Delays, Backlash Against Buffalo Bayou Bank Destruction
July 27, 2020
(Update July 29, 2020: The “How to Apply” link below expires and shows a “Page Removed” message. To reach the application page, go to Boards and Commissions and click on the Apply button.)
We spoke recently with the director of boards and commissions for Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner. We asked her about the Houston Parks Board, the process for becoming a board member, when the board meets, and other issues. Alas, she seemed just as confused as most other people.
We had proposed some potential candidates for the board, a public local government corporation (LGC) that is required to have open meetings. And we wanted to tell the Houston public how they, too, could nominate themselves or others to serve on the board. Four of the 20 positions have expired terms.
This was all in response to a damaging project the board has undertaken—without any public input—on Buffalo Bayou. Except that it wasn’t the public board, it was a private foundation acting as the board, without any accountability. And what they have done to the north bank of Buffalo Bayou above Shepherd Bridge is cut down mature trees, scrape up native vegetation, bulldoze the bank, and encounter some heavy resistance in their attempts to drive sheet pile into the bank. Progress has been slow, with weeks of no visible activity other than sediment leaking into the bayou. The contractor is NBG Constructors.
Trees and vegetation hold the bank together, cleanse and absorb runoff and flowing water, provide shade and habitat, among many other benefits. Even the Harris County Flood Control District recommends against hardened banks, which can increase flooding and erosion up and down stream. (p. 21) The private Houston Parks Board foundation, using both private and public funds, has provided much needed hike-and-bike paths for many Houstonians as part of its Bayou Greenways initiative. But most of these 10-foot wide concrete sidewalks have been placed on channelized or altered, largely shadeless streams. This is the parks board’s first project on Buffalo Bayou.
That Lack of Transparency
We had long been concerned about the lack of transparency from the Houston Parks Board, and this project forced the issue.
Maria Montes, director of boards and commissions for the last two years, said that she would be meeting with the mayor in early August to discuss whose term has expired and potential candidates for the parks board. She said there were basically three ways to become a candidate for the public Houston Parks Board: a recommendation from a city council member, making an application online, and by recommendation from a current parks board member.
When we mentioned that all twenty members of the board were also board members of the private parks board foundation, she said that only a couple of people on the public board were on the board of the private foundation.
However, a comparison of the current roster of the public board with the board of the private foundation shows that everyone on the public board serves on the private board. Most major cities have public park boards or commissions with members, naturalists and community activists, for example, who are different from the board members of the private supporting foundation.
We asked Montes how often the public board meets and how to find out about meetings. She said that notices of board meetings are posted on the board’s website. But the public board does not have a website. The website of the Houston Parks Board belongs to the private foundation, which is the public face of the parks board. There are no announcements about meetings on the website. The foundation does not hold public meetings.
How to Apply
To apply to be a member of the public Houston Parks Board LGC, go to the City of Houston Boards and Commissions page and click on “Apply.”
To learn more about the private Houston Parks Board foundation and its relationship to the City of Houston, register here for Parks Board 101, a free virtual “lunch and learn” offered by the foundation’s Rising Leaders group on Thursday, July 30, from noon to 1 p.m.