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February, 2007:

Davis supports easing CHIP requirements

Well, well, well…look who favors making CHIP more accessible now.

“I think it’s the right thing to do,” said Rep. John Davis of Houston, who on Tuesday filed legislation to lengthen the CHIP enrollment period from six months to one year and ease other restrictions imposed by Republican leaders in 2003 to help bridge a $10 billion revenue shortfall without raising state taxes.

Restoring CHIP coverage will be a “good investment” in a healthier Texas, said Davis, the House Human Services Committee’s budget and oversight chairman. The state leads the country in the number of residents without health coverage.

The changes imposed in 2003 — including the shortened, six-month enrollment period and an assets test that disqualified some families from CHIP coverage if they owned a second, used auto — have been blamed for CHIP enrollment dropping from more than 500,000 in 2003 to about 290,000 in April 2006.

Also sharing the blame were errors by a private company, Accenture, hired to help process applications.

Rep. Davis was of course one of the main enablers of the onerous restrictions that he now wants to fix. I don’t know what brought about this particular road-to-Damascus moment – I personally would not discount the salutary effect of his having had a vigorous challenger last election – but it is as welcome as it is overdue.

Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, who co-sponsored the law creating the Texas CHIP program in 1999 and fought the cutbacks in 2003, welcomed Davis’ bill and said he will ask to be a co-sponsor. He already is sponsoring separate legislation to restore the CHIP cuts.

“This was bad public policy to begin with. I can’t understand why it took John or anyone else four years to understand that,” he said.

Coleman said he suspected the motivation was political since several Republicans who supported the CHIP restrictions, including former Republican Reps. Talmadge Heflin and Martha Wong of Houston, have since lost races for re-election or higher office.

“This wasn’t done out of the goodness of someone’s heart. This was forced. The public has spoken. The public wants change,” he said.

I refer you once again to Rep. Coleman’s work on CHIP. While I agree that the public has spoken on this matter, it’s apparent that not everyone is listening:

But Gov. Rick Perry opposes at least one of the key changes, the longer enrollment period, spokeswoman Krista Moody said.

She said Perry favors the current, six-month enrollment period and continuation of the assets test for eligibility. It wasn’t clear whether the governor would support the less-onerous test proposed by Davis.

“The governor wants to ensure that those receiving government aid for health care are, in fact, eligible to receive those benefits,” Moody said.

I hate to say this, but I can totally see a bill getting passed with bipartisan support, and then getting vetoed by Governor Thirty-Nine Percent. I don’t have to re-enroll in my health insurance program every six months, and I’ll bet neither does Rick Perry. Why should folks who need CHIP be treated any differently? How many people are likely to get an extra few months of coverage that they might not have gotten under the current rule? Not many, I’d bet – certainly far less than the people who have lost coverage in the past few years. The Governor’s attitude is not only uncompassionate, it’s not even fiscally sound. And of course, there are real world consequences:

Terri Cannon, whose husband is a doctoral student in physics at Rice University, spent months trying to renew her two sons’ health insurance coverage last year.

Her youngest was just turning 1 and was transferring from Medicaid to CHIP. Her oldest, then 3, had been on CHIP since January 2005.

Both qualified but went uninsured for four months while Cannon’s efforts to renew their coverage met with one bureaucratic snag after another.

The loss of coverage was especially troublesome for her oldest son, a severe asthmatic who needed costly medicine to prevent his attacks.

“They needed to realize that they were not just dealing with paperwork,” Cannon said.

“They were dealing with my 3-year-old who couldn’t breathe, and I couldn’t get past that.”

In a sense, Terri Cannon was lucky. For some people, the fallout from lacking insurance can be fatal.

UPDATE: Dewhurst is with Perry. Gotta keep those GOP primary voters happy, you know.

Meet Houston Pavilions

As promised, the groundbreaking of Houston Pavilions took place yesterday amid much fanfare. Here’s what we have to expect:

The developers of the Houston Pavilions say it will open in October of 2008.

The $170 million project will have 360,000 square feet of retail space and a 200,000-square-foot office tower.

A nearby 1,525-space garage has been leased. It will be connected to the rest of the project via a skybridge.

The newest tenants include clothing retailer Forever 21 and Books-A-Million.

Both will build urban flagship stores and join House of Blues, Lucky Strike Lanes and at least seven restaurants, including McCormick & Schmick’s, Red Cat Jazz Cafe and Lawry’s, the Prime Rib.

The retail space will occupy the first two levels of the project, with entertainment venues on the third floor. A central courtyard will have space for restaurant patios.

“We will be the people place to see and be seen in the city of Houston,” said [William] Denton, who is developing the project with Geoffrey Jones.

Not quite what people in my comments were looking for, but not too shabby overall.

Looks like we’re going to have to be careful about driving through downtown soon, as there’s a lot of construction going on, with perhaps more to come:

Construction on the Pavilions is happening at the same time as One Park Place, the 37-story apartment building with 346 units. It’s the first of its kind to be built downtown in more than 40 years, according to developer Marvy Finger of the Finger Cos.

The tower should be completed in early 2009 and have retail space on the first floor.


The developers shouldn’t have trouble leasing the loft-style office space, as the amount of available downtown space has been shrinking. The office market posted a big drop in vacancy during the last quarter.

Vacancy for top-class downtown buildings fell to 10 percent, according to real estate firm CB Richard Ellis.


Real estate observers said the project will help spur more shops, restaurants and convention activity.

“I think it’ll definitely be a catalyst for more development,” said Mark Sixour of Holliday Fenoglio Fowler, a national mortgage banking firm that secured the project’s financing and equity.

We’ll see. Houstonist has more.

A quick plug for donating blood

Yesterday was Debutant‘s first re-birthday; it was on February 27, 2006, that she received a stem cell transplant courtesy of a donation from her brother. I’m very happy to see that she’s doing well. May there be many more re-birthdays (and the original kind, too) for you to celebrate, Deb.

I was reminded of this event by my friend (and regular commenter here) Patrick, who unfortunately also had some bad news: His cousin-in-law Kelly, who is a college student, was recently diagnosed with an aggressive form of lymphoma. Like Deb before her, she is about to become very well acquainted with MD Anderson and its employees, for at least the next six months.

Now, I’ve not met Kelly, and neither have you, but there’s a simple thing that we can both do to help her and people like her: We can donate blood, and especially platelets. There are many fine locations around Houston for making such donations. I’ve been a regular customer at the Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center on La Concha lately, and I’m about due for another visit. It’s good for your soul, it doesn’t take long, and you can stuff your face with cookies afterwards, guilt-free. What’s not to like?

I will be donating blood in the month of March. I hope you will please think about joining me. Thank you very much.

La Nina is not our amiga


“Forecasters warned today that a La Nina weather pattern — the nasty flip side of El Nino — is brewing, bringing with it the threat of more hurricanes for the Atlantic.

Officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced the official end of a brief and mild El Nino that started last year. That El Nino was credited with partially shutting down last summer’s Atlantic hurricane activity in the midst of what was supposed to be a busy season.

“We’re seeing a shift to the La Nina, it’s clearly in the data,” NOAA Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher said. La Nina, a cooling of the mid-Pacific equatorial region, has not officially begun because it’s a process with several months with specific temperature thresholds, but the trend is obvious based on satellite and ocean measurement data, he said.

“It certainly won’t be welcome news for those living off the coast right now,” Lautenbacher said. But he said that doesn’t mean Atlantic seaboard residents should sell their homes.

You might at least consider storm shutters, however. And make sure your insurance is up to date.

Forecasters don’t know how strong this La Nina will be. However, it typically means more hurricanes in the Atlantic, fewer in the Pacific, less rain and more heat for the already drought-stricken South, and a milder spring and summer in the north, Lautenbacher said. The central plains of the United States tend be drier in the fall during La Ninas, while the Pacific Northwest tends to be wetter in the late fall and early winter.

SciGuy has more. Let me just say again, “Argh!”

Prevention First

Today is Planned Parenthood Lobby Day in Austin. The timing is propitious, as a couple of bills were filed yesterday to implement what is being called the Texas Prevention First Act of 2007. From the website:

The Texas Prevention First Act of 2007 will:

  • Reduce the risk of unintended pregnancy and the spread of sexually-transmitted disease through accurate and effective sex education in public schools and outreach for family planning services state-wide. By reducing unintended pregnancies, we will reduce the abortion rate in Texas.
  • Increase outreach for Texas’ family planning program through print and broadcast media, websites, and a toll-free telephone number. When fully implemented in 2009, the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) projects that the Women’s Health Program, created during the 79th Legislature, will serve only 12 percent of the eligible population. By increasing enrollment in effective and cost-saving programs such as the Women’s Health Program, Texas will increase access to health care and family planning services for adult women in need and, ultimately, save money.
  • Save public dollars while improving women’s health. The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) estimates that it costs less than $170 per client per year for preventive family planning, whereas, it costs over $8,500 for the first year of a Medicaid pregnancy. In addition, one out of every two births in Texas is paid for with public dollars. According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, every public dollar spent on preventive family planning services saves taxpayers $3 in Medicaid costs for prenatal and newborn care. The Women’s Health Program, for example, is projected to save Texas $278M over five years, and the federal government matches Texas’ investment in this program at a ratio of 9 to 1.
  • Involve parents in their children’s sex education by requiring school districts to notify parents of the content of their child’s sex education curriculum, of State Law regarding sex education, and of ways to get involved in the development of this curriculum.

The bills in question are HB1842, co-sponsored by Rep. Mark Strama (Austin), Rep. Rafael Anchia (Dallas), Rep. Sylvester Turner (Houston) and Rep. Rep. Veronica Gonzales (McAllen), and SB837, co-sponsored by Sen. Kirk Watson (Austin) and Sen. Jeff Wentworth (San Antonio). I’m a bit leery about the odds of anything as rational and compassionate as this making it through the process, but one must always hope. Signing the petition couldn’t hurt, either. BOR has more, while PDiddie reported from the previous PP Lobby Day.

Matthews gets three years

Rightwing former radio talkshow host Jon Matthews was sentenced to three years in prison for probation violations that he was arrested for in August.

Matthews, 61, left the courtroom of state District Judge Brady Elliott after agreeing to a three-year sentence on a charge of indecency with a child.

The state claimed Matthews violated several terms of the probation he received two and half years ago after he pleaded guilty to exposing himself to an 11-year-old girl. Matthews did not dispute the claims made in court this morning.


Court records show Matthews violated several probation conditions the court set in 2004 when he entered his plea on the charge that stemmed from the October 2003 incident.

The violations included testing positive for alcohol, being terminated from a sex offenders counseling program and engaging in sexual fantasy activity over the Internet, court records said.

The conservative talk-show host resigned from his position on KSEV-AM (700), where he sat behind the microphone 6-9 a.m. each weekday. He also stopped writing a column for the weekly newspaper Fort Bend Star.

According to a July 5 report prepared by the Community Supervision and Corrections Department of Fort Bend County, Matthews tested positive for alcohol in June of 2005 and again in July of that same year.

“He admitted to abusing alcohol for approximately three weeks before testing positive,” the report said.

Matthews also was terminated from a sex offenders counseling program because he had been engaging in inappropriate online sexual conduct, according to court documents.

As noted before, the details of Matthews’ activities are pretty lurid, so caveat lector. Not much else to say here except that the sentence is well earned and deserved. And may this be the last time we see his name in the news.

Salvaging my lost music

I still have a fair number of old-fashioned record albums. None of them have been played in at least ten years, which is approximately when I last had a working turntable. Some of these albums have CD equivalents in my collection, but most don’t, and a couple may not ever have been released on CD.

I would dearly love to convert these suckers to MP3s, so they can be burned to CD and ripped to my iPod. I see that this is technically possible, though of course I have neither the equipment, the time, or the confidence to try it. I’m sure I could pay someone to do it, but if that guy’s rates are any indicator, it won’t be cheap. Which isn’t surprising, given that it’s got to take about an hour per album, since the damn things have to be played in their entirity to get everything into digital format, then cleaned up to remove the popping noises, but it is discouraging. Doing all fifty or so remaining albums would run into some serious money. Of course, finding CD replacements isn’t necessarily going to be any cheaper. I suppose I could just shop the iTunes store for individual songs, but that seems like a daunting and time-consuming task, and foists a bunch of DRM-infected music on me, which limits my future MP3 player choices.

So it’s a bit of a dilemma. What would you do in my shoes? I’d appreciate any feedback.

Cooler lovers fight back in New Braunfels

Looks like there’s some blowback in the Great New Braunfels Cooler Crackdown: Via PinkDome, the city councilman who’s been the driving force behind all of the recent spate of river regulations, including the beer bong and Jell-O shot bans, is now facing a recall by irate cooler-toters.

It took recall supporters fewer than five hours Saturday to gather about 570 signatures on a petition to remove District 6 Council Member Ken Valentine from office. It took less time than that for the City Council on Monday to reject Valentine’s proposal to limit recall referendums.

“If you vote for this, you’re probably going to end up in court,” New Braunfels resident Bill Norvell said.

A retired attorney, Norvell was among more than 100 people who packed council chambers Monday to hear members discuss a range of new ordinances affecting tubers. Most of the those calling for the recall opposed the ordinances, which Valentine supports.

The petition was submitted to city Secretary Michael Resendez on Monday. For a recall vote to be held, Resendez must verify at least 221 signatures.

Robert E. Lee III, one of the recall’s organizers, said he was confident of the petition.

“In business terms, that’s what we call a supermajority,” he said.

If enough signatures have been gathered, the City Council will vote on a resolution to call a referendum in May, Resendez said.

If Valentine is recalled, the city would hold a special election in November to fill his seat, which expires in May 2008.

If I were a betting man, I’d make the recall effort a slight favorite. I just get the impression that the pro-recall forces, which is to say the anti-tiny-cooler forces, will be more motivated to get out and vote in May. I could certainly be wrong about that, and the set of total voters involved in this race is small enough that anything can happen, but that’s my seat of the pants guess. It’ll be fun to watch, that’s for sure.

And it looks like Council Member Valentine might be his own worst enemy:

Resendez said he has received phone calls from residents asking about the number of votes needed to hold recall votes for District 4 Council Member Pat Wiggins, District 5 Council Member Kathleen Krueger and even Mayor Bruce Boyer. But Resendez said he has not received any recall petitions besides Valentine’s.

Valentine, whose district stretches from West Bridge Street south across Interstate 35 to West County Line Road, tried Monday to stop the recall.

He proposed an ordinance that would let the council members have the final say in whether a recall referendum goes forward by determining by majority vote whether the petition properly identifies and supports grounds for recall.

Valentine recused himself from the ordinance’s discussion and vote, and it failed without opposition.

So in one fell swoop, Valentine provided the recallers with another bullet point for their mailers, and demonstrated that his colleagues aren’t willing to stand between him and the rabblerousers. Not a good sign. I’ll keep an eye on this one, so stay tuned.

More on Woodfill and Eckels

I don’t know who Houston Consigliere is, but he has an interesting take on the Woodfill/Eckels affair, if you can get past the white text on a bright red background. Thanks to PDiddie for finding that.

I have an image of the letter Woodfill & Friends sent to Eckels if you’re interested – it’s here.

Finally, via Miya, we have No, not me, and not this Charles, either, but Bacarisse, to be Eckels’ replacement. It has a blog and everything. Honestly, what can one say?

Hold that demolition, for now

Following up on his announcement to bring out stronger preservation protections for the Old Sixth Ward, Mayor White wants to enact a temporary ban on demolitions in that neighborhood until the details can be worked out.

The City Council on Wednesday will consider an ordinance that would exempt buildings in the Old Sixth Ward Historic District from a provision that allows owners to alter or tear down historic structures 90 days after the city’s Archaeological and Historical Commission denies them permission to do so.

City officials said the ordinance would prevent further loss of historic homes while White’s administration develops a permanent plan — one that includes design guidelines, financial incentives and other measures to protect historic structures in the neighborhood just west of downtown. The temporary ban would expire Sept. 1.

Houston preservationists, who have long complained that Houston’s historic preservation law was inadequate, said the measure is significant even though it is temporary.

“I think this is a sign of good judgment, of being proactive rather than reactive,” said Lynn Edmundson, the founder and director of Historic Houston.

But City Councilman Michael Berry, while predicting the ordinance will pass, said he intends to oppose it.

“It appears that we are changing the rules on people in the middle of the game,” Berry said, adding that even a temporary ban on demolitions could cause financial difficulty for a property owner who had arranged to borrow money to tear down an old house and build a new one.

The ordinance amounts to a “regulatory taking,” Berry said, and is likely to prompt lawsuits from property owners demanding compensation.

Okay, that’s a fair point, but here’s a question. The Old Sixth is a pretty small area. It should be determinable whether or not anyone in that area is already planning a demolition in the near future. We could do a permit check, for instance. What I’m getting at here is that given the temporary nature of the ban, we should distinguish between a theoretical concern and a concrete one. If there are no actual homeowners who fit Berry’s description, then (again, given that this is a temporary action) what’s the problem? And if there are, then we can try to find out if they’d have any objections to a delay, and if so what (if anything) could be done about it. Maybe Berry’s right, and we are exposing ourselves to a lawsuit. All I’m saying is that this should be checkable and not hypothetical.

On using funds as they were dedicated

I feel like there’s a point that needs to be made in this story about using dedicated funds as they were intended but which is lacking.

From electric-bill help for the needy to parks funding to abolishing a telephone fee, promises to spend state fees and taxes for their intended purposes or stop collecting them are working their way through the Legislature.

But the open question remains whether lawmakers, struggling to fund state programs while keeping a pledge to subsidize lower school property tax rates, will be able to stop diverting much of the earmarked money.

The arguments for caution focus on the price tag. Unspent dedicated funds currently total $2.7 billion, according to the state comptroller’s latest estimate. That’s money that can be used to help balance the budget just by virtue of being on the books.

“It kind of boils down to, what does the Legislature want to do?” said Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, Senate Finance Committee chairman. “I’m not for increasing taxes somewhere else to pay for that cut. And I’m not for backing off our property tax cut.”

Arguments for spending dedicated fees as intended are fierce, particularly from advocates who see change possible now that leaders like Gov. Rick Perry are on board.

“The bigger question is whether or not we are going to budget with integrity,” said Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, House speaker pro tem, who has long protested the budget-balancing diversion of a utility fee intended to help lower-income customers with bills. “And whether or not our political rhetoric matches what we do.”

Why exactly is it that funds that were initially collected for a specific purpose, such as the much-ballyooed sporting goods tax, which is intended but underused for state parks, wind up getting raided for general revenue purposes? I say it’s because too many legislators are reluctant to admit that our tax structure, which is supposed to fund our basic needs, is inadequate for the task. It’s much easier, and less politically risky, to sneak a few dollars from this or that fund that most people are not aware of and not paying attention to than it is to talk about the big picture. So they play shell games instead, and hope for the best.

I’d like to see more truth in our taxation, too. It’s not right to say that a tax or a fee is for one purpose, and then use it for another. But if we’re going to be honest, let’s not stop with this. Let’s talk about what it’s really going to take to meet the public’s demands for things like properly funded public schools, because we’re sure as hell not doing it now. What Sen. Ogden and the others are talking about here is perfectly fine, but it’s also applying a band-aid to a broken leg. Until we fix the underlying issue, I guarantee we’ll be right back in the same place again in the future.

Woodfill wants to pick Eckels’ successor

I noted before that the local GOP is making demands about who Robert Eckels’ successor as County Judge should be. I see now that they are fully prepared to hold their breath till they turn purple if Eckels and company don’t bow to them.

Some Republicans are threatening to withhold future political support for County Judge Robert Eckels unless he backs a high-profile elected official as his successor rather than a relatively obscure former lawmaker.

“This decision is extremely important to whether the base will get behind Eckels if he runs for higher office,” said County GOP Chairman Jared Woodfill.

Although Eckels is stepping down to become a partner in the Fulbright & Jaworski law firm, he has said he eventually may seek statewide office.

Many GOP precinct chairs want Eckels and the Commissioners Court to tap a Republican official already holding countywide office, such as District Clerk Charles Bacarisse or Tax Assessor-Collector Paul Bettencourt, Woodfill said.


Eckels has agreed to discuss the appointment of his successor with the local GOP executive committee, which comprises the county’s 450 precinct chairs, when it meets Monday.

Eversole and Radack also were invited to attend. Radack said he won’t go because the three members of Commissioners Court would create a quorum, possibly constituting an illegal meeting.

Alice Rekeweg, a precinct chair from Kingwood, said some GOP activists are so upset that Eckels appears to be backing [Ed] Emmett as his successor that they would not support the county judge in a run for statewide office.

“It’s a possibility some people will hold a grudge,” she said.

Isn’t that sweet? It’s so nice to know that our next County Judge will either be the result of a crony backroom deal, or a hostage swap for Robert Eckels’ future political considerations. I suppose the good news here is that Steve Radack would probably rather cut off his big toes than make a deal for Eckels’ benefit. I don’t think he’ll allow himself to be out-grudged by a bunch of precinct chairs.

Remember, what Woodfill & Friends are demanding here would mean that more than one countywide office would be held by appointees for the next two years. If it’s Bacarisse who gets tabbed, then two offices for which the last election was this past November will be vacated. Presumably, at that point, we’ll get to hear who’s on their list of Acceptable Replacements for Bacarisse as well. But who cares about all that? It’s an Opportunity, and Opportunity requires Taking Full Advantage. Voters, schmoters.

Funniest quote of the week:

Eckels dismissed that as a concern. “I’m not worried about that at all,” he said. “I’m just going to do what I was elected to do.”

Um, Bob, what you were elected to do was to serve as Harris County Judge through the year 2010. That’s the one thing for sure we know isn’t going to happen. We wouldn’t be having this conversation if you did what you were elected to do instead of heading off on your quest for personal and financial fulfillment. Just FYI.

Houston Pavilions groundbreaking today

According to Miya Shay, the Houston Pavilions project, which secured its financing last October, will have its official groundbreaking today, along with the announcement of two new “anchor” tenants. Here’s who they have so far:

Tenants that have already been announced include House of Blues; Lucky Strike bowling center; Lawry’s, The Prime Rib; Tuscany coffee shop; Yao’s Restaurant and Bar; Antica Osteria Italian restaurant; Red Cat Jazz Cafe; and McCormick & Schmick’s seafood restaurant.

A grand opening is expected in October 2008.

Anyone want to speculate who’ll be added to this lineup? Is there any particular entity you want – or don’t want – to see? Leave a comment if so.

King versus Kenedy over wind farms

Sad to see the two big iconic Texas ranches locked in such combat over wind turbines, but that’s the 21st century for you, I suppose. Based on what I now know, I’d have to award the debate so far to the Kenedys on points.

“(King Ranch Chief Executive) Jack Hunt goes around telling lies and misquoting information and has no technical skill whatsoever, trying to mislead the public that wind energy doesn’t exist and doesn’t add any value, doesn’t produce much and is a tax debacle,” said John Calaway, whose company plans to build 157 turbines on a plot now owned by the John G. and Marie Stella Kenedy Memorial Foundation.


Hunt says Sarita Kenedy East, who until her death in 1961 was the last surviving descendant of ranch founder Mifflin Kenedy, would disapprove.

“People who knew Mrs. Kenedy said she’d be spinning in her grave if she knew these lands were being used for this purpose,” said Hunt. “I don’t think this use is consistent with what the Kenedys had in mind. This area is important environmentally — it’s been called ‘the last great habitat.’ The King Ranch family feels very strongly about stewardship.”


Marc Cisneros, a retired Army general who heads the Kenedy Memorial Foundation, rejects Hunt’s claim that he and the trust are willing to sacrifice the unique South Texas environment for a quick payday from wind speculators.

“We at the Kenedy Foundation do not take a back seat to the King Ranch or anyone else in concern for wildlife,” said Cisneros from his 17th-floor office in downtown Corpus Christi, adding that “what wildlife worries about is someone shooting at them,” a swipe at the King Ranch’s prominence as a hunting destination.

“We looked at (the wind proposal) very carefully. We were very cognizant of conserving wildlife. We have quantitative data that show it’s not an issue.”

That data is constantly flowing into Calaway’s offices at Continental Center. A diesel-powered radar site, which sits on the lonesome Jaboncillos Pasture somewhere between U.S. 77 and the coast, has been taking continuous sweeps of the airspace since September, tracking every bird to see if dozens of spinning rotors would pose a threat.

“We’re not seeing the ‘river of birds’ that Jack Hunt talks about,” said Calaway, who holds research predicting minimal impact to bird populations. Plus, he said, the turbines practically stop on a dime if a major influx of birds does pour into the area.

Hunt admits he doesn’t know whether the turbines will whack a single bird. His problem is that there’s no regulation of building land-mounted turbines in rural areas, so no government body will vet the project.

And Hunt won’t merely take wind operators at their word.

“We haven’t seen any of that bird data,” he said. “It’s not peer-reviewed. How can you trust it when basically it’s been done by the people they’ve hired to do it? … If I wanted to build a feedlot down there, I’d have to have all kinds of permits.”

The issue has been a struggle for bird advocates such as the Audubon Society, which also supports clean energy.

“On balance, Audubon strongly supports wind power as a clean alternative energy source that reduces the threat of global warming,” Audubon President John Flicker wrote in December, outlining the organization’s position.”Location, however, is important.”

It’s certainly possible that the Kenedy folks have oversold their commitment to bird safety, and I don’t doubt for a minute that there’s insufficient oversight – for crying out loud, this is Texas; we don’t have sufficient oversight for any-damn-thing – but Mr. Hunt has not made his case, as far as I can tell. I may see it differently down the line, but for now, I’m rooting for the Kenedys.

WiFi for all

Some details on the plan to make the citywide WiFi project available to lower income folks.

Under a contract with EarthLink, the company chosen last week to build the network, about 40,000 discount Internet accounts would be available for low-income residents. Those who qualify would have Internet access for about $10 per month, compared with regularly priced accounts that would sell for about $22.

Low-income residents also would get help accessing computers to connect with the Internet, and enrolling in classes to learn how to use it.

The efforts would be funded partly by EarthLink, which is expected to contribute $2 million during the first two years the network is up and running to market the product to potential low-income users, and provide computers and training.

After two years, EarthLink would turn over 3 percent of the revenue generated from the wireless system to the city, which would invest it in efforts to provide Internet access to low-income residents.

Will Reed, CEO of Technology for All, a local nonprofit that helps low-income communities access and use technology, said those funds would need to be matched by other sources to make the program successful.

“One million (per year) won’t go very far,” he said. “But if we multiply it with corporate contributions and other programs and activities that can build off of it, then I think we have the opportunity to make a difference.”

I suspect that with EarthLink opening with $2 million towards this effort, the matching funds will be there. Mayor White has certainly shown the ability to milk those sources when needed. It’s not clear from this story how much total funding will be required, but whatever it is, I expect it’ll be achieved.

Fifty years of “The Cat In The Hat”

TMI brings word of the golden anniversary of “The Cat In the Hat”, which was first published in March of 1957, and links to The Annotated Cat, a book about the two Cat books. One “did you know” fact they highlight:

The ring removal in The Cat in the Hat Comes Back recalls Ted Geisel’s work on the 1935 advertisement for a spot remover called Ex-tame.

Here’s the thing. Say you’re Dick or Sally. This cat, whose tricks you know all too well, has invaded your house again, and has introduced accomplices for his mischief. At the point where Little Cats A, B, and C succeed in blowing the pink stain outside onto the snow, does it really make sense to insist that they then clean up the snow? I mean, it’s snow for crying out loud. It’ll melt. Your house and everything in it is clean, and all you need to do is say “Okay, thanks very much, we’ll take it from here, nice seeing you, now goodbye.” Why wouldn’t you just do that?

Because it wouldn’t have made for any fun, I suppose. Seuss’ book is much more entertaining his way. We should be thankful that those kids didn’t learn enough from the previous time to leave well enough alone.

Help for the bungalows?

Last week, the This Week/Heights section of the Chron had a big story about some pending changes to the prevailing lot size and setback ordinances, and what effect they may have on historic preservation efforts.

The ordinances apply to non-deed restricted areas inside Loop 610.

The existing ordinance to protect against lot subdivision is the prevailing lot size ordinance.

If 75 percent of the houses on a block are the same size, the residents can apply for protection that would require all lots to remain the size of the majority of lots on the block.

Because many blocks are diverse in their lot sizes, this rule precluded many from protection.

The proposed minimum lot size ordinance instead would come up with a minimum lot size by adding together the square footage of lots on a block — largest to smallest — until 60 percent of the total square footage of a block is reached.

Whatever the size is of the lot that caps off 60 percent or greater of the total block area would become the minimum lot size.

The new rule would allow any two opposing block faces to qualify for some level of protection. A block face is comprised of all the land on one side of a block of a street.

Sterling said under the existing ordinance, residents have to do much of the legwork to find out if they qualify, whereas under the new ordinance the Planning Department would calculate each block’s minimum lot size.

Sorvari said the new ordinance would improve upon the old ordinance, which “was made convoluted and burdensome to make it harder for us to do this as homeowners. This is simplified and puts the onus on the Planning Department to crunch the numbers.”

A change to the building line ordinance, which has been working its way through city council in conjunction with the lot size ordinance, would create a standard build-to line for a block using the same formula as the proposed lot size ordinance.

Sterling said he believes, visually, the building line ordinance would have the greater impact of standardizing the look of a street.

Residents said they were concerned with the logistics of getting Planning Department approvals on minimum lot size applications if the ordinance change passes.

Sterling said the new law would have the potential to increase the number of applications because more people would qualify and the Planning Department would need to figure out how to deal with the influx.

If the ordinance changes pass council, Sorvari said, “we will do everything in our power to get the word out,” so that more blocks can apply for protection.

My first reaction upon reading all this was to wonder what effect this might have on situations like what the Sunset Heights faced awhile back. My second reaction was to hope that someone who understands all of the minutiae would write a clearer explanation of what exactly this is all about, since I’m not sure I do. Thankfully, Marty Hajovsky came through. I’m still working my way through it all, but I’m farther along now. Go read his post and see if it doesn’t help you, too.

The TXU deal

Here’s the deal.

The proposed $32 billion buyout of Dallas power giant TXU will halt construction of all but three planned Texas coal plants, cut power prices for North Texas customers by 10 percent and put the company on a more environmentally friendly footing.

In a conference call this morning, TXU’s management outlined the planned takeover led by private equity investors Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. and Texas Pacific Group.

Shareholders will receive $69.25 per share for TXU from the group, which will then split the company into three divisions: one that will own and operate TXU’s power delivery system, another to run the company’s power plants, and a third business to sell power directly to residential and commercial customers.

The investor group will assume about $13 billion in debt.

A key component to the deal, which was approved by TXU’s board of directors Sunday night, was the support of environmental groups that were putting up fierce opposition to the company’s plans for 11 new coal plants.

The national group Environmental Defense agreed to settle its federal lawsuit against TXU regarding one of the new plants in exchange for an aggressive environmental pledge from KKR and Texas Pacific Group. The Natural Resources Defense Council also agreed to support the deal.

“To call this a watershed in the fight against climate change is accurate,” said Fred Krupp, president of Environmental Defense. “In this case, where you have a Texas company agreeing to reduce its carbon levels from current levels back to 1990 levels tells us the utility sector sees we’re moving into a carbon constrained world.”

Sounds awfully good, but you know how that can go. Anything that has Tom Pauken and Glenn Smith both raising concerns (different ones, of course) is something that will require close monitoring. Sen. Troy Fraser, who as we know was not a big TXU fan, is also concerned.

I don’t have much to say about this, so I’ll link instead:

McBlogger is suspicious.

The Observer has some background, and Vince has some details.

RG Ratcliffe wonders if the deal means more nukes – he asked members of the Environmental Defense Fund about that and has a podcast of their responses.

Inside the Texas Capitol revisits his cap and trade pondering from last week.

And finally, the Burka/Kilday Hart tandem have these three posts that look at the deal from various angles.

Kubosh prepares to sue

He’s had his day in court for his civil citation for running a red light at a camera-enabled intersection, and now Michael Kubosh is fixing to file that lawsuit he’s been promising to do.

Michael Kubosh said Sunday that he will argue the city cannot impose a civil penalty on drivers who run red lights.

“The city has gone outside their legislative authority,” said Kubosh, who will be represented in court by his brother, lawyer Paul Kubosh. “We just can’t let this go because accidents increase at intersections where these things are put up.”

That fact is clearly in dispute, but as we’ve seen before, Kubosh is a little free with such statements.

State lawmakers debated for years whether municipalities should be able to issue civil citations to red-light runners using camera technology. In 2003, they amended the traffic code to permit the civil enforcement of vehicle safety standards under state law or municipal ordinance.

Kubosh called that an “obscure provision” that does not allow the city to go ahead with its program.

City Attorney Arturo Michel responded that argument won’t hold up in court. It doesn’t matter under what bill the provision was approved, he said.

“Courts look at what the words say,” he said. “The plain language of the rules allows us to regulate.”

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott in June said the Texas Department of Transportation “may also install cameras on state highway rights-of-way to monitor compliance with traffic-control signals.”


[Kubosh] argues the city cannot issue civil citations to offenders because that conflicts with state law, which defines running a red light as a misdemeanor criminal offense. Offenders caught by police can face a fine up to $200.

Getting caught on camera, however, is a civil violation that carries a $75 fine. The ticket goes to the owner of the vehicle, or the last person to register it, not necessarily the driver. Those who are ticketed are expected to pay the fine or contest the penalty in court.

“The city’s administrative enforcement procedure deprives traffic-ticket defendants of their constitutional rights, such as the right to trial by jury, the right to remain silent, the right to confront witnesses against them, and the right to have their guilt proven beyond a reasonable doubt,” reads a draft of the lawsuit.

Those rights are reserved for criminal offenders, not civil.

I’m not a lawyer, but I can’t say I’m impressed by the case Kubosh is making here. Still, as this report by the House Research Organization (PDF, hat tip to Newswatch) points out, there is no clear law on the subject, so who knows what a court may do. One possibility, given the opinion of AG Greg Abbott and pending legislation by Sen. Carona that would clearly legitimize some cameras, is that they’re upheld for TxDOT-controlled intersections but not for others. We’ll see how it goes.

More red light camera legislation

While some legislators want to ban red light cameras, others would prefer to regulate them.

Cities and the state would share revenues from fines collected as a result of red-light cameras – but those fines also would be capped at $75 per violation – under compromise legislation proposed Wednesday by the chairman of the Senate transportation committee.

The compromise measure by Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, received a good initial response from city and police officials – including several from the Dallas area – who had come to Austin on Wednesday to testify against bills that would either ban the use of red-light cameras by cities or take their fines and send the money to the state.

“I think we’ve reached a compromise that is acceptable,” Mr. Carona said. “This makes good sense because it takes the financial incentive out of the process and assures that these cameras are used for public safety purposes.”

Mr. Carona said his legislation was prompted by the “proliferation of red-light cameras” across the state since the Legislature inadvertently approved their use in 2003. He said he also wants to put the brakes on some cities that are levying fines of $150 or more on motorists who are caught on camera running red lights.

“My concern is that these cameras are being used more as a tool to generate revenues than for public safety,” he said. “We want to remove the motive for profit” in installing cameras at intersections.

Under the compromise, there would be a statewide maximum fine of $75 for first-time offenses. Revenue from fines would first be used to operate the cameras – about 35 percent to 40 percent of the money – and the remaining money would be split equally between the state and cities. That would mean cities could get roughly $20 from each offense.

The bill would require the city to use its profits for public safety and transportation-related needs, while the state would deposit its share in the state trauma care fund and the Texas Mobility Fund.

In addition, cities would have to do a traffic study before they could place cameras at an intersection.

The first part of this legislation, to limit the fine for a first offense, would not affect Houston’s implementation, as the fine here is already $75. I’m not sure about the rest of it – I presume Houston did some sort of study, as I presume they didn’t pick locations at random – but whether that meets Sen. Carona’s legal definition or not, I couldn’t say.

The story mentions that some Dallas-area cities were okay with Carona’s proposal. I was curious as to what the city of Houston thought, so I placed a call to Frank Michel of Mayor White’s office and asked him. He said that he hadn’t seen all the specifics of Carona’s bill, but that his understanding was that it only affected TxDOT-controlled intersections. He said that since it’s cities that bear the brunt of the cost of accidents that occur due to red light running, they should be able to use the revenues generated to help offset those costs, but beyond that he had no problem with sharing the revenue with the state. We’ll see what happens if Carona’s bill advances in the Senate.

Meanwhile, there are some other bills floating around as well.

State Rep. Chente Quintanilla, D-El Paso, filed a bill that would require the time between a yellow light and a red light be determined by consistent state standards at intersections with red-light cameras. He said that would be fairer to drivers.

“That’s what we’re trying to do – synchronize all lights in this state so that everyone knows how long they have to cross,” he said.


State Rep. Bill Callegari, R-Houston, has also focused on making cameras fairer for drivers. His proposal would require cities that use red-light cameras to post warning signs before the intersections where they are used.

I have no problem with either of those proposals. I have no idea how likely either of them are to be adopted, but I’d have no objections to either of them.

One more thing, from that same article:

In El Paso, 11 intersections have 16 cameras. The city has issued more than 3,600 tickets since the cameras began operating last year, El Paso police Sgt. Jack Matthews said.

He said the cameras have been effective.

At intersections with red-light cameras, accidents during November and December of 2006 dropped significantly from the same time the previous year, he said.

Accidents caused by red-light runners decreased 80 percent, right-angle collisions fell 58 percent, and injury collisions dropped 46 percent.

Some day, perhaps we’ll get this same information for Houston, too. Some day. Thanks to the Walker Report for the heads up.

Interview with Melissa Noriega

I’ve got my interview with Melissa Noriega, the first of what I hope will be a series of interviews with all of the City Council special election candidates, posted at Kuff’s World. I should have a podcast feed for these things ready to go later today, so check back for an update if that interests you. Any feedback would be appreciated as well.

Elsewhere, Who’s has an interview with BOR blogger and Dallas City Council candidate John McClelland. Check it out.

UPDATE: The podcast feed URL is

Danno versus TAB

Dan Patrick versus the Texas Association of Business. There’s not enough popcorn in the world, that’s all I can say.

The Sugar Land option for the Dynamo

If the Dynamo don’t come to an agreement with Houston for a stadium location, then one possible landing point for them is Sugar Land.

“Sugar Land is very viable for us,” [team president Oliver] Luck said. “The discussions we’ve had with the city of Sugar Land and the economic development officials there at the city all have been very positive.”

Sugar Land Mayor David Wallace said it’s too early to determine if his city is the ideal fit for the Dynamo.

“We need to look at a number of issues ranging from economic impact to cost to traffic to a number of other infrastructural issues,” Wallace said.

“Those are some things that we will continue to look at as we move forward on these discussions.”

A self-described “big soccer fan,” Wallace said he is interested in the city continuing its talks with the Dynamo. He attended several of the team’s games this past season.

“Everything is very preliminary at this point in time,” Wallace said. “From their perspective, it’s exploratory. They’re wanting to make sure that they get the best economic arrangement.”

A potential site for a stadium could be on 52 acres along the Brazos River that is the near the University of Houston System at Sugar Land, City Councilman Michael Schiff said.

The city doesn’t own the property, but has a 99-year lease with the university for it, he said.

Seven acres already have been designated for a future city recreation center, Schiff said.

“Obviously, we could do some sort of a venue there,” Schiff said. “We have the space for it. That would be probably the only clearly identifiable area that could even be considered because you have issues of traffic, congestion, noise, security and all sorts of things related to a stadium.”

Schiff is interested in the Dynamo potentially building a stadium in Sugar Land, but said he is also realistic about the possibility.

“To have a major league championship team come here, I think it would be very exciting,” he said. “There are a lot of issues though. Just because it would be exciting and seems like a great opportunity and just because we have a particular place that might accommodate it, doesn’t mean we can bring all the factors together.”

Whatever. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of package the self-professed “fiscally conservative city” of Sugar Land puts together for this if they’re serious. I’ve said before that I’d rather the team stays here, but I’ve no interest in a bidding war. If Sugar Land or some other suburb breaks the bank for them, I say God bless and good luck. Just please make sure a name change, from the Houston Dynamo to the your-suburb-here Dynamo, is part of the deal. Thanks to Metroblogging Houston for the link.

UPDATE: Juanita and The Muse are not impressed.

Toll lanes coming for SH-288

Via Houstonist, I see that some major changes to SH-288 are in the works.

The plans that were introduced have crews building toll road lanes on a 26 mile stretch of Texas 288.

Two lanes in each direction will be build along the median from 59 to 610.

Three lanes will be build from 610 to the Beltway in each direction.

From the Beltway to County Road 60 near Rosharan will be back down to two lanes in each direction.

“TexDOT always planned for 288 to be a major corridor. We knew there would be a lot of expansion. There would be of course a lot of residential and a lot of coming from Brazoria county into Harris County,” said Norm Wigington With the Texas Department of Transportation.

The drivers would have to have EZ tags.

Pearland City Councilman, Kevin Cole supports the plan. “It’s a good thing. The 288 corridor is the last major corridor in Houston, with this close proximity to Houston to develop.”

I’m okay with adding toll lanes. 288 is almost entirely a commuter road, especially south of 610 – it’s pretty convenient to Reliant Stadium, the Medical Center, and the Museum District, so there is some non-rush hour traffic as well, but the vast majority of people driving it are folks living in places like Pearland who work in Houston. It’s fine by me to put more of the burden to pay for the extra capacity on them. The current lanes will remain free, so people will still have a choice, and unlike the Trans Texas Corridor, I doubt there will be a non-compete agreement that will disincentivize maintaining the free lanes. I sympathize with The Facts, but only to a point. SH-288 is not I-10 or US-59. Its toll lanes will be like the Hardy or the Westpark toll roads, optional for getting where you’re going rather than mandatory.

Tory has more on this. I will say, as one who drives south on that freeway in the morning and north in the afternoon, it’s not entirely a one-way road, and the northbound direction gets pretty crowded from folks heading to 59 and 45 on their way home. Not really enough to worry about for the most part, but it is there.

Of molehills and mountains

The Chron reviews Rick Perry’s history of executive orders, in comparison to his predecessors, and finds that he really has been doing things that weren’t tried before. I’ll leave it to you to read, but this pretty much sums up how I feel about the whole HPV fiasco.

At least four times, Perry has issued executive orders for state agencies to adopt policies that failed to pass in the Legislature — including a bill by [Rep. Warren] Chisum to speed up the hearings process on air pollution permits such as the one involved in the TXU case.

In three other orders, Perry took provisions of education legislation that had failed in 2005 special sessions and ordered the Texas Education Agency to implement them.

One was a requirement that school districts spend no less than 65 percent of their budgets on classroom instruction. School districts had been instrumental in killing the so-called 65 percent rule in the Legislature.

In another order, Perry one-upped a joint select legislative committee investigating efficiency and spending by higher education in the wake of dissatisfaction over tuition increases. Perry ordered state colleges and universities to perform efficiency studies and report to him.

And he also used an executive order in January to essentially re-create a criminal justice policy agency that he had vetoed out of existence in 2003. The agency had advised the Legislature on crime trends and whether new prisons would be needed. The new incarnation is a division of his office rather than an independent agency.

There also were some that it would have been hard to find detractors for, such as the executive order telling the Department of Public Safety to establish an Amber Alert system for notifying the news media about the kidnapping of children.

Chisum said legislators did not get upset over some of the earlier executive orders because they “weren’t as important” to lawmakers in general.

“When you did the vaccine, that was statewide. It affected everybody. You can take on little groups, but you can’t take on the whole group,” he said.

No, Warren, the Lege – in particular, the Republicans in the Lege – finally got upset and objected because Perry finally issued an order that they didn’t like. It’s possible that things could have come to a head with the TXU coal plant order, but had the acronym HPV never tripped from Rick Perry’s lips, the whole thing might be little more than grumbling from the minority party and an article or two in the Observer. If this really had been a matter of principle for the Lege, they’d have hashed this all out long ago. But they didn’t, and so here we are today. Better late than never, perhaps, but it didn’t have to be this way.

Springing forward sooner

You do know that Daylight Savings Time will begin three weeks earlier this year, on March 11 instead of April 1, right? I know all about it because I’ve been working feverishly to prevent stuff like this from happening at work:

Though many devices will update automatically on the right day, enough clocks require special attention that there will be some confusion.

A couple of decades ago, the worst-case scenario might have been people showing up an hour late to church on Sunday morning. Now consumers are relying on their phones, PDAs and computers to tell them when to be where, not to mention how to get there.

Wireless-phone providers said cell phones will automatically change their clocks March 11, but many PDAs and computers will need users to change them manually or download software patches to correct the problem.

New computers that came with Microsoft Vista will change their clocks automatically. Older PCs and Macs will be updated automatically if users accept the automatic updates. Those who don’t can go online for software patches or manually reset the clocks themselves.

There’s also the option of just ignoring the computer clock or the time on the electronic calendar.

Most BlackBerries will not adjust automatically – they are hardcoded to recognize the first Sunday in April as the beginning of DST, not the third Sunday in March. RIM has provided a patch, which we are in the process of deploying to our users, so that their calendars will not be off by an hour. That, not the time the handheld displays, is the problem, especially for recurring meetings that may extend well past the start of DST. If you have a BlackBerry and nobody has told you about what to do, point your handheld browser to and follow the instructions to download the patch. Good luck!

Scratch-off ripoff

As someone once said, “Of course the game is rigged. Don’t let that stop you–if you don’t play, you can’t win.” Except that with scratch-off games, you might not be able to win anyway.

anyone spending $5 on a Deal or No Deal scratch-off Friday might entertain hopes of winning the $1 million top prize advertised on the ticket.

But it’d be pure fantasy.

All three of the top prizes have been claimed. So have all four of the $100,000 prizes. And all 10 of the $50,000 prizes. They’ve been gone since Dec. 9.

“It’s an unfair game,” said Dawn Nettles, an unofficial, unpaid watchdog of the lottery commission.

In fact, of the 52 $10,000 prizes that were offered for that game, only one remained unclaimed Friday. Taken as a whole, more than 96 percent of the prizes and 99 percent of the money for Deal or No Deal is no longer available — yet the game continues to be sold statewide.

“It’s deceptive,” said Gerald Busald, a mathematics professor at San Antonio College who also monitors the commission’s practices. “Just because someone will buy it doesn’t mean it’s morally right for them to sell it.”

The lottery’s loophole comes in a one-sentence disclaimer printed on the back of each ticket that says: A scratch-off game may continue to be sold even when all the top prizes have been claimed.

“Our mission is to generate revenue for the state of Texas and if games are still profitable, they’ll continue to be sold. For a lot of the games, there are significant prizes, second- and third-tier prizes,” said agency spokesman Robert Heith.

Heith said the agency has no set formula for deciding when to close games. One rule of thumb is to close them when 80 to 90 percent of the prize money has been awarded.

But the Houston Chronicle found that upward of 90 percent of the prizes had been claimed in nine of the 75 or so scratch-off games on sale Friday.

I suppose it had never occurred to me that the various scratch-off games were each a limited set of game pieces, with a fixed number of prizes. For some reason, when I bothered to pay attention to the ads, I’d always envisioned these games as being continuous, with the prizes being a proportion of the pieces produced rather than a fixed number. Good thing I never paid any money for them, I’d have been a top-notch sucker.

State auditor criticizes Trans Texas Corridor

I think Clay Robison put it well when he said that Rick Perry’s bad week has continued with the release of a critical audit of the Trans Texas Corridor.

The State Auditor’s Office issued a sharply critical report on the Trans-Texas Corridor on Friday, concluding that taxpayers may never know how much they could end up paying for a toll road that parallels Interstate 35 from San Antonio to Oklahoma.

And if the Texas Department of Transportation doesn’t improve its accounting of project costs, taxpayers won’t know if the public costs are appropriate, auditors said.


Although costs for the Trans-Texas tollway, including financing, are to be provided through a developer, some costs could be partially paid by the state, the audit report said.

Texans could pay $13.6 billion in financing costs for the initial phase of TTC-35 plus a possible $16.5 billion for additional rail line projects, according to the audit.


The state agency has succeeded in carrying out part of the agreement with the consortium, auditors noted.

“However, weaknesses in the department’s accounting for project costs create risks that the public will not know how much the state pays for TTC-35 or whether those costs are appropriate,” they concluded.

The audit noted a “lack of reliable information regarding projected toll road construction costs, operating expenses, revenue and developer income.”

The transportation agency plans to enter separate contracts with developers for each segment of TTC-35 and is negotiating a contract for the first segment, Texas 130 near Austin.

Although the state could receive $3 billion in concession payments from developers, such payments could be reduced if inflation, interest rates and other factors increase the developers’ costs, auditors said.

Auditors recommended more legislative oversight of the Trans-Texas Corridor, the transfer of toll revenue projections from TxDOT to the state comptroller and increased public access to information about the project.

They also proposed that TxDOT officials provide regular financial forecasts to the governor, the Legislature and the comptroller and submit development agreement contracts of more than $250 million to the attorney general for review and approval.

The full report is here. This may be a critical report, but it’s not one that challenges the concept of the TTC, just how it’s being carried out. If we must have a TTC, then I’d want to see these recommendations carried out, but I don’t accept the need for this scheme, and I’d hate to see this audit become the default compromise position. There is a better way. Let’s not lose sight of that. Eye on Williamson has more.

More reactions to the Culberson town hall meeting

This HAIF thread (scroll down to post #2532) has some reactions from people who attended the Thursday town hall meeting of Rep. Culberson’s at Rice University. A brief sample, from “Quinlan”:

It was a pretty full house and there was quite a bit of tension in the air. The crowd was overwhelmingly pro “Rail on Richmond”—I would say upwards of 80%. Culberson made many attempts to steer the conversation away from rail, but the crowd kept bringing the topic back to rail. There were many outbursts from the crowd, showing an obvious frustration with his, as one attendee put it, “pandering”, and it seemed like many in the crowd had decided that he no longer deserves enough respect to keep these things civil and orderly. There were many times when Culberson, even with his microphone, could not make himself heard over the raucous crowd.

Culberson kept repeating, ad nauseum, that he was only respecting the intent of the voters in the 2003 election, by insisting on his designated route that only has “slight modifications” from the map allegedly put before voters. It was pointed out to him that the map he had on hand as his prop was not accurate and that the language on the ballot proposal included that the “final scope, length of rail segments or lines and other details, together with implementation schedule, will be based upon demand and completion of the project development process, including community input.” All of this went in one ear and out the other (unsurprisingly, with incredible speed).


Some of my thought about Rail on Richmond after reflecting on the meeting:

*Even if his so-called map is the map voted on by the voters in 2003, why should he get to decide what “slight modifications” should be permitted to it?
*What really is his agenda here? It’s obvious that it isn’t to “respect the actions of the voters”. He breaks that tenet on a nearly daily basis. It is also fairly clear that the majority of his constituents favor Rail on Richmond. What political purpose is served by his continued opposition to Rail on Richmond?

And from “Furious Jam”:

He wasn’t interested in having a meaningful discussion on the issue. He even categorized the issue as moot from the beginning. And when he did speak, it was nothing but constant contradictions:

“I’m a fiscal conservative”, then “my option isn’t much more expensive and the ridership will be nearly the same”.
“I’m for control at the local level”, then “I’m going to protect you from Metro”.
“The voters approved Westpark only and we have to abide by that”, then “my slight modification runs it inside the freeway”.

He kept pointing at a map that he claimed was part of the ballot (it wasn’t) and said that we all had to abide by that map, but then promised to block Metro from using the public easement illustrated on the map and again championed his 59 option, which was never on any map prior to the election.

Check it out.

Estimating the cost of “Jessica’s Law”

Grits notes that the Legislative Budget Board is using a more realistic approach to doing fiscal notes for crime-related bills, and goes from there to analyze their estimate for HB8, also known as “Jessica’s Law”. More background can be found here, here, and here. Check it out.

“But it’s the pelvic thrust that really drives you insane”

Okay, so they probably weren’t doing the Time Warp, but still, what else can one think?

A troupe of Chippendales dancers won’t face criminal charges for a West Texas performance featuring “pelvic thrusts” that prompted police to shut down the show and jail the dancers.

The Lubbock County District Attorney’s Office told police Thursday that eight dancers, their manager, a promoter and a manager at the sports bar won’t be prosecuted on misdemeanor charges, and city officials also said they wouldn’t pursue the case.

The men were arrested Feb. 16 at Jake’s Sports Cafe during the first of three sold-out shows for the troupe famous for it’s beefcake dancers. Police alleged that the dancers were performing a sexually oriented show without the proper permits. The show was shut down after one dancer, whom police said has his pants open, made “pelvic thrusts” in front of a woman’s face.

The group spent a night in jail before being released without having to post bond.

Scott Stephenson, owner of Jake’s Sports Cafe, said he plans to invite the all-male review back.

It’s times like this that make me realize how much we all miss Molly Ivins. She could have made poetry out of this. Alas.

Perry sued over HPV order

All things considered, this is probably moot, but Governor Perry has been sued over his HPV executive order. Here’s Courthouse News:

Parents of three girls have sued Gov. Rick Perry to protect their daughters from inoculation with a vaccine against human papilloma virus, which causes cervical cancer. The John Doe parents claim Perry had no right to issue his Feb. 2 executive order that requires girls in sixth grade and above to be vaccinated before they can enroll in public school. The plaintiffs make it clear that they do not believe HPV causes cancer or that the vaccine is effective. “The school-aged girls of Texas are not guinea pigs who may be subjected to medical procedures at the apparent whim of Texas’ governor,” the suit states. “These girls, and their parents, may not be penalized for non-compliance with the Governor’s wishes, and their privacy rights may not be invaded should they object to the Governor’s mandates.” They seek an injunction prohibiting enforcement of Perry’s order.

I don’t quite understand this, since the order allowed parents to opt out for various reasons, including moral and religious ones, but whatever. BOR has a copy of the suit here (PDF). As always, if any lawyers want to weigh in on this, please do so.

“Bad housekeeping”

Patricia Kilday Hart, who is now also posting on Paul Burka’s blog, takes a whack at the maneuvering done by the Republicans, in particular David Dewhurst, to bust the spending cap. She highlights a point that I had not seen as yet:

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst’s pronouncement on the proposed state budget envisions setting aside $3 billion of this budget cycle’s revenue to be applied to promised tax cuts in the next biennium. This is an unprecedented action that sets up the session’s next important showdown. Senate Democrats are wondering aloud why the money should be set aside for tax cuts promised in 2010 and 2011, when no such special arrangements have been made for other important state obligations. How exactly do you set aside $3 billion for a bill that comes due in 2010-1011? Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, for one, thinks a constitutional amendment setting up a dedicated fund would be required.

Good question. Does the Lege have the authority to dedicate revenue from one biennium to a specific line item in future budgets? Maybe we need a ruling from Greg Abbott. I’d like to see how he answers that.

Rowdy rail gathering

So sorry I was unable to make it to the Culberson town hall meeting last night. Sure looks like it was fun.

[The Universities] line was at the center of a raucous gathering Thursday night at Rice University, where supporters and opponents of a proposed segment on Richmond argued about the plan.

Some supporters engaged in a shouting match with U.S. Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston, who opposes rail on Richmond and hosted a town hall meeting on it.

When Culberson said that “97 percent of residents on or near Richmond oppose” a light rail line there, the audience of about 200 erupted in “boos” and catcalls., a group of civic associations, neighborhood groups and business owners, which supports light rail on Richmond, met in the same auditorium just prior to Culberson’s meeting.

Culberson repeatedly had to ask the crowd to settle down and speak politely.

“One at a time!” Culberson cautioned. “I am not going to recognize anyone who does not speak politely.”

Culberson was red-faced when the crowd gave a standing ovation to Robin Holzer, chairwoman of the Citizens’ Transportation Coalition, who told Culberson that he was “misleading” the audience.

“I feel pandered to, I feel marketed to, I feel misled,” Holzer said. “You never told us you oppose rail. And, I’m a bit suspicious about hearing you say local government makes the best decisions, then you come here and tell them how to do it.”

Culberson responded, “I’m sorry you don’t recognize reality.”

Oooh, snap. Tell you what, when Culberson stops repeating that stupid 97% statistic, which can be more accurately characterized as “Of the people who contacted my office to say that they opposed rail on Richmond, 97% oppose rail on Richmond”, then I’ll take his judgment about reality recognition more seriously. Till then, I don’t think so.

So. Anybody here attend that meeting last night? If so, please do tell in the comments.

UPDATE: Forgot to link to today’s Chron editorial, which recapitulates the Neartown statement. Check it out.