City Engineer Doug Yerkes announced at a meeting - attended by merchants, State legislators Leticia Van de Putte and Mike Villarreal, and City and Texas Department of Transportation officials - that within the month, construction crews will rectify the botched parking situation on Hildebrand. For a few businesses, this promise means recently built structures will be removed or remodeled. For example, the City will knock out retaining walls and eliminate the wide drains currently blocking access to head-in parking. Some businesses will receive wide, graded driveways with low curb access. Concrete slabs cracked by the weight of earth moving machines during construction will be replaced. Another set of owners, who were once led to believe that the grading of their lots was too steep to justify replacing their head-in parking, are now being told that their property will be regraded to code, and paved to their specifications.

Yerkes jumped from property to property, listing first the concerns of each individual business owner followed by the City's proposed solution. Happily, for the first time since the West Hildebrand conflict arose, Yerkes had prepared for the meeting, arriving with a photo of each property and detailed notes on proposed solutions.

Most West Hildebrand merchants are pleased with the new concessions outlined by the City, but all agree on one issue: The City's institutional protocol - not necessarily ineptitude, but apathy - is responsible for the majority of the project's problems, particularly during the planning phase of the West Hildebrand project. "I think this situation is indicative of a total lack of consideration on the part of the city for the needs of the community they serve," says Antiques on Hildebrand owner Robert Barrett Jr. "I've been conditioned to believe that people do what they say they are going to do. I've also always assumed that public officials exist to serve the community and to work in your favor. When you believe these things and come to find that officials aren't true to their word or don't work in your favor or worse, blatantly lie to you, it takes you that much longer to catch on to the situation. You simply don't expect it."

Some could argue in the City's defense that engineers like Yerkes aren't politicians. They are not trained to be diplomatic but pragmatic. While professionally, this character trait is not a flaw, it is unwise to place Yerkes on the front line in what has become hostile territory. But Barrett disagrees: "An engineer employed by the city is a public official, and as a public official, that individual must take the human cost of their work into consideration and must communicate on a level that keeps all involved parties informed."

Barrett does contend that had the City positioned an effective liaison between Yerkes and West Hildebrand business owners, the situation may never have boiled over. "The city's idea of a sufficient liaison was a guy who would hand me a letter saying, 'I know this is going to make you mad.' But is that any way to start a dialogue? City planning done from the top of someone's desk cannot ever take into consideration the true logistics, concerns, culture, or the long-term goals of the people who are to be directly affected. They have no idea how many people will suffer from the trickle down effect of their projects. Urban renewal at any level is going to be painful for someone, but compounding that with a total lack of communication - being unable to even look people in the face and give them a play by play - is inexcusable."

Through the neglect caused by a lack of clear communication, the City created a classic David vs. Goliath underdog scenario: one that routinely favors the little man in the court of public opinion. At least officials were aware enough of this to realize it was high time to negotiate. •

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