Have you ever argued with someone on the internet? On social media? Oh, you really should try it, it’s a really rewarding and satisfying pastime and you make so many friends that way, people from all over the world whom you might otherwise never have met and called a filthy name! So many minds and hearts have been changed through the simple experience of being bawled out by a stranger who holds a differing opinion from one’s own, preferably a stranger who firmly believes that ‘should’ve’ is a contraction of ‘should’ and ‘of’ and cannot distinguish between their, there and they’re, yet insists that you are the ignorant party in the discussion. Let me see, what can I compare it to? Oh, I know- you know how enjoyable it is to have a contentious political debate with someone who holds the exact opposite views of literally everything that you believe to be true? But then there’s that feeling, you know, how you feel held back from the really heinous, soul-destroying, libellous jibes you’d like to deliver because the prudish rules of societal discourse demand some sense of decorum? Well not on the internet! Here you can destroy people’s self esteem with a barbed reference to just about anything, from their parentage to their appearance to their race, nationality and religious beliefs to gender and job and what neighborhood they live in! What a wonderland!
I wonder, right now as I’m sitting here trying to write a history article, what effect social media would’ve (that’s would have) had on history had it been around a long time ago. Would George Washington have had a different reputation altogether if he was on Facebook all the time bitching about his wooden teeth? What about this tweet from Sam Houston: “Just kicked some Santa Anna a** at San Jacinto! Think I earned this drink!” And randy old Ben Franklin, posing for a selfie with a busty serving girl and calling her ‘bae’.
You Boerne peeps who don’t know the joys and sorrows of social media are missing The Big Controversy right now, at least over on a facebook page called Boerne Area Informed Citizens. It’s trending right now- we expect Kanye to weigh in presently, but until that time, we’re forced to battle it out on our own. It is, of course, the Great Buccee’s War of 2016, and if you haven’t heard it, well, just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale, a tale of a town that shipwrecked on the shoals of progress. Progress.
If George Wilkins Kendall or Adam Vogt, a couple of forefathers of this town, could somehow be transported- well, resurrected and transported, since they’re very dead- anyway, if they could be brought back to life and shown what goes by the name of “Boerne” these days, I feel very strongly that they would almost immediately ask to be allowed to drop dead again. But before they re-shuffled off this mortal coil, if in their final moments they demanded to know what the hell had happened, the correct answer would have to be “progress”. And if this damnable Buccee’s is eventually built out on I10 at the old Jennings Anderson, they can erect a tombstone out in the parking lot, for the five thousand tourists, rushing inside to pee and to buy an all-day sucker and a beaver cap, to pass and possibly to reflect on, everyday: “Here lies Boerne”, it could say. “Progress killed it.”
Here’s what’s up: In an August 10, 2016 mySA.com article by Zeke MacCormack entitled ‘Tax incentives approved for a Buc-ee’s Boerne location’, we are informed that “Boerne is in line for a Buc-ee’s Family Travel Center, a highway retailer best known for its phalanx of gas pumps, abundant and clean restrooms and that grinning, buck-toothed beaver logo.” Aren’t we lucky?!
“…the reception was generally positive to this week’s announcement,” the article continu-Wait, what?? What did I just say?? When in the hell did THIS become a thing?! I never heard a word about this! Tax incentives-? What in the actual… Yeah, we heard it all too, we said all of that, and all of the people commenting on this facebook page want to know the answers to those very same questions.
Well, most of those facebook commenters. I mean, it is the internet.
Well it seems like the powers-that-be who run this city and the county have all been meeting SECRETLY with the Buccee’s people, and you may have noticed that I underlined that one word and emphasized it with my bold and italics features, which is pretty much everything I’m capable of doing to a word at this point of word processing technology, because I want that to stick in your mind and hopefully your craw. Check this out, from the mySA article again: “The economic development initiative, code-named “Project Saturn,” was devised in part by BKEDC President Misty Mayo, who called it the largest single capital development in Boerne’s history.” BKEDC, for you rubes who don’t know any better and which I just looked up so that I could appear much more informed than I actually am, stands for the Boerne Kendall County Economic Development Corporation, but that’s not really the compelling thing in that sentence- the most interesting and curious item in there HAS to be the part where it says that the whole Buccee’s deal had a code name and that it stands to be the “largest single capital development in Boerne’s history”- so why in the hell was it kept secret? That’s what THIS reporter wants to know- and that’s what a whole lot of other old and new Boerneites demand to know too! Could it possibly be because they know that in at least one other Texas city- Denton, up by Dallas- citizens concerned about “lighting, traffic and other harmful effects in their neighborhood” are banding together in order to keep Buccee’s out of their town altogether and that they- the powers in Boerne- didn’t want to have to deal with that kind of opposition here? Oddly enough, the people in Denton have the same kind of issues that Boerneites have with their own officials handling this in such a sneaky, hole-in-the-corner fashion. As word began to leak about the Denton location only very recently, weeks after Buccee’s negotiations had begun with Denton County officials, the concerned citizens themselves called a meeting in order to get at the truth of the situation. Said one Denton resident to his city officials, angry at the secrecy that they had maintained: “What you forget is, you all work for us.”
Boerne city officials, Kendall County commissioners, and whoever else works on the Boerne Kendall County Economic Development Corporation with Misty Mayo, seem also to have forgotten exactly whom they work for, and whose interests they were elected or hired to serve. And to the argument that they are serving the interests of the city of Boerne with this Buccee’s thing, then I must ask, Why, then, did you do it all secretly? The approval of the site AND the incentives, tax and otherwise, are surely of interest and importance to the people of Boerne- why, then, were those people not consulted over the desirability of having the thing here, or their willingness to extend these tax breaks and other services? In reading up on Buccee’s, it seems that they rather prefer to do business in this kind of clandestine manner, and our own city council has indulged in a little of that lately themselves- remember, we recently saw another instance of the city trying to do a bit of business on the down low when they tried to throw one past with that city hall deal- and in that case, the Old Timer, of all people, was the unlikely hero who blew the whistle and let the people know what was afoot. How many of us remember, too, that time some developer clear-cut all those grandfather oaks on that plat of land across School Street from the Baptist Church- it took place on a Sunday night, remember? And when everybody woke up Monday morning and were horrified about the devastation, the developer haughtily informed us that they’d had the Sunday evening, handshake approval of a lone city councilman who showed up out at the site to give the go ahead- and the councilman, reached later, sheepishly admitted well, yes, that was true. What the people of Boerne want is transparency, not the city council and the county commissioners meeting in some smoke-filled room and giving code names to secret projects- this town belongs to her citizens, not just you guys, and the citizens deserve to be informed!
Oh, and those incentives mentioned? Here’s what it says about that: “The city and county each agreed to rebate, for 20 years, half their respective shares of sales taxes generated by the Buc-ee’s — an estimated $5 million — and from four yet-to-be-named retailers also planned at the site.” The city also agreed to build the road to the Buc-ee’s site and to build city sewer services out to meet them- a bonus package worth $1.75 million, now back to you Bob! Do you think that the people who live in a city should have a say in whether or not they feel that the business proposing to come to town should be afforded an enormous incentives package? ‘Cuz I sure do, and I feel it especially strongly when the proposed business is one many of us don’t want here in the first place. The payoff here is that BISD is supposed to rake in the tax dollars as soon as Buccee’s starts paying them, something in the neighborhood of $180,000 per year, so we can expect to see that windfall making an enormous difference in the educational system here, just like the spike we observed when WalMart and Home Depot came to town. Oh, you didn’t notice those? Isn’t it funny that when these things want to come to town, and the citizens don’t want them here but the officials are all gung-ho to have them, we’re promised these tax windfalls but never, ever see our taxes decrease? Presumably the bond issues will keep rolling along, like Old Man River, every time a new school needs to be built, and nobody will be encouraged to ask whatever happened to those big Buccee’s bucks.
“The city,” continues the article, “projects the store will be its sixth-largest utility customer.” Which raises another interesting topic: what about the water usage of an enormous gas station-tourist trap whose claim to fame is their squeaky-clean bathrooms- around ninety toilets, in fact? Boerne city officials themselves predict that the proposed Boerne Buccee’s will use half a million gallons per month- “an amount”, states the author of the article at mySA.com, “roughly equivalent to what an average family of four would use in three years.” And you can be sure that if that’s the estimate city officials are throwing around, then it’s on the very small end of projected usage. Article author Zeke MacCormack points out that “[m]ajor new developments [in Boerne] often are greeted with local grousing — about traffic congestion, overtapped groundwater supplies and the continued erosion of the small-town atmosphere that attracts new residents in the first place,” but I’m not at all sure that very real concerns about water usage in a town that is already forced to pay for water from elsewhere can be dismissed as mere “grousing” instead of very valid misgivings about the environmental impact of such a venture.
Traffic- that’s another thing we Boerneites “grouse” about. Buccee’s founder Arch “Beaver” Alpin III estimates that 2,500 vehicles will be stopping by this location on any given day- forget the fact that 2,500 vehicles translates to somewhere waaaay over five thousand actual real-life human beings, and just concentrate on all those cars. Now that’s something to grouse about, especially right outside of town. Oh sure, TxDOT is scrambling to make the needed improvements to the Business 87 exit just so that we can realize this Utopian dream of an enormous, tacky, 100-pump gas station, but that’s still a lot of traffic. And it’s going to be, like all Buccee’s, a huge, concrete-covered, brilliantly-lighted extravaganza of a place, which ought to be nice for all those neighbors who were never consulted for their opinion on code-name Project Saturn. Huh- now I wonder if anyone on the city council or the county commissioners lives out thataway? Think that’s likely?
But the jobs, they say- think of all those jobs! All of these folks who want to sell you Buccee’s as the next best thing since sliced bread are singing the praises of the one hundred and seventy jobs that’ll be coming to Boerne along with it, and jobs are always a good thing, right? I mean…right? There are those who wax enthusiastic on the kinds of jobs that will be available and the high rate of pay lucky employees will be enjoying, but Arvelene Amari, local celebrity and authority on all things old-Boerne, quotes the Buccee’s career website as listing starting wages as $11-12 an hour with the requirement that the employee must be able to stand eight to twelve hours. And beside all that, there is still the persistent question of how Buccee’s is planning to fill all these positions in a town where local merchants have been complaining for years about the shortage of available workers. As the median income has shot way, way up in Boerne, it means fewer teenagers and twenty-somethings who need to work, which means entry-level, minimum-wage jobs go begging. You don’t have to take my word for it- ask around. Someone pointed out that when WalMart opened their larger store, the question of who was to fill the positions was also raised, and then pointed out that people showed up from San Antonio, from Comfort and Bandera and etc, and the jobs were filled, no worry there- but…but that doesn’t benefit Boerne at all, does it? If jobs are one of the big selling points of this thing happening here, shouldn’t the community need those jobs?
Boerne doesn’t need a Buccee’s at all- all of the points that were put forward in defense of this whole damn thing have been how wonderful the tax revenue will be. The same people who will be stopping at Buccee’s aren’t going to be so enchanted by the delightful parking lot or the delicious fudge that they’ll feel compelled to wander into town and have a look around and end up spending their dough at the local merchants- these are people who are never going to see Boerne, who are never even going to realize that technically, anyway, they’ve stopped at Boerne. Have you ever travelled I35 from Austin, say, to Round Rock and onto Georgetown? Do you know where Austin ends and Round Rock begins? Have you ever left the Georgetown Ikea and said, “You know what? Let’s go on into Georgetown and see what that’s all about, let’s have lunch there and discover it”? Is that our vision for Boerne, our sacred trust to preserve this hometown of ours and to pass it down to our children better, even, than we found it- to turn it into one more faceless, nameless, paved-over and glaringly-lit exit-ramp stop on a highway lined with sprawl?
The guy who wrote that article said that “an informal survey of folks downtown showed support for the center”, an attitude certainly not shared by most of us who identify as “old Boerne”. An 18 year-old waitress…well, she almost gushed that she loves the “family environment”, adding, “It’s just really nice.” Another guy who lives in San Antonio but works here, felt like Boerne is a perfect location, “noting his relatives no longer will have to drive to New Braunfels, the closest of the chain’s 30 [sic] Texas locations, to get their fill of Beaver Nuggets.”
“It’s got everything you could possibly need, from novelties to clothes and food,” he said. “Everything.” Deputy City Manager Jeff Thompson had even sunnier visions of the future, and of Buccee’s itself: responding to talk about a proposed truck stop that was voted down hard in 2013, Thompson made a clear distinction between Buccee’s and some truck stop: “Buc-ee’s is almost like a Disneyland. People go there as a destination,” he said. “I don’t think people say that about truck stops.”
I don’t think I’d say that about Buccee’s either, but there seems to be a ginormous, yawning disconnect between what the various participants feel about the advent of this thing, Project Saturn. But what is the best thing for this town, for our Boerne? I just can NOT see that a 53,000, hundred toilet, hundred gas pump emporium and tourist trap like this is the next right thing as we friends of Bill say. Some people, in this facebook war, have made the point that Boerne has been fighting- and losing- this particular war for close to thirty years now, and that even though all these things keep on getting built, Boerne’s still here. Well, but- there’s a place called Boerne, a town out on the interstate with a Taco Bell and a Wendy’s, a WalMart and coming soon, a Buccee’s, but there are fewer and fewer places that only exist here, that are unique to Boerne- and how many fewer will there be when people don’t even have to pull all the way off the highway anymore to get lunch, when they can just get a feedbag full of Beaver nuggets and be on their way? What is Boerne, this mythical core of Boerne that we’re supposed to be preserving anymore, that makes Boerne Boerne? Is it the one square mile of Main Street with the old buildings? Is it the people- because our old town has lost so many of her old citizens, and stands to lose many more of the few that remain as the Buccee’s comes and the loop gets built and everything changes and becomes a completely different place than anything we ever called Boerne before. And when they can’t afford to live here anymore. When do things- the WalMarts and the Buccee’s and the Home Depots and the Taco Bells- when do they reach a critical mass, a tipping point, at which Boerne is just another generic, over-sprawled exit ramp where you pee, grab a bag of chips and some fudge, maybe a t-shirt with a clever beaver double entendre, and then get back on the road as fast as you can- and not Boerne at all anymore? If someone asked you what it is that makes Boerne special, what would you say? Would you reference Buccee’s? When is it not a town anymore at all but just another crappy little suburb of San Antonio?
And can the facebook war ever be won, and if so, how? That part’s easy- get yourself a magazine column. Lots more people read it than the comments section.