If the Galveston City Council votes Dec. 14 to give away the rights of way on Porretto Beach, then The Daily News is wrong — that will have been the relevant question, and it will be too late to do anything about it.
Editor Michael Smith is likewise wrong when he said the real question is whether the people have any compelling reason to keep their beach rights of way (“Porretto right of way deal beside the point,” The Daily News, Nov. 28). The better question is whether we have any good reason to surrender them. If the city council goes that route, it will be one of worst examples of good ol’ boy backroom politics Galveston has seen in years, with The Daily News playing the part of cheerleader for Houston developers.
Murky history aside, there are two very good reasons to retain control of those streets and alleys. The first is so obvious that both the mayor and city manager have found it necessary to argue against it publicly before anyone else thinks to bring it up. That is, whether the city will ever build streets there. “Never,” they contend. But if development proceeds, police, fire and EMS must have ready access, i.e. streets and alleys — the very rights of way that some are so anxious to surrender. Imagine a fire in a crowded beachside tourist mall that the fire department can’t get to because city hall gave those streets away to their friends.
More importantly, there’s going to be a storm. A big one. That’s just a fact of life here at the edge of the continent. A 20-foot storm surge on that part of the beach can do unimaginable damage. This isn’t East Beach with miles of empty space into which the surge can dissipate. The Porretto area is a small, contained space unfit for high-rises and condos. It becomes a boiling caldron of nature’s rage in a storm surge, and the larger the battering ram we provide, the more damage it can do to the seawall itself.
Far from giving public rights of way away, let’s fix the obvious oversight in the 2015 Land Development Regulations and rezone the entire seawall core, from Sixth to 103rd streets, as a Seawall Protection Zone. Limit building south of it to single story structures, with full street and alley access, and don’t let people live there. The property damage will be bad enough; the loss of life would be unforgivable.
Don’t say that we can’t rezone it, because we can. We have the right, and the responsibility to protect lives and property, starting with the seawall. All that’s missing is common sense and political backbone.
If the Galveston City Council surrenders the rights of way on the beach, whether they give them away under some old rubric or sell them on the cheap under a new scheme now being conceived, it will be the largest blunder since the 1960s wholesale destruction of historic homes on Broadway, and will be an albatross around our necks for the next 50 years.