Election results: the jail on the bayou

buffalo bayou

Houston voters tend to approve bond issues. If there’s no organized opposition, they pass; if there is organized opposition, they often pass anyway. That was the pattern yesterday for Harris County, the Post of Houston, and HISD — with one exception.

That exception was Harris County Proposition 3, which would have issued bonds to build an additional county jail. It narrowly failed, 51% – 49%, despite a Chronicle endorsement and no campaign against it.

I know of two arguments against the new jail. The first was articulated by Charles Kuffner and others, who argued that the county needed to run the jails it had more efficiently rather than build more cells. The other was about Buffalo Bayou.

That’s the proposed jail site above, where the cars are parked behind the trees on the right. This is a spectacular stretch of Buffalo Bayou, quiet and remarkably secluded, but with the city skyline beyond. There’s obviously room here to build a building on the parking lot without impacting the bayou, but the Buffalo Bayou Partnership, which is working to clean up the bayou and link it to the surrounding neighborhoods, objected that the proposed jail may be too big, building right up to or over the water. That might mean that a continuation of the trail system along Buffalo Bayou — connecting trails that already exist west of Main and east of McKee — wouldn’t be possible. That would be a real and lasting loss: the bayous are one of the few pieces of nature left on the city, and the existing bayou trails are enormously popular. Those trails have the potential to tie the city together: the East End, Downtown, the Heights, Neartown, River Oaks, and the West End all linked by shared greenspace. But there’s a key gap right at the county jail complex.

It seems a safe bet that the county will build on this site sooner or later (whether for a jail or something else). Perhaps next time the bond will include not just the funding for the building but the funding to close the gap in the bayou trail.

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