County postpones decision on mass gathering application process

PRESIDIO COUNTY — County commissioners last week voted to postpone passage of a mass gathering permit application after residents proposed a new application form during the public comment period.

The application considered that evening was a version of the Travis County mass gatherings application, a permit process that both the county attorney and lawyers from Austin had approved. It was the same application that was proposed back in May — despite outcry from many residents, who wanted to add more stringent requirements to the process.

Judge Cinderela Guevara had repeatedly stated her desire to pass an application process by October 9. She emphasized that the application could be altered at a later date if needed.

By the end of the meeting, though, Guevara recognized the need to continue the conversation further.

During last Wednesday’s meeting, Marfa resident Buck Johnston took to the podium. “We are not Travis County,” she said. “We don’t have five lane highways, an international airport, world-class hospitals, dozens of ambulances, fire trucks and police personnel.”

What are considered “adequate” resources for Travis County do not apply to Presidio County, she stressed, imploring commissioners to vote against the application in its current state.

“We are Presidio County. We are remote, rugged, poor and beautiful,” she said. “I don’t understand why you’ve used an application that Travis County is using to define adequate.”

Commissioner Brenda Bentley asked Judge Guevara whether she had considered adding provisions about the county’s dark skies ordinance. Guevara responded: “I’ve never gotten an ordinance and I don’t believe we have a lighting ordinance.”

Marfa residents Shelley Bernstein, Neil Chavigny and Diana Simard all used their time to speak about Grimes County’s approach to mass gatherings. The smaller county outside of Houston has long held the Texas Renaissance Festival, which welcomes tens of thousands of visitors each year.

Bernstein explained that the county passed a new permit in response to the struggles they have faced with the yearly festival. “To the best of their legal ability, they put in all of this information that was specific to their county,” she said.

Bernstein has worked closely with the county to ask for further provisions. “I’ve been told ‘no’ a lot in this permit [process],” she said. “We asked for snakebite kits and the lawyer said, ‘No, it’s up to the hospital.’ [Grimes] put it in their application!”

Bernstein added, “Judge, I know you said we can approve this tonight and change it tomorrow, but you’ve said you have a promoter knocking on your door.” She was referring to C3 Presents, which plans to bring a mass gathering to the county.

“If you approve tonight, it will be used by someone, because there won’t be time to have another discussion.”

As the speakers concluded, Guevara took their message to heart. “I did think we could mimic the Travis County application and then probably work with it as we went along,” she said. “Nothing in the law prevents us from modifying [it].”

Weighing the newly presented Grimes County application, though, Guevara said she wanted more time to reconsider.

She confessed she had hoped to pass the permit because “there’s a lot going on in the county” — listing a proposed time zone change, the REDI grant, the 67 corridor master plan and census preparations that she says have overwhelmed her office.

“But,” she conceded, “I really like this Grimes County application.” She asked commissioners to mark their calendars for an application workshop at 10 a.m. on Friday, November 1. Afterwards, there will be a commissioners court meeting to vote.

With the new information — including the Grimes County application — before them, the commissioners unanimously agreed to delay any passage of an application.