As for me, I kept alive my current streak of not attending HCGP meetings: four consecutive months. This new habit of non-participation has resulted in a considerably less stressful existence. Green activity used to feed my soul, even when differences of opinion on strategy or tactics occasionally grew rancorous; now the environment has grown toxic, driving away more old hands than just Yours Truly.
Instead, I got to see real democracy in action.
Last week, Kayleen was perusing our local NextDoor site, and she told me of an upcoming neighborhood meeting called by District D City Councilmember Dwight Boykins at The Address, a sports bar recently opened near Highway 288 and Old Spanish Trail (US-90A). So I went.
We Got 3333 Problems
Residents in the South MacGregor neighborhood, where Kayleen and I live, have complained about the noise, traffic, and various misbehaviors by patrons of local establishments. The opening of The Address has resulted in problems for the neighborhood that dwarf those quality-of-life quibbles.
Boykins also lives nearby, has seen these problems first-hand, and last night pledged to work toward fixing them. I give him props for making the commitment, but now we shall see if he can fulfill it.
Let's get more specific on those problems, as illuminated by residents at the meeting.
- The Address (3333 Raleigh) is the only building on Raleigh Street, which since the construction of the TX-288 South Freeway in the 1980s has been a mere stub of its former self, accessible only to westbound traffic on OST or southbound traffic on Bowling Green Street.
- It has two parking lots, front and rear, both of which fill up on weekends.
- Patrons who cannot find spaces in those lots park on neighboring streets, often on both sides, leaving a narrow gauntlet down the middle, with vehicles trying to navigate those streets from both directions.
- When parking on those streets fills up, patrons have blocked residents' driveways and even parked on lawns. When asked to move, they get nasty, even threatening. There has been vandalism, malicious littering, public urination, and even gunfire.
- This makes it difficult and dangerous for residents to leave their homes, especially in emergency situations, or for emergency vehicles to get to these homes if needed.
- The situation has also made Yvette Calloway/Southland Park on Allegheny Street inaccessible or dangerous for neighborhood children.
At least this was not an instance of the all-too-frequent scenario of Yuppies moving into a spiffy new townhome in a district known for live music venues and then bitching about the noise. This is a large new facility, built in an established/borderline historic neighborhood, attracting problematic customers in problematic numbers. City government has an interest in fixing it.
If You Build It, They Will Come (If They Can Get There)
I haven't yet discovered what makes The Address so ridiculously popular. Advertising on urban contemporary radio stations? I wouldn't know, not being much of a radio listener in my old age. True, it is the only bar in the area with so. many. televisions. It has an excellent sound system, if a little heavy on the bass for my taste. It has hookah apparatus on the some tables on front porch. It has a back room with a stage and comfy couches. Its kitchen churns out ribs and various fried stuff, served by young women in skimpy outfits.
But patrons are driving in from all over the place, including Texas Southern University, the University of Houston, and surrounding neighborhoods like South Union, not just from the immediate area. They could go to a big sports bar anywhere else in town. HPD has had to set up a patrol vehicle blocking the northbound feeder road for 288 north of OST, as some patrons have tried to get to the bar that way and failed horribly.
Take a look at the Google Map of the intersection. Note that the feeder road does not connect with Raleigh. Now look at the photo below, and see what a vehicle has to do to get onto Raleigh from the feeder. The little trail that connects them is no longer there, but that little barrier is. When the feeder is blocked, motorists not headed to the Address have to detour pretty drastically to continue north on 288.
To their credit the owners of The Address indicated last night that they want to be good neighbors. They didn't say it in quite these terms, but they know that if they piss off enough local residents, these residents will do everything in their power to get the place shut down. The neighborhood association has already shut down two establishments on Dixie Drive, Diallo's On the Nile and the Dixie Warehouse, for quality-of-life issues, and is leaning pretty hard on a third (Dreams).
Also to their credit, even in light of those successful campaigns, the neighbors did not come to the meeting shouting about shutting the joint down. They know the value of having a full-service bar & grill nearby, of maintaining a healthy business climate. Many of them remember how desolate the OST-east corridor used to be, when the primary business was sketchy motels (of which only a few remain). Most of them know that there are other solutions, and they were quite willing to propose them.
Which brings us back to Boykins. He started his introductory speech by saying that the problems are well known, so there is no need to rehash them, and discussion should be focused on solutions. He related that he had tried to drive down some of the neighboring streets at peak parking times, and his F-250 could barely squeeze down the middle between the vehicles parked on both sides.
Some neighbors floated the idea of Permit Parking, as other neighborhoods with parking issues have done. A household can buy up to four permits from the city, at $27.95 per vehicle. These permits can be transferred for when guests arrive. A few folks favored Resident-Only Parking, which is OK for those who never have guests over, I suppose, but not so much for the rest of us.
Within an hour and a half, Boykins had determined, based on residents' input, that the best course would be to install No Parking signs on one side of each of the nearby streets (Kelton, Kilgore, Natchez, and Allegheny), and have wreckers patrolling the area to tow violators away. The streets are just wide enough that placing No Parking signs on both sides is contrary to the city code.
Boykins reminded those assembled that this signage does appear by waving a magic wand. There is an application process, followed by getting the funds allocated, before the city can plant the signs.
The whole experience reminded me that I don't have a lot of direct experience with the process of city government, especially when it is resident-driven. This was an eye-opener. I look forward to keeping my eyes open on this particular issue, and seeing how Boykins and the City of Houston respond.