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Houston City Council debates ordinance to alleviate "food deserts"

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Council appointed Board of Public Trust members Position 1 - Parvin Ahmadi McVey,  Position 3 - Kim E. Jones, Position 5- Katherine M. Yzaguirre, Position 7- Brie Kelman, and Position 9 – Lillie J. Schecter. Jan 8 2014
Council appointed Board of Public Trust members Position 1 - Parvin Ahmadi McVey, Position 3 - Kim E. Jones, Position 5- Katherine M. Yzaguirre, Position 7- Brie Kelman, and Position 9 – Lillie J. Schecter. Jan 8 2014photos by Marc Pembroke
Council members Costello (far right) comments on food desert ordinance Jan 8 2014
Council members Costello (far right) comments on food desert ordinance Jan 8 2014photo by Marc Pembroke

On Wednesday, Jan 8, the first regular meeting of Houston City Council was brief, lasting less than one -half hour for the consent agenda and matters held, while still completing significant work on measures affecting future projects.

An ordinance amending Chapter 3 of the Code of Ordinances on Alcohol Free Zones was passed to redefine rules for grocery stores larger than 10,0000 square feet to allow for sales of beer and wine. The measure was largely drafted by Council Member Costello, and the amendment was jointly reviewed by Council members Costello and Green, both attorneys, with assistance from the City Attorney's office.

One of the problems creating “food deserts” (neighborhoods where the nearest grocery store is more than 1 mile away and a high proportion of residents live below the federal poverty level) has been that the law on Alcohol Free Zones near schools and churches made it difficult or impossible to operate a store offering beer and wine. Major grocery store chains rely on beer and wine sales to remain profitable. The amended ordinance will allow larger stores to sell beer and wine, but not permit consumption on or near the premises. According to Mr. Costello, several independent grocers have expressed interest in possible stores, and their owners are reviewing possible sites, weighing alternatives and incentives. (Items 23 and 23a)

In other matters the Council held a public hearing on the proposal to use approximately 6,986 square feet of Steubner-Airline Park for a sanitary sewer corridor. Officials from the Parks and Recreation Department reviewed the legal requirements for the use of public parks for this purpose. They explained why the plan satisfies the requirements. In addition the new sewer will allow for the installation of much needed restroom facilities in Steubner-Airline Park. (Item 1).

The Council also heard the regular financial reports from the Comptroller and Finance Director. The Comptroller's report covered the period of the fiscal year ending November 30, 2013. The Finance Director's report was based on 5 months of actual data and 7 months of projections. Neither report raised new concerns or substantial questions from the Counselors.

The Council appointed Ashley R. Threeton to the Houston Clean City Commission. (Item 2). It also appointed 5 members of the Board of Public Trusts with terms to expire Mach 22, 2014 Position 1 - Parvin Ahmadi McVey, Position 3 - Kim E. Jones, Position 5- Katherine M. Yzaguirre, Position 7- Brie Kelman, and Position 9 – Lillie J. Schecter.