It may be contentious when the Texas Legislature does redistricting, but that was not the case in McAllen. City Commissioners Monday adopted new commission districts that they drew themselves, with the help of the planning department. Commissioner Marcus Barrera was especially involved in the once-a-decade procedure.

After the census, all political subdivisions, i.e., cities, counties, etc., have to draw new boundaries for elected representatives to make sure each district has about the same number of people living in them. In states covered by the federal Voting Rights Act the districts cannot be drawn to diminish the numbers of elected African-Americans and Hispanics. Not all states are covered by the VRA.

As commissioners themselves mentioned during workshops on their new districts, drawing a district to lessen the influence of Hispanics in McAllen was never a concern since the city's population is overwhelmingly Hispanic.

McAllen hired a lawyer, Rolando Rios, who is a redistricting expert, to help the city, but he had little role in creating the new districts because the city did it in-house. During Monday's Workshop, Rios said he will submit the plans to the U.S. Justice Department for its mandatory approval.

The districts look roughly the same on a map, with District 4 (Aida Ramirez) going south and west to the river, and District 1 (Scott Crane) going north. Districts contain about 22,000 residents.

The "most" Hispanic district is District 4, with 96.06 % of the population, while the "least" Hispanic District is District 1, with 73.24%.

Carry on & show us the numbers

After voters last year turned down the sale of Westside Park on South Ware Road and adding tennis courts to the Botanical Gardens (BG) on Business 83 just west of Ware Road, Mayor Richard Cortez asked the Valley Land Fund (VLF) to figure out what to do with the Gardens. In September, the VLF hosted a charrette, a word architects use for a brain-storming design session, and in which FUTURO McAllen members participated, too.

During the Workshop, VLF President Jim Tabak told the mayor and commissioners that the session produced many good ideas but no consensus idea of what to do with the BG. Tabak said issues still to be determined include what kind of an organization could preserve (and operate) the BG and who would pay for it. He was joined by VLF board member and architect Bob Simpson and Parks Director Sally Gavlik.

Mayor Richard Cortez, saying "We all want to preserve" the Gardens, urged Tabak to bring back to the commission three things: identify the market or who is my customer; what are they looking for in an attraction; and what are they willing to spend? Commissioner Scott Crane added that they "need to see some numbers." Crane also added that "we don't want people to think restoration (of BG) is imminent."

Tabak was also advised to talk to city lawyers to get answers to legal questions.

In his initial remarks, Tabak, who is a financial planner and adviser by trade, called the Gardens an "old, ancient forest in an old river bed. This property is worth saving." It is the "third tier" of the old Rio Grande River bed and that "the soil underneath is old river bottom" and "rich, organic soil."

"It represents the kind of habitat you would have discovered hundreds of years ago."

Bubble Gum King remembered

Andy Paris told The (McAllen) Monitor that he made and lost a million dollars twice, but "it's just money. You make it and lose it and make it again." The building where he made his first fortune, anyway, on Monday received a City of McAllen Landmark Designation by a vote of the city commission.

Paris told The Monitor in 1992 that he became the biggest importer of confections in the country when he started importing gum and Lifesavers from Mexico during World War 2. According to a History of Paris Gum Factory distributed by the city, the son of Greek immigrants was in the confection import business in McAllen during the war. When he broke up a fight by kids over chewing gum-scare and expensive-in 1946, Paris was inspired to start manufacturing it here, using his contacts in Mexico to bring in latex and sugar, contacts other gum makers didn't have.

He set up in an Art Deco-styled structure at 609 W. Business 83 built by Hendricks Contracting Company, opening Paris Bubble Gum in 1947, selling millions of pieces of gum and making him a national celebrity. Handsome, with a charismatic personality, the history continues, he claimed to have flown a million miles promoting his product and showing people how to blow bubbles. His factory operated 24 hours a day and Life Magazine called him the "Bubble Gum King." In 1955, Paris closed the factory and went into the vending business. He died in 1997.

Paris gum sold for a penny and boxes of his sweet confection were even dropped during the Berlin airlift after the war!

The building at 609 W. Business 83 was later variously a seed factory and furniture store, currently belonging to Mr. Said Shuaib, who applied for the designation.

City staffers told the commission that it meets the requirements for a landmark designation: It is more than 50 years old and embodies the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of historical construction or architecture; is associated with the lives of persons; and has yielded information important in the prehistory or history of McAllen, the region or nation.

A documentary has been made about Paris and his gum, and there is a website devoted to his story: www.bubblegumking.com

One final note: city government affairs representative (lobbyist) Teclo Garcia, briefed commissioners during the workshop on the status of the city's legislative priorities in Washington. Mayor Cortez told him to push for the issuance of new visas "adaptable to the border." Cortez noted that Mexican visitors to the US have declined almost a third from the year 2000 until now, from 290 million to 200 million.

Border businesspeople and government officials have complained for years that the federal government makes it hard for visitors to come to the US.