MYTHS ABOUT THE AMENDMENTS
Do Any Of These Sound Familiar?
MYTH 1: “If you want sidewalks on your street, you can have them. Get the majority of your neighbors to sign a petition and present it to council. Majority prevails.”
Where do we begin with how much misinformation is packed into this? First, there is no policy nor precedent by which the City Council will simply install a sidewalk on any street where a majority of residents request one, nor is that written in the proposed charter amendments. Second, there has to be allocated funding for this--and there is none. The 2018 City Council voted to allocate all remaining funds from the standalone sidewalk budget back into street and drainage projects. No funding stream for standalone sidewalk projects exists. For sidewalk installations in conjunction with street and drainage projects, the city conducted multiple studies and ranked the blocks based on the highest need for drainage repairs. The City is in the process of finishing all of those projects, so again, a new bond will need to be proposed and passed to fund more drainage and sidewalk projects. Also for reference, the majority of residents on Elm Street requested speed bumps several years ago due to the excessive number of cars speeding down and using it as a thoroughfare to get to the 610 access road, and those residents had to pay part of the tab themselves. Third, Prop B mandates that there must be at least 50% approval of owners on a block no more than three months prior to the commencement of such construction. As the Mayor Friedberg pointed out, considering that there are not construction crews sitting idle outside City Hall waiting on council to vote on each block, it is possible that although majority approval was initially obtained, when it’s time to actually perform the sidewalk construction months later (after studies, putting out proposals for bids and selecting best bid, and having city council vote on the block), there may not be a majority of residents on that block approving any longer. So the entire timeline (and expenses associated with it!) is triggered to begin again. And again. Until all of the sidewalk stars align just perfectly. Or until the contractor walks away as happened recently (see here: https://www.safebellaire.com/whythismatters).
MYTH 2: “The city will have to show you the plans for your street so you know how your yard, landscaping, trees and other amenities will be affected. The cost of the plans is not expensive, a very minor portion of the overall plan for streets and drainage.”
Sure, the cost of the first set of plans is not expensive relative to other costs, but again, read the fine print in these amendments and how they’ll work in the real world. After residents receive the initial set of plans, some may request modifications and refuse to grant approval to the project until design changes are made exactly how they want. Then another set of plans must be presented ($$), and once they are provided perhaps additional changes are requested and/or new homeowners have moved in and they’re not stipulating changes that must be made ($$). And these charges are only the tip of the iceberg mandated by these proposed charter amendments. Mayor Friedberg explained, “In attempting to estimate the anticipated fiscal impacts, it’s impossible to know how much money might be spent on plan revisions, or how many times the process under Prop A, and then Prop B, would have to be restarted, with final consideration pushed six months further out each time.” See more of his comments about the financial implications of these charter amendments here: http://cityofbellairemayorsmusings.blogspot.com/2020/10/estimating-anticipated-fiscal-impacts.html
MYTH 3: “Street reconstruction is the first work to be done; there is plenty of time to obtain your homeowners’ petitions.”
No. When City Council approves specified blocks for street and drainage improvements followed by sidewalk installations, this is put out in a single bid to firms for cost efficiencies. Stated differently, the City does not put out bids for street and drainage work, followed by separate bids for sidewalk installation because that is not cost effective. As the Mayor explains, “Also note that while the six-month deadline under Prop A is tied to the City Council’s final consideration of an ordinance for the construction of a new sidewalk, Prop B would have to be satisfied no more than three months prior to the commencement of the actual construction. Depending on construction schedules—since it’s not like the contractor has their crews lined up and equipment idling outside City Hall the night of the Council meeting—it may not always be possible for them to start within three months. When it’s not, and each time it’s not, Prop B would be triggered once again.” Seeking and approving of construction bids and then completing the drainage work takes many months--so plenty of time for residents to change their minds, hold up projects or drive away a contractor from doing any of the sidewalks because several blocks were subsequently removed from the job. We’ve described that process here: https://www.safebellaire.com/whythismatters
MYTH 4: “The city now requires 5-ft sidewalks, not 4-ft sidewalks. A sidewalk adds significant paved area on a street, so the amendment would require offsetting flood mitigation. That’s not difficult to do when you have the area torn up anyway!”
When residents requested that City Council change the sidewalk width on their street to 4-feet, City Council amended their sidewalk blocks to only be 4-feet wide. That’s the beauty of making changes using ordinances--they can be modified. In contrast, when elements of these charter amendments prove to be too cumbersome and expensive to efficiently install sidewalks, City Council will have NO power to modify them. None. And that is by design. Regarding the false notion that sidewalks contribute any meaningful amount to flooding in Bellaire, the City Engineer, James Andrews, addressed this in response to a council member’s question during the August 18, 2018 City Council Meeting. He explained that Bellaire has the “fattest, highest P.I. clays in the whole area” which doesn’t absorb much more water than concrete--that “sponge” of clay soil quickly becomes saturated and impermeable with more water. So ultimately, “It would be hard to believe that this kind of flooding is caused by an additional
sidewalk, and it’s not. It’s just too much rain and not enough outfall to take care of it. Very
MYTH 5: “We have to pass charter amendments because City Council doesn’t listen to us.”
The truth is that City Council has actually removed virtually every single sidewalk block where a majority of residents opposed them. Block after block of sidewalk projects were removed, including some where residents actually wanted them but the contractor walked away because the City removed too many and violated the terms of the contract. There are 1.5 blocks of sidewalks that City Council pushed forward with: One is on Jacquet street, where a public park (Ware Park) lies along ⅓ of this entire street, so council argued that children’s and public safety prevails there. The remaining ½ block of sidewalk was on Bolivar Street. City Council moved forward with this project because: residents didn’t raise a single concern about sidewalks when they met with the public works department the month prior to presenting a petition; their petition stated they wanted the sidewalk removed or delayed to understand flooding but the City was already upgrading their 2-year sewer with a 100-year sewer so there was no flooding concern from an additional half-block of sidewalk; and finally, a half-block already existed so finishing the rest of the block was not unreasonable. City Council listens. We just have a small group of folks who want to usurp their power.
MYTH 6: “Changing the City Charter (Constitution for Bellaire) is the only way change the process by which blocks get sidewalks.”
No. Changing Bellaire’s Charter is a drastic measure and is not the place to address frustrations about the sidewalk process. Rather, an ordinance(s) could be passed stipulating that “50% of residents must approve a sidewalk on their block.” The beauty of this approach is that Council could further amend it to make exceptions for areas around public parks, the library, schools, etc. It leaves the power in our elected City Council members to best represent us and doesn’t enshrine sidewalk choices forevermore in the City.
See here for how rare charter changes have occurred and the extensive past processes involved in doing so: https://www.bellairetx.gov/1397/Charter-Amendments---2017
MYTH 7: “Be ready for the Pathways Plan to be pushed immediately!” or that the Pathways Project has anything to do with regular sidewalks.
It is a fact that City Council shelved the Pathways Project in 2018. While some residents spoke out against the Pathways Project conceptual designs at that time, they also made it clear that they did not oppose regular sidewalks. However, proponents of these amendments are attempting to stir up past animosity about the Pathways Project today to gain support for their amendments.
MYTH 8: “It’s only a small minority of people who even want sidewalks in Bellaire.”
This defies the evidence. In truth, a substantial proportion of Bellaire’s residents have asserted that continuing to install sidewalks and repairing damaged ones is a high priority. Residents made this clear during neighborhood meetings and Town Halls leading to the formation of Bellaire’s 5-year Comprehensive Plan. They affirmed this priority in the representative 2017 Bellaire Citizen Survey. Just because sidewalk proponents, which disproportionately include families tending to small children, don’t have the time to attend hours long City Council meetings demanding sidewalks, doesn’t mean sidewalks aren’t important. Sidewalks are a priority, and residents have affirmed this repeatedly over the years.
MYTH 9: “There is no safety crisis in Bellaire.”
Again, this defies the evidence. Data were just released to City Council showing that there have been FIFTY-EIGHT pedestrians injured by vehicles in the past decade in Bellaire, and the vicinity around Bellaire High School is a hot spot. The Houston Chronicle also recently declared a “public health crisis” related to pedestrian injuries and deaths in the Houston area. The “death toll makes the Houston region one of the deadliest major metro areas in the country for people walking, biking or using a wheelchair along area streets, a Houston Chronicle review of federal data shows.” And, “The reasons for Houston's high injury count are as varied as the types of people being struck: Lack of adequate space for pedestrians and bicyclists; impassable sidewalks that stymie wheelchair users; long distances between safe crossings that compel people to dash across freeway lanes; a lack of lighting along many roads.”
MYTH 10: “Sidewalks will bring criminals to our neighborhood.”
Crime prevention organizations like Crime Stoppers and the Texas Gulf Coast Crime Prevention Association actually advocate FOR sidewalks because research shows that when more residents routinely walk in their own neighborhood they serve as a deterrent against opportunistic crimes such as car and house burglaries. Residents are the “eyes on the street” that prevent crimes. Neighborhoods with sidewalks are associated with LESS crime, not more.
American Academy of Pediatrics link: https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/124/2/802