Smoke Screens & Lame Ducks: Hays St. Bridge Draws a Crowd at A-Session
Smoke gets in your eyes…
Thursday’s meeting began with the council voicing their appreciation for the Texas 21 movement, which refers to legislation passed during the last State Legislative Session raising the age for purchasing tobacco products in Texas from eighteen to twenty-one. In a powerful move to limit youth access to tobacco, the campaign began with the 2010 Smoking Ordinance banning cigarette smoking in restaurants. According to the council, the hurdles that were overcome in that ordinance proved that Texas was ready to embrace clean air and healthier living.
You’ve got mail…protection
The State Legislature also passed a new mail bill, enabling the prosecution of mail theft to be handled locally, rather than federally. The old process required victims to trudge through a laborious process that could sometimes seem distant and removed, and this new piece of legislation aimed to make the system more direct and personal.
Hays Street Bridge is saved again, but water under the bridge spoils deal.
After reflecting on all that had been accomplished in the last State Legislative session, the meeting turned inwards towards local affairs. A line of around a dozen guest speakers from the community made their way into the council chambers Thursday morning surrounded by a large group of gentrification resisters. Many of the protesters carried signs bearing incendiary slogans such as: “no sweetheart deals,” “resisting displacement since 1492,” “gentrification one block down IS STILL gentrification,” “people over profit”, and “our city is not built for us.” It should also be noted that many of these signs were constructed using old Nirenberg campaign signage taken from around the city.
Throughout the meeting, council members were often interrupted by shouts from citizens, as the raucous crowd grew restless within the formal Municipal Plaza chambers. Attempting to find some middle-ground regarding the bridge, District 2 Councilman Art Hall took it upon himself to disambiguate the language of the proposal. He stated that the land north of the bridge would be used for a city park, maintaining the view of the bridge and keeps the area in the service of the community.
The Council voiced a consolatory tone and maintained that they regretted the 2012 vote that gave the land to the developer and allowed this whole process to progress. “It's unfortunate that this bridge has become a symbol of why people’s trust in government has waned,” said Mayor Ron Neirenberg. Rey Saldana, the only sitting Council Member who was present at the 2012 vote apologized for having voted to allow commercial interests to move forward.
Others on the council were less apologetic. Shirley Gonzales stated that she felt like the council did the best it could do given what it knew at the time. Councilman Brockhouse voiced concern that this was pushed through a “lame duck” council. He cast his final vote against the measure citing that he felt that it failed to fully fix the wrongs done by the Council’s decision in 2012. John Courage felt that the protestors were misinformed about the process, much to the dismay of several audience members who shook their heads in defiance.
According to the City Attorney, there were very few options for recourse. Eminent domain could reclaim the property, however it must be compensated at market rate, which would lead to further litigation over the price of the land and the justification for invoking eminent domain. All in all, the original transaction was final, and even if the sale was done in bad faith to the community, it still constituted a finished transaction regardless of any current regrets.
No one clapped when the vote passed. No one stood up. No one cheered. The current deal left Loopy Limited, the benefactor of the Hay’s St. Bridge transaction, none-the-poorer. While the bridge will remain, the company still walked away with an equivalent piece of land.
As the meeting concluded, the council reiterated their commitment to never letting a deal like this happen again. They noted that more transparency is required within the city to manage property transparently for the people’s best interests. However, for many in attendance, this rhetoric came far too late in the game and, with such a narrow margin of victory (2.22%) for Mayor Nirenberg over government transparency proponent Greg Brockhouse in the last mayoral election, this issue of is more relevant than ever moving forward.