Council Points with John Kelley

Author’s Note: Matt Pierce Briscoe, Editor and Publisher of the “South Side Light News”, and I originally did this as a podcast last Thursday evening. Somewhere in the uploading process it got lost and is out there in cyberspace. So while this is late because of delays with household weather and other crises, it is still relevant because the City Council meeting was cancelled this week because of the weather.

Public Comment

The majority of callers requested the City proceed with low barrier shelter for homeless people. The callers said the City had it on the agenda and for some reason pulled it. Such a shelter would have bathrooms, showers, secure lockers and laundry facilities to serve the homeless population.

They also complained that the city received two million dollars two years ago for homeless issues and said the city had not spent any of it to alleviate the situation. The City has a long and growing homeless problem that prior councils have refused to own and respond to. We’ll see if Mayor Guajardo and this Council can do better.

City Manager’s Report

The City Manager’s report states an additional $10 million in revenue over projections came in the last quarter of 2020 because of an earlier than expected payment from an industrial entity. Also, lower expenditures than expected left the City budget in great shape given the economic headwinds from Covid and the oil and gas industry. Kudos to Peter Zanoni and staff.

Covid-19 Report

County Health Director Annette Rodriquez, reported that we are going to be having more vaccines and more sites. The current problems in the system seem to be aggravated by political decisions to get the most vaccines into the most people the quickest time. Creating an impossible situation for the most vulnerable elderly and infirm to access the vaccinations.

Additionally people showed up that were given the vaccine whether they met the criteria or not. So while they may have vaccinated a lot of people it is questionable whether the people who needed vaccines were actually getting them.

Even after weeks of vaccine distribution the City and the County seems incapable of coming up with an automated online/phone system that can ask people questions, put them in priority order and notify them when their appointment is for a vaccine. As the former CEO of a healthcare company, I can tell you it’s not that difficult of a task, in fact it’s done all the time and is in other jurisdictions.

A local assessment needs to be done of handling the at pandemic from the beginning through the vaccine rollout. The resulting recommendations could help form a disaster response plan for future pandemics. And while we’re at it let’s do one for industrial accidents too.

Port Appointment

The biggest political deal on the agenda was the Port appointment. Even though a dozen people applied only two names were nominated. Al Jones was finishing the balance of the term created when former Commissioner Wayne Squires after he was accused of lying on his application about his education.

Squires, was accused of buying the position because of several large campaign contributions the November before the January appointment that unseated Jones. Jones was then reappointed to fill a vacancy and finish out the term.

Rajan Ahuja was appointed to the slot 5-4 ousting Jones again. Both represented special interest power groups within the Port Commission. Campaign reports reveal a total of $19,700 from Ahuja and his supporters with Jones and his supporters contributing a total of $18,000 in the November City Council race.

The big surprise was District 2’s Ben Molina, who voted for Ahuja. Jones had been a regular supporter and contributor to Molina’s three campaigns who was expected to be a sure voter for Jones. Molina voted for Ahuja in spite of Jones and his supporters contributing over $6000 to Molina compared to $1500 from Ahuja and his supporters.

Curiously the night before the vote it was reported (https://www.facebook.com/cclightnews/posts/2981594105451614) that there was a dinner at the Republican Texas steakhouse. At that dinner were Ben Molina, Sean Strawbridge CEO of the Port, Barbara Canales County Judge and Doug Allison Barbara’s domestic partner and Port Legal Counsel. That meeting evidently swayed Melina’s opinion. The question is why?

Alan Jones had been a Port Commissioner for several years when he was displaced by Squires. Ahuja is a partner with Squires in several ventures according to a number of business tracking sites. Squires was a contributor to those Council people who voted for Ahuja.

TIRZ #4 North Beach Board

In another surprising appointment that demonstrated that the Council has had a distinct change in direction as far as their attitude on North Beach. Ken Berry had applied for the North Beach TIRZ-4 Board for the citizen spot. He also applied for appointment to the Port Commission seat. He contributed $5000 to Mayor Guajardo’s November campaign.

North Beach Association member and canal advocate Carey Meyers was ousted 8-1 with only Hernandez supporting her reappointment. Berry who has an office on North Beach and is known to hate the canal replaces her.  This gives a clear indication where the Council is headed on this issue.

The Land Deal of the Century

“Item 13. Ordinance declaring City owned land on Oso Creek at Starry Circle as surplus property; authorizing its sale or exchange to the public by sealed bid; and authorizing execution of the deed and any related documents necessary to complete the sale and convey the property.”

Zoning Hearing on Washington-Coles laydown proposal.

The City is discussing a trade of 182 acres on Oso Bay (3100 feet of water frontage) for 130 acres of landlocked land in a flood zone, quite literally a swamp. Read the whole story tomorrow in the South Side Light News in the article “The City wants to do what?”

An interesting zoning case came up that outlined issues between industrial interests and redevelopment interests. Two years ago a company applied for a zoning change to convert the land to light industrial. The company was offered a Special Use Permit for five years. It refused that option and was denied.

The City’s master plan has designated that are as a highly desirable mixed use redevelopment area consisting of hotels, condos and office buildings. The area will be rejoined with downtown and North Staples will be pushed through to connect with the Whataburger Field area. The City has already made major investments in the future of the area as it is reconnected to the rest of the city after the bridge is removed and becomes highly sought after property. 

The area is still a residential area (35 residents) and a laydown yard and associated truck traffic would be totally incompatible. The majority of the Council city ready to turn it down again, except for kept arguing for the plan when District 3’s Roland Barrera brought up again the option of going back to the company and again offering a limited time Special Use Permit. The matter was tabled with the directions to staff to go back to the company and see if they were interested in a shorter time limited use.

Presentation on Impact Fees

Council voted unanimously to contract with Dawson Pape Engineering to do a study of how impact fees would affect development and make recommendations about a rate structure. That would replace the current Trust fund program invented in the 1980s. The trust funds are from the contributions of developers when they apply for a plat change. The money is then withdrawn by developers for installation of sewer and water.

The problem with that is several fold: 1) City residents subsidize the other development costs including storm water, streets, gas, police, fire, and other services; 2) The city has to frequently contribute to the funds to make up for shortfalls; 3) The money only goes for oversizing or extending lines and that includes lift stations and force mains; 4) developers determine the direction and areas of development. Consequently the trust funds are the major contributors to the sprawl of our city and do not contribute anything to rebuild antiquated infrastructure or support revitalization, costing tax and ratepayers more and resulting in poor infrastructure and high utility and tax costs..

The large developers and contractors are against impact fees as an alternative because they profit the most from the current system and get much more money out of this out of the funds than they contribute. Smaller developers who haven’t been able to take advantage of the funds support impact fees.

With Impact Fees the City would collect the fees and determine the direction of future growth. Most major cities in Texas have impact fees. These fees pay for the installation of all utilities and services and are paid as part of the price of the home.

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