Besieged by the Bay

Beset by skyrocketing tax assessments and wary of encroaching development, property owners in San Leon-Bacliff wonder if their "poor man's Riviera" may soon go the way of other waterfront zones along Galveston Bay.

One local businessman, who wears his distaste for the government on his sleeve, cautions that people like Cooper aren't to be dismissed lightly. "You know Fort Davis?" he says, referring to the West Texas town where Richard McLaren made his recent aborted stand against the Department of Public Safety. "That could happen here."

Indeed, some of the residents are talking revolt, though within the bounds of propriety. At the second community meeting organized by Marion Medlock, various people spoke about the possibility of putting together a statewide referendum, similar to Proposition 13 in California.

"There's so much about government that's unreasonable," says Bacliff resident Ed Jones, who sees the property tax issue uniting his neighborhood. "Hey, if California can do it, why can't we?"

That kind of initiative takes a tremendous investment of time and resources, though, and the ability of Medlock's group to sustain such an effort is doubtful: While the first meeting drew more than 100 people, the second attracted fewer than 60. One fiery speech about taxation without representation brought a smattering of applause, but for the most part, those in attendance seemed resigned to their fate, hoping at best to shave a few bucks off the bill. Medlock herself understands the odds. "I'm depressed," she said a week after the second meeting. No further explanation was necessary.

Even if it takes another decade or two for San Leon and Bacliff to gentrify, says Chuck Wilson, the die is already cast. That's just the way of it. "When everybody finds paradise, it changes," he says. "Everybody wants a piece of it."

In the end, though, the last laugh may belong to those who are forced to abdicate their property to the well-heeled. Constant erosion from the elements has carved a number of feet from the shoreline since the original maps were drawn. Avenue A, which was designed to run along the north shore of the peninsula in San Leon, now stops and starts because some of its intended path has eroded away. And plenty of residents still remember Hurricane Carla back in 1961, a killer which destroyed many of the houses on the bay and took away a chunk of waterfront.

Buck Smith lost two of his walls to Carla and spent the first few days after the storm shooting at looters and pulling pieces of barge out of his living room. Smith, who thinks he'll move back to Houston soon, knows in his bones that the Big One is on its way.

There will be another hurricane, he says, and "it'll wipe out this place.

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