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The cost of the anti-SOB battle

Here’s the thing about the unusually high cost of defending the anti-SOB law that the city passed in 1997, which it can finally enforce today. If I thought the law were good public policy, I’d be less likely to complain about the cost, even if in real terms it’s a very small piece of the city’s budget. It’s not that I don’t think there’s an issue with some sexually oriented businesses, in particular some of the “newsstands” and massage parlors (though some recent arrests of their owners seems to have put a sizable dent in that part of the market), it’s that I think this ordinance goes way too far. Why, exactly, is it good public policy to put Treasures or the Men’s Club out of business? Surely we’re not claiming they’ve been a drag on property values around the Galleria. I feel like there must be, and must have been, a reasonable middle ground that would have given the city more power to deal with the truly bad actors while not being a sledgehammer that crushed everything in its wake. (To be fair, the strip clubs probably didn’t do themselves any favors at the time this ordinance was being debated, if this guy is to be believed.)

Given that this lawsuit has already cost a boatlod of money, given that there’s a lot more legal wrangling to come, and given that there’s got to be an approach that will let the city do some real cleanup without throwing thousands of people out of work, I’d really love to see a settlement to put an end to all this. I’m not going to hold my breath, though.

One more thing:

Kelly DeHay, a Houston real estate agent who volunteers his time fighting graffiti in the Neartown area, said the city is reacting to the wishes of its residents.

“The city never would have spent that kind of money if they hadn’t had complaints,” DeHay said.

I would never call the newly-implemented comment feature on Chron stories representative of real public opinion, but for what it’s worth, nobody is defending the city’s expenditures in there. It’d be interesting to do a poll of people’s attitudes on this. Is upwards of a million bucks a good use of public money here? I really don’t know how that would turn out, but I’d love to see it.

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  1. Noel Freeman says:

    My question is why have we spent so much money on outside law firms when we have an army of attorneys who already work for the City? On top of the SOB issue, the City also recently allocated $150,000 for an outside law firm to negotiate against the City employees union.

    The entire 4th floor of 900 Bagby is nothing but lawyers. If the City is going to continue to outsource legal counsel, it needs to either stop outsourcing and use the lawyers it has, or get rid of all the lawyers who the current administration would have us believe aren’t good enough to do the job.

  2. Charles Hixon says:

    Sometimes when I ask for directions around town, the reference landmarks are the various restaurants along the route. Sometimes it is the SOBs. Without the SOBs there’s going to be alot of lost folks.

  3. Bill says:

    Uhm, no it isn’t. I used to work on the 4th floor and I ain’t no lawyer, and neither was anyone in my whole department . . . not to mention only one lawyer in the Govt. Affairs Office. Have you ever been to the 4th floor?

  4. Noel Freeman says:

    Yes, I was up there a couple weeks ago dropping off documents with an assistant City attorney … in the CoH Legal Department.

  5. Dennis says:

    Kelly DeHay says the City is spending big bucks because of complaints by residents. Really? I’ll bet if one had access to the data on calls to City Council members that complaints about SOB’s would be down near the bottom of the list. Obviously there is something or somebody driving this issue, but I seriously doubt it is citizen complaints, not about businesses that have been around for decades. And I still wonder why people aren’t up in arms over this massive expansion of governmental zoning power. This is Houston, after all.