The Mayor’s Office, along with Council Member Mike Laster’s team, conducted the annual Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) meeting last evening at the Sharpstown Community Center. Mayor Parker, CM Laster, and panelists from various city departments provided an overview of many development projects, including the opening slide show about Rebuild Houston. The speakers were professional, articulate, and informative, and I came away with the feeling that there is a well thought out plan of action. CM Mike Laster in particular was sharp, credible, and as always very likeable. We need to support him to get things done for our community.
Regarding Rebuild Houston, many Houston residents would be pleased that the City is moving to a pay-as-you-go drainage program. We’ve been borrowing to meet our spending needs for almost ten years now, and the idea that we’ll move away from more debt seems like a good idea. I’ll post a few of the handouts when I get a chance to scan them, but the process seems to be data driven, with the realization that people on the ground can provide valuable input. Indeed, there was a request for Citizens to call 311 and report flooding so staff can continue to improve the long term drainage plan, which includes streets not just storm sewers.
The problem? Well, the meeting room was more than half full, but it was clear that very few residents actually attended. As the introductions were conducted, and as the speakers recognized their staff, it became clear this was mostly a presentation by COH employees to COH employees. I would estimate that only about half a dozen actual citizen residents were present out of the crowd of 60-70. I was a little disappointed, but not really surprised.
Attendees were given a small sheet of paper that offered an opportunity to make a public comment to the panel. As the meeting began, we were told that it was actually to be used to submit a question to the panel. Unlike the Chapter 42 meeting where the public was encouraged to make very brief comments, this would be different. So after a 57 minute presentation, the panel accepted two questions; one from a long time Gulfton area resident about the drainage on Rampart, and mine. CM Laster encouraged the first questioner to speak directly to the panel and she stepped to the podium and did so. The response by public works emphasized the Rampart plan already on the CIP, which seemed to address the concern. Next question please.
I was interested in encouraging the redevelopment of the Beechnut-Gessner intersection, which has been a long term request (via the SCA in 2009, 2010, 2011) but as far back as the late 90’s. In fact, former CM Ray Driscoll recounted to me last year how he tried unsuccessfully to get that intersection improved when he served on Council from 1994-1999. Daniel Menedez, Deputy Director of Public Works, Engineering and Construction Division, read my question and responded that they were improving Beechnut-Commerce. That location is quite close, but the real issue is about both paving conditions at Beechnut-Gessner and the lack of turn lanes. I rose from seat and headed toward the microphone to clarify my question, but Mr. Menedez quickly stated that I could ask the follow up AFTER THE MEETING. Huh? After the meeting? Wow!
I’ll admit I was pretty surprised, but I made an about face, and headed back to my chair, when CM Laster recalled me and encouraged me to ask my question. So I headed back to the microphone, where he introduced me to the audience, and I asked about the turn lanes. Mr. Menedez said that he knew it was a request every year, but that there were no plans to add it to the CIP. He explained that “the street folks” determined that they” like the traffic flow” with the current design, and that there would be no changes. I attempted to determine if there was an engineering report or study but realized there would be no further information so I began walking back to my seat. I remember CM Laster asking his staff something about a follow up, but honestly I was pretty irritated with the fairly dismissive, condescending answer, and didn’t catch the conversation.
If there is an actual study or engineering report, then public works should just provide that data so the residents will know. Communicating with residents rather than just acting tone deaf and not providing a response isn’t helpful. Without a proper response, our community will remain frustrated with the traffic cutting through our residential streets, and the lack of interest in renewal and redevelopment of the old Kmart property and the surrounding commercial space.
And with that, 65 minutes had passed and the meeting was over. Mayor Parker even remarked (in a nice way) that she wished all the meeting were as quick. Well, when very few of those directly impacted show up, the meetings are going to be short.
This will change my friends. Stay tuned!