Alt-weekly reports non-story, blog mischaracterizes, Chron links

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Metroblogging Houston links to a story in the Houston Press, and claims a family in Houston was “forced from home by eminent domain.”

A more careful reading of the original Houston Press article doesn’t really justify the way the blog characterized the story. Here’s a relevant excerpt:

The Trevinos were first approached about selling their property some two years ago.

Property Commerce, a Houston-based retail developer, gobbled up 30 acres of mostly industrial land occupied by large abandoned warehouses. Also included in the purchase were several small businesses and single-family homes.

Many homeowners took the money and ran. There were no protests, no petition drives. No one cried foul.

But the Trevinos quietly resisted. Oscar Trevino was particularly adamant about holding on to the property. He never married, and had lived there with his parents for most of his life. He had a close relationship with his father, who died in 2001.

His eight siblings, who all live nearby and return to the house several times a week for dinner, are also sentimental about it.

“Our memories mean more than money,” insists 42-year-old younger brother Manuel.

Oscar says a broker representing Property Commerce shadowed him for months.

Every afternoon Oscar visits his father’s grave site at Hollywood Cemetery. The broker would follow him there, Oscar says, and to the nearby storefront church where his father served as pastor for two decades.

“I want to talk to you about your property,” the broker would say, according to Oscar. “You don’t know what you’re passing up. You’re being selfish. Your sister needs a new Suburban.”

Chad Moss, a broker for Property Commerce and a point person on the development project, says that broker is no longer retained by the company.

“We never endorsed that; we never supported that,” Moss says. “You just don’t do that.”

Eventually the Trevinos had to face facts. If they didn’t leave voluntarily, they would be forced out. They say that the broker had threatened them with an eminent domain lawsuit.

Plus, the ordeal was a strain on their diabetic mother. Jackhammers and bulldozers kept her awake all day. The electricity and phone frequently went out.

If they had to go, they might as well cash in.

So, the Houston Press journalist reported that the seller thought he was under some threat of eminent domain, and that’s that — no need to verify with the real-estate company if that was under consideration by them or with legal experts as to whether it was even possible. A blogger picks up that bit of sloppy journalism and compounds the problem with an erroneous characterization of the matter. And Dwight Silverman gives the erroneous characterization credence by linking it from the Houston Chronicle editorial page, which is honestly about par for the course as that joke of an editorial page goes.

Anne Linehan and I puzzled earlier over the Press story, and whether this was even a story that should have been published. The basic story is, a neighborhood is undergoing redevelopment, a guy took the cash after resisting initially, and then found a journalist who gave him an outlet to whine about eminent domain. The problem here is, he didn’t lose his property to eminent domain. He sold it voluntarily. It’s unfortunate he felt he had to move, but unfortunate things happen every day; that in itself isn’t an especially compelling story.

Maybe readers see something more to this story than we do. Feel free to leave a comment.


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Kevin Whited
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