Voters to decide beach fate
The city council on Thursday, Oct. 20, voted to allow the issue to go to a referendum election to be held May 10. The vote was unanimous, with all seven council members present.
The council voted 4-3 on July 21 to alter the city’s Coastal Management Plan (CMP) to give the city the power to later, if desired, create an ordinance to provide for food and drink concessions and beach-related services such as surfing lessons on the shore. That vote later was challenged by a group of Port Aransans who circulated a petition to hold a referendum on the idea.
The council could have voted to reverse its decision, thereby avoiding a referendum election. That’s what council member Glenda Balentine urged.
“Why do we need to have a (referendum) vote on it when it’s clear what (voters) are telling us?” she said.
Councilman Keith Donley said a referendum should go forward, and he indicated that Port Aransans might end up approving of the CMP change after “disinformation” on the issue is cleared up.
“All we’re saying is, if (the beach) ever is broke, give us the tools to fix it,” Donley said.
If the CMP change ends up being approved, the council still would have to approve, on three readings, a new ordinance to institute a program for letting vendors sell food and drinks on parts of the beach that are run by the city. (That’s pretty much everything south of Lantana Drive, to the city limits.)
Food and beverages are sold at Horace Caldwell Pier, but that isn’t on a city-run area part of the beach. It’s operated by Nueces County.
As currently written, the CMP allows the city to have only one beach vendor, and the document specifies that the business must be the kind that rents items like umbrellas and chairs. The vendor also must sell beach parking permits.
Although the council voted three months ago to change the CMP’s language, it won’t be officially altered until after the Texas General Land Offi ce signs off on the idea. The process hasn’t gotten that far along yet.
Opponents of the CMP change have said that the amendment would allow the beach to become too commercialized.
A majority of council members have said they don’t want to use the CMP change to pass an ordinance to set up a program that would actively solicit vendors to do business on the beach. But opponents of food and drink sales on the shore have complained that the CMP change would allow a future council to do that.
Proponents of the CMP change have argued that the amendment will give the city more flexibility in deciding its beach affairs in the future. They also have said food and drink sales could be a desirable service for beachgoers and that free enterprise should reign.
Opponents have said more vendors will over-commercialize the beach, producing more trash and traffic problems. Beach merchants will take business away from merchants in town, opponents say.
After the council voted in July to alter the CMP, the three council members who came out on the losing end of the vote – Balentine, Charles Bujan and Edwin Myers– helped organize the petition drive to reverse the council decision.
Final portions of the petition were turned in to the city secretary’s office on Friday, Oct. 7, according to City Secretary Esther Arzola. A total of 404 signatures were on the petition, Arzola said.
The petition calls for a referendum by city voters to overturn the council decision.
The city charter requires that the petition, to be successful, end up with a number of signatures that’s equal to 30 percent or more of the total number of voters who cast ballots in the most recent city council election.
Some 566 voters took part in the May 10 council election. That meant the petition would need the signatures of at least 171 qualified voters. A qualified voter is a person who is registered to vote and is a Port Aransas resident.
The city secretary’s office examined the petition and found that 389 signatures were those of registered voters, more than enough to move forward with the possibility of a referendum, Arzola said.
Thirty- five signatures weren’t confirmed to be qualified voters. In most cases, that was because people didn’t write their voter registration card numbers or their home addresses on the petition, Arzola said.
The council voted 7-0 to certify the petition results, verifying that the drive was conducted properly and contained enough qualified voters’ signatures.
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