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May 8th, 2007:

The cost of the anti-SOB battle

Here’s the thing about the unusually high cost of defending the anti-SOB law that the city passed in 1997, which it can finally enforce today. If I thought the law were good public policy, I’d be less likely to complain about the cost, even if in real terms it’s a very small piece of the city’s budget. It’s not that I don’t think there’s an issue with some sexually oriented businesses, in particular some of the “newsstands” and massage parlors (though some recent arrests of their owners seems to have put a sizable dent in that part of the market), it’s that I think this ordinance goes way too far. Why, exactly, is it good public policy to put Treasures or the Men’s Club out of business? Surely we’re not claiming they’ve been a drag on property values around the Galleria. I feel like there must be, and must have been, a reasonable middle ground that would have given the city more power to deal with the truly bad actors while not being a sledgehammer that crushed everything in its wake. (To be fair, the strip clubs probably didn’t do themselves any favors at the time this ordinance was being debated, if this guy is to be believed.)

Given that this lawsuit has already cost a boatlod of money, given that there’s a lot more legal wrangling to come, and given that there’s got to be an approach that will let the city do some real cleanup without throwing thousands of people out of work, I’d really love to see a settlement to put an end to all this. I’m not going to hold my breath, though.

One more thing:

Kelly DeHay, a Houston real estate agent who volunteers his time fighting graffiti in the Neartown area, said the city is reacting to the wishes of its residents.

“The city never would have spent that kind of money if they hadn’t had complaints,” DeHay said.

I would never call the newly-implemented comment feature on Chron stories representative of real public opinion, but for what it’s worth, nobody is defending the city’s expenditures in there. It’d be interesting to do a poll of people’s attitudes on this. Is upwards of a million bucks a good use of public money here? I really don’t know how that would turn out, but I’d love to see it.

Overruled!

How many times have we heard some variation on the phrase “The first time in recent memory that this has happened” in connection with the 80th Legislative session? Good thing or bad, it’s sure kept the entertainment factor high. Another such incident occurred late last night, when a point or order ruling by Speaker Craddick was overruled by a vote of the membership. As usual, Robert Talton was in the thick of things. See coverage in the Statesman blog here and here, in the El Paso Times blog here and here, the Chron blog here, and multiple posts by the DMN’s Karen Brooks – start here and work your way back.

Last chance to vote early today

Stace voted. Have you?

Today is the last day of early voting. You can vote on Election Day, which is this Saturday the 12th, but what with it being Art Car Parade Day and all, wouldn’t you rather have the day clear to celebrate that? Sure you would. So go vote today. Polling places are open from 7 AM till 7 PM.

Farrar on HB13’s passage

One more press release from Rep. Jessica Farrar on last night’s House vote to pass HB13:

On Monday, May 7, HB 13 by Chairman Swinford (R-Dumas) was voted out of the Texas House of Representatives. Before taking a vote on HB 13, Rep. Farrar (D-Houston) asked her fellow members to vote against the bill. HB 13 places the State Office of Homeland Security under the Office of the Governor and therefore allows a political office to allocate funds and oversee programs for border and homeland security programs. Rep. Farrar voted against HB 13.

An amendment by Rep. Farrar to allow DPS to allocate border and homeland security funds based on need was tabled, as was an amendment by Rep. Herrero (D-Robstown) that would have moved all homeland security activities under DPS. Rep. Merritt (R-Longview) also offered several amendments aimed at increasing the accountability for those both allocating and receiving funds for border and homeland security. All of Rep. Merritt’s amendments were also tabled. In response to this, Rep. Farrar stated that, “Instead of basing law enforcement decisions on law enforcement criteria, we are continuing and officially setting up a political patronage system. We risk continuing the dismal results obtained thus far by the border security programs administered by the Office of the Governor. In doing so, we have also managed to increase the Governor’s power at a time when most Texas residents are questioning such a move.”

Rep. Farrar has been a vocal critic of the language in HB 13 since it was introduced in the House Committee on State Affairs, of which she is a member. Chief among her concerns has been that the bill tasks the State Office of Homeland Security with law enforcement duties. “Today we denied our premier state-level law enforcement authority, DPS, the ability to fully do its job,” said Rep. Farrar in response to the failure on the part of the House to allow DPS to allocate and oversee border and homeland security programs.

While Chairman Swinford has repeatedly stated that any federal border and homeland security funds have to be allocated by the Office of the Governor, Rep. Farrar has stated that this is not the case. “The information provided to me by members of our Texas congressional delegation as well as the Federal Office of Homeland Security made it clear that there is no reason why DPS cannot allocate border and homeland security funds. We would not risk losing any federal money by doing this, and I think it is regretful that supporters of HB 13 felt it necessary to mislead their fellow members and the public as a whole on this aspect of the debate in an effort to gain support for the bill,” said Rep. Farrar. In addition, the $100 million in state funds for border and homeland security funding that Chairman Swinford has referred to is not dependant on the passage of HB 13. “That $100 million is allocated in HB 1. Whether HB 13 had been successful or not, that money has already been set aside for the purpose of border and homeland security,” stated Rep. Farrar.

“I fear that we will not effectively protect the border or the state as a whole if we allow a political office to be in charge of law enforcement activities. In fact, I believe that we risk making ourselves more vulnerable if we continue to create a false sense of security by relying on a system and programs that have failed to produce sustainable results. Unfortunately, I believe HB 13 does just that,” stated Rep. Farrar.

HB 13 will now be considered by the Texas Senate.

Not much else to say other than “I agree”. Seems to me every time the Lege has passed a bill under inaccurate premises, it has come to regret it – see the Trans Texas Corridor and HB2292 for recent examples. The Observer has more, including a link to this El Paso Times story that tells you a lot about how things have already been with border funds under Governor Perry’s control.

HB1224 update

Pete gives an update to the status of HB1224 and its Senate counterpart, SB419. This is the bill that would greatly help autistic children and their parents, if only it were to be passed without a pernicious amendment inserted by Rep. Larry Taylor (R, Friendswood). I know that this blog is read by a fair number of State Reps and their staffs, so while I have your attention let me implore you to please go and read Pete’s two posts (the first one is here), and do what you can to make HB1224 right. Thank you.

2035 Regional Transportation Plan

Speaking of Tory, he’s got a nice summary of the 2035 H-GAC Regional Transportation Plan (RTP). What caught my eye was this new stuff that Metro is considering:

* Guided Rapid Transit (GRT, probably BRT) along 3 new lines:

1. Along Bellaire (their busiest bus route) from Highway 6 all the way to what looks like the east end of the eastside BRT in the Ship Channel area
2. Along what looks like the 288 median from Brazoria into downtown. Not sure how that jives with the toll road plan down the middle (which is also on the map). The plans I saw way back said any rail that direction would be in the Almeda corridor, but that’s not what this map shows.
3. West along I10 from downtown to Katy. Again, not sure about where the RoW is coming from here. They also still show the managed lanes along this corridor, so it’s not coming out of them.

All of these make sense. Bellaire is very dense, and I think would be well served by a rail line. SH-288 is interesting. I don’t know what it’s like south of 610, but there’s a lot of apartment/condo construction going on right next to the South Freeway inside the Loop. I’m not sure how it would fit in with the toll road plan, either, but if you can make it work, it would connect a fairly underserved part of town to downtown, as well as being a sort of back route to the Medical Center, Museum District, and Reliant Stadium. I’d love to see the specifics on that one.

Of most interest to me is the I-10 proposal, which would finally bring a rail line near my house. If such a line existed today, I’d have the option of not driving to work. It would take longer than driving, but not as much as you might think. I can’t predict what my schedule and transportation needs might be by the time this thing gets built, assuming it does, but I’d sure love to have the choice. I’ll be rooting for it to happen.

No commuter rail from Intermodal Terminal?

Looks like the new Metro intermodal center won’t have a commuter rail component at this time.

A Union Pacific Railroad official says the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s plans to run commuter trains between the suburbs and a large intermodal terminal planned for the Near Northside probably won’t work.

“We feel it is not feasible to operate commuter rail at this location,” Joe Adams told the regional Transportation Policy Council last week. “We have made this clear in discussions with Metro.”

Adams, who represents UP board chairman Jim Young in the Houston area, spoke after Metro executive vice president John Sedlak had completed a presentation about the project, which also would receive light-rail trains and buses.

[…]

East-west tracks, which pass through the proposed terminal site between Burnett and Naylor, and the north-south tracks, which run east of the site on Hardy and Elysian, each carry 25-30 trains a day, Adams said.

There also are a number of industries and warehouses in the vicinity and its approaches, he said.

UP spokesman Joe Arbona said higher fuel prices and congested roads have brought a boom to the freight rail industry, so the railroad may need unused space on its current right of way for future track.

Adams said UP has no problem with Metro running light rail on Main at the terminal, and said at least one proposed commuter route may be doable.

“We would be happy to work with Metro” on a future line in the Hempstead Highway/U.S. 290 corridor, Adams said. “It doesn’t present the degree of challenges that operating around the Hardy Yards presents.”

However, Adams said bringing such a line past the West Loop and into downtown would conflict with freight operations. As an alternative, he said, Metro could switch commuters onto its light rail system at the Northwest Transit Center, off the West Loop near U.S. 290, and take a less direct route to downtown.

I’ve more or less come around to the Tory Gattis viewpoint that HOV lane/commuter bus combination that we have now is a sufficient and cost-efficient substitute for commuter rail. Maybe there’s still a case for a line along 290, if it can be implemented cheaply, but if the idea is to transfer people to light rail lines from there, then I’d hope someone is paying attention to Christof’s suggestions on how to minimize such transfers.