"We are going to do the right thing," Councilwoman Ada Edwards assured the six people who spoke to the council and Mayor Bill White on behalf of the center.
Council members Addie Wiseman, Adrian Garcia and Sue Lovell also raised concerns about the center's plight, saying the city needs to be sensitive to the vulnerable population served by the nonprofit group.
White said he has met with representatives of the center and tried to make an offer that would let them stay on the property. The mayor, in his Oct. 24 letter, said the city would sell or lease the property to the center for a fair market price, but he said the center was not responsive.
"It takes two parties who are willing to go about a mutual problem-solving exercise," White said.
But Jane Cahill, who has a brother with Down syndrome, defended the center's directors, saying they had taken "a very patient and measured approach" to this matter. Center officials say that although no figure was ever discussed, a lease rate based on the market would be beyond their range.
Wiseman said she was appalled when she learned that the city had told the center that it should prepare to move.
The property has been in the possession of the center for more than 40 years under a 1963 lease that the city attorney now says is invalid. That, she said, might raise an all-new question.
"I think we have an issue of squatter's rights in this matter," she said. "I would hope the center and its supporters are as aggressive as possible."
Having said that, here's what bugs me about the response from folks like Council Member Wiseman. The Center has two leases, a 99-year lease on its original 5 acres, signed in 1962, and a 30-year lease on the rest of its space, signed in 1972. The latter was not renewed, and they have been on a year-to-year lease since then. Imagine instead if the original story had been about Mayor White's offer to renew the Center at the same $1 per year for 30 more years. I for one can picture Council Member Wiseman getting an appraisal on the site, calculating how much in property taxes it could be generating, then loudly complaining about how many police officers could be hired if the Mayor had been true to his fiduciary responsibilities.
Is that unfair of me? Maybe. Is it so farfetched? I don't think so. I have come to think the folks now defending the Center, including Wiseman, are on the right side of the matter, but I believe that a fair solution can and will be reached. I hope Mayor White will try to come to terms with the Center before taking any further action. We'll see.Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 04, 2007 to Elsewhere in Houston