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Northeast News

Preventing the spread of colonias

Q: My parents recently bought a lot in a development near the border. They were promised that water and sewer hookups would be installed soon, but nothing has been done. Many of the houses in the area are ramshackle. My parents have since found out that the area was not legally subdivided. To whom do we report this? Is there anything that can be done?

A: As Attorney General, I have made it a priority to stop the proliferation of colonias along the Texas-Mexico border. Colonias are usually housing developments in unincorporated areas that can include substandard dwellings that lack basic services. It is common for colonias to lack water, electricity, sewage lines, garbage pickup and paved roads. These conditions lend themselves to the development of third-world diseases such as tuberculosis and malaria.

In addition, many families who purchase land in these areas to build their homes find their dreams turned into nightmares. Often, consumers like your parents purchase lots in an area believing that it is legally subdivided only to find out, too late, that it isn’t.

During the 1999 Legislative Session, the Legislature strengthened a law that applies to residential subdivisions in border-area counties.
The law requires all subdivisions outside city limits to comply with state development standards. Subdividers must provide drinking water, sewer service, good drainage, and roads that meet county standards. Developers are not permitted to sell property if it lacks running water and sewage treatment, unless they have provided financial guarantees that the services will be provided by a specific date.

My office is working to halt the spread of these areas and to take action against unscrupulous developers who take hard-working Texans’ money. In July, we obtained final judgement against two Hidalgo County developers for violations of Texas anti-colonias laws. They are required to provide water hookups and septic systems for all the lots, and to correct drainage problems.

The developers have also been ordered to pay a $75,000 civil penalty and $55,000 in attorneys’ fees.

There are several ways to report possible colonia developments. First, you can contact the county officials where your parents’ property is located. Both the county attorney and the county planning department may be able to provide assistance. If the developer can be found, the county can sue to force the developer to file a proper subdivision plat and provide required services.

Second, you can contact investigators within my office who focus on colonia issues. One investigator, Rudy Villareal, is located in our McAllen field office, which can be reached at (956) 682-4547, extension 111.

Another, Don Gutierrez, works in the Natural Resources Division of our Austin headquarters.
You can reach that office at (800) 252-8011. You can also file a consumer complaint through our office by calling (800) 621-0508.

My office is primarily responsible for assuring that the laws regarding land development, lots sales, and utility connections are enforced. But other agencies are available to help colonia residents. A variety of state and federal programs provide funding to secure water and sewer services for older colonias. More information is available through the Secretary of State’s office, which coordinates colonia initiatives that involve state and local programs and officials. You can contact the colonia initiatives office of the Secretary of State at (512) 463-8948. That office can provide referrals to regional ombudsmen who work in the counties with large colonia populations.

The ombudsmen provide referrals to several state-funded, self-help centers that provide assistance to colonia residents.

The Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs also has a new program that offers low-interest loans to colonia residents.

For more information on this program and other services, contact the Office of Colonia Initiatives at (800) 462-4251.

Thank you for reporting this problem. We appreciate your willingness to help. The sooner officials know about colonia-like developments, the sooner we can take action to protect property owners.

WANTED FOR SEXUAL ASSUAULT

This week’s Crime Stoppers report involves the aggravated kidnapping and aggravated sexual assault of a woman in Humble.

On Tuesday, May 8th at approximately 9:00 p.m., a female custodian was abducted at gunpoint from the campus of Humble High School in the 1700 block of Wilson Road.

The victim had gone to the dumpster located in the parking lot to empty some trash when the suspect drove past her in a blue, four-door passenger car. He made a U-turn and came to a stop next to the woman, produced a pistol and demanded that she get into his car.

Fearing for her life, she did as she was instructed.

The suspect drove to a nearby isolated field on Mitchell street where he pushed the woman to the ground and sexually assaulted her.

After the assault, the suspect spit on the ground next to the victim and left the scene in his car.
Fearing that her attacker would return, the victim ran back to the high school for help. She was taken to a local hospital, treated for her injuries and released. Anyone with information in regards to the case or on the identity or location of the suspect or suspects responsible for this aggravated kidnapping and aggravated sexual assault is urged to call Crime Stoppers.

The suspect is described as a White man, 38-40, 5’8”-6’, with shorth brown hair. He was driving a blue 4-door car with bucket seats, possibly a Chevrolet Corsica.

Crime Stoppers will pay cash rewards of up to $5,000.00 for information that results in the arrest and charging of a suspect or suspects in any felony crime.

Call Crime Stoppers at 713-222-TIPS / 713-222-8477. Your Identity will remain anonymous.

Tipsters may receive as much as $5,000.00 in specific felony cases where the public is deemed to be at a higher risk of being victimized.

Registration period for disaster assistance extended to October 7

HOUSTON – The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the State of Texas announced that the registration period for individuals affected by Tropical Storm Allison has been extended until Sunday, October 7, 2001, due to the number of people still enrolling for federal assistance.

“We are still registering 200 to 250 people a day,” State Coordinating Officer Duke Mazurek of the Texas Division of Emergency Management (DEM) said, “and a large number of them are being found eligible for some form of assistance.”

“In addition,” Federal Coordinating Officer Scott Wells of FEMA said, “there are still many who have not returned their U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) low interest disaster loan application. It is critical to fill out and return that application. Those found ineligible for an SBA loan may be referred to a state-run grant program for help.”

“We want to ensure that all registrants avail themselves to all aid for which they may be found eligible, and extending the deadline will give everyone a little extra time to pursue that opportunity,” Wells added.

Persons who suffered damage from the disaster and have not yet registered are urged to do so by calling the FEMA toll-free registration number at 1-800-462-9029. Hearing- or speech-impaired persons may call a TTY line at 1-800-462-7585.

Multilingual operators are available for assistance. The teleregistration lines are open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., seven days a week.

New traffic laws now in effect

Driving-related legislation that took effect September 1, 2001:

•HB 5 makes it a Class C misdemeanor to have open containers of alcohol in the passenger compartment of a motor vehicle. The new law also increases penalties for repeat DWI offenders. If a second DWI conviction takes place within five years, there is an automatic one-year driver license suspension-and the driver must have an ignition interlock installed on their vehicle for the year following the suspension. During the suspension, the offender is not eligible for an occupational license.

•HB 63 increases the driver license suspension period for a person who refuses to take the breath test or fails the breath test—and requires the arresting officer to confiscate their driver license on the spot. The suspension periods and enhanced punishments for repeat offenders were also increased. For example, for a first offense, the suspension period for refusing a breath test will double from three months to six months. HB 63 also applies the Administrative License Revocation (ALR) laws to boating while intoxicated if the suspect refuses a breath test.

•SB 399 prohibits children under 18 from riding in the back of a pickup or flatbed truck. There are several notable exceptions, including if it is the only family vehicle or it is a government-sanctioned hayride. (The old law applied to children under 12 years of age, and only if the vehicle was traveling more than 35 miles per hour.

•SB 113, which:

•Requires children under age 4, or less than 36 inches, to be restrained in an approved car seat. (The old law required car seats for children under 2 years of age.)

•Requires all children ages 4 through 16 years old to use seat belts anywhere in the vehicle. (The old law only required seat belts for those 4 through 14 years old.)

•Specifies that all seat belt laws apply to trucks (including one-ton pickups).

•HB 1739 increases the minimum fines for violating the car seat law from $25 to $100. If a judge opts for probation, the offender would have to take a special TEA-approved child seat and seat belt education course.

•SB 215 and HB 2798 both increase the penalties for fleeing and evading arrest in a motor vehicle. A first offense is now a state jail felony as opposed to a Class A misdemeanor. (SB 215 also outlines provisions for testing suspects for communicable diseases if an officer is exposed to bodily fluids during certain arrests.)

•HB 299 authorizes the Texas Transportation Commission to establish a daytime speed limit of 75 miles per hour on highways located in counties with a population density of less than 10 persons per square mile.

•SB 968 establishes a six-month driver license suspension for a second conviction of gas theft. A photo of DPS Trooper Darryle Sparks will be posted on gas pumps throughout Texas to remind motorists of the new law and act as a deterrent.

•SB 214 abolishes the statute of limitations for leaving the scene of a fatal wreck.

•HB 2134 creates a specific offense for operating a motor vehicle emitting excessive smoke, visible for at least 10 seconds.

•HB 1544 makes it a Class B misdemeanor to directly solicit business or employment based on information derived from accident records or related records.

•The legal driving age in Texas remains 16. However, a graduated licensing bill (SB 577) goes into effect January 1, 2002.

•The texts of these bills can be found at www.capitol.state.tx.us . Select the enrolled version.

No answers in storm debris collection fiasco






















The devastation caused by Tropical Storm Allison in early June will take months, perhaps years to overcome. Throughout the city, residents are still dealing with losses, physical, financial and emotional. The good news is that, in most places, the focus now is on recovering and rebuilding.
Not in northeast Houston.

In northeast Houston, many residents are still trying to dig out from under the piles of rotting debris that line the streets in neighborhoods throughout the area.

As reported last week, Precinct 1 Commissioner El Franco Lee has cut back debris collection to two days a week. Precinct 2 Commissioner Jim Fonteno has discontinued it completely.

Why? The job is nowhere near finished.

Last week, Fonteno’s office told me that it was because the FEMA money to reimburse the county for debris collection had run out. That is not true.
My conversation with Ben Patterson, State Public Assistance Officer with Texas Department of Public Safety Division of Emergency Management Assigned to the FEMA Disaster Field Office (his title) in Austin confirmed what I learned last week from Opal Jackson: FEMA money to pick up storm debris is still available and will be for three more months.

The Commissioners don’t even have to make application; they are already in the system.
My question to Jackie Grogan of Precinct 1 and David Floyd of Precinct 2 was why? If FEMA will cover 75% of the cost and the job must be done, why would the commissioners choose not to do it?
I have yet to receive a satisfactory answer.

Late last week, State Representative Kevin Bailey’s assistant Arlene Nichols, joined me and Opal Jackson who is a local FEMA representative, in trying to get both answers and action. We had no luck.

In Precinct 1, some debris was picked up on Thursday and Friday and it appears that Commissioner Lee is making a sincere effort to address the problem. But even he must realize that at a two-day-a-week pace, the all clear is nowhere in sight.

If you have storm debris (not construction debris and not household trash) that still needs to be picked up call Commissioner Lee’s office at 713-755-6111 or Commissioner Fonteno at 713-755-6220. Then call again. Set you clock and call every hour on the hour.

And, while you’re on the phone, ask the commissioner why he chooses to forego the help FEMA is offering when there is still so much work to be done.

Maybe you can get an answer. I couldn’t.

Houston’s 311 line open for service

A new 311 service help line is expected to ease demand on the city’s 911 emergency response system and eliminate hundreds of city customer service telephone numbers.

Mayor Lee Brown touted the system as a management tool to improve accountability among city workers who are asked to resolve resident citizen complaints or requests for service.

Each request or complaint will be logged and assigned to a specific city employee responsible for solving the problem or retrieving the information needed by callers, officials said.

“What’s important is we can track the results and find out what has been done with that particular problem that is brought to our attention,” Brown said.

Complaints about the system itself and expectations the city may raise but be unable to fulfill began to roll in even before the 311 service was officially launched last Monday.

City Councilman Mark Goldberg said he tried the system recently but found he had to wait as long as 20 minutes to get a person on the telephone.When he finally got someone, the operator was unable to give him the information he was seeking, Goldberg said.

Donald Hollingsworth, the mayor’s executive assistant for public safety and drug policy who is overseeing the development of the 311 system, said the delay may have been because of work on the telephone switch during last week’s soft launch.
Nonetheless, Goldberg said he thought the system will be good “once the bugs are worked out.”

In addition, officials hope the line will reduce the number of unnecessary 911 calls and lead to faster emergency response times.

“Summer Catch” is strictly minor league

Add “Summer Catch” to the long list forgettable movies for the year.

The by-the-numbers, cliché ridden, jock finds love and the strength within story has a few inspired moments – very few – but in the end it’s just another ho-hum summer movie.

There’s nothing here you have not seen before, unless you have never seen a sports movie. Then the story about a young local athlete (Freddie Prinze, Jr.) trying to be successful, but fighting self-destructive tendencies, family and privileged outsiders might actually have an once of originality.

Prinze plays a hot college pitcher with a bad attitude. He’s a screw up who does not think rules apply to him. His big chance to prove he can do things right comes when he’s invited to participate in the Cape Code Baseball League, which is made up of college all-stars competing in front of pro scouts.

He and his friends grew up watching future big leaguers since they live on the Cape. His father (the craggy-faced Fred Ward) has a landscape business so Prinze’s character has mowed the baseball field he is now playing on since he was a kid.

As with most formulaic films, there is standard group of characters. There’s a party-boy surfer played by Matthew Lillard. Brian Dennehy is a rough, gruff, but fair coach. There’s a shy virgin that is being perused by his housemother. (Can we say male fantasy?) There’s a villain who is always trying to get our hero in trouble. There’s a mean rich guy (the always efficient Bruce Davidson) who reminds Prinze that he is blue collar.

There’s an incredibly beautiful girl who falls for the hero for no valid reason. And in the mix are a couple of minorities, for good measure.

Please, baseball is a pretty mixed bag racially speaking, but there’s little evidence of that in “Summer Catch.” Fat girls are predominately featured, though. Isn’t that nice? It is strange; most of the movie makes fun of girls who actually look like they eat – unlike the female star Jessica Biel – but in the end one of the guys makes an impassioned speech proclaiming his desire for chunky girls. How enlightening.

There are some funny lines. Prinze is likable, even when being a jerk. The older cast is comprised of fine character actors doing more than competent work considering the script.

Too many things don’t add up and what does comes off as shallow and superficial. Apparently, it is too much to ask to have real emotions and three-dimensional characters in movies this year.
Why only one scout, out of many, detects our hero’s talents makes no sense.

For one thing, he pitches out of the stretch all the time. Brittany Murphy appears to be his loving girlfriend at the beginning of the movie yet she steals his clothes for no good reason – other than to set up a silly situation. With little explanation, she is not his girlfriend, but does attract attention from other players for her ability to pour beer without her hands.

The humor and situations range from innocent juvenile “Mighty Ducks” stuff to nearly “American Pie” sexuality, even though “Summer Catch is rated PG-13. Rent “Bull Durham” instead. Or the first “Major League.” Rated-PG-13

Register for flag football and soccer at the Aldine-Greenspoint YMCA

You might find a variety of soccer or football programs or leagues throughout the community but few compare to YMCA youth sports. The focus of YMCA youth soccer and flag football is in developing the whole person, not just the competitive athlete.

In YMCA youth soccer and flag football, every player plays at least half of every game whether the most skilled or the new kid on the team.
Every kid is given equal attention and playing rime. Coaches help team members set and achieve individual goals while working on the fundamentals of the sport like dribbling, passing and proper ball control. This teaches team members to compete against themselves instead of each other.

This non-competitive environment allows children to learn about the games of soccer and flag football in an atmosphere of mutual respect where everyone is a winner.

“YMCA youth sports teaches children the fundamentals of the game and allows participants to take part in a healthy activity that helps build responsibility, leadership and self esteem,” said Jorge Tavares, youth sports coordinator for the Aldine-Greenspoint YMCA. “Our sports program also gives kids the opportunity to have fun and learn the game with their fami1ies. Parents are encouraged to be more than spectators. They can contribute as coaches, game officials or even as team parents.”

For many years the Aldine-Greenspoint Y has offered youth soccer and flag football. This year the Aldine-Greenspoint YMCA promises to deliver another successful season.

Registration for YMCA youth soccer and flag football will continue until September 4.

The Aldine-Greenspoint YMCA is located at 14750 Henry Road, in Harris County’s Pep Mueller Park.
•Teams for kids ages 4 to 14,
•Games begin in late September and should finish around Thanksgiving.
•Practices begin Mid-September.

Also, the YMCA offers volunteer opportunities to parents, adults and teens, including head and assistant coaches; team parents; game officials, values coordinators and grounds keepers. For more information about YMCA Youth Sports, or other Y programs, please call the Aldine-Greenspoint YMCA at 281-447-9005.

Disaster Recovery Center relocated

The Federal/State Scarborough Disaster Recovery Center (DRC) has relocated from Gethsemane Lutheran Church, 4040 Watonga Road to Candlelight Church of Christ, 4215 Watonga Road.

The center opened August 23 at 8 a.m. and will operate until further notice.

All DRCs are open daily, Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. However, all centers will close for the Labor Day weekend beginning September 1 through the 3 and will reopen the following morning.

At the centers, individuals may receive information about various programs, check the status of applications, apply for loans and grants, obtain tax forms to file for disaster losses and get tips on rebuilding and preventing losses from future disasters.

Those affected by Tropical Storm Allison may apply for disaster assistance by calling FEMA’s toll-free application number at 1-800-462-9029 (TTY 1-800-462-7585 for speech and hearing impaired) The deadline to apply for assistance is September 7, 2001.