Harris County's and the State of Texas's beef with the Le Promenade condominium complex and its individual owners was temporarily settled in Harris County civil court on Monday morning.
A few weeks back, Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan filed suit against the complex at 7400 Bissonnet, its homeowners association and dozens of individual owners, alleging that they had all fostered an environment in which crime and gang activity had flourished. The suit claimed that the La Primera gang used it as a safe harbor, recruiting ground and occasional battleground in its perpetual beefs with rivals Southwest Cholos.
With 71 of the complex's 205 units in their portfolio, a company called Huali Investments owns a plurality of the complex's assets. They had an attorney at Monday's hearing, as did a handful of the individual owners. About two dozen Spanish-speaking owners represented themselves pro se at the hearing.
Selling them on the provisions of the temporary agreement between the county and the complex -- and them -- was not easy.
According to the agreement, two uniformed cops will be hired, fences and lights will be repaired and gang graffiti will be abated.
Sounds like a good thing, right? Evidently not to the people who live there, these two dozen or so people who just reeked of hardworking law-abiding-ness. Seriously, they looked like Hispanic versions of the people Charles Bronson would vindicate in the later works in his subtly wrought Death Wish series, and many had bought into Le Promenade decades ago. They have since watched as their slice of the American Dream has curdled into a gangland nightmare, and now, on top of everything else, they were getting hauled into court by the state of Texas. One woman was in tears. Her teenaged son squeezed her arm.
A barrel-chested owner whose work shirt identified him as Jose Santiago got up and, speaking through a translator, asked if their maintenance fees would be raised to pay for all that security stuff. The attorney representing Huali and the Homeowner's Association assured them that they would not. A woman wanted it in writing that all this stuff would get done. A lawyer for the state assured them that it would.
He wondered why they were being sued? In his view, they had done nothing wrong. A state's attorney told them that under the law it just had to be that way -- he owned a unit in a complex where crime had spiraled out of control, and thus he was partially responsible.
A female owner said that even if their maintenance fees stayed as they were, they would still be getting the shaft, as according to her view, nothing ever got fixed around there anyway. She said she'd been paying for 20 years and all she got from them was water and garbage removal.
A man affiliated with Huali squabbled with this lady and accused her of not paying her fees for months. She shook her head and said again that she got nothing in return for them. Why should she pay?
So yeah, things were kinda expanding beyond the issue, even if there were some intriguing accusations thrown out there by these owners, the hearing's purpose was at an end.
A state's attorney told her that was a separate issue, and eventually, all were persuaded that they would sign the injunction. Even the crying woman was smiling in relief.
Out in the hall, Ryan said that he believed these people would benefit from the result of the suit. "This injunction is more important to those defendants than anyone else," he said, citing the safety improvements. "In an unzoned city like Houston, this kind of thing happens all too often. He said the county will be filing more of these kinds of civil gang injunctions in the near future, as he hoped to expand staff on a contract basis.
There will be a status hearing in September to verify that the injunction is being adhered to.
None of the pro se owners said they wanted to move, despite all that is wrong with Le Promenade.