling.
The article quotes resident Bill Hollis, "There is no other way to label these people [the homeowners' association board] except as a rogue board, and with them, anything goes. ... When you file as a nonprofit organization with the state and become tax-exempt, you can't be political in any way. Those signs are clearly political and we could lose our nonprofit status, but it is not the first time they have violated nonpolitical rules."
Resident Edie Lopez is quoted also, saying, "Anyone who has knowledge of organizations like this that are nonprofit knows that you don't do certain things, especially political things, and this is not something the entire neighborhood agrees with."
Living a few miles down the road in unincorporated Bexar County, just outside the San Antonio city limits, I have unfortunately no say in this election, or, for that matter, in any of the San Antonio city council elections next week. So I am envious of the residents of Helotes. They have an opportunity to stand up (once again) to the immense wealth of the real estate developers pushing for unrestrained development of the land and neighborhoods we love. My only voice is in the state legislature, which is tightly controlled by these forces, with any glimmer of wresting that control away far off.
I hope that the residents of Helotes make the same decision that they made two years ago, when they voted in Mayor Jon Allan and councilmembers Linda Boyer-Owens and Stuart Hirshbaum, and voted out uncontrolled sprawl.
Here are some words from Allan, Boyer-Owens, and Hirshbaum on their platform, as quoted in the Express-News on April 25:
Allan: "I see the big issue is how do we deal with development. We have now required developers to build sidewalks and boosted the tree ordinance. It makes sense.
"What I tried to do the last couple of years is protect the open spaces and realistically come up with a plan so that as development comes in, we are setting aside parks and open space, and saving more trees.
"We have implemented a dark sky ordinance to preserve it from light pollution and we are undergoing a big planning process to deal with how we will sustain development."
Boyer-Owens: "The issues are still much like they were when I ran two years ago. The press of urban sprawl and trying to maintain the Helotes the town we love to live in.
"If reelected, we really want to finish the job we started. We had a lot to clean up in our first two years, and now we need to move forward. We have the new master plan/comprehensive planning process started, and I think it will lay down the consensus of the community about what Helotes wants for the future.
"We want to pursue becoming home rule, that takes a lot of work and lots of citizen input and I want to see an effort to cultivate and recruit the type of businesses and services that Helotians want. The claims of depleting the reserve fund aren´t true."
Hirshbaum: "Parks and open space is important issue, we can either have rampant development and clear cutting or we can try to protect some portion of this as green space for citizens to use.
"I think we can do this without using tax money and without undue financial burden on the citizens. I don't think the city can really consider itself a proper community without having some park space for its citizens to use.
"Quality of life issues are important, and parks and playgrounds for children are the major concerns that I have and reasons I have decided to run again. I think that the current mayor and council are making great strides in that direction and another two years would help move us along."
Final voting is Saturday, May 12. Last time, Allan and his two allies won by a literal handful of votes. The cliche is accurate in this case: every vote counts.