The Measure of Les
Your expose on Rockets owner Leslie Alexander ["Greed Head," by Bob Burtman, February 13] was indeed an eye opener to those of us who have been blinded by the team's on-the-court success. Although I'd heard bits and pieces about Mr. Alexander's abrasive style of doing business, no one could have possibly guessed the degree to which he's mistreated past and current employees and burned bridges with Houston businesses.
With Les battling for a new arena all to himself, even the most devout Rockets fan must now admit he has his own agenda and it has nothing to do with the welfare of this city or its people. The term "carpetbagger," which was used by many when Alexander first came to town, has received new life in light of Burtman's revelations.
The Rockets are keenly in the public eye; maintaining high ethical standards in business is essential for the franchise. Besides, morality demands it, and in some cases the law requires it. Since Les has been unmoved by either of these arguments, maybe his pocketbook will persuade him to realize that good ethics are good business, even if profitability is the only measurement he uses.
Sheila Jackson Lee: She's No Les Alexander
Having read your issues on Les Alexander and Sheila Jackson Lee ["Driving Miss Sheila," by Tim Fleck, February 20], I must applaud one and hold the applause on the other.
Your piece on Les Alexander was right on target. I have personal insight into the inner workings of the Rockets' front office organization, and I cannot refute any of what you reported. Les is willing to spend for on-court performance, but his basic lack of respect for non-basketball employees is legendary.
In the matter of Congresswoman Lee, I must take some exception. I have personally known Sheila for 15 years. I have worked with her as part of my membership in Leadership Houston, of which we were original class members. There are probably not three things on which she and I agree politically, and, yes, many of her personality traits are as you describe. Yet I don't think your article gave enough balance to the charismatic leadership qualities she possesses and the work ethic she brings to her office.
Somehow, I don't think it is such a bad thing for a congressional representative to want to be heard. And I rather think it refreshing that a congressperson wants to know about all that transpires. Further, I know Sheila cares deeply about what she believes, and although it can be deemed as self-promoting, I find it civil and caring that she would send condolences to grieving families in her district.
Beyond that, I have been honored to emcee the majority of veterans' ceremonies on Memorial Day, Veteran's Day and special events. Sheila can always be counted upon to be there, even if it is not an election year. She is a person who respects the service given to this nation, even if it is not always apparent in the abrupt dealings with staff members which you detailed.
Unbound in Katy
One of your delivery men apparently didn't think too much of your article on Sheila Jackson Lee. The delivery of the Press to the Best Donuts location on 811 South Mason Road in Katy was thrown in the newspaper machine without so much as the banding removed. Quick work with my handy pocket knife rectified the dirty deed, though, and all of Katy now knows for a fact what we had merely suspected about Ms. Jackson Lee.
The Power of Eminent Domain
Henry Pownall is both very right and very wrong in his letter in response to Brian Wallstin's "The Great Land Grab" [Letters, "It Could Happen," February 20]. Mr. Pownall is absolutely correct that unless Houston Renaissance controls all the land within the redevelopment area, the project has only a limited chance of success. That doesn't mean that they must own 100 percent of the land, but they must be able to set standards that all property owners are required to meet and eliminate incompatible land uses as well as other undesirable elements.
I have witnessed several very successful urban redevelopment projects on the scale Houston Renaissance is attempting (and participated in one), but in both cases all properties within the project boundaries had to meet strict criteria and conform to the master plan. Both were public-private partnerships that employed the government's power of eminent domain to effect that control. Two years ago I wrote to Mayor Lanier urging the formation of a "Redevelopment Authority of the City of Houston" to encourage and assist in such projects.
Mr. Pownall is naive if he thinks that zoning will accomplish those objectives. Zoning only works where demand exceeds, or is more or less equal to, supply. Otherwise, market forces control land use. If supply exceeds demand on a consistent basis and down-zoning, variances or special exceptions are not granted, property for which there is no demand for the permitted use becomes derelict and a significant factor in the decline of the entire neighborhood. Where down-zoning, variances or special exceptions are granted, the result is the loss of the anticipated benefit of zoning.
If zoning did protect neighborhoods, we wouldn't have neighborhoods in cities all over this country that have had zoning for more than half a century but look like Dresden in 1945. Furthermore, even if there were a zoning ordinance instituted in Houston today, it would not remove the existing incompatible uses, as many pro-zoners like Mr. Pownall believe. That is why the power of eminent domain, not zoning, is necessary to resolve the issues Mr. Pownall addresses and which are critical to redevelopment projects of this magnitude.
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Five years ago I approached then-councilmember Vince Ryan urging him to support the idea of a Houston Renaissance-type project in precisely the same area. He made me aware of the problems that faced previous attempts (Founders Park), which I found discouraging. I therefore have considerable appreciation for the task Houston Renaissance has taken on.
According to Wallstin's article, Houston Renaissance is a nonprofit organization. I hope they are very successful and somebody makes lots of money. We need profitable, successful projects such as this to encourage others to redevelop inner-city Houston. Our focus should not be on how much money someone might make (as long as it is not at taxpayer expense), but on how successful the project will be for the city.
On a personal note, let me say that my vision of this area included a restoration of Freedmen's Town, which I saw not only as a focal point for our African-American community but of genuine benefit to the city as a whole. Historical restorations, however, should not be at the expense of a private developer who has other objectives.