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League City diversion channel likely to be removed from $145M bond


Much to the chagrin of some Bayridge residents, the city council seems near agreement on a $145 million bond proposition that would not include several projects meant to help the Hurricane Harvey-stricken neighborhood.

The council, during a workshop meant to settle on a final list of projects for a possible May bond referendum — the city’s first in 27 years — sided with a staff proposal to remove a $30 million diversion channel near the neighborhood, but several council members also questioned another $1.8 million meant to help insurance ratings in the area.

Part of the plan for Bayridge included spending money to raise the height of the levee around the neighborhood’s retention pond as part of an effort to reduce how much homeowners would spend on flood insurance, Councilman Larry Millican said. Many other neighborhoods would appreciate similar treatment, making it potentially unfair to do so only for one area, Councilman Nick Long said.

But local residents objected to the council’s questioning of the funding.

“Seriously, you all,” resident Marika Fuller said later in the workshop. “You’re going to squabble over $1.8 million? When we’re already going to spend what on an animal shelter?”

Some other residents asked the council to be compassionate, including Kyrsten Garcia, who talked about having to decide during Hurricane Harvey whether to put her 8-month-old daughter in a canoe and leave the neighborhood.

“As a single parent to a toddler, I can’t go through that again,” she said.

In addition to removing the controversial drainage projects, the council also seemed to support a staff recommendation to remove all parts of the bond except for drainage and traffic projects. That means that for the time being, the city is backing away from a plan to build a $24.5 million library, Assistant City Manager Ogden “Bo” Bass said.

More than 75 percent of the 2,023 people who took a recent survey opposed plans to build the library, according to the results.

Members of the library board, such as Tommy Frankovich, on Tuesday asked the council to reconsider the new branch at a future date, but said they understood why they were pursuing the bond without the new facility.

A bond proposition of $145 million would not require a property tax increase if voters approved a quarter-cent sales tax increase, said Angie Steelman, the city’s director of budget and project management.

The state sales and use tax rate is 6.25 percent, but local municipalities can charge up to an additional 2 percent tax, City Attorney Nghiem Doan said.

League City charges a 1.75 percent sales tax, giving city officials the option to increase it by .25 percent, or a quarter-cent, Doan said.

City administrators for months have talked about a possible bond election as a means to fund the massive costs of drainage improvements residents are demanding after Hurricane Harvey, which badly flooded houses and businesses in the city in August 2017.

Hurricane Harvey dropped more than 50 inches of rain on some parts of Galveston County, overwhelming drainage systems and leaving many residents with flooded homes and calling for improvements to their neighborhood drainage systems.

The storm flooded about 8,000 homes in League City alone, officials said.

As with previous work sessions, the council did not take official action on a final list of bond projects. The council has until Feb. 15 to call for a May bond election, officials said.

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Time, money main obstacles to historic restoration


Restoring a historic Winnie Street house has cost Angela Mainwaring hundreds of thousands of dollars and taken years, but has been a labor of love, the Midland resident said.

“Sometimes when I’m in Midland and I haven’t seen my house here for a few months, I think ‘why did I get into that?’” Mainwaring said. “But then, when I see it, I think ‘I love this house.’”

Mainwaring’s house is one of several that used to be on the Galveston Historical Foundation’s list of at-risk properties.

The time and money required could be the barrier keeping owners from restoring some historic structures, Galveston Historical Foundation President Dwayne Jones said.

The foundation each year publishes a list of culturally significant properties in the county at risk of being lost through neglect or of being torn down.

The Heritage at Risk list highlighted 16 properties for 2018, Jones said.

The list is meant to raise awareness about the potential losses. The foundation doesn’t have any authority to trigger rehabilitation of those properties, Jones said.

“There’s not always something that we can do,” Jones said. “In some cases, properties come up for sale and we purchase them. It just depends.”

Owners often have inherited the property from a relative, he said.

Many of these properties sit untended while numerous heirs argue about whether to sell, rent or remodel, Catherine Bendig said.

She owns a previously at-risk property at 2622 Ave. N, she said.

“I think that happens a lot in Galveston,” Bendig said. “It’s owned by a family and they can’t agree what to do with it. The house goes downhill.”

This type of situation is common, city Historic Preservation Officer Catherine Gorman said.

The city will issue code violations for the noncompliance associated with at-risk properties, but that’s standard, she said.

Families might let a property sit if they think they want to do something with it eventually or if they run out of money to renovate, Vera Green said.

Green is a retired historic home specialist from Frame Studio Inc. and owns 2024 Ave. K, which used to be on the at-risk list, she said.

“I can understand that many people would buy a historic house and do not understand how much it takes until you get into it,” Green said.

People may not want to sell if they live in the house or think they’ll eventually remodel, she said.

She’s spent $125,000 to renovate the 2,500-square-foot house above an estimated $80,000 the developer she bought it from invested, she said.

This type of price tag isn’t uncommon.

Bendig has spent more than $300,000 to renovate her Ave. N house and she’s saved by doing some labor herself, she said.

The time commitment also is substantial, said Mainwaring, owner of the 926 Winnie St. property.

She eventually wants to live in the house she bought in 2013, but that’s a long way off, she said.

“It has been wired and plumbed without the wiring or plumping being connected to anything you can use,” Mainwaring said.

But sometimes, property owners are just unreachable, Gorman said.

“We might cut the grass if we’re getting no responses,” Gorman said. “We might board up a structure. If we perform physical work, then we’ll put a lien on the property.”

Ultimately, the city will refer the property to the municipal court, which is very common, Gorman said.

Typically, those properties also owe taxes, which is handled at the county level, Gorman said.

The county works hard to find owners of properties owing taxes, but there’s currently more than 3,000 county properties that could be sold because of owed taxes, 2 percent of the tax roll, county Tax Assessor-Collector Cheryl Johnson said.

Preserving these structures is critical to local charm and tourist appeal, Bendig said.

“That’s part of the reason why Galveston is an attraction,” Bendig said.

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Galveston officials cautious about allowing scooter rentals


A company’s bid to bring electric scooter rentals to the island is being met with some roadblocks as city officials work to regulate such an enterprise that has caused headaches in other cities.

Four months after the Galveston City Council passed an ordinance requiring permits to operate such businesses, Crab Scooters, a company offering electronic scooter rentals, aims to launch such a venture.

Owner Ryan O’Neal argues his electric scooter business model is different from other systems that have inundated cities like Austin, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington, where companies compete to offer dockless and rechargeable vehicles. Those cities have complained that users are wreaking havoc by leaving scooters wherever they want, blocking sidewalks, ramps and doorways, according to reports.

His business plan would prevent that problem, O’Neal said. His plan calls for delivering scooters to users upon request and collecting them for storage after customers are finished riding, he said.

“This dockless ride-sharing model has serious flaws,” O’Neal said. “People are fearing that we’re going to come in here and we’re trying to make Galveston look like Austin, and that’s not the case.”

But the city has yet to create the permit that the September ordinance mandates company operators obtain.

“Permits will not be available to applicants until there are established standards and rules to properly manage these types of programs,” city spokeswoman Marissa Barnett said.

The city has had conversations with O’Neal and is working to develop regulations for the permit, Barnett said.

The city’s already asked O’Neal to make changes to his business model, such as requiring a brick-and-mortar location, City Manager Brian Maxwell said.

Under that requirement, O’Neal wouldn’t need a permit for a dockless share system, but would need to get a building permit for the permanent location, city officials said.

There still are a lot of questions for the city to address about dockless systems and O’Neal’s business, Maxwell said.

The city is worried about resident safety and use of public space, among other things, he said.

“Unfortunately, technology and products of this line are coming out faster than we can legislate and manage them,” Maxwell said.

The city’s no stranger to new, tourist-friendly ways of getting around, Maxwell said. The city had to develop new rules to make sure covered surreys were safe, when those began to frequent Galveston, he said.

“These are all things that go along with a tourist town,” Maxwell said.

O’Neil envisions his business would appeal most to tourists, but some established island rental companies wonder how viable the service is.

There’s a lot of unsolved problems associated with dockless scooters and bikes, Island Bicycle Company Owner Jeff Nielsen said.

“It’s a novelty-type thing,” Nielsen said. “Everybody thought they were going to be great and now they’re getting kicked out of every city.”

He’s tried to offer bike delivery to his tourist customers, and it didn’t pan out, Nielsen said.

But the popularity of dockless services has ballooned across the nation. Bike shares saw 35 million trips in 2017, 25 percent more than in 2016, according to the National Association of City Transportation Officials.

The number of bike share bikes more than doubled in that time, from 42,500 bikes at the end of 2016 to about 100,000 by the end of 2017, according to the association.

O’Neal hopes to launch his scooter business by the end of February, but city officials aren’t so sure they’re have all their concerns answered by then, they said.

“I think February might be a bit optimistic,” Maxwell said.

Ousted judge sentenced to 12 years on internet crimes

Stalking, harassment and spying devices Christopher Dupuy used to track victims were all part of a Wednesday hearing during which the ousted judge was sentenced to 12 years in prison for posting photos of ex-girlfriends on a website falsely advertising escort services.

Earlier in the day, a jury of six men and six women had found Dupuy guilty on two counts of online impersonation stemming from a July 2015 arrest. He was sentenced to six years for each count, to be served concurrently, and would receive a little less than two years’ credit for time already served.

Dupuy, who once presided over a county court at-law, was convicted of posting photos from a woman’s Facebook page, as well as naked photos another woman had sent him, as advertisements on Backpage, a website offering escort and sex services, according to court records. Federal law officers seized Backpage and shut it down in April as part of a wide-ranging investigation into prostitution and human trafficking.

Houston attorney Simone Bray, who led the defense, had argued to jurors the case against Dupuy was an elaborate conspiracy, perhaps cooked up by his former girlfriends and others, and that a weak investigation left plenty of reasonable doubt to acquit her client.

“It’s your duty to tell the state to do a better job,” she told jury members.

Prosecutors, led by Assistant District Attorney Adam Poole, on the other hand, kept it simple. Jurors should focus on such forensic evidence as Dupuy’s web searches, which matched exactly the names of the Backpage ads.

“You don’t need a conspiracy to explain this,” Poole said.

Bray highlighted both Dupuy’s non-violent past and history as a judge who respected justice, while Poole pointed to his record of abusing his position on the bench and stalking people who crossed him.

“This man isn’t violent,” Bray said during her closing arguments. “He’s not a flight risk. He’s not a person who will go out and hurt people.” She asked Judge Vanessa Velasquez for leniency, requesting Dupuy be sentenced either to the minimum two years or to probation.

Prosecutors asked for the maximum 10 years on each count.

“He never stops stalking one person until he starts stalking someone else,” Poole told Velasquez. “This is a man that’s not going to stop. This is not your typical case and not your typical defendant — probation and two years are out of the equation.”

Velasquez heard from a string of witnesses for the prosecution, including a woman who Dupuy is charged with stalking in Harris County, his former wife, Adrienne Viterna, and Lori Laird, the attorney who represented Viterna during her divorce from Dupuy.

Viterna told Velasquez she had tried to divorce Dupuy for years because of the psychological and emotional harm. She accused Dupuy of hiding listening devices around their house to spy on her. Meanwhile, Laird said he used his position as a judge to retaliate against her for the role she played in the divorce.

After Velasquez announced the sentence, Dupuy was given a chance to make a statement. Subdued and tearful, he apologized to his victims and anyone he offended or hurt with his actions.

Courtesy/Galveston County Sheriff's Office 

Christopher Dupuy

Galveston council wants more studies of coastal barrier plan


While they didn’t take a vote, city council members Wednesday revised their comments on a proposed coastal barrier plan to emphasize a need for more bayside protection and different surge protection options for the West End.

Concluding a lengthy workshop session, the council requested more information and more options from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on a proposed plan to protect the upper Gulf Coast from coastal surge.

The council objected to the idea of a barrier running north of FM 3005, citing wide opposition to that plan among West End residents.

“They absolutely do not want it on 3005 or north of 3005,” District 6 Councilwoman Jackie Cole, who represents the West End, said. “Nobody wants it there.”

The city council also discussed at length the necessity of bayside protection, while rejecting the corps’ proposed levee system.

The corps needs to look at what’s best for Galveston, in addition to what protects the region, District 5 Councilman John Paul Listowski said.

“An 18-foot wall going down the middle of the town might not be the best thing for the town,” Listowski said.

All council members, however, agreed protection from flooding on the island’s north side couldn’t be ignored.

“I don’t want to let them off the hook for bayside surge protection,” District 3 Councilman David Collins, who represents the downtown area, said.

The council backed away from proposing specific changes or recommendations, and instead advocated for more studies and more cost-benefit analyses.

“We need to get away from specific recommendations,” Cole said. “That’s not our business.”

Mayor Jim Yarbrough left the meeting before discussion of the coastal barrier began.

The comments discussed Wednesday took into account a Jan. 3 public meeting during which islanders voiced concern that the plan would compromise the integrity of neighborhoods.

The council decided to take advantage of an extended public comment period to review and vote on final recommendations Jan. 24.

The Texas General Land Office and the corps on Tuesday confirmed the public comment period had been extended to Feb. 8.