April 8, 2020

COVID-19 Emergency Response Update

In Monday night’s telephonic City Council meeting, the City Manager presented to Council and the public the latest update on our ongoing response to COVID-19.  He highlighted the good work being done by the employees from various departments who fill particular roles in our emergency management structure, which are often different from their usual responsibilities.  Though COVID-19 is unique in a lot of ways, our experience in past emergencies is certainly helping us in this one.  I encourage you to listen to the complete recording of the presentation to learn more.

The City’s priorities in the response are focused on communication, keeping employees and the public safe, staying informed of decisions being made by others that impact us, and being prepared for an uncertain future.

The City Manager overviewed what we’re doing in order to continue providing essential city services—Police, Fire/EMS and Public Works—which cannot be performed remotely.  We’re placing primary emphasis on ensuring our first responders and others out in the field are equipped with the proper safety gear and are practicing social distancing while performing their jobs.  He also described how the administrative functions have adapted in getting things done with City Hall and other offices closed, and addressed the programming, mostly recreational, we’ve unfortunately had to suspend.

Much of staff’s attention is devoted to contingency planning for the remainder of this emergency, so we’ll be prepared should the situation worsen.  They’re also looking ahead to the next several months, reevaluating our fiscal forecast in light of possible impacts from COVID-19 and running different scenarios to inform Council’s decision making in the upcoming budget season.  We obviously don’t know how much longer this state of emergency will last, but we’ll be ready to resume normal city operations just as soon as it’s safe and appropriate to do so.

It’s clear from the presentation we’re in good hands, and well positioned to get through this crisis.  In the meantime, even with modified working arrangements the City is still open for business, so please don’t hesitate to contact us if we can be of service.  Thank you for your patience and understanding, and hats off to our emergency management team, and to all city employees, for all that they do.

April 2, 2020

Coming Together as a Community (While Staying Apart)

This temporary “new normal,” in which not only the adults are working from home but the kids are, too, is positively surreal.  We never imagined, for example, having to remind our young children of their scheduled videoconferences throughout the workday.  For a bit of exercise and fresh air, and to keep from climbing the walls, we’re getting outside more often as a family for walks around the neighborhood.  We’ve enjoyed running into many of you out on the street (but at a safe distance), reconnecting with friends and making new ones.  It’s obvious from those conversations that we’re all in this together, and also how much we value our togetherness as a community.

It’s so inspiring to see all we’re doing to help one another.  While we’re out on our walks, we know that unfortunately not everyone is able to leave their homes as we are.  Concerned neighbors are reaching out to lend a hand to those in need, such as by picking up extra items at the store, or just checking in from time to time, staying connected even in isolation.  Beyond everything they already do for us, Bellaire police are offering grocery and prescription drug deliveries to residents 65 and older and those with disabilities.  We’re all finding ways to do our part.  Each day brings more good deeds and acts of kindness.

On a broader scale, residents and community groups are taking the initiative for meaningful action in support of the COVID-19 response.  Several of our fellow citizens organized a medical supply donation drive last weekend for distribution to Houston-area hospitals and clinics, and are maintaining an ongoing effort online.  Another citizen group has formed to show appreciation for our healthcare heroes, while at the same time supporting our local restaurants, by making it easy to order meals to be delivered to hardworking hospital staff.  With so many of these restaurants and other small businesses suffering through the economic impacts of this crisis, the Bellaire Business Association has ramped up its Stay Loyal to Local campaign and continues to provide timely guidance and resources to its membership.  And to help keep restless kids entertained during these long days stuck at home, the same Bellaire moms who brought you last week’s teddy bear hunt are mixing it up this week with rainbows.

These are but a few examples of how our community is really coming together in this challenging and uncertain time, and we look forward to many more in the weeks ahead.  Got an idea or volunteer opportunity the City can help publicize?  Send an e-mail and let us know!  Be sure you’re subscribed to receive our communications through Notify Me, and check out our COVID-19 resource page for the latest updates.

March 30, 2020

Sidewalks Charter Election Postponed to Nov. 3

As you’ve probably heard by now, the sidewalks charter election previously called for May 2 has been postponed to the next uniform election date, November 3, on account of the ongoing COVID-19 public health emergency.  In Council’s deliberations during its telephonic Special Session last week, a unanimous vote to postpone the election was never in doubt.

Instead, the discussion centered on a proposed “moratorium on any further sidewalk construction on residential blocks until after the election.”  Following constructive debate, by a narrow 4-3 vote Council decided against the moratorium, in favor of maintaining the status quo for the time being.  I have since received a few questions suggesting there may be some confusion—and outright misinformation—out there, about what the status quo actually is, and so I take this opportunity to clear things up.

March 26, 2020

Maintaining Continuity of City Services Through COVID-19

Life these days is anything but ordinary—yes, I know, understatement of the year—but our dedicated city staff are doing all they can to keep things running smoothly.  Garbage and recycling are still being picked up, clean water continues to flow, and first responders keep responding.  Maintaining these basic city services, on which we rely daily and that we typically take for granted, helps make at least those aspects of life feel as ordinary as possible in this extraordinary time.

The manner in which we’re providing services is obviously not business as usual, however, with necessary modifications following CDC, state and federal guidelines to protect the public health and welfare, and that of the city workforce.  Even the emergency response itself is impacted, as our Emergency Operations Center is hardened against threats like severe weather, but viruses not so much; essential response personnel are meeting elsewhere when required, to ensure appropriate distancing.  Our public facilities are closed, but for those services and programming that don’t necessarily have to be delivered in person, we’re adapting and finding new ways to stay in touch with you.  For example, Library staff are working on bringing our ever-popular Story Times online for young families to enjoy remotely.

With all of these changes our staff have even had a little fun this week, recording videos to showcase what their departments are working on and how they’re continuing to serve you, and to introduce some of the people who make it happen.  These videos are being posted to our COVID-19 resource page on the City website and will be updated as new content is created.  We invite you to take a look, and welcome your questions and feedback.

Given all they do for us day in and day out and their demonstrated commitment to public service, it’s no surprise our city staff are once again rising to challenge.  I’m incredibly proud to be a part of this team and grateful to each and every one of its members.  It’s in times like these we’re reminded that the quality and responsiveness of our city services, and the people who provide them, are among the things that really make Bellaire special.

March 20, 2020

Telephonic Special Session of City Council, Monday at 6:00 p.m.

There have been a lot of firsts brought about by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.  Add to that list our first telephonic City Council meeting.  This past Monday (but announced after my last post discussing our upcoming Council meeting schedule) Governor Abbott temporarily suspended certain provisions of the Texas Open Meetings Act in order to allow governmental bodies to meet telephonically or by videoconference in an effort to reduce in-person meetings that bring together large groups of people.  All such meetings will still be open to the public.

This coming Monday’s Special Session, which will be conducted telephonically, has been called for two purposes:  to ask the City Council to (1) extend beyond seven days our local public health disaster declaration, and (2) postpone the sidewalks charter election from May to November.

Local Public Health Disaster Declaration

As have other mayors all across the State in recent days, today I’ve issued a local public health disaster declaration.  Such declarations are valid for up to seven days, unless continued or renewed by the City Council.  Please keep in mind it’s about preparedness, not panic.  Local disaster declarations are the key to unlocking several beneficial provisions of state law we may need to utilize as the situation progresses, concerning procurement of necessary resources, eligibility for state and federal aid, and other emergency management and law enforcement tools.  I’ve gone ahead and issued our local declaration, and am asking the City Council to extend it on Monday, so that we’ll have it in place if needed before Council meets again.

Election Postponement

In addition to the Open Meetings Act, this week the governor also suspended provisions of the Texas Election Code to allow local governments to postpone their May 2 elections to the next uniform election date, November 3.  As the postponement is not automatic, it will require formal action by the City Council.  If there’s a silver lining for us, it’s that we’ll now be able to contract with Harris County to handle this election as we normally do, and split the costs with other participating entities.

The agenda packet, including the toll-free number to dial in to and participate in Monday’s Special Session, is available for download on the City website, here.  The meeting will be broadcast live—online and on cable (Comcast channel 16, U-verse 99)—and recorded for playback, as usual.

March 16, 2020

City Council Meetings Amid the Coronavirus Outbreak

As we practice social distancing and avoid public gatherings to limit the spread of the coronavirus, some of you have been asking about Bellaire City Council meetings.  Tonight’s meeting is still on, but the schedule for upcoming meetings could be impacted.

While Council meetings are always open to the public, and public attendance and participation are encouraged, those who prefer to observe remotely may do so by tuning in to our live broadcast online or on local government access channels (Comcast 16, U-verse 99).  Public comment may be submitted to the City Council in writing, rather than in person, in care of the City Clerk.  I trust it goes without saying that anyone experiencing symptoms or who feels they may have been exposed are urged to stay home and avoid contact with others.

Our Charter provides that the City Council shall meet “not less frequently than twice each month.”  Regular Sessions are held on the first and third Mondays of each month (except when there is a legal holiday, in which case the meeting is moved to the following Monday).  Absent a formal disaster declaration, the City Council will continue to meet on its regular schedule.  As this month happens to be a five-Monday month, we’ll have three weeks between tonight’s meeting and the next to continue to monitor and see how things develop before making any decisions with respect to the upcoming Council meeting schedule.

Thank you for your patience and understanding as we work through these challenges, with the public health and well-being at the forefront of our decision making.

March 12, 2020

Local Coronavirus Preparations

Bellaire emergency management officials have been closely monitoring and preparing for potential local impacts of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.  While the City is not under a public health disaster declaration at this time, we have developed an incident action plan in coordination with other area agencies to ensure our readiness.  Our team is in close communication and participates in daily briefings with Harris County Public Health, the Texas Department of State Health Services, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The recent news of a presumptive positive case in Montgomery County that was not travel related has led to heightened precautions throughout the Houston area.  As a result, many local events have been postponed or canceled.  Here in Bellaire these include the Touch A Truck event that was scheduled to take place at Evelyn’s Park this Saturday, the Patrons for Bellaire Parks’ Wine and Tapas fundraiser on March 28 (you’ll still be able to support our parks through an online auction instead), Party at the Pavilion on April 3, and the Bellaire Trolley Run on April 4.  Decisions have not yet been made concerning other upcoming events as we continue to monitor this rapidly evolving situation.

Employees in all departments are making arrangements to avoid or minimize as much as possible any disruptions to city services.  We’re planning for the contingency that some of our workforce could be affected, whether directly, or indirectly such as those with childcare responsibilities in the event schools are closed.  Maintaining uninterrupted Police, Fire, Public Works and other essential services will remain our top priority.

Our foremost concern is to protect the health and welfare of the community.  All residents are urged to do their part in helping prevent the spread of COVID-19 by familiarizing themselves with and following CDC recommendations.  Please stay informed through local news outlets and check the City website frequently for updates as they are available.

March 11, 2020

Contemplating Continued Progress on Streets and Drainage

By the early 1980s, Bellaire’s original, post-war era infrastructure was reaching the end of its useful life and in serious need of attention.  At that time and in the years that followed, the City undertook individual maintenance and rehabilitation projects as annual budgets would allow, but the available cash on hand was nowhere near enough to keep up with the demand.  Having allowed conditions to deteriorate to that point, without having set aside any funds along the way, by the year 2000 it had become clear that continuing the pay-as-you-go approach was simply no longer an option.

The Bellaire Millennium Renewal bond program was the first comprehensive package of citywide infrastructure improvements and was approved overwhelmingly by the voters to begin tackling our most critical needs.  Through the successor 2005 Rebuild Bellaire and 2016 Better Bellaire bond programs we’ve continued that work, including the systematic replacement of streets and drainage systems in order of relative priority.  Our progress has been steady, but at only about a third complete we still have a long way to go.  Assuming we remain committed and intend to stay on course, it’s time to identify and begin planning for the next round of projects.

February 17, 2020

Sidewalks Charter Election Called for May 2

The latest battles of Bellaire’s decades-long sidewalks wars were fought in the fall of 2018, and in response to overwhelming public input spanning multiple hours over multiple meetings, the City Council completely canceled all plans for standalone sidewalks.  Through the public process those battles were thus brought to conclusion, but the issue was revived a few months later by resident petitions for three charter amendments that would remove the question of sidewalks from the public process.  The requisite constitutional waiting period having now passed, and pursuant to the state election law calendar, last week the City Council formally ordered a special election to be held on Saturday, May 2.

January 14, 2020

When the Unthinkable Happens Here

We're all shocked and devastated by this afternoon’s senseless tragedy at Bellaire High School.  Our hearts are foremost with the victim and his family, and we stand together in solidarity with the entire BHS community in mourning this horrific loss.  The City of Bellaire is working with and will continue to provide our support to school administration and HISD, now and in the days to come.

School shootings take place with such alarming frequency, it’s easy to become desensitized and lulled into complacency.  We see it on TV, and while we know it can happen anywhere, it’s not supposed to happen here.  Yet today it has.

As a parent, I’m positively stricken having to explain to my young children the events of today, and the harsh realities of the world in which they live.  I’m shaken to my very core, seeing their innocence abruptly taken from them.  I honestly don’t know how to answer all their questions, or to give them the reassurance they need when I’m not always so sure myself.  I can’t help but hold them a little tighter.

As a neighbor, I’m in stunned disbelief that this has happened right here, that one of our own kids won’t be coming home tonight.  I feel an overwhelming sadness for all the students and their families, for whom everything has forever changed.  School is supposed to be a safe place, but our very basic sense of security now gives way to worry.  We owe it to our children to find some way to restore it.

In times of crisis we've shown what it means to be a community.  We’re here for each other, and will move forward together through this difficult time.  We’re thankful for our first responders and for all they’ve done today, and will continue to hold near and pray for the victim and his family.