Comment of the Day: Excavating Election Procedures in the Lost City of Houston Heights

COMMENT OF THE DAY: EXCAVATING ELECTION PROCEDURES IN THE LOST CITY OF HOUSTON HEIGHTS Map of Heights Dry Area“OK, here’s where things get complicated. The current Alcoholic Beverage Code and Texas election law only provide for the possibility of holding a local option election in a county, municipality or JP precinct. It is therefore not clear that the application for a petition can be accepted as written, since the ‘area formerly known as the city of Houston Heights’ is none of those things. To complicate matters further, if the application were re-submitted as covering Harris County Precinct 1 (which covers the entirety of the dry area), it may still not resolve the matter. Current law essentially says that, for the purposes of local option elections, the vote of a justice precinct doesn’t prevail over the vote of a city, independent of date of election. So the 1918 prohibition election would trump the 2016 local option election. There’s a reasonable reading of this that indicates the only way to allow alcohol sales in the dry Heights is a local option election for the entire city of Houston. Since petitions require a number of signatures exceeding 25 percent of the votes cast in the last general election, the petitioners would need many more signatures than there are actual residents of the affected area. Good luck with that.” [Angostura, commenting on Somebody’s Trying to Legalize Beer and Wine Sales in the Heights Dry Zone] Map of Heights Dry Zone:

9 Comment

  • Has this seriously not come up before in Texas? I find it hard to imagine that a town has never had regulations in place, been annexed, had the regulations stay in force, and wanted to change the regulations thereafter. Surely there’s some sort of legal precedent for this….

  • Good topic, but per the below link it sounds like the Texas Supreme Court of 1937 arrived at an opposite conclusion and I’d assume the below still stands for today:

    “As to the case at bar we hold that while it is true that the City of Houston Heights has long since ceased to exist as a municipal corporation, still it yet exists for the purpose of holding a local option election to vote on the question of making it lawful to sell intoxicating liquors within the area origi-nally voted dry.”

  • Yes, but a condition of the City of Houston Heights annexation was that the area would be dry forever, so it’s contractually obligated to stay that way

  • I’m originally from a dry part of Dallas. Like The Heights, it was also annexed into the city. After several attempts at repealing the dry statute by vote, it finally succeeded a few years ago. Lots of new restaurants have come in. The property values have increased substantially.

  • Since Houston is a wet city there’s no reason the city would require to uphold any such contractual obligation, but the court has already put it in the hands of those living within the original voting jurisdiction and not with the city of Houston.
    “In other words, it was certainly the law at the time the City of Houston Heights voted to dissolve its corporate existence and annex its territory to the wet City of Houston that when an area voted dry it remained dry until it was voted wet at a subsequent election held in and for the same identical area which had theretofore voted dry, and the change, or even abolition, of the political or corporate entity which comprised such area did not alter this fact or rule of law.”

  • @ZAW:
    The law DOES address annexation, but annexation is usually of unincorporated areas. The annexation and subsequent dissolution of incorporated municipalities which had previously held a local option prohibition election appears to be relatively rare.
    Not clear. Both the beverage code and election law have been amended subsequent to the 1937 ruling. From the link in the post (VI-H): “There is no authority in the Texas Election Code nor the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code for a local option election to be limited to part of a city. Tex. Att’y Gen. Op. DM-44 (1991), and this remains unchanged.” At the very least, it gives opponents grounds to contest the local option election.
    Also, the boundaries of the former city of Houston Heights do not correspond to the current voting precinct boundaries–it comprises parts of at least 8 precincts, none of which in their entirety–so the administration of the election would be a mess.
    I’m not convinced that’s what the agreement says. Nor am I convinced that an annexation agreement can supersede a subsequent local option election.

  • “As to the case at bar, we hold that while it is true that the city of Houston Heights has long since ceased to exist as a municipal corporation, still it yet exists for the purpose of holding a local option election to vote on the question of making it lawful to sell intoxicating liquors within the area originally voted dry.” Houchins v. Plainos, 130 Tex. 413, 424, 110 S.W.2d 549, 555 (1937).
    So, there really is no issue here. Whenever the election code or alcoholic beverage code speaks of a “municipality”, the Texas Supreme Court says that the City of Houston Heights still exists and would thus be a “municipality” under those statutes. The local option election would temporarily resurrect the City of Houston Heights and anyone living in the old boundaries would be eligible to vote in the local option.

  • Solution: Make the whole fricking state of Texas a wet zone. This dry zone ban is outdated and is being used by the NIMBY’s to maintain their arrogant/hoity toity mentality ; that their dry zone is better than the rest of the Heights. Which is BS !! The Heights is ugly and full of tacky NC McMansions. Occupied by equally tacky people.

  • As a side note, I saw a story about this on one of the local news channels this afternoon. The reporter had clips of interviews with Heights residents giving their opinions. The first person shown was a wino woman we call “crazy blond lady”, who until last year resided in a crack shack around the corner from our house. As you might expect, she was all for doing away with the dry areas. She must be too far from Valero now.