Wednesday, July 22, 2009

City Council Meeting

Normally I avoid politics, but I made sure to attend the Tomball City Council meeting Monday night since Grand Texas was on the agenda. Mind you, no votes or decisions were made by the council, and it was clear they wanted information, mostly since all they knew about this disaster in waiting of a theme park was what they read in the papers.

The meeting was packed, with an overflow crowd standing on the sides of the room and even spilling out into the hall. The Grand Texas supporters, (most of whom I strongly suspect work for one of the developers partners and were told be there or be fired), numbered about a dozen. They were easy to spot, they all wore cheaply made Grand Texas stickers. Those of us opposing the project and the curious in the audience didn't wear any stickers. I felt like we were in a guerrilla war and wanted to blend in with the civilian population.

Before the Council started discussing business, they allowed meeting attendees a few minutes to say what's on their minds. Anyone at the meeting is first encouraged to fill out a short form with their names and addresses, and can then write down a subject and vote in favor or against. My neighborhood had already selected a spokesperson for us. He did a great job, pointing out how this theme park would be detrimental in terms of noise, crime, and decreased property values.

Five other speakers from close by neighborhoods also spoke. Each was respectful, had done their research, and presented strong cases. Afterward the votes of those who filled out the forms were tallied, and it came out to 5 in favor, 26 opposed. Interesting so few of the sticker wearers voted, though even if all did they would have still been badly outnumbered.

One oddity, and this showed the lack of integrity of the developer, was that the Mayor said she had received a request that each speaker say if they lived in the Tomball city limits. Considering his whining about "outsiders" opposing his project, it's obvious he was the one who made the request. While it is true that the neighborhoods that would be most impacted by this park are literally across the street from the city limits, I thought his shenanigans showed even more of the developers lack of character. We'll ignore the little fact that he lives in The Woodlands, which is much farther than across the street from Tomball, like about 15 miles away.

Plus, there is nothing stopping Tomball from annexing these neighborhoods, (right now they are in an unincorporated part of Harris County).

The developer was allowed to give a presentation, and as expected he launched into an infomercial. He tried to alleviate concerns over noise, which generated a derisive "Wrong" and a bunch of snickers from the back of the room, and then made unsubstantiated claims traffic wouldn't be an issue. He then said that the park's attractions that would generate the most noise would be severely restricted in days and times of operation. Considering these are the only attractions charging admission, and it's even more a head scratcher how this place is going to make a dime of profit.

He was caught on one inaccuracy by a Council member. Another wanted to discuss what he's been reading in the pretty active blogs about the park, but was told by the mayor that this could be construed as personal issues and not for discussion in a council meeting. That was disappointing as it would have really livened things up.

The developer made one very odd statement, that during the wild west shootout re-creations, the guns would use blanks instead of real bullets. I guess that's a good thing, since I don't think anyone wants to go to a park with live bullets flying around.

I sat behind the developer the entire meeting and I feel I earned my right of sainthood by not repeatedly smacking him in the back of the head. My impression is he is not very impressive, and has received a taste of what he's up against. I hope at this point that his financing falls through, and he slinks away never to bother Tomball again.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Texas Is Grand But This Theme Park Sure Isn't

My community has been in an uproar lately over a proposed theme park called Grand Texas, that if built would unfortunately be only a block from my house. In theory, the park is supposed to "celebrate the spirit of Texas" with educational displays of Texas history, including the oil industry, agricultural displays, and also contain unique shops, a recreation of the governor's mansion, and an outdoor amphitheater for musical acts.

Theory is one thing, reality is another. The developer is a shady realtor from California, and a good example of the type of people I was glad to leave behind when I moved from there to Texas last year. He's a smooth talker who claims to love Texas so much and embrace her values you think he had an ancestor who fought at the Alamo. However, he is what is commonly known as a "carpetbagger." The term arose after the Civil War, when northerners moved to the South and started taking over politically. Their motives were power and above all, greed since they abused their positions to steal all they could through bribes, intimidation and outright theft.

As for the park itself, the developer for a start has yet to purchase the land. His dream for financing is to con local businesses into investing in the park, and for a guaranteed annual return of 12%. Oh please, the only person who could guarantee that rate of return is Bernie Madoff, and he is now spending 150 years as Bubba's Boy Toy. The Grand Texas developer has also been very active in the press, claiming that construction has already started, (he hasn't even submitted a thing to the city of Tomball planning department, let alone the above mentioned not owning the land yet, if ever). Yep, classic carpetbagger.

Maybe he got away with this tactic in the Los Angeles area where he came from, but there are strict procedures here that he has not followed. Needless to say, there is strong opposition. He has duped some residents into supporting him, but the neighborhoods that would be most affected have drawn together, gotten organized, and are making it very clear to the city of Tomball that this is a very poor location for this type of park. In addition to the noise, the fact that admission will be free will attract criminal elements looking for easy prey. And when the park closes at night, they will be looking for targets of opportunity, which will include my neighborhood.

As for this park "celebrating the spirit of Texas" one major attraction would be a paintball facility. Yep, that's sure to be a genuine Texas experience. I can see why the Alamo fell, "The Mexican army has muskets and some idiot gave us paintball guns?"

The land this park would be located on is currently zoned residential, so it would have to be rezoned commercial first. I am definitely not anti development, and would love to see either a business park or a shopping center that blends with the surrounding area, which is heavily wooded so saving as many trees as possible is very desirable. But an outsider with only a short history in Texas, and who doesn't even live in Tomball, (he's in the Woodlands, about a half hour's drive from Tomball, it's a master planned community, very nice to look at, but very sterile in atmosphere and well insulated culturally), is not the type of person you want telling you what is best for your community.

Lately he has been swinging from playing the role of agitator, "Outsiders are trying to stop Grand Texas" to victim, "Why all these personal attacks?" As for the agitator, yes it is true technically my neighborhood is outside the city limits, however we patronize Tomball businesses, and above all would be the most affected. As for the victim, the developer has posted several times in a popular real estate blog, though his words ring hollow. He has displayed numerous inconsistencies, skirted around facts that counter his claims about the park, and then either tried to schmooze with those who disagree with him or engage in his own personal attacks. Completely unprofessional and sleazy if you ask me. And his words are now public record.

On Monday evening there will be a City Council meeting and on the agenda is concern over the press coverage of Grand Texas. It will be interesting to see how the Council reacts to being blindsided by someone who thinks going to the press will generate enough public support so he can slide through the permit process. I'll be there as will several others who have strong ties to Tomball and are dead set against this project. I think this developer is in for a rude shock.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Miscellaneous Ramblings

So much for my plan to update this blog every other day at the most. I get a lot of ideas, but unfortunately they keep coming during the middle of the night or while out to dinner, and since I'm not inclined to carry my laptop with me everywhere, by the time I am near a computer again the idea is often gone. I supposed I could keep a pen with me and just write the flashes of inspiration on a hand or arm, and then explain to anyone who asks that I'm starting a new tattoo craze.

A couple of things have happened lately, one of them sad. As the adopted parent of eight cats I had to get used to household of constant activity. Friday before last, my wife left for work, and as always, BJ, a stray who came inside her apartment some years ago, looked around and said, "This'll do" was perched on the kitchen counter. He's not supposed to be there, but he's so affectionate we let it go. Of course when not on the counter he would be stretched out on the floor, invariably right where you wanted to step. Hence his nickname, "Speedbump."

At noon I went into the master bedroom, and heard him yowling from under the bed. He's usually very quiet, so I took a look, and he was lying on his side, panting heavily, drooling, and in obvious discomfort. I pulled him out, and looked him over. He tried to get up, but he couldn't move his back legs. So I called the vet and rushed him over. He had a thrombotic embolism, a blood clot in the femoral artery. The vet was excellent, and explained that while they could make him more comfortable, even if the clot could be removed, his chances for recovery were not good, especially reversal of the paralysis. I called my wife, and we agreed that it would be best to put him to sleep.

A vet assistant brought him out so I could say goodbye. He was still panting, but was clearly more comfortable. I rubbed his head and talked to him, then he turned and gazed at me, and his eyes had the message I've seen before with cats, "Thank you for caring for me and giving me a loving, comfortable home, but it's time. I'm ready." I said goodbye, then called for the assistant. I didn't want to be present for the injection, as there was no need. When he gave me that last look, I felt his spirit leave.

It never gets harder to say goodbye to a pet, but there is the comfort BJ is at peace, and now frolicking while young and healthy again. He was quite a charmer, and I have no doubt he's already made his acquaintance with Squeak.

A more positive event was the week before when I went to downtown Houston for a doctor's appointment. Afterward, to kill a few hours before meeting up with my wife to head home, and to escape the ridiculous summer heat, I went to the Houston Museum of Natural Science. While there, I paid extra to see the Genghis Khan exhibit.

It was quite interesting, and taught me that old Genghis was more than the brutal conqueror most people thought. He was a brilliant military tactician, and politically he knew how to absorb the people he conquered into the Mongolian system. That gained him new allies and allowed him and his sons to expand his empire until it controlled more land mass than any empire in history. He also had some 50 wives and 500 concubines. It's estimated that he has about 16 million descendants alive today.

There were some film clips on how he's been portrayed in film, including being played by John Wayne in what is easily the worst casting in history.

There was one fact that wasn't mentioned. In Guam there was, and may still be, the Genghis Khan Furniture Store. Personally I think that is a pretty sad comedown from ruling most of the known world to selling furniture in Guam. He was probably too worn out creating his 16 million descendants to realize what a humble future was in store.