GALVESTON, Texas — Mayor Joe Jaworski and his election rival Betty Massey have joined forces in a bid to form a new authority to take charge of coordinating the island’s revitalization.
Jaworski has put the idea on the agenda for Thursday’s city council meeting, and both hope it will have the backing of island groups such as Galveston Alliance of Island Neighborhoods.
One big hitter already in their camp is former Pittsburgh mayor and current urban development guru Tom Murphy, who will be traveling from Washington having accepted Jaworski’s invitation to address city council members on the issue at their meeting Thursday.
Jaworski and Massey began devising a proposal for the authority just weeks after May’s election and have begun to explore the possibility of converting Galveston Property Finance Authority to a body capable of taking on the revitalization role and raising the quality of life throughout the city’s neighborhoods.
Jaworski said Friday he wants the authority to address the island’s deficiencies in affordable housing, especially in the private market.
"Public housing is going to be a very small part of the discussion about the island’s property needs from now on," he said.
"The revitalization authority will address a much larger issue — what we are going to do with our neighborhoods."
The mayor and Massey have discussed their ideas with city council members, civic and business leaders, the faith community and other interested groups, and Jaworski said their feedback has been "very positive," inspiring them to continue the process.
"The biggest hit on Galveston in recent history has been inadequate schools and a failure of affordable housing, which I interpret as a failure of housing choices," he said.
"Galveston Independent School District and the city’s three charter schools have done an excellent job of improving wholesale education on the island. Now it’s time for the city to do something definitive about stabilizing our neighborhoods and the houses and businesses within them."
He said part of that is "reclaiming the neighborhoods by developing new housing, green housing and LEED-certified buildings" instead of continuing "our current efforts on infill and one-off type development."
The mayor said that, if formed, the revitalization authority would be charged with "nothing short of reclaiming our neighborhoods and making them places where any Texas family would love to live."
He said an authority could "blend nicely with our nuisance abatement and clean Galveston initiatives funded by the council in its new budget" to produce a brighter future for the city.
"Its creation speaks to Galveston’s future more than anything and no longer will we have to be content with being seen as second best or halfway there," he said.
"Our proposal is not about moving anybody out of their home. It’s about coming to the rescue of people who are living next to abandoned or derelict property or on dilapidated streets; it’s about sending the cavalry to their aid so they can feel there’s support for them from their local government.
"Right now, all we have is code enforcement, but a revitalization authority with the means, leadership and finances to legitimately transfer ownership of derelict or abandoned properties is a superior method of dealing with the problem and enabling a transformation of our neighborhoods.
"We can’t afford to be passive about this any more."
He could see a positive reaction Thursday, when Murphy speaks at city hall. As a senior resident fellow at the Urban Land Institute, he has been its Gulf Coast liaison officer since 2006 and chairs its urban development committee. With housing a hot issue on the island right now, his words likely are to make a major contribution to the revitalization debate.
In the meantime, both Massey and Jaworski have been keen to point out the idea of a revitalization authority is not new. In fact, Massey wrote in a memo to Galveston Alliance of Island Neighborhoods members Wednesday that it originated in June last year, when an Urban Land Institute panel recommended its creation.
The memo added that the Urban Land Institute’s Houston District Council’s technical assistance panel made a similar recommendation in January and, in June, a study for the island’s long-term recovery plan came to the same conclusion.
Massey, who chaired the city’s 300-strong long-term recovery committee in the first few months after Hurricane Ike, then wrote: "Later this winter, Galveston’s new comprehensive plan will make the same recommendation."
She also referred to neighborhood master plans as examples of documents that "all lay out a vision for this community" and said: "This is a singular moment in Galveston’s history; we have the resources, the vision and the leadership to take control of our future."
If the institute’s Houston District Council’s technical assistance report is anything to go by, there is an urgent need for such leadership.
It implored city hall to create "an organization that is focused every day exclusively on working to deliver housing resources for Galveston" with a sense of urgency "organized and ignited into a strategically thought-out implementation plan."
The report also stressed the importance of "an organization devoted solely to making redevelopment/revitalization of the island a reality."
Massey and Jaworski are confident the authority’s creation will achieve that and thus end three decades in which "Galveston has been conversing about, planning for, discussing, studying, revisiting and analyzing the reclamation of its urban neighborhoods."
Massey’s memo to the neighborhood association said: "As a community, as individual organizations, as private investors, we have made some progress, but it has been spotty at best. ...
"It is imperative that Galveston form, fund and empower its revitalization authority if the conversation about the reclamation of our neighborhoods is ever to lead to effective action."
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