Alice Flores Rodriguez, 71, who has long represented South Waco, including Baylor University, in District 2 on the Waco City Council, is running for re-election. She served on the council from 1991 to 2001, then returned in 2005. She has long been involved with the local chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens and has been an advocate of the Waco Hispanic Museum Committee. In this interview with the Trib editorial board, she discusses Baylor University’s growth and impact on surrounding neighborhoods; the extent of poverty in much of her district; and the need for targeted economic development and industry offering living wages. The election is May 9.
Q I was looking at your Q&A with the Trib from 2013 and you mentioned one reason that you wanted to stay on the council another term was to guide growth in South Waco associated with Baylor University. I went to one of those public hearings on the city overlay district and heard a lot of suspicion by homeowners about the city’s idea, as if this was some sort of Machiavellian plot.
A I think the neighborhood is happy with it now. Some folks have sold their residences and moved. But others have a different attitude — that it’s their home and that they want it to remain like it was before all this growth around Baylor happened. Of course, it’ll never stay the same, but we’re still trying to make sure it’s as comfortable for them as we can get it. There are still concerns about traffic, the noise, the big apartment buildings of two or three stories going up next to your house. You know, when you live in the older part of South Waco, you have to understand that your backyard is your sanctuary. That’s where we go to sit and barbecue and visit with our families. So they want relative peace and quiet, as much as they can get. One woman told me, “Alice, I raised my kids here, this has been my home, my husband died and I want to stay here and I want you to respect that.” And I assured her that I did. “Then help me continue to live here,” she said. And that’s where the overlay district comes in, telling developers that they have to put certain kinds of buffers (between multi-residential housing and established homes in terms of landscaping, parking, etc.).
Q So has the growth around Baylor gone much as you expected in terms of impacting neighborhoods and help from Baylor officials in ensuring a peaceful coexistence between old, established neighborhoods and university life and activities?
A Oh, yes. There haven’t been any problems because — well, I call him “Judge” but he tells me not to — but I have a very open-door relationship with Baylor University President Ken Starr. If we have an issue, we’ll call him and he’ll address it. I mean, this has been critical in terms of some of the concerns about all this growth such as the trash, traffic and safety of the students. One time he was in Israel and he answered my call, so he knows I’m his council representative and he respects that and a lot of presidents at Baylor didn’t.
Q You’ve been on the Waco City Council a long time and —
A And my passion is still there. I love it. The bottom line is when you’re out at H-E-B or the marketplace or anywhere, there are folks who come up to you and say, “Alice, I appreciate that my street got fixed” or “I appreciate that our taxes haven’t gone up.” Now, we got accused (of tax hikes) because of things the appraisal district might have done, but we don’t have anything to do with that. But, you know, I want to make some impact on housing in the older areas — well, all my district is old. But there are some of the senior citizens. I want to cut some of the red tape for folks living here a long time and who have paid their taxes and aren’t going anywhere. Why can’t we find a way to help fix their homes so they can at least live comfortably, at least three or four years before they pass away. Some of them have a lot of pride, especially the Hispanics. They don’t want to reach out. You know, I’m politicking right now and I went to the home of this 89-year-old lady and she didn’t have anybody to help her bathe. When I walked into her house, it had been three weeks since she had been able to bathe. And she’s on a walker. She says, “I can sponge-bathe myself but I can’t get in the bathtub and, if I do, I can’t get back out. And nobody comes to see me.” And I said, “OK, let me see what I can do to help you.”
Q What? You didn’t sponge-bathe her, did you?
A No, but I helped her wash her hair at the kitchen sink, so she could stand on her walker while washing her hair.
Q Washing some old gal’s hair in a kitchen sink certainly goes beyond the old practice of kissing babies for votes.
A Well — but, you know — well, what can I say? It’s here (presses her heart). I love my folks. That’s why I’m on the council. I love the people in my district. Actually, I like everyone, even if they’re not in my district. If I had been in North Waco and been asked to do that, I probably would have. She said it had been three weeks and so I got some help for her. She didn’t know she could go to the state and get help, so I got a caseworker to come to her house to see if they couldn’t get her involved in a program to where someone can bathe and cook and do some light housework. And she didn’t know about that program. You see, there’s a lot of things council persons do that don’t seem like city business, but this is city business because she is in my district.
Q There have been growing concerns about economic development. I’ve sensed in the last couple of years that local officials are trying to refine how economic development funds and even TIF funds are allocated.
A I know this lady who has three jobs. She has two jobs during the week and on the weekend she has a different job. She’s a single mom with three boys at home and she can’t make it. These three jobs all pay minimum wage except for the fast-food one, where she works as a waitress, so she only makes $2.35 an hour and then tips. So she’s away from home a lot and I know her kids. She has no car. She has to get rides to take her back and forth. It could be her sister or someone at work. But she’s working those three jobs. If she had a good-paying job — even fast-food or production line — that would pay her a good livable wage where she wouldn’t have to work three jobs — maybe she could get it down to just two jobs or maybe a job and a half. And that’s what I want to see. I want to see us bring in more companies that are willing to pay a little bit more so that we don’t have moms working three jobs and depending on other folks to come and help with the kids. And I see this situation every day, especially in my district. We just need to elevate our level of life.
Q Are you going to hate to lose Toni Herbert, who is leaving the City Council after many years representing District 4?
A Oh, yeah. I know she talks a lot (during council meetings) but I know Toni and I know where she’s coming from. And I know where her heart is.
Q Well, I know that Toni and you both ask a lot of questions of city officials but Toni once told me that this is important not just so that she, as a city council member representing her district, can better understand the issues but so anyone watching the public access channel can understand it. I’ve also learned in recent years that, believe it or not, a lot of folks who choose to be well-informed do watch the city public access channel.
A Oh, you’d be surprised how many people watch that. A lot of people who watch come up to me and say, “Alice, you know, I didn’t like that dress you had on the other day.”
Q You’re kidding.
A You know, they feel like you’re their council person and they can tell you what they want.
Interview condensed and edited by Bill Whitaker