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Posts published in June 2009

State Sen. Gallegos tells Aldine about Legislative Session


NORTHEAST HOUSTON – State Senator Mario Gallegos was the featured speaker at this month’s Networking Luncheon of the East Aldine District, held last Thursday noon at the Sheriff ’s Storefront and EAD offices, 5202 Aldine Mail Route. These lunches, held once a month, are open to the public and include a free lunch and an opportunity to speak about your organization’s activities.

Gallegos has served four terms in the Texas Senate, and previous to that two terms in the House. He also has been a Houston fireman prior to his legislative service. He is recovering from a liver transplant, and is relatively good health, he reported to the audience.

Gallegos admitted that it was a slow session, getting started several weeks late as the new House speaker spent the first three weeks setting up committees. However, he thought some worthwhile legislation was passed, and a balanced budget was passed and the reserves in the “rainy day fund” were preserved.

Governor Perry has called a special session to consider items not voted on in the regular session, which will start July 1st.

On the Agenda are action on five agencies due for “sunsetting,” and TxDOT funding and design parameters.

In his remarks, Gallegos said that undue attention to the voter ID issue delayed other legislation, such as expansion of the CHIP children’s insurance program, from getting needed action. There are now 80,000 children eligible for the program that will not be included this year, he said.

But he pointed to progress in the 8 liner bill that allows law enforcement to remove mother boards from the machines in a raid, which is easier that removing the whole machine; a junk yard bill SB1992 that was signed into law; and legislation that will make it possible in the future for the University of Houston and 4 other Texas universities to achieve the so-called Tier I status. This is the same level of research and teaching certifications that UT Austin and Texas A&M have reached. When this happens, UH will have access to an additional 500 million in funding. This bill must go to the voters in November to be approved, he said, but it would mean a first class institution for Houstonians in their city.

He mentioned that the Legislature managed to pass a $182 billion budget for the next two years, and still retain the $10 billion in their reserve or “rainy day” fund. However, Gallegos did not vote for the budget, only one of two Senators that did not, because the formula for allocating stimulus money for local school districts meant that Aldine lost $98 million and HISD lost $350 million from previous reimbursements from the state. As a member of the Senate education committee, he did not find this acceptable.He did note that Lone Star College would receive $66 million from the stimulus allocation, which will help education in the Aldine area.

Police Command Center in Greenspoint Mall reopens


GREENSPOINT – Officials were present last Thursday morning for the reopening of the Public Safety Center at Greenspoint Mall.

The Center had been closed since last September, when extensive damage from Hurricane Ike made it impractical to continue operation.

The Greater Greenspoint Public Safety Center is a partnership of the Greenspoint District, the Houston Police Department, and the Harris County Sheriff’s Office. The location of the facility, in the mall, allows law enforcement a centralized location to respond quickly to the Greenspoint community’s needs.

Space for the Public Safety Center is donated by the Greenspoint Mall, said Ray Bejarano, mall manager.

Speaking at the reopening ceremonies were Sheriff Adrian Garcia, and HPD Asst. Chief John Trevino. This is the 15th anniversary of the partnership and the Public Safety Center.

North Forest High celebrates first graduating class


In all, 218 students graduated as part of North Forest High School’s first graduating class on Thursday, June 4 in a ceremony at the M.O. Campbell Center. North Forest High School opened in the fall of 2008 after the consolidation of the former Forest Brook and M.B. Smiley high schools.

Class of 2009 valedictorian was Symone Booker. Salutatorian was Amanda Holland. Both young ladies congratulated and encouraged their classmates.

“Nothing has stopped us from sitting in these seats right now,” Booker told her peers. “Please don’t stop here. We set the tone for our lives.”

Holland also urged fellow students to pursue their dreams. “Today we have accomplished the first step of the rest of our lives,” she said. “We’ve got to jump in there… confident about our potential to achieve greatness. Get out there and take hold.”

Members of the class of 2009 earned more than $633,000 in scholarships and will attend colleges and university across the state and country.

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee delivered the commencement speech, congratulating the students and issuing a challenge of her own. North Forest ISD is part of the 18th Congressional District, which Lee has represented since 1995. She has been an avid supporter of the District. Most recently, Congresswoman Jackson Lee was instrumental in partnering with Comcast to bring that organization’s Comcast Cares Day to North Forest High School to paint the school gymnasium.

“I feel as proud as all of these parents, grandparents, friends and neighbors who have come here today,” Congresswoman Lee said.

Evoking President Barack Obama’s appeal to Americans to engage in some type of service or volunteerism, Lee asked members of the NFHS class of 2009 to consider what ways they might serve their own communities and the country.

“Commit yourselves to serving America and to making America better,” she told the students. “The world is waiting for you.”

Walle completes first term, reviews progress


Editor’s Note: This is the second part of an article and interview with first term State Representative Armando Walle, District 140.

Walle went to Austin in January, but it was several weeks before committees were assigned, and work began. In the meantime, caucuses met and acquaintances were made, and some orientation for freshmen legislators took place.

Walle was assigned an office in the new underground wing, a well appointed addition to the existing capital, and much better than some of the basement offices that previous legislators had to use.

His committee assignments were to Human Services, where he worked on hearings for bills about aging, childrens health care, CPS and more; and Urban Affairs, which included hearings on housing, weatherization programs, and other urban issues.

In part one of this article, we detailed the bills that Walle helped write and pass, including the Grafitti Bill, which increased penalties for grafitti offenders and amended definitions of grafitti; two Fire Fighter Bills, granting a paid holiday on 9/11 to firefighters in honor of their brave sacrifices, and a bill on grievance resolution; an amendment to direct TEA to study high drop-out rates of students with low English proficiency; and an amendment to direct the DMV to require diversity training in their customer service ranks.

In all, Walle authored or cosponsored 9 bills, of which 3 went to the governor for approval. He worked with local legislators such as State Senator Mario Gallegos on bills of interest to his constituents. Others in the Houston delegation included Sylvester Turner, Bill Baligari, and Senfronia Thompson. Bills that Walle filed, but did not get action or pass, included a bill limiting junkyards; two bills limiting utility water rates, one stating that rates could not rise more than 20% in a 3 year period, the other that a local hearing was required before rates could be acted on by TWDB; and a noise ordinance. Walle expects all of these to come up again in the next session, with better results.

This legislative session did present a balanced budget to the Governor, in the amount of $180 billion dollars. However it spent a lot of time on the Voter I.D. issue, without resolution.

Walle sees small steps of accomplishment in some of the legislation that was acted upon. In summary, he points to his Grafitti bill; the defeat of the Voter ID bill, which would have disenfranchised many minorities and others; Tier One Universities will be fostered with new legislation, and the Top Ten Percent regulation will stand for now, but UT Austin will open up more slots for excellent students; an expanded Texas Grants program for qualifying families who need financial aid; School Finance Reform will improve reimbursement formulae by using federal Stimulus dollars, and also grant teachers a minimum $800 raise; Windstorm Insurance funding was approved; $180 billion budget increased health, human services and education programs, without a tax increase by using federal stimulus dollars; Small Business Tax Relief was increased. Walle cited some “missed opportunities” as CHIP not being expanded; Unemployment compensation was not acted on properly; Tuition to universities was not capped; TDI/Insurance department was not acted on to limit high rates; Utility Rates were not held in check; Medicaid Reforms/12 month applications were not enacted.

Walle may be called back by the Governor into a special session, to deal with some of the issues that were not resolved. In the meantime, he is making plans to enter Texas Southern University and work on his Law Degree.

Public Protests Permit Residents ‘air’ concerns over Big K request


Approximately 350 people packed the Tradition Party Hall Room B last week to protest a request by Big K for a permit to expand their waste processing facility on Little York Rd.

Tap Inc., which does business as Big K, has requested a Type V Municipal Solid Waste Permit Amendment to authorize processing of liquid waste from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ).

At the urging of affected nearby residents, State Rep. Armando Walle, and other elected officials, the TCEQ held a meeting in Houston last Tuesday night at a banquet hall about a mile from the facility.

Porfirio Espinoza, who lives near the facility, said that the area constantly stinks from the waste being brought in by trucks. He said that Big K’s presence has caused property values to fall and that he is afraid that if the company is allowed to expand the problem would get only worse.

“My children cannot play outside (because of the smell),” he said.

“We don’t want them in our community,” added resident Maria Hernandez.

Big K has been in operation since 1999. Tom Page bought the facility in December 2003. In January 2008, he filed an application to expand the facility, add additional operating hours and expand into liquid waste collection such as restaurant grease.

The facility is currently authorized to handle only solid municipal waste.

Walle, speaking to the group, offered his opposition to the amended permit. “It always appears that our area gets the short end of the stick.” He recalled during the aftermath of Hurricane Ike that the area was without power for weeks. “Those odors can get pretty nasty when there is no power.”

Walle also said that he was concerned with the possibility of waste runoff in the event of a flood, as well as Big K’s history of violations, documented in a letter to TCEQ from the Harris County Attorney’s office. Page admitted that there were violations in the past, many of which he inherited when he bought the facility and that he was making efforts to come into compliance.

This statement was not accepted by some in the audience who claimed that Big K continued to accept restaurant grease without a permit until they were caught.

The only reason Big K was even seeking the permit amendment, they said, was because “they got caught with their hand in the cookie jar,” as one resident expressed herself.

Mark Hrbeck, an engineer hired by Big K to prepare the permit application, defended his client. He said that the issue over the grease was an “administrative misunderstanding” and that Page was unaware that it was happening until the City of Houston stopped the practice.

The Harris County Attorney’s office has also filed an opposition to the permit request. They cite previous environmental regulation violations and well as the proximity to residents, businesses and churches.

Residents also challenged Big K, saying that the permit would mean heavier truck traffic on the road, with would make potholes that the taxpayers would have to pay to fix.

Residents were reminded that the TCEQ had no jurisdiction over roads and that their concern was what happens at the facility. “The last thing Tap Inc wants to be is a bad neighbor.” Hrbeck said, noting the facility will be safe and claimed that there will be no discharge and that no hazardous material will be handled at the site.

During the time of the meeting designated for questions and answers, several residents used the opportunity to make personal attacks on Big K, Page as well as Hrbeck. “Does he (Page) live here,” one woman asked. “Does he care?”

Page and others were not allowed by meeting rules to answer questions directly. But in response to questions after the meeting, Page told the Northeast News that many of the complaints about smells, hours and traffic were really a result of activity at the adjoining business, USS or United Site Services, a company which he said is not owned or affiliated with Big K. In fact, he said, he only owns two small trucks, and all his collected waste is contained and not open to the air. Walle, when advised of this fact, suggested an additional hearing might be necessary to investigate these facts.

Donna Phelps, regional director of the field operations division for the TCEQ, said that comments taken at the meeting would be put into the record. At the close of the public comment period the commission will consider any requests for a contested case hearing. After that the thee-member TCEQ Commission will decide to approve the permit amendment request, deny the request or approve the request with conditions.

Prior to the meeting, the TCEQ had their own team of investigators examine the application and the facility to determine if the request met state environmental requirements.

“The permit meets all the technical aspects for compliance with TCEQ regulations,” said Ashley Wadzick, special counsel to the TCEQ Executive Director.

East Aldine completes bond sale, now work begins


At its regular board meeting last Tuesday evening, the announcement was made that all the Sales Tax Revenue Bonds previously authorized by the board had been subscribed and sold that morning. This means that the related revenue will be available for the improvement projects tied to the bonds, according to EAMD Executive Director David Hawes.

The total bond sale was for $13,365,000, and the bonds will pay approximately 4.75% interest by the end of their terms, graduating from an initial interest rate of 1.3%, and be due for redemption in twenty years, or mature before in some cases. Hawes said these terms were favorable, and indicated that the financial community held the District in high regard.

In fact, the bonds were to be issued with a Standard & Poor’s rating of AAA, and the District was rated A. The bonds are guaranteed by a lien on the state 1% sales tax levied in the district, and in addition an insurance policy by the underwriters. Proceeds of the bond sale will be used for improvement projects already in the planning stage by the District.

These include Water Distribution east of US59 (Service Zone 11), $1.27 million; Wastewater gravity lines in same area, $1.36 million; Related lift station and force main for above, $1.265 million; Water & wastewater in North Houston Heights, $3.28 million; Transportation and Mobility work throughout district, $2.79 million; Engineering for above, $1.948 million; Contingency, $587,000; fees related to bond sale, $865,000.

In its sales prospectus or Official Statement, it is noted that the District has previously issued Sales Tax Revenue Bonds, in the amount of $3,195,000 in 2005, that were used for improvement projects at that time, that have been completed. It is also noted that future bond sales may be initiated for additional projects.

The board approved three consulting contracts that will be related to the work funded by the bonds: Wilbur Smith Associates, for consulting and planning services, Montgomery and Associates for engineering services, and Kudela & Weinheimer for landscape and signage work.

Museum offers glimpse of Texas’ fight for freedom


On the east side of Harris County there sits a plot of land not more than a mile wide and a couple of miles long which played a key role in the independence of Texas and the development of the entire Southwestern United States.

It was at San Jacinto that an army led by Sam Houston defeated Santa Anna, thus winning Texas’ independence. The U.S.’s annexation of Texas in 1845 led to the Mexican American War of 1846-48. Mexico’s defeat added the territories of California, Arizona, New Mexico and part of Nevada, Colorado and Utah to American soil.

A 570-foot monument now stands on the site of that battle. In the base of the monument is a museum which documents Texas’ history going back to precolonial Mexico. A large portion of the museum is dedicated to the Texas Revolution and early days of the Republic.

The museum, which charges no admission fee, also had artifacts from Texas’ involvement in the U.S. Civil War and well as postwar Texas. History buffs can also see the events unfold on the silver screen in the film “Texas Forever.” Admission to the film is $4 for adults, $3.50 for children under 12 and seniors 65 and older.

For a fee of $4 visitors can take an elevator to the observation deck nearly 500 feet in the air, where they can get a bird’s eye view of the ship channel and surrounding area.

The San Jacinto Monument and Museum are located at 3523 Battleground Rd. in Deer Park. Park hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., open seven days a week.

Pro-active Sheriff’s Unit to be on “Cops” TV Show


ALDINE – The busy nightlife inside the East Aldine District caused Harris County Sheriff’s Office and the District to put together a special task force to work in the neighborhoods, targeting perpetrators and patrolling high crime areas, so when the TV show Cops gave notice of returning to Houston, commanders recommended that the TV crews ride around Harris County with the District’s Pro-Active Unit.

The Cops TV show often focuses on entertainment valued aspects of law enforcement rather than the perfunctory routine activities that are the true heart of service to a community. They are coming to Houston to see the perspective of this Pro-Active team that specializes in troublesome elements. This group is out looking for the unsavory aspects of street crime, making traffic stops on people with behaviors identifying themselves as probable perpetrators. This crew rolls to the hot calls where they happen. Television isn’t going to pay much attention to the guys that watch school crosswalks and write traffic tickets during the day to working folk, but tends to focus on the more sensational night chases, drug arrests, dysfunctional street trade by soiled doves, and guys with their shirts off — looking for a fight.

The TV crews are generally going to be in Houston focused around East Aldine for the next eight weeks filming from the patrol cars. There are going to be lots of interesting incidents from which to choose, some that will not make the show due to a long running story but there is sure to be plenty of opportunity for gathering intense action and life-altering drama on tape.

Every law enforcement officer this reporter has conversed with about communities in transition over the last 20 years bears witness, a transformation happens at sometime during the night, “It goes from mostly working people to about all cops and crooks with few exceptions after midnight.” said Sergeant Spurgeon, head of the unit.

The special skills and training of this task force has been successful in locating gang related and street crime activities in hotspots and known high crime areas since its inception. They are shifting to a new time of service for the duration of the Cops ride along, from 7:00 p.m. to 3:00 a.m.

Multi-use center may be built in Aldine


NORTHEAST HOUSTON – The East Aldine District is leading a task force that is examining the possibilities of several community organizations combining in a new building or perhaps a campus of buildings, to serve the community from a central site. This would be an expansion of the district facilities that are now in the shopping center at 5202 Aldine Mail Route.

Clyde Bailey, chairman of the East Aldine District, pointed out that as the district’s services grow and citizens learn the benefits provided by the district, the need for larger and more accessible facilities is becoming evident.

New opportunities to service the district, such as refuge in floods and hurricanes could be incorporated in the new facilities.

Other management districts, such as that in East Montgomery County, have provided complete building complexes that serve as government and social service centers, public safety offices, meeting facilities, learnings facilities, and much more.

The city of Houston also has a number of multi-use service centers, in various neighborhoods, that provide social and government services.

At the initial planning meeting, led by David Hawes of the East Aldine District, various ideas and needs were expressed by participants.

These included government representatives, including state representative Armando Walle and Reuben Landa from Senator Gallegos office, Dru Gutierrez representing Harris County Precinct 1, Gilbert Hoffman of the Northeast News and the NHG Chamber of Commerce, Bill Townsend of North Houston Bank, East Aldine District, and the Chamber, Ralph Wheeler, Eduardo Rodriguez and Gloria Jackson of the YMCA, Scott Bean, and Gerald Overturff of the District, Paul Cordova and Max Turner of the HCSO, Dr. Steve Head and Joyce Wiley of Lone Star College North Harris, and Richard Cantu of the East Aldine District, who organized the meeting. Anyone in the community wishing input to this group may contact Cantu at his office, 713-595-1220.

Planners said that realization of such a facility would be several years in the future. In the meantime, they are looking at possible sites, and making an inventory of agencies that might want to participate, and what their space needs, parking and outdoor facility needs might be.

Mattress Mack announces store reopening plans


Gallery Furniture has been continuing in business, since the day after their disastrous warehouse fire at their main location on the North Freeway. However, that showroom is closed, and they have been operating from their second location in the Galleria area.

Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale held a press conference at Gallery Furniture’s original I-45 location on Thursday to talk about plans to rebuild after the fire that destroyed the store’s warehouse on May 21.

Mentioning that Gallery Furniture is strong, stable and excited about the future, Mack said that the new store will be a “triumph of human spirit”. He spoke of his personal resilience, and that of his staff. And he added, “God will conquer Evil”. He indicated that there would be a new design, that would incorporate new ideas and a renewed energy in his business.

To jump start the rebuilding process, Scott Margraves with W.M. Jones and Company and Liberty Mutual presented McIngvale with an advance check for $3 million on his insurance claim. Total damage is still being calculated but initial estimates have put the full amount between $15 and $25 million.

McIngvale stated that he is hoping to have portions of the showroom open by July 4 of this year and asked for Houstonians to give their suggestions on how to improve the new store. Suggestions can be made at www.galleryfurniture.com. He was quick to mention that while the new store is being rebuilt, Gallery Furniture is open and serving customers from its Galleria area location at Post Oak and Westheimer.

Assisting with the design of the new I-45 store is Bill Stubbs, from PBS’s “Moment of Luxury” who also contributed to Gallery’s Post Oak location and Jim Gilmore, consumer experience expert and author of The Experience Economy – Work is Theatre and Every Business a Stage. Both Jim and Bill spoke about the new designs and themes of the store, including a new service that will allow customers to choose their sofa style, material, size etc. and watch it being made on the spot.

Susie Barlow, Director of the Houston USO, announced that Gallery Furniture will be decorating both the Mortuary Break Room and the AMC Passenger Terminal Center at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. This effort is part of McIngvale’s commitment to outfit USO centers worldwide with new furniture and electronics as well as providing interior design services. The Dover project will enhance the areas where our nation’s fallen warriors are provided with special dignified transfers and their families are given a quiet, gentle respite in their time of sorrow.

A grateful McIngvale then gave his thanks to the men and women of the Houston Fire Department and announced that each of the 31 HFD stations that valiantly fought the fire, miraculously saving Gallery Furniture’s Showroom, will be given $10,000 Gallery Furniture Gift Certificates as part of the Adopt a Station program. HFD stations receiving the Gift Certificates include 2, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 11, 12, 13, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 28, 30, 31, 32, 34, 38, 39, 42, 43, 45, 50, 56, 58, 62, 66, 67 and HFD Fleet Maintenance.

McIngvale did not discuss aspects of the ongoing investigation per instructions from the ATF and Houston Fire Department but did state, “I look forward to the person or persons responsible being brought to justice.”

Mack completed the press conference by taking members of the media into the showroom and warehouse to view the damage firsthand.

(Note: Jessica Manning of Love Adv. contributed to this story).

MacArthur twins graduate #1 and #2 in senior class


There is a saying that twins often act alike. But the Garcia sisters at MacArthur Sr. High have taken this a step further. Deidra and Cinthya Garcia are the number one- and number two-ranked students of the Class of 2009, which will graduate on Saturday morning. The sisters got the official word earlier this month.

“It was a relief,” Deidra said. “If we didn’t get it, it would have been a shocker.” As juniors, the pair was told they were the top-ranked students. In December 2008, another ranking came out which showed they had maintained their ranking.

And news spread quickly. “Soon after the announcement came out,” Deidra said. “I got a text message from last year’s valedictorian at (Texas) A&M congratulating me.”

Cinthya, who was away on a band trip, said that she didn’t learn about it until two hours later. The sisters said that they never set out to be top-ranked, just to do well in school and hope for the best.

“When we were in ninth grade we really didn’t think about our rankings,” Deidra said. “Because all we saw were ninth graders. But when we got here (MacArthur Sr. High) we saw how important rankings were.”

“I just wanted to be in the top five,” Cinthya added. The sisters attributed their success to their work ethic, which they got from their parents.

“They always told us that education was a priority,” Deidra said. “They taught us that if you’re going to do something do it right.” She added that their parents had been active in their education from elementary school, either as volunteers at the school or attending every meeting.

When the rankings came out this month, the girls learned that their grade point average was separated by a margin of .0195. Cinthya said that actually her unweighted G.P.A. was higher, but when the classes they took were taken into account Deidra came out ahead.

While taking some of the same classes, the girls learned that each had their own strengths and weaknesses.

“I did better in English and Social Studies,” Cinthya said. “And she (Deidra) did better in Math and Science.”

The girls said that they never tried to compare themselves to each other, or turn their grades into a competition. “If we had been competing,” Deidra said. “It would have been a lot harder because we would stress out over each assignment. Then you miss the bigger picture.”

The girls said that they didn’t start getting stressed about grades until this month. “Since the school already knew the rankings we didn’t want to fall behind and disappoint anyone,” Deidra said.

After graduation, the twin Honor students will take similar professional paths. But then, just as in high school, the paths will separate.

Both intend to study biomedical science and attend medical school. Deidra said that she plans to specialize in cardiology while Cinthya’s specialty will be in neuroscience.

The girls will not have the chance to repeat the rare “1-2 punch” at the university level. While Deidra will stay local and become a UT Longhorn, Cinthya is leaving the Lone Star State for Johns Hopkins University.