October 11, 2017

Charter Amendment Propositions on November Ballot

When Bellaire voters go to the polls on November 7, in addition to the usual races for Mayor and City Council we’ll have the opportunity to amend our City Charter for the first time in 11 years.  The Charter is what makes us a home-rule municipality and is the foundational instrument of our self-governance, in essence our “constitution.”  As such, it belongs to and can be amended only by the people at an election called for that purpose.

October 6, 2017

Cumulative Flood Repair Costs and the 50% Rule

Fear and uncertainty breed speculation.  Speculation is passed on as hearsay.  Hearsay becomes rumor, and—especially when repeated and amplified in the echo chambers of social media—rumor is commonly accepted as fact.  I simply cannot stress enough the importance of visiting the Permit Office to get information specific to your individual circumstances, and reliable information at that.  The decisions flooded homeowners are having to make are just too important to be based on advice, however well-intentioned, from people who don’t actually know what they’re talking about.

October 5, 2017

For Flood Hazard Mitigation Task Force, All Options Are on the Table

The City Engineer’s post-Harvey analysis largely confirms collective expectations based on our experience and observations during the storm:  the singular importance of Project Brays, the continuing validity of our approach to local drainage improvements, the obstacles impeding overland flow, and the success of our current building code elevation regulations.  It stops short, however, of actually making any specific recommendations.  That’s because at this point all options are on the table for thorough review and consideration.

Following and in conjunction with the City Engineer’s presentation, the City Council adopted an amending resolution to expand the charge of our Flood Hazard Mitigation Task Force.  By sheer coincidence Council had previously adopted the first resolution less than a week before Harvey.  It established the Task Force as a more or less routine planning activity required for our continued participation in the Community Rating System of the National Flood Insurance Program, to be composed of appointed citizens including some with certain subject matter expertise.

Post-Harvey, our thorough reexamination of every aspect of flood control is anything but routine.  The amending resolution, therefore, additionally charges the Task Force “to develop actionable local, regulatory and regional policy recommendations for the prevention of future flooding.”  It will do so in close consultation with the City Engineer, building upon his findings from this and prior work to come up with solutions for implementation.

October 3, 2017

The FY 2018 Budget Story, Epilogue:  Restoring Balance

The fiscal year 2018 budget went into effect on Sunday.  The story began with a proposed budget that was forced to cut back on non-recurring expenses to avoid breaching our 60-day minimum fund balance requirement.  It concludes with an adopted budget that goes even further than that, with deeper non-recurring expense cuts that will allow us to begin replenishing the ending fund balance instead of finishing the year right on the number.  Responsive to public input concerning the tax rate, Council proactively took this step to get things back on track for this and coming years.  The budget also sets aside some unallocated funds in anticipation of unreimbursed hurricane recovery expenses.

Hurricane Harvey’s unwelcome arrival in the middle of the FY 2018 budget story ultimately did not change the plot all that much.  That’s not to suggest the City’s priorities have not been affected; they most certainly have as nearly everything else is taking a back seat to disaster recovery and future flood prevention efforts.  But those less essential items, such as branding, Comprehensive Plan updates and new parks projects, weren’t in this year’s budget to begin with.

September 25, 2017

Debris Removal:  The Work is Picking Up

In many neighborhoods throughout the Houston area, officials don’t yet even have an idea of a start date for debris removal.  Obviously this isn’t a competition, but in Bellaire we’re fortunate to be well on our way.  It’s not going nearly as fast as we’d hoped, but the pace of our collection has only been increasing each day.  Through our active management of the process we’ve been able to bring in more crews and equipment and have secured additional staging site capacity.

Our debris removal operations are noticeably improving as increased staging site capacity has allowed the contractor to bring in more and larger equipment, like this tandem, self-contained loader.

September 20, 2017

Specific Use Permits for New Bellaire High School, Offsite Baseball Approved with Conditions

With our daily attention devoted to Hurricane Harvey recovery, much of our usual city business has been deferred or postponed indefinitely.  One major item that has been pending on our docket since before the storm, and has now been brought to a successful resolution, is the specific use permit for the rebuilding of Bellaire High School.  This week the City Council granted that permit, along with a second one to allow for the relocation of the baseball field to the former Gordon Elementary/Mandarin Chinese school property to free up some extra space on the BHS campus to make the site plan work.

September 15, 2017

City Engineer to Present Hurricane Harvey Report October 2

At the City Council meeting this past Monday night—our first post-Harvey—the City Manager’s report was devoted to the hurricane and the City’s ongoing response.  His detailed presentation covered several topics, starting with a walk-through of the City’s preparation for and then daily activities during the storm, followed by the transition to recovery.  He spent a great deal of time focused on the questions people are asking right now, concerning the process for flood repair permits including market value and substantial damage determinations, and about our progress to date on debris removal.

What the City Manager’s report did not get into was any engineering review.  That will be for the City Engineer, who is currently preparing a comprehensive analysis of the root causes and extent of the devastating flooding we experienced, and where to go from here in our infrastructure planning.  He will present his report to Council and the public at our meeting on October 2.

Council received public comment from several speakers concerning flooding and related topics.  Given that this was our first regular meeting post-Harvey, it’s unfortunate that it happened to be the same night as the long-awaited public hearing on the specific use permit applications for the reconstruction of Bellaire High School.  The hearing was legally noticed weeks before Harvey had even formed in the Gulf and demanded our attention despite everything else going on in the aftermath of the storm.  This resulted in a late evening, and understandably not all of our speakers could stay for public comment.

We welcome your input, as always, and there will be multiple opportunities to address Council at our upcoming meetings as we continue to discuss these issues of paramount importance to our community moving forward.  I hope you will make plans to join us for the City Engineer’s presentation on October 2.

September 8, 2017

Things Are Looking Up as the Debris Comes Down

I never thought I’d be so excited to see a bunch of heavy trucks rolling through Bellaire.  What a beautiful sight, indeed!  Debris removal is a major milestone on the road to recovery and will have a huge impact in restoring a sense of normalcy to our streets and neighborhoods.  Getting rid of all the piles at the curb allows us to begin moving forward in rebuilding our community, and none too soon.

September 6, 2017

“After All This, Will I Even Be Allowed to Rebuild?” – What You Need to Know About the 50% Rule

Yesterday the Permit Office began accepting applications for flood repairs.  Over the course of the day they received 27 applications.  After sorting them according to their complexity to allow for the most expedited review, the Building Official was able to approve and issue 11 permits same-day.  But while things are moving quickly at the Permit Office, owners of older Bellaire homes that flooded are faced with an additional concern:  Will they even be allowed to rebuild?

Below I give you my overview of this issue, but if you take away nothing else what’s important for you to know is that there is no one-size-fits-all answer.  It’ll depend on the specific facts and circumstances of each house, and the City has no way of making a determination until a permit application with supporting documentation is reviewed.  Please don’t jump to any conclusions or make hasty decisions, and be assured the staff will explore all available options with you.

September 5, 2017

FEMA Here to Assist Bellaire Residents Through Disaster Recovery Process

Representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency arrived this morning and came to City Hall to brief us on their Hurricane Harvey response in Bellaire.  They gave us an overview of the federal disaster recovery programs available to residents, as well as to the City itself, and what to expect in the coming days.  We then took them on a driving tour through several of our neighborhoods so they could see for themselves the extent of the damage we sustained and get a handle on the sheer number of impacted homeowners in need of assistance.  They will allocate resources accordingly.

The first step for those seeking federal disaster assistance is to register with FEMA, online at disasterassistance.gov or by calling (800) 621-FEMA (3362).  Our own City of Bellaire Library reopened today, and has public computers and librarians available to help with filling out the forms.  Also visit our Hurricane Harvey Recovery Resources page for other helpful links and information.