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Posts published in March 2014

Greens Bayou Corridor Coalition – Emmett keynote stresses cooperation

ALDINE – The Greens Bayou Corridor Coalition held its annual report to the public, with a keynote address from County Judge Ed Emmett, and remarks from Houston Mayor Annise Parker last Thursday, March 20.

Chairman Bill Franks acted as Master of Ceremonies, and Executive Director Jill Boullion presented an overview video on the state of the coalition and its accomplishments in the last year.

Boullion had a lot to present, as the Coalition currently has about 40 projects, taking place in four distinct areas or “reaches” around the North and East sections of the County.

The Coalition partners with a number of other organizations to accomplish its work, and this idea led to Emmett’s keynote theme, partnerships.

Boullion pointed out that the Coalition covers approximately 45 miles in length, and its goals are recreation, economic development, and enhanced quality of life. In addition, it works to remediate flooding and other threats to the bayous.

GBCC is concerned with Greens Bayou, Halls Bayou, Garners Bayou and Reinhardt Bayou.

GBCC is funded by memberships and grants. It works with the help of the National Park Service, Texas Parks & Wildlife, and a number of corporate and organizational sponsors.

Keynote Speech on Cooperation

In his keynote address, Emmett expanded on his State of the County theme of Cooperation and Consolidation with other governmental or corporate entities, to create controlling groups that can accomplish more than working alone.

Emmett said that because of the extreme population and economic growth of the county, and the region, we must have governments that can respond and control in a more regional basis.

Priorities for these will be infrastructure, including transportation, parks, and waterways. He championed the idea of joint government entities, for city + county + subdivisions. He said that current coalition government bodies, such as the flood control district and Metro, could be expanded and more coordinated, to help meet the region’s needs. He acknowledged that some consolidation ideas would be difficult, such as law enforcement, but were needed.

Other regional issues, he offered, were Healthcare and county boundaries.

His final challenge: “Play to Win–don’t Play not to lose.”

Mayor Parker echoed many of the same thoughts on joint projects, noting that the city and county already have parks, libraries, and soon an inmate processing center together. With a nod to the GBCC, she said “My passion is parks and trails.”

East Aldine District suppports Water protest

In response to the complaints that residents of Castlewood Subdivision, in the East Aldine District, have made to the state regarding rate increases, and water quality and service, the State Office of Administrative Hearings has scheduled a preliminary hearing on the case, known as TCEQ vs. Suburban Utility Company. The hearing was scheduled after the homeowners in Castlewood filed a petition with the TCEQ.

The preliminary hearing will take place in Houston, on Thursday morning, March 27 starting at 10 a.m. and expected to last about four hours.

Due to limited parking available at the state offices, at 2020 N. Loop W., the District has agreed to provide a bus for the many that are expected to attend. Please call 713-595-1232 to reserve your spot on the bus.

The District is also providing an attorney to work with residents to alleviate this rate increase and others.

“Safety Zone” Injunction in East Aldine enlarged, renewed

Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan was successful in his effort to ban members of the notorious criminal street gangs, the Crips and the Bloods, from certain Aldine area neighborhoods.

Judge Alexandra Smoots-Hogan, 164th Civil District Court, last Friday ordered 37 members of the gangs to stay out of a .34 square mile area located east of Highway 59 and south of Bush Intercontinental Airport, designated by the court order as the “East Aldine Safety Zone.” The order will remain in effect until a trial, currently set for June 16, 2014.

The court order also prohibits the gang members while in the Safety Zone from possessing materials for graffiti and communication devices including cell phones, and orders them to stop wearing clothing that identifies them as gang members while in the Safety Zone.

Gang members who violate the court order can be fined up to $4,000 dollars and sentenced up to one year in jail.

Attorneys from Ryan’s office presented evidence, including the testimony of eighteen officers from the Harris County Sherriff’s Office and Houston Police Department, that the defendants had been regularly engaging in gang activities, including weapons offenses, criminal trespass, possession of illegal substances, assault, and making terroristic threats.

The East Aldine Safety Zone contains two schools (Francis Elementary and A&W Academic Academy), apartments, restaurants, a residential community and retail stores.

“The County Attorney’s Office will continue to reach out to work with our communities to help remove criminal elements that put people in danger,” said Ryan. “This type of injunction has proven successful in returning a community’s quality of life.”

Ryan worked with the East Aldine Management District in the preparation of the court petition. He won a similar injunction last year against other members of the Crips and Bloods that banned them from the Brays Oaks Safety Zone in southwest Houston.

Hearing

A hearing on the Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan lawsuit to ban members of the Crips and Bloods gangs from entering or committing crimes in a north Harris County community took place last Thursday, March 13, 2014. The hearing was held at 9 a.m. before Judge Alexandra Smoots-Hogan, 164th Civil District Court, 201 Caroline, 12th Floor.

Ryan asked the judge for an injunction forbidding 37 members of the Bloods and 17 members of the Crips from being present in the East Aldine Safety Zone.

The East Aldine Safety Zone is located east of Highway 59 and south of Bush Intercontinental Airport. The Safety Zone contains two schools (Francis Elementary and A&W Academic Academy), apartments, restaurants, a residential community and retail stores.

“The members of these street gangs regularly engage in criminal activity in this community, putting residents in danger and harming their quality of life,” Ryan said. “This type of injunction is a proven way to remove dangerous criminals from a community.”

Ryan worked with the East Aldine Management District in the preparation of the court petition. He won a similar injunction last year against other members of the Crips and Bloods that banned them from the Brays Oaks Safety Zone in southwest Houston.

The County Attorney’s petition states that the defendants have been regularly engaging in gang activities in this community, including weapons offenses, criminal trespass, possession of illegal substances, making terroristic threats and graffiti. The petition asks the gang members be banned from being physically present in the Safety Zone. The petition also asks the gang members be forbidden from possessing materials for graffiti and communication devices, including cell phones, and prohibited from wearing clothing that identifies them as gang members while in the Safety Zone.

Water Service meeting gushes complaints. Customers tell of low pressure, poor quality, and no water at all

NORTHEAST – Over 125 residents of the neighborhoods served by private water utilities in the Aldine area attended a meeting last Tuesday evening, held in the meeting room of the East Aldine District on Aldine Mail Route.

The reason for the meeting was to discuss recent increases in the water bills from Suburgan Utility Company, and the quality of water and service that residents were receiving from them.

Representatives from Sunbelt Utility company were present, but no one from Suburban Utilities attended, even though they were invited.

Sunbelt provides water in High Meadows and Fairgreen subdivisions, and Suburban provides water in Castlewood, Cypress Bend, Reservoir Acres and Beaumont Place. They have a total of 1314 customers, with 347 of those in Castlewood.

Recent tests had indicated that lead and copper levels were excessive in some water supplied by these utilities, and an attorney for Sunbelt, Elliott Barner, and an engineer John Montgomery, explained to the audience that this was not uncommon in older systems with galvanized pipes, and orthoposphates had been injected into the water to correct the problem.

State Representative Armando Walle hosted the meeting, along with State Senator Sylvia Garcia and the East Aldine District, represented by Richard Cantu, director of services.

Walle explained that he has introduced legislation 3 times to limit the amount that utilities can raise rates, but it has not passed the Legislature each time. However, he has submitted a protest letter to the State Water Board regarding the $60 monthly surcharge that Suburban Utilities is now trying to collect, for system upgrades. He also said that a SOAH (State Office of Administrative Hearings) had been scheduled on this issue, on March 27th in Houston at the state offices.

Linda Brookins of the state TCEQ explained that Suburban had planned to collect the $60 surcharge for 48 months, totalling $998,000 for system maintenance and upgrades. She said the state has only limited oversight on these privately owned utilities, and cannot act unless they are incapable to servicing their customers. She explained that the way the law is written, the utility can continue to operate as long as they meet minimum standards. She indicated that Suburban had not spent their money to maintain their system, but that this was not required by the state.

Homeowners at the meeting were not happy to learn that no immediate action could be taken by the state or county authorities. Many said they had low water pressure, some no water at all, and calls to the utility were not answered.

Brookins indicated that after the SOAH hearing, improvements might be expected, and if not the state could always file a lawsuit and put the utility into receivership, with another operator. However, the state would not assume the company, she said.

Brookins said complete documentation is very important in these matters. Also, if water service is not good, she urged homeowners to call her Water Complaint Number, 713-767-3500 with details.

At the meeting, an engineering report was available, detailing work that was required by Suburban Utility Company to bring their four systems in compliance with requirements of TCEQ. It was revealed that the state has cited the utility for deficiencies and required these improvements, and in fact the engineer’s report said that the only way to fund the work would be by a surcharge. This report suggested a $45 monthly charge for a period of five years, raising a total of $3,815,700 for work required. There was no explanation for why Suburban was charging $60 per month instead of the recommended amount.

Some attendees raised a concern that Suburban might collect the money, but not provide the improvements. In fact, the TCEQ representative said they owed back taxes, and have been fined for utility deficiencies.

Walle and Garcia emphasized how important it was for a large contingency to attend the SOAH hearing on March 27, with detailed complaints. The East Aldine District will provide a bus, leaving their offices at 9 a.m., to take a group to the hearing. Call 713-595-1232 to indicate you want a seat on the bus.

County Attorney Ryan tells Optimist Club of county services

ALDINE – At the invitation of the Aldine Noon Optimist Club, the Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan spoke to members and guests at their regular luncheon meeting last Wednesday, February 26th.

To accommodate a large audience, the meeting was held at the East Aldine District meeting room.

Ryan spoke about the work of his office, and his history of public service as a county attorney. He was elected to office in 2009, following Mike Driscoll who retired after 16 years as county attorney.

His office has recovered from severe budget cuts in the first year he was in office, he said. They now have 100 attorneys and 100 support staff. In general his office works on civil cases, representing the county and citizens. Thirty percent of that work is involved with child protection, he said.

Through the use of contract attorneys, he has been able to offer more service to agencies such as the East Aldine District, where his office pursues violators of community compliance issues. This service is modeled after the contract deputies which the county offers through the Sheriff’s office, he said.

In the East Aldine area, his contract attorney has been effective in setting up a “safety zone” around a neighborhood school, to keep away gangs and criminals. They also are working on issues of game rooms, illegal gambling, and prostitution.

Ryan was asked what opportunities were available for volunteers, and he said that 50 law student interns were helping in his office.

Another major issue that his office has been dealing with relates to the environment, and pollution of water and air. He has sued some big corporations, such as Shell Oil and Waste Management, saying that high profile cases such as these help discourage all other polluters. However, he cautioned that environmental activists must also be aware of the jobs that these industries provide, that are a vital part of the community.

Another issue his office has been dealing with is human trafficking, prevalent in Houston and the county. Although he has vigorously presecuted some of these, he is faced with limited resources to investigate. He suggested that the public could help by reporting criminal activities at the Sheriff’s iwatchharriscounty.com.