A majority bloc of the Galveston Planning Commission grossly exceeded its mandate Tuesday by ignoring a city staff recommendation and voting against a request that the city abandon 25 public easements on the beach between Sixth and 10th streets.

The vote was an example of public policy driven by personal bias, rather than guided by the rule of law. The vote was wrong and is mitigated only by the fact that the commission’s decision was merely advisory. It recommended that the city council also reject the request to abandon the rights of way.

The council is expected to make a final decision on the issue later this month. If the council intends to follow the commission’s recommendation, it needs to come up with better justifications than were apparent Tuesday.

Commissioners in the majority — Carol Hollaway, Cate Black, Eugene Cook and Jeffrey Hill — all had reasons for their votes. The problem is their reasons had nothing directly to do with the issue at hand.

The only relevant question at issue Tuesday was whether the city of Galveston planned to use the rights of way to build roads or install other public infrastructure. City officials have been clear that there are no such plans — that there was no “municipal purpose or contemplated municipal use that would prevent the abandonment from moving forward.”

And that should be the case. If the city built roads on these rights of way, which are south of the seawall, it would be building roads into the Gulf of Mexico. It’s hardly ever good government policy to spend public money building roads to nowhere.

The commissioners didn’t vote in answer to the one question at hand, however. They voted as they did because they oppose a mixed-use development that might be built if the rights of way are released.

Commissioner Black outlined the problem pretty well: “I recognize that the criteria for abandonment is valid, but I think this is a different situation because it’s a beach,” Black said.

Unfortunately, no matter what the commissioner thought, the situation was not different. The same rules applied to these rights of way that apply to every other right of way. The question wasn’t what the commissioners thought about the possible consequences of the abandonment, but whether the application met the criteria, which even Black agrees it did.

The majority bloc Tuesday answered a question nobody was asking, which is an excellent example of arbitrary action.

It’s important to point out that the city doesn’t own the property at issue. Various private interests own the property. The city merely maintains a right of access and use to further some public good. When the city can no longer argue it has a real expectation to use the easements, it has no claim on the private property.

The commissioners have the right to oppose the development, but they didn’t have the right to allow those personal biases about a proposed development to direct their votes, and neither will the city council.

The council will need reasons that actually exist in the rules to make a similar decision or it could face legal action for having committed an illegal taking of private property.

Tuesday’s vote also offers an opportunity for those opposed to the mixed-use development.

After the vote, Randy Williams, the Chapter 7 bankruptcy trustee for the estate of Sonya Porretto, said he would ask the court for authority to sell some of the property at auction. Opponents ought to buy it, then they can legitimately call the shots about how it’s used.

• Michael A. Smith

Michael A. Smith: 409-683-5206; michael.smith@galvnews.com

(6) comments

Bill Broussard

Michael. The front page quoted a reputable lawyer who said there were two (2) criterion. You lead in saying the single criterion was ignored and PC violated their boundaries. I don’t think they did (and neither does Dr. Brown) if you look at the second criterion of is it in the public’s interest to abandon.
As far as the PC is concerned they have often and justifiably criticized for not taking a development into account before approval and the end result has been garbage and bankruptcy in some approved projects. It certainly is within their charter to do so.

Are there two or only one? I think we need a clear answer before this gets to council from outside the muppets that occupy city hall. Personally an auction set up correctly would be a good way to establish ownership and value.

Bill Broussard

By the way, your reporters (Samantha) have done a great job of follow up on the legality of beach access blocking dunes suddenly and illegitimately appearing at the end of city streets on the west end

There are two critical factors not yet covered however. First is our mayor turned beach access over to the park board during his first term. It’s in council video. Where is the park board in this illegitimate move on the part of homeowners? Does anyone there care even though it will not take too many of these sneaky moves before our entire beach access plan could be called into question

Second is that both of these mountains sit atop city street easements and not private property yet no motion to use the easements ever reached city council to my knowledge

Jarvis Buckley

BB I think your BP is rising.

Bill Broussard

[smile][smile]

Jeff Patterson

I totally agree that for most all cases, the Planning Commission should rule based on the specifics of the case before them. In this particular case however, their decision is much more impactful then just deciding to abandon a right of way for an alley in the middle of town. I also agree that property rights have to be respected, but again, in this particular case, the decision has a large, almost irreversible, impact on what happens to a very unique and visible piece of property, i.e. a private beach in Texas. I think this is a special case that really needs a robust public debate, and a willingness to look beyond normal procedures and processes to fully explore more creative and visionary alternatives. The other aspect to this is that whatever a person's political persuasion and view on climate change/global warming, it is pretty indisputable that sea levels are rising, and will continue to rise. It just doesn't make a lot of sense to me to build more large structures outside the seawall, particularly as we push for a ring level/Ike dike to protect Galveston from those rising sea levels and more extreme weather events. I believe that the 4 commissioners who voted against this were also considering the greater public good and interest, which I would think is within their purview as commissioners.

Jeff Patterson

Depending on the specific wording of the charter of the Planning Commission, I could be convinced that the members overstepped their bounds on this issue. Reading Commissioner Hill's letter to the editor, she stated that the City Attorney's view of this is that the decision for abandonment must consider two questions - does the abandonment impede the traveling public and does the public have use for the land? In her view, it met the first question, but not the second. In her words, "I feel that our beach-dependent community should retain ownership of beach interests."

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