Open Government Project
A Government Watchdog Group
State of Texas
City of Galveston
Public Interest Groups
by David Stanowski
19 July 2013
As explained in yesterday’s article, the “Local Advocates”, are five local organizations that have banded together to form a new entity called the Galveston County Collaborating Organizations (GCCO) that is lobbying for the rebuilding of the “Northside” according to their specifications. They define the “Northside” as roughly 25th Street to 46th Street, and Broadway to Market.
The GCCO has been meeting with the City Manager, the City Attorney, and other members of City staff to express their “deep concerns” in an effort to get the Northside rebuilt to their vision. This has raised many questions about why they are focused just on this one neighborhood, and why no other neighborhood has this kind access to the City staff in order to lobby for their visions of the rebuilding of their neighborhoods.
In addition, the GCCO has been given “a seat at the table” in some meetings with the GLO and the Austin Advocates which no other neighborhood group or non-profit has enjoyed! Who gave them this exclusive access and why?
It is also unclear whether most of the leaders of the GCCO even live in the Northside which raises many other questions. For example, imagine a situation where some of the residents of Pirates Beach, Kempner Park and San Jacinto form an organization to lobby the City on how to rebuild the East End Historic District. Would anyone allow that to happen?
Much of the disaster recovery funding for the entire City is focused on assisting low- to-moderate-income (LMI) residents. 23% of all of the residents of the City live below the poverty line, so a much greater percentage qualify as LMI. This means that LMI residents are scattered all over the Island; they are not confined to the Northside.
We understand that the GCCO is only concerned about minority LMI residents, but, 55% of all City residents are minorities which means that minority LMI residents live in many areas besides the Northside, so why is the attention of the GCCO focused exclusively on only one neighborhood?
If the State and federal governments do not intend for all of the City’s disaster recovery funding to go into the Northside, then why aren’t other neighborhood organizations being invited to meet with the City Manager to lobby for their visions of rebuilding their neighborhoods? Why is the GCCO the only organization with this kind of access?
What percentage of the City’s residents live in the Northside? Census Tract 7246 covers about 80% of the Northside footprint. Much of the remainder is abandoned residential, commercial or industrial. The 2010 Census count in Census Tract 7246 found 1,793 residents, so 2,000 is a reasonable estimate for the entire Northside population. This means we are talking about approximately 2,000/47,762 = 4.2% of the City’s population!
Are a handful of self-appointed spokesmen for only 4.2% of the City's population being allowed to shape City policy?
What percentage of the City’s LMI residents live in the Northside? What percentage of the City’s minority LMI residents live in the Northside? What percentage of the City’s land area is contained in the Northside?
The City Council needs to answer these, and many other questions, and prevent City staff from allowing the “deep concerns” of the "spokesmen" for this one neighborhood to dictate the disaster recovery policy for the entire City.
This is what the Northside looks like in relationship to just the central part of the City:
Recently obtained emails and letters between the GCCO and the City shed some light on what is going on behind the scenes, and they also show how imperative it is for City Council to provide needed oversight to the negotiations between the GCCO and City staff, and to make sure that other neighborhoods are no longer excluded.
In the 06 May 2013 GCCO letter to Commissioner Jerry Patterson, one part states, “Our expression of the six concerns we believe should be addressed before an early release of millions of dollars for infrastructure would not have been fully discussed without the insistence of Northside Councilmember Cornelia Banks that we be present at the table”.
This comment is very troubling, because it seems to indicate that the GCCO has been against the release of the infrastructure money, for the entire Island, until the “concerns” of the "spokesmen" for this one neighborhood are addressed.
In their 25 May 2013 letter to City staff, the GCCO listed ten “deep concerns”:
1. Moratorium on tin buildings on the Northside.
2. Move the water tanks.
3. Funding to eliminate and mitigate flooding on the Northside.
4. CO role in Northside infrastructure planning.
5. Adopt a strong Sec. 3 policy.
6. Redraw the Northside residential zoning lines.
7. Temporary relocation assistance during Round 2.
8. Compliance with code enforcement needs to be suspended.
9. Suspend enforcement of eminent domain, condemnation, and demolition against residential property.
10. Use CDBG and other economic tools to establish a full service grocery store in Northside community.
How does the City Manager intend to address all of these concerns, and how much money will he spend doing so? Will he use money that should go to other neighborhoods? We don’t know, because this process has been anything but open.
Where is the list of “concerns” from your neighborhood?
The meetings between the GCCO and City staff are extremely troubling! This is exactly the same process that unleashed the Lone Star Legal Aid Agreement and then the Conciliation Agreement on this city. Secret meetings between self-appointed elitists and government bureaucrats that claim to represent the “best interests” of the poor people in this city, with no participation by the public or their elected representatives.
As before, this will end badly, if the City Council does not get control of this process immediately!
Read the Letters: