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Still no consensus on how to deal with the criminal justice complex

And it’s back to the Mayor.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

Pushed by Mayor Annise Parker to decide whether Houston’s aging police and courts buildings should get patchwork repairs or be fully replaced, with both options carrying staggering price tags, City Council members instead opted for indecision.

By a 12-4 vote, the body sidestepped both options – one of which could cost more than $1 billion – and referred the item back to the Parker administration. The measure was a nonbinding resolution, meaning any choice would have seen no money spent and no plan formally committed to.

Parker, however, said she presented the item to gauge whether council was willing to move forward with building a new cops-and-courts complex, as several million dollars are needed to continue the planning process, money that could be wasted if the council has no plans to ultimately approve the project itself.

“It’s either put hundreds of millions of dollars into the existing buildings or put hundreds of millions of dollars into new construction,” Parker said. “Council members want to vote ‘none of the above,’ and my job is to tell them you can’t say ‘none of the above.’ The buildings are becoming hazardous. It’s clear council members don’t want to take a position. When there’s no good answers, if they can duck, they’re going to duck as long as they can.”

City Hall insiders saw hypocrisy on both sides, however.

Just as Parker complained that council members, many of whom often complain about being excluded from key decisions, punted when given the chance to make a hard call. However, those suspicious of the mayor griped that Parker sought council input only when it was convenient for her to share the heat over a potentially unpopular proposal.

See here for the background. The bottom line is that some significant amount of money is going to have to be spent, at a time when there isn’t much loose change lying around. Doing that means either forsaking any other capital spending for the foreseeable future, or raising taxes. Council didn’t like either of those choices, and punted it back to Mayor Parker, in hopes that there’s an option C out there. Good luck with that. Campos has more.

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3 Comments

  1. Paul kubosh says:

    I can only speak about 1400 Lubbock and I can tell you it is not dangerous and it us half empty.

  2. Steven Houston says:

    Since PK challenged information provided me last year, I did a little digging and spent some time thinking about this from a bigger picture point of view. Clearly the existing complexes, including 61 Riesner, 1400 Lubbock, 1200 Travis, the parking lot at Riesner, and the building on Artesian that had extensive asbestos remediation years ago, do not fill the bill of what the spendthrifts leading HPD and the city desire.

    1200 Travis has major water leaks as discovered during the crime lab fiasco, 61 Riesner doesn’t have the office space for the growing command staff to feel privileged enough, the parking garage is too small even with the nearby lots used, and Lubbock flooded during the hurricane courtesy of someone not properly closing the tunnel to Riesner. The city outlines dozens of other reasons why the buildings need to be replaced or greatly renovated, and whether PK and brother were made privy to it, there was a major push behind the scenes to move the complex downtown, closer to City Hall and the upcoming Joint Booking Center with the county. Without going into all the personal reasons command staff were trying to shove this whole thing down our collective throats (from conveniences to them personally to imagined status issues most executives have to the Mayor’s desire to have the entire city government infrastructure redone in platinum green conservation status and more), perhaps a new set of eyes might see things differently.

    As PK says, the courthouse on Lubbock is not dangerous. It was designed on a grand scale to look good with that large open foyer rather than patterned for efficiency of office and court space, making it “green” very difficult given the vaulted ceiling directly connected to the front doors. There are plumbing and cooling/heating issues but both of those could be fixed far cheaper.

    Riesner was outdated decades ago and the mass exodus when 1200 Travis was purchased was a major change in paradigms because the city bounced back and forth between centralized buildings and the benefits of decentralization scores of times. If you completely gutted it and tripled the size by moving vertically, it would still be a waste for various reasons related to the foundation, the desire to be all things to all people, and the added cost to renovate versus scrap it completely. This being a developers town, it would make sense to hire a set of experts that would be shut out of any possibility of working on the building itself; removing their incentive to over sell upgrades as the current batch have done. Frankly, given how worthless most of the existing command staff have proven to be, cutting at least half of the positions would greatly reduce the number of corner officers near the Chief would be demanded.

    Given the financial problems the city is in for the next several years, I’d suggest moving most of the command staff to either the police academy, using trailers if need be as local ISD’s have done, if a centralized location was desired, or apportion them out at the existing police stations across the city if a decentralized mode was enacted. Each could be hooked up with a Skpe set up for video conferences and it would put them more directly in touch with the minions they control. Place internal affairs away from the main complex as part of city hall and move the radio operations to their dispatch center on N. Shepherd.

    The problem with spending other people’s money by those so far removed from where it comes from is that it is easy to keep adding features that sound nice or under ideal circumstances might have some imagined benefit. If oil prices were steady at $125 a barrel and bonded debt had no spikes in the foreseeable future, buying a latest and greatest new complex might be well worth allowing the citizens to vote on it. As it stands, the deeper one looks independent of input from those who would most directly benefit, the more either of the two FALSE choices presented would look good. There are many more possibilities that have been purposefully kept off the table and out of reach in order to guide Council to build all new facilities, don’t swallow their party line even if you don’t hand them their walking papers.

  3. Steven Houston says:

    I was asked to provide a short version example:
    When you buy a car, many want the base model advertised for some great rate while the dealer wants you to buy the version with all the frills, the extended warranty, the undercoating sealant, and every accessory he sells. The upgraded version costs far, far more.

    Perhaps a better analogy would be those buying their teenage son a first car. The son wants a brand new shiny sports car with energy saving features but would “settle” for an older muscle car rather than have to borrow the family SUV. The son can come up with an endless stream of reasons why his two choices make sense (to him at least) while the oilfield working father is more focused on whether he’s going to have a job for much longer. The son will always manage to tell you how “it can’t be worked out” regarding scheduling the existing car due to his school hours or part time job, the basics of the situations similar.