City wages war on drug havens

National Guard to raze old houses

SAN BENITO — After more than 25 years, the Texas National Guard is coming to help clean up.

In September, the National Guard’s Operation Crackdown will raze about 25 run-down houses, many suspected to be drug havens, Bernard Rodriguez, the city’s planning director, said.

“The city of San Benito applied, qualified and was chosen to partner with the Texas National Guard to demolish dilapidated structures that are not only a blight in our neighborhoods but are also a haven for criminal activity,” Rodriguez said.

Since 1993, Operation Crackdown has helped cities rid their neighborhoods of more than 1,700 structures — many used as hangouts for drug users.

“If it’s a drug-haven area — if it’s a known area where we’ve had issues in the past — we’re going to target those areas,” Rodriguez told city commissioners earlier this month. “There are a couple of residences I know by schools that just seem to be a hangout — an invitation for kids just to hang out at those locations. We’re going to target those areas.”

As part of its two-week program, the National Guard will bring in the manpower and heavy equipment to raze the structures, spending about $40,000.

“The National Guard is going to absorb the cost as far as the heavy machinery — the bulldozers — to knock the buildings down and to load that debris into various containers,” Rodriguez told city commissioners.

Meanwhile, the city has set aside $40,000 to dispose of the debris, Rodriquez told commissioners.

Across town, police officials helped target old houses and run-down structures known to lure drug users, he said.

“The abandoned homes have been labeled eyesores and havens for criminal activity and are scheduled to be demolished with the permission of the owners, who in many instances do not live in the area and are not aware that the building is being used for drugs or gang activity,” Rodriguez said. “Empty beer cans and drug paraphernalia left behind littering the floors are signs that minors and vagrants use abandoned homes to drink alcohol and use drugs.”

City officials are working with property owners to allow them to target old, vacant houses.

“We’re going to be working with the homeowners,” Rodriguez told commissioners. “They have to allow us to get on their land.”

Rodriguez is counting on Operation Crackdown to rid neighborhoods of blight, spurring property owners to renovate homes and place them back on the tax rolls.

“The end result can revitalize the neighborhood, establish pride in the neighborhood and creates a safe and clean environment for the residents,” he said.

The National Guard, he said, funds Operation Crackdown with money stemming from drug seizures.

“Through the initiative, the city of San Benito will not only establish a cleaner and safer neighborhood but also significantly improve the quality of life for the residents of San Benito,” he said.