CC Planning Commission Meets on Plan CC

Corpus Christi, Front Page

Plan cc

     “Is it still 2035?” asked Judy Telge of Bay Area Smart Growth Initiative at the special Planning Commission meeting held August 3, 2016, at City Hall.

     “It’s simply going to be called Plan CC,” said Philip Ramirez, Chairman of the Corpus Christi Planning Commission.  “Through our work we’ve sought to try to incorporate comments so that it is no longer this or that.  It is something unique and taking the best of both worlds and labeling Plan CC.  It’s a 20-year comprehensive plan, but it may get modified through time.”

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Philip Ramirez

     The purpose of this item at the special meeting was to review and discuss the Planning Commission Subcommittee’s recommended changes to the July 2015 draft of Plan CC. According to the meeting’s supporting documents, “The Subcommittee’s suggested changes incorporate City Council members’ comments and other comments made about Plan CC since the Planning Commission’s last review of the plan. The Planning Commission will formulate a recommendation on Plan CC after considering these comments.”

     After much discussion among the 6 present commissioners, public comment was allowed.  Andy Taubman, a citizen who voiced his concerns with the original document at the May 18 public hearing had this to say:  “I want to comment on Plan CC and thank you all very sincerely for your leadership and for your subcommittee leadership.  I think it’s come a long way and really reflects a meeting of interests from a lot of parties.  I really appreciate that.  I found the last discussion with Commissioner Hovda to be totally fascinating because it is a microcosm of what this is and isn’t.  Does it represent what we’re already doing and doing more of?  Does it try to rule things in or out?  Do you read the language and really know what it means now?  There were comments as to whether it micro-manages or macro-manages.  Does it bring a process forward or not?  I think a lot of our issues have been addressed.”

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Andy Taubman

     According to the background information provided to the Commission by Development Services, “On August 12, 2015, the City Planning Commission held a public hearing on the July 2015 draft of Plan CC. After reviewing the plan and public comments over the course of three meetings, the Planning Commission finalized its recommendations on Plan CC, which included several edits to the content of the plan. The Planning Commission’s recommendation was forwarded to the City Council.
“On October 13, 2015, the City Council held a public hearing on Plan CC, listened to public comment, and reviewed the Planning Commission’s recommendations. The City Council did not approve the Planning Commission’s recommendations and decided to give each council member the opportunity to submit written comments that would be forwarded to the Planning Commission for consideration. The City Council directed the Planning Commission to reconsider Plan CC in light of their comments.  Since the City Council’s review of Plan CC in the Fall of 2015, Staff has also provided suggested revisions to Plan CC based on stakeholder input, which are included in the draft plan for discussion.
“On May 18, 2016, the Planning Commission conducted another public hearing on Plan CC and, after the public hearing was closed, the Planning Commission began to discuss the comments. The Planning Commission continued the item to their June 1st regular meeting. No additional public hearings on Plan CC will be held before the Planning Commission. Following the May 18th public hearing, the Planning Commission voted to create a subcommittee to review Plan CC in light of the City Council members’ comments.”

Flow Chart
Comprehensive Plan Flow Chart

     Ramirez explained, “The intent of this document – should it be approved by Council  in some form or fashion as it moves forward – is to set forth through these elements goals and strategies.  The implementation part is going to be through the area development plans.”  Making reference to the flow chart in the document, Ramirez explained that Plan CC builds upon itself and becomes more complex and detailed as action items are formed.  He indicated that strategies that reflect future trends may need to be added to align the actions with the goals outlined in Plan CC.

Note:  Follow this link to read  the changes made by the Planning Commission.

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Cliff Zarbock, “Mr. Real Estate”, Receives Spotlight Award from FBBA

Business, Flour Bluff, Front Page

FBBA

Spotlight Business of the Month

     Cliff Zarbock, local realtor, received the Spotlight Business of the Month Award at the Flour Bluff Business Association regular monthly meeting on June 8, 2016.  As is posted on the FBBA website, “Cliff was born and raised here in Corpus Christi and graduated from Flour Bluff High School. Before getting into Real Estate, Cliff was a school teacher at a local private school. He jumped into Real Estate in 2011 and quickly became ranked in the TOP 5 PERCENT of all the local agents. On average Cliff currently sells 45 homes every year totaling over $6 Million in sales volume. He represents the seller on an average of 50% of those sales making him an expert at representing both sides of the transaction. Whether you’re wanting to buy or sell, Cliff has the experience you’re looking for.  He and his wife Ashley are currently raising 3 children, Zach(16), Ava(3) and Easton(2) with another on the way.”

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     “I am happy to announce that I have moved my office into Flour Bluff at 10001 SPID.  The new name of it is Flour Bluff Realty.  It is a brokerage dedicated for Flour Bluff. If you have questions about Real Estate or need free advice, just come let me know.  I am excited to be part of the association, and I appreciate the board for acknowledging my presence with the Spotlight.  It’s kind of a pinnacle for me.  Growing up in the Bluff, I really have a fond passion for the area.  I feel like we are the heartbeat of the Bluff, and for me to be a part of that feels like I really made it to the top here,” said Zarbock upon receiving the award.

New Members

Six local businesses were accepted into the association this month.  Five are regular members, and one is an associate member.  They are as follows:

  • Awesome Apartments, Andy Taubman
  • Bookkeeping Plus, Crista Walton
  • Coastal Area Properties, James Skrobarczyk
  • Children’s Center, Monica Salazar
  • Sports Fitness Solutions, Jeff Paluseo
  • Better Weight Center, Dr. Lloyd Stegeman (Associate Member)

Contact information for all of the businesses can be found on the FBBA website.  (Click here.)

Other Business

  • Charlie Zahn, Chairman of the Port of Corpus Christi will address the FBBA at the July 13, 2016, regular meeting.
  • The FBBA by-laws have been updated and standardized.  Members are encouraged to read them at the FBBA website and submit comments to the board.  These will be voted on at the July 5, 2016, board meeting.  (Click here to read the by-laws.)
  • Jeff Craft was commended for his work on the Flour Bluff MessengerSusan Lawson gave an update on Parker Pool .  The opening is delayed due to ADA compliance issues.  $2000 is needed for the upgrade.
  • Dr. Lloyd Stegeman was recognized as a District 4 candidate for City Council
  • On May 12, 2016, Oso Mini Storage hosted a mixer for their grand opening.  Melanie Hambrick encouraged other new businesses that are hosting mixers to contact the FBBA so that all could attend.
  • As part of Beautifying the Bluff, four new trash cans have been installed by the City of Corpus Christi at Mud Bridge.  Melanie Hambrick thanked those who had a hand in the acquisition of the trash cans, including Councilwoman Coleen McIntyre.
  • Information was shared about the invasive plant, the Brazilian pepper tree.  It is changing the natural environment and creating a huge problem for property owners.  Various groups are working at eradicating the plant. For tips on doing this yourself, please click here.
  • The next general meeting will be held at Funtrackers on July 13, 2016, at noon.

 

Read more about this meeting at: FBBA Receives Funds from Chesney, Pusley, and Neal

Representative Todd Hunter Address FBBA

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Takin’ It to the Streets: Airing the Dirty Laundry

Corpus Christi, Front Page, Opinion/Editorial

     Taking care of residential streets is a lot like doing laundry.  It is one of those thankless, never-ending chores.  People only notice if somebody fails to do it or fails to do it correctly.  Just as careless loading of the washer can dye underwear pink and evoke disappointment and even anger in the owner of the clothing, a pothole or a  dip in the road can spill coffee in a driver’s lap or damage the front end of his car, evoking the same disappointment and anger.

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        Seven months ago, the nine members of the Ad Hoc Residential Infrastructure Advisory Committee volunteered to tackle the 150-year-old problem of streets in Corpus Christi and came to the realization that “fixing” the streets could not happen with one trip to the Laundromat, even if they had a pocketful of quarters.  The committee discovered that lack of enough money to fix the streets is just one of many problems facing the City, all of which the committee outlines in a 41-page final report along with the committee’s recommendations for solving the problems.  (Read the full report here.)

     Some of the problems listed in the report:

  • The City has a 150-year history of bad roads resulting from outdated materials, methods, and designs; a harsh environment; poor road base, drainage, and utility facilities; and periods of under-spending in maintenance and reconstruction.
  • There is not enough money to re-build all residential streets in their entirety.
  • Only about 32% of every dollar spent on streets goes to fixing the surface of the street; other costs:  ADA – 5%, curb/gutter – 30%, utilities – 33%.
  • The City does not have a reliable method for determining the cost to build a mile of streets because currently it only keeps track of invoices presented by contractors, which does not indicate a particular cost for a particular volume of work.
  • The City primarily uses the IDIQ (Indefinite Delivery Indefinite Quantity), which gives access to qualified contractors but impairs the City’s ability to hire a substitute contractor in the event that the awarded contractor does not produce a quality product efficiently.  Smaller contractors cannot afford to bid smaller projects with the City because of the City’s slow method of payment.
  • The City spends tens of millions of dollars each year in payment to contractors.  Currently, the Engineering Department handles this process, “which includes people who have professional ties with the entities that work on or have a history of being on both sides of the table.  In addition, these same people often serve as the authority within the City with respect to pursuit of contract claims or enforcement,” giving the appearance of a conflict of interest.
  • The City is using outdated methods of record keeping, materials management, and labor management.  For example, street inspections and materials/labor tallies are recorded in the field on paper and submitted manually, and contracts are still manually circulated for signatures.
  • The City currently uses the Engineering department to manage projects and perform jobs that construction managers could easily handle.  The committee contends that engineers do not always make the best project managers.
  • Due to lack of City crews and under-compensation, a great deal of turnover exists, which ultimately leads to project delays which results in more dollars spent on a particular job.
  • Data reveals that seal coats and overlays have not necessarily preserved the life of the streets.
  • No real cycle for maintenance and reconstruction of existing residential streets is in place.
  • Not all developers are expected to adhere to street construction standards because of “grandfathering”, so substandard streets are still being built.
  • Arterial and collector streets, the roads most traveled, are in great need of repair, too.
  • Standing water due to ineffective storm water drainage significantly degrades the streets.
  • The SPMP, now in year 2, is well behind schedule in its current efforts to do seal coats and overlays.

     As the report points out, it took years of physical and fiscal neglect to generate the piles upon piles of dirty laundry, and it will take years to get the old loads finished while simultaneously handling the new loads being generated each day.  As the mom faced with weeks of dirty clothes brought home by a college student, the City must simply get started and work at the problem of streets one load at a time.  The job is easier, faster, and more efficient if the City will go about the chore methodically using the best machines and detergents affordable, as is outlined in the report.  The nine-member, highly-skilled committee spent over seven months collecting all the pertinent data, researching best practices, digging into possible funding solutions, and developing a program that will work if the City will just implement what is recommended.  Waiting any longer to start the process will only make the already stinky job smell worse and the cost to the taxpayer even more expensive.

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Takin’ It to the Streets: Show Me the Money!

Corpus Christi, Front Page

Chad Magill portrait

     This morning on KKTX radio show, “Lago in the Morning,”  Councilman Chad Magill discussed possible funding sources for the reconstruction and maintenance of residential streets.  He listed seven:

  1. General fund ($1 million)
  2. Industrial District fund ($550,000)
  3. Charter Amendment ($3.4 million)
  4. RTA contribution ($1.5 million)
  5. Type B funds ($3.4 million)
  6. Zero-Based Budgeting (undetermined amount)
  7. Gas tax (if possible)

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This is in keeping with the findings of the Corpus Christi Ad Hoc Residential Street Infrastructure Advisory Committee, chaired by Andy Taubman.  The following is directly from the report completed and published on May 23, 2016:

     Although financing and determining sources of new funds for street improvements was not a primary task of the Committee, it is worth sharing Committee thoughts on program financing, as well as outlining numerous potential sources of funds under discussion for proposed new residential street programs.

Monitor Activity, Spending and Outcomes from New Residential Street Funding:  We recommend the City regularly report and publish a clear accounting of how and where individual program dollars are spent and to be transparent if program funds are increased, decreased, or reallocated. Both the Residential TAR Program and the Residential Street Rebuild (Rework & Reconstruction) Program described in this report are designed as new programs with new funding in order to assure independent tracking and reporting on the activity, spending and outcomes derived from these new dollars.

Static Funding:  The Committee recognizes that static funding of programs over time may result in underfunding and/or understaffing program activity. A case in point is funding for City street operations has been flat for over a decade despite growth in the street network and the increased cost of inflation. It is important that program funding be increased annually at least at the general rate of inflation. As the City improves its ability to understand its standard cost structure, we expect the City will be in a better position to better determine growth demands and inflationary impact on actual program spending and then budget accordingly.

RTA Funding of City Street Aspects: Our survey of other Texas cities showed a number of cities receive  funding from their Transportation Authorities for both street maintenance and street reconstruction, expanding their traditional investment in bus stops and surrounding street elements, as well as for offsetting the wear and tear of city buses on the street network. The Committee Chair had preliminary meetings with the RTA regarding their funding of street improvements. In general, these discussions centered on RTA funding of about $1.5 million per year. Work still needs to be done to define the elements of street projects which support the RTA in their core mission of network transportation. We believe that bicycle mobility and American Disability Act accommodations are elements of street projects that are consistent with the RTA’s core mission to serve economically disadvantaged and disabled citizens. Additionally, the journey to and from residential homes to a bus stop is an important part of end-to-end service and leverages RTA’s substantial investment in bike and ADA accommodations.

The funding under consideration would be in addition to existing contributions to street programs by the RTA and not a reallocation of existing funding. It is expected that to the extent possible, we will work together to qualify this additional funding for direct or indirect Federal funding. Any actual arrangement between the RTA and the City must ultimately be determined and agreed to by the respective oversight  authorities.

Budget Savings and/or Reallocation of Existing Dollars. As part of the City’s zero based budgeting initiative, any re-prioritization of existing dollars, as well as any identified budget savings, should be considered in developing new funding for proposed residential street programs.


Dedicated General Fund and Industrial District Revenue. The Council’s Financial Budgetary Policies Resolution #029848 provides policy direction to the City Manager on the preparation of annual budgets. Included in this resolution are the defined General Fund and Industrial District Revenue contributions to residential street capital improvements. The resolution was discussed at length in the most recent  Council Retreat where the Council talked about reviewing these specific policies regularly for appropriate future funding levels, as well as for inflation and growth impacts.
• For 3 years beginning in 2015, transfer $1million each year from the uncommitted fund balance of the General Fund to the Residential Street Capital Fund.
• Beginning in 2016, transfer 5% of the Industrial District Revenue to the Residential Street Capital Funding.

We recommend that the Council direct the City Manager to explore all possible funding sources for residential street programs and prepare a recommendation for Council consideration.

• In 2021, transfer 1/3 of one percent of the General Fund revenue less grants and industrial district revenue to the Residential Street Capital Funding
• In 2022, transfer 2/3 of one percent of the General Fund revenue less grants and industrial district revenue to the Residential Street Capital Funding
• In 2023, transfer one percent of the General Fund revenue less grants and industrial district revenue to the Residential Street Capital Funding


Repurpose Whataburger Field Debt Service Funds. The 1/8 cent dedicated sales tax known as Type A  funds approved by voters in 2002 is coming back to voters this November. Type A funds are allowed to be used primarily for economic development, affordable housing and some special event facility debt. In our case, the $2.5 million in annual debt service for Whataburger Field is funded by a portion of our  current Type A dollars. The Whataburger Field debt is paid off September 2017, freeing up  approximately $2.5 million a year in 2018 for another purpose.
Council is currently considering November ballot language changing from a Type A program to either a Type B program which allows spending dollars on arterial reconstruction or to a General Revenue program which allows the dollars to be spent on any street reconstruction, including directly on residential streets. If Type B is chosen, some future arterial reconstruction bond programs could be replaced with residential reconstruction bond programs.
Both options allow continued funding of economic development and affordable housing initiatives. Council is also considering a different allocation of these dedicated sales tax dollars to increase the money available for street improvements from $2.5 million to approximately $3.5 million annually.


Charter Revision for Additional Dedicated Operations and Maintenance Property Tax Revenue:  The current Charter Revision Committee is set to bring recommended charter changes to the City Council for potential consideration by voters in November. One measure under discussion would allow future City Councils to raise property tax rates under certain constraints for dedicated spending on street  improvements.


Dedicated Spending from Revenue Growth: Tax revenue generated by new growth each year in the City should be isolated and reported, with some portion of that revenue increase considered for dedicated spending on residential street improvements.


Ad Valorem Tax Increase. Currently one additional cent on the property tax rate generates about an additional $1.7 million per year which the Council could appropriate for any municipal purpose,  including street improvements.

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Takin’ It to the Streets: Mystery Solved

Corpus Christi, Front Page, Opinion/Editorial

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     When people attempt to solve a problem, they are either dealing with a puzzle or a mystery, two forms of deception.  Puzzles have a single answer; once that answer is apparent, the puzzle is solve.  Puzzles exist when there is not enough information.  Mysteries, on the other hand, have an abundance of information.  A mystery requires a skilled sleuth to collect the facts, sift through the plethora of data, make observations, question the relevant players, and arrive at a solution to the problem.
     Malcolm Gladwell, writer and journalist, said, “If things go wrong with a puzzle, identifying the culprit is easy: it’s the person who withheld information. Mysteries, though, are a lot murkier: sometimes the information we’ve been given is inadequate, and sometimes we aren’t very smart about making sense of what we’ve been given, and sometimes the question itself cannot be answered. Puzzles come to satisfying conclusions. Mysteries often don’t. Enter Andy Taubman and his team of street detectives, aka the Corpus Christi Ad Hoc Residential Street Infrastructure Advisory Committee.
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Committee
     The Corpus Christi City Council empaneled the nine-member group to gather the facts and make recommendations to get the most out of every dollar spent on residential streets and to suggest the best way to go about fixing the problem.  This team of dedicated citizens spent over seven months digging into every aspect of street construction in Corpus Christi, including poring over the limited historical data, examining the current methods for tackling the streets, talking with contractors and analyzing current contracting methods used by the City, working with City Staff to collect information, exploring potential financing solutions, seeking alternative methods of street construction, and actually driving the streets of the city to identify the real problems. Then, they generated a 41-page document of these findings, which will be presented to the City Council in June.  They even included a really handy section devoted to defining the “street language” in the document.  The report focuses on 7 areas:
  1. Identification of the current residential street problem;
  2. Observation of what is good and bad about the current residential street reconstruction process;
  3. Creation of the TAR (The Targeted Area Reclamation), a proactive, intensive maintenance cycle applied throughout the City to extend the functional life of streets until reconstruction can occur through the Residential Street Rebuild (Rework & Reconstruction);
  4. Prioritization of street rebuilding according to a process that considers road condition, safety, maintenance history, proximity to schools, population density, utility coordination, transportation coordination, and road network connectivity;
  5. Explanation of funding scenarios of $10 million, $14 million, $15 million, $17 million, and $20 million per year;
  6. Identification of possible funding sources for the proposed new residential street programs, including RTA Funding of City Street Aspects,  Budget Savings and/or Reallocation of Existing Dollars, Dedicated General Fund and Industrial District Revenue, Re-purposed Whataburger Field Debt Service Funds, Charter Revision for Additional Dedicated Operations and Maintenance Property Tax Revenue, Dedicated Spending from Revenue Growth, and Ad Valorem Tax Increase.
    
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     There will, no doubt, be questions about the findings, as there most certainly should be.  It’s part of the process.  However, the best part about this whole story is that the nine “detectives” will have answers, answers founded in good information.  The report they have generated leaves nothing to guesswork, so the council members will certainly be able to solve the mystery about what to do with our residential streets, something that has never been done and that many thought was not even possible.  Hats off to this dedicated and hard-working group of skilled citizens! They have been good and faithful servants of the people.

 

 

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Is PlanCC 2035 the WISE Decision for Corpus Christi?

Corpus Christi, Front Page, Government and Politics, Opinion/Editorial

City Hall

     The marathon Council meeting on March 22, 2016, may have driven some to drink, but it drove me to think.  Of late, I have spent countless hours listening to people at City Council meetings, City Council retreats, school board meetings, Planning Commission meetings, Street Commission meetings, and town hall meetings.  Add that to conversations I’ve had with public servants, volunteers, community activists, business people, media personalities, school teachers, neighbors, Bible study groups, and the average citizen in the line at the grocery store.  Their words reside in my brain, like the family photographs I’ve placed in separate boxes and stuck on shelves here and there in the storeroom.  Only by opening the boxes and looking at the photographs could a stranger discover the common thread that ties one to the other, the thread of the subjects in the pictures.  Through careful and complete unpacking of the word boxes filled with the needs of the people, I discovered the common thread that connects them is actually twine (defined by Webster as “a strong string of two or more strands twisted together”).  The four strands that make up the twine are as follows:

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  • Water (i.e. reliable clean water source, reliable waste and storm water systems)
  • Infrastructure (i.e. streets, bridges)
  • Safety (i.e. police, fire, hurricane and emergency preparedness)
  • Economic Development  (i.e. education, training, jobs, transportation, communication)

     If one looks closely, it becomes apparent that each strand is connected to the other three.  For example, if my house catches fire, I use my telephone service provider (Economic Development) to dial 911.  The operator contacts the fire department (Safety) who dispatches trained firefighters who drive the streets (Infrastructure) to get to my house where they connect a hose to a nearby fire hydrant (Water) to douse the flames and hopefully spare my family loss of life and property.  If the council members adopt a comprehensive plan that makes WISE use of tax dollars to ensure these four strands are in place and well-maintained, then my family stands a better chance of moving on with our lives after the smoke has cleared.  Fortunately, we the people of Corpus Christi already have such a plan in place, the 1987 Comprehensive Plan, a plan that meets the legal requirements of the City Charter (Article V. Sec. 4) and gives clear direction to City staff so that they can make WISE decisions.  Two very WISE gentlemen, Councilman Chad Magill and local businessman, Andy Taubman, have been saying this for some time.  One might ask why they are saying anything at all if we have a workable plan in place.  The answer lies in a document entitled PlanCC 2035, a plan that could become the law of the land unless people educate themselves and speak out against it.

Comprehensive plan 1987
1987 Comprehensive Plan

     On February 11, 2015, the City hired Goody Clancy & Associates of Boston, Massachusetts, to serve as the lead consulting firm for PlanCC 2035.  The firm held public meetings where they engaged residents, neighborhood and business leaders, community advocates, and stakeholders in the creation of the plan, collected $957,487,  but evidently failed to check the City Charter to see if they were on the right legal track.  Maybe the tax payers should ask Goody Clancy to repair the plan or refund our money if the plan cannot be brought up to local standards.  It’s what we do when we spend hard-earned money at an eatery, and they mess up the order.  “It started out as a viable plan until it morphed into something I can no longer support,” said Bart Braselton, a local developer who worked on the plan and offered his opinion before the city council last year when the document was presented to council.

     Ralph Coker, a retired petroleum refinery plant manager who writes on business, economic, military and political topics for the Caller-Times, describes it as “a detailed plan for the next 20 years that cannot work.”  Chad Magill sees many problems with the plan and has offered his comments in the form of an alternative plan entitled PlanCC 2036.  Magill highlights some differences in the two plans on his website:

plancc2036Councilman_MagillwSig200

“Plan CC 2036 takes the best of the existing Comprehensive Plan (a bricks and mortar type of plan) and the best of the Plan CC 2035 (a vision-based type of plan) and marries them into Plan CC 2036. Many ideas in Plan CC 2035 become a Vision Document (Ambitions & Aspirations) that may be used as guiding principles for city staff to use in their future budget recommendations.  Plan CC 2036 becomes the Comprehensive Plan that with support by City Council, becomes the Rule of Law. It is important to make very clear that ‘Imprecise language leads to unintended consequences.’ Precise language in the Comprehensive Plan is extremely important. For example, Plan CC 2035 includes absolutely no mention of Public Safety. Even the 1987 Comprehensive Plan included Police, Fire, Public Safety, and other critical public services.”

Taubman PlanCC 2035
Andy Taubman addressing Tea Party on PlanCC 2035

    Andy Taubman outlined the problems he sees with PlanCC 2035 at a Tea Party meeting on March 22, 2016.  He began with what he calls flawed wording.  In a document he presented to those in attendance, Taubman states:

“According to the City Charter, Article V, Section 5, ‘All city improvements, ordinances and regulations, shall be consistent with the comprehensive plan.’  Future City councils will be guided by it; City staff will be bound by it; and the citizens will make choices in reliance upon it.  Because this document will become law, every word must be considered, and each word has the awesome potential to shape the future of our City.  For example, the word ‘support’ is used throughout the document.  I take this to mean that this could include financial support – thus creating numerous unfunded mandates.  The word is so imprecise, one cannot determine the meaning.  Imprecise words create bad law.  Bad laws will be misused or misapplied.”

     Taubman then addressed “Private Property Issues” and the impact of PlanCC 2035 as it is written.  For example, on page 13, under Goal 2, it states: “Wetland areas are protected or effectively replaced so that there is no net loss of wetlands.”  The private property concern that Taubman sees with this goal is that it “seems to authorize the City power to identify wetlands on private property to halt development or otherwise require expensive mitigation.”  Following are a few of the many issues Taubman addresses, along with his analysis of each (Click Andy Taubman PlanCC2035 Analysis July version with markup-1 for full document):

  • “Support initiatives for preservation of bird rookeries and similar critical habitat sites.” (p. 13, Policy 3)  Private Property Concern:  Seems to authorize the City power to identify bird rookeries or other wildlife on private property to halt development or otherwise require expensive mitigation.
  • “Support initiatives to improve water quality so that shellfish beds are open and can thrive.”  (p. 13, Policy 1)  Anti-industrial Regulation Concern:  Increased water quality standards will burden the port, port industries, and shipping.  It will also probably bring increased scrutiny to run-off which affects farming and other heavy industry that produces or deals with chemicals of any sort.  Also, numerous municipalities and industries impact water quality.  Will the City have to become the supreme regulatory authority over the bay?
  • “Develop a plan for facilities and programs so that every resident has the opportunity to learn how to swim.”  (p. 14, Policy 9)  Unfunded City Government Mandate:  This is the domain of scouting organizations, YMCA, and numerous other private organizations.  This is not the appropriate role of government.
  • “…reduce single-occupancy vehicle use…”  (p. 27, Policy 4)  Unfunded City Government Mandate:  Unnecessary government regulation.  Most likely achieved by making car use more expensive.
  • “Support programs to manage the balance of fresh and salt water in the estuary.”  (p. 13, Policy 1)  Anti-industrial Regulation ConcernProbably would eliminate or substantially burden the possibility of a desalination plant.  The effect of a plant is to increase salinity in a localized area.
  • “Seek provision of high-speed Internet and telecommunications access to all residents and businesses.”  (p. 30, Policy 8)  Unfunded City Government Mandate: This is generally envisioned as being provided by the City.  Anti-competitive with existing communications providers.  Very, very expensive infrastructure required.
  • “Support a greenhouse-gas audit and use of renewable energy sources.”  (p. 17, Policy 3)  Anti-industrial Regulation Concern: First you measure; then you regulate.  Targets natural resource extraction, refining, manufacturing, transportation.  Will lead to high-cost choices for government programs to make government green.

     Taubman said, “To say it’s the role of City government to herd us into those development opportunities is wrong.  Not only is it wrong in choices for freedom and what it means for property rights, but it’s a choice which will lead us into bankruptcy.”

Planning Commission
Corpus Christi Planning Commission

 

     On March 23, 2016, Annika Yankee, the PlanCC 2035 Project Manager, gave input to the Planning Commission on the process to review and incorporate City Council members’ comments into the proposed plan.  Yankee explained, “We will present all the comments in a matrix by element and chapter.”  She also said, “We heard it was a lot of to read and that it would help if staff summarized those comments.  We plan to show the actual edit in PlanCC 2035 that results from the comment.”  She assured the committee members that they would receive the document two weeks in advance of the hearing which will be held on April 20, 2016, at 5:30 p.m., in Council Chambers.

     Hopefully, those who are reading this will take the time to review the current plan, PlanCC 2035, and PlanCC 2036 in order to see the major differences.  Then, mark your calendar and weigh-in at the April  20th meeting.  The plan must be a WISE one, complete with all the strands, or it should be rejected.  It’s just that simple.

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Takin’ It to the Streets: Committee Examines How PCI Affects Street Repair

Corpus Christi, Flour Bluff, Front Page

     What is PCI (Pavement Condition Index), and how does this number decide if your street is in need of repair or reconstruction?  According to information on the City of Corpus Christi website,  “Streets are inspected and assessed using a Micro–PAVER Pavement Management System. Twenty pavement distresses (their type, severity, and quantity) are used to determine a Pavement Condition Index (PCI) for each section of a street. The PCI is like a grade, 0 to 100, 100 being the best. The PCI is used as a planning tool for street work. Streets with a PCI in the range of 0 to 55 are considered Poor and are candidates for reconstruction. Streets with a PCI in the range of 56 to 100 are considered to be in Fair to Good condition and are candidates for Preventative Maintenance.”  The map below indicates PCI of all city streets.  Red indicates a rating of 0-10, orange 11-39, yellow 40-54, and green 55-100.  (For a closer look at a specific street, click on this  link to access an interactive map.)

PCI Map

     This same site has a written explanation of the criteria used to determine overall street condition: pavement condition (PCI), curb and gutter, drainage, ADA (American Disability Act) requirements, and underground utilities.  It also states, “The SPMP is for applying preventative maintenance to streets that are still in Good condition. It is not designed to fund reconstruction of those streets that are in POOR condition.  Streets with a PCI in the range of 56 to 100 are considered to be in Fair to Good condition and are candidates for preventative maintenance, which includes seal coats or overlays.” Seal Coating adds a wear surface that lasts up to 7 years, while overlays can last up to 10 years.  A street with a PCI of 17, such as the one depicted in the photos below, is obviously in need of something more drastic than a seal coat or overlay.  Unfortunately, that requires a completely different kind of repair, such as full reconstruction, which is typically funded by a bond.

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South end of Sentinel Drive in Flour Bluff
North end of Sentinel Drive in Flour Bluff
North end of Sentinel Drive in Flour Bluff

     Two of the ad hoc street committee members, Andy Taubman and Kyle Pape, took a drive around town to get a real look at the residential streets.  What they found was rather revealing.  For example, they discovered that PCI varied greatly even for similarly situated streets.  Hosea, Joel, and Amos were built in 2007 and have basically the same kind of traffic, yet their PCI ratings vary greatly, especially Joel’s.  They also found that streets classified as “failing” are actually stable, such as Vista Ridge Drive in the Calallen area, and may deserve a higher rating.  Furthermore, though some streets have lots of alligator cracks and a PCI of 1, as is the case with Dodd, the ride itself is not bad.  The road is just ugly.

Poor Joel

PCI Dodd

     Some roads Taubman and Pape found to be dangerous.  These streets had more than just potholes.  Some, such as Yorktown Boulevard at Rodd Field and Hearn Road looking east at Callicoatte Road, have a bad case of “right lane sag” which creates a sensation in the driver of running off the road because the car pulls to the right.  Other roads have jarring dips, as on Orlando Street.  This condition has the potential to damage a car, which can cause anxiety in drivers.  Other streets have holes or washed out areas at the turn edge.  The northeast corner of McClendon at Staples has just such a problem, which could also cause damage to vehicles.  Still other roads are simply too narrow for two vehicles and oftentimes are without shoulders.  At night, this kind of road (i.e. Don Patricio in Flour Bluff) gives the driver the feeling that oncoming vehicles are approaching them head on.  These kinds of conditions do not figure into the PCI, but they do figure into what some might call the OSI (Oh, S#*@! Index).

PCI Jarring Dip
Jarring Dip
PCI Narrow Road
Narrow Road
PCI Turn Edge Damage
Turn Edge Damage
PCI Right Lane Sag
Right Lane Sag

     After examining the PCI data provided by city staff and then actually cruising the streets of Corpus Christi, Taubman and Pape put together a presentation for the Street Committee that outlined their findings.  First, streets with a PCI of 0 to 10 do not necessarily drive worse than streets with a PCI less than 55.  Second, actual ride quality is mostly independent of PCI and does not take into consideration dangerous situations.  Third, some seal-coat roads that have a high PCI may actually produce a poor ride.  Fourth, citizens don’t care as much about alligator cracking as they do hazardous driving conditions.  Last, maybe the City should consider that PCI is not the best management objective and consider devising a better plan for prioritizing the streets slated for maintenance – with safety concerns topping the list.  By doing so, they can spend the allotted street maintenance funds more efficiently and actually address streets that the citizens know are in dire need of repair.

     The Street Committee also reviewed if the City was getting its moneys-worth from the seal coat and overlay programs.  The City does these treatments to preserve the life of streets that are in good condition and uses the street fee added to everyone’s water bill to do them.  The review consisted of looking at the road quality to see if the treatments had protected the roads as expected over time.  What the Committee found is that it appeared that seal coats were not as effective as planned.  Overlays did not have enough history to provide definitive results, but the small data set did not inspire confidence of maintained quality either.  The City cites many reasons why this occurred and hopes to improve the process going forward.  The Committee recommends that this analysis continue to see if the situation improves or stays the same.

PCI Overlay Cohort

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Chicago, 1855: Digging Down to Reach New Heights

Corpus Christi, Education, Flour Bluff, Front Page, Government and Politics, National Scene, Opinion/Editorial, Travel

The stories of Corpus Christi battling its streets problems reminds me of another story…

Chicago River Clark Street Bascule Bridge
Chicago River Clark Street Bascule Bridge

     A man who was passing through Chicago discovered another man buried to his neck in mud. “Sir, it appears you have a problem. You must need some help,” the passerby said.“No, thank you, I’ll be all right. I have a fine horse beneath me,” the man in the mud replied.

    People have proven many times over that while under the influence of necessity and behind the power of many, a whole can be greater than the sum of its parts. As the old adage goes, “Together, we can move mountains.”  A brief look to history shows us how Chicagoans demonstrated the truth of this idea during the mid-19th century. Only they weren’t moving mountains; they were moving the entire city!

     At the time, Chicago was young – a mere 20 years – and it had a severe drainage problem. Streets became impassable in wet weather. Chicago is situated along the southwestern edge of Lake Michigan – a body of water the size of a small ocean.  The elevation at the time was essentially no different than that of sea-level. Besides being an annoying living condition, health and sanitation issues quickly became a major concern. The people needed an answer if they hoped to see their city grow and reach a point in which it could eventually become home to nearly 3 million people and one of the tallest skyscrapers the world has ever seen.

    After several failed attempts to plank over the streets and redirect standing water into the river, the Chicago Common Council (i.e. City Council), behind the plans of E.S. Chesbrough, determined that the only hope was to manually elevate the city (anywhere from 4-14 feet, location pending) and install the country’s first comprehensive storm-sewage system to solve the drainage quagmire and ensure the city would not become a permanent cesspool and breeding ground for cholera.

     A solution of such extreme measures, however, stimulated a greater and far more interesting obstacle: How in the world would they lift a city full of large buildings, homes, hotels, and not to mention – people – 14 feet in the air?  Enter George Pullman. Pullman developed a method employing hundreds of men turning thousands of jack screws beneath building foundations. Over the course of two decades, they jacked buildings up like cars (many with people still inside them) so that new foundations could be successfully poured beneath them, leaving both the city and its structures permanently elevated. Smaller homes and businesses were placed on rolling devices and wheeled to new locations. The streets were then leveled up to new heights to meet the level of front doors. New sewage drains were installed and designed to run from the streets down to the river and lake in an amazing effort which lifted Chicago from a wasteland of sludge.

     A report by the Chicago Press & Tribune in the March of 1860 issue:

“The entire front of first-class buildings on the north side of Lake Street between La Salle and Clark streets is now rising to grade at the rate of about twelve inches per day. It will be at its full height by tomorrow night, when it will constitute a spectacle not many of our citizens may see again, if ever, a business block covering nearly one acre, and weighing over twenty-five thousand tons resting on six thousand screws, upon which it has made an upward journey of four feet and ten inches.”

 

Raising of Chicago
The task of raising the Briggs House, a hotel at Randolph and Wells Streets, in 1857 involved the coordinated efforts of hundreds of workers. During the raising, the hotel remained open for business. (Chicago Historical Society)

     Cities, they say, develop a persona of their own, all of which is nothing if not indicative of the spirit of its citizens. Ultimately, when problems arise, people become faced with choices: accept your collective fate, ignore the coming future, or act accordingly. Mid-19th century Chicagoans proved early that they were determined to create the possibility that their city might eventually become the megalopolis that it is today. Little did they know that shortly after they were able to ascend from the squalor of sewage, the citizens of Chicago would be faced with yet another test in 1871, The Great Chicago Fire.  This time they would be forced to ascend from the ashes.  Ultimately, the people, like their story, now belong to the ages. But, such as any good anecdote – if remembered and studied – it can offer deeper answers for particularly troubling problems of the present. Perhaps Henry Ford said it best: “Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.”

 

Chicago_River_from_Lake_Street_bridge
Chicago Today: Chicago River from Lake Street Bridge

Articles about Corpus Christi streets:

Takin’ It to the Streets: A Highly Qualified Committee

Takin’ It to the Streets: A Man with Questions

Takin’ It to the Streets:  Addressing the Status Quo

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Takin’ It to the Streets: The Potential Role of the RTA

Corpus Christi, Front Page, Opinion/Editorial

RTA1

     “We’re here to give you an affirmative statement.  We will be glad to work with you.  We would be glad to see this program moving forward, and hopefully we can make it even better,” said Tom Niskala, Nueces County appointee to the RTA Board of Directors, at the February 1, 2016, meeting of the City of Corpus Christi Ad Hoc Residential Street Infrastructure Advisory Committee.

     Did anyone hear that?  Evidently the reporter from the Caller-Times somehow missed it because it wasn’t mentioned anywhere in his article about the meeting, which was printed on February 2, 2016. Maybe he heard it but didn’t include it.  Maybe he included it, but someone on the editorial staff cut that tidbit out.  Perhaps it isn’t something Mr. Whitehurst wants to hear since it is not in keeping with his opinions about the role of the RTA expressed in his column on January 31, 2016.  Actually, it’s more in alignment with what Andy Taubman described in his forum piece printed in the Caller-Times on January 26, 2016.

Andy Taubman Speaker
Andy Taubman speaking to Flour Bluff citizens about streets

     Niskala explained that in 1986 about a million dollars went to street reconstruction out of the RTA budget.  “That fund has increased to about $2.6 million in 2015 and $2.8 million in 2016 that goes directly to the City of Corpus Christi and gets deposited directly into the streets program.”  He related other contributions the RTA has made to the city streets program, including the area around City Hall near the new RTA office building.  “We’ve got some repairs to a few streets, and that includes Sam Rankin, Josephine, and Mexico.  Those repairs will be $500 to $800 thousand depending on the approach.  The RTA also participated in the improvements of Artesia and Mestina as a part of the Staples Street Station project.  Those totaled about $900,000 on the RTA’s part,” Niskala said.  He went on to explain that other projects included specific sidewalk, ADA, and street improvements, which totaled about $1.5 million in 2015.

tom-niskala

     “There’s been about $5 million in 2015 and about $4 million in 2016 that’s going into a variety of street, sidewalk, and ADA improvements in the area,” Niskala said of current contributions made into the street program.

     “In the past, those projects were mutually agreed to by the city and the RTA.  Somewhere along the line, that became a contribution into the city’s general revenue fund.  More recently, it now goes directly into the streets program, and it’s a little bit more strategic.  But we agreed that that could be even better enhanced and have some additional strategic thinking that is looking at the types of projects that we are mutually interested in and coming up with an approach beneficial to both the city and the RTA,” said Niskala.

     Niskala spoke about the role of the MPO (Metropolitan Planning Organization) and their new bike lane plan and the pedestrian plan.  Niskala also reminded everyone that the RTA serves a much larger area than just Corpus Christi.  “The RTA serves the majority of Nueces and San Patricio counties, so we’ve got to look at the projects beyond the City of Corpus Christi.  It’s something that could be a good collaboration effort between the MPO, the City of Corpus Christi, and the RTA that could lead to a far more efficient and effective use of funds.”

     Niskala told the committee that some discretionary funds are available from the FTA (Federal Transit Administration).  “The RTA is a designated recipient.  Through a good, collaborative effort, we could do some type of grant program that might enhance the sidewalk programs that provide access to and from our transit stops.”  He added that federal grants always have some strings attached, so some restrictions will apply, which would limit the use of the grant funds to quarter-mile distances from each bus stop.   Niskala, however, said, “It’s a program we could build upon.”  That is a sizable area since there is somewhere around 1400 bus stops in the city according to Valerie Gray, Director of Public Works.

     “I think the idea is a good one, the RTA working with the MPO and the city to look at how this program might be enhanced.”  He explained that the plan would have to presented to the RTA Board of Directors, which he saw as an item for discussion at the February retreat.  “So, we might be able to bring back some more detailed information on how this might work.”

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Takin’ It to the Streets: CC Streets Program Headed Down a Better Road

Corpus Christi, Front Page, Opinion/Editorial

SPMPsignage

It appears that Andy Taubman and the other members of the ad hoc street committee are making a difference in changing the status quo down at the street department. At Tuesday’s council meeting,  Valerie Gray, the city’s executive director of public works for the past year, presented a plan that sounds almost identical to what Taubman and his “A Team” have deemed necessary in order to get the runaway street problem under control.

Andy Taubman 1
Andy Taubman, Ad Hoc Street Committee Chairman

Currently the Street Preventative Maintenance Program has completed less than half of the projects that were slated for completion by 2016.  From the data collected by the street committee, it appears that the department created its own roadblocks by creating an environment of “We will continue to do today what we did yesterday” even when it wasn’t working well.

This outdated way of building and maintaining streets worked extremely well for a handful of big contractors, especially one who claims to have made over a billion dollars off city street jobs.  This comment was made when contractors were invited to attend the third meeting of the committee to address what is working and what is not working in the current SPMP program.

One of the committee members, Alan Guggenheim, who has lived up to his description on Linked In as “highly experienced in reorganizing, streamlining, and strengthening business to maximize delivery performance, customer satisfaction, profitability, and shareholder value across operations,” asked a simple question of one contractor.  “What are your criteria for measuring success?”  It was a reasonable question, a good question, a question asked by private business owners all the time, but one that amazingly hasn’t been asked of the contractors until now.

Guggenheim
Alan Guggenheim, Committee Member  (LinkedIn Photo)

The contractor’s answer?  “Make an obscene profit.”  Well, that’s great for the businessman, and certainly that’s how capitalism works.  But, what does that say about the way the City has been spending our hard-earned tax dollars? Maybe now there will be some accountability within the system.  It’s amazing how new eyes on an old problem can lead to solutions.

In today’s Caller-Times article, Mayor Nelda Martinez is quoted as saying, “There’s no question of the unprecedented construction work underway on our streets. This is the most bullish we’ve ever been on streets, and I know we’re going to get better — there’s always room for improvement — but I can’t tell you how proud I am.”  Perhaps the Mayor and the other three council members who were adamantly against the formation of the committee in the beginning are starting to see the good that has come from this group of concerned and knowledgeable citizens .  Surely they have made the connection between what has come out of the committee and this sudden change in the “business as usual” attitude of City staff.

Councilman Chad Magill, who initiated the creation of the committee, is at every meeting and is often seen seated next to Carolyn Vaughn, a savvy business owner and council member who supported the creation of the committee and nominated Alan Guggenheim to serve on it.  The five who were in favor of the committee from the start (Magill, Vaughn, Rubio, Garza, and Rosas) should be proud of their efforts in taking the first step to fixing a broken program. Magill told the Caller-Times, “I’m more confident in our seal coat process than I ever have been.”  He went on to say that he anticipated even more improvements to come from the recommendations of the street committee.

Magill FBBACarolyn Vaughn

Next week Council will hear the full plan that includes the City being more small-contractor friendly so that work on the projects can be sped up to meet the December 2016 deadline.  Using more than one contractor for these projects has been a discussion item at many of the street committee meetings.  This kind of collaboration among City staff, the committee of concerned citizens, and the Council gives us hope that our streets will improve and that our tax dollars will be spent wisely.  In the words of John Hannibal of the television series The A Team, “I love it when a plan comes together.”

John Hannibal (Isotech.com Photo)
John Hannibal (Isotech.com Photo)

Clarificaton:  Council member Colleen McIntyre pointed out to the editor that the final vote for the ad hoc street committee was a unanimous one (9-0).

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