- Brownsville residents are divided as SpaceX sets up its main launch facilities near the region.
- Some locals are excited that Elon Musk is creating jobs and pumping money into the city.
- Others are concerned that SpaceX will displace people, raise prices, and destroy nature reserves.
- See more stories on the Insider business page.
Residents of Brownsville, a small town in Texas, are divided. Their city is now home to SpaceX’s rocket production facilities, which only promise to grow.
Some locals have told Insider they are running out of steam with SpaceX as the aerospace company detonates explosions and pushes residents out of the area. But others see a positive impact on the economy and the well-being of the inhabitants.
Brownsville, which is 20 miles west of SpaceX’s Gulf Coast launch facilities, is known to be one of the poorest regions in the United States. The city of 300,000 inhabitants also has a very high unemployment rate.
When SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted in late March that he was giving Brownsville $ 30 million – $ 20 million for schools and $ 10 million for revitalization – it divided the city.
—Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 30, 2021
Musk also announced that he is building a new city called Starbase at SpaceX’s launch facilities that will be “much larger” than Boca Chica Village, where the company is developing its Starship rocket.
Brownsville Mayor Trey Mendez was taken aback by Musk’s announcement and said in a interview with KSAT 12 it was “exciting” that the community could have the chance to become the face of “space exploration and innovation”.
Mendez said he hopes Musk’s capital will help “accelerate progress [in Brownsville] even more.”
But there is a division between those who live in the South Texas city. Some fear that SpaceX’s developments will be devastating to people, nature and ecosystems. Others welcome the job opportunities, economic prosperity and modernization Musk’s business could bring to the city.
SpaceX did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.
Whenever a rocket explodes on the launch pad, it throws debris at nearby natural sanctuaries in the area. SpaceX has witnessed the explosion of four of its five Starship prototypes, which means metals and machine parts are in areas that have never been disturbed before.
“These ecosystems are the lifeblood of our community,” said Bekah Hinojosa, resident of Brownsville and a member of Another Gulf is Possible, an organization working on environmental issues along the southern coast of the Gulf of Mexico.
“SpaceX explosions are littered with our ecosystems, which are home to the endangered ocelot, aplomado falcon and many migratory birds,” she said.
Xandra Treviño is a member of the Las Imaginistas art collective. It’s an initiative that aims to connect with government officials and low-income residents of the Rio Grande Valley, where Brownsville is located, to improve the quality of life. As a resident, she told Insider that she is already seeing the negative effects of SpaceX in the region.
“Any SpaceX expansion would occupy more land considered sacred by the local indigenous Carrizo Comecrudo tribe,” said Treviño, who lives in the area.
Residents face disruption every time they are told to leave their homes before SpaceX launches, she added.
SpaceX jobs aren’t for locals
In March, Musk encouraged people to relocate to the Brownsville area, saying SpaceX needed specific jobs in engineering, technology and other industries.
—Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 30, 2021
Residents felt Musk’s Twitter call, however, was not aimed at them, but rather anyone in the United States who wanted a career at SpaceX.
Claudia Michelle Serrano, digital content coordinator for Las Imaginistas, who lives in Brownsville, told Insider that Musk’s job offers via Twitter are being offered nationally to those who want to work for the space company.
“The jobs created are not for us,” she said. “There is no transparency on the jobs created locally by SpaceX.”
Jobs in Brownsville are low-wage, which means residents on those wages won’t be able to keep up with the rising costs in the city, according to Serrano.
Christine Leal, a 17-year-old high school student living in the Rio Grande Valley, told Insider that while her dream is to work for SpaceX after studying engineering in college, she is worried about “the immense danger “that the company will bring. to the region.
Hiring engineers from outside the valley will lead residents to be financially disadvantaged and driven from their homes, she said. “There is a high probability that [Musk] will further develop Brownsville, but neglect the residents who were already there. “
Leal said that while the company’s project is amazing for the local economy, “Elon and SpaceX need to make sure that the locals play a role in this development and don’t put us aside. If they don’t. not, we risk losing our culture., land, customs and traditions. “
SpaceX could kick out residents of Brownsville
Low-income residents could be forced out of their homes due to soaring prices caused by SpaceX’s presence in the region, residents told Insider.
Musk announced the construction of the SpaceX facility in 2014. Since then, the cost of living in the region has steadily increased as more people from across the United States flock to Brownsville to work for the billionaire.
If the town of Starbase goes ahead, the small village and its rulers would gain access to a prominent domain, which could allow them to legally force resistance fighters to sell their homes, Insider reported on May 8.
“The biggest problem is moving,” Serrano said. “Our house could be lost due to the rapid increase in taxes or other people who rent will be charged.”
Investors flocked to Brownsville to buy homes, which sent home prices soaring, Insider reported in April. But many residents are unable to afford these prices, leaving them with a difficult decision whether or not to stay in the area.
Serrano said this could have a huge impact on the Buena Vida area of downtown Brownsville, a historically immigrant and Spanish-speaking area.
Many locals who spoke to Insider feel that local leaders have a lot to answer. Freddy Jimenez, editor of the media platform Trucha, told us that the leaders of Cameron County and the city of Brownsville do not represent ordinary people living in the region as they seek to profit from developments in the space society. Conversations between representatives and SpaceX have been kept under wraps, he added.
“Workers, community members, indigenous peoples and the beautiful ecology of the region are threatened and exploited,” Jimenez said. “Shame on our local leaders and shame on the interests they serve.”
SpaceX controls beach access and fishing
Robert Avitia, who was born and raised in Brownsville, still lives in the town where he runs his business. He believes SpaceX has done wonders by pumping more money into the region.
While Avitia believes there are more positives than negatives with Musk coming to Brownsville, he agrees that rocket debris at wildlife sanctuaries and the closure of Boca Chica beach are serious issues in the area. community.
Boca Chica Beach was a place people could hang out whenever they wanted, Avitia told Insider.
“Now it’s controlled. You can’t get in and out when you want to. It’s only when they allow it, depending on what’s going on at SpaceX,” he said.
The beach was an integral part of the culture of the region. Avitia recalled the good memories he had with his father of going down to the beach to fish. Now SpaceX sometimes doesn’t allow people to fish because it’s too close to the facilities.
Hinojosa, who raised concerns about rocket waste earlier in this report, also said that SpaceX shutting down beach access for residents threatened people’s livelihoods by preventing people from fishing and feeding their homes. family, and enjoying the beach.
Some residents see the positive side
But Avitia is one of the many people who hail SpaceX’s expansion in Brownsville. Previously, the city was a “ghost town” with little to offer, he said. Now it has become more modern as new restaurants and businesses appear on the streets, the tourism industry expands, and highways are updated, he added.
“There is division here,” he said. “You have people who are just comfortable and who don’t want to change … I hate to say that but those who want to stay comfortable are going to lose, they are going to be missed.”
Restricting access to the beach and fishing comes with change, Avitia said.
“[Musk] giving money, it was like saying, “Hey, I’m here to help. I’m not here to take away. I’m here to help.” And I really believe he’s there to help, ”he added.
Four other people who spoke to Insider said they were also excited that Brownsville is the home of SpaceX.
One of them, Rudy Guzman, a permanent resident of Brownsville, told Insider that SpaceX is exactly what the city needs “to attract outside investors and grow our local economy.” Others said it would motivate children and significantly improve education.