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Thu March 6, 2014
Stone Oak HOA Wants A Solution To Unmet Project Promises
Former District 9 City Councilwoman Elisa Chan has just wrapped up her campaign for state senator. She resigned last year from city council to run against state Rep. Donna Campbell, hoping at least to take Campbell to a runoff.
Her second place finish means she's done with politics, at least for now. But some people in her former city council district say she has unfinished business from her elected office: A project involving Mud Creek.
Every time there’s a big rainfall in San Antonio, you can count on flood problems at Mud Creek at Hwy. 281 and loop 1604 -- a parcel of land owned by The Springs at Stone Oak Homeowners Association. But Kellie Rohner, one of the HOA's past presidents, said it’s too big of a problem for them to handle.
"There's a lot of development in the area that impacts the way water is going to flow into the creek, and that also has the potential to increase the flood risk for our homeowners and so we're just trying to mitigate that risk," Rohner said.
So the HOA went to Chan, their council representative, looking for a solution. Rohner said Chan's staff promised this project would be handled by the city.
"We were given certain assurances that things were being taken care of and we were given the impression on more than one occasion that the city had agreed to acquire our property," she said.
They dealt mainly with Chan's former staffer, Roger Legrand.
In a voicemail to The Springs at Stone Oak HOA property management company, obtained by TPR in an open records request, Legrand is heard saying the city had every intention of taking over the neighborhood's portion of Mud Creek.
The only thing holding the project up, he said, was that the office was trying to secure funding for the project.
"The city does still intend to take over Mud Creek and the only thing that we're trying to identify right now is a funding source," said Legrand in the voicemail.
City records tell the same story.
Texas Public Radio requested emails from Legrand's city email address, when he worked for Chan. In a December 2012 email, he told the HOA's property management company, "The city's public works department [has] agreed to take back and maintain the Mud Creek flood plain," Legrand wrote.
But the problem was Legrand appeared to have been making promises that the city can’t fulfill -- as shown in emails exchanged by city offices.
The city attorney's office wrote that no one was asked to draft acquisition documents for the creek, and that it's not city policy to acquire drainage easements from subdivisions. The Transportation and Capital Improvements Department, known as Public Works, echoed that.
"TCI has no record of plans for the city to accept a deed for a portion of Mud Creek," said a senior management analyst in an email. "It is not our normal practice to have properties with natural creekways deeded to the city for maintenance purposes."
When asked about the Mud Creek problem and the promises made to the Springs at Stone Oak Homeowners Association, Chan said she had no knowledge of the situation.
But Chan said she believes Legrand's work to help the neighborhood association didn't necessarily constitute a promise.
"I can say, 'I'm trying to help you to get a job,' but that doesn't mean I'm promising you that I'm going to get a job for you," Chan said.
Chan said even if she did know about the project, she never would have agreed for the city to take over the private property owned by the neighborhood..
Legrand talked to us by phone this week, but declined to be recorded.
He said he doesn't remember many of the details because he hasn't worked in Chan's office since the city council appointed Joe Krier to the seat in November.
Legrand did say the council office always has a huge number of projects going on.
Specifically, TPR asked why he would tell residents all that needed to be done is to secure funding from the city if the city wasn't really working on taking over Mud Creek.
He said he meant the project could be completed by pulling money from the council member's discretionary fund for smaller projects, meaning the council office could complete the task itself, rather than ask the city to step in.
The councilwoman never knew about such a project, but Legrand said he certainly never intended to lead people on.
Rohner is skeptical of Legrand’s explanation.
"It just seems kind of odd that for something like this, they couldn't just be honest up front and say, 'This is what we can do,' or 'This is what we can't do,' or 'Here's an alternative solution,' " Rohner said.
Krier agrees with Chan that private property wouldn't be taken on by the city. But he said there might be another solution still. But the challenge is that multiple jurisdictions are over Mud Creek, including the San Antonio River Authority.
"San Antonio has responsibilities because our waters are the ones that are flowing into it," Krier said. "So we're trying to work out who's responsible, who's willing to kick in what and how soon can we get an outcome. The neighborhood's view is listen, sooner or later it's going to rain again, and when it does, we're going to wake up with water in neighbors' yards and potentially in their houses, so we need to get those trees and brush cleared out."
Krier said he understands the homeowners had a promise in good faith. He's been spending weekends walking the creek and talking with homeowners. He said this week that the city will schedule a clean-up for Mud Creek to clear out the debris.
Subsequent maintenance, Krier said, will have to be done by the HOA. But that doesn't completely satisfy neighbors who thought they would be getting a permanent solution to their problem.
"They may not have been responsible for the bad," Rohner maintains. "They might not have been responsible for the negative part of it or the misrepresentation part of it, but they can be responsible for the good."
Rohner promised none of this is about politics; it's about a promise. She says a promise should be something you can count on, just like the flooding of Mud Creek every time there’s a good rain in San Antonio.