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#keep17amplified battle continues McAllen residents seek compromise on ban of outdoor, all-ages shows downtown

Marissa Rodriguez

In the early morning light, Carlos Vela sat rocking his newborn daughter back to sleep while writing a Facebook post that spawned #keep17amplified, a tag that now has more than 1,000 people talking about the importance of protecting the Rio Grande Valley music scene.

Vela has produced music with hundreds of RGV artists and is co-directing a documentary about the history of local music culture titled “As I Walk through the Valley” with Ronnie Garza.

On May 23, the McAllen City Commission voted to ban all amplified outdoor music and anyone under age 21 from the 17th Street Entertainment and Cultural Overlap District, citing several reasons for its necessity.

An online petition written by McAllen resident Andres Sanchez that asks the city to reconsider its decisions sprang up shortly on social media after news of the ordinance spread, and received over 2,000 signatures in less than 24 hours.

District 5 City Commissioner John Ingram told a local TV station he received numerous complaints about the noise from
neighboring residents, which was the main reason he pushed for the ordinance.

He told a local newspaper he is willing to make changes to the ordinance, along with several members of the city commission.

The Rider could not reach Ingram for comment.

McAllen City Public Information Interim Director Roy Cantu posted on Facebook May 28 that any ordinance changes that were approved on May 23 by the city commission are not in effect until the the establishment’s permit expires.

In his Facebook post, Vela argues that in not first considering a compromise, the city commission is “keen to stamp out pockets of positive cultural growth,” and public support for these venues is vital to their survival.

“Over the last 30 years, the greatest periods of growth in youth culture, and by extension Valley culture, have been when these artists have places that welcome them,” he said. “As a community, we should be encouraging their expression so we can all continue to enjoy the vibrant culture they’ll inspire.”

The ordinance will be considered again during today’s city commission meeting.

“Without diminishing the full force and credit of the ordinance … in my capacity as the presiding officer of the May 23 meeting, it is my opinion that the language of the ordinance does not accurately reflect the intentions and desires of the McAllen City Commission with respect to its intended application to the economic and cultural overlay district,” Darling stated in an “Executive Signing Declaration” attached to the new ordinance, according to a May 31 news release from the city.

The declaration further states that Darling is instructing staff to place this item on the agenda for today’s city commission meeting for clarification and reconsideration.

“Furthermore, I am requesting staff to abstain from implementing or enforcing any changes under the ordinance until the city commission has the opportunity to provide further guidance,” Darling wrote.

Vela and several other concerned members of the outdoor music community have many questions for them. They have petitioned the city through the Freedom of Information Act to acquire records regarding the neighborhoods most affected by the noise to see how sound travels and if monitoring decibel levels will provide a sufficient solution.

“I’m strongly in favor of gathering data about decibel levels because for all we know, the disturbance is isolated to one particular block of the downtown district,” Vela said. “The city claims that enforcement is difficult, but has failed to demonstrate why. This is a growing pain all cities have, and McAllen is in a position to benefit from the body of knowledge accumulated by these other cities and be a shining example of governing done right.”

Cities such as Austin and New Orleans, with thriving entertainment districts surrounded by residential areas, have successfully managed to control noise and facilitate compromise between entertainment venues and neighboring locals, Vela said. He hopes that through these efforts they can better reach a compromise that satisfies the city and does not hurt live music venues.

Patrick Garcia, the owner of Yerberia Cultura, an all-ages outdoor cultural arts venue that was recently credited in an issue of Texas Monthly for “[giving] kids in the Rio Grande Valley a voice,” feels that prohibiting outdoor amplification, and especially the 21-and-over rule, could hurt his business.

“We’d gladly move everything indoors if we had the space, but we don’t have the literal space or the resources to make such a huge adjustment, so this would be a deathblow,” Garcia said. “The 21-plus would be the nail in the coffin for us as a legit music venue. … People of all ages come here for shows, specifically. An all- ages ban would deny young people the opportunity to perform and to experience different mediums of expression that I feel all-ages should have accessibility to.”

Garcia credits the city’s initial unwillingness to compromise to its overall drive for bigger, more commercial endeavors rather than cultivating cultural, artistic business opportunities.

“There are places like us, and Cine El Rey, who have gotten national recognition for the city of McAllen, but then you have a clump of city leaders who seem out of touch [with] the good we’re doing,” Garcia said. “[These city officials] orchestrated millions of dollars in tax incentives for a chain restaurant called Dave & Buster’s, when Main Event is down the street–in Pharr. … It’s just tough to trust certain city leadership at the moment considering the record some have cultivated.”

The outdoor music community urges people to show their support by showing up to McAllen City Hall at 4 p.m. today or by emailing Mayor Darling and others who voted in favor of the ordinance–City Commissioners John Ingram, Aida Ramirez and Hilda Salinas–to compel them to factor compromise into their decision.

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