Houston officials discuss splitting District E, panhandling during town hall

Houston City Council Member Dave Martin of District E discusses several topics during a Clear Lake town hall Oct. 10.

Houston City Council Member Dave Martin of District E discusses several topics during a Clear Lake town hall Oct. 10.

Houston officials gathered at Space Center Houston to discuss several Clear Lake-specific topics during Houston City Council Member Dave Martin’s town hall meeting Oct. 10.

One popular topic was the possibility of splitting District E, which Martin represents and is the only district that is noncontiguous and made up of two distant and distinct areas: Kingwood to the north and Clear Lake to the south. Martin lives in Kingwood, and while Mayor Sylvester Turner and Bay Area officials believe Martin represents both areas well, some Clear Lake residents have voiced a desire to have their own representation.

Splitting the Kingwood and Clear Lake areas into two districts would require both to have enough residents to constitute their own districts. Because both areas are not as populated, splitting the districts would require redrawing boundaries altogether and “borrowing” some residents from adjacent districts, officials said.

City officials are looking at the possibility and will consider options after the 2020 census. Turner said he hopes for 100% participation in the census; the more participation, the more accurate the population estimates necessary to begin redrawing district boundaries will be, he said.

“It’s something we’re gonna work on and look at,” Martin said.

Officials also discussed the homelessness problem. Before Hurricane Harvey, there were about 3,400 homeless people in Harris and Fort Bend counties. After the storm, the number rose to 3,900, Turner said.

Since then, there have been problems with panhandlers begging for money across the city. Many have mental health or substance abuse problems, but some of these beggars are “entrepreneurs” who are not actually homeless but are looking for ways to make money, Turner said.

The city last year passed two ordinances to address panhandling. The American Civil Liberties Union sued the city in federal court to stop the ordinances under the idea that the city would be penalizing people for being homeless. A restraining order was placed on the ordinances so they could not be acted upon, but a federal judge has since removed them, allowing the city to again begin addressing the problem, Turner said.

Martin has been putting District E-allocated dollars into addressing panhandling along the Gulf Freeway and Edgebrook. The city will supplement District E and work with 100 homeless coalition partners to fight the problem, Turner said.

“We do need to get on top on it because we don’t want it to increase beyond where it is,” he said.

Other topics officials discussed included the widening of El Dorado Boulevard, which will begin in February; the Houston Spaceport, which is being developed with a detention pond to mitigate the risk of any flooding; Exploration Green; and area crime statistics.
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