PlanCC 2035: Gambling with Tax Dollars

Corpus Christi, Flour Bluff, Front Page, Opinion/Editorial

PlanCC

Upon reading the didactic fable regarding Plan CC 2035 – “The Story of a Smart Plan Gone Awry” – I was reminded of a pair of quotes:

 

          “A politician is a person who will build you a bridge where there is no river.” – Nikita Khrushchev

          “Being a politician means having the ability to foretell what is going to happen tomorrow, next week, next  month, next year… and having the ability afterwards to explain why it didn’t happen.” – Winston Churchill

     Ironically, the idea that politicians so frequently create both false predictions and false promises is apparently not one that is exclusive to Americans. Mr. Khruschev, after all, was the Soviet dictator who headed up the Cold War for Russia and was dedicated to the spread of Communism throughout Southeast Asia and Cuba.

     As for the fictional story of a young couple who falls prey to their own ignorance, it does a great job in illustrating a natural progression of life and reminds us that our wants and needs will change alongside our age and the circumstances under which we live. As a first generation millennial, born in 1980, I understand that many 20-somethings (and in some cases, 30-somethings) will continue to share an infatuation with “downtown living.” Cities like San Francisco and Portland (both mentioned in the story) are growing in population each and every day, and those who move to cities like these certainly are not doing so because they want to live in the suburbs. Moreover, the urban-dwellers who live in these types of cities tend to tout their chosen locations precisely because the downtown area provides for a style of living that is as practical as it is pleasurable. While statistics show that most people still ultimately prefer to own homes outside of the city on larger plots of land, cities with downtown attractions are exploding: Austin, Fort Worth, Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, Boston, San Diego (to name a few). And although many of the millennials who account for this surge in downtown living will move away from the city as they grow older, another crop of young people will surely move in and replace them.

     One major problem for any city is the art of prediction and planning for the rate of growth that the city can expect to endure. It is difficult to know for certain how many people will move in, how fast they will show up, and what types of consumers they will be. New companies turn up and trigger new visitors, new residents, and new types of business. Together, these things shape and shift the culture of a given place. Because such changes are not exactly predictable from 10 or 20 years out, building a “smart city” with high-rises that reach for the sky in the attempt to force development of a downtown before there is demand for any such development may not be so smart. If high-rises are what people want, a profit-motive will emerge – and so will the high-rise.

     The city of Corpus Christi is not growing at any supreme rate and has not done so for many years. Since the year 2010, the Corpus population has risen by some 15,000 people. When considering the massive influx of new Texans moving to the state each day, it is clear that the Coastal Bend is not carrying the same degree of gravity as that of central and north-central Texas. Moreover, the largest portion of the growth that Corpus has experienced has occurred from the outside-in, starting with the suburbs.

Population CC
Source: U.S. Census Bureau

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population of texas

     Although Plan CC 2035 may not qualify precisely as “smart growth”, it does lay the ground work for a city that is pouring tax dollars into the development of the inner city while attempting to shrink urban sprawl and the expansion of suburbia. Certainly such a method of development has been happily embraced by the citizens of cities such as San Francisco and Portland. However, in a city like Corpus Christi, a key weakness in smart growth mentality becomes accentuated as the local government engages in a combination of prediction (the key concept in the fable) and money-spending, which is more recognizable by its other description: gambling. Of course, when the government gambles, they do so on the dime of taxpayers.

     Under its current conditions, the city of Corpus Christi shows no signs of demand for a plan that aims to eventually cut into the expansion of suburbia. In fact, based on the small growth that has taken place, there appears to be more of a demand for suburban life than anything else. Unfortunately, when a city starts down a path like that of smart growth (or any other prediction-driven policy), it falls into a pattern of attempting to fulfill the needs of some (e.g. those who prefer to live downtown) by sacrificing the needs of others (e.g. those who prefer to live in other parts of the city). In the case of Corpus Christi and Plan CC 2035, the needs that are being placed on the chopping blocks are those of the majority. Worst of all, the majority has remained silent because they are largely unaware of these potential changes and the lasting effect they could have on them, their children, and their grandchildren.

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The Story of a Smart Plan Gone Awry

Corpus Christi, Front Page, Opinion/Editorial

Update:  Let there be no mistake.  This little story is fiction.  Such a plan exists, but it has not yet left the hands of the Planning Commission.  The public hearing on PlanCC 2035 will be held on May 18, 2016, at 5:30 p.m., in Council Chambers.  READ the updated plan complete with council members’ and staff’s comments, COMPARE it to the current plan and to PlanCC 2036, ATTEND the hearing, and WEIGH IN with the commission.  The comprehensive plan, whatever shape it takes, will become the law, as per the City Charter.  It will directly affect the way we live in Corpus Christi for many years to come.  It is the duty of every citizen to become educated on the issues, so I implore you to become involved.

     Once upon a time in the City of Corpus Christi, a man and his girlfriend fought for the implementation of “a new kind of comprehensive plan” that was designed to allow the city to “make choices that result in higher quality of life and a more diversified economy.”  It was a smart plan, and they knew it, by golly! It even called for free swimming lessons for all.  Hadn’t they lived in Portland, Oregon, while attending college and loved the little flat they shared in the heart of the city?  It was in a walkable, downtown community where bicycles and buses were the order of the day, where a dog park gave Goody a nice place to run and frolic with other urbanite canines, and where they didn’t add to the very congested streets by driving their own cars – even to Clancy’s pub that was more than ten blocks away.  They loved it and felt good about what they were doing for the environment and future generations.  Why, they didn’t even have a yard, so they weren’t hurting the air quality by using a lawnmower!

     They just knew that laws should exist in Corpus Christi to start easing everyone into this better way of living.  They even secretly laughed at their parents, who assured them that such a plan for the city could be detrimental to them in the future, especially if they wanted to buy an affordable piece of property near their places of employment and build a little house of their own.  “Why would we ever do that?” they thought.  They were certain that they could live the life of the “new urbanite” forever.  They were even more certain that once the naysayers of the plan saw how “cool” it was to live like the people in such great cities as Portland, San Francisco, Boston, and Beijing, that they would soon welcome the plan that would become the law of the land.  Oh, how they celebrated when the plan went through! “The times, they are a changin’,” they thought.

     The happy couple soon married and immediately moved into an apartment in downtown Corpus Christi.  They awoke at 5:00 a.m. each day to have time to get to work.  On hot days, which is actually most of the year, they didn’t bother to shower because they knew that would be a waste of time- and water.  They simply dressed, grabbed a granola bar, hopped on their bikes, and peddled to the bus stop near the beautiful, new RTA Taj Majal.  There was always plenty of room on the bus since most people were so self-centered that they still drove their own cars.  There they caught a bus to a drop-off spot about two miles from their place of employment.  Then, they got back on their bikes and peddled into work, making it just in time to clock in at 8:00 a.m.  On cold, rainy days, they simply pretended to be back in Portland, where they learned to carry a change of dry clothing in their backpacks.  On the weekends, they rode their bikes along the bay front, took in the events along the seawall and on the green spaces that were within walking distance of their high-rise, and enjoyed the urban life.  They sometimes longed to go to the beach as they did in their youth, but their commitment to the environment by not putting another car on the streets to belch out CO2 helped the feelings subside.  All seemed well enough – at least for a while.

     One day the man returned home to find his wife sitting and staring out the window.  She wiped a tear from her cheek as he wiped the sweat from his brow.  The August heat and humidity certainly cleansed the body, especially when riding a bike or walking! He leaned his bike against the wall, and asked, “Are you all right?”

     The man’s wife looked up and apprehensively said, “I’m pregnant.”  He smiled.  She smiled.  They hugged.  “We’ll have to get a car,” she added.

     “A car?” he said.

     “A car.  You can’t expect me to go to my doctor appointments all the way across town on the bus.  I’ll never get there in time.  I’ll have to take the whole day off from work if I do that.  Plus, how will we even bring the baby home or take him – or her – for checkups? ” Her voice cracked as she spoke.

     “Can’t you just call Uber?” he asked.

     “Uber?  Really?  Do you know what that will cost?  Besides, I don’t know if I trust those drivers with our unborn child.  No, we must get a car,” she said.

     With a heavy heart, the man agreed.  That night he lay awake thinking of Portland and Boston and San Francisco and Beijing.  “Yes, the times they are a changin’,” he thought as he drifted off to sleep.

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     The next morning they told their parents the good news.  By noon, the future grandparents, their siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins immediately started filling the once roomy apartment with all kinds of baby “stuff.”  Soon, only a path existed in their trendy, open floor plan.  Goody took to sleeping on the couch because all of his favorite spots disappeared one by one.  “Something has to go,” the man thought.  He said as much to his wife.

    “Get rid of the bikes,” she said without a hint of regret.  “We can get a car today and put the bikes in storage, along with your skateboard and that ridiculous weight machine thingy.  We need more room in the closet, too, and those fishing poles you never use are taking up valuable space.”

     The man started to protest, but he knew she was right.  Plus, she had that tone in her voice.

     So, he did what she said.  He bought a car, put the bikes and other belongings that represented the changing times into storage and tried to be positive.  He just never saw their future going down this path. Gee, that’s exactly what the PlanCC 2035 opposition had said; they believed it tried to control an unpredictable future.  “Even the best-laid plans go awry,” he found himself thinking.  His life was certainly proof of that.

    The man sat among the gifts of love and expectation that filled the apartment.  His wife came out of the bathroom, picked her way across the floor, and sat next to him.  She stroked the back of his neck lovingly then snuggled up close to him.  He leaned back and wrapped her in his arms.  She kissed his cheek and nibbled his ear.  Just as he was losing himself in the moment, she said, “Honey?”

     “Yes,” he whispered with his eyes closed.

     “How would you like to…”

     “I would love to!” he said.

     “You would?  Oh, Sweetie, I love you so much!” she said, sitting up and pulling out her phone.  “I have already been looking at the schools.”

     He sat up and stared at her.  “Schools?  What schools?”

     She tapped on her phone and slid her finger back and forth until she found the site.  “We have to think about where the baby will go to school.  It would be a good idea to build a house in the school district now so that we will be settled into the neighborhood before he – or she – is ready to start kindergarten.  There’s a great preschool nearby, too.  And we could get another dog – or a pony!  Oh, Honey, every kid wants a pony.”

     Her excitement was more than he could handle.  House?  School?  Pony?  What was happening?  This was not what he had in mind at all!  He looked at all the baby paraphernalia that lined the walls and filled the corners.  Again, he knew she was right.  He decided to start the hunt for a small, affordable house that would suffice until they found the piece of property suitable for a forever house.  He called his real estate friend to help him find a house they could afford.

     “Two bedrooms, one bath, a garage, and a yard in that school district?  Yeah, we’ve got houses there but not in your price range,” the friend said when the man called him.

     “Why not?”  the man asked.

     “Well, the city’s new comprehensive plan actually drove the price of single-family housing way up – even the so-called starter houses.  Pretty ironic since the plan calls for affordable housing.  We tried to tell the folks who supported that plan, but they didn’t want to hear it.  The planners were so sure that they could convince everybody to live – well – like you live.  The truth is that nearly 80% of people still want a house in the suburbs with a yard and breathing room, something that many will never be able to afford now that fewer and fewer of these houses are being built,” the realtor explained.

     “What if we build our own house?  Maybe something near the water so I can teach the little guy – or girl – to fish.  I could hang onto my poles that the wife is certain I need to sell!” the man said.

     Shaking his head, the realtor replied, “Right now, the restrictions are so stringent when it comes to building near the wetlands and bird rookeries that you really can’t do it anymore.”

     “What about farther out but still in the city limits?” the man asked.

     “Nope.  Those regulations and guidelines to promote interconnected development have prevented that.  Gee, I guess you could just stay in your apartment, pay to park your car now that you have one, and send your little boy – or girl – to private school. God knows you don’t want to send the kid to an inner city school!  Maybe by the time the little tyke is in high school something will come open in the area you really want to live in. Of course, the prices will have gone up.”

     The man reeled with the realtor’s words.  “Why didn’t we look deeper into that stupid plan?  How could we not see this coming?  Why didn’t we just listen to our parents?  We should have just written the million bucks off as the price for learning a valuable lesson! But, no!  We had to be like Portland and Boston and San Francisco and Beijing!”  The man turned and hurried to his car.

     “Hey, where’re you goin’?” asked his friend.

     “Home, to cry through Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House,” the man said.  With that, he got into his car and tried to find solace in the fact that his little boy – or girl – would at least receive free swimming lessons.

 

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Corpus Christi Planning Commission Hears from Citizens on PlanCC 2035

Corpus Christi, Front Page
April 20 Planning Commission
Rick Milby addresses Planning Commission on PlanCC 2035

     On Wednesday, April 20, 2016, about 40 citizens attended the Corpus Christi Planning Commission to voice their concerns about PlanCC 2035.  According to the minutes of the March 23 and April 6 meetings, the topic was slated for Public Hearing on April 20, which prompted the large turnout of citizens at Wednesday’s meeting.

     According to the posted minutes of March 23 , “Ms. Annika Yankee, Development Services, read item ‘IV’ into record. Recap, this item was taken to City Council in November 2015, and staff will return to Planning Commission on April 20, 2016, to review the comments made by Council Members.  Staff is proposing to present all comments in the form of a matrix by element/chapter to make comments easier to read and work with. Plans are to provide edits to Commissioners (2) weeks in advance for their review prior to the Public Hearing at the Planning Commission meeting on April 20, 2016.  Legal confirmed that a motion is not needed in order to proceed with Staff’s plans and recommendations.”

     During the Director’s Report at the Wednesday, April 6, meeting,  Annika Yankee was asked to give an update on the status of the PlanCC 2035 material preparation to which she responded, “My only update is that the documents you need to review, I should have those to you by Friday morning.  It’s a little bit short of the two weeks requested.”

     Earlier this week, however, City staff pushed the item to May 4 and then May 18 saying that City staff needed additional time to prepare the materials for the commission’s review.

     The commissioners were encouraged to read PlanCC 2035 carefully and compare it to the existing 1987 Comprehensive Plan and Councilman Magill’s PlanCC 2036 before making a decision.  Some concerns about PlanCC 2035 brought forth by the citizens who spoke included:

  • Unclear/imprecise language of the plan, which can lead to bad policy
  • Missing elements in the plan  (i.e. public safety, fire, police, port, military)
  • Overreach of government on private property rights
  • Negative effects of plan on local farmers
  • Falls short in terms of being a “master plan”
  • Will lead to more government regulation and more private property restrictions
  • Too much emphasis on modes of transportation other than personal vehicles
  • Runs counter to Constitutional rights
  • Was created with the direction of consultants who are not from the Corpus Christi area
  • Agenda 21 elements included in the plan
  • Elements that infringe on the public’s rights

     All who addressed the commission thanked the commissioners for their service and for allowing them time to speak.  One person spoke in favor of the plan citing the elements that are designed to protect quality of life in the city and the plan’s progressive nature.

     The current version of PlanCC 2035 was sent to the Planning Commission for review in November 2015 after a 9-0 vote by Council.  As per the minutes, “Council Member Magill made a motion directing the City Manager to extend the time frame for council members to submit written comments for 30 more days, (until December 17, 2015) and to convey all council members’ written
comments to the Planning Commission, seconded by Council Member Vaughn and passed unanimously.”

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You Just Thought Anti-Uber Policies Place Restrictions on the Citizenry and Free Market!

Corpus Christi, Front Page, Opinion/Editorial

uber-serp-logo-048389ae0a

     For over a month, Corpus Christi has been up in arms over the policies governing taxis and ride-share companies. Why?  According to those who work for Uber, use Uber, or just like the name Uber, cities across the nation are killing freedom of choice when it comes to calling for ride.  The topic of taxis and TNCs has dominated local council meetings, set social media on fire, and forced friends on opposite sides of the issue to part ways.  I find it odd since most people in Corpus Christi drive their own vehicles everywhere.  But, something is looming over this city that could create more restrictions in the way we live than anyone can imagine.  That something is PlanCC 2035.   If you like the freedom to build in an area you choose, want to retain the few private property freedoms you currently have, prefer driving the vehicle of your choice, and want to see taxes, city debt, and utility costs decrease or remain static, then you must pay attention to what is about to happen in this city with the comprehensive plan, the law of the land that governs what the city will allow us to do with our land. 

     If you want to know more about this plan, I encourage you to attend the Planning Commission meeting tonight (April 20, 2016)  at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall to hear for yourself what could be in store for all of us if this plan goes into effect.  If you haven’t read the plan, please do so.  You should read and compare the existing 1987 Plan, PlanCC 2035, and Councilman Chad Magill’s PlanCC 2036.  Then, read what citizens from other cities have said about the smart growth (aka sustainable growth, new urbanism) plans and how they feel the elements of these kinds of plans have bound them one little rope at a time.  Note:  Watch this VIDEO of Congressman McClintock talking about the effects of “smart growth.”

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Related articles: “Free Market Not Quite So Free”

                             “1987 Comprehensive Plan Is a Classic”

                             “A Map Is Worth a Thousand Words”

                             “Is PlanCC 2035 the WISE Choice for Corpus Christi?”

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1987 Comprehensive Plan Is a Classic

Corpus Christi, Front Page, Opinion/Editorial

Comprehensive plan 1987

     I spent thirty years teaching English, and part of my job was teaching literature.  Now, I could have taught anything really, but I chose to teach the classics.  I especially enjoyed re-reading the pieces each year.  Like an old friend, a classic welcomes us to return to hear the same story with new ears and fresh insights supplied by our own experiences.  The Ten Commandments and the Constitution of the United States of America definitely are classics in their own rights.  They have withstood the test of time and are as relevant today as the day they were created.  Jesus simplified God’s commandments so that we could better understand them and live by them, but He did not abolish them.  Our constitution has been amended to meet the needs of today’s society, but it has not been re-written.  When something is good, we really should just leave it alone.  Coca-Cola learned this lesson the hard way in 1985 with New Coke.  It was a huge flop.  Only with the return of Coke Classic made from a formula created in 1886 did the company save itself.  Classics are good for a reason; they appeal to the people whose lives they affect.

     This leads me to the Corpus Christi Comprehensive Plan from 1987. The writers, all Corpus Christians with an intimate knowledge of the city, somehow beat the trendy “smart growth” movement of that same year and created a plan that is truly comprehensive, including all that is of real importance.  Its goals took every person and every element of the city into consideration, thereby meeting the rules laid out in the City Charter.  It is easy to understand, allows for forward thinking, and offers direction to those who use the plan on a daily basis.  It withstood the test of time and served its people well for nearly thirty years.  Should we really change the formula?

1987 ToC 1
Table of Contents 1987 Comprehensive Plan, p.1
1987 ToC 2
Table of Contents 1987 Comprehensive Plan, p.2

     PlanCC 2035 is very much like New Coke.  It is progressive and supposedly appeals to the young professionals who somehow will move in and save the city by living an auto-free, high-density lifestyle (aka “smart growth”).  In the Pew Charitable Trusts article by Teresa Wilz from April 2015, “Returning to the Exurbs: Rural Counties Are Fastest Growing”, we learn that the young professionals who once sought smart-growth cities no longer want that lifestyle. “The Great Recession stalled population growth in the exurbs. But new census data show that the far suburbs are enjoying a renaissance. They are now the fastest growing areas in the country,”  writes Wilz.

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     These young professionals become migrating millennials when they marry, start their families, and start looking for a place with room for the kids, dogs, goats, chickens, and an organic garden.  Chip and Joanna Gaines of the HGTV show, “Fixer Upper” are leading the way for others just like them who want the freedom to choose how and where they live.  With UPS delivering what they need to the door and many jobs performed via computer from home, the possibilities of how and where to live are endless. Even the under-35 group will more than likely follow in the footsteps of those who have gone before them and opt to own a piece of the rock.  However, there are no guarantees – well,  except that businesses will follow the people wherever they decide to live, which creates multiple town centers within a municipality (See Fig. 3 from 1987 Plan).  The 1987 Comprehensive Plan writers seemed to know that and allowed for such freedom of movement in their Classic-Coke formula.  And isn’t freedom to live how and where we want the most important part of the American dream?

Edge cities

     “But, what about the $1.2 million spent on consultants out of Massachusetts and Maryland?” you ask.  “What about the countless meetings and hours of discussion with all who participated in the creation of the New Plan?” you query.  Rather than continue to throw good money after bad, the Planning Commission should simply suggest to council that we continue with the classic 1987 plan.  We know it works and is easily updated with a little tweaking at little or no cost, which is what Councilman Chad Magill has illustrated with PlanCC 2036.  He took the classic 1987 Plan and re-designed the package to include the ambitions and aspirations outlined in PlanCC 2035, which is a respectful approach that allows for these visions to come to fruition if ample money, time, and human resources allow.

     To devise a plan around a particular part of a city or a specific lifestyle leaves not only leaves over half of the population out, it is like getting a trendy, new haircut.  It will always require expensive maintenance to keep it in proper shape.  Then, when the person gets tired of the look and wants to change it, time and more expense will be required to undo the do.  Even with the push of Dr. Richard Jackson, a pediatrician, and Elizabeth Chu Richter, a local architect, both giants in their fields, to get Corpus Christi and other cities across the nation to take the progressive approach and design healthy communities, such designs will quickly fall by the wayside because parents realize that kids will still get fat when they eat fast food every day and live in urban villages where backyards don’t exist and parents don’t have the time to take them to the park to burn off those calories.  As it is written, PlanCC 2035 will fail to meet the needs of future generations because it is timely but is not timeless. 

     Related article:  “Why Millennials Are Headed to the Suburbs”

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A Map Is Worth a Thousand Words

Corpus Christi, Flour Bluff, Front Page

Look closely at the map of Flour Bluff  found in the Flour Bluff Area Development Plan.

 

Flour Bluff Map

 

Now, compare it to the Existing Land Use map.  Pay special attention to the NAS and Waldron Field areas.  These areas are currently classified as Public/Semi-Public.

 

Current Land Use Map CC

Below is the Future Land Use Map based on the current 1987 Comprehensive Plan. This map was updated in 2010.  The property in question is still labeled as Public/Semi-Public.

 

Future Land Use Map FB 2010

 

The next map is the one found in PlanCC 2035.  Look very closely at the NAS and Waldron Field areas.  They are no longer labeled Public/Semi-Public.  These land parcels are labeled Transportation.

 

Future Land Use Map FB PlanCC

 

Is this just an error made by the high-dollar consulting firm of Goody Clancy?  This is entirely possible since they failed to follow the City Charter in other areas.  If so, should we tolerate such errors?  If it is not an error, what is the map telling us? Is there need for concern beyond what we should already have about PlanCC 2035?

 

Related article:  “1987 Comprehensive Plan Is a Classic”

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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:

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photos-string-tied-bow-image28151058

  • 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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Chad Magill: Leading Corpus Christi in a New Direction

Corpus Christi, Front Page, Government and Politics, Personal History

Councilman_MagillwSig200

To understand what drives Chad Magill to work so hard to make Corpus Christi a city of which its citizens can be proud, it requires a look into the not-so-distant past. There we find a young Magill responding to a call from his dad, Don, a 35-year veteran in the world of fraud investigation. In May of 2002, Chad moved to Corpus Christi from Houston to help his dad make his business more efficient and more lucrative, a move that would allow him to be a big brother to his sibling James, who was only 10 at the time. It was a move that would chart a course for the direction Chad’s life would take.

Chad bowlcut
Chad as a boy
Chad and mom
Chad with mother, Heidi Magill
Chad Carla James
Chad with his brother, Jame,s and sister, Carla

“My dad specialized in bringing stolen vehicles from other countries. His biggest customer was BMW Financial Services. After all the re-po folks gave up, they would hire my dad. If he didn’t bring the car back, he didn’t get paid. He would find the vehicles somewhere in the world through his decades of experience, contacts, and knowledge,” Chad explained.  Don Magill was making four to five thousand dollars on each vehicle he recovered and solving five to eight cases each month. He had two employees who would fumble through ten, three-drawer filing cabinets for a week looking for the information needed to find one car. They would pull the file, and Don would let his instincts go to work. He would miraculously find the car, but he wasn’t happy with the tedious process. He needed a guy with a keen intellect who could understand data, logically connect it to people and situations, and create a computer program that could “think” like he thought. He called on his son to write a database.

Chad and dad
Don and Chad Magill

“My dad’s instincts were good, but his search methods weren’t. I integrated some logic in the search functions, in the LIKE commands, so you could be close to what you’re looking for and still find it,” said Chad. “When I wrote the database, and he started using it, he was solving 25-35 cases a month.” When Don was doing extremely well, he said to Chad, “You know, I’ve always wanted to buy a building downtown and try to bring it back and show people what could really happen.” That idea led to Chad and his father putting in some offers, which resulted in landing a bid on a building. They went to work. Don invested nearly 500 thousand dollars of his retirement money into the venture but was quickly disappointed as he attempted to navigate an inefficient and broken city government, which included dealing with city inspectors who more than suggested that he take a less-than-legal route (something a fraud inspector could never agree to do). Don shut down the project, and Chad watched his dad give up.


During one of the election cycles when everybody was bashing downtown at a public forum, Chad took the floor. He said to those in attendance, “The problem isn’t that people aren’t doing something. The system is so flawed that they don’t even realize it. I’m standing up right now telling you we spent a half-million dollars. One, nobody knows. Two, I don’t think anybody cares. And, three, I’m going to do something about it.”


This started Magill on a path to leaving Corpus Christi better than he found it, a lesson passed on to him from his dad. He got involved in many civic groups, including the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Management District, and Big Brothers Big Sisters of South Texas. Though unsuccessful in 2007 in his first run for the District 2 council seat, he didn’t give up. He worked hard for safe neighborhoods and a revitalized infrastructure, seeking to help the residents of his district be proud to live in District 2. In 2012, Magill became their council representative. His philosophy for leadership by multiplication began to take shape along with his mission of focusing on needs before wants, getting a return on investments from tax dollars, and creating primary jobs for the people of Corpus Christi. Like a master chess player, he thought several moves ahead as he planned a new course for the city, one that would lead to major changes in thought and action by council members and city staff, changes Magill hoped would create a culture of pride for the city.

Corpus-Christi-Hispanic-Chamber-Of-Commerce

“One of the ways we can be proud of our city is taking the time and effort to get away from incremental budgeting and go more toward zero-based budgeting (ZBB) or service-line budgeting. That affects the funding throughout every facet of the city. Therefore, it changes the financial culture of the city. By changing the culture and the mindset of each department head of owning and managing their costs, it puts our entire city government on a different path of understanding what their mission is. Their mission is to provide the needs for a community that frankly could evoke pride in itself once they have confidence in city government,” Magill explained.


“At present, when the city goes through the budget process at council, the employees of the Strategic Management and Budget Office make the presentations – not the department heads. That is a key component of how we can improve. Each department head should present what the mission and services are for their department. In doing so, they rightfully take ownership of their costs. It helps change the culture in their department. ZBB forces each one of us to account for the mission and service of that need. Wants get pushed aside because you’re focused on needs; that’s my mission. Part of being proud of your decisions is having trust in the process. I think ZBB helps improve the trust across the board, both with citizens and city staff,” he said.

zero-based-budgeting-1-638

Magill explained how some truly talented people in the city departments are always in a reactive mode due to a lack of public trust. “Therefore, the staff’s creativity and ideas don’t flow through. If you’re always in a break-fix mentality, you’re never going to get into what IT folks call a ‘manage services’ mode. If you’re the computer guy who shows up only after the computer is broken, then you spend your time waiting for the next phone call for the next broken computer. When you can step above that, you manage the computers actively before they break. You’re performing a day-to-day service. You can then manage hundreds – even thousands – of computers a day rather than 2 or 3 a day.”


He then talked about employee raises being tied to the process. “It helps align goals. If you can align goals with city employees to be more efficient, why wouldn’t you? I think it’s one of the greatest benefits of this process. As we see savings, we’re going to fund two things: residential street reconstruction and city employee step raises, which are based on merit.”


Magill believes the typical role of council in this process is to create policies to shape the existing city government and the future of the city. This, he said, involves a second role for the council, working with the city manager who in turn directs city staff, the actual people who get things accomplished in terms of service and performance within the city government. A third role, that of holding people accountable for doing the work, is typically highlighted by the public via the local newspaper, print media, social media, television, and radio. “However, sometimes there’s truly not an accountability layer because some who are supposedly holding others accountable need some accountability themselves. When this layer is missing, council members will drop out of the policy-making mind frame and into the accountability layer.”

City Council
Corpus Christi City Council

This, he said, prompts conversations at council meetings where members are asking if a task was completed or not. “Instead of that authoritative accountability role, we should be in the policy-making role. It’s unfortunate that we have to drop in to the authoritative role, but we have to do what we have to do.” He explained that when the public and the media hold the policymakers and city staff accountable, then council members can focus on policies that shape the future of the city, concentrating on long-range plans that include water supply developments, repairing waste water issues, fixing our streets, and improving public safety.


Magill devoted hours to analyzing the proposed comprehensive plan, PlanCC 2035. He found it completely lacking in the areas of support for public safety (fire, police, and emergency response), in support and growth of our military presence, and in support of our port, elements clearly defined in the 1987 comprehensive plan and essential to creating a safe environment where families can thrive. “Since I voted for the process to create the document, it is incumbent upon me to make sure that we aren’t passing an incomplete document,” he said. He identified several aspects of PlanCC 2035 that he classifies as wants. “There’s nothing wrong with having wants, but applying city budgets to them is essential.”

plancc2036
In his typical, analytical, chess-playing style, Magill went about merging the 1987 plan with PlanCC 2035 and named it PlanCC 2036, to reflect a 20-year plan. “Plan 2036 doesn’t get rid of the wants from 2035; it just puts them in a separate document entitled ‘Ambitions and Aspirations’ that will help guide the city staff in the future. If Parks and Recreation wants to provide free swim lessons to all citizens, let it compete with the other missions and core services and go up through the chain of the budget process. If there’s funding for it, then it will survive.” To him, it is about being a good steward of the resources with which he and the rest of the council have been entrusted.

Ship

When asked how he felt about the naysayers who have criticized his methods, he said, “Our annual budget is about $841 million. Imagine it as an enormous ship. When you steer that ship in a different direction, you’re going to get some waves. If you want the ship to go in the same direction all the time – or the same way it’s been going for 30 or 40 years – you get fewer waves. Some people spend all their time and energy trying to minimize the waves instead of looking at the new direction. The new direction of this ship is headed toward fixing and maintaining our streets, improving our water supply, repairing wastewater issues, and focusing on public safety. That’s a more responsible and practical approach, and that’s where our ship should have headed long ago. Am I afraid of the waves? Absolutely not, because I see the new direction.”

Avery_Sanda_Chad
Sanda, Avery, and Chad Magill

Since 2011, Magill lost both his parents but started a family of his own. “At some point in life, all of us will be focused on other things. My entire life isn’t just about city government. My daughter is everything to my wife and me. She inspires me exponentially more than I was ever inspired in the past. In the future – when I leave city government- I’ll know that I’ve at least helped others lead in the same direction. To me that’s so much more than a legacy of a statue or a building with my name on it.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Related articles:  Sam Houston: Portrait of a Leader

Chad Magill Seeks Re-Election

 

 

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Magill Speaks to FBBA at January Meeting

Corpus Christi, Flour Bluff, Front Page

     FBBA

     The Flour Bluff Business Association, a task force of business leaders who promote the safety, service, and growth of the Flour Bluff community, welcomed Councilman Chad Magill as its keynote speaker at the January 6, 2016, meeting held at noon at Funtrackers in Flour Bluff.  Magill focused on the new year and talked about “big ticket items” for the city.

     “The EPA expects us to agree to pay $853 million on your wastewater system over the next 12 to 15 years.  We can’t afford it.”  Magill admitted that the system absolutely needs improvements and that the City has been discussing the issue since 2009.  Magill said that part of the reason for his failure to support Destination Bayfront stemmed from the knowledge of the pending wastewater bill.

     “Anytime we spend 72 million of tax dollars on anything but what we have to spend it on, you have to ask if we can afford it,” Magill said.

PlanCC

     Magill told the audience he believed the City should be focused on reconstruction and maintenance of streets, public safety, wastewater, and water supply.  He emphasized the importance of getting the fundamentals right and putting needs before wants.  This led Magill to address PlanCC 2035 (now 2036).  Magill said, “Your city government shouldn’t have to be the ones to create the social environment for success.  We shouldn’t be the ones to pay for free swimming lessons or for free internet service across the city.  We see a lot of those proposed policies in PlanCC 2035.  I have some serious doubts whether that plan moves forward.”  Magill added that he put a plan together based on the existing comprehensive plan and sent it to City staff in December 2015.  “It takes the good from our existing plan – which actually includes public safety – and includes parts from the proposed PlanCC 2035 to create a real-world plan that keeps us focused on our needs.”

      Magill talked about the new harbor bridge and what an amazing feat it was to bring together the Port of Corpus Christi, the City of Corpus Christi, Nueces County, TxDot, and a number of local organizations and finally settle upon the building of a billion-dollar bridge.  He praised the efforts of Representative Todd Hunter who was “a champion for the bridge.”  Magill said that the new bridge should be looked at as an essential part of economic development for the area and that construction should begin as soon as 2017.

 

     The councilman then shifted to the topic of zero-based budgeting.  “You’re going to see – for our generation – the largest push for a zero-based budget in our city government ever.  It’s a challenge to City staff, but City Manager Ron Olson accepted the challenge.”  Magill said that some of his colleagues on council believe he may have challenged staff too much.  “They have concerns.  I understand that, but at the same time, these are your tax dollars.”

      Magill explained that zero-based budgeting will require City departments to justify spending tax dollars by aligning the spending with the mission.  “Everyone has to budget where their dollars go.  You do it.  My wife and I do it.  Shouldn’t we expect that of our City government?”  He sees it as an opportunity for the department heads to shine.  “If they embrace it and do well,” Magill said he would fight for their funding and for them to be successful.  Magill FBBA

     Magill then turned to the topic of Flour Bluff and spoke about his desire to get Laguna Shores Road on the 2018 bond.  “Every time I’m in Flour Bluff, I drive down Laguna Shores to remind me of the need.”  He went on to commend James Skrobarczyk, who was in the audience, for serving on the residential street committee and praised the ad hoc committee for accomplishing so much in a short period of time.

     He explained that they had uncovered some wasteful practices and inefficiencies in the Street Preventative and Maintenance Plan (SPMP).  He offered an example. “Kingsville spends about $2.50 per square foot on overlays while Corpus Christi spends $8.00 per square foot for the same work.”  When asked how that could be, Magill said, “Part of it is inefficiencies of government; part of that is multiple inspection layers; part of that is – frankly – writing contracts that allow contractors to make ‘obscene amounts of profit.’ ” He told the FBBA that he would love to speak to them again in June or July to fill them in on the recommendations from the street committee and how the City will move toward zero-based budgeting.

     When asked if Council member Colleen McIntyre’s proposal last year to raise property taxes by 8 cents to pay for residential street construction is the only form of funding available, Magill said, “The Caller-Times reported that 8 cents of ad valorem property taxes per year would raise $20 million, when in actuality, it would raise $13.6 million.”  After texting Ron Olson that his numbers were wrong, Olson came back a couple of days later and agreed Magill was correct in his calculations.

IMG_4005   “When they’re talking about throwing more taxpayer money at an inefficient system, how much of that money is going to be wasted?  I took an unpopular stance on council, and I said, ‘No, I can’t support a property tax increase without a plan.’ “

     Magill said that oftentimes a government entity will ask for a lot of money first then develop a plan around it second.  “Then they do the work and go on the defense and tell you how good it was. We’ve got to change that process and ask everyone to be open to a change in that kind of thinking.  The missing component is being able to put a plan together, share that with the community – which we’ll do in June or July – and ask how much of this plan would you like to invest in?”

     “Multiple funding sources is the key.  From re-purposing sales tax, we can pay the debt service off on Whataburger Field, and that gives you between $2 and $2.5 million a year.  That’s sales tax, which is mostly a tax that is appropriate for infrastructure.  In good times, you do more; in bad times, you do less.  Then, you look at cutting from within the budget.  We tried a 1% cut last year; that didn’t work.  We held the line on increasing materials and operations costs, but effectively we didn’t save much money.  That’s why we’re going the zero-based route.”

    Magill explained that savings within the budget will go to two things:  One is streets and the other is City employee raises.  “Think about the people who are going to do the work to find those inefficiencies within their own department budgets.  If we’re going to challenge them harder, we have to somehow align goals.  If you tell a department head that he/she needs to save money in the department and that part of the money saved will go into giving that department a raise, then people’s goals are starting to align.  Efficiency is part of good, quality government.”

     “Another funding source is potentially the RTA.  They could be a funding partner, and I think they’re open to that now.  The key here is to go to multiple funding sources with property taxes being the last in line.  If we had raised property taxes last year at 8 cents, your only guarantee is that your property taxes will go up.  If we had passed Destination Bayfront, that would have also added to the cost for the taxpayer.  If we’re going to focus on needs, let’s do it the right way.  The residential street committee is culling the bad from the current program and keeping the good to find out the most efficient way to tackle residential streets.”

     Precinct 4 County Commissioner Brent Chesney and ad hoc street committee chairman Andy Taubman have the same thought as Magill about the RTA redirecting more funds to the streets.  New RTA chairman, Curtis Rock, has not officially weighed in on this possibility.

     Magill answered questions from the audience on the topics of the failed Citizens’ Collection Center (Solid Waste Transfer Station).  He cited the main reasons for the failure as:

  • the $4.65 million price tag, which would have come in the form of a 20-year debt,
  • a raise in solid waste rates, and
  • a petition against the facility with 700 signatures from residents who live near the proposed site on Flour Bluff Drive.

He also discussed the positive aspects of privatization of City services and used the municipal golf courses as an example of how privatization has improved the quality of the golf courses while saving the City money.  Magill FBBA 2

     FBBA member, Michael Morgan, encouraged fellow members to stay in contact with Chad Magill.  “He is very accessible and very approachable.  He’ll tell you the facts, and he won’t rose-color anything.  If you have concerns or want to learn something, of course we have our District 4 representative, but Chad also represents us as an at-large council member.  I just want to thank him publicly for the job he’s doing for us out here.”

 

 

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