Why do you hate New Braunfels? I don’t ask this question to be smart-alecky or sarcastic. As I watch the latest tourism-related debate unfold, this time over a proposed disposable container ban on the Comal and Guadalupe Rivers, I get the sense that there is something more fundamental going on. New Braunfels is a unique place, and the impression I get is that there something about its very uniqueness that makes you feel genuinely frightened and uncomfortable.

I won’t spend a whole lot of time here debating the proposed ban. Many others have already laid out the arguments against it. The proposal is a pretty transparent attempt to regulate the consumption of alcohol on the rivers. Your own comments during the last council meeting indicate that banning alcohol is the proposal’s real purpose. And if you think for a moment that a court cannot see that, then you either underestimate the intelligence of state district judges or you reside in an alternate Alice-in Wonderland universe.

The Council, of course, has tried to ban alcohol on the rivers before, only to be rebuffed by the legal system, because the regulation of alcohol consumption is the sole job of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission under Texas law. I am sure you don’t care that the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code already gives regulatory authority over alcoholic beverage containers to the TABC and that this proposal faces some of the same preemption problems that your previous alcohol ban had.

Just as I’m sure that you could care less that the proposed ordinance is possibly unconstitutionally vague and overbroad (Is sunscreen included? Insulin?). Nor do you apparently have any sympathy for the poor cops who will be charged with enforcing yet another unenforceable ordinance. You feel as if you have to do something radical, and you’re probably going to try. But the real question is: Why? I have been practicing criminal law in New Braunfels for approximately twenty years, the first five as a prosecutor.

I am here to tell you that tourists (and locals) getting arrested during the summer on one of the rivers is not a new thing. It has been happening as long as I have practiced law here. I’d wager that if you asked anybody who lives in a tourist town whether a tourist getting arrested is a remarkable event, they would tell you that it isn’t. Now, this summer, the example that that anti-tourist crowd likes to brandish in order to show that there is a “crisis” is the assault on a peace officer that happened a few weeks ago. Again, as someone that has worked in the local criminal justice system for almost my entire adult life, I’m sad to report that this officer, unfortunately, will probably not be the only one injured in the line of duty in Comal County this year, and not all of the cops injured will be working on the river.

For better or worse, those other cops don’t make the local television news. One bad incident, though, is not a “crisis”. Yet you imagine, or claim, that there is suddenly a “crisis.” Really, it isn’t all that sudden, if you think about it. This seems to be a “crisis” with no end. Over several years, in fact, you have passed numerous ordinances to combat it (the cooler ordinance, the boom box rule, the jello shot ban, etc.). All of these are in addition to a “zero-tolerance” policy practiced by the New Braunfels Police Department now for many tourist seasons. So I have ask you: How’s that working for you? After years of new ordinances and scores of arrests and citations, how’s it working? You would expect that, by now, the Comal and Guadalupe Rivers would be seas of tranquility after all of this cracking down.

Instead, this summer, we have been treated to the local newspaper running a hysterical headline warning about “The River Wild,” the local police chief jumping in front of news cameras to pronounce that the rivers are out-of-control, the first-time spectacle of the mayor shutting down the Comal River to tubing during the middle of a busy weekend, and now, the latest anti-rowdy tuber proposal. This is a “crisis” of your own creation. And, by your own assessment, your policies have been a failure. I suspect, though, that the Council would not consider anything short of ending tubing on the Comal River to be a success. Deep down, you hate tubing on the Comal River, as well as the tourists who do it. It, and they, make you uncomfortable. A unique town, which experiences a great deal of growth from the outside in a short amount of time, often experiences a tug-of-war for its identity. At the risk of digressing too much, let me use New Orleans as a point of reference.

I’m a frequent visitor, and since Katrina, I’ve had a chance to meet a few people who used to live there. New Orleans is as funky and touristy as all get out. Its uniqueness is what drew many people to live there in the first place. It has its share of tourist problems, and almost everyone I’ve ever known who lived in New Orleans complained about the excesses of the tourists. But if you ask a New Orleans native if he wants to radically change the place, he’d most likely tell you “no” (with the exception of building some decent levees). As one New Orleans local once explained to me, New Orleans is the kind of place that changes you, you don’t change it.

When I first began my career in New Braunfels, New Braunfels was the kind of place that people moved to because it was different. Newcomers were drawn to New Braunfels precisely because it was a quirky tourist town. People did not move here to remake New Braunfels in their own image. People often moved to New Braunfels to remake themselves. Over the past decade, a flood of people have moved to New Braunfels for quite different reasons: for a big house in the ‘burbs, for the schools, to retire near the Hill Country, to be located along the I-35 Corridor. These folks didn’t come here looking to change their lives all that much, though. If anything, they want New Braunfels to resemble something very close to the places from which they came.

They don’t want to tolerate things, or people, that are outside their comfort zone. To them, a jam-packed river on a summer afternoon is not a sign of living in a vibrant place to which outsiders want to flock. It’s an eyesore. It’s a nuisance. It’s a place to crack down. They want to live in Pleasantville. So here we are at the next round of the New Braunfels version of the culture wars. On one side are people like me, who would like to preserve the things that make New Braunfels unique, even if it means putting up with the problems that come with it. On the other side are people who would be content to see New Braunfels become just one more of the many plain vanilla suburbs strung between San Antonio and Austin. I, along with many others, sense you are approaching a point of no return.

I would ask you to think long and hard before taking the next step. This tourist season is almost over, and there is no need to rush into a decision that will long be regretted. No reasons other than panic and fear. Before you make your decision, keep in mind that it won’t just affect some abstract group called “rowdy tubers.” The tubers can always go somewhere else, and one day, they will. Your decision also affects very real people who either live or work in New Braunfels. I know it’s fashionable, of late, to demonize those evil, greedy, exploiting river outfitters. Personally, I don’t think you’ll find that the guys down at Texas Tubes, or Corner Tubes, are all that bad if you get to know them. In fact, they ought to be your natural allies.

They have just as much invested in keeping the rivers safe and clean as anyone else. I know that “compromise” has recently become a four-letter word in our politics, but would bringing everyone to the table really be that awful? Would talking to the other side really make you that uncomfortable? I would also have you keep in mind the people that hardly ever get mentioned -- the legion of people in your fair city who work minimum-wage jobs -- the convenience store clerks, the restaurant waitstaff, the hotels maids, all of whom depend on tourist dollars to feed their families. You risk losing more than dollars and cents, however. You risk killing the character of New Braunfels. Trying to transform New Braunfels into Plano-on-the-Comal hasn’t worked too well, so far. Why don’t you try something new, instead? Why don’t you just let New Braunfels try to change you? I promise the makeover won’t be too uncomfortable or scary.