We're good neighbors. Why won't Houston's industry be?
The 18-wheelers just sit there.
So do we.
On Market Street, the main route in and out of Pleasantville in east Houston, where I live, the delivery trucks line up in the median, waiting to pull into the Anheuser-Busch brewery. This is one of the company’s largest breweries, second only to the original in St. Louis. You should have seen all the trucks prior to the Fourth of July weekend.
This wall of trucks makes left turns in and out of our community almost impossible, since we can’t see oncoming traffic until it’s too late. Many of my neighbors are older and don’t take risks behind the wheel, so we just sit there and wait, too. Ambulances and emergency vehicles take a different route, so they avoid the trucks and the nearby railroad tracks, which cause delays of their own. We’ve seen trucks stretch half a mile to McCarty Drive.
My family moved to Pleasantville in 1957. It was developed in 1948 and annexed in 1949 as one of the first master-planned communities in Houston for African Americans. Anheuser-Busch moved in around 1966. Our community has watched their brewery grow and expand over the years. When the city widened Market Street and added the median, the main way that most of us 3,000 residents drive to work and come home at the end of the day turned into the brewery’s main entrance.
The daily stress of angry encounters and near misses with oncoming traffic as we inch out to arrive on time to work, appointments or meetings is aggravated by the noise and air pollution from the trucks’ idling diesel engines. It’s a nuisance, it’s a health and safety hazard and it’s been like this for more than a decade.
So, since Mayor Sylvester Turner started his COVID-19 Accountability Wall to encourage compliance with state and local orders, and in the spirit of the late Rep. John Lewis, I’ve decided to make some good trouble. “When you see something that is not right, not just, not fair,” Rep. Lewis said in 2019, “you have a moral obligation to say something.”
I’m saying: Anheuser-Busch, you need to start being good neighbors.
And that goes for too many other companies in Houston, too. These trucks seem ignorant that our community’s on the other side. That probably sounds familiar to you. In Houston, where we lack the protections of zoning laws, too many companies keep putting their profits before people. Some communities live with concrete batch plants, some with facilities storing hazardous chemicals that can explode at a moment’s notice. In Pleasantville, warehouses, salvage yards and metal recyclers add to the air pollution from the freeways and Ship Channel with trucks of their own. Our cancer risk is higher than the rest of the city, and communities of color like ours just about everywhere experience higher rates of lung and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
In Texas, too many officials have made decisions that have made it worse. Those same facilities aren’t legally required to tell their neighbors what chemicals they’re storing. Concrete batch plants are left alone to clean up their own dust. Freeways continuing to be built through our communities degrade air quality and increase the force of floods.
That’s why we’re making good trouble. That’s why I’m saying this publicly, now, because 10 years of working on this problem behind the scenes with Anheuser-Busch and the city hasn’t led to a solution.
I’ve met with City Council Members Jerry Davis and Jarvis Johnson before him. I’ve worked with Public Works to conduct a traffic study, prepared PowerPoint presentations and wrote letters of support to help Anheuser-Busch to get approval from the Texas Department of Transportation to make changes at the side entrance gate. Our community has made recommendations about new road striping and traffic control management. Back in 2015, I wrote to Mayor Turner when he was taking office.
Everyone has given us a reason why not.
I’ve even met with four different Anheuser-Busch general managers. There’s a lot of turnover at the brewery, so about every two years, when a new one comes in, I share our concerns. One told me he would get back to me, and I never heard from him again.
Ten years trying to get 18-wheelers less than a mile down the road.
We’re still waiting.
All Houstonians need the private companies that benefit from operating in our city to start being better neighbors. These companies shouldn’t be allowed to abuse and take advantage of public property. They shouldn’t be allowed to pollute our water or air. We don’t need them to make donations for good PR every now and then. We need them to be responsible, every day, for eliminating the nuisances they are creating and cleaning up the messes they are leaving behind.
Murray is Executive Director of the nonprofit Achieving Community Tasks Successfully (ACTS) in Pleasantville and President of the Pleasantville Area Super Neighborhood Council #57.
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