DON'T BE FOOLED
Although the 3 Bellaire Charter Amendments are cleverly worded and advertised to offer “choice” to residents about sidewalk placement, in reality--if they pass--they are sure to kill all new sidewalks in Bellaire indefinitely. Here’s how:
First, municipalities like Bellaire do NOT put out bids for one sidewalk job at a time. This unnecessarily adds costs and logistical challenges (which adds even more costs). Like any other industry and product, it’s more cost efficient to bundle several streets together and ask engineering companies to bid on that *set* of sidewalks. Doing so reduces costs in several ways: the price per linear foot of sidewalk is less; the Bellaire engineer’s cost to oversee and manage a single engineering firm installing a set of sidewalks is less compared to overseeing multiple firms installing multiple sidewalks at a time; and Bellaire staff costs are less because it requires fewer hours of labor to sort out all of the plans and communication among the engineering firms and residents. Further, Bellaire is able to obtain more reputable, high-quality engineering firms to install sidewalks on a bid for a set of sidewalks compared to a single sidewalk.
Second, because sidewalk jobs are bundled into sets, if multiple sidewalks withdraw from the plan, engineering firms will withdraw from the contract--because Bellaire violated the terms of the contract by reducing the number of sidewalks originally proposed. This kills ALL sidewalk jobs in that set, especially under the proposed charters because there’s not enough time to add more sidewalks. Prop A requires a hydrological study (among other things) and that residents be notified via certified mail 6 months prior to a City Council vote AND Prop B mandates that 50+% of residents on a street have to provide written approval no more than 3 months prior to a sidewalk construction job beginning. This isn’t possible, so no one in this set will get a sidewalk. An engineering firm withdrawing from a job due to reduced number of sidewalks is not hyperbole, and actually happened recently in Bellaire. In October 2018, RAC Industries sent a letter stating, “As a result of the sidewalk project’s scope of work being reduced by more than ½, RAC Industries, LLC withdraws its bid. The project was quoted with unit prices based on efficiencies of scale and the unit prices are too low for small volumes.” And then none of the sidewalks in that set ever received a sidewalk. Even worse, if this becomes a pattern, reputable companies will not waste their time bidding on Bellaire jobs at all because our initial contractual terms are not reliable.
Third, the rigid time constraints mandated by the 3 amendments render it virtually impossible to successfully install sidewalks. For example, while the city may initially get a ballpark estimate showing support for sidewalks on a set of streets, Prop B mandates that official written approval by at least 50% of the homeowners must be obtained no more than three months prior to the commencement of such construction. The time frame between the initial ballpark estimate and the official written consent deadline is many months (and could easily be over a year given all that goes into the studies, acquiring engineering contracts, City Council votes, etc). Any manner of instances may tip the scale to below 50% on streets during that time frame, such as new homeowners bought the house and don’t consent, some don’t agree to the timeline because they are personally undergoing home renovations or pool installation that won’t be complete, or any other reason where people change their mind and no longer consent. Meanwhile, the engineering construction company is expecting to begin the job on the contractual date. And it’s too late to find and include additional streets because Prop A mandates that they have a certified letter sent with information on a hydrological study and other details six months prior to the City Council’s consideration of the ordinance for construction for such sidewalk. The result: no one gets a sidewalk--even streets whose majority consistently wanted one from the outset. The creators of these amendments have been asked repeatedly why they chose a 3 month time limit on written approval before construction begins, and they refuse to answer. We know: It’s the linchpin that ensures the hurdles to meet approval for sidewalks will never happen and no one will get sidewalks.
Let’s not also forget: When the above scenarios happen, Bellaire has just wasted tens of thousands of dollars on hydrological studies, labor costs to manage all of the City’s communication with engineering firms and residents, certified mail costs, and the end result being no sidewalks. And we have tarnished our reputation among engineering firms, driving away high quality ones from wanting to work with us.
The current processes work: When residents have opposed sidewalks being on their streets, the projects have been pulled. When residents protested having a 5’ sidewalk, City Council voted to grant their wishes and install a 4’ wide sidewalk (see 9-17-18 meeting). Bellaire’s existing legislative process already works to give residents what they want (or don’t want).
Finally, residents of Bellaire have expressed in numerous studies, town halls and community meetings, and more their desire to have sidewalks to improve safety and walkability. There were multiple community meetings leading up to the 5-year Bellaire Comprehensive Plan, with the result being a unanimous endorsement by councilmembers at the time that the City should proceed with expanding availability of sidewalks. Since then, residents have reaffirmed their desire to increase sidewalks in Bellaire through the 2017 Bellaire Citizen’s Survey, hundreds signing a pro-sidewalk petition in 2018, and the current throngs of residents expressing support to continue expanding Bellaire’s safe walkability. These tax-paying residents of Bellaire deserve the ability to shape their neighborhood too.
Vote AGAINST all 3 amendments!