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IS SA READY FOR TOYOTA?

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The good news is Toyota is coming to San Antonio.

The bad news is Toyota is coming to San Antonio.

The announcement is the biggest economic news to hit the city in recent memory, but let's put things in perspective: In the grand business scheme, 2,000 jobs and a $78 million payroll ain't that much.

It's the credibility behind the success of the landing the Toyota plant that is priceless.

Finally, Mayor Ed Garza can take business trips with the confidence that he no longer has to offer to potential business partners such conciliatory statements as, "San Antonio is poised for growth."

Now, he can say, "I've got a meeting in 10 minutes with a company 10 times bigger than yours. Are you with us or not, cabrón?"

However, with success comes great responsibility. Ask Denver Mayor Wellington Webb.

Denver rode the telecom boom of the late '90s right into the bust while putting all its chips on costly subsidies for rushed development projects. Runaway growth was Denver's mantra with big-ticket projects fueled by taxpayer dollars springing up in every corner of the city.

In 1994, the city unveiled a new billion-dollar light rail system designed to ease congestion on Denver's highways. While Denver has spent an additional $2 billion to expand the light rail system since then, traffic is as congested as ever, despite the construction of a new highway loop around the city.

In 1995, Denver, using local and federal funds, opened a new $5 billion airport that ran over budget by $2 billion. In the late '90s, Denver's pro football team used a couple of Super Bowl championships and a threat of relocation to pressure Denver citizens to approve a one-tenth of a percent sales tax to help finance the construction of a new $364 million football stadium. Nothing out of the ordinary, except Broncos owner Pat Bowlen capped his contribution for the construction at $90 million. You do the math.

Taxpayers also forked out an additional $200 million for two other pro sports facilities.

The cost of being a world-class city is high - so are the costs of experiencing world-class failures. Denver lost $3 million a month last year in sales tax revenues. Home foreclosures are at an all-time high in a city where the average price of a three-bedroom home is $225,000. Projections show the city will be $20 million short of having enough money to pay all its city employees next year. More than 40,000 jobs were lost in 2002, the biggest losses coming from what used to be Denver's largest employer, Qwest Communications. Qwest was at the center of a billion-dollar accounting quake last year and Denver felt every single rumble right down to the $1.50 hour downtown parking meters.

And the list goes on.

On top of it all, the city is experiencing one of the worst droughts in its history.

"Ten years from now, there may not be any grass," Webb told a group of mayoral candidates recently. "Everyone's lawns may be xeriscaped."

These are only a taste of the problems that San Antonio is likely to face if growth in the city is not managed properly. There are those out there who might say that it's too soon to be thinking about widening southbound I-37 or building a new airport, but if the problems in Denver are any indication, it's never too early.

Local public officials seem to have growth on their radar, but on a pathetic scale. When Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff recently announced a $5 million light rail starter initiative to link Austin and San Antonio, there was a collective snicker from those of us who know what light rail really costs. Five million bucks doesn't pay for the donuts.

And given the current track record of high-profile failures that include the Alamodome and Nelson Wolff Stadium, let's hope that our city officials know how to xeriscape. •

Steve Peralta is a Denver native and editor of Grande Mesa, a Chicano news and opinion Web site.

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