Monday, August 31, 2009

How the Texas Property Rights Casino is played in Hays County

Baker and Lloyd teamed up to flip the Foster Ranch in a property deal that included California developer Makar Properties and an illegal development agreement with the City of Dripping Springs

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By Charles O'Dell, Ph.D.

Texas is billed as a property rights state, but in reality it’s just a Property Rights Casino that pits the public against a few high rollers. The game is run by government officials and everyone is encouraged to play, but Casino rules protect the high rollers and the regulatory deck is stacked against the little guy.

Those high rollers are the Casino’s closed door patrons who contribute big bucks so state legislators will enact special game rules and local elected officials will sweeten the development pot. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) works as the Casino dealer, and when necessary deals from the bottom of the regulatory deck.

Few players realize the property rights game in Texas is rigged, and most don’t pay attention until their property rights are being threatened by eminent domain taking, development that pollutes their property and leads to dry wells, excessive taxation, or when the high rollers falsely characterize improved development regulations as an attack on everyone’s property rights.

Nothing stirs visceral reaction in the rank and file like a public call to defend property rights, and elected officials frequently use that emotional button to protect the high rollers. But to paraphrase Pogo, some property rights are more equal than others.

Perhaps a real life example will demonstrate how, with help from public officials, the property rights game is stacked against the typical property owner. Dripping Springs attorney Rex Baker and Austin based developer John Lloyd are two local high roller property rights players. In 2000, Baker was City Attorney for Dripping Springs, Hays County Pct. 4 Justice of the Peace and estate attorney for a family who owned the 1,600 acre Foster Ranch located at Hwy 290 and Nutty Brown Road.

Baker and Lloyd teamed up to flip the Foster Ranch in a property deal that included California developer Makar Properties and an illegal development agreement with the City of Dripping Springs. Yes, Baker was City Attorney and knew the agreement was illegal, but Baker and his title company stood to receive more than a quarter million dollars from the transaction, and Lloyd a half million dollars for bringing Makar Properties to the table.

A group of local citizens knew this agreement was illegal, formed the Friendship Alliance and sued Dripping Springs Mayor Todd Purcell. Baker went to Rep. Patrick Rose and a bill was passed in the state legislature making the agreement retroactively legal. Another big property rights win for the high rollers thanks to public officials changing the rules.

The illegal agreement now made legal by friendly officials brought high density residential and commercial development over the headwaters of Bear Creek in the form of Belterra, and Joe Beal’s LCRA brought them surface water to complement Belterra’s two deep wells. Makar Properties had agreed to use subsurface drip irrigation for disposal of its treated wastewater, but in 2005 the Belterra utility district quietly filed a permit amendment application to discharge daily a million gallons of treated wastewater directly into Bear Creek, freeing up acres of drip irrigation fields for more homes.

Downstream property owners appealed to TCEQ to protect their properties from the increased pollution threat, and presented strong scientific evidence with expert testimony demonstrating how their property rights would be violated if Belterra switched from its originally agreed subsurface drip irrigation to direct discharge and polluting Bear Creek even more.

TCEQ gave Belterra the first direct discharge permit in the Hill Country and downstream property owners have filed suit in District Court seeking property rights protection denied them by TCEQ. Belterra is an example of some property rights being more equal than others, and TCEQ dealing from the bottom of the regulatory deck.

Rimrock website/
John Lloyd went on to develop his Rim Rock subdivision near the Salt Lick and has teamed up once again with Rex Baker and the City of Dripping Springs with the Halls Residential Development Agreement (which includes 25 acres of commercial development across from a nearby elementary school).

This development is also next to the new Harrison Ranch Park that the City of Dripping Springs purchased in 2008 using $775,000 from Hays County parks and open space bond money. City officials presented false and misleading information and made empty promises in convincing commissioners’ court to give them the bond money. Harrison Ranch Park and a Development Agreement loaded with City ordinance variances certainly sweeten the development pot for high rollers Lloyd and Baker.

The list of Texas Property Rights Casino high rollers and their official sponsors is long. They include politically well connected and water wasteful Aqua Texas; Commissioner Will Conley’s True Ranch; and the expensive special interest public financed projects of Commissioner Jeff Barton who is also an active partner of Ducet & Associates.

Welcome to the Texas Property Rights Casino where some property rights are more equal than others.

1. You can share the legal costs of defending property rights against the Belterra direct discharge permit action by sending a tax deductible contribution to SBCA, PO Box 5923, Austin, TX 78763-5923. Indicate that your contribution is for the legal fight against the Belterra violation of property rights.


Anonymous said...

What was the Foster Ranch deal illegal?

Anonymous said...

I am never 100% certain that O'Dell (or for that matter any blogger) passes the standard for accuracy that journalists SHOULD pass in a professional news organization. That said, O'Dell has done some amazing investigative reporting here that SHOULD have been done(but won't) by local news organizations. Readers of this column are lucky to have this bird dog who gets scant credit for his efforts.

Charles O'Dell said...

At the time, and still today for most towns with a population of less than 5,000, a General Law municipality did not have authority from the state legislature to enter into development agreements. One type of agreement the City of Dripping Springs could legally enter into was for a tourist development project. That was why Belterra originally included a golf course and was promoted as a "tourist" destination. That ruse wasn't going anywhere with the educated population living in the Dripping Springs ETJ. There wasn't sufficient groundwater for the proposed high density residence development, much less for a golf course that was really never intended except to give legs to the Agreement with Dripping Springs. Rep. Mike Kruse introduce a bill in the legislature making the Dripping Springs Agreement legal and hometown boy Rep. Patrick Rose could try to keep his distance from the action and not incur the wrath of 20,000 voters in the Dripping Springs ETJ. I only wonder what favor Rose gave Kruse in exchange for the Dripping Springs bill.

Give me liberty said...

No. 2, there are no "professional news organizations" in Hays County with professional investigative staffs. Either too sheepish, too broke or sellouts. O'Dell is the closest we've got and the RoundUp is doing pretty nice job of keeping our politicians on their toes. Kudos to them. They should be supported for what they are doing.

Anonymous said...

There you go again, Charles! Telling the truth as you see it, unfortunately NOT scaring the pants off the guilty parties because most Hays County residents only care about no taxes and being able to built an outhouse in their swimming pool. The local free markets citizen-robots probably think corruption in the county - the local real estate cabal - is what capitalism is all about. Kind of like abused children who can't admit they are being abused by the people they trust. These folks hate the "public option" but are in the correct position to be screwed by private special interests. Yahoo!

Anonymous said...

Don't leave out the very large segment of the voting public that is living in complete uninformed ignorance and denial.

TruthSeeker said...

Good job to Mr. O'Dell and to the Roundup. I have checked the merits and facts of this post and have to agree.

$3 Anonymous seems to have an ongoing beef with Mr. O'Dell and does not even look at the facts presents.

Attacking O'Dell does NOTHING to plead your case --- whatever that is.

Didn't your Momma tell you that if you don't have anything nice to say about someone to shut your freakin' mouth?

Grow up a little and be somewhat professional. If you have a problem with what O'Dell writes then at least be as professional as he is in your response and criticism.

The whites of their eyes said...

By Hays County standards, the reporting and writing here is good. It reminds me of what the Fourth Estate used to, and should, be about.

The information in Mr. O'Dell's report is about par for the course in places with underdeveloped media and good government activism that demands the truth and calls for corrective action when necessary.

The politicians take advantage of the largely uninformed citizenry - they lie - and set out to steal them blind.

What we have is local media (press) that cannot or will not abide by its government watchdog function, across the board, and politicians who have discarded their moral compasses.

The Texas Property Rights Casino is about as good in-depth reporting on insider power brokering as you're going to get. All believers in honest government should salute it and then set about fixing the wrongs. said...

telling half truths, manipulating facts to fit pre-ordained agendas, making people believe the world is out to get them by a secret Cabal.
The internet could very well be the death knell of our society as fiction and fact are manipulated badly by those with "secret agendas and vendettas.'

Shame on you for this!!!

Don said...

custerhillside, The job of the “Media” is to report news and question the status quo not to fall in line and become a fan of every thing that seems popular. A good example is the last Presidential election where the media simply went Ga Ga over one candidate. Far be it for me to defend Mr. O’Dell as I disagree with him regularly, but I’m glad he is doing what he is doing. We need more of these reporters out there to stimulate debate on the issues. This is the beauty of the Internet not the “death knell of our society”. If you lean left watch CNN, if right watch FOX then you will be happy in your little world and when the death knell does come you won’t even see it coming. BTW, the world IS out to get you.

Anonymous said...

This is not "reporting" it is nothing more than an editorial but with NO sources to confirm or deny any of the accusations. Please if we are going to call these facts we need to see the proof.

Media is not the message said...

Hey Truthseeker. Do you know about something called irony and sarcasm, or are you cognitively impaired? Anonymous 3 is clearly agreeing with Charles, only he or she is saying it in a very sarcastic manner. If you really don't understand his message (whatever that is?), you need to go back to college.

Anonymous said...

I would say this is not standard 101 reporting per se – quote, attribution, transition, quote, attribution . . . It is what is commonly known as news commentary, very common in political blogging. Some very famous Pulitzer Prize winning journalists engage in it from time to time in their hard core investigative stories. Sometimes sources just cannot be revealed. And sometimes well informed conjecture is utilized to try to close out a few of the unanswerables. This report by Mr. O'Dell appears to be fact-based. There's just too much information to be a fabrication. My guess would be that he can back it up with documentation. My other guess would be that some of the people mentioned will not appreciate their hidden dealings being exposed to this extent, and will try to squash such future attempts to the best of their ability. I hope their attempts to intimidate fail miserably.

Anonymous said...

As with everything else Charles reports, it has just enough facts that it barely passes as news. The rest is pure fiction or at the least (and this is being generous, editorial opinion).

This story is ten years old. Go back and see what the newspapers did with this story ten years ago. Charles just can't let go of his slanted version of the truth.

A few questions I have to ask since I don't know, but just have to ask:

1. Who says that a city couldn't enter a development agreement with private parties? This is simple contract law. Was there a specific state law that said cities couldn't enter into development agreements? If so, what was it? A GOOD reporter would CITE his sources. (Notice how Charles never cites a citable source? It isn't like he is protecting someone's identity or something - a good source who wishes to remain anonymous.)

2. Who was or would have been harmed by the agreement between two private entities (the City and the developer) that did not involve anyone else? Were the neighbors harmed? How?

3. Why does Charles always throw out accusations that are unattributable or unsubstantiated? "City officials presented false and misleading information and made empty promises in convincing commissioners’ court to give them the bond money."

- Charles please present evidence of these "false and misleading information" and "empty promises". I for one would like to see your journalistic integrity proven out. If it is true, then as any good cub reporter, turn up your evidence, otherwise it is all just opinion that is unsubstantiated, and perhaps made up lies on your part to smear someone else's good name.

4. All of the rest of you who think this is good journalism have a very high tolerance for malarky. Charles is good at creating a whole lot of light, but very little substance. Never one to see anything through to the end, and at the end, he is always proven wrong (so I hear from those who know). - Before Charles comes at me with personal attacks rather than with facts for HIS story, let me say that this is what I have been told anecdotally, and from reading this blog, there never seems to be any conclusions to any of Charles' "theories" or "accusations". He moves from one cause to the next.

And lastly, from a short check of local charitable organizations and community groups that are civically-minded, I notice Charles is always one to throw rocks at those who live in glass houses, but never contributes one thing positive back to the community.

The term that best fits Charles - "gadfly" - a persistently annoying person. (Another interesting definition is the one that says that a gadfly is one who upsets the status quo by posing upsetting or novel questions, or just being an irritant" - in Charles' case - "just being an irritant" with no purpose other than his own glory.

Come on Charles, where's the beef?

another Anonymous said...

To Anonymous who berrates Charles O'Dell consistently...

Get over it!

You are doing the very thing that you say Charles O'Dell does, with a lot less class.

You do not take the time to rebuke the points Mr. O'Dell makes with facts that disproves them. Instead, you lash-out at him in some sort of psycho-sexual neurotic display.

You disgree with him? Great. Show us why Mr. O'Dell and seemingly positive thinking and intelligent readers are "full of malarky".

You are so far beneath Mr. O'Dell in commenting that you should be ashamed, but no hope for that, is there?

You lower the level of intelligence and community awareness on this blog.

If you do not want to provide alternative opinions with facts to show the truth of your tirades and convictions, then simply stop attacking the man.

By attacking him you simply show your own lack of intelligence and substance as a human being, and you do NOT have to prove that to us. We already know it.

Grow up. Add some positiveness to your backbone and future discussions. Otherwise, you remain a disgruntled coward.

Anonymous said...

Dear Anon # 16 -
"Disgruntled coward"? It sounds like you are the one with zero tolerance. I simply called Charles' hand on his supposed "journalism" - I asked for citation of sources. I asked for facts - such as his proof of the City's supposed misrepresentations to the County Commissioner. He doesn't once support that claim with a fact, that is innuendo not supportable by any facts. I asked if Charles is one who is positive towards to the community's development by actually being a part of the solution and not part of the problem.

Self-righteous hypocrites like Charles and you are a large part of the problem with Hays County. There is nothing positive about anything Charles writes. No matter who is in power in San Marcos, with the exception of the lovely witch of Wimberley, who has cast her spell over Charles, Charles is opposed to them eventually.

If he has all of the answers (which btw, he never offers any) then why doesn't he run for office?

As for community awareness, if it weren't for dissenting voices, then everyone reading this b.s. would actually believe that everyone else thinks like Charles when in fact he is in the vast minority.

So, as I said, before attacks (personal attacks) begin, answer the questions with facts. Charles wrote the article, I didn't. I could care less if it is Charles or the other people who write for this blog, this is sloppy journalism, if that is what you call it.

If I have a beef with Charles it is because he is one who thinks he can make up his own spin on a set of facts, and then the truth rests somewhere between his ears, and don't bother to confuse him with the facts.

My positive contribution to the community - being a dissenting voice, I vote, pay my taxes, and give credit where credit is due. Do I vote Republican? Most often yes, but also can see when someone has done a decent job. Karen Ford for instance has won me over these past few months with her pragmatic approach to representing ALL of her constituents, and not just the ones who voted for her. If she keeps that up she will have my vote, and probably several other Republicans as well. The Judge? Hell no, not in a million. She is a two-faced partisan from the word go, she represents herself, her psycophants (dr. charles o'dell), and people like the judge who shouldn't have been appointed for lack of qualifications.

Those are my contributions to the community? Charles? Being a gadfly.

Anonymous said...

So, if "there is nothing positive about Charles", then you must be all good and all knowing?

FACT: Everyone has positive and negative qualities and actions, even you and Charles. No one is all good or all bad.

Contrary to your statement, you didn't call Charles on anything. You didn't say, "Hey Charles, this is wrong because..." and provide some factual data. You didn't do that.

If you had, then you could preach to and brawl with all of us "dimwits" in Hays County.

BTW, being "in the vast minority" does NOT make a person wrong. Could be that the majority is wrong in instances, no?

Even the ancient Greeks knew this when one stated, "The people are a many-headed beast."

You have some pretty strange ideas about life as you see it.

You have proven nothing here. Your comments are insignificant as presented.

You act above everyone else here in the county, so maybe you should move to another county where the people are more to your expectations and liking?

And if that's the best you contribute to the community, that "Charles is a gadfly" you are a lost soul.

You say you like Karen Ford as commissioner? While Karen is a nice person and I did vote for her, she is too content NOT to make waves when its needed.

Comm. Ford believes that everyone should make nice politics to everyone else and not "call a spade a spade". I have grown to dislike her methods in working with commissioners and with her constituents.

She will refrain from speaking out if she is fearful it will "rock the boat" a little, even if speaking out is what is needed.

That is NOT the sign of a good leader.

BTW, I do not usually agree with Mr. O'Dell either, but you make your demands without making a real case of why he is wrong about something.

Your responses here are too personal without much substanance. It doesn't seem like you really want the truth. You just like being provocative.

I hope I am wrong, but I doubt it.

Anonymous said...

I though that this blog was about being provocative. Again, if I did not state it clearly enough in my first posting, then again, Charles - where's the beef? Where are your citations and where are your facts (aside from the ones that you dredge up from ten years ago, and then spin in your favor and perspective)? Who said (the State or "some local residents) that the original development agreement was illegal? If it were illegal, why was a lawsuit filed in civil court versus a charge pursued through the District Attorney's office of a violation of State law by the City?

There anon #17 - how was that? Nothing personal against Charles, just asking for the facts that substantiate his story. Aloof? Not hardly, just want proof of his alleged malfeasance, which if he really were a journalist would have not made it past the editor's table.

As for Karen, she is more concerned about politics of person and respect than about grandstanding as is the County Judge. Karen has earned my respect for being able to objectively see both sides of an issue fairly, even when she doesn't agree with you, and being respectful and honest as to her opinion, and there are even times when she can be swayed by good presentation and argument. That IS a good sign of a fair leader of all people, not just those with a narrow agenda.

Anonymous said...

That way of questioning works better for me. Thank you.

As for Karen Ford, again, frequently she will not stand up and vocalize to do the right thing even though she knows it is right. She is too afraid of what others may think, especially those others who wield power or have campaign dollars to contribute.

A case in point are all the bill boards going up in residential neighborhoods on private property.

These people are selling commercial space [billboards] that clutter our neighborhoods. That is just wrong. What if everyone would do this? What a massive clutter of signs we would have all over.

Karen would NOT stand up and say anything for fear people would say she is not a capitalist. That is just wrong.

That and other "wishy-washy" reasons are why I will NOT vote for her this time around.

A concerned taxpayer said...

It seems to have escaped many of you in here that the latest development in this "ten year old story" is the Halls Development deal in connection with the Harrison Ranch Park and the city. These players are playing the same old game right under our noses, and we're letting them get away with it! How 'bout showing some cojones out there people. Someone has asked "where's the beef" to Mr. O'Dell's story. To that someone, I want to ask, "Where's the justice in this county, dude?"

Anonymous said...

# 20:
Again, "where's the beef"? Where are the facts? There's are a lot of innuendo involved, but very little citation as to facts. All I am asking, as # 19 posited, is for citation of Charles' assertions. It is "guilt by association". What does the deal really involve? Is the mentioned condemnation viable and meet the requirements of State law? What of the property owner whose property is facing condemnation? Are there other elements to the story that Charles isn't reporting? Why don't the other papers send a reporter out to investigate with REAL journalists? I have questions that I am waiting for Charles to answer. It's his story, and I, the reading public, just want answers to my questions, which his story brought up, and left unanswered because he did half the job of reporting. The ten year old story has relevance if it can be connected to the present by factual comparisons, and not innuendo. Again, at the end of the day, a REAL journalist would write a REAL article, and a REAL editor would EDIT the story. Either the facts are all there or they aren't. Put it out for the reading public to read, and let the chips fall where they may. Ever notice what I said about Charles earlier being true? He runs from cause to cause without ever following it up with more "real" investigation or possible solutions as suggestions to problems that he thinks exists?

(Side bar to # 19: glad to see you like my more straight forward questioning. I left one question off, which was - where are the facts of the City of DS "misleading" the Commissioners Court? That is the biggest hole in the story. Connect the dots Charles. That's what I am after. If you can't without innuendo, then you are just another Glenn Beck - conspiracy theorist for the sake of the spotlight.