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May 13th, 2007:

The commercial side of the Art Car Parade

I took Olivia to her first Art Car Parade yesterday. She really enjoyed it, as did I. It’s a great event, one of the things that really makes Houston what it is. It’s grown phenominally in recent years, and with that has come some concerns about the soul of the event.

[T]e sight of corporate sponsors has some longtime art car supporters worrying that commercialization will take some of the funk out of the traditionally counterculture parade.

“The problem is that any time you have something like this that starts out as an outlaw thing, it’s all totally cool and everybody wants to be involved with it ’cause it’s cool,'” said Jackie Harris, one of the parade’s originators, who drives a vehicle known as the Fruitmobile.

“But then it gets bigger and bigger. It’s just like a snowball, and the bigger a snowball gets the more cling-ons you get.”

Although the brain child of the art community, Houston’s art car parade has steadily gained the attention of businesses big and small. Just up the parade line from the SpawMaxwell vehicle — after a car shaped like giant tree, one like an underwater monster and another covered in beads — was a giant, drivable Starbucks cup, paid for by the coffee company, but built by a local artist. Elsewhere in line was a McDonald’s car shaped like a shoe, a Bubbles Car Wash Hummer that spews bubbles and, yes, a Houston Chronicle car in the shape of a giant star.

The Ronald McDonald Shoe Car was a bit jarring, I admit. But what the hell. It may have been a lot slicker than most of the homegrown entries, but it can be judged on its own merits. I like the approach that the Orange Show has taken:

These corporate-sponsored art cars have become common enough that this year the Orange Show Center for Visionary Arts, which runs the historically funky event, created a special awards category for them.

“Over the past two to three years there have been these really awesome creative cars that definitely qualify as art cars, but are sponsored by corporations,” said Kim Stoilis, artistic director for the organization. “We recognized a need to recognize our sponsors and recognize our artists who are creating these.”

Stoilis said organizers like her know they need business support to keep up the event, which started in Houston 20 years ago and has inspired copycat parades nationwide. But they wanted to find a way to reward those companies that really “get it,” meaning they make an effort to do something interesting with their cars.

I look at it this way: There’s plenty of counterculture, anti-corporatism, and other freestyle acts of nonconformism on display at the Art Car Parade. If the corporate sponsors are comfortable co-existing with that, then it’s all good by me. I think the parade has hit a sweet spot in maintaining its viability, adjusting to the reality of its vast popularity, and keeping its soul more or less intact.

All of my Art Car Parade photos can be found here, for those who are interested.

Election wrapup: Farmers Branch

As predicted, the city ordinance to make renting an apartment to an undocumented immigrant was ratified by the voters in Farmers Branch.

With all votes counted, the bitterly contested ordinance passed by 67 percent of the vote.

“We are fed up with the federal government’s inaction on immigration,” said City Councilman Tim O’Hare, who sponsored the rental ban. “We are not going to wait. We are going to take care of it.”

Bill Brewer, a Dallas lawyer who has filed two lawsuits against the rental measure and financed much of the campaign against it, said he would ask for a court to enjoin enforcement “very soon.”

“If this ordinance was intended, as we believe, to target Latinos and drive them out, that is unconstitutional and we think the courts will agree,” he said.

Nina Perales, southwest regional counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said her group would act quickly to prevent the ordinance from going into force.

If not blocked in court, it will go into effect on May 22.

I underestimated the margin of victory, but nothing else about this surprises me.

Over the past 30 years, Hispanics have come to make up nearly 40 percent of the city’s 28,500 residents.

O’Hare and other ordinance supporters have said many of the city’s Spanish speakers are in the country illegally. They contend the newcomers have brought crime, dragged down property values and lowered achievement in public schools.

They’re lying on all three counts, not that it really mattered. This was never about reality but about emotion.

Just out of curiosity, what do you think might happen to Farmers Branch’s economy and property values if all of those Hispanic folks decided to pack up and leave, now that they know how unwelcome they are? It won’t happen, but it would be pretty poetic if it did.

Election wrapup: New Braunfels

The tubers won a victory yesterday as the recall effort against New Braunfels City Council member Ken Valentine was a success.

Voters turned District 6 Councilman Ken Valentine out of office Saturday in a successful recall effort spurred largely by anger over Valentine’s advocacy of strict new rules for tourists floating the Comal and Guadalupe rivers.

“I’m disappointed in the result,” Valentine said. “Over the last few years, I’ve served District 6 with but one objective, to make New Braunfels a better place to live and work. But the voters have spoken. So be it.”


The recall effort was failing by 50 votes when the early votes were tallied. But the voters in favor of the recall turned out in force on Saturday, carrying the election day vote by a margin of more than 2-to-1.

“I was really kind of surprised, since I was ahead by 50 on early voting,” Valentine said. “It was a phenomenal switch.”

Valentine was the council’s leading proponent of controversial rules aimed at taming the rowdy, drunken behavior that has bothered riverfront residents for years.

He helped persuade a majority of the council to ban Jell-O shots and beer bongs, adopt one of the country’s strictest noise ordinances and prohibit alcohol in riverfront parks.

But the measure that caused the biggest backlash limited the size of coolers allowed on the rivers.

Recall proponents said Valentine was preoccupied with river issues and did not pay enough attention to other city problems. And they criticized his style on the council as too confrontational.

Valentine had said he would strongly consider running for the seat again in November if he lost the recall. But on Saturday night, he said he needs to think about it.

“It’s a shame there has been so much emotion and acrimony over tubing rules,” Valentine said. “It’s just incredible.”

The final tally, which you can see here, was 508 for the recall, and 438 against. My congratulations to the folks at Keep NBNB for their triumph.

Election wrapup: Houston City Council

As we know, Melissa Noriega came close to getting a clear majority of the vote in yesterday’s City Council special election, but fell just short. She will be in a runoff with Roy Morales.

Noriega, a Houston Independent School District special projects manager with strong campaign funding and key support, was widely viewed as the frontrunner in the 11-candidate field. Morales, a member of the Harris County Board of Education, likely benefited from strong name identification because of a previous council run.

The winner of the June 16 runoff will complete the term of Sekula-Gibbs, who vacated the seat in the fall to serve a short term in the U.S. Congress. The seat will be on November’s regular ballot for a full two-year term.

“We’re very excited. We’re very positive. We think it’s great,” Noriega said in an interview during her post-election party at a west Houston restaurant. “I’m real proud.”

Noriega said she had hoped to win the race outright but wasn’t surprised by the results, given the number of candidates.

“We’ve been prepared for the runoff all along,” she said. She plans to take Mother’s Day off today, then get back to campaigning.


Morales, who ran unsuccessfully for the council two years ago, had support from prominent Republicans, and he raised nearly $50,000, even after an initial misunderstanding in which city officials said he didn’t qualify for the ballot.

He, too, expected the runoff.

“We had a few people that were conservatives,” Morales said of other candidates on the ballot. “Now we all pull together and support one candidate.”

He added, “Our support was excellent. What I hope is that we have more voters turn out in June.”

I’m not exactly sure how the support Morales got was anything more than mediocre, but whatever.

Here’s the thing: Usually in a race like this, support from the candidates who don’t make the runoff is key. In this case, I figure most of Tom Nixon’s voters will transfer to Morales. That still leaves him well short of Noriega, who garnered 15,729 votes while Morales and Nixon combined for 10,831. My gut instinct is that most of the remaining voters are more likely to sit out the runoff than participate, and those who do vote are more likely to support Noriega. I’d also guess that if any of the other candidates make an endorsement for the runoff, they’ll probably go with Noriega. Morales just has a lot of ground to make up, and not a whole lot of room in which to do it.

Now of course he could try to get some folks who didn’t vote this time around to come out on June 16. Morales didn’t get a whole lot of establishment Republican support in the first go-round, but now that it’s a two-person fight and the universe of potential voters is even smaller, that may change. If it does, we may see and hear more about the runoff than we did the general election, and if so it will probably be ugly. I don’t know if this will happen or not, but it might.

So we’ll see. Obviously, Noriega can’t take anything for granted, but if she does any kind of decent job just getting her own voters out on June 16, she’ll win. Stay tuned.