Brownsville sues Laguna Vista, Port Isabel

Special to the PRESS

Saying an existing contract cannot be legislatively set aside, the City of Brownsville has filed suit against the cities of Laguna Vista and Port Isabel in US District Court, seeking a declaratory judgment over recent action that prevented Brownville from its strip annexation practices.

At issue is a recently enacted law signed by Gov. Greg Abbott that enacts HB 4059, passed by the Texas Legislature designed to halt the City of Brownsville’s strip annexation practices and protect unincorporated communities in Cameron County from future land-grabs. The measure which won both Texas House and Senate approval, was sponsored by Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. and Rep. Rene Oliveira.

This is “just another attempt by Brownsville to stifle the ability of the smaller cities in Cameron County to claim land that it cannot develop or provide services to,” said City Manager Rolando Vela.

Brownsville’s request for declaratory relief stipulates that HB 4059 cannot be used to impair the existing contractual relationship between Brownsville and Laguna Vista because such an interpretation would violate the Contract Clause of the United States Constitution.

But, Vela said,The legislators recently addressed the issue of strip annexations when both the Senate and the House unanimously approved the bill that Governor Greg Abbott signed into law on June 18.  The State of Texas thinks there a problem with these strip annexations of Brownsville.”

“We have a trial in State district court with the Honorable Janet Leal in October to invalidate these strip annexations,” Vela said.

Brownsville’s request says that in 2009, the cities of Brownsville and Laguna Vista entered into a binding interlocal agreement where Brownsville surrendered a significant area of extra territorial jurisdiction to Laguna Vista in exchange for the agreed stipulation of boundaries between the cities.

However, the petition states, in 2011, the Town of Laguna Vista passed a resolution establishing itself as a Home Rule City, thereby claiming an expanded ETJ of one and one-half miles. “A population of 5,000 is necessary for a city to become a Home Rule City. According to the most recent United States census, the population of Laguna Vista is less than 5,000,” the petition reads.

“HB 4059 only applies to cities which were completely surrounded by Brownsville’s limits or ETJ. Laguna Vista was one of the main proponents of the legislation. However, Laguna Vista shares a common border of both corporate limits and ETJ with the Town of Port Isabel which means that under the statutory language used in the legislation, HB 4059 should not apply to either City” the document states.

Therefore, “The City of Brownsville would show that HB 4059 cannot be used to impair the existing contractual relationship between Brownsville and Laguna Vista because such an interpretation would violate…the US Constitution,” the petition states.

Points noted for the court’s decision to grant the declaratory judgment include:

  • HB 4059 does not apply to Laguna Vista because that city has an existing contract with Brownville which cannot be legislatively set aside.
  • An interpretation of the law would require Brownsville to withdraw its ETJ from area around Laguna vista which would violate the contract clause of the Constitution
  • The law does not apply to Laguna Vista or Port Isabel because it only applies to a town which is completely surrounded by Brownville’s limits or ETJ, but Laguna Vista and Port Isabel share a mutual border.
  • The law does not apply to Port Isabel because it is the presence of the Brownsville Navigation District to the South, not Brownsville’s ETJ which precludes the growth of Port Isabel southward, and
  • That Laguna Vista’s ETJ should be only 1.0 miles and not 1.5 miles because a city with a population of 5,000 cannot be a home rule city under Texas law.

The petition requests the declaratory judgment in Brownsville’s favor and seeks attorney fees and costs, as well as all other relief in law to which the City of Brownsville is entitled.

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