The five candidates running for four spots on the West U City Council had an opportunity to publically state how they would tackle issues facing the city during InstantNewsWestU.com’s candidate forum on Tuesday night.
West U residents had an opportunity to meet their candidates, hear their stance on issues and enjoy food from Prince’s Hamburgers, who catered the event.
The five candidates that want to represent you are Friends of West U Parks Board Member Sonny Brandtner, Councilman Dick Yehle, Councilwoman Joan Johnson, Mayor Pro Tem Susan Sample and Councilman Ed Heathcott.
The candidates were asked a series of questions that were prepared in advance; no questions were taken from the audience. The candidates were put on the spot and asked how they feel about parkland acquisition, changes to the city’s recycling and trash services and how they will tackle the controversial Town Center zoning changes.
All of the candidates agreed that the city needs an updated Parks Master Plan to identify the needs of the city regarding green space. The city has not updated its Parks Master Plan since 2000.
The city has been looking at several lots in the Mercer and Pittsburg areas for an acquisition of about $6 million. All of the candidates said they could not support spending $6 million for a park in that area.
The candidates were asked if they would support having yard waste composted rather than taking it, along with garbage and trash, to the landfill, which the city currently does. If the city were to increase their recycling efforts by composting yard waste it would cost about $100,000-$125,000 a year, according to city staff.
All of the candidates, with the exception of Sample, said they could not support spending money on diverting green waste from the landfill. Sample broke down the cost and said that it would cost residents about $1.60 a month to recycle green waste and she thinks a lot of residents would be in favor of that.
Sample was also the only candidate who said she would not support closing the recycling center, even though it is operating at a loss. All of the other candidates said they would seriously consider closing it if it continues to operate at a loss.
The current city council decided not to act on a proposal to make zoning changes to the city’s Town Center after receiving pushback from numerous residents about the changes. None of the structures in the Town Center meet the legal requirements for the city’s zoning and development laws. None of the buildings could be rebuilt under the current laws. The candidates were asked how they would tackle the Town Center zoning issues if elected.
There were given several options: Do nothing – conformity is not a concern; adopt the original proposal from the task force that keeps the height limit the same but makes most of the buildings code compliant; adopt the modified proposal approved by the Zoning and Planning Commission that would have increased the maximum height to three stories and permitted a structured parking garage; or do something different.
Heathcott said he would support the proposal with two modifications – limiting the height to two stories and no parking garage. He suggested that parking be moved to the back of the buildings on Edloe and said that the building codes need to be updated.
Brandtner said he was opposed to anything that would increase the volume of traffic near West University Elementary School and said that he liked the idea of putting parking in the back of the buildings on Edloe.
Yehle said that he would educate the public on what you can and cannot do and use the plan to make modifications based on input from residents.
“We need to address the problem before it hits us in the face,” he said.
Johnson said she would adopt the current proposal and would talk to the public about the changes.
Sample said she would clean up the inconsistencies in the laws, but would be transparent and said that she doesn’t want “to push it under the radar.”
The candidates were also asked about a common problem in West U: parking on sidewalks. There is a state law that prohibits a vehicle from being parked over a sidewalk and the violation is currently covered under the city’s “parking etiquette program.” The candidates were asked if the current policy of not having the police department actively enforce the no parking on sidewalks is the correct policy or should the police be actively pursuing this law.
Both Brandtner and Sample said that the police should be enforcing the law with violations on long driveways. Yehle, Johnson and Heathcott said code enforcement should continue to monitor sidewalk violations.
InstantNewsWestU.com/West University Essentials hosted the candidate forum. Managing Partner George Boehme moderated the forum.
Councilmember Dick Yehle contacted InstantNewsWestU.com to clarify his position regarding closing the recycling center.
“My view is that RecyclExpress should be kept open despite its current economics. It is a service equivalent to most other services provided by the City and should not necessarily have to pay for itself. However, there are structural changes happening in Houston area recycling that could dramatically change the future economics of RecyclExpress and could lead to a different conclusion,” Yehle said.