The Baytown council District 1 race will be a rematch between two candidates for a third race in a row. Laura Alvarado, the incumbent, will again face challenger and former longtime councilman Mercedes Renteria III, who lost the seat to Alvarado in 2017. Renteria had served on council for 14 years before Alvarado defeated him in 2016. They first faced off against each other in 2013.
District 1 includes the southern tip of Baytown where the Fred Hartman Bridge begins to take drivers to La Porte and Highway 225. It also includes the area just under Rollingbrook Drive to Highway 146 and the “State Streets.”
Early voting for the elections begins Monday and lasts until Nov. 1. Election Day is Nov. 5.
The Sun asked each candidate a series of questions about where they stood on various issues affecting the City of Baytown.
What is the most important issue facing District 1?
Alvarado: “Our most important issue right now is our infrastructure. We are an older community, and with that comes aging just as any other area. On top of that, we have struggled with so much growth to the north of our city, most of the attention has been to that area before I joined on council. With the partnership of my colleagues on council, we have worked hard to bring attention back to the south side. I have been pro-actively working with city administration to ensure our issues had a path forward.
We created a drainage master plan to tackle the flooding issues and will continue to make those improvements as we have with Huggins Street and the outfall at Oklahoma Street. We also have a plan to alleviate high water on Durain Ferry. Another intense project will be drainage for Mississippi Street. Our pavement conditions have also gained a spotlight as we work to re-evaluate the City’s Pavement Condition Index. That means our roads will receive much-needed attention.”
Renteria: “Crime and drainage. Right now, for me, it is crime and drainage. We have a lot of crime going on in Baytown. The drainage goes without saying. But along with it is a bad mosquito problem because of the lack of drainage and the water being everywhere.”
What are your thoughts on the Bayland Island hotel/convention center?
Alvarado: “I fully support this development. I know it has been a long journey in the making and very proud that we have made significant headway during my time in office. My colleagues and I are excited to bring this to fruition.”
Renteria: “Right now, my understanding is that the city has already written a $20 million check with no guarantees, no contracts, no nothing. Right now, the contractors could walk way, and nothing would ever be said. In my opinion, this is a mismanagement of funds. I do not think we ready financially for the maintenance and operations and the building of the Bayland Island hotel/convention center.
I do not understand why they would give that kind of money to the contractors. My understanding they could walk away right now, and nothing would be done. That is bad business for the City of Baytown, not good business. In my opinion, I do not think the city has the funds to operate and maintain the maintenance and operations of a hotel and convention center. Would I like to see it go there? Yes. But I do not think we are ready for it. I think it is very ill-planned.
Also, I don’t know of a hotel/convention center that pays for itself. There is always maintenance and operations that will be a daily cost for it.
My main concern is that they appropriated this money to the contractors with no guarantees for anything. Another concern I have with that $20 million is that it is coming from the Municipal Development District. There’s no money for it in the general funds. So, it is coming from the MDD funds.”
How do you feel about the plan to revitalize Market Street? The historic East End?
Alvarado: “Before I joined council, many of us (residents) knew that Market Street had the potential for being much more. It plays a big part in the history of Baytown. I am grateful to residents for their input and to staff for their shared vision of what we can do. Our residents deserve a place they can continue to be proud of just like any other part of the City. It was time. Once we complete this project, our plans are to move forward with Bayway Drive as well as with the Pelly area. I can’t wait to see what that will bring.”
Renteria:“The south end of Baytown has an income inequality when it comes to spreading the wealth. Most of the money is spent on the North side. I think we need to spread the money more to the south end in old Baytown. And fix the streets, revitalize. And spend some money on Market Street. Those are areas that are neglected. It is pretty obvious the south end of Baytown is neglected. All of the money is going north.
There is a representative and no one speaking for us. So we need to get in there and hold the city manager and staff accountable for spreading that wealth and making Baytown grow as a whole. That can only be done if you have someone in there to provide a voice for the south end of Baytown.”
What do you think can be done to solve the traffic issues on Garth Road?
Alvarado: “Our city is growing so fast, and traffic is to be expected as we grow at this rate. Some of the projects already in the works is, of course, San Jacinto Boulevard, which will redirect traffic off of Garth, enhanced signalization, working with (the Texas Department of Transportation) to change the on/off ramp reversal at Interstate-10 and Garth. This is a great example of the use of our tax dollars.”
Renteria: “When I was council, we discussed this once. I would be in favor of trying to make Garth Road a one-way and North Main coming back a one-way or vice versa to see if it would alleviate a traffic problem. I do not know if the lights are all in sync, but having them in sync to make it easier flow through Garth Road.
What are your thoughts on bringing the USS Texas to Baytown?
Alvarado: “The prospects of having the battleship in Baytown is amazing and will be reviewing all of the information, including any implication of tax dollars that could be spent. My colleagues and I have a fiduciary duty to our residents to ensure we utilize funds appropriately. I loved receiving letters from our students, who are also excited about this prospect.
Renteria: “I would be all for it if it was self-sustainable. If it is, and we can show that it is, let’s do it. I am good with it. But again, if we do not have the money to do it, I cannot see it happening. The cost associated with dredging, and the docking for it - all of those expenses would come from the City of Baytown.”
Why do you think you should be the District 1 representative?
Alvarado: “For the past three years, I have dedicated myself to ensuring the residents know that I can be a voice for them. Many of them have felt underrepresented at City Hall and found it hard to believe that any of my initiatives would be brought to fruition. They soon found out that they can depend on me. I joined the race not for the status, that just comes with the position, but for the passion I have to serve my community. I love my community just like everyone else does. We have pride in where we live and want the opportunity to grow along with the city. With over 20 years of non-profit work, I understand the impact service means to a community or a cause. My involvement with the community includes: Communities in School, Our Promise for West Baytown, Community Development Advisory Committee, Architecture and Engineering Committee, and with San Jacinto Elementary’s ILT. I have also established strong relationships with my colleagues on Council, City Administration, local agencies, businesses, Goose Creek CISD and Lee College, which are all integral to the success of our city. As you can see, it is more than just coming to a meeting.”
Renteria: “I was perfectly fine being retired from politics. I think I am the most experienced candidate for District 1. Second of all, I have the most credentials. I have better credentials than my opponent. I graduated from the University of Houston and Lee College. My credentials speak for themselves. I was a veteran in the military in the 82nd Airborne Division. And most importantly, I am not a rubber stamp. My opponent is a rubber stamp for the City of Baytown. We need a voice in there. And that is why people have asked me to run because they want a voice, someone that will listen to them. I feel my opponent is a puppet for other people making decisions for her. She doesn’t have the experience or the credentials to be in there.”
For Baytown city council early voting, you can go to the Baytown Community Center Tejas Room located at 2407 Market Street. Hours are 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Oct. 21 through Oct. 26, 1 to 6 p.m. Oct. 27 and 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Oct. 28 through Nov. 1.