Beto the Apostate

The irony of infatuation

Beto Mania runs hot and heavy in Central Austin. The Democratic congressman from El Paso has ignited the furious passions of car-owner and homeowner alike with his tantalizingly credible challenge to sentient cheese loaf Sen. Ted Cruz.

From the windows of your bus, you can easily spot a million Beto bumper stickers affixed to the assorted Audis, BMWs, and Nissan Muranos idling away at any given stop light. And biking around neighborhoods such as Hyde Park or Cherrywood, will reveal to you meadow after meadow of Beto yard signs that have sprouted up beneath the verdant tree canopy.

Lo, indeed, the owners of half-million-dollar homes who jealously guard against any encroachment upon their suburban idylls are deeply in the tank for this happy warrior from the west. That is, so long as he’s gunning for a job in Washington, rather than here at home.

See, the juxtaposition of so many pro-Beto signs sharing yard space alongside other pieces of lawn propaganda proclaiming support for Laura Morrison’s bid for mayor or Kathie Tovo’s run for a third term on City Council highlights the tiny fissures in the national Democratic coalition that become huge, uncrossable chasms when you scope down to the local level.

On the one hand, it’s not surprising at all that upper-middle-class liberals who support women’s right to choose, blush at Republicans’ unsuppressed racism, pretend to care about climate change, and enjoy the idea of Willie Nelson even if they can’t name more than four of his songs would support Beto O’Rourke, the apparent political product of a ménage à trois between Bobby Kennedy, Barack Obama, and a skateboard. For the most part, O’Rourke’s campaign has been built on aspirational blandishments about building a brighter future for children of all stripes, etc. And that’s fine! Not only is that a great goal, it also demonstrates a living capacity for human warmth, an algorithm woefully beyond the computational power of the half-android, half-bottle-of-Butter-Wet-Wax Beto’s running against.

BUT, if O’Rourke were running for, say, a seat on the Austin City Council, it’s quite easy to imagine these same wealthy home-owning Beto Stans would disavow their hero and accuse him of threatening to turn their precious communities into so many characterless commodities. After all, those were the charges leveled against O’Rourke and several of his dais-mates by upset El Pasoans when he sat on the council in that city from 2005 to 2011.

Some of those past murmurs surfaced way back in the primary when fatalistic Democrats resurfaced the decade-old story of Beto’s support for redevelopment plans targeted for Downtown El Paso and its adjoining working-class, Mexican-American neighborhoods. During that fracas, neighborhood opponents accused Beto of being a puppet of the plan’s mastermind, a wealthy real estate tycoon who also happened to be his father-in-law.

While Austin’s leading NIMBY’s might break out in hives at the thought of a city official having such close ties to a Greedy Developer, they would surely completely plotz to learn that Beto’s support for a project that aimed to deliver revitalized, pedestrian-friendly urban places in an otherwise low-density, sprawling, car-dependent city fit into a larger urbanist philosophy on display during his six years on the council.

A small taste:

  • In 2007, he voted against a motion to deny an upzoning request that would have allowed the construction of 135 “luxury apartments.” The motion succeeded and the property remained zoned for no more than duplexes.
  • In 2007, he supported an upzoning that gave the green light to build 207 homes on 84 acres. According to the El Paso Times, “ The vote was a rare loss for the Save the Valley Neighborhood Association, which opposed the proposed the rezoning rezoning from the farm-ranch category to Residential-2 and supported Residential-1 zoning to ensure the development would have fewer homes and larger lots and would not significantly worsen traffic problems.”
  • Our boy also voted in 2008 to adopt El Paso’s SmartCode, a form-based code complete with transect zones that has been applied to large PUD-style developments in different sections of town. In 2011, with Beto’s support, the council created a 204-acre SmartCode project that, in part, relied on developer incentives.
  • In 2010, when the University of Texas at El Paso requested to put gates on two city-owned streets next to the school’s dorms, Beto announced, “If that’s their intent, then I am not going to support this item. I don’t think gated communities are the way to go.”

Based on the record, it feels safe to guess that one of Beto’s biggest regrets about his time on the El Paso City Council is that he left office before he could vote on the city’s award-winning comprehensive plan, Plan El Paso (an award-winning name, if nothing else). After its unanimous approval in 2012, the document won national recognition and plaudits, including from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Congress of New Urbanism.

Indeed, the thing reads like a CNU wet dream. Plan El Paso calls for filling in low-density central city areas with transit-supportive mixed-use multifamily development. At the same time, it recommends retrofitting suburban, single-family neighborhoods with “rowhouses, condominiums, and even lofts that can be built above stores and offices.”

Plan El Paso, Vol. 1, page 2.63

And then there’s this, straight from the pages of a citywide planning document whose creation Beto O’Rourke, beloved icon of Central Austin Democrats whose other yard signs exhort passersby to prevent the next CodeNEXT, supported while he could:

“An urban pattern of interconnected streets and small blocks allows for greater population density within a compact area, creating a market for a wider variety of goods and services. Accessibility to transit provides the opportunity for more pedestrian activity and reduced demand for parking spaces.”

But how much did he actually support these dangerous words that are clearly just a slippery slope leading to an abattoir next to Downtown Developer Nick Barbaro’s house?

While running for his first term in Congress in late March 2012, just after his former colleagues approved Plan El Paso, Beto predicted it would be a boon for the city.

“We’re on a path to be something bigger,” he told the local paper.

Of course, O’Rourke himself was on a path to be something bigger: A potential U.S. senator whose youthful, inclusive charisma and Democratic-branded campaign has won the gushing support of people who, in the alternate timeline wherein he sits in the District 9 seat on Austin City Council, are currently hissing at him from the peanut gallery at City Hall.

So pray then with me, you people who hate cars and million-dollar bungalows, that Beto smashes that soup-swilling tube of Vaseline in a suit this November and that just enough other Dems smite their enemies as well such that control of the Senate flips and our Big Urbanist Boy from El Paso can join a happy, healthy majority to pass Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s tremendously progressive urban housing bill that will one day help us achieve our ultimate goal of razing Hyde Park and salting its sordid and cursed ashes in our wake.

I reached out to the Beto campaign for comment on Warren’s plan but they never responded. Still, I’m sure he’s down.

Hyde Park delenda est.