SAN BENITO — A citizens group is calling on city commissioners to fire San Benito City Manager Manuel De La Rosa, claiming he is misinterpreting a city ordinance to require home buyers subdivide properties sitting on more than one lot.
Meanwhile, commissioners are set to meet in closed session Tuesday to review City Attorney Mark Sossi’s legal opinion regarding the 1995 ordinance’s subdivision requirements, Commissioner Pete Galvan said.
On Tuesday, the group armed with petitions calling for De La Rosa’s firing is planning to demonstrate outside City Hall before speaking during the commission meeting’s public comment period.
Much of residents’ uproar stems from the 1995 ordinance’s subdivision requirements.
In April, De La Rosa did not allow Kerri Valencia to re-connect her new $125,000 home to utilities, arguing she had failed to subdivide the property at 608 South Bowie St., which sits on two lots.
“When I purchased the home, it was connected with power and light,” she said, adding she and her husband Kevin Valencia disconnected utilities to repair the house.
But De La Rosa stopped them from re-connecting the home to utilities, arguing they had not subdivided the property.
“I was the first owner of this home to be asked to re-plat,” Kerri Valencia said.
Later that month, she agreed to sign a city affidavit, pledging to subdivide the property within four months.
So far, she has found a surveyor who could help her subdivide the property, a process which would cost $9,000, she said.
Valencia: ‘House held hostage’
On Aug. 23, Enrique Hernandez, a city planner, wrote to Valencia, stating the end of her affidavit’s four-month period “was nearing.”
Now, Valencia is concerned the city will cut off her utilities.
“My utilities could be cut off at any time,” she said. “I feel like my house is being held hostage by the city manager. I refuse to have this hanging over my head.”
But De La Rosa is holding off on taking action.
“At this time, there are no plans to terminate the water service at 608 S. Bowie Street,” De La Rosa wrote Tom Goodman, Valencia’s father, on Aug. 25. “When city staff works with property owners, they seek voluntary compliance and hope that property owners meet their commitment.”
A day later, De La Rosa wrote to Goodman, stating “this matter is on pause. However, I will consider a solution from the property owner(s) that will amicably resolve this matter.”
Meanwhile, Goodman, a South Padre Island real estate broker serving as the citizen group’s spokesman, argues De La Rosa is misinterpreting the city’s subdivision ordinance.
At City Hall, spokesman David Favila said officials are declining to comment on Goodman’s claim.
“The charge is the suffocating control of City Manager Manuel De La Rosa over citizens and residential developers coming into the community,” Goodman stated in a press release. “In the misreading of city ordinances, onerous unnecessary requirements are being placed on citizens who purchase property in San Benito and those working to improve their homes. Threats of water disconnection have been used to force citizen compliance.”
In the press release, Goodman states the group is calling for De La Rosa’s removal from office.
“The citizens of San Benito are calling upon city commissioners to take immediate action to remove Mr. De La Rosa and any other staff member who does not appropriately serve the community,” the press release states. “Residential developments have been stalled or stopped because of arbitrary interpretations and enforcement of the ordinances by the city manager. Hundreds of potential residential developments that would add to the badly needed tax base in San Benito are now going to neighboring communities. The lost opportunity cost to the city of San Benito is in the millions of dollars.”
For days, members of the group have been requesting residents sign two petitions criticizing De La Rosa’s management.
As of 5 p.m. Friday, 41 residents had signed a Change.org petition.
“Based on many accounts of San Benito residents, realtors, developers, community leaders and business owners, there are many standing unresolved issues with the city manager, Manuel De La Rosa,” the online petition states. “We are of the opinion that Mr. De La Rosa has misrepresented ordinances and policies to overextend his administrative reach. The current city manager has stagnated economic growth by placing undo hardships on homeowners, driving away entrepreneurs and new businesses and giving the overall impression that City Hall is not vested in the economic growth and development of the Resaca City.”
Meanwhile, members of the citizens group are going door-to-door asking residents sign a second petition.
On Friday afternoon, Ben Cortez, chairman of the San Benito Housing Authority, said organizers were planning to tally its signatures.
“Citizens are tired of being bullied and harassed by the city manager,” the petition states. “City manager uses ordinances and policies that are not recorded. He is very vindictive and abuses citizens. Also makes it difficult for citizens who want to start businesses and improve their property. Unprecedented attorney’s fees and micromanaging city departments.”
At City Hall, Favila said officials were declining to comment on the petitions’ claims.
For months, Goodman has requested commissioners consider reviewing the subdivision ordinance pertaining to properties in the city’s old neighborhoods, where many homes sit on more than one lot.
Meanwhile, officials argue the city offers lower subdividing fees than cities such as Harlingen and Brownsville.
In San Benito, the city’s base fee for a preliminary plat review stands at $200 while it charges $50 for final plat reviews, Favila stated.
But in Harlingen, review fees range from $150 for preliminary construction to $250 for re-plats while every variance request costs $25, he stated.
In Brownsville, the city charges $350 to $1,500 for “minor” subdivision plat reviews and $500 to $2,000 for “major” subdivision plats, Favila stated.
However, surveying and engineering costs drive subdividing costs.
“The cost for re-platting varies from project to project and from city to city and most major costs are incurred by outside engineering firms and surveyors, who developers must secure and negotiate costs with ahead of construction of a subdivision,” Favila stated.