Compared to establishing a human settlement on Mars, incorporating a city in Texas sounds like a piece of cake — still, there are rules.
SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk on March 2 tweeted “Creating the city of Starbase, Texas … From thence to Mars, and hence the Stars.”
Musk’s goal is to establish settlements on Mars, using the Starship now under development at Boca Chica to get humans to the Red Planet.
According to Cameron County Judge Eddie Trevino Jr., the tweet came a few days after SpaceX contacted him with an idea the company was kicking around: Incorporating the unincorporated village of Boca Chica next door to SpaceX’s Starship production complex into a city with the name “Starbase.”
Once a remote enclave for retirees a stone’s throw from Boca Chica Beach, aside from a handful of holdouts the small community is now home mostly to SpaceX employees.
The county issued a brief statement March 2 that quoted Trevino saying: “If SpaceX and Elon Musk would like to pursue down this path, they must abide by all state incorporation statutes. Cameron County will process any appropriate petitions in conformity with applicable law.”
Trevino told The Brownsville Herald later that day that he didn’t respond at first to the company’s inquiry, which went along the lines of “we’re thinking about doing this. What do you think?”
“I didn’t really know what to think of it,” he said. “Then I think around the same time they called our legal department. … Our legal department and SpaceX speak regularly because of the requests for road closures for testing etc., so they’re in constant communication.”
Musk’s tweet, which came on the eve of an attempted high-altitude launch of SpaceX’s Starship SN10 prototype, came as a surprise, Trevino said.
“There’s a lot that has to take place before an unincorporated area can become incorporated,” he said. “We’re still getting the details. I don’t know if maybe they’re getting ahead of themselves. I think it’s premature to think that this is going to happen. A lot’s got to take place before they get to that. They’ve got to cross all their T’s and cross all their I’s.”
Trevino said he’s never dealt with an incorporation request before during his tenure as judge, since such requests are few and far between these days. Perhaps the county’s most recent instance is the city of Los Indios, incorporated in 1995.
“I’m not familiar with the process, so we’re having legal review it,” Trevino said. “What I do know is that it’s not something that happens overnight.”
The process of turning an unincorporated community into an incorporated city requires a number of steps. The rules are contained in the Texas Local Government Code, not an easy read for the layman. In general, it requires a coordinated effort by residents, the approval of a majority of voters in the area, gathering signatures and a petition to the county. It likewise requires plenty of legal expertise.
Texas recognizes three types of general law municipalities (A, B or C) as well as home-rule municipalities with their own charter. The rules for incorporating each type of municipality depend in part on population and size.
“A lot of requirements have to be met by state law in order to prepare the petition,” Trevino said. “If they meet all that, then it comes to the commissioner, to my office and commissioners court, and we would decide at that point. But again, there’s a lot of details to learn about.
“There’s a learning curve obviously. They’re going to have to get their lawyers involved and they’re going to tell them what they need to do, and we’re going to do the same thing. So we’ll make sure they’ve done everything they’re supposed to and we’ll follow the process and see where it takes us.”