The Kyle Report

The Kyle Report

Monday, February 29, 2016

Agenda item rewarding council candidate doesn’t pass smell test

This agenda item stinks. The stench from this item is so putrid it will wither flora in every single Paris garden. Passing this item would be tantamount to jumping into a cesspool on the outskirts of Tijuana and swimming around in it for hours. This agenda item really stinks.

The item in question on Tuesday’s City Council agenda is one that would have the city shell out $17,000 to Mitchell Motorsports, a company owned by Travis Mitchell, a candidate for the City Council. Now the agenda item states the purpose of this expenditure is so the Parks Department can have a new lawn mower. And perhaps that might be true. Regardless, at best this comes across as Mitchell receiving preferential treatment because he is a City Council candidate and at worst as a $17,000 campaign donation to Mitchell and a direct slap in the face to a current council member, Diane Hervol, who occupies that council seat, is seeking re-election and is perceived by some to be an "anti-establishment" candidate, someone outside the accepted political sphere of influence. ("Hey, the way we can bump her off is disguise this $17,000 campaign contribution as the purchase of a lawn mower.")

I returned to Kyle from a weekend in Dallas a little after 1 p.m. today. I learned about this item Friday evening just before I attended a Special Olympics basketball game in Allen, Texas, and at that game I happened to run into a good friend, Wick Allison, the publisher of the much-honored D magazine. We got to chatting and I mentioned this agenda item and he doubled over laughing. He couldn’t believe it. Even in Dallas politics, which is not the most ethical scene in the political world, he couldn’t imagine anyone having the unmitigated gall to attempt something this blatantly politically incorrect. And, while he was grasping his knees because he had doubled over laughing so hard, I hit him with the coup de grace.

"Not only are these guys trying to pull this one off, they slipped the item in the Consent Agenda, hoping and praying no one would notice it," I told him, which only caused his laughter to increase in intensity.

Mark Dietz, co-owner of Dietz Tractor in Seguin, Texas, the company that apparently had the second-best bid, wasn’t laughing, however, when I told him he lost out to a company owned by a candidate for the Kyle City Council. But he was resigned to the outcome, saying this type of insider-trading is common when dealing with municipal governments.

"I don’t even get mad at these types of shenanigans any more," Dietz told me. "It’s B.S., but I don’t lose any sleep over it because in most of the cities I deal with there’s some kind of monkey business like this going on. It’s sad this type of thing is going on, but I don’t even get sad about it any more. I don’t like losing a bid under those conditions, but if you think this is bad, go to a bigger city like San Antonio. The corruption there is absurd. Oh, well."

See what I mean? Even if this whole transaction is on the up and up, the natural reaction to anyone outside of Kyle city government who sees it or hears about this deal is that something is rotten in Kyle. It simply doesn’t look good. It doesn’t pass the smell test. This agenda item stinks.

The only other item that compares to this on the Kyle stink-o-meter is one in which council member Damon Fogley is begging his colleagues to pat him on the back. Fogley is an EMS first responder and he is sponsoring a resolution putting the City of Kyle on record as "indicating support and appreciation for first responders in our community." There’s nothing wrong with the subject of the resolution, but it comes across as incredibly self-serving when Fogley has to introduce it himself. You would think he would possess the political acumen to have someone else on the council introduce the resolution so he could then bask in a spotlight being held by someone else. The way Fogley is handling it has all the subtlety of someone throwing himself a "surprise" birthday party and then charging admission for guests to attend.

You can judge for yourselves how some of these other items on Tuesday’s agenda might fit on the stink-o-meter. The council is expected to:

  • Hear Police Chief Jeff Barnett inform them there’s no racial profiling going on within the department and he’ll present statistics to support that claim.
  • Conduct the first of two required public hearings in connection with the possible annexation of about 1,500 acres of Kyle’s ETJ into the city limits. Most of the property is located southwest of town, east of Old Stagecoach Road and north of Yarrington Road. There is one other parcel, west of Goforth and north of Bunton Creek roads, on the east side of I-35, that’s also under consideration for annexing.
  • Hold another public hearing, also the first of two required, on the subject of annexing 9,800 acres located west of town, land stretching from Old Stagecoach and Cypress roads to the Blanco River, commonly known as the Nance Ranch.
  • Consider (and undoubtedly approve) a request to spend $58,878.22 to install the equipment necessary and to apply all the necessary paint, graphics and equipment to transform three SUVs the city recently purchased into police cars. The city is only paying $84 to have 2-cup holders installed in the three vehicles. What a deal!
  • Consider a proposal to change the way perimeter road fees are calculated that will codify Kyle’s desire to develop neighborhoods that are non-sustainable. They will also approve recent fixes to a pair of non-sustainable residential subdivisions (which, in itself, is a redundancy). The burden on future taxpayers will be crippling, but, of course, no one is thinking about that now.
  • Will probably approve a public transportation pilot program which will operate on Tuesdays and Thursdays only. Under the terms of the program, Kyle/Buda Taxi will provide Kyle residents (1) trips within the city limits of Kyle for $3 a trip between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.; (2) an 8 a.m. trip from Kyle to the CapMetro station at Southpark Meadows in Austin for $6 that returns from Southpark Meadows at 4:30 p.m., also for $6; and (3) an 8 a.m. trip from Kyle to an unspecified bus stop in San Marcos for $5 that departs for Kyle, presumably from that same stop, at 4:30 p.m., also for $5.
  • Review and accept the annual Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, usually referred to as the "Caffer," as well as the city annual independent audit. The Caffer is one of the most important documents produced annually by a municipal government in that it outlines the city’s financial condition. It’s a must read for policy wonks and those who insist on "government transparency" and can be found here along with other supplemental items contained on Tuesday’s agenda. The Caffer is to city government what the Annual Report is to a publicly held company. The bottom line of the Caffer is that Kyle has a financially solid bottom line. My only problem is that the agenda was posted Friday afternoon and there’s not enough time between then and Tuesday’s meeting for citizens to digest adequately all the information contained in the Caffer. I hope City Council members had more time to study this than the public did, because I can’t conceive how they can offer an informative discussion on the Caffer if they only saw it for the first time on Friday.
  • Will consider a resolution to join the Clean Air Coalition, an outfit that talks a big game but does little to solve air pollution caused by motor vehicles, namely ways to reduce dramatically the number of vehicles on the roads.
  • Will consider a companion ordinance prohibiting drivers from idling their cars and trucks for more than five consecutive minutes, making exceptions for almost all the reasons why that idling occurs, except for waiting in line at the prescription drive-through window at Walgreen’s. Interestingly, the ordinance doesn’t offer any penalties for disobeying it, so there’s that. Both this and the previous item seemed to be aimed more at creating obstacles for the construction of a truck stop at Yarrington Road than achieving the specific aims outlined but at least they do pass the smell test.
  • Will discuss and possibly act on the long-overdue concept of initiating a stormwater fee and a stormwater utility.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Is the city going out of its way to limit walkability?


It's one thing that Kyle has been deliberately developed to discourage walkability, but when these types of sidewalk barriers are permitted to remain in neighborhoods where walkability is desired for extended periods of time, it borders on the criminal.

This is near the Overlook Apartments, a development for "active seniors," many of whom have recently complained about the lack of transportation options. Now a literal roadblock exists to limit another one of those options, the option to simply walk along the neighborhood's sidewalks.

OK, I know people will say "Why don't you just walk around it?" But that means you advocate a policy of allowing vehicular traffic to block sidewalks and forcing pedestrian traffic to abandon the sidewalks for the streets. Yeah, that really makes for a livable city.

We can do better than this. Kyle should represent a standard higher than this. We should provide for and, even more important, permit walkable neighborhoods.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Only incumbents show up for drawing

It’s one thing when voters show little interest in a City Council election, but what does it say about a pair of challenging candidates who fail to appear for a necessary election preliminary? Questions could be raised about their commitment to serve.

Only incumbents Diane Hervol (District 1) and Shane Arabie (District 3) took time out from their schedules to attend this morning’s drawing to determine their place on the ballot. Their challengers, Travis Mitchell in District 1 and Randall Lloyd in District 3, were both conspicuous by their absences.

Not that Hervol’s and Arabie’s appearance did them any favors. Both drew second spot on their respective ballots. So there’s that. But at least they thought the event was important enough to be there in person. Like I said, how can a candidate even attempt to sway voters to turn out to vote if that candidate is not willing to devote the time and energy to participate in the ballot drawing? Just saying.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Incumbents Arabie, Hervol, two others file for City Council

Incumbents Shane Arabie and Diane Hervol have filed for re-election to the Kyle City Council and each will face one opponent.

The deadline for filing for the May election was 5 p.m. today. Depending on the outcome of the Charter Review election, which will be on the same ballot, this could be the last City Council election held in May.

Arabie will actually be seeking his first three-year term on the council. He originally won his seat in an August 2014 special election when he ran to fill the unexpired term of Chad Benninghoff, who resigned his seat a year after winning it. Hervol is seeking her third thee-year term. She will be opposed by Mitchell Motorsports CEO Travis Mitchell while Arabie will be facing off against Randall Lloyd, who lists his occupation as restaurant manager (at Applebee’s, so I’ve been told), but also appears to have dabbled somewhat in residential real estate with his own company called Byegone Era Santa’s.

For what it’s worth, it appears three of the four candidates — Arabie, Hervol and Lloyd — all moved to Kyle right around the same time. On their respective applications, each claimed to have lived in Kyle for 13 years, while Mitchell reported he moved here three years ago.

For the record, this blog has not in the past and has absolutely no plans in the future to endorse any candidate for any political office. Instead I will attempt to sit down with all four candidates running for the council and ask each of them essentially the same questions. I will then reproduce the transcripts of those conversations on this blog in attempt to better inform potential voters on what the candidates have to say on various issues. If any reader has a question they would like asked of all the candidates, please e-mail that question to me at poppel@twc.com or leave it in the comments section.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

City botches fireworks safety response

In a previous lifetime, I was a partner in a media consulting firm that, among other things, spent a lot of time advising large corporations on what to say during times of crisis. We also developed and taught a one-day course in crisis communications. For that course, I developed a video library of individuals who handled crisis communications superbly along with those who had completely botched it. One of the videos I used to illustrate this latter category involved an accident that occurred on the site of one of those traveling carnivals that set up rides and other attractions in the middle of an urban setting. As this particular carnival was setting up on a vacant lot located alongside a busy road about two miles from downtown Dallas, one of their workers was crushed to death in front of horrified onlookers (including children) when one of the rides collapsed. On the subsequent newscast, the operator of the carnival appeared on screen and said for all the world to hear: "Thank goodness it was one of our own employees who was killed." Whenever I played the tape of that news segment to one of my classes, an audible groan could be heard.

I never thought I would ever hear a replay of that and I didn’t, for the longest time, That is, until Tuesday night at the Kyle City Council meeting when Kerry Urbanowicz, the city’s Parks and Recreation director, tried to reassure the council and the assembled masses about an upcoming Independence Day fireworks show planned for the city to be produced by Pyro Shows of Texas by telling everyone that if someone gets killed by the fireworks, it’s likely to be an employee of Pyro and not an independent contractor.

Hey, I’m not making this up. That’s what he said.

All this concern about Pyro stems from the fact that last week, the family of an independent contractor who was killed when he was hired by Pyro to put on an Independence Day fireworks in Comanche, Texas, a couple years ago filed suit against Pyro and the manufacturers of the fireworks alleging those fireworks "were defectively designed and sold without proper safety mechanisms or warnings." The suit does claim the fireworks were mishandled. As a matter of fact, the suit claims the explosion that killed the contractor, Russell Reynolds, took place just as Reynolds was about to "handle" the fireworks. It is alleging that any human error that occurred took place back at the Chinese facilities were these explosives were made and shipped from — the exact same facilities that will be making and shipping the explosives to be used here in Kyle.

Now the simple fact that a lawsuit has been filed should not infer guilt by any stretch of the imagination. But, still, it would seem prudent, to me at least, to take a least some cautionary steps to assure our citizens here there is not going to be any real danger of a massive explosion. It would have been prudent, to me at least, to ask Pyro whether it has sought safety reassurances from its manufacturers or if the company has just conducted business as usual since the accident.

About 38 hours ago, I posed that very question to city spokesperson Kim Hilsenbeck and here we are, a day and a half later, and I have yet to receive any kind of response which tells me very clearly the answer to that question is "No, the city’s staff failed to ask the obvious safety question."

I find that very discomforting and you can bet my family and I will be safely geographically distant from this fireworks show when it occurs.

After informing the council that Pyro is "completely insured," Urbanowicz said "I did reach out this afternoon and talked to the president of the company. What he did want to assure me to assure you is that they were not the producer, the technicians or the manufacturers of the products that were in the claim against them. They were the wholesaler to another group of technicians that were licensed and certified by the state, but they weren’t their technicians. All of our shows that we’ve had with them have been their certified, licensed and insured technicians and that’s what this contract includes."

That’s it. That’s exactly what he said. Not only that, but the council just nodded their collective heads, said OK, and voted unanimously to award the contract to these folks.

Look, the subject of the Comanche lawsuit had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with whether Pyro was "the wholesaler to another group of technicians " or whether they were the "producer, the technicians or the manufacturers of the products that were in the claim against them." The suit involved allegations over the safety of the products themselves and that’s why the Chinese manufacturers — the exact same manufacturers who are supplying apparently identical products to Kyle — are the principle defendants in the suit. Pyro is named in the suit because it is the company who ordered those products from the manufacturers.

So, if the city refuses to ask the relevant questions, I believe someone should. So yesterday I wrote and submitted the following e-mail message to the Pyro honchos:

"I am a reporter who covers Kyle, Texas, city government for the blog, The Kyle Report. I know that you have a contract with the city to produce an Independence Day fireworks show in Kyle, but I am also aware of the lawsuit filed recently by the family of Russell Reynolds involving his death in a fireworks incident a couple of years ago in Comanche, Texas. Now I know that the simple filing of a lawsuit should not and does not infer guilt in any way, shape or form and I know you cannot, under the advise of attorneys, comment specifically on an ongoing lawsuit. But my question to you is simply this: Have you, at any time, reached out to the fireworks manufacturers you contract with in China since the incident in Comanche to seek additional safety assurances from them?"

I immediately received the standard robo response: "Thanks Pete! We will get in touch with you shortly."

If and when I hear back, I will post it here.

Tuesday night’s City Council meeting was one of the smoothest and most efficient such gatherings I have encountered during my admittedly comparatively brief time covering these proceedings. I think that had a lot to with the speakers actually having the courtesy to adhere to the three-minute time limit during the Citizen Comment period, which lasted all of 28 minutes and featured 11 different speakers talking on 12 different subjects, the predominant subject still being that big, bad, old truck stop planned for I-35 and Yarrington Road, a subject that was not only not on last night’s agenda but a subject that has not been specifically on any council or Planning & Zoning agenda in the last 17 months. But that simple fact is not going to deter concerned citizens from speaking out about it.

It also helped that there was no executive session during last night’s council meeting. The typical Kyle City Council executive session will last at least an hour, many of them approach two hours and one that I recalled stretched to three hours and 44 minutes. The two most time-consuming items on the agenda, which together consumed an hour and seven minutes of the two-hour, 46-minute-meeting, involved discussions over data mining and privacy issues (34 minutes) and another about sustainable developments (33 minutes). Even the council’s review, discussion and debate over various public transportation alternatives took less than a half an hour.

In capsulized form, here is an overview of what the council accomplished of significance to Kyle residents and visitors at Tuesday’s meeting:
  • Voted 6-1 (council member Daphne Tenorio opposed, apparently, from what I gathered, because she felt the position wasn’t advertised as well as it could have been) to approve local business owner Allison Wilson to fill Michelle’s Christie’s term on the Planning & Zoning Commission. Christie left the commission last week with plans to return to her home in New Jersey.
  • Gushed over the fact that the city is becoming certified as a "Film Friendly Texas" community in the eyes of the Texas Film Commission and unanimously adopted a set of guidelines for filming here. "This has been a long time coming," council member Diane Hervol said. "I’m happy to see it finally coming to full council. In my opinion, I believe it will have an enormous economic impact for Kyle but it will also have a tourism effect. We’ll see people from other parts of the country come to visit Kyle." And she could be correct. I make regular pilgrimages to Monument Valley simply because so many of my favorite John Ford-directed westerns were filmed there and about 10 years ago I made a drive to the Devil’s Tower in Wyoming simply because of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The address of my favorite house of all time is 6301 Quebec Drive in Los Angeles because that’s the location of the house where Fred MacMurray first encounters Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity. But, then, I’m a certified movie nut as opposed to a certified film friendly Texas community.
  • In a move that would have Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky, beaming, the council voted 6-1 to rescind a memorandum of understanding with Vigilant Solutions to provide the Kyle Police Department with license plate readers that, theoretically, would have nabbed those miscreants who have dodged paying the city the money they owe due to outstanding warrants. This was a case of those wishing to protect privacy rights and those who feared security breaches against the side of law and order (the latter side being represented by Mayor Pro Tem David Wilson who cast the one dissenting vote). Interestingly, the city’s leader of all things involving law and order, Police Chief Jeff Barnett, who originally advocated for the readers, was notably absent from Tuesday’s meeting. Perhaps he read the tea leaves. I think it’s worth sharing this excerpt from an article about Vigilant published last month in The Atlantic: "Throughout the United States — outside private houses, apartment complexes, shopping centers, and businesses with large employee parking lots — a private corporation, Vigilant Solutions, is taking photos of cars and trucks with its vast network of unobtrusive cameras. It retains location data on each of those pictures, and sells it. It’s happening right now in nearly every major American city. The company has taken roughly 2.2 billion license-plate photos to date. Each month, it captures and permanently stores about 80 million additional geotagged images. They may well have photographed your license plate. As a result, your whereabouts at given moments in the past are permanently stored. Vigilant Solutions profits by selling access to this data (and tries to safeguard it against hackers). Your diminished privacy is their product. And the police are their customers." Well, the Kyle Police are not going to be one of their customers. It’s also worth reading this indictment of Vigilant from the Motherboard website that says, in part: "The state of Texas happened upon a great racket last year in the form of H.B. 121, a new state law effectively turning cops into debt collectors, except with arrest powers and, you know, guns. It does this by legalizing the installation of credit card readers in cop cars. The idea is that drivers detained during traffic stops can be given the option to pay any overdue court fees that might be attached to their name rather than go to jail. Ominous, but it probably keeps some people out of cuffs. Where this gets really creepy is when a company that calls itself Vigilant Solutions enters the picture. Vigilant is in the business of license plate recognition technology, providing police departments with not just cameras and software, but access to a database containing some 2.8 billion plate scans. All of this it provides at ‘no cost.’ Except that it doesn't." Then there’s this from the Electronic Frontier Foundation about automated license plate readers: "ALPRs typically capture sensitive location information on all drivers — not just criminal suspects — and, in aggregate, the information can reveal personal information, such as where you go to church, what doctors you visit, and where you sleep at night." I have attempted to reach Vigilant’s vice president of sales Joseph L. Harzewski III, who argued Vigilant’s case to the council Tuesday, but I keep getting a busy signal when I try to contact him by phone and he has not responded as of this time to my e-mail requests.
  • Council members generally agreed the best and most financially reasonable method of providing public transportation is to form a partnership with Kyle/Buda taxi that would be based on the city reimbursing the company for fixed-route transportation expenses on a per-hour basis. The council asked the city’s staff to return in two weeks with a contract for just such a service it could review and possibly approve.
  • Delayed for at least two weeks discussions on vehicle idling within the city limits and the possibility of joining the Central Texas Clean Air Coalition to give council members time to collect more information on (1) idling ordinances in other cities and (2) the cost of joining the coalition.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

City realizes second consecutive positive sales tax report

Updated at 7:30 p.m. to include comments from Mayor Todd Webster

The city is slowly pulling itself out of the budget gap caused by far lower than anticipated sales tax receipts for the first three months of the fiscal year with the second consecutive month of higher than projected sales tax numbers.

Although it still doesn’t completely compensate for the disastrous December figures, when sales tax receipts were $43,000 below the projected numbers, February’s report was positive, $14,478.73 or 2.04 percent above forecasts. That reduces the deficit for the fiscal year to $33,542.28, with seven months left in the accounting period to erase that deficit. It should be noted, however, that last year sales tax receipts fell below projections for those final seven months of the fiscal year.

Kyle’s total sales tax receipts for February reporting period were $722,526.73, compared to $597,254.09 for the same period last year.

"This small rebound is good," Mayor Todd Webster said, "but it is still something we have to keep our eyes on. What is really remarkable is how much higher our receipts are now over the same months last year. It really attests to how soundly Kyle’s economy is growing. So, personally, I’m feeling pretty good about these numbers."
 

Friday, February 12, 2016

City to consider hiring fireworks company that is defendant in wrongful death suit

Updated Sunday 2-14 to include responses from Mayor Todd Webster and council member Daphne Tenorio

In its presentation to the Kyle City Council Tuesday, an outfit called Pyro Shows of Texas will tout the fact that the fireworks it plans to use for a proposed Fourth of July show here are manufactured by the same companies that are defendants in a $1 million wrongful death lawsuit filed last month by a family in Comanche, Texas, a lawsuit that also names Pyro as a co-defendant.

The council’s consent agenda (meaning this item could be passed without any specific discussion about it) contains an item to pay Pyro Shows of Texas $20,000 to put on the city’s Independence Day fireworks show. And in the materials that accompany the agenda, Pyro boasts it plans to use fireworks made from such Chinese-based companies as Icon Pyrotechnic International and Glorious Company. What the accompanying materials don’t mention is that those two companies plus five others as well as Pyro Shows of Texas were sued for $1 million Jan. 16 over the death of a Comanche man who was killed when a trailer loaded with fireworks exploded while he was preparing for a similar Fourth of July show in 2014.

According to a story in the Jan. 27 issue of the Fort Worth Star Telegram, Russell Reynolds "was preparing the fireworks for the show when there was an ‘early, unexpected ignition’ which lead to ‘subsequent ignitions, explosions and fire. … Reynolds’ wife Sherry and her two children are suing Pyro Shows of Texas and six Chinese companies involved in designing, manufacturing, selling and packing the fireworks for sale."

The Star Telegram story also states "Since the fireworks Reynolds was working with were in the same condition as when they were purchased from Pyro Shows of Texas, the lawsuit contends they were defectively designed and sold without proper safety mechanisms or warnings."

To make sure there are sufficient guarantees everyone connected with the Kyle show is going to be safe, perhaps this item should be pulled from the consent agenda and discussed. Even if just a little more. Just saying.

Then there’s this. The next item on the consent agenda is one to amend an agreement with the law firm of Linebarger, Goggan, Blair and Sampson, LLC, to expand its ability to collect money owed to the city for non-payment of utility services. In return, the firm will get to keep 30 percent of everything it collects. This is the same Linebarger, Goggan, Blair and Sampson, LLC that just last month was ordered to pay $3.4 million to resolve "claims made in a class action proceeding that the firm violated the California Unfair Competition Law by engaging in the illegal practice of law in California by sending letters into California attempting to collect debts owed to various California governmental agencies."

Here’s hoping that not too many of those deadbeats who owe Kyle live in California or in other states that might go after the law firm for doing exactly same thing.

Isn’t there some kind of saying or proverb or something about being judged by the company you keep?

"I am confident these items will be pulled from the consent agenda," Mayor Todd Webster said. "And I have absolutely no problem with them being pulled."

Shortly thereafter, council member Daphne Tenorio said she would pull both items from the consent agenda.

In other items worth noting on Tuesday’s agenda:

  • The first place an outside production company will visit when it wants to go on location to make some kind of film in Texas — be it a full-length feature or a 30-second commercial — is the Texas Film Commission which maintains a list of "Film Friendly" communities in Texas. In order to get on that list, a city must establish guidelines for filming within its corporate limits. The council will consider just such guidelines Tuesday.
  • The council will consider a plan to install a utility payment drop box immediately south of the VFW building on Front Street. The plan also increases the annual lease on the property paid by the Union Pacific Railroad to $6,970, an increase of $1,574.50.
  • Apparently because of some uproar from citizens, the company that is providing the readers that will allow Kyle police to stop vehicles whose owners have outstanding municipal court warrants and seek payment from the operators of those vehicles is amending its agreement so that all data collected by the readers will be deleted from the company’s server upon termination of the contract. It is also throwing in a payment kiosk to be located either at police headquarters or just outside the municipal court as well as direct mailings to offenders at no cost to the city.
  • The council will consider a partnership with Gateway Planning/Catalyst commercial for a sustainable development initiative. This organization was part of a larger group that recently developed plans for a project in Cleburne, Texas, to be called Cleburne Station, a 70-acre complex that’s supposed to include about 346,000 square feet of retail space, restaurants and a ballpark that will host a minor league baseball team, the local high school’s baseball games and as many as 80 other events, including concerts and car shows. The city will pay 25 percent of the development costs, but Cleburne is able to fund that cost by adding a half-cent to its sales tax rate. Kyle’s sales tax rate is maxed out so any similar developments that would involve major municipal funds would have to come via voter-approved bond sales and the subsequent increase in property taxes. On the other hand, this city certainly does need plans and directions for sustainable developments.
  • The council plans to continue its discussion on funding public transportation in Kyle (which could take on an entirely new context since it was learned that the proposed Lone Star Rail project is, for all practical purposes, dead and buried), and initiate discussions on two related items: First, vehicle idling, which is the leading cause of deadly atmospheric ozone, and, second, whether Kyle should join the rest of civilized Central Texas in the Central Texas Clean Air Coalition.

You can find the complete agenda along all accompanying materials here.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Transportation Plan meeting a travesty, a complete waste of time

Here’s a shout-out to the majority of folks who live in Kyle — you didn’t fall for the bait-and-switch debacle of what was billed as a Transportation Plan presentation, but was actually nothing more than a plea to build more roads by a company who profits tremendously when new roads are built — you folks were smart enough to stay away. Hopefully, far, far away. This was a joke.

It wasn’t even a presentation. No one stood up and said "Here’s what the plan entails." Instead, about a half dozen colorful presentation boards were propped on easels in a semicircle in what I guess is the cafeteria of Fuentes Elementary School. And these boards screamed out: "It’s going to cost billions in taxpayer money to build these unnecessary soon-to-be congested roads that will, more quickly than you probably expect, cost even more billions to maintain and reconstruct as they age. This is a plan that solves absolutely nothing but will put you incredibly in debt, (although it make those of us who are advocating it a whole lot of money)."

Yes, it was not a Transportation Plan, as it was labeled to be. It was simply a roads plan. Worst fears realized.

Someone needs to step forward and proclaim "This type of antiquated, outmoded, World War II-era approach to solving transportation issues needs to be abolished immediately so we can concentrate on developing strong, sustainable neighborhoods."

When are we going to learn that the city’s goal should not be "How do we get people through and around Kyle," but, instead, "How do we get people to come and stay in Kyle, work in Kyle, play in Kyle, shop in Kyle? In short, how do we make it as convenient as possible for people — young, old and in-between, the healthy and the affirmed, ALL people — to actually live in Kyle, not simply reside here?"

Don’t expect tax incentives tied to livable wage in Kyle anytime soon

Last week the San Marcos City Council began requiring that any business seeking municipal tax incentives for bringing new jobs to the city must pay a livable wage — specifically, at least $15 an hour — to qualify for those incentives and, in so doing, urged other Hays County communities to follow suit. Based on exchanges I’ve had with four of our seven council members, I don’t expect Kyle to be one of those Hays County communities.

Mayor Todd Webster said he feared passing a similar regulation would put Kyle at a competitive disadvantage in attracting new business. Council member Shane Arabie told me he wants the city’s economic development procurers to have plenty of flexibility when it comes to bringing jobs to Kyle. Diane Hervol said more research needs to be done before Kyle attempts such an approach and Daphne Tenorio said she is concentrating on other priorities and acknowledged, even though she personally favors such an approach, there would be little, if any, support from other council members to pass an ordinance like that here. Mayor Pro Tem David Wilson and council members Becky Selbera and Damon Fogley ignored my requests for comment on this subject.

According to the Texas State University daily newspaper, "San Marcos City Council passed an amendment to the city’s economic development policy Feb. 2 to require any jobs qualifying for incentives to pay employees a $15 hourly minimum wage. City officials will only grant job-based incentives to businesses that pay employees a living wage and include employer-sponsored health care. Council members agree the new policy will benefit the community."

The paper quoted one council member, John Thomaides, as saying: "I’m hoping other communities in the region follow suit, It sure would be nice if we had an Austin-San Antonio corridor that valued our people as much as we value our profits or incentives."

Sorry, John, but that 15 bucks stops here.

"I do not have any intention of pursuing a blanket policy that would establish such a condition or any other condition that would tie our hands when trying to recruit businesses to Kyle," Mayor Webster said. "Economic development is competitive and to be successful I don’t believe that Kyle should establish unnecessary and pre-determined conditions that would hamper our ability to successfully compete. Job creation is certainly one of the city’s economic development goals but so is expanding the city’s commercial tax base. The latter being necessary if we are to ever provide meaningful tax reduction. Establishing a blanket requirement would likely hinder our efforts to bring balance to our tax base and in turn, would hinder our ability to provide future tax relief to residential tax payers."

"Any ordinance like that pins you to a rule," Arabie said. "I’m not opposed to setting something like that as a guideline, but different projects present different challenges. Guidelines like this would be something we could use as a negotiating tool, but I am opposed to an outright policy change."

"I am not sure how well an ordinance of this nature would be greeted by my colleagues," Hervol said. "At this point in time, I am not prepared to bring it before council. I would like to do research and get pertinent feedback from all the cities that have implemented such an ordinance."

"San Marcos is setting the bar high and I think it's marvelous," Tenorio said. "I would love to introduce this type of ordinance in our city. However, I know I wouldn't have the support to pass it. Right now I am concentrating on transportation for our disabled and elderly, stopping the horrendous development that has been proposed at Yarrington Road and assuring our water wastewater plant is able to sustain the current constituency, adding to it prior to approving additional development. I certainly think a minimum wage ordinance tied to taxpayer aid is a great idea that could be highly beneficial to our citizens!"

There you have it. Some like it. Some don’t. But all agree it ain’t happening here, at least anytime in the foreseeable future.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

P&Z does its business and adjourns without fuss

In a meeting distinguished only by its comparative brevity and well-deserved tribute to outgoing commissioner and long-time Kyle volunteer Michelle Christie, who has decided to return to her home in New Jersey, the Planning & Zoning Commissioner unanimously recommended last night that:
  • Rick Coleman be granted the conditional use permit he needs to conduct what he is calling the Hays County Fair & Crawfish Boil April 7-9 next to the Central Texas Speedway.
  • The proposed Sonic Drive-In at 400 E. RR 150, next to the animal shelter, be granted a variance from the landscaping ordinance which requires that "no parking space is more than 50 feet from the trunk of a tree." Howard J. Koontz, the city’s director of planning and community development, said this ordinance is designed to ensure proper shade for cars parked in these lots and that it should not be enforced for Sonic because its parking is covered by man-made canopies anyway. Today, as is my wont, I did some grocery shopping at H-E-B and maybe, perhaps, there’s a chance that one or more of the trees in that parking lot will, long after I’m dead, grow large enough to provide adequate shade for a car. Maybe. Perhaps. There’s a chance. And even in the unlikely event it ever did grow large enough to provide adequate shade for a car parked 50 feet from its trunk, I stepped off the distance between where I parked my car and the nearest tree. The distance was 47 regular steps or almost three times the distance the ordinance is supposed to require. And you will have to look long and hard (and without success) to find anything resembling any form of covered parking on that lot. And you know what? I have absolutely no problems with the H-E-B parking lot. So, if it’s OK for H-E-B, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with granting this variance for Sonic.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The new Anthem

Updated Wednesday 2-10 to include comments from Mountain City Mayor Tiffany Carnutt and Hays CISD spokesperson Tim Savoy

I ventured over to sit in on Mountain City’s City Council meeting last night because (1) I wanted to view the "official" reaction to the decision by the Kyle City Council to dissolve the Interlocal Agreement between the two cities and (2) the agenda promised an update from Clark Wilson on his Anthem development — a primarily residential development that appears, at least on Anthem’s website, to be at least twice the size of Mountain City — that prompted the proposed ILA.

First things first. The feeling among the City Council members about the ILA’s status was one of "relief" as in "We’re glad we put that behind us" and "This is how this thing should have played out all along." These words or anything similar we never said by anyone out loud. But there was no mistaking the vibes coming from the council members.

A quick history lesson. When Wilson first announced his Anthem development, located in Mountain City’s extra-territorial jurisdiction, the question that quickly arose was where were the folks who would live there someday get their water. Wilson had signed a deal with a Houston outfit, Electro Purification, but its water source quickly evaporated. Kyle leapt to the rescue telling Mountain City, in effect, "We’ll be more than happy to supply the water as well as the wastewater services the development needs. All we ask in return is that your relinquish jurisdiction so we can annex the development." Enough folks in Mountain City found that idea abhorrent enough to delay signing the deal until finally Kyle said "Keep Anthem. We’ll just sell water and wastewater services to the folks there like we would any other customer." This is a gross over-simplification but it addresses the essence of the deal.

An obviously relieved Wilson told the Mountain City council last night that he is scaling back on the number of homes he plans to build from the original 2,100 figure that was being tossed around. He told the council he’s looking at 1,600 residences starting at $300,000 on lots as big "as the market will bear." In other words, he looking more at what I would refer to as "estates" than just "new homes."

He also said he is moving the proposed elementary school from its original planned location immediately northwest of the proposed "Kyle Loop" that will traverse the development to an area in close proximity to the traffic circle near the southwestern Ranch Road 150 entrance to the development.

I have noticed that many communities have begun partnering with school districts to develop joint library and park facilities. All elementary schools require playgrounds and the latest thinking among city planners is there is a cost saving if these playgrounds can also double as a city park. Wilson was working along these lines with the park planned for the school. The same thought process is going into libraries that are also required for public schools. I asked Wilson if he had thought about such a cooperative deal, one that might even involve Mountain City itself as well as the Hays Consolidated Independent School District.

"Great idea and I will propose that concept to the school district," Wilson replied. "The drive from Mountain City to Anthem is a couple of miles on the ground even though it's almost touching as the crow flies. We will have a trail system throughout the Anthem community and could try to connect that trail system to Mountain City if that is desirable to the current residents. My experience is since a connection is ‘two-way’ there could be some folks that would not want that connection. … We want to build a community that works well and is an integral part of the area."

The geography is fascinating. As it stands right now, it appears that Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton could stand on the western border of Mountain City and easily toss a football into Anthem. But to drive there, Mountain City residents will have to go south on 2770 to the intersection of Rebel Drive and then northwest on Ranch Road 150 to the Anthem entrance, a distance of almost four miles.

"First, I love the idea and wasn't aware of this growing concept, but it really makes so much sense," Mountain City Mayor Tiffany Carnutt said.

"We have had some resident opposition to a direct connection with Anthem, both road and trail opposition at various different times," the mayor continued. "As Mr. Wilson continues to develop the layout of the Anthem plan we would like to survey the residents to get their feedback for ideas such as this one and the trail concept.

"I understand that there is also an elementary school site planned for the east side of 2770 directly across from Mountain City (between Kohlers Crossing, 1626 and 2770)," she said. "It may be a new can of worms but, logistically, a library would make more sense in that particular location as far as we are concerned. And who knows, that may be where our Mountain City kids end up attending when rezoning takes place again in this fast growing district.

"With that said, now that we are back to the original development agreement and ready to move forward with a plan I think it will be easier for our residents and council to get our arms around the Anthem plan and how we can work together to be good neighbors and welcome them into our ETJ," Carnutt concluded. "Mr. Wilson has been great to work with and we are sure there will be plenty more meetings and ideas as we continue through this process."

The school district, on the other hand, would not even commit to the idea of an elementary school in Anthem. But the district’s spokesman said the district would be open to some form of a joint library.

"The school district wouldn't be opposed to having some type of extended hours with the library, should the district decide to finalize an elementary campus in Anthem," district spokesperson Tim Savoy said. "Nothing has been concluded at present on the project.

"Also, the construction of an elementary school would ultimately be up to voters to decide in a future bond election," he continued. "We have had libraries open in other schools to serve community needs at various times, particularly concerning access to computer labs, etc.

"There are really two issues to consider," Savoy said. "First, building and outfitting the facility. That would actually be a matter of voters determining whether to approve a bond. The other consideration is the operational budget — where funds would come from for paid staff members and utility usage, etc., if the library would regularly operate extended hours. That would be the more challenging detail to work out.

"I think we would be limited in using general operating money earmarked for school operations to expand to city library services for non-students," he concluded. "However, there are always grant possibilities or inter-local agreements with the city or other entities. It's a good idea that would have some details to work out, but the short answer is that we would not be opposed to the possibilities."

So there you have it.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Council goes in wrong direction to solve transportation complaints

(Updated to include Mountain City Mayor Tiffany Carnutt’s reaction to last night’s action by the city council to rescind the Anthem related ILA)

The Kyle City Council, in response to about a half-dozen mostly elderly residents who have serious transportation needs, turned to the city staff last night and instructed it to come up with a financially feasible solution.


It was the wrong action to take, the wrong direction in which to turn.

For one thing, the city’s transportation issues are not the responsibility of municipal government and I’ll explain why in a minute. Before that, however, the issue remains how to deal with the specific problem facing council members last night. Yes, there are people in this community, however small a percentage of the total population that group might comprise, who have real transportation needs. If the government of the city in which they have chosen to reside can’t and shouldn’t provide the solution, who can?

I can only speak for myself, but if I sat on the Kyle City Council and I felt passionately about dealing with this issue, I would be out in the community right this minute banging on the door of every church in town, seeking to meet with every religious leader and any other faith-based organizations that existed around here. It is a mission, perhaps a primary mission, of church groups and other faith-based organizations to reach out to those in need and I’m convinced with the assistance of Kyle’s religious leaders a network of volunteers could be created to provide for the transportation needs of this small group of citizens. Not only that, these churches might be able to find additional members among this group or at least a few who would like to not only attend church services but become aware of other programs the churches might offer as part of their outreach to the elderly. At the very least, these volunteers have another charitable deduction to include on their income tax filings. If the city wants to take an additional role in this, it could, once a year, stage a small ceremony before a City Council meeting in which these volunteers along with the religious institution they represent, are recognized and publicly thanked for their contributions to making Kyle a more liveable community for all its residents.

Now to return to the overarching question of meeting the transportation needs of the many instead of just a select few. Mayor Todd Webster was correct last night when he said a regional solutioon, not a local municipal approach was needed. But here’s an important question that must be answered: Is Kyle really at a place where there is even a viable regional approach that could be inclusive of Kyle? I am not sure the city is at that point. Not yet, anyway.

Here’s why: Effective transportation, like effective communications, has to be two-way. Talking is not the same thing as effectively communicating, which requires there be one or more persons on the other end to both hear and understand what you’re saying and then even acting upon it. Before Kyle can be a viable participant in any regional transportation plan it must become a city not just where residents want a transportation alternative to get somewhere else, but where there is also that same need and desire to come to Kyle. Or, in the words of City Manager Scott Sellers, Kyle needs to become a destination city.

The best way to achieve this, of course, is to make the city more of an employment destination, to convert Kyle into a city where the daytime population is significantly higher than its nighttime census. That could create a demand from outside of Kyle to include our city in a regional transportation network. And then these businesses must be encouraged to find ways to convince their employees to seek alternative forms of transportation. Part of the employment package at the City of Dallas, where I worked for a number of years, is an annual DART (Dallas Area Rapid Transit) pass. One quickly learns, when you add in the wear-and-tear on your private vehicle, parking expenses, fuel expenses, etc., that these passes are worth far more than simply the train/bus fare the pass pays for. At the same time, the city should investigate any and all ways to place unique retail/dining options in the city. If the word gets out in Central Texas "The only place you’re going to find that is in Kyle," the greater the demand becomes to get to Kyle, if only for a couple of hours. I’m also convinced, by studying the trends popping up all over the place, more and more people would like to turn away from their SOVs to other transportation options if those options were reliable. And a single municipal government — not Kyle’s, not even Austin’s — can provide that.

What is required is a far-reaching, all-inclusive self-governing regional transportation authority to design, fund and implement an integrated transportation network. And what I mean by integrated is simply this: Any such network which services Kyle should provide for transportation options to take Kyle residents to Austin Bergstrom International Airport, to the Greyhound or the Amtrak terminals in Austin and San Marcos. And when I say far-reaching, all-inclusive I’m talking about a network that will give me a transportation alternative to attend a home game of the San Antonio Spurs, an event at the Alamodome and even treat my granddaughter to a day at Schlitterbahn or an evening at Wurstfest, a dinner at a restaurant located on South or North Lamar in Austin, a day at the Bullock Museum, a game at Dell Diamond without having to face the obstacles of dealing with traffic or trying to find a convenient place to park.

Kyle city government’s role in all of this is not to provide those transportation networks, but to find ways to reduce the need for those networks on a local basis. Kyle planning is basically founded on the principles of municipal planning developed immediately after World War II and, now here we are, 70 years later, still following those same outdated models. To put it bluntly, Kyle is little more than a collection of slightly upgraded Levittowns.

Let me quote a section from The Smart Growth Manual by Andres Duany and Jeff Beck, both respected municipal planning experts: "With the exception of regional-scale corridors and special-use districts, growth should be organized as neighborhoods. The term neighborhood has the specific technical meaning of being compact, walkable, diverse, and connected. It is compact — as dense as the market will allow — in order not to waste land, and it is typically no larger than a half-mile across. It is walkable in that this size corresponds to a five-minute walk from edge to the center and that all its streets are pedestrian-friendly. It is diverse in that it can provide the full range of daily needs, including shopping, workplace, and housing for all ages, incomes, and living arrangements. Finally, it is connected in that it is seamlessly integrated into transit, roadway and bicycle networks."

City planning that incorporates this thinking makes sense on so many levels. Ask most of Kyle citizens what they feel is the most pressing problem facing the city, and they’ll reply the condition of the city’s streets. That’s because that Levittown planning concept puts too much burden on those streets and the cost of maintaining and repairing them consumes too high a percentage of the city’s budget. And the city’s current growth model simply compounds the problem. Kyle is accumulating a debt for future generations that could become insurmountable and that borders on the criminal.

Again, as recommended by The Smart Growth Manual, Kyle’s No. 1 growth priority should be urban revitalization, which, of course, here should be concentrated in an around the downtown area. Priority No. 2 is urban infill, 3 is urban extension and the fourth priority should be suburban retrofit. Its least important priority, which is exactly opposite of Kyle’s current mode of operation, is new neighborhoods that require new infrastructure. These priorities reduce the tax burden on future residents and frees up municipal funds to be used for other needs such as participating in a regional transportation network.

Many municipalities, including San Antonio and El Paso to name just two in the state of Texas, are seeing the wisdom in this and are already implementing form-based growth codes. For anyone interested, a guide called The SmartCode may be downloaded at www.smartcodecentral.org.


In other action last night, the council:
  • Approved the appointment of former police officer Aaron Townsend to the Civil Service Commission.
  • After watching a self-policing stormwater video, approved on first reading an ordinance adding much needed teeth to the city’s storm water regulations including providing criminal penalties for violators of the ordinance.
  • Asked the city’s staff to prepare a report summarizing what other cities (I presume cities comparable to Kyle in one way or another) are doing regarding ordinances to limit or permit the use of tobacco and tobacco-related products in public areas.
  • Rescinded its approval of an ILA with Mountain City and Hays County that would have resulted in Kyle annexing the planned Anthem subdivision, currently situated in Mountain City’s ETJ, and the city providing utility services to Anthem and, to a lesser extent, Mountain City itself. The council replaced the proposed ILA with a letter of intent to sell water and wastewater services directly to Anthem, with Anthem providing the necessary infrastructure and also contributing to the costs of expanding Kyle’s wastewater treatment facility. "I think it's a great way to move forward," Mountain City Mayor Tiffany Carnutt said. "We discussed this as an option initially with Clark Wilson and the city of Kyle and it wasn't an option for the city of Kyle at that time. So it's great that it's worked out. We appreciate the time put into the research and discovery behind this project from all parties including the city of Kyle, the city of Dripping Springs, Clark Wilson and our staff and council members as well. It's been a really long road getting to this point and it's kind of funny how we came full circle back to one of the initial ideas. At least we can also be comfortable in the fact that we reviewed and discussed every avenue possible to move forward with the idea."
  • Was informed by City Manager Scott Sellers that the lawsuit filed by Louisiana anesthesiologist Glen Hurlston against the cities of Kyle and Princeton, Texas, alleging a series of "unlawful police actions" in connection with Hurlston’s arrest on charges he physically abused his then wife after he learned of her affair with Kyle Police Chief Jeff Barnett, had been dismissed with prejudice, which means Hurlston cannot appeal the decision.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Kyle, San Marcos sing "Kumbaya" over proposed truck stop


Well, waddya know. Within 48 hours of Mayor Todd Webster saying disagreements between the cities of San Marcos and Kyle concerning development along the border of the two cities could best be resolved by talking to each other instead of drafting threatening letters, the two mayors, along with country officials, apparently got together yesterday and did exactly that.

This was the official confirmation of the meeting from the City of San Marcos just moments ago:

"(The) City of Kyle, City of San Marcos and Hays County leaders met on Monday to discuss regional cooperation on the development in the northwest corner of I-35 and Yarrington Road.

The area, which is a gateway to both Kyle and San Marcos, has been a topic of discussion in both cities as the City of Kyle works to rezone a section of the area within their city’s jurisdiction for future development.

Each entity recognizes the need to work together to grow the regional economy and to showcase the crossroads of the communities.

"I’m pleased we had the opportunity to meet and share our visions for the future of our communities," said Todd Webster, Mayor of Kyle. "The benefits of regional cooperation were evident in our discussion and we look forward to further conversations that will help us reach our respective and regional goals."

The City of San Marcos has invested heavily in the area of I-35 and Yarrington Road in the form of a Public Improvement District, Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone and a Municipal Utility District for high quality residential development and has plans in place for a significant amount of high quality commercial and employment growth. San Marcos leaders now hope to reach a regional consensus on plans for the area that reflects their investment in the area.

"The cities of Kyle, San Marcos and Hays County have worked together successfully on many joint projects in the past, and we believe we can work together now to create a regional node that provides benefits to each community and a gateway that is a true representation of our cities," Mayor of San Marcos Daniel Guerrero said.

The City of Kyle is also investing $7 million to extend utilities to that area. It also approved the I-35 Development Overlay which would ensure consistency and compliance with the terms of the overlay district. Examples includes building height and location, exterior details like cladding and materials, landscaping, signage, and site amenities like lighting and parking of any development at that site.

Hays County has also invested in the area, contributing more than $12 million in partnership with TxDOT on the Yarrington Bridge Overpass. There are also plans to invest more in the area with the proposed realignment of FM 150, a multi-million dollar project that includes a $3 million contribution from the City of Kyle, and a partnership between the Hays County and City of San Marcos on the 110 Loop which will connect IH-35 at McCarty Road on the south side of San Marcos to IH-35 at Yarrington Road north of San Marcos.

Following a briefing later in the day, Hays County Precinct 1 Commissioner Debbie Ingalsbe said, "When it comes to economic development and job growth jurisdictional lines often disappear, what’s good for one city often benefits neighboring cities and counties. We are committed to finding solutions that do just that for our communities and the people who live and work in them."

The three entities have not yet reached any formal agreement, but do plan to meet again in the near future to further discuss the Kyle zoning issue.

"We want to work together with property owners to ensure that their rights are retained while we hope to find the highest and best uses for property in that area," Precinct 4 Commissioner Ray Whisenant said.

The entities also reaffirmed their commitment to work toward more regional planning and economic development that facilitates quality growth and development and benefits all of the communities.

"This first meeting set the groundwork for many more productive talks, not only on this specific issue, but also on other partnership opportunities among Kyle, San Marcos and Hays County as well as with our neighboring communities," Guerrero said."

For what it’s worth, the meeting apparently took place at Kyle City Hall. I’m trying to learn more about when and where followup meetings might be held, who will be attending these meetings in the future, what those "respective and regional goals" Mayor Webster referred to are specifically, and whether agendas for additional meetings have been set.

This all stemmed from the controversy that arose when the investment group that owns 47 acres on the northwest corner of Yarrington and I-35 requested the City of Kyle to change the zoning on the property so that the investment group could locate a truck stop there. During a meeting a week ago tonight of Kyle’s Planning & Zoning Commission at which close to 30 San Marcos residents who live right across the border from the proposed development pleaded with commissioners not to approve the request, the commissioners did just that, voting it down 5-2. The issue was to come before the City Council tonight, but the investment group decided to withdraw their request.