By Yocel Alonzo
I was there and saw it with my own eyes. I woke up the next morning and realized that it wasn’t a bad dream. On the night of April 3, the chambers of the Sugar Land City Council were overflowing with citizens who were opposed to the City’s scheme to build 625 apartments as part of the Imperial Sugar Factory development, including 325 apartments in the Historic District. The crowd included representatives of every homeowners association in the area, all of which had voted to oppose the apartments and made their position known to City Council.
All night long, for three solid hours, one by one, homeowners in Sugar Mill, Ragus Lake Estates, Venetian Estates, Brookside/Belknap, the Estates of Oyster Creek, Hall Lake, Sugar Lakes, and Mayfield Park stood up and spoke against the scheme, hopeful that their elected representatives would listen and act on behalf of the people they claim to serve, just as they had in years past. The Imperial Development Committee, which had spent years and countless hours researching and making recommendations to the city, also spoke in opposition to the 325 apartments in the Historic District.
After all, the mayor and folks on council were the people we had elected and entrusted with our city. How could they possibly ignore the overwhelming majority of our citizens? Sure, there were the handful of usual suspects who supported the apartments, but a developer could line up just as many people to shill for a strip club on the property. But surely our public servants would see through this smoke and have the humility, even if they supported apartments next to established residential areas, to not substitute their personal opinion for the collective wisdom of the people they had agreed to serve. Not in Sugar Land, we thought. Not here.
We were so wrong. At the end of the long night, the Mayor and City Council voted 6 to 1 to approve the apartments. It was clear to all present that the vote was rehearsed. Don Smithers moved to approve the apartments a nano-second after the Mayor called for a motion. Amy Mitchell’s second was even faster than that. Neither one explained their public betrayal. Hamish Jajoo said something about the “good work” that the planning & zoning bureaucrats had done, clearly favoring its opinion over that of his constituents. We knew that Mayor Jimmy and Bridget Yeung were lost causes from the get-go, so their pro-developer slant was no surprise. But Tom Abraham did a terrific John Kerry impersonation, voting for the apartments after saying that he was against them. Jacquie Chaumette cast the only Nay vote, but she is term limited and will not be on the Council after the next election.
I’m a newcomer to Sugar Land. I’ve only been here 24 years. I really do still remember a time, not so long ago, when our Mayor and City Council were true public servants. Mostly they were our neighbors–people who would take the time to discuss issues and actually listen to what you had to say.
What Happened? That’s an easy one. Over the past 10 years we’ve gotten complacent. Yes, I said WE. This is our fault. We let it happen, but we really didn’t know it was happening. Over the past 10 years, while our population has grown by 23%, the number of City of Sugar Land employees has grown by 46%. Yes, that’s right folks; we’re now paying for 615 public servants. Great recession, what recession? Not in Sugar Land City government. Instead of substantially reducing our taxes, they have put the bureaucracy of steroids. Only we’re the ones feeling the side effects; it’s our city that’s breaking down right before our eyes.
But wasted money isn’t the worst side-effect. The fact is that we now have a mega-bureaucracy running our city. Like all bloated bureaucracies, it is inefficient, wasteful and, worst of all, cozy with developers. This is not a question of good versus evil. The developers naturally ingratiate themselves with the bureaucrats to get all that they can. This makes the bureaucrats and public servants feel important, which is why they’re doing this in the first place. They either don’t know, or choose to ignore, the dirty little secret that the developers actually have no respect for them and joke about the politicians that they have in their pocket.
The upside to all this is that we know better now. We know that we need to take our city back, just like they did in Wichita when their city government refused to respect the will of the people. As in Wichita, there’s already a referendum underway to put an end to apartments near our neighborhoods. It’s called Sustainable Sugar Land and you can learn about it at sustainablesugarland.com.
We only need 1,800 signatures to pull the plug on the apartments in the Imperial Historic District and everywhere in Sugar Land. We also need concerned citizens to step up and run for office. People who will look the developers in the eye and tell them, “thank you for your proposal, we welcome you here, but please go back to the drawing board. I represent the people of Sugar Land and I will not betray their trust. Our neighborhoods are organized now. We’ll support you. So let’s get started by passing the referendum and then go back to the future Sugar Land we love so much. We all know that life isn’t fair, but our government should be. Is that too much to ask of our public servants?