Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

December 1st, 2006:

Ellis files anti-smog bill

One of the pieces to the clean air puzzle for Houston is tightening emissions standards for motor vehicles to match the tougher-than-federal California requirements. State Sen. Rodney Ellis has filed just such a bill for the 80th Lege.

[Ellis’ bill] would require all new cars sold in the state after the year 2008 to meet the standards of California’s Low-Emission Vehicle program.

“Senate Bill 124 is critical to help Texans comply with the law and ensure healthy air for its citizens,” Ellis, D-Houston, said at a Capitol news conference on the bill, which has garnered support from the mayors of Dallas, Fort Worth and Austin.

The proposal also represents the state’s first significant global warming legislation as the California rules also limit greenhouse gas emissions.

In 2004, California added carbon dioxide to its list of regulated tailpipe emissions. The state requires a 30 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2016.

Ellis predicted his bill would face a battle royal in the Legislature next year, but said he thought Texas citizens favor the idea.

I believe Ellis is absolutely correct about the first part of that statement. The second part remains to be seen, because I feel confident that there will be a widespread marketing campaign against his measure. The question is how much support there will be after a few weeks of negative (and mostly likely misleading) “issue ads” on the subject.

“We don’t believe there’s any environmental benefit to Texas adopting California’s environmental standards,” said Charles Territo, spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. “But we do think there will be significant costs to consumers and will impose an added bureaucracy.”

Ellis’ bill will be watched closely by both sides for the effect it could have beyond Texas’ borders. If Texas were to switch to California’s rules, more than half the country’s population would be subject to that state’s regulations.

“It’s possible that Texas could be a tipping point, and, frankly, make Detroit do something that’s smarter than what they’re doing right now,” said Jim Marston, Environmental Defense’s regional director in Texas.

It’s unclear how much the smog rules would cost consumers because many automakers already produce vehicles that comply with both federal and California rules. However, the new carbon dioxide provision, which Texas likely must also adopt if it goes along with the California rules, could prove costly to consumers.

Under the rule, each auto manufacturer must reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of its vehicles sold in a state by 30 percent, from 2003 levels, by 2016. That will require selling more fuel-efficient vehicles, and developing sport utility vehicles and trucks that consume less gasoline.

Environmentalists estimate the increased costs of developing these technologies at about $1,000 per vehicle. Auto manufacturers put the cost closer to $3,000.

Generally speaking, the first thing you should do is disregard every gloom-and-doom statement that will emanate from an auto industry flack. These guys have bitched and moaned about every regulation imposed on them since the dawn of time. They fought against seat belts, they fought against air bags, they fought against fuel efficiency standards, and when they lost those fights they turned around and made the features they were forced to add selling points. The whole thing is a big heaping pile of FUD, and should be taken as such. Once we’re all straight on that, we can have the real debate.

UPDATE: On a related note, here’s some info on the lawsuit against the EPA over the regulation of greenhouse gases and California’s specialized guidelines. Thanks to Jim D. for the pointer.

Follow the bouncing election dates

As we have seen, the runoff dates for CD23 and HD29 are a week apart, with CD23 coming first on December 12. That date, which is the Feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe for Catholics, has drawn complaints by Latino organizations. They have now taken those complaints to the Justice Department.

LULAC has objected to the date for the District 23 runoff because it falls on the Feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe, a religious holy day celebrated by many Catholic Hispanics by attending Mass, holding processions and family gatherings and other events. The district that stretches from near El Paso to South Texas and takes in several counties on the border has a 61 percent Hispanic voting age population.

“The state representative district is predominantly white-Anglo population and would not be affected by ‘El dia de la Virgen de Guadalupe’,” LULAC national attorney Luis Vera Jr. said in the DOJ filing, using the Spanish translation of the Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe.

The 23rd district’s voters are “adversely affected by setting it on the holiest of religious holidays. There can possibly be no other reason for the different dates than an attempt to suppress the Latino vote.”

Vera also contends the state could have set the District 23 [runoff date] on a Saturday and that it did not have to be on a Tuesday.


Because Texas has a history of discriminating against minority voters, it is required to seek approval of election changes and decisions from the Department of Justice. Vera is asking DOJ not to approve the runoff date unless the state extends early voting to include a Saturday or Sunday and the election date is not on a holy day and a day that provides adequate time for all voters to be notified of the election.

I’m not equipped to evaluate the legal merits of LULAC’s complaint here, but I will say that I can think of no good reason why early voting would not include both a Saturday and a Sunday. According to South Texas Chisme, who has been following the backs and forths in this, the Bexar County Commissioners’ Court has extended early voting to do just that, in defiance of the Secretary of State. I really don’t understand what the state’s resistance is about here, especially if by adding the extra Early Voting dates the complaint to Justice would be dropped. Well, okay, I do understand their resistance, but I’m trying to think of a non-partisan objection. And I’m coming up blank.

To have a special or not to have a special

On Wednesday at Kuff’s World, I discussed the possibility of Mayor White taking steps to avoid holding a special election to replace Shelley Sekula Gibbs for the remainder of her term on City Council. Today, Kristin Mack confirms that such a plan is in the works.

White plans to ask the Legislature for more leeway.

A special election to fill Sekula-Gibbs’ City Council seat can be no earlier than May, meaning whoever won would have to run again in November to keep the job.

“I don’t want to spend $3 million just so a seat can be filled six months early,” White said, factoring in the cost of a citywide election and a potential runoff. “I would like to see if the Legislature could change the law to allow the Houston City Council to decide whether to conduct the election in May or November, taking into account the cost of the election.”

He will base his argument for the legislation partly on a provision in the state Election Code that says a special election should be called “as soon as practicable after the vacancy occurs.”


White still faces a time crunch.

City Council has to call an election within 62 days of the next uniform Election Day, which is May 12. That means the mayor is looking at a March deadline for passage of a bill. And knowing the slow pace of the Legislature, especially in the early days of the session, it’s entirely possible that lawmakers wouldn’t meet that deadline.

He’d also have to get a supermajority in support of this plan so that it would take effect immediately upon being signed by Governor Perry instead of the constitutionally-mandated 90 days later. Nobody was identified as a potential bill carrier, so it’s unclear as yet how much of this is theoretical and how much is already underway. I’m going to try to follow up on that.

One more thing:

Whether the election is May or November, a field of candidates already is firming up.

Melissa Noriega, wife of state Rep. Rick Noriega, is in. She says she is definitely running in November. As for May, she can’t say with any certainty, since no election has been called.

Retired Air Force officer Roy Morales, who ran for an at-large position in 2005, is running, as is business consultant Andy Neill. City employee Noel Freeman already has a Web site and blog.

Lawyers Jay Aiyer and Nandy Berry – wife of Councilman Michael Berry – are still weighing their options.

Tom Reiser, a Republican who used almost $1.2 million from his own pocket in a losing 2002 congressional race, is also interested.

You read that last one here first.

Precinct analysis: One more thing about Danno

Didn’t quite get the chance to do the next writeup that I have in mind, but in the course of noodling around with it, I found another nice little illustration of why Dan Patrick was not exactly all that and a bag of chips. While looking at the data in HD138, I noticed the following:

Pcnct Culberson Henley Murphy Thibaut Patrick Kubosh ======================================================= 130 933 302 918 320 902 326 356 778 397 786 386 782 406 395 600 245 608 246 581 270 438 742 237 737 246 725 250 483 918 562 884 598 915 583 492 658 310 652 328 645 340 493 574 243 581 242 543 272 499 884 317 896 321 844 352 504 789 328 777 348 758 358 625 513 290 501 303 515 297 626 616 410 598 428 583 453 706 102 65 103 65 107 64 727 207 283 193 280 194 298 Total 8,314 3,989 8,234 4,111 8,094 4,269

We already knew that Patrick trailed most of the State Rep candidates, Murphy included. This is the precinct breakdown of that, with Culberson/Henley thrown in for extra contrast. Even though Culberson and Murphy had to contend with a Libertarian on the ballot as well as their Democratic opponents, at least one of them topped Patrick’s vote total in 10 of the 12 precincts, with both of them doing better than Danno in 8 of them. Maybe three-term Congressman Culberson should be leading the pack here, even with a Genuine Celebrity on the ballot and even though Henley provided a fairly strong challenge, but what about fellow first-time candidate Jim Murphy? You’d think Danno’s star would have outshined Murphy’s, but you’d be wrong. And note again that this is not due to undervoting – Michael Kubosh picks up all of the tallies that evaporate from the R column. The total spread across the three races is a mere 58 votes, so this is as concise a comparison as you could want.

Anyway. It doesn’t tell us much that we didn’t already know, but it’s a nice capsule review of the phenomenon. More to come from other races soon.

Progress for the West 11th Street Park

Since I last blogged about the West 11th Street Park, they have taken an important step forward in their quest to preserve the place: The City of Houston has agreed to put up $4 million towards its purchase.

The Houston City Council on Wednesday approved an agreement expected to result in the city purchasing the 20-acre property from the Houston Independent School District for $9 million, averting the prospect of a sale to private interests that likely would replace the pines and oaks with townhomes or condominiums.

The city has provided $4 million toward the purchase price. The Parks Board and the Friends of West 11th Street Park, a neighborhood group headed by Cherry, have raised an additional $1.6 million, leaving a shortfall of more than $3 million.

The city’s option to buy the property expires Jan. 5. Private fundraising is unlikely to raise the needed amount in that time, so the Parks Board, for the first time in its 30-year history, will seek a loan for the balance.

If necessary, the city will sell up to 5 acres of the property to pay off the loan.

The Parks Board was willing to take the risk because of the unique value of the property, said Roksan Okan-Vick, the board’s director.

“It’s a fantastic bird habitat, and it’s one of the tallest stands of pines inside Loop 610,” Okan-Vick said.

She said the Parks Board has spoken to potential lenders. But Chris Ehlinger, a banker who chairs the civic club for the Timbergrove Manor subdivision near the park, said it is far from certain that the board will obtain the loan.

“I’d say we’re on first base rather than third base” in the effort to preserve the park, Ehlinger said.

The ins and outs of the deal are covered in their FAQ. Ideally, a millionaire in shining armor will come along and give the remainder of the purchase price to the Friends of the West 11th Street Park so that the whole thing can be bought and preserved. Putting up 5 acres as collateral for the full 21 is certainly better than risking the loss of them all, however. You can still help them if you want to by contacting them at [email protected]. In the meantime, hope for a sugar daddy or at least a benevolent loan officer.

The hurricane season that wasn’t

Boy, remember when this hurricane season was going to make last year look like nothing? Those were the days, huh?

The forecast service AccuWeather said the northeast United States was “staring down the barrel of a gun,” and respected forecasters were calling for 15 to 17 named storms.

But like a meteorological Ishtar, the 2006 hurricane season, which officially ends today, failed to deliver.

Just nine named storms formed. The worst conditions the Northeast received came from Tropical Storm Beryl, with 50 mph winds and a 1-foot storm surge in July, and rain from remnants of Hurricane Ernesto, which wiped out one day’s play of the U.S. Open tennis tournament in September.

The season’s first storm, Alberto, yielded Houston’s closest “brush” with the tropical weather. It came within 700 miles of Southeast Texas in June.

The relatively quiet season followed that of 2005, notable not only for its volume – last year’s 28 named storms shattered the single-year record – but the beastliness of several storms, including Katrina, Rita and Wilma, three of the most intense hurricanes ever to traverse the Gulf of Mexico.

This year, Alberto and Ernesto brought the most trouble, causing about a dozen U.S. deaths and $100 million in damages. Last year’s comparative totals were more than a hundredfold worse: in excess of 2,000 deaths and $120 billion in damages.

Actually, if those numbers are accurate, it’s a thousandfold difference. Either way, it’s no comparison. What the heck happened?

[Two factors] in particular are responsible for dampening this year’s hurricane season, meteorologists say.

One was greater-than-normal levels of dust, blown off the Sahel region of Western Africa over the eastern Atlantic Ocean. Storms need warm, moist air to develop and thrive. Dry air chokes them.

There also was considerable dust in 2005, but storms like Katrina and Rita developed farther westward in the Atlantic, closer to the United States, providing moister air during their formative stages.

The second factor, which came into play during the second half of the season, was El Nino, a natural warming of ocean temperatures in the eastern and central Pacific, which tends to moderate Atlantic hurricane seasons. Before this year’s season began, scientists were not forecasting an El Nino.

Does this augur well for next year? Who knows?

Three months before El Nino developed this summer, the computer models still didn’t see it coming. So, any chance of forecasting ocean conditions beginning next June may be somewhat hopeless.

“The bottom line,” [Weather Underground’s Jeff] Masters said, “is that we really don’t understand how to make long-range forecasts that are all that good.”

Would have been nice to have been told that before all the doom-and-gloom forecasts this spring, but better late than never. I’m of course happy things turned out this way, but I don’t regret the money we spent this year on storm shutters, nor do I expect to cancel our plans to buy more of them to increase our coverage. It’s fine to be giddy, but there’s no call to be foolish.