April 11, 2007
The Center at City Council

Here are the latest developments in the Center Serving Persons with Mental Retardation saga:

Baker Botts lawyer Irv Terrell confirmed Tuesday that his firm volunteered to represent the center after reading that city officials had declared the facility's 99-year lease invalid and were considering selling the land.

"We think the center should stay exactly where it is and continue to provide the services it is providing, and we hope the city agrees with that," Terrell said.

I kind of doubt that the Center will need much representation at this point, but just having Baker Botts on their side is impressive. File that under "more reasons why the city should settle this quickly".

John Wildenthal, who was city attorney for former Mayor Louie Welch from 1964-66, said he wasn't involved in the 1963 agreement with the center but negotiated others that allowed nonprofits to lease land for $1 a year in exchange for providing much-needed social services.

Wildenthal said the city agreed to long-term contracts to allow the charitable organizations time to invest in facilities.

"My opinion is that these services were much more valuable to the citizens than the rent would produce on a landlord-tenant basis or a one-shot sale where you spend the money and it's gone," Wildenthal said.

That at least finally gives an answer to the question of how the Center came to have that 99-year lease. It's certainly a valid point, and as I've said before, the value that the Center provides should be reflected in its lease agreement with the city.

[Mayor Bill] White said he is meeting with representatives of the center and is working hard to bring the matter to a resolution.

But he said it's not fair for the city to give special treatment to one group while denying similar privileges to others.

That's the city's argument in a nutshell, and I think it's a fair point, too. It's unfortunate that the city's approach to this, in the form of its October eviction warning letter, has made it so difficult for them to address that point. The city is not dealing from a position of strength, and it seems that the Council, at least, recognizes this:

Councilman Adrian Garcia said he's confident that city leaders will find an acceptable solution.

But if the center and the mayor fail to reach an agreement, he said, he cannot vote to sell the property and force the nearly 200 residents to move.

Councilman Peter Brown assured the packed room that the center has the council's support.

"We're not going to let the center down," he said.

It'd be an interesting exercise to see what other nonprofits have leases with the city, and to see what they think about all this. Just a thought.

As expected, the TV news was there at the Council meeting: KHOU, KPRC, KTRK, and Fox. The City Hall blog has a picture from the Council meeting as well.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 11, 2007 to Elsewhere in Houston

The problem with the argument that the city has to be fair about these sweetheart deals might hold a little more water if they were actively going after the commercial leases that are out of whack with market rates, but they are not. It would appear that only THIS lease is under scrutiny.

Posted by: Rorschach on April 11, 2007 12:18 PM

I still think it's some high falutin' real-estate broker trying to pull the strings here and that if we get him to pull hard enough he will expose himself and we can chase him out of Dodge. Unfortunately the mayor may be shielding him too and if so, implicates the mayor.

Posted by: Charles Hixon on April 11, 2007 1:17 PM

I don't mean to sound heartless here, but I'm surprised there are only 200 live in residents. My question would be how many other clients do they serve. Something to benefit 200+ versus thousands who live in the city doesn't seem quite strike a balance with me. Comments keep coming up that they provide a service that the City does not want to provide - this is a United Way agency and they do receive funding from other sources.

Perhaps negotiatin all non-profit deals with the city is in order - not just for this particular agency.

Posted by: becky on April 11, 2007 2:45 PM

Maybe they are performing poorly. Maybe not. That wasn't the issue raised by the mayor. He wants the land.

Posted by: Charles Hixon on April 11, 2007 5:18 PM

to the heartless becky.. you have not idea what your talking about. you need to go to the center to see how they work with these individuals. you have no idea how to work and provide for these mentally challenge people..how is this more beneficial to the city? maybe for the money hungry developers but not for you.

Posted by: nida on April 11, 2007 11:23 PM

I haven't been keeping up with all of the comments made by the parties involved, so maybe this has been covered. It strikes me that this 'controversy' probably started with the developers of the Allen House land not wanting a Center for the Mentally Retarded adjacent to their trendy new pseudo village. Has anyone tried to connect those dots yet?

Posted by: kh on April 12, 2007 9:43 AM

to kh, you are so right, but these people lives there and does not bother anybody. they are happy and satisfied with what they are given unlike some rich folks who are so money hungry that they could care less what happens to this people. it just boils down to less fortunate people against this rich developers.
i wonder if the mayor already have a developer in mind? you know some of this rich businesses leases some city property real cheap for their own profit. lets not forget that the center is a non-profit organization that serves mentally disabled individuals mostly minorities and some even below poverty line. a big thank you to congresswoman sheila jackson lee for her real to heart letter to the mayor and the council of houston. she is a great humanitarian.

Posted by: nida on April 12, 2007 1:00 PM

Becky, it is my understanding that they serve over 600 people a day, 200 or so live on site, the rest commute.

Posted by: Rorschach on April 12, 2007 2:09 PM

to becky, one of those people the center serves is my son. not too many people likes to work with mentally handicapp person and you are probably one of them. those people that works there are god sent and they should be recognize for what they do. how would you like to feed pureed food to a person who on top of being mentally challenge is also disabled, sits on a wheelchair and cannot move from waist down. you and the mayor should come and visit the center and see how they take care of these individuals. i love my son and would not exchange him for millions of dollars. these people deserves to be treated with respect! this is their home and a place where like my son can go to for activities. the mayor should leave them alone.

Posted by: alcober on April 14, 2007 10:25 PM