A majority of the Galveston City Council made an astute decision Thursday by declining to decide what did or didn’t happen almost 40 years ago with 10 public rights of way on a piece of land known as Porretto Beach.
At issue Thursday was whether an ordinance the city council approved in 1978 granting those rights of way to Henry Porretto was ever fully enacted or whether certain conditions were unmet, rendering the decision null and void.
There’s no doubt that the long-departed city council of 1978 intended to abandon the rights of way. It approved an ordinance to that effect, but no documents have been found proving the necessary plats were filed to make the transaction official.
In actual fact, it matters very little whether the 1978 abandonment happened or didn’t happen and nobody other than Randy Williams, a bankruptcy trustee trying to sell the Porretto land and satisfy creditors with claims against it, cares which was the case.
People arguing the abandonment didn’t happen don’t want the land sold and developed.
People arguing the abandonment did happen do want the land sold and developed.
All the debate is about beach development, not history.
The council Thursday could have surmised the plats had been filed and affirmed the abandonment, or surmised the plats had not been filed and not affirmed it.
But without any way to prove definitively what actually happened 40 years ago, either decision would have a been a guess. The council might as well have thrown darts at cards printed with Yes or No.
The truth, of course, is that council members would have been voting on what they think should happen to the land — sell and develop or don’t sell and develop — without having to take a stand on that direct question.
So, deciding not to decide the historical question was actually more honest than taking the vote.
With the decision Thursday, the debate can move past the irrelevant question about what happened in 1978 and on to what should happen now.
Architect Michael Gaertner, who is designing the mixed-use boardwalk for the land, already has filed documents asking the current city council to abandon the 10 rights of way and more than a dozen others in the surrounding area.
The Galveston Planning Commission will hold public meetings this month and again in January on Gaertner’s request and the city council should also be able to take up the issue in January.
Now people who oppose the development can argue about why it shouldn’t happen and what legal means the city has to prevent it. People who want the development can make their cases.
That’s good, because that’s what the argument has been about for the whole time.
• Michael A. Smith