Residents in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas celebrated on June 26 that their communities are one step closer to receiving streetlights, an infrastructure improvement that residents who live in areas known as colonias have wanted for decades because they boost safety.
Residents met in San Juan with state lawmakers to mark the passage of House Bill 3002, which requires the Hidalgo County tax assessor to collect money from property owners so that streetlights can be installed, according to La Union del Pueblo Entero (LUPE), a grassroots organization founded by farmworker and civil rights leader Cesar Chavez.
“We are celebrating because our colonias will finally come out of the shadows,” Emma Alaniz, a LUPE member and resident of the Curry Estates colonia, said in a statement on the organization’s website.
“My colonia is ready for when the law goes into effect. Now that we have the law on our side, we’re going to be sure that the [county] commissioners implement it.”
Passage of HB 3002 involved policymakers as well as a grassroots campaign. LUPE said the campaign to raise awareness about neighborhood safety started more than 20 years ago. Residents in this predominantly Latino area had a simple message for elected leaders: People should be able to live in safe neighborhoods.
About 85 percent of county neighborhoods are outside designated city limits and lack the infrastructure that other neighborhoods have. As a result, LUPE said, neighborhoods that are dark after sunset can be unsafe for children to be outside. Adults, especially those with diabetes and heart problems, have no place to walk in the evenings. In addition, vandalism, theft and automobile accidents can occur in communities that lack streetlights.
Interestingly, county officials have had the legislative authority since 2007 to install streetlights and collect money from residents to pay for the electricity to power them, LUPE said. HB 3002, though, gives the tax assessor a distinct way to collect those dollars. It mandates that the assessor put a fee on property tax bills of land owners who will benefit from having streets lit by those lights.
The bill, which was written by state Rep. Armando Martinez and state Rep. Sergio Munoz, passed the Texas state Legislature in late May. State Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa was another key supporter of the legislation. On June 17, the bill became law without the governor’s signature. It goes into effect on Sept. 1.
But officials in Hidalgo County, which has more than 831,000 people and a poverty rate of 35 percent, still need to adopt the process for full implementation, LUPE said. More than 90 percent of county residents are Latino. Residents in neighborhoods must submit applications for streetlights to be installed.
In January, county leaders agreed to a pilot streetlight program. Ada Neri Curiel, who lives in the Goolie Meadows colonia and goes by Nelly, has been knocking on the doors of her neighbors to raise awareness about the issue and encourage people to pay for the electricity to power the lights. Her colonia is part of the pilot program.
“We’re ready to start the pilot program,” she said in a statement. “We have faith in the commissioners that they, too, will be ready to start.”