James Skrobarczyk and Dan Hogan hosted a follow-up town hall meeting for Flour Bluff residents on February 10, 2016, at the Ethel Eyerly Community Center. Residents had the opportunity to speak with District 4 Councilwoman Colleen McIntyre, Chad Magill Council Member At-Large, and Chief of Police Mike Markle about homelessness, PlanCC 2035, and criminal activity in the Flour Bluff area.
The meeting started with a brief explanation of what services are available through the community center but quickly turned to the recent events in the Turtle Cove subdivision. Some residents of that area expressed their concerns about what they perceived as retaliation from CCPD and Code Enforcement for requesting help with the criminal activity in and around their neighborhood. Some of the residents received notices about fences that are too high, house numbers that are too small, and other violations of city property ordinances. “Why did we need this show of force?” asked one resident at the meeting.
Commander Blackmon answered the question by saying, “Some code violations affect neighborhoods. High grass and junk vehicles will affect crime. When you have that, the pride’s not there. The other things – like the fences that are too high – those are things that we need to look at. If they were there when you moved in and are pre-existing conditions, we just need to look at them to be fair. These notices were not intended to be punitive. They are meant to be educational.”
A woman asked, “If it’s not a citation, then why does it say you have seven days to fix it, or it becomes a fine?”
Blackmon said, “It’s not going to a citation. It’s not getting filed in court. The ones that are quality of life issues – high grass or junk vehicles – we will be getting back to you. Don’t worry about the dates. And, I saw on the blogs about how ridiculous it is that house numbers have to be a certain size. I’ll be honest with you. When we re-wrote the property maintenance code last year, I actually put that in the new one. Let me tell you why. Being a police officer for 27 years, it’s very frustrating to look for an address when somebody calls 911. Somebody needs help, and it takes extra time to find that address. Oftentimes, we get out there, and we’re looking at the neighbors’ addresses to figure out where we need to be. Seconds are lives, and that is important. Again, these are not citations. We are just trying to educate you. Many of you didn’t know this rule.” According to Blackmon the correct size is 4 inches or larger.
James Skrobarczyk said, “I am hearing your apology, and on my behalf, I accept that apology. Just please don’t pick on the neighbors that are trying to make things better.”
“It’s not an apology. I’m trying to explain what happened and what our intent was. We are on board with you folks. Where we could have done better is notifying you before we went out there. The mission was to improve the aesthetics of your neighborhood,” replied Blackmon.
Later in the meeting, other Flour Bluff residents spoke about criminal activity in their neighborhoods. Some shared how they use Nextdoor.com and Neighborhood Watch to help combat problems themselves. Chief Markle said that a lot can be learned from Turtle Cove, that what they’re doing “should be the baseline” for what other neighborhoods can do. “When we do assessments in neighborhoods, like the one we did in Turtle Cove, you wouldn’t believe how many garage doors we see open in the middle of the night or boats loaded with fishing gear at 4:00 in the morning. You really have to go the extra mile to protect yourselves. I hate to say that, but you do. Take your valuables out of your cars and lock your doors. Most burglars are opportunists. If they see something, they’re going to take it. There’s something called CPTED (Crime Prevention through Environmental Design). You cut down shrubs around your house that provide good hiding places, have lighting in front and around your house so that people aren’t invisible at night. Those are the kinds of things you need to do. We provide crime prevention specialists to help you learn about ways to protect yourselves. We’re happy to do that. Just pick up the phone and call us. We will come back in a couple of months and do a follow up meeting to let you know what we’ve been doing. If you keep reaching out to us so that we can respond to your needs, perhaps we won’t have any more angst over some of the things we do as a police department.” Chief Markle apologized for the lack of communication.
District 4 Councilwoman Colleen McIntyre reviewed the new city panhandling ordinance that takes effect in March. She explained that panhandling is protected by freedom of speech, so a city-wide ban is not allowed. “In looking at some of the panhandling ordinances that have been shut down in cities that have done them, the city legal department looked very carefully at what could be done within the panhandling ordinance that would probably stand up to the challenges in court. No guarantees, but if there are challenges it will be dealt with in-house, at no additional cost and with possible issues that come forth on it.”
McIntyre outlined the following panhandling laws that are part of a city-wide ordinance:
- No panhandling within 25 feet of an ATM
- No panhandling on private property unless owner has given permission
- No aggressive panhandling
- No panhandling within 25 feet of an outdoor dining area
The councilwoman also listed what the Advisory Council on Homelessness, Mental Health, and Substance Abuse is considering or already implementing:
- Educating public to convince them to “Keep the Change” and donate their money to entities that serve the homeless, such as Timon’s, Salvation Army, and Metro Ministries
- Getting the word out to the community to give something other than cash (i.e. food vouchers, gift cards, healthy packaged foods, water, Gatorade)
- Possible day-labor program that matches homeless to day-labor jobs in lieu of giving them citations
- Possible Permanent Supportive Housing for the homeless
- Collection of data on homeless to better track and serve them, especially the homeless veterans
“The goal is to meet the needs of the homeless while preserving quality of life for the rest of us,” said McIntyre.
Councilman Chad Magill opened his talk with a few words recognizing McIntyre’s efforts in working on the homeless initiative. He then explained the make-up of the city council and the role of the at-large council members. “What I believe – and this is my own philosophy – is that an at-large council member does everything possible to make sure each district council member succeeds in their district,” Magill said.
Magill then launched into his talk on PlanCC 2035. “Every 30 years or so, we come up with what we call a comprehensive plan. What I want to give you is a common sense approach to what we as a city want to be when we grow up in the next twenty years,” said Magill. “Our city charter really determines who we are and what we do. In that charter, we have a section on comprehensive planning; it’s Article 5, Section 4. When we adopt a comprehensive plan, it becomes the rule of law, meaning it also affects and determines area development plans, including the Flour Bluff Development Plan – which, by the way, needs to be updated. It was adopted September 4, 1993. A comprehensive plan drives a message across the city, our region, and even our extraterritorial jurisdiction in how we grow, which follows the path downward toward area development plans.” Magill asked the audience to picture a pyramid with the comprehensive plan at the top and all other area plans falling below it.
Magill briefly described the 1955 and 1987 plans by giving examples in each. He said that the 1955 plan included a provision that addressed proper compaction of streets over utility cuts to prevent street deterioration. The 1987 plan called for the creation of bike lanes, support for the Port of Corpus Christi, help for growth of our military presence, and support for our public safety (i.e. fire, police, EMS, hurricane response). Magill said that these plans are what he refers to as “bricks and mortar” plans, which are engineering-driven and based on real-world scenarios.
“Plan CC 2035went through a long process, and I do want to respect the many people who worked on this plan. There’s a lot of good in that plan. I truly believe that,” said Magill. “There are lots of thoughts, dreams, and aspirations, as well, which – I believe – tie more to what you’d call a ‘vision plan’ rather than a ‘bricks and mortar plan’. PlanCC 2035, as complete as it may be, has no reference to supporting public safety, to supporting the military, to supporting our port. Just these three examples are enormously a part of who we are – as our heritage, as our culture, as our city. I certainly want those to continue from our existing plan that specifically states those three policies.”
Magill gave an example from the 1987 plan: “Maintain a harmonious relationship with the military and encourage growth of all military facilities.” He asked everyone if this is just as true today as it was 30 years ago. Nods and responses of affirmation from the audience followed. “That is really where you want your policies. You want them to be something that is rounded, something that gives you a shape or a direction that shows you where to lead your area development plans and your utilities service plans.” He gave the real-world example of running water to the base and explained that this action would be in keeping with the comprehensive plan and even shapes future conversations about supporting military growth. “If it’s not in there, it’s left to be desired. 2035 is not bad, just incomplete.”
Magill said that contrary to what some people are saying, he did not re-write PlanCC 2035. “The reality is I wanted to give clear direction to the planning commission and give them something to work from.” He said that PlanCC 2036 brings together what he deems is good about the current plan and PlanCC 2035. When Jeff Rank, local attorney and contributor to PlanCC 2035 raised concerns about the time and money spent on the plan being wasted if the plan is thrown out, Magill said that he voted to start the process, but he couldn’t vote for the final plan as it was proposed. Magill encouraged audience members to go to his website, chadmagill.com, and read the plans, including 2036, so that they could learn what his thought processes were in submitting the plan. All other comprehensive plans can be viewed there, as well.
Rank said, “I am glad to hear that PlanCC 2036 is not intended to replace 2035 but to correct perceived problems in it.”
Other questions and comments from the audience revolved around traffic issues, the harbor bridge, city debt, zero-based budgeting, EPA fines, and utility bills.