December 29, 2016

2016 City Council Year in Review

As the year draws to a close we pause for a moment to reflect on all we have accomplished, and what it means looking ahead to the coming year and beyond.  Throughout 2016 your City Council has been hard at work, confronting challenges head on and planning for many important, long-term improvements.  Here are some of the highlights.

December 9, 2016

A Plan for Beautification, Now and in the Future

For the past several years we’ve made it a priority.  But all the while we’ve struggled to identify exactly what “it” is.

The Beautification initiative began with a concern voiced by many of our residents that the City was starting to look a little shabby and rough around the edges, especially in public rights of way and along our commercial corridors.  The examples they cited included worn and faded street markings and signage, busted curbs, tired and lifeless landscaping, neglected utility boxes and trees in need of trimming.  City Councils (past and present) agreed it was time to spruce things up, and formally adopted Beautification as a priority, even going so far as to budget a line item for it.  Yet, that particular allocation has largely gone unspent because a precise definition remained elusive.  City Managers (past and present) were ready, willing and able to get it done, but still needed clarification on the “it” they were being asked to implement.

December 6, 2016

Celebrating the Inaugural Class of the Bellaire Citizens Academy

Last night we held a special reception and presentation to conclude the inaugural class of the Bellaire Citizens Academy.  By any measure it has been a great success, as part of our broader effort to better engage with the citizens we serve.  In particular, the Academy provides an opportunity for residents to interact with staff members representing several departments, to form relationships with the professionals who provide our city services and to learn more about what they do to make Bellaire such a great place to live.

November 9, 2016

Next Steps Following the Bond Election

With an impressive 74% turnout, Bellaire voters have overwhelmingly approved the Better Bellaire 2016 bond package.  Now what?  Your city leaders have been hard at work, even in advance of the election, to make sure we'd have our plans ready to go once the votes were counted.  Here's what to expect, starting with the official canvass of the election results at City Council's next meeting on November 21:

November 1, 2016

A Year of Infrastructure:  What the Bonds Are For, and What They're Not

I've come to describe 2016 as a Year of Infrastructure in Bellaire.  Stewardship of our physical assets has been front and center, as we are confronted with a number of major projects and issues all needing our attention at the same time.  This has prompted a lot of good discussion in the community, and I've heard from many of you, which I very much appreciate.  With so much going on, it's sometimes hard to keep it all straight.  Based on some questions I've received, I thought I'd try to clear a few things up.

Streets and Drainage Bonds vs. Pavement Management

One of the more common areas of confusion is in distinguishing between our successive bond programs for streets and drainage improvements, and our ongoing Pavement Management program.

October 18, 2016

Visioning Future Land Use in the TRP District:  A Two-Step Process

Chevron's recent announcement that it plans to sell its Bellaire property at 4800 Fournace has prompted vigorous discussion in the community.  The neighbors nearby are understandably concerned about the changes that are likely coming their way as the property is redeveloped.  And residents in other parts of town are equally interested in the possibilities and what the turnover may mean for the future of our City.  As we engage in this community conversation, it's important to clear up any misconceptions and misinformation to ensure we're all on the same page as we move forward in the process.

September 28, 2016

Bellaire Drainage Study is a Potential Game-Changer

Good decision making and long-term planning start with good information.  Over the past several months the City Engineer has been working on a detailed study, utilizing sophisticated technologies such as 3-D LiDAR surveys, to collect data and develop more accurate storm water modeling.  The dramatic potential of this new information is hard to overstate.  The results of this study may very well reshape the way we think about flooding and drainage, both locally and regionally.

The following is my layman’s summary of the highlights of the study.  For a complete copy of the City Engineer’s report, click here, and for the accompanying presentation slides, here.

September 15, 2016

Revised Water and Sewer Rate Proposal Adopted, New Rates Go Into Effect October 1

Having worked throughout the summer to gather and incorporate public input, City Council has unanimously approved a modified water and sewer rate proposal to avert the looming insolvency of the Enterprise (Utility) Fund.  As detailed previously, for at least the past 22 years rates have not kept up with the rising costs of utility operations and increasingly critical infrastructure needs. Had we done nothing to correct this, we'd be looking at a negative ending fund balance as early as the end of this coming fiscal year.

Responsive to the public input we received, the original proposal (first presented in April and the subject of a town hall meeting in July) was modified in two respects:

August 31, 2016

Bonds for Better Bellaire 2016

We had a great turnout at Monday night's town hall meeting on the upcoming bond election.  The residents who spoke posed some very good questions, and prompted a lively discussion covering a number of important issues.  Thanks to all who participated or perhaps watched at home; if you missed it, the video replay is available, here.

As was presented at the town hall meeting, we're working hard to ensure you have access to all the information you need to make an educated decision when you cast your vote.  Please visit our dedicated Bonds for Better Bellaire 2016 page on the City website for details and supporting documents:

Additionally, we invite you to submit any questions you may have about the bonds by e-mail to

Here's a quick overview of the 3 propositions:

August 23, 2016

The Difficulty of Making Easy Decisions – Or, Paying for the Things We Take for Granted

The City Council overwhelmingly recognizes the urgent need to move forward with critical water and wastewater infrastructure improvements. So much so, after due and careful consideration of proposed projects the debate has become less about the decisions themselves and more about who should make them. As our community’s duly-elected representatives, we take very seriously our responsibility to be good stewards of our physical assets. Given that responsibility, do we first have to stop and ask for permission to do what we know needs to be done?

August 11, 2016

Stewardship of Our Physical Assets – Or, Paying for the Things We Take for Granted

One of the greatest challenges we currently face is the unfortunate convergence of a number of long-neglected, big-ticket items hitting at the same time.  Not only have we continually deferred infrastructure and equipment maintenance and scheduled replacements over the past several years, we’ve also not been setting aside any funds for those needs, either.

August 2, 2016

FY 2017 Budget Season is Underway

The City's annual budget reflects our priorities as a community, balancing the services and improvements we desire against the costs of delivering them. It also takes account of the bigger picture, representing a set of short-term decisions within the context of longer-term planning.

Budget season runs from the Council planning session in May through final adoption in September, but it's really a year-round process as Council gives policy direction on a variety of issues that are ultimately addressed in the budget. For example, over a period of several months Council expressed its commitment to meaningful increases in public safety compensation, to improve our recruitment and retention of police officers and fire fighters. That discussion culminated in direction to the City Manager back in February to provide additional salary enhancements and incentive pay, and to bring base salaries to the 75th percentile among comparator communities. All such decisions throughout the year have an obvious budgetary impact that is captured when the City Manager presents the proposed budget each July. For that reason, there aren't many surprises in the document.

July 12, 2016

A Tearful Goodbye to One of Our Heroes

Officer Marco Antonio Zarate
End of Watch July 12, 2016
The citizens of Bellaire are devastated by the tragic loss of one of our heroes.  Officer Marco Antonio Zarate served our community faithfully and with distinction for seven years, and before that defended our country as a United States Marine.  We are forever grateful for his selfless service, and with heavy hearts we pay him our last respects.

Officer Zarate is survived by his wife and three daughters, and his close-knit extended family.  We express to them our deepest sympathies on their loss, and our sincere appreciation for their having shared Marco with us, as a beloved member of our Bellaire family.  We pray for Marco and all those he held dear, that they find strength and comfort in the eternal blessing of his memory.

We know that Marco will continue watching over us, as he did here on Earth.  With great admiration and affection, we salute you, Officer Zarate.  You will be sorely missed throughout our community.

July 3, 2016

Preview:  Town Hall Meeting on Water and Sewer Rates - July 11, 7:00 p.m.

Bellaire, we have a problem.

For at least the past 22 years, our water and sewer rates have not been adjusted to keep up with the rising costs of providing the service, and of maintaining the infrastructure that delivers it.  Rather than having incrementally increased rates over that time period, we're now faced with the prospect of having to catch up all at once.  We've reached the point that we couldn't continue kicking the can down the road even if we wanted to; we've simply run out of road.

June 24, 2016

Updated City Council Priorities

In the broadest sense, the City Council's job is to decide the big picture questions and set the policy direction for the City.  The Charter enumerates as Council's responsibilities, to "enact local legislation, adopt budgets, [and] determine policies ...."  The City Manager and staff then "execute the laws and administer the government of the City."

To ensure some measure of consistency in its policy direction, City Council has adopted and periodically reviews and updates its Priorities document (available on the City website, under the "Our Government" tab, here).  These Council Priorities are not only a statement of our most important areas of focus, they guide the city staff in implementing the policy direction they are given.  Nothing is done at random; it all ties back to one or more Priorities.

June 10, 2016

Municipal Facilities Design Milestone Reached

After the voters approved bond funding in 2013 for our new City Hall, Civic Center, Police Department and Municipal Courts facilities, we got right to work designing the buildings.  But when it became apparent we needed some fresh ideas, we slowed things down to get more public input.

Through two ad hoc citizens’ committees and with a great deal of input from the general public, we’re now back on track.  While the project is still in the design development phase, City Council’s approval of the ad hoc committee’s unanimous recommendation concerning the overall look and feel of the buildings represents a significant milestone, as we can now turn our attention to the more detailed design considerations.

Click here to view the full presentation of the ad hoc committee’s recommendations from the May 16, 2016 town hall meeting.

May 28, 2016

Our Flooding Problem, And What We're Doing About It

"Here we go again."

Every time it starts to rain we worry.  The frequency and severity of our flooding events have noticeably increased in recent years, due to the sheer amount of new development all over the Greater Houston area.  It's a regional problem requiring a regional solution.  In Bellaire we've made significant strides in our own infrastructure improvements, but during major events our local drainage system is of little use without adequate downstream capacity to receive our storm water.

Bellaire is proactively doing something about it.  Our plans are two-fold:

  • Locally, we recently awarded the contract for the final phase of the 2005 Rebuild Bellaire program, in which we've systematically invested more than $40 million in our streets and drainage infrastructure over the past decade.  Now that those bond funds are exhausted, we're preparing the next round for voter approval this fall, to continue making improvements throughout the City.

  • Regionally, we're working with the Harris County Flood Control District and other agencies to improve storm water capacity downstream of us and throughout the area.  In fact, we're taking the lead on some innovative engineering work in helping develop solutions.  We're also collaborating with our neighbors in hard-hit Meyerland to explore mutually beneficial improvements.

Drainage is a top priority and these recent flooding events only highlight the urgency.  We will continue working, both locally and regionally, to minimize the impact of future storms.