The Houston City Council accomplished three major actions today: (1) implementing a tax break for developers who raze buildings, (2) approving a tax credit for affordable (family friendly) apartments in District A and (3) a rewrite of the City’s animal control laws. Among the other actions taken, the City unanimously decided to both offer a bigger incentive to police academy recruits and amend ethics/disclosure rules for the municipal governance. I will have more on each and every one of these issues, complete with analysis and commentary from pertinent sources, including Councilmember C.O. Bradford on the dog issue.
First, on the minor issues, the Council unanimously voted to offer a $5000 incentive to new police academy recruits. As Mike Morris, a Houston Chronicle reporter/writer, noted on Twitter, this will hopefully make cops’ salaries somewhat more competitive in the marketplace. The cost is estimated to be about $350,000. The other minor action taken was loosening ethics rules, specifically by easing how many employees must annually file fiscal disclosure forms. Morris wrote an article in the Chronicle, slated for publication Thursday, dealing with this in greater detail. The only specific facet of any importance is that while elected officials, their personal staff and department directors were previously required to file disclosures, this has now been changed to simply the officials, their top staff and department directors.
The third major unanimous action was giving a tax break to developers who raze blighted property. I talked about this issue somewhat at length a few weeks ago. As I noted back then, the new law has the following conditions: “To qualify as ‘blighted,’ building in question would have to be ordered by the Building and Standards Commission. In an impoverished neighborhood, up to 90% of the property tax bill could be written off, according to the Chronicle article. In non-impoverished neighborhoods, it would be half the bill.”
Next, the Council waged a bitter fight over affordable housing. Jayme Fraser at the Houston Chronicle wrote on this topic at length this morning, specifically regarding Councilmember Brenda Stardig’s take on the matter. A non-profit known as The Women’s House wants to build family-centric affordable housing (read: Apartments) within Spring Branch, smack in the middle of Stardig’s constituency. Stardig, speaking on behalf of a concern from many of her constituents, is speaking in opposition to this project for fears of transient communities in the otherwise pleasant community.
As it turned out, the Council passed the tax credit to build the housing 12-5, with Stardig voting no. Joining her were Councilmembers Robert Gallegos, Michael Kubosh, Mike Laster and Oliver Pennington. As Fraser noted in her after-the-fact analysis of the vote in the Chronicle, Mayor Annise Parker thoroughly pushed this vote after the Women’s House agreed to give a quote of rooms at the apartment complex to “homeless women with children.” This was noted as “a key need in Parker’s efforts to end chronic homelessness by providing permanent supportive housing.” Stardig agreed to work with the group and cooperate going forward on project, adding “It’s a struggle between what’s in people’s hearts and the long term vision for the district.”
Last, but certainly not least, the City rewrote the “dog code,” the complex set of regulations governing animal control. I wrote about this at length yesterday, and it namely revolves around three main adjustments. First, it has become easier for the pound (BARC) to deem a dog aggressive. Second, large groups of dogs must be located somewhat far from other homes. But the most contentious provision of this ordinance is allowing BARC to take legal ownership of a dog after either 3 or 6 days, instead of today’s 30 day limit. This provision is specifically what drew the rebuke of Councilmember C.O. Bradford and caused him to vote against the ordinance, the only to do so. However, when he previously attempted to amend the bill to remove this part, Councilmember Jack Christie joined him.
“Since I’ve been on Council, voters appreciate the consistency that I try to demonstrate,” Bradford told me today after the vote. “I’m a firm believer in private property rights.” Specifically, Bradford believes it is wrong for the City to take the property (read: Dogs) of Houstonians in such a short amount of time.
“I think that’s fundamentally wrong,” Bradford said of the change, though he noted that everything else in the bill was good, adding “I think it was otherwise a great piece of work” and “I think the word that BARC did is wonderful work.”
I definitely understand the points Bradford make, and the law is probably on his side. In fact, Bradford expects a challenge to this provision of the ordinance, saying “I think the City will lose this in court.” That being said, he lost me a little when he compared a dog –a sentient being– to a towed car as simply property. Perhaps, as the Houston Press noted, this very special and unique property deserves a very special and unique law. That being said, there are valid arguments on both sides.