Our news is inundated with the disaster taking place in the Houston area. We all understand that Hurricane/Tropical Storm Harvey is not a typical event and that a major disaster is taking place. A big question that should be asked in Texas and across the country: Could this disaster have been mitigated with planning beforehand? I do not mean planning in the preceding days or weeks, but better planning in the years and decades prior as the Houston area went through massive growth.

Those involved in city planning understand that Houston is a city without zoning regulations. Scott Beyer wrote in an article in the Federalist of May 13, 2016, that “Houston has accommodated this population influx through land-use deregulation, particularly in lacking a zoning code.” In 2015, Ryan Holeywell wrote on the Urban Edge blog that “[w]hat Houston might have is the worst of both worlds: all the burdens of regulation and none of the foresight to use it effectively,” quoting a land-use professor as saying: “It works like zoning, but it’s not the product of a comprehensive plan.” Could the southeast coastline of Texas and the Houston area have avoided much pain and anguish if leaders there had put the time and energy into planning in previous decades? Could the nation have saved much of the billions that it will take to rebuild this region?

At the same time, communities in the Twin Cities region are currently in the process of preparing their comprehensive plans. Plans are required every 10 years by the Metropolitan Council. I know many of the communities in the metro area resent this intrusion, but as we watch the disaster taking place in Texas, maybe we should look more at the value of this planning. I know that a decade ago when I worked on the city of Carver’s comp plan, much effort went into handling stormwater for future development with the goal of reducing the flooding threat as well as pollution of the Minnesota River.

Comprehensive plans do more than reduce the damage of natural disasters. If done properly and followed, they should reduce traffic congestion, have communities prepare infrastructure for growth and help make livable communities. At the same time, diminishing the impact of disasters is an important consequence of the comprehensive planning process.

Jim Weygand, Carver

ARPAIO PARDON

Trump brings a presidential privilege to the forefront

What is going to happen next? Is there anything that is morally unacceptable now? That’s what I keep asking myself in the wake of President Donald Trump’s pardon on Friday of former Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Arizona’s Maricopa County.

Arpaio consistently abused people in manners that violated human-rights laws. He specifically targeted Latinos, who might be legally visiting the U.S. from Mexico, American citizens or somewhere in the process of legal immigration, as well as those who did not have the correct papers. When he was told by courts to stop these abuses, he continued them in flagrant violation of court orders and repeatedly lied under oath about what he was doing.

And so, after years of hard work by local activists who brought the abuses into the light of day and prosecutors who held him accountable to the same laws that the rest of us answer to, Arpaio was defeated in his 2016 bid for re-election. In July, he was found guilty of contempt of court, and he was scheduled to be sentenced in October.

By pardoning him, Trump is displaying his own contempt of courts and declaring from his bully pulpit that following laws is optional — that disobeying orders in the name of racist abuse of humanity is not only acceptable but should be praised.

This pardon, even more than Trump’s comments after the events in Charlottesville, Va., make it clear that we are in the hands of a president with no respect for the law or for human rights. Trump is appealing to his white supremacist base and leaving the rest of us to fend for ourselves.

The Rev. Meg Riley, Minneapolis

• • •

Are we making too much of the Arpaio pardon? Is Arpaio a racist because he detained suspected illegal immigrants? Maybe, but who knows. However, to then conclude that President Trump is a racist because he pardoned Arpaio is a huge leap. President Barack Obama commuted the sentence of Oscar Lopez Rivera, who committed terroristic acts against the U.S. Does that make Obama a terrorist? I think not. In addition, the accusation that Trump disrespected our judicial system in pardoning Arpaio is absolutely no different from any other presidential pardon of someone convicted of a crime. Also, remember that Obama commuted the sentence of Chelsea Manning, who gave secrets to WikiLeaks. And President Bill Clinton pardoned his brother, his former partner at Whitewater and the former CIA director.

Ron Wobbeking, Savage

U.S. REP. ERIK PAULSEN

State Fair appearance proves we can have accountability, civility

U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen saw what civil discourse looks like during his Star Tribune Stage interview at the State Fair on Friday with editorial writer Patricia Lopez. The newspaper’s Saturday coverage of the event spoke of Paulsen’s request for “civility, discourse, restraint,” which he was given in spades on Friday. The congressman has mentioned on multiple occasions that he believes a town hall would be a spectacle, and Friday’s event proved him wrong. Lopez’s questioning was direct and on point, and thanks to her, for the first time in years, a crowd of unscreened constituents was given the opportunity to hold Paulsen accountable. He was asked directly about his history of public events, about Russia, even about impeachment, and no one chose to talk over him or shout at him before or during his responses. It was the closest thing to a town hall we’ve gotten in six years, and it was respectful and engaging. His “spectacle” excuse no longer stands; if he doesn’t hold a town hall, it will only be to his detriment.

Kayli Schaaf, Coon Rapids

AL SICHERMAN

He gave us so much of value, but a poignant message in particular

As I read the paper on Monday, I was overcome with a great sadness seeing that former Star Tribune journalist Al Sicherman had passed away. I enjoyed his food columns for years. His simple words “hug your kids” and the reason he wrote them made a deep and everlasting impression on me. When I take the time to hug my two daughters, in my mind’s eye, I often recall Al’s face and the image of him in suspenders rambling around my local Cub grocery. Seeing him walking his dogs a few years back, I got out of my car and thanked him for the simple advice “hug your kids” that will always remain with me. Once again, thanks, Al, and goodbye.

Richard Portnoy, Minneapolis