Letters 08-03-2000

Pollandaise Sauce

I so much enjoyed your article on Gary Polland being boss of the Harris County Courthouse ["GOP Inc., by Tim Fleck, July 20].

I have spoken to many lawyers, and even filed a grievance, but could not convince anyone that Polland was string-pulling. Most people did not believe that this kind of stuff goes on down at the courthouse. Yeah, right.

I concur with the comments of the anonymous Republican judge about Polland's political motivations not having a philosophical foundation. It's been my observation that Polland just craves the limelight and will do just about anything to get in it, even if it's something controversial.

Lynn Cook

While I profess no knowledge of or opinions about Mr. Polland's politics, I want to report to you that his legal abilities, contrary to what you suggest, are first-rate.

Probate Court Judge Russell Austin appointed Gary Polland as guardian ad litem for two minor children in a wrongful death case filed after the death of their mother. This case came to trial on June 19, immediately after the Republican Convention reported on in your article. Mr. Polland conducted himself admirably during this weeklong trial.

He was extremely well prepared regarding the facts of the case. He further displayed the tactical skills of an aggressive trial attorney. His diligent attention was extremely helpful in obtaining not only a large damage award for the children, but also an award of punitive damages against the drunk driver that caused their tragic loss.

His attention to his responsibilities as guardian ad litem was well above what I have come to expect from one. While your paper may be critical of the ad litem procedures in general, I believe it is unfair to be critical of Polland, since he earned his modest fee through hard work and litigating skill.

Robert F. Stein

Beaches or Houses?

I thoroughly enjoyed your article regarding the erosion of Texas beaches ["This Sand Is Your Sand," by Brad Tyer, July 13]. I must say the facts of the issue are quite disconcerting, but it was well presented.

It is sad to see what is happening, but the complete lack of cohesion in doing anything about it is even more sobering. The Open Beaches Act is an example of a grand statement being chipped away at by those who do not agree with it, including the state attorney general. Too often in America the interests of a few take precedence over the interests of the many.

In this case, it is by state officials trying to get elected (or re-elected), local government not carrying its burden to use collected funds to keep the beaches maintained or homeowners protecting their investments at the expense of every sand- and surf-loving (and potentially taxpaying) Texan.

It sounds like someone needs to come in and enforce the current law or else risk losing the sandy sanctuaries along the coastline once and for all. So what will it be, beaches or houses?

Alex Clayton

In reference to Brad Tyer's article on the Open Beaches Act, we would like to call attention to the following factors:

Public access to the beach is not being questioned, only vehicular access

Vehicular traffic destroys the dunes and the beaches and contributes to erosion

No other state allows vehicles open access to its beaches

Vehicular traffic on the beaches is particularly deadly and has resulted in a number of fatalities.

Name withheld by request

Beach erosion presents a dilemma -- should we retreat from or defend the beach? Retreat is acceptable for most Texas beaches; however, where appropriate and economically feasible, defense is preferable. Texas needs to balance the public interest in the beach (ingress and use) and the public interest in the land (public and privately owned land, public infrastructure and the interest of coastal communities that depend on the beach and on which the public depends for use and enjoyment of the beach.

In short, Texas needs to save its beach and, where appropriate and economically feasible, it needs to stabilize the beach, thereby saving both the beach and the land.

If I were calling the shots at Surfside, I would nourish the beach in order to make it better for the public and to diminish the threat to the beachfront houses. I would not place breakwaters that would interfere with those coveted surfing waves. I would place sand dunes with geotube cores at the back of the beach and erect amenities designed to better accommodate all users of the beach. In the end, I would create a positive climate for recreation, growth and harmony at this unique beachside community. If you stop to think about it, most charming beachside communities have been created this way. All it takes is money.

I believe everyone would benefit if the Open Beaches Act were amended simply to provide that if a house appears on the beach as the result of erosion, it may be repaired and connected to public utilities and public roads unless it (1) significantly blocks public access to or on the beach, or (2) presents an imminent threat to public health.

We all share the opportunity to gain much if we do the right thing and lose much if we do the wrong thing. We need to try to understand each other and work together to get erosion before it gets us. The butter is on that side of the bread.

Sidney S. McClendon II

Excellent article. Without government-subsidized insurance programs -- mainly federal flood insurance, but also state windstorm insurance -- few beach houses could ever have been built, because no bank would ever have given a mortgage on one.

Bankers know how susceptible any beach house is to destruction by a storm and won't risk lending a dime on one -- unless somebody guarantees them that their collateral will be rebuilt after the storm. That somebody is the government. If beachfront homeowners didn't have those insurance checks in their hands after every storm, the only debate would be where to dispose of the debris from their houses after it's scraped up off the beach.

It happened that way on Bolivar Peninsula after Tropical Storm Josephine a few years ago. Several houses were left on the beach by the erosion. Because of a technicality in the insurance coverage, the owners were denied full coverage. Their insurance companies paid them a pittance and they gladly signed releases letting the GLO tear down the houses and haul off the rubble. Compared to the other options, that's a pretty cheap way to keep the beaches open.

Congress amended the federal flood insurance program a few years ago to adopt a sort of "three strikes and you're out" approach. Houses that are damaged multiple times eventually can't get insurance anymore. Had this been in place in years past, houses like Arrington's would have been history long ago. It will be interesting to see what happens in a few years, when some of the beachfront houses in Texas have one too many strikes against them.

This was probably the best piece I've ever seen in a newspaper or magazine on the whole open beaches issue. Good job.

Tom Nuckols
Former director of the GLO's Coastal Division


Making a Difference

I want to thank you and commend you for the fine article ["Board and Care(less)," by Margaret Downing, July 6] concerning my son, Darrell Jones, and other individuals in our society who have been exploited and victimized because their mental conditions preclude their being able to protect themselves.

When I released the information to Margaret Downing, I did it with the realization that often the media takes facts and skews or distorts them for its own purposes. I hoped that your concern for this population was as genuine as it appeared when I met you. I am grateful that my hopes were fulfilled.

I am especially thankful for your sensitivity to our family and the other individuals who have been affected by outrageous abuses. Until more people become aware of the atrocities our homeless and/or mentally ill populations encounter, we cannot hope to correct the problem.

Once again, thank you for raising public awareness of this problem. Hopefully, through your efforts appropriate action will be taken by the individuals in this society who have the means to make a difference.

B. Lee Ligon, Ph.D.

Laid to Rest

I read your story about the execution of Gary Graham ["Hanging with Mr. X," by Steve McVicker, June 29] and was very pleased at what I perceived as unbiased reporting. You told both sides of the story, which I don't see very often in your paper, nor in the Houston Comical, and you laid it on the line for everyone to see.

I'm sorry that it took me so long to write and thank you, but as luck would have it I just plumb forgot about old Shaka after the first week! Thanks again for a great story.

Ron Hamlet

The Accused

I thought I was hallucinating or dreaming when I read this article ["A Yenne for Your Thoughts," by John Suval, June 29]. A public official, a district attorney no less, who worries about the constitutionality of her or others' actions in government? Imagine that. I left her a voice-mail saying, "God bless you." We need more people like her.

Our own benevolent and all-knowing federal government gives pollution credits to industry, and at the same time a "junker" car gets taken off the roads. Could this be the reason the EPA is going after you and me and not industry?

Mr. Suval, please write more stories exposing the government when it's wrong, and praising officials who do right. You won't have many of those stories.

Steve Block


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