It’s great to see the Houston Chronicle and city officials get on board the train. Six months after the city election we’re beginning to see the introduction and discussion of several topics that were the focus of our city council campaign. We may not get credit for bringing these issues to the public’s attention, but make no mistake, we’re making a difference. TIRZ accountability, slum apartments, and shoddy conditions at most city parks outside the loop have made it on the issues list. Include a dramatic and bruising appointment of insiders to the Memorial City TIRZ over flooding and we begin to see that city officials may not like it, but we have the power to drive the agenda. It’s easy to feel that the political machine is unstoppable, but they’re not, and here’s proof.
TAX INCREMENT ZONES LACK TRANSPARENCY
Well, we’ve been singing this song for some time now, the most obvious example the shameful annexation of homes in section two which have now been removed from TIRZ 20. The same men have been in charge of this entity since it was created in 1999 and transparency remains poor. Given the rise in value and scope of TIRZ projects, many that would have been standard city projects in the past, citizens need access to information. At the November 17th, 2015 city council meeting, I again requested greater transparency, and was scolded by CM Laster and Boykins that documents and disclosure by TIRZs were already online. They were wrong.
But within a few weeks a dormant domain name, tirz20.com, sprang to life. The TIRZ / SW Houston RDA is a government entity which should have a .gov domain name but it’s a start.
Then the Houston Chronicle jumped in with this editorial, “TIRZ Cameras: Recorded meetings could help ease growing tensions over reinvestment zones.” They accurately point out that City of Houston TIRZs raised over $100 million dollars last year, as much as parks and libraries combined, with two separate Uptown TIRZ projects exceeding $200 million each. Disclosure and accountability remains poor and the Chronicle hammers it home:
”Less than half of TIRZ boards have websites listed with the city. While the city of Houston posts online the minutes of upcoming TIRZ meetings, many of those agendas are from months, or even years, ago.
People have grown impatient with these behind-the-scenes TIRZ board meetings…
If unelected TIRZ boards are going to fill in for City Hall when it comes to funding major amenities, then they should be subject to all the public checks and balances that we impose on our elected officials.”
SLUM APARTMENTS REMAIN AN EPIDEMIC ACROSS SW HOUSTON
We held an event at the dangerous Fiesta Plaza on Mullins in Gulfton during the campaign, and now KPRC local 2 is getting on board with Joel Esienbaum’s top ten apartment list for 311 violations. The notorious Woodscape on S. Gessner remains at the top of the list, along with its sister property at 7700 Corporate who together account for hundreds of 311 complaints in the last year.
“Houston apartments found with dangerous, unsanitary issues: Channel 2 Investigates”
“Channel 2 Investigates has reviewed thousands of tenant complaints reported to the city of Houston’s 311 service center, made by frustrated residents fed up with their landlords’ lax response to their complaints.
The neglected issues include bizarre noises coming from light fixtures and human waste bubbling up from an exposed sewer pipe — and even downright dangerous situations, such as a shaky second-floor guardrail.”
I’m hearing that CM Laster has started formation of an apartment task force, and I’ll let you know when I learn more about it. Hopefully it will be more effective than the shopping cart task force last year. Generally committees and task force groups are effective in doing nothing about anything, but we’ll see.
INNER LOOP PARKS AMAZING WHILE OTHERS BLIGHTED AND DECAYED
Discovery Green, Memorial and Hermann Parks are the jewels of the Houston Parks System, while Burnett Bayland and other outer loop parks languish. Remember the broken bathrooms and port-a-potties we documented during the campaign? The Houston Chronicle joins the chorus, albeit about a Kingwood area facility. They pay city taxes too.
“Houston has great urban parks. What about the ‘burbs? …Houston has great urban green spaces. But questions of equity linger”
“Yet questions remain about access and equitability. Philanthropists lavished millions on two spectacularly successful urban parks, Discovery Green and Buffalo Bayou Park. But who is stepping forward with gifts to develop and improve parks in the city’s vast suburbs and exurbs?
Buffalo Bayou Park has drawn widespread recognition for its design, but getting there is quite a haul for someone in, say, Alief. Eight years after it opened, Discovery Green continues to attract visitors from the suburbs, particularly on weekends. But surely these families would enjoy similar amenities and activities closer to their homes.”
We await a half million dollar skate park at Burnett Bayland while the bathrooms remain chained shut. At least the dialogue has started.
So, six months post election we discover that three major issues we presented, that frankly nobody was talking about, have reached an initial stage. We’re making a difference and an impact. Stay tuned!