Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Twin Buttes Closed for July 4th Weekend

The City of San Angelo informed the public that Twin Buttes Reservoir will be closed July 4th weekend, citing last year's problems with fireworks trash.  The public got less than a week's notice that they will be unable to enjoy one of San Angelo's three lakes.

The Bureau of Reclamation has an agreement with the City of San Angelo to operate the park on the north shore of the North Pool. The Bureau of Reclamation highlights recreation use at its locations, including Twin Buttes Reservoir.

Manages, with partners, 289 recreation sites that have 90 million visits   annually.
There will be no visits this weekend.   It's unclear if City Council played a role in this major policy change.  Council did approve a Master Recreation Plan for Twin Buttes in 2013.  The city solicited public input into the plan, something not sought in the July 4th shutdown. 

The plan recommended a number of items that could've reduced the trash concern, if implemented:

 It also encouraged the city to plan and conduct special events, the opposite of complete park closure:

For July 4th weekend 2015 the city will decrease use of the recreation area to zero.  Because the city can't manage its annual trash problem responsible citizens will be shut out.  It's the latest poorly planned, poorly executed and poorly communicated decision by city staff.

CC 5-21-13 twin buttes recreation use plan from City of San Angelo Texas

Cross posted from Twin Buttes Reservoir blog    

Update 6-30-15:  A federal official from the Bureau of Reclamation weighed in on the city's decision.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Who's Behind "Toilet to Tap" Robocalls?

The computer generated phone message warned citizens about City Council's decision to reuse waste water.  They called the decision "toilet to tap" and encouraged citizens to speak out against it.  San Angelo is not the first community to face this issue:

Opposition comes more from a knee-jerk response to wastewater--the "yuck" factor--than from concerns about the water's chemical composition. In people's minds it's "once in contact, always in contact," explains Rozin. "Even if you convince people you did every conceivable thing to [purify] the water they would still be reluctant to drink it.
It wasn't clear from the call what group is behind opposing the potable use of reclaimed water.  However, one group is the current beneficiary of the city's waste water, irrigation farmers in the Tom Green County Water Control and Improvement District

Tom Green County WCID #1 is served by a concrete lined canal with 117 field turn-outs providing irrigation water for approximately 10,000 to 15,000 acres of farmland.

San Angelo's treated waste water is delivered via pipe to the district's canal.  

(Annually since 2003) the city delivered 8,750 acre-feet — 2.8 billion gallons — of treated wastewater to the 16-mile canal, which runs northeast from Lake Nasworthy to just past the small community of Veribest.

The agreement is set to expire in 2031, the year the district will finish paying off the $2 million canal. The city will finish paying off the $13 million Twin Buttes Dam in 2015.
Former Water Czar Will Wilde is a cotton farmer in the TGCWCID.  I'm sure he and his fellow farmers want to keep access to cheap treated waste water.  They no longer have insider Wilde's protection.  Might that require more drastic measures, like robo calling? 

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Animal Shelter's Longstanding Stench Lingers

Most local organizations would love to have a volunteer kickoff meeting with sixty highly motivated people in attendance.  They'd be thrilled with volunteers cleaning their workplace to the extent that it abated a five year stench.  They would be joyful over volunteer groups conducting fundraisers, providing needed supplies (such as food and medicines) and using their talents to help sick animals return to health.  Who wouldn't love volunteers videoing adoptable pets for the public to see online?

The City of San Angelo is not most organizations.  New managers James Flores and Bob Salas, known for successfully working with volunteers on an annual community cleanup, threw up their bureaucratic hands when volunteers shared concerns or asked questions about the care, treatment and euthanizing of shelter animals.

James Flores calls it "my shelter", telling language in and of itself.  Bob Salas is more refined, but clearly volunteers are not to use their significant skills and intrinsic motivation to help the plight of San Angelo's incarcerated animals.

The Animal Shelter Advisory Committee, formerly the Animal Services Board, sets overall policy.  One of those is volunteer use.  Rules can made to include or exclude as new leaders "develop a robust volunteer program." (priority #5 on the city's website). 

For five years Assistant City Manager Rick Weiss and Health Department Director Sandra Villareal allowed a literal house of horrors to exist in San Angelo's animal shelter.  There is an answer as to how dogs became pregnant in the shelter, courtesy of Charlotte Farmer's cheap inmate labor.  The list of abuses under former Director Julie Vrana is long and stomach churning.

City leaders need to come clean with the Animal Shelter Advisory Committee, because the Board has an obligation to ensure a more competent, humane course.  Most of the sixty new volunteers worked outside the auspices of the Animal Shelter the last five years.  Former Director Julie Vrana shut them out and it looks like her replacements may do likewise. 

When leaders are more concerned about image everybody suffers.  It's a travesty that innocent animals end up bearing the greatest burden.  I hear the stench has already returned.

Update 6-20-15:  San Angelo city ordinances clearly spell out what police department volunteers can and cannot do.   That means City Council will take up any Animal Shelter volunteer ordinances.  I imagine Council will want to know the Animal Board's position.

Update 8-4-15:  While the city continues working on its Animal Services volunteer program two groups, West Texas AFA and Critter Shack raised over $3,800 to provide cots for every animal in the shelter.  Their kindness and generosity means shelter animals will not have to sleep on a cold concrete floor.  The lack of publicity from the city on this effort is remarkable.  It will be interesting to see if they're used.

Update 6-23-19:  The Animal Shelter reopened kennels to the public for the first time in nearly four years.  Ironically the move is intended to appeal to volunteers, the very group the city shut out long ago.  The City later opened the door to PAWS volunteers via its 2017 contract for adoption services.  PAWS added veterinary services to the shelter in 2018

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Sad State of City Streets

I asked the following question to a professional engineer regarding the City of San Angelo's draft street condition report.

Q:  Do you have any thoughts on what color roads should not be seal coated, i.e. they need a greater amount of work?  Is there a logical break in the scale for the amount of maintenance/reconstruction work needed? 

A:  It’s complicated. Pavement condition drops very quickly if routine preventative maintenance (crack seal, level up and seal coat) is not applied at the proper interval.

As illustrated by the sharp decline in the curve on the graph above at approximately the 10 year pavement life, when the PCI gets to a “critical point” which is typically around a PCI of 75, if sealcoat is not applied (and if crack seal and level up has not been done) the condition of the pavement declines rapidly beyond where preventative maintenance is no longer effective and more intensive and costly reactive maintenance or “rehabilitation” (mill and overlay, partial reconstruction and remove and replace) is needed.

It’s very easy to see from the COSA map that you provided to me that 1) The City has not had an adequate routine maintenance program for quite some time and 2) The dollars that have been spent on pavement maintenance in the last 10 years or so have been almost completely wasted. It would be interesting to see what the map looked like 10-15 years ago.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

MedHab Has Three Employees

The City of San Angelo Development Corporation background packet provided an update on MedHab's employment numbers and possible proceeds from their January fire.  MedHab has three employees.  This is down from 2013 according to the Standard Times:

Dane said MedHab currently has four fulltime employees, and two additional planned for hire in next couple of weeks.

“Again, they haven’t started the big hiring that is anticipated, but they are seeing some growth,” he said.

Current employment is down 50% from Dane's 2013 representations.  City staff said MedHab would add jobs quickly in early 2012.

The company plans to start operations in San Angelo in March, creating 11 jobs in the first year and 23 the following year.  

Two years ago  Council discussed MedHab's promise vs. delivery/

“In moneys of this size ... have we ever considered a time frame?” Farmer said, “The money’s just sitting there in nonuse. How long is a piece of string?”

Dane said staff can bring back a specific time frame to a future council meeting.

Staff had nearly two years to bring a specific time frame back to City Council. During that time MedHab's city provided space caught fire, causing total loss to the building and its contents.  The city owned space was valued at $500,000, with MedHab's contents a total loss at $150,000. The packet did not indicate insurance proceeds from the fire.

MedHab is in the midst of a $3 million equity sale to meet the company's operating and capital needs.  Will those funds enable MedHab to meet their initial employment promises to the City of San Angelo?  Nearly three and a half years into the six year agreement MedHab is 91% short of their initial representations.  That's over promising and under delivering, not something MedHab founder Johnny Ross recommends doing with investors.

Update 6-20-15:  Lamar University published a news report on former ASU professor Timothy Roden's role as MedHab software developer.

Monday, June 08, 2015

Bids Call for Seal Coating Bad Streets

San Angelo City Councilman Marty Self sought clarity on the draft street condition map in light of the city'splans to seal coat streets in several zones across San Angelo.  Self stated:

"We verified that we approved the seal coat program last meeting.  We're not seal coating a street that's going to have to be replaced.  Correct."

Operations Director Shane Kelton said "No sir."

Documents show the city plans to seal coat a number of streets in the poorest rated condition   Bid documents include targeted streets (in bolded black).  Those around Lake Nasworthy can be seen in the picture above.

As for their condition, most Nasworthy streets are in the bottom two categories, as are most San Angelo streets.  Kelton told Council Alligator Cracking is associated with failed base and failed substructure.  Generally, a surface application of seal coating does not address the underlying cause.   

The above maps are for but one of seven zones.  I imagine some of the citywide indicated streets will need more than seal coating to address the consequences of a long term lack of preventive maintenance.

Self focused on the next leg of work, street rehabilitation or replacement, once the street study is completed in .  "How long will engineering take?"

Kelton replied three to six months with the city about to release a request for qualifications for engineering design services.  He expects to have an engineering firm recommendation to council in three to four weeks.  The RFQ is yet to be released.

Frankly, it's not comforting for the men who led us into this problem, Ricky Dickson and Shane Kelton, to be the ones leading us out.   Time will show if seal coating bad streets is more than a short term patch and possible waste of money.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Campus Carry: Implementation Challenges

The Texas legislature passed Senate Bill 11 which requires public universities to allow concealed handguns on their campuses.  The theory is universities are public property:  

The structure of this bill tracks with how public and private property are generally treated elsewhere in the state under the concealed carry law.
That's a low bar theory wise.  I imagine a multitude of theories on the impact of Campus Carry.  A Texas Women's University Sociology professor offered one.  Bullying students would use their concealed weapons to intimidate professors into giving them higher grades.   She was bullied for offering it.

Texas Tech University Chancellor Robert Duncan, our former state senator offered:

Texas Tech University System Chancellor Robert Duncan said if the legislation does pass he would ask that public colleges have a seat at the table to discuss "exceptions" and opt-out provisions.
Consider what Angelo State University's Police Chief said in 2009:

James Adams, the ASU police chief, said the course required to obtain a concealed handgun license is not adequate training if someone were put in a highly stressful situation like a school shooting. He said he and his department oppose the legislation.

"My opposition is not the right for people to have weapons," Adams said. "My biggest concern is the level of training and process that people go through to get the training."

He said police officers receive an extraordinary amount of handgun training, and even they might have a hard time following procedure if a shooting were to occur.

Adams also said a police officer's job would be far more complicated when responding to a call where multiple people have guns.
Training for concealed handgun possession includes:

An original (first-time) CHL applicant must complete four to six hours of classroom training, pass a written examination and pass a proficiency demonstration (shooting). All classroom and proficiency must be conducted by a CHL instructor certified by DPS. See CHL Qualification Course Requirements for the proficiency demonstration requirements. There are four (4) required topics: Use of Force, Non-Violent Dispute Resolution, Handgun Use, and Safe and Proper Storage of Handguns and Ammunition
The proficiency test includes timed shooting at three target distances, 3, 5 and 15 yards.

Per HB 48 (83rd Legislature), continuing education is no longer required for CHL renewal. CHL holders will simply apply online and submit the supporting documents for discounted fees or special conditions
History shows local legislator Drew Darby taking his .380 Lugar into the Austin Airport, a prohibited area for gun possession.

A Transportation Security Administration worker flagged an Austin police officer of the discovery, who then confirmed the weapon and ammunition was in the luggage, the affidavit said. Darby told the officer the weapon and magazine belonged to him and he was a concealed pistol license holder, the affidavit said.  Darby “stated he forgot his handgun was in his bag,” the affidavit said.
Darby's case was dismissed.:

A Travis County judge has dismissed charges against State Rep. Drew Darby — after TSA agents found a gun in his carry-on bag at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport in November.

"The investigation revealed (Darby) forgot to remove the gun," said Buddy Meyer, director of Trial Bureau at the Travis County District Attorney's Office.
I imagine CHL training on the "safe and proper storage of handguns and ammunition" includes knowing where they are stored at all times.  Representative Darby did not live up this part of his four to six hour CHL training when he carried his handgun into a prohibited area.

The Campus Carry bill included the following analysis:

In fiscal year 2014, 563 individuals were arrested, 38 were placed under felony community supervision, and fewer than 10 were admitted into state correctional institutions for possessing a weapon in a prohibited place. A statewide repository containing the level of detail necessary to isolate those individuals who held concealed handgun licenses and possessed concealed handguns in certain locations associated with institutions of higher education at the time of the offense from all other individuals arrested and convicted under the statute referenced by the bill is not currently available. This analysis assumes the provisions of the bill addressing felony sanctions for criminal offenses would not result in a significant impact on state correctional populations, programs, or workloads. 
Fewer than 10% of people arrested received probation or jail time, i.e. most people got the Darby treatment.

Campus Carry got its first inroads from

Senate Bill 1907
Effective: Sept. 1, 2013
Relating to the transportation and storage of firearms and ammunition by CHL holders in private vehicles on the campuses of certain institutions of higher education.
•  Prohibits a place of higher education (such as a college), from prohibiting a student from storing a handgun and / or ammunition in a vehicle on campus.
Texas universities have the challenge of deciding how to carve up their campuses into carry and no carry zones.  Parking lots are already carry zones.  We'll see how much further administrators go.

Campus police training for active shooters will be more complicated.  Procedures will be needed for identifying the shooter(s) vs. CHL holders, assuming the shooter does not hold a CHL.  Police will need to deal with students with handguns and ammunition in prohibited areas of campus in the case they pull a Darby and forget what's in their bag.  They may need to envision a student in a mental health crisis obtaining a weapon from another student with a concealed handgun license

Universities will need to consider additional training for student/faculty CHL holders as how to respond to an active shooter situation.  That is not covered under Texas CHL training.  Until the parties with guns know their role, responsibilities and how to communicate with law enforcement under an active shooter situation, universities could return to the wild, wild West.  Fortunately, there's a year to work on these issues should Governor Abbott sign the bill

Thursday, June 04, 2015

City to Subsidize & Guarantee Downtown Development

Images communicate in ways words alone cannot.  San Angelo's Assistant City Manager Rick Weise recommended City Council approve multiple ways to significantly subsidize venture capitalists for downtown development.  Council complied.

I remind citizens that Council approved hiring a downtown master developer in 2012 with no funding source.  It did so after eliminating the city's Sexually Transmitted Disease Clinic and asking the feds to pick up the tab.

Section 1115 Waiver funds require applicants offer new services to their community.  It's a stretch to cut a critical public health service with the clear intent to have the state and feds pick up the tab, including a new building.
Rick Weise reminded Council of the shakedown.  Since then sexually transmitted diseases soared 300%.  Promised federal money is yet to come through, but state funds allowed the STD clinic to reopen three days a week.  If it does there will be another new, publicly subsidized building downtown.

There are two epidemics in our country today.  One is the rapid rise in sexually transmitted diseases as technology facilitates hook ups.  The other is the proliferation of public tax money to ensure private sector profits.  San Angelo's downtown development is the intersection of both.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Council Approves Appetizers for Downtown Development

San Angelo's City Council passed a motion approving a spate of incentives for developers to invest in downtown restaurants, office space and housing.  City staff came before council to ask for:

1)  Much more substantial monetary incentives for downtown development
2)  The ability to support a larger project with funds that back fill financial gaps to make the project feasible.  
Catalyst Urban Development will bring investors to the city, ones that need subsidies in order to maximize return for their investors.  How many catalytic projects have been undertaken in Downtown San Angelo?

San Angelo Health Foundation Office and Visitors Center
Tom Green County Library
City Hall renovation
New bus/transportation terminal
San Angelo Museum of Fine Arts
Concho River Restoration
The Business Factory
Expected catalytic projects
Roosevelt Hotel
Townhouse Hotel
Twisted Root Burger
Angry Cactus
San Angelo Performing Arts Center
City leaders talked about skin in the game.  Skin usually means an equity stake.  Not once did staff mention the city investing in projects.  All I heard was subsidy, which is expressly not skin in the game.

The other odd thing involved venture capital sponsored projects increasing property values.  The report mentioned 100% tax abatement for 24 years.  That means the city gets no tax proceeds for nearly the project's whole useful life.  Increased taxes would come from owners of nearby buildings, which may be local.

That means out of town venture capitalists and their investment partners get off tax free and are subsidized to their investment return requirement.  I'm not sure local property owners and sales tax payers have a hankering to help rich out of towners. 

As for City Staff and Council, few will be around when the deal becomes problematic, due to poor design, implementation or unanticipated events.  Take MedHab, all promise and very little delivery.  Only a handful of people are left on Council or in City Hall that crafted or approved that deals.  I can see that happening with catalytic downtown development projects.  Also, venture capitalists like to flip their deals for big profits.  That often puts pressure on the next owner, which could end up defaulting on any city obligations.

Council keeps cherry picking individual strategies without an overall strategic plan.  Where does downtown development stand relative to Lake Nasworthy development, currently out for bid?  How does it fit with critical public health services, employee pension funding, street maintenance and water main replacement?  I expected discussion on the plethora of massive budget/capital items facing the city at the strategic planning session.  Many critical items got no mention in local news reports on Council's strategic deliberations.

The other interesting thread involved the Edgewater Inn property, the reason the city hired a Downtown Master Developer in the first place.  City Councilwoman Elizabeth Grindstaff was kind enough to obliquely recall history and the city's commitment to the San Angelo Health Foundation.  The silence from long time council representatives was deafening.

Mayor Morrison recalled earlier promises that developer Catalyst would bring investors if hired:

Catalyst Urban's Paris Rutherford said the key is to match up specific investments with specific users. The local investors and the commission would need to help the group identify those investors. He then brought Andre Nicholas, with partner NE Construction, for further comment.

"We have the ability to bring investors. We feel San Angelo has what it takes and we are ready to put our money there," Nicholas said.
It seems they are only ready if there's a major incentive package that guarantees investment return.

The report is worth the read.  Interesting points made by Catalyst Urban Development, the City's Downtown Master Planner include:

A.  The "townhouse hotel" closed the week of 1/19 with tentative plans for redevelopment into a mixed-use building with retail on the ground floor and condos and hotel uses above. The new owner is a hotelier out of Houston who intends to work with ArchiTexas, a design firm in Austin, to realize the improvement of the historic hotel building.

B.  A potential new owner has Harry's Food Store, located on Twohig, under contract. There are plans to convert the building to office and parking uses.

C.  The Pearl on the Concho is undergoing transformative renovation and improvements that include conference supportive meeting space. The lodging and event space is expected to open in the coming months.

D.  The Angry Cactus (club/restaurant) is expected to submit for permit in the coming months; Twisted Root burger is under construction and expected to open in the coming months.

E.  Recognize one of the City's best assets is the river and believe the highest and best use of land along the river is commercial facilities that support a public waterfront with hotel , dining uses and other nighttime uses in addition to the proposed residential infill.

F.  There is frustration with American Eagle as exclusive airline carrier. Energy sector believes there is a need for more flights, especially since Midland/Odessa has more flights and it gives those cities an economic advantage.

G.  The Energy sector believes it will take roughly 18 months for prices to return, with the $70 range per barrel a healthy range for the production of new wells.

H.  There are players in San Angelo that might facilitate the creation of a City Center Investment Fund designed to provide capital for City Center projects that meet certain criteria. The Fund would provide its group of investors a guaranteed return to be paid by the project, but backed by City sources (like TIF funds).

I.  There is a need for a process champion that facilitates strong communication of City Center development guidelines and expectations.

J.  In conjunction with the Design & Historic Review Board, the City might identify key/target buildings for first phases of concentrated development effort in the City Center.

K.  Commercial uses along the Concho trail system, like hotel and dining, are desired to support the need for improved connectivity and further appeal to tourists and visitors.

L.  The Health Foundation has expressed a significant interest in a resort-style destination hotel on or by the river, particularly on land owned by the Foundation.

M.  The museum wants to be involved with acquiring and transitionally redeveloping/developing the land immediately around the museum (including the depot, river stage and historic fort).

N.  The is belief that spur for development most likely will not come organically, and an effort should be mounted to reach out to local investors to tap on investment from within the community.

O.  The Master Developer effort should include providing precedent and proposed strategy for a City Center Development Fund that raises private funds accessible to applicants who meet certain project requirements. This Fund would support local and out-of-town parties who recognize the potential for new development to capitalize on the City Center's existing assets.

P.  There is general belief that a specific, detailed phased development plan must be created to move the effort from concept to built reality.

Q.  This plan would identify sites, development cost, related economic gap need, and proposed solutions for filling the gap. These sites should be north and south of the river.

R.  This effort must include educating the City Council on public financing mechanisms that can be used to fill the gap. The council should be a player willing to give up a certain amount of future revenue (delayed future revenue) for the realization of the potential of the City Center; failure to capitalize future potential revenue will result in unrealized potential.

S.  Parties requesting City Center Development Incentives will be required to provide the City pro forma cash flow analyses and sources and uses of funds in sufficient detail to demonstrate that reasonably available conventional debt and equity financing sources are not available to fund the entire cost of the project and still provide the developer a reasonable market rate of return on investment.

T.  The rate of return used by the City's Master developer by project type is as follows.  Return on costs threshold -
         Office space - 8.5% w/example financial gap of nearly $674,000
         Restaurant - 8.5 to 9% w/example financial gap of $741,000
         Riverfront housing - 8%  w/example financial gap of $4.6 million

U.  Due to the scale of the need identified in this scenario ($4.6 million), a range of tools are utilized to reduce initial cash outlay by the City.
(1) The City would enter in to a ground lease of its property with Developer
(2) The City would fund infrastructure improvements (presumably through TIRZ
(3) City would waive all municipal fees
(4) City would issue a tax exemption certificate for the materials required for the Public Infrastructure
(5) The City would provide an abatement of all City taxes for the Project over the initial 24 year lease term
(6) The City would assist the Developer in obtaining an abatement of county taxes over a 15 year period
(7) City would assist the Developer in obtaining all required permits and approvals
(8) Project grant
V.  City of San Angelo Development Corporation - In addition to financing of capital improvement projects, financing products would include working capital and loan guarantees for smaller emerging companies, bridge loans, and capital for projects that are positioned to achieve policy goals. For equity, COSADC could work with other community-focused capital groups such as the San Angelo Health Foundation, San Angelo Baptist Foundation and others to fund predevelopment activities associated with approved projects. The COSADC would offer special financing during all stages of approved projects – pre-development, property acquisition, construction, and permanent; with repayment occurring through various loan programs; Federal, State and Local grants; and possibly TIRZ funding augmentation.
I'm sure every citizen would appreciate the city making up the difference between our paltry retirement plan returns to get it to 8 or 9%.  I'm sure that would help the local economy.  How do we apply for that?

Monday, June 01, 2015

Streets Study Bleeds Red and Black

Area drivers know the sad state of San Angelo's streets, now confirmed by a study by Fugro Roadware.  City leaders avoided maintaining city streets for decades and the price to bring roads up to a minimum standard will be steep.  The irony comes from the two names on the memo to Council, Operations Director Shane Kelton and Public Works Executive Director Ricky Dickson.  This is the pair responsible for street maintenance for much of the last two decades.wo

The Fugro Roadware study arrived two years after Council first heard of the need to conduct preventive maintenance on city streets.  Former City Engineer Clinton Bailey informed council in their 2013 strategic planning session, ironically the last session recorded and shared with the public.

Other two year waits include the Avenue P Drainage Project.  What will 2016 find in all three areas, preventive road maintenance, televising Council's planning session and the Avenue P project?  Hopefully, a modicum of progress.