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September, 2007:

The demolition begins for Allen House

Recently, I said that demolition was imminent for Allen House. Last week, the imminent arrived:

That’s a view from the rear of the section that faces Dunlavy. Click on and you’ll see that at least between Dunlavy and Tirrell on the north side of the street, most of what faced West Dallas is gone.


High rises and the Z word

Apparently the recent uproar over the Bissonnet high rise has led to some talk involving a certain forbidden word in Houston.

“We’re not going to have zoning,” City Controller Annise Parker said flatly. “But we need to realistically look at what we owe the neighborhoods.”

Arguments about development are hardly unusual in Houston, but the issue took on a new dimension last week when Mayor Bill White intervened in a dispute over a planned 23-story mixed-use project on Bissonnet at Ashby, adjoining the affluent Southampton and Boulevard Oaks neighborhoods.

The mayor, in a letter to civic club leaders displayed prominently on the city’s Web site, promised to use “any appropriate power under law to alter the proposed project as currently planned.”

State Sen. Rodney Ellis and state Rep. Ellen Cohen, both Houston Democrats who represent the affected neighborhoods, joined the chorus against the project Friday, calling on White and the City Council to “do everything in their power to stop this development.” They said the high-rise would aggravate traffic problems and imperil drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians.

City officials, however, have not identified any city regulations that the project would violate. Andy Icken, a deputy public works director, said the city would try to negotiate with the developers, but he didn’t rule out taking other steps such as invoking a rarely-used state law to impose a temporary moratorium on development of the site.


City Councilman Peter Brown, an architect and planner, has argued that Houston should adopt a form-based development code that doesn’t regulate uses but ensures that the mass and scale of new development is appropriate to its surroundings.

The Bissonnet high-rise, Brown said, is a glaring example of out-of-scale development.

The project “would literally dwarf the surrounding homes in Southampton,” said Brown, who lives in the neighborhood. “The city simply lacks the basic development standards to protect our neighborhoods and property values.”

Increasingly, urban leaders are seeing the benefits of a form-based planning approach as they find that conventional zoning — which separates cities into discrete sections for residential, commercial and industrial land uses — is unduly restrictive, said John Maximuk, chairman of the American Planning Association’s urban design and preservation committee.

I’m not sure what “form-based planning” means in practical terms, nor do I know if it has any more political viability than zoning did in 1993 or would have now. I’m not even convinced yet that something is likely to happen beyond more talk. But I do think that the talk isn’t going anywhere, and that there seems to be a much broader consensus now that neighborhoods need some real tools to maintain some control over their destinies. I don’t think we’re anywhere close to an agreement about what should be done, assuming something does eventually get done. We haven’t really heard from the ideologically anti-planning forces yet, nor has the developer community weighed in. Until we do, it’s hard to say how this plays out.

In the meantime, here’s the neighborhood argument for taking action.

Their proposed high-rise begs these questions: While it may be legal for a developer to ruin neighborhoods to make a buck, should it be? Or, should there at least be a thoughtful review of such proposed activities?

Smoking is legal, but as a community, we have chosen to exert some control over where a person is free to smoke. Isn’t it time Houstonians care about our city’s quality of life as much as we care about the quality of the air we breathe in public places?

Unless we as a community — and I do not mean just those of us homeowners currently affected — act to establish some order and planning to such unbridled growth, our city will become better known for its monuments of greed than its social responsibility and sense of caring.

This is the tip of an iceberg that will continue to impact all of us within the city of Houston.

It’s hard to identify a neighborhood within Houston that is not dealing with issues similar to the one faced by the Museum District neighborhoods of Southampton, Boulevard Oaks and Broadacres.

In this mix of unregulated development and a proliferation of developers without concerns about the impact of their actions, we are witnessing the destruction of our neighborhoods and the diminution of our quality of life.

I figure we’ll see a counterpoint in the next few days, perhaps from the high rise developers, perhaps from someone with a broader perspective. Stay tuned.

LULAC endorses HISD bond proposal

On the heels of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce endorsement, HISD scores another win with a recommendation from LULAC.

The League of United Latin American Citizens announced Saturday that it will support the Houston school district’s $805 million bond measure to build and repair schools — the second endorsement in as many days from an area Latino organization.

The board of LULAC’s District 8, which covers the Houston area, voted 8-1 with two abstentions to support the Nov. 6 bond proposal despite a laundry list of concerns that included everything from the district’s high dropout rate to the lack of bilingual administrators.

“We need to do it for the kids,” said board member Phillipa Young, a retired school administrator.

LULAC’s support comes on the heels of Friday’s endorsement from the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, giving bond supporters hope that public sentiment is making a favorable shift.

Several black leaders have criticized the plan to build 24 new schools and renovate 134 others, saying it shortchanges their communities.

The endorsement from the Hispanic groups is very important, said Rick Jaramillo, co-chairman of Parents & Teachers for Our Public Schools, a political action committee supporting the bond.

“It shows a lot of unity within a certain segment of the community, and I think this is a big step in providing unity citywide.”

I’m still not ready to say the proposal is a favorite to pass, but it’s definitely in better shape now than it was a week ago. And as I say, this ought to provide a test of the Latino political power theory. We’ll see.

At Large #3, take three

The Chron has a brief look at the At Large #3 rematch between Council Member Melissa Noriega and Roy Morales. Not much has changed since Melissa’s runoff win against Roy in June, other than her status now as an incumbent officeholder. Beyond that, she’s still a good person who’s become a fine Council member, and he’s still a nut. Read the article if you need to be reminded of any of this, or just scan down a bit:

Really, that’s all you need to know. I’ll be running this again as we go along, just so nobody forgets.

Last time I’ll nag you (this quarter) for a donation

Today is the last day of the quarter. Rick Noriega is at 1061 donors and $153K in donations. Today is your last chance to affect those numbers before all the quarterly reporting paperwork gets filled out. You know what to do. Thank you very much.

Astros retain Cooper

Cecil Cooper will be back as manager of the Astros next year.

Astros owner Drayton McLane has been so impressed with the leadership abilities displayed by Cecil Cooper during his monthlong stint as interim manager that he decided to make things a little more permanent.

Cooper had the interim tag removed Friday when he was named the club’s 16th manager.

One week after hiring Ed Wade as general manager, the Astros signed Cooper to a two-year deal with a club option for 2010.

“It’s a great thrill for me, and it’s an honor to stand here and say I’m the new manager of the Houston Astros,” Cooper said. “It’s a good feeling. I really appreciate Drayton, (president of baseball operations) Tal (Smith) and Ed for showing a lot of confidence in me and giving me this opportunity.”

Cooper is the first black manager in Astros history and the 14th in the history of the major leagues.

“I’m pleased that that is the case, but I still can’t focus on that,” Cooper said. “I have a job to do, and whether I’m blue, green or black, I’m going to do it.”

First, my congratulations to Cecil Cooper, who I’m sure will do a fine job. With all due respect to him and to Phil Garner, however, I don’t think this is the key move for the Stros, because I don’t think their problems are on the field. They have issues with putting sentimentality ahead of productivity (see Craig “Mister 3000” Biggio and Brad “Catcher ERA Proves My Awesomeness” Ausmus), and a depleted farm system due to poor drafting. Cooper won’t have to deal with the Biggio situation, and perhaps with the emergence of JR Towles he’ll have a catcher who can actually hit. Beyond that, I say Cooper’s success will be determined at least as much by Ed Wade’s as anything else. We’ll see how it goes.

More on the Hispanic Chamber endorsement of the HISD bond referendum

Here’s a fuller version of the story about the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce endorsing the HISD bond proposal.

“The tide is turning,” Superintendent Abelardo Saavedra said. “I anticipate being successful Nov. 6. I anticipate us celebrating that evening.”

You know how I feel about that. More in a bit.

Hispanic leaders also said they will try to persuade their peers in the African-American community, some of whom have loudly criticized HISD’s plan, to change their stance.

“This is about our children. This is about our city,” said Laura Murillo, president of the chamber. “We will be the leaders in the community to help unite to move this forward.”

But black leaders who have raised concerns about the plan said they won’t reconsider.

“There’s no swaying when it comes to consolidating our schools,” said Carol Mims Galloway, president of the NAACP Houston and a candidate for the school board.

Winning voters’ approval won’t be as easy as HISD leaders anticipated when they decided in early August to put the bond plan on the ballot. They cited polls indicating voters would overwhelmingly support the measure, as in 1998 and 2002.

“That was the expectation with this bond. Now, with some organized and vocal opposition emerging, it’s dicey,” said University of Houston political science professor Richard Murray.


Murray said it will take more than black opposition to sink the bond issue.

“The African-American vote is not large enough to kill the bond. Somebody else would have to vote against it,” he said, adding that older, conservative voters would be the most likely group to join the opposition.


[S]chool board president Manuel Rodriguez Jr. said he hopes Hispanics take advantage of their growing influence. While he thinks they overwhelmingly support the bonds, he worries that they won’t show up to vote.

“We need to make them realize the importance of their one vote as it comes together and makes for a powerful message-sender,” Rodriguez said. “I applaud the black leaders for standing up and asking for more, but we need to do what’s right for these schools, students and teachers who have been waiting for years.”

Then we can consider this a test of Latino political power. If Latino turnout is enough to carry the bond to passage, then we’ll know something new is happening. If not, we’ll have to write that story again in a few years.

The fact that black and Hispanic leaders are on opposite sides on this issue doesn’t signal a growing rift, said Gallegos, the state senator.

“Anybody that’s telling you that is lying,” he said. “We’re not that far from bringing some of the black leadership in.”

Others questioned whether the vocal black leadership has the same mind-set as black parents on this issue.

“The impact on the children in the northeast area and the money being spent on children in the northeast areas is such that, to not want this bond issue is not rational,” said Michael Dee, co-chairman of Parents & Teachers for Our Public Schools, a political action committee supporting the bonds.

And if all that is true, then the result will bear it out. We’ll see.

AusChron gives TexBlog PAC a mention


Progressive Texas bloggers have formed a new political action committee, the TexBlog PAC, “to effectively harness the power, energy, talent, and financial resources of the online, progressive community to make Texas a better place by electing Democratic candidates at all levels of state and local government.” A fundraiser Monday night at the home of public-policy activist Kurt Meachum and attorney Amy Clark Meachum raised more than $3,500, and in only two months of existence, the PAC has raised more than $10,000 total. Partygoers mixed with the likes of Reps. Eddie Rodriguez, Valinda Bolton, Mark Strama, Lon Burnam, Pete Gallego, former Rep. Glen Maxey (who is running for Travis Co. tax assessor-collector), and Travis Co. Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt. Gallego addressed the partygoers with real optimism at what just two elections ago would have been mere fantasy: a Democratic majority in the Lege. After reaching a low of 62 Dems in the House in 2003, the donkeys have now climbed back up to 70, the latest due to Grand Prairie’s Kirk England switching parties. That leaves them only six away from a majority, a prospect that clearly had partygoers giddy. For more, look at any number of prog blogs, such as,, and

Don’t forget Dos Centavos, too. We’ve got a Houston fundraiser scheduled for October 29 now – more details will be forthcoming shortly, so stay tuned. Thanks to EoW for the catch.

Franchione the capitalist

Well, you have to admire the creativity, if nothing else.

Texas A&M coach Dennis Franchione delivered insider information to a small and select group of supporters in exchange for $1,200 a year to help underwrite his Web site, a person within the athletic department confirmed Friday morning.

The San Antonio-Express News published a story in Friday editions detailing an arrangement made between Franchione and 12 boosters. According to the report, Franchione routinely sent the boosters insider information on injuries and analysis of his players in the form of an e-mail called “VIP Connection.”

Franchione normally declines to discuss injuries unless they are season-ending and is never negative toward individual players in the media or in public. His discolsure of injuries in the newsletter, even without consent from a player, does not break any federal privacy laws, according to a spokesman for the Office of Civil Rights, which handles the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

Neither Franchione, A&M athletic director Bill Byrne nor associate athletic director Mike McKenzie, who wrote the newsletter with Franchione’s permission, returned phone calls or was made available for comment. Byrne and Franchione, however, both released statements Friday afternoon explaining their sides.

It was said that Byrne was not pleased with the idea of the newsletter when he first learned of it and his words certainly support that assertion.

“I was first made aware of this VIP email list by a reporter two weeks ago,” Byrne said in the statement. “When I saw a copy of an email, I called coach Fran and recommended this program be discontinued. I understand he stopped at that time.

“Since then, I have learned the funding for the emails went to a company that hosts his website.”

Franchione, while acknowledging the newsletter and its intent, defended his position. He said his only reason for the newsletter was to pay for, a site he has maintained since his TCU days.


Upon learning of the existence of the newsletter, according to the Express-News, Byrne warned Franchione that it didn’t look good for the coach to be involved with such a newsletter. But according to a person inside the athletic department, Franchione, who makes more than $2 million in salary as the head coach, did not benefit financially from the newsletter. The department insider said the $1,200 checks went directly to the company that hosts

Is there any way that this doesn’t end badly for Franchione? I mean, it might be different if he were this beloved icon with a long track record of success. That ain’t the case, so how does he survive this? I say start the countdown clock.

Big food in Clear Lake

Um, okay.

When Kevin Munz makes his less than bashful entrance into the restaurant business, Clear Lake may feel a bit more like Las Vegas.

His Cullen’s Upscale American Grille, set to open in January, will be about 38,000 square feet, which is gigantic, about 10 times larger than a typical restaurant.

His lounge will have a fiber-optic floor, a player piano and — far more rare — a player violin.

Cullen’s will boast 56 large LCD screens projecting art by the masters, thousands of images changing every few minutes.

An all-glass private dining room, suspended high in the air, will allow its diners to hover above the masses. They can pre-order their china pattern in their choice of Wedgewood, Versace or the Titanic.

A concept this extravagant could sink like a great ship or rake it in like a casino.

Munz, a River Oaks resident who made his money in pawnshops and the software to run them, is betting $10 million on Cullen’s.

It’s a golden opportunity, he believes, because his research shows the market for upscale restaurants around Clear Lake is underserved. And he’s convinced that the lessons he learned from pawnshops translate to upscale dining.

Could work, I guess. All I know is that if the food isn’t a good value for the price, the rest isn’t likely to matter. We’ll see how it goes.

Endorsement watch: District I

Next in the endorsement season is District I, where the Chron gives its recommendation to James Rodriguez.

James Rodriguez, 32, a district native who graduated from Milby High School and earned a business administration degree from the University of Houston, was incumbent Carol Alvarado’s chief of staff for four and a half years. In that position, he mastered the internal workings of City Hall and also helped citizens in their dealings with city government. Before leaving to become marketing director for Entech Civil Engineering, he helped Alvarado develop a 24-hour constituent response plan for the district.

“I want to use my experience in the District I office to continue the progress we’ve made and to be a hands-on council member,” Rodriguez said. “We lose a lot of institutional knowledge there at City Council with term limits, so I figure I can get in and hit the ground running.”

The candidate supports light rail. He wants to work on council to get more funding for police and firefighters in the district. Rodriguez has been endorsed by the Houston Police Officers Union, the Houston Apartment Association and the Houston Association of Realtors, among others. He has Alvarado’s support. When Alvarado was mayor pro tem, several members of the pro tem staff were accused of fraud, but the District I staff directed by Rodriguez was not involved.

District I voters are fortunate to have the opportunity to elect one of the most promising young civic leaders in the city to represent them at City Hall. The Houston Chronicle believes Rodriguez will become an outstanding councilman.

I thought both Rodriguez and his opponent John Marron did pretty well in my own interviews with them, which you can listen to here (Rodriguez) and here (Marron). Tough call to make between two well-qualified candidates. My congrats to James for getting the nod.

TxDOT claims poverty

TxDOT says they’re running out of money.

State transportation officials cried “uncle” Thursday, saying federal and state lawmakers have raked so much money from the highway department that it’s running out of funds to build roads.

Lawmakers had help from rising construction costs, which jumped 62 percent in five years. But federal cutbacks, state diversions of gas-tax funds and new restrictions on hampering private investments in toll roads have delayed projects and could cancel others.

In this fiscal year, the Texas Department of Transportation will delay or scale back $965 million worth of road construction work.

“People need to understand that, within a very short time period, there will be no new capacity added,” Texas Transportation Commission member Ned Holmes said.


Transportation Commissioner Ted Houghton said the agency needs to slim down, maybe enact a hiring freeze and use fewer outside consultants.

“As we ask the citizens of this state to buck up and be prepared, I think we internally need to look at our own house,” he said.

I can think of one place where they could cut costs painlessly.

TxDOT sounded the warning months ago, starting in the waning days of a legislative battle over Senate Bill 792, which strangled the agency’s ability to lease toll projects.

“I’m convinced most (legislators) truly don’t understand the long-term impact of tapping on the brakes,” Transportation Commission Chairman Ric Williamson said. “Logic and civility command that we calmly talk through how we’re going to deal with this.”

Poor dears. It’s never their fault, is it? The Morning News managed to find an opposing viewpoint to quote.

Lawmakers need no lecture on the severity of the state’s transportation needs, suggested Steven Polunsky, a top aide to Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, chairman of the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee.

“We agree absolutely that there is a financial crisis,” Mr. Polunksy said. “And Senator Carona will support next session a multi-pronged approach to solve it.”

He wants to raise the gas tax and stop the diversion of revenues to pay for other needs, Mr. Polunsky said.

But the private investment deals favored by the commission were too lopsided, he said, noting that some proposed leases would have kept the toll roads in private control for 75 years or longer.

“The price that came with those private financing deals was too steep,” Mr. Polunsky said. “Lawmakers found the terms unacceptable, both politically and from a business standpoint.”

Earth to TxDOT: People think the solution you’ve chosen to deal with the cash flow problem is deeply flawed in many respects, and you have been less than accommodating in responding to feedback, whether from the public or from lawmakers. It’s no wonder that you have problems.

Mr. Williamson said efforts to raise the gas tax are misplaced. The tax is inefficient because lawmakers divert too much of it to other needs, and he said it is too regressive, since poor people pay the same rate as rich ones.

He did say he would probably support efforts to index the rate to inflation, if only because inflation is making it increasingly difficult for the department to simply maintain the roads it already has.

A Texas Republican who expresses concerns about regressive taxation…now I really have seen everything. Let’s keep this in mind the next time someone proposes a sales tax for property tax swap.

I’ll grant that the Lege failed miserably to act on the gas tax, which is at this point the only responsible alternative to TxDOT’s privatization madness. But given Governor Perry’s intransigence, that’s not too surprising. Vince, EoW, and McBlogger have more.

District D candidate switches to At Large #1

I don’t see this as making much difference, but there’s one less candidate in District D now.

City Council candidate Leatrice Watson has switched her candidacy, from the District D seat to At-Large 1, the seat currently held by Peter Brown.

Watson only can run as a write-in candidate for At-Large 1 because she missed the deadline to get on the ballot for that race.

Watson, 60, said the District D field was too crowded and that by winning the at-large spot, she could serve the whole city. Without Watson, the open District D race now features seven candidates. The seat is being vacated by term-limited Councilwoman Ada Edwards.

Watson, retired director of a local American Red Cross service center, said she originally became interested in running for office because her street, Ebbtide Drive, has been “caving in” since 1985 and the city has not fixed it.

Now, she is interested in stopping unnecessary construction projects, cleaning up public streets and buildings, and stopping the destruction of historical neighborhoods to build new high-rises, she said.

I’m not sure what this means in practical terms, since as we know from the Jack Christie situation that her name will still appear on the District D ballot. But now you know.

Bionic Woman 2.0

OK, I admit it. I TiVoed the premier episode of “The Bionic Woman”, henceforth known around these parts as Bionic Woman 2.0, as much out of curiosity for a show that’s got some buzz as nostalgia for a show I liked as a kid. (Mildly spoilerrific Chron story here, for those who care.) It was all right, certainly enough to get me to Episode 2 on the to-do list, though I’m not ready to commit to a Season Pass just yet. The pilot was very busy, with a lot of disparate elements being introduced – I’m still not sure who some of these people are. But I liked the basic premise, and I love Katee Sackhoff as the Evil Bionic Woman, so I’ll come back for now. It has promise, let’s see what they can do with it.

More broadly, I’m intrigued at the idea of remaking TV shows. It’s an idea that’s done to death in the movies, as well as “re-interpreting” classic (and not-so-classic) TV shows on the big screen. Given how many of those films there have been, and how far down the barrel we’ve scraped, I’m almost shocked we never saw Jamie Sommers at the local multiplex. Seems to me it’s a decent enough idea for a movie. But this’ll do just fine.

I wonder, if this is a hit, and given the breakout success of “Battlestar Galactica 2.0”, if we’ll see more such remakes on the tube. You could argue, I suppose, that we see this sort of thing all the time – “Quincy” becomes “Bones” and all of the “CSI” variations; “Kolchak: The Night Stalker” becomes “The X Files”; perhaps even “The Bionic Woman” becomes “Alias” in a way. But that’s not what I have in mind. If I were to pick, I’d like to see someone remake “The Prisoner” (no, I don’t think “Lost” counts). Great concept, awesome mess-with-your-mind imagery and story elements, completely unsatisfying mess of a conclusion. What do you think? What show would you like to see remade? Leave a comment and let us know.

Endorsement watch: HISD Trustees

The Chron kicks off endorsement season for this November with recommendations in the two open-seat HISD Trustee races:

Reginald Adams, District II — Adams is executive director of the Museum of Cultural Arts Houston and an artist who seeks to bring art to public spaces in order to spark “social awareness and community development.” He is also board president of the city’s Land Assemblage Redevelopment Authority.

If elected, Adams says he will work to ensure that District II parents do not have to drive across town to find good schools for their children. He says he will make school officials more accountable in their spending of public dollars, adding that he would have delayed approval of the bond proposal until more input had been received from the community. Other planks in Adams’ platform include expanding early childhood education, improving college preparatory and vocational education, and raising teacher pay.

Paula Harris, District IV — Harris is a graduate of Texas A&M University with a degree in petroleum engineering, a longtime corporate executive and a business owner. She supports the bond proposal, which she believes will bring much-needed capital improvements to the city’s north and south sides. Harris says HISD must develop programs to stem the dropout rate and improve job training for students who will not go to college.
But, Harris insists, the district must also ensure that the brightest students in District IV have academic programs that will put them on a college track. Harris says she is appalled that there is not a single open-enrollment school in District IV that is rated “exemplary” by the state of Texas.

As it happens, these are the two HISD Trustee candidates I’ve met this year. Adams is running against some better-known opponents, so his nod may come as a surprise to some, but not to me. He’s an impressive guy. I’ve got an interview with him scheduled for next week.

Nice to see the Chron start with the endorsements this early. Some years I’ve not been sure they’ll get to everyone in time. More to come soon, I’m sure.

Senate passes S-CHIP

Off to the President.

The U.S. Senate Thursday gave final legislative approval to the expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.

President George W. Bush has promised to veto the measure, which would add $35 billion to the program, generally referred to as S-CHIP, during the next five years.

The bill passed the Senate by 67 to 29, enough to override a veto, The Washington Post reported. A number of Republicans crossed party lines to vote with the Democratic majority.

The House approved the legislation Tuesday, but by a smaller margin, 265 to 159.

Much of the Republican support Thursday came from legislators who face strong re-election challenges next year. Even some conservatives, like Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas., jumped ship and asked Bush to reconsider his veto threat.

“Anyone who votes in lock step with the president and against children’s health, they are going to hear about it back home,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., chairman of his party’s congressional campaign committee.

The earlier vote to suspend debate was 69-30 in favor, so there may be even a little more support for S-CHIP in the Senate than that vote suggests. I don’t know if they’ll go whole hog and override the veto, but they might.

Here’s a roll call of the vote. Do I need to tell you how John Cornyn voted? At least Kay Bailey Hutchison did the right thing. I’ll let Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts, nobody’s idea of a liberal, address the issue of the upcoming veto:

“The administration is threatening to veto this bill because of ‘excessive spending’ and their belief that this bill is a step toward federalization of healthcare,” said Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), a supporter of the plan. “I am not for excessive spending and strongly oppose the federalization of healthcare. And if the administration’s concerns with this bill were accurate, I would support a veto. But, bluntly put, they are not.”

And John Cornyn is right there with them. He’ll be there with them till the bitter end. For more on this folly, see the EPI’s analysis of why CHIP is needed.

HISD gets Hispanic Chamber endorsement

I’ll say this for HISD: I’m still not convinced that they can pass their bond proposal this fall, given all the problems (mostly self-induced) that they’ve had. But they clearly aren’t going to go down without a fight, and they continue to pick up support, so who knows?

The Houston school district’s $805 million bond proposal gained the support of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce today.

Leaders of the 30-year-old business organization announced this morning that they are endorsing the bond issue, which would be used to build 24 campuses and renovate 136 others if voters approve it on Nov. 6.

“It’s our commitment to help HISD with this bond election,” said Laura Murillo, president of the chamber, which has about 1,200 members.

Still not enough if you ask me, but they’re getting closer. Mending fences with the black community and getting the Greater Houston Partnership on board would do it for sure. We’ll see.

Baseline poll for TX-SEN

Burka reported on a Rasmussen poll last week that had John Cornyn leading both Democrats by about 20 points. Now we have another poll, by Research 2000, that gives a similar but slightly better result for Rick Noriega.

Research 2000 for Daily Kos. 9/24-26. Likely voters. MoE 4% (No trend lines)

If the 2008 election for U.S. Senate were held today, would you to reelect John Cornyn, would you consider voting for another candidate, or would you vote to replace Cornyn?

Reelect 40
Consider 15
Replace 35

If 2008 election for U.S. Senate were held today, for whom would you vote for if the choices were between Rick Noriega, the Democrat, and John Cornyn, the Republican?

Cornyn (R) 51
Noriega (D) 35

Full crosstabs are available at the link above. Not too bad a result for a State Rep making his first statewide run, if you ask me. Noriega’s number corresponds to the “replace” number for Cornyn, so there’s clearly room to grow. And for the purposes of comparison, the Rasmussen archives remind us that in the first poll matching up Kay Bailey Hutchison and Barbara Radnofsky, KBH led by a 64-25 margin. To say the least, this is a more encouraging beginning.

Speaking of encouraging, Noriega has blown well past $100K in ActBlue fundraising, totaling over $120K at this writing. Heck, just the Netroots for Noriega page has collected $100K+ for him. We’re also at 969 contributors, so we’ll need a bit more than ten a day through Sunday to hit 1000. Can you help?

And finally, Noriega has just garnered the endorsement of Here’s their press release:, the leading political organization for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, today endorsed the U.S. Senate candidacy of Rick Noriega in his effort to unseat incumbent Republican John Cornyn.

Founded in 2006 by Iraq War Veterans Jon Soltz and Jeremy Broussard, has endorsed eight candidates, both Democrats and Republicans, and held 11 Members of Congress accountable for failing to provide body armor and health care to active service members. The organization’s Board of Advisors includes respected veterans who speak from experience, including General Wesley K. Clark (ret.) and former Senator Bob Kerrey.

“As an Afghanistan veteran, you are keenly aware that the current course we are on has not only brought our fine Army and Marine Corps to the breaking point, but has endangered our security,” Soltz wrote in his letter to Noriega, noting the growing threat of al Qaeda once again in Afghanistan and Pakistan. “The dose of reality you will bring to the floor of the Senate couldn’t come at a more important time.”

Noriega, who serves as a Lt. Col. in the National Guard, has been an outspoken critic of the Administration’s policies in Iraq, and John Cornyn’s failed leadership. “The problem is, we hold a private in the US Army to a higher level of accountability than the junior Senator from the state of Texas,” Noriega stated. “Real Texans don’t vote against giving troops time home with their families. I’ve had the privilege of serving shoulder-to-shoulder with our men and women in uniform, and I’m ready to lead the fight in the US Senate to end this war.”

Soltz, in his letter, called John Cornyn “one of the weakest voices on troops’ and veterans’ issues,” and noting his refusal to allow our military to refit and rearm along with his votes against care for veterans, he added “Texans have little to be proud of when it comes to John Cornyn’s record on veterans and troops.” The endorsement from follows on the heels of the endorsement by the State Association of Fire Fighters, and a growing number of Democratic leaders supporting Noriega’s candidacy to represent the State of Texas in the United States Senate.

The endorsement letter is here. Feeling encouraged yet? I sure am.

UPDATE Nine ninety-eight as of 1 PM! Who wants to be donor #1000?

State Proposition 2

We all know about the HISD bond referendum and its problems, but there will be another education-related bond proposition on the ballot this November, and it shouldn’t be confused with the HISD proposal. I’m referring to Proposition 2, one of the sixteen constitutional amendments you’ll be voting on. Prop 2 “Provides for issuing $500 million in general obligation bonds to finance student loans and authorizes bond enhancement agreements for general obligation bonds issued for that purpose”, and its originating legislation was SJR 57 by Williams and Zaffirini (bill history here), and it appears to have passed both chambers unanimously. Here’s a FAQ on Prop 2 put together and sent to me by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board:

What is Proposition 2?

Prop. 2 is a constitutional amendment allowing the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to issue bonds for providing low-interest, low-fee student loans that will enable more Texas students to attend college.

Will these bonds affect my property taxes?

No. The Prop. 2 bonds used to finance low-interest student loans will be repaid by the students who borrow the money. Prop 2. will have no impact on property taxes, sales taxes or other taxes collected by the state.

Why is a vote needed to approve financing for state education loans?

In 1965, the Coordinating Board was charged with administering the Hinson-Hazlewood Student Loan Program, which provides low-interest student loans for college. This made Texas one of the first states to enter the student loan business, even before the federal government became involved with many of the popular financial aid programs available today. Rather than fund the program with taxes, the Legislature authorized the Coordinating Board to use funds generated from general obligation bonds. The Texas Constitution requires that general obligation bonds be approved by voters. Since 1965, Texas voters have approved the use of bonds for low-interest student loans six times.

How do the loans offered by the Coordinating Board differ from those offered by private lenders?

Because the Coordinating Board is a non-profit entity and the loans are backed by the financial strength of the Texas economy, the Coordinating Board is able to offer competitive and affordable loan terms. Highlights of college loans funded with Prop. 2 bonds include:

  • A low, 6% fixed-rate of interest over the life of the loan (As of Sept. 15, 2007);
  • Six month grace period before repayment begins, with income-sensitive and graduated repayment schedules available;
  • Interest is never capitalized;
  • Loan service provided by the Coordinating Board which is under the direct oversight of the Texas Legislature and the citizens of Texas; and
  • Loans are never sold to another lender

There’s more in the file. Seems pretty worthwhile to me, but check out College for Texans if you need to know more. I see no reason not to vote for this, so whatever you think of the HISD proposal, please don’t get the two confused.

Farmers Branch, this may be your life

What happens when you succeed in driving illegal immigrants out of your town? A lot of small businesses suffer.

RIVERSIDE, N.J., Sept. 25 — A little more than a year ago, the Township Committee in this faded factory town became the first municipality in New Jersey to enact legislation penalizing anyone who employed or rented to an illegal immigrant.

Within months, hundreds, if not thousands, of recent immigrants from Brazil and other Latin American countries had fled. The noise, crowding and traffic that had accompanied their arrival over the past decade abated.

The law had worked. Perhaps, some said, too well.

With the departure of so many people, the local economy suffered. Hair salons, restaurants and corner shops that catered to the immigrants saw business plummet; several closed. Once-boarded-up storefronts downtown were boarded up again.

Meanwhile, the town was hit with two lawsuits challenging the law. Legal bills began to pile up, straining the town’s already tight budget. Suddenly, many people — including some who originally favored the law — started having second thoughts.

So last week, the town rescinded the ordinance, joining a small but growing list of municipalities nationwide that have begun rethinking such laws as their legal and economic consequences have become clearer.

“I don’t think people knew there would be such an economic burden,” said Mayor George Conard, who voted for the original ordinance. “A lot of people did not look three years out.”

When the same article is written a couple of years from now for Farmers Branch, don’t say they couldn’t have seen it coming. Link via The Right’s Field and Oliver Willis.

More on the Bissonnet high-rise battle

Mayor White has weighed in on the Bissonnet high rise that’s got residents up in arms.

The city of Houston will use “any appropriate power under law” to alter a planned 23-story building that would tower over single-family homes in neighborhoods near Rice University, Mayor Bill White said Wednesday.

White, in a letter to leaders of area civic clubs, said the project at 1717 Bissonnet would worsen traffic congestion on that two-lane street. For future projects, he said, city officials are working on an ordinance that would require developers to “reasonably address traffic impacts” in surrounding neighborhoods.

Neighborhood protection advocates said they hoped the mayor’s comments, coupled with fierce opposition from the adjoining Southampton and Boulevard Oaks neighborhoods, would provide impetus for stronger policies to ease the impact of new developments often seen as out of scale with surrounding single-family enclaves.

That is a pretty strong statement from the Mayor. Expect there to be some pushback when that in-progress ordinance gets aired.

City Controller Annise Parker, who previously served on the City Council and has a longtime interest in neighborhood issues, likened the city’s role in regulating development to its recent strengthening of its smoking ordinance.

“There is a strong reluctance on the part of many in the community to infringe on property rights,” she said. “But that tower in the middle of Southampton is going to influence every building around it, just like someone who lights a cigarette in a restaurant has an impact on the people around him.”

Councilwoman Anne Clutterbuck, whose district includes the Bissonnet site as well as two other recent controversial development projects, said such disputes have become so widespread that trying to solve them individually is impractical.

“We need to look at these more comprehensively and collectively,” Clutterbuck said. “It’s unfortunate that we’re doing them piecemeal.”

Clutterbuck said she had asked White’s administration to thoroughly review city ordinances to look for any regulations that might give the city leverage to require changes in the Bissonnet project.

I agree with CM Clutterbuck. We’ll be doing nothing but this sort of thing for the foreseeable future unless we try to come up with a more general solution. Given Houston’s history in such matters, even with recent small steps and proposals, I wouldn’t expect much from such a thing. But almost anything Council can come up with has to be better than the ad hoc approach.

Neighborhood leaders said the project, on the site of what is now a small apartment development, would pour hundreds of vehicles every day onto Bissonnet and Ashby, also a two-lane street. In addition, the building would block the sun from nearby homes and intrude on residents’ privacy, they said.

I recommend you go back to that previous post of mine and read Trafficnerd’s comments about this. Very enlightening stuff.

In his letter, however, the mayor acknowledged that new, denser development in central Houston requires policy solutions as well as negotiation.

“Houston’s city charter prevents the city from dictating references to landowners concerning the residential or commercial use” of their property, White said.

“I believe the city does have the power to limit or to impose reasonable requirements concerning on-site parking, flood impacts, the amount of traffic or trips and the reasonableness of places for ingress and egress on a particular property.”

I think that’s a very reasonable place to start, since these are practical items that really do have a big impact on the existing residents, to the point where they may no longer be able to park in front of their own homes. It’s also something that can and should be addressed by developers, since they’re the ones causing these problems. The reality of Inner Loop real estate today is that high rises and townhomes are here to stay. There’s no reason why they can’t be made to fit in a little better, however.

Earle prepares for trial

After yesterday’s CCA ruling refusing for the final time to reinstate the conspiracy indictment against Tom DeLay, Travis County DA Ronnie Earle says he’s ready to go to trial.

Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle said Wednesday that his office is ready to go to trial on remaining charges against former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay after the state’s highest criminal court upheld its earlier dismissal of a separate charge.

“We’re preparing for trial,” Earle said.

But Houston attorney Dick DeGuerin, who represents DeLay, said he doesn’t expect any trial until another Texas appeals court rules on a case involving accused co-conspirators John Colyandro and Jim Ellis.

DeGuerin said Colyandro and Ellis’ case, which was argued to a panel of Austin’s 3rd Court of Appeals more than a year ago, “has to do with the balance of the case” against DeLay.

Although DeLay is not directly involved in the case pending at the Austin appeals court, the outcome is likely to affect charges of money-laundering and conspiracy to launder money.

To the best of my knowledge, this is the still-pending appeal of Ellis and Colyandro’s claim that checks aren’t cash. Far as I can tell, the most recent appeal was made to the 3rd Court of Appeals in Austin last August. That’s a hell of a wait for a ruling, if you ask me. In any event, in this case it’s the defendants who are appealing, hoping to get their indictments tossed. Should that happen, I’d agree that it would moot the case against DeLay. I can’t imagine how that could happen in a sane universe, but then I’d never argue that we’re actually in a sane universe. I have no idea when we might expect the 3rd Court to get off their robes and issue an opinion, so who knows when the trial might take place. In the meantime, we can continue to contemplate the whereabouts and current demeanor of the forgotten indicted accomplice, Warren RoBold. Stay tuned.

City gets slapped in billboard battle

I’ve said before that the city has had a pretty good run in the courts lately. Yesterday, their winning streak came to an end when a judge granted an injunction to prevent enforcement of their billboard ordinance in the extraterritorial jurisdiction.

Houston-based billboard company RTM Media sued the city after officials threatened to issue citations under the sign code to dozens of advertisers using the company’s billboards in the targeted area.

The city has cited an RTM executive more than 2,000 times, even winning an appeal of a Municipal Court conviction. The city also has a pending lawsuit against RTM in state court that seeks to prevent the company from operating billboards without permits.

But the billboards remain. So, the city decided recently to target the company’s advertisers, hoping to shrink its customer base.

[U.S. District Judge Melinda] Harmon said that strategy infringed on the advertisers’ free speech rights.

“The city’s justification that such pressure tactics against advertisers are acceptable because they ‘work’ does not cure the constitutional problem here,” Harmon’s opinion states.

The judge’s opinion addresses only the request for a temporary injunction, but taking that step requires her to find that RTM Media had a “substantial likelihood of success” should its challenge proceed.

The White administration contends that the signs in the city’s ETJ are illegal under state and municipal laws, which grant Houston the right to regulate billboards.

In court filings and a two-hour hearing last week, however, the company argued that the city does not have the authority to cite its customers. More broadly, it argued that the sign code violates the First Amendment because it distinguishes between commercial and non-commercial speech.

The city code, which covers most signs, prohibits new billboards in Houston or the outer ring. But it allows those with political, religious or other noncommercial messages.

The court took issue with that distinction, citing a 14-year-old Ohio case involving the regulation of news racks, stating that the city cannot treat billboards differently based on their content.

“Noncommercial billboards are visual blights, traffic dangers and undesirable for property values for the same reason as commercial billboards,” the opinion states.

Assuming the city doesn’t change its ordinance before then, the trial is set for the spring. A copy of Judge Harmon’s ruling is here (PDF).

One thousand and one hundred thousand

We’re four days away from the end of the quarter, and Rick Noriega is within sight of 1000 donors and $100,000 on ActBlue. It would be way cool to reach either or both of those milestones by the 30th, don’t you think? Early money always has the greatest effect for a candidate. If you’ve been thinking about donating at all, sooner is always better than later.

In the meantime, here’s a message from Rick Noriega:


Here’s a cool idea – a blog dedicated to the Houston real estate scene. It’s called Swamplot, and it’s a good resource. They have a daily report on what buildings have had demolition permits pulled for them, which by itself makes them useful. I thought this post from a few months back was pretty thought-provoking, as well as a bit dispiriting:

Disposing of older buildings used to be so simple. It’s tougher now, but it’s not impossible. You’ll just need to use some new techniques. If the buildings you want to demolish have a high enough profile, you’ll also need a good PR consultant who can help you with strategy.

For a while, it looked like Weingarten Realty might have some trouble tearing down its historic River Oaks Shopping Center, River Oaks Theater, and Alabama Bookstop (which used to be the Alabama Theater–back in the day when people watched movies instead of reading so much). When rumors first began to circulate, there was the big hullabaloo about the River Oaks Theater, and all those online petitions.

But since then, not so much. Weingarten clearly has its winning gameplan mapped out. How did they do it? How do you tear down an immensely popular older building in Houston today, and do it right?

The technique you need involves outrage bait. What’s that? Read on, after the jump!

Food for thought. Anyway, Gus the site owner sent me an email about Swamplot, I liked what I saw, and now I’m telling you about it. Check it out.

More charges for Vick

First the feds, now the state.

Michael Vick, already looking at a federal prison term for bankrolling a dogfighting operation in rural Virginia, now faces two state charges that could get him more prison time if he’s convicted.

After a Surry County grand jury indicted the Atlanta Falcons quarterback and three co-defendants Tuesday, Vick’s lawyers indicated they will fight the state charges on the grounds that he can’t be convicted twice of the same crime.

The NFL star, scheduled for sentencing Dec. 10 after pleading guilty to federal dogfighting conspiracy charges, faces state charges of beating or killing or causing dogs to fight other dogs and engaging in or promoting dogfighting.

Each felony is punishable by up to five years in prison. Arraignments are set for Oct. 3.

The grand jury declined to indict the 27-year-old Vick and two co-defendants on eight additional counts of killing or causing to be killed a companion animal, felonies that would have exposed them to as many as 40 years in prison if convicted.

Vick defense attorney Billy Martin said in a statement that the state counts concern “the same conduct covered by the federal indictment for which Mr. Vick has already accepted full responsibility.”

Martin said he will “aggressively protect his rights to ensure that he is not held accountable for the same conduct twice.”

Vick was convicted of a federal conspiracy count while the state indictment deals with the act of dog fighting, said Steven Benjamin, a Richmond defense lawyer who is not involved in the case.

The prosecution will argue that’s enough of a difference to allow the charges to proceed, he said.

I’m a little uncomfortable about this. It’s not clear to me that there’s all that much difference between the two charges, and since Vick will already be serving time it’s not like this is a case where justice failed at one level but could be remedied at another (think of the federal civil rights violation charges brought against various people for racially-motivated murders in years past for which they had been acquitted). Any lawyers want to chime in on this?

On a side note, this was a dumb thing for Vick to do.

A federal judge placed tighter restrictions on Michael Vick on Wednesday after the Atlanta Falcons quarterback tested positive for marijuana.

Because of the result, U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson placed special conditions on Vick’s release, including restricting him to his home between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. with electronic monitoring and ordering him to submit to random drug testing.

The urine sample was submitted Sept. 13, according to a document by a federal probation officer that was filed in U.S. District Court on Wednesday.


The 27-year-old former Virginia Tech star was placed under pretrial release supervision by U.S. Magistrate Dennis Dohnal in July. The restrictions included refraining from use or unlawful possession of narcotic drugs or other controlled substances.

The random drug testing ordered Wednesday could include urine testing, the wearing of a sweat patch, a remote alcohol testing system or any form of prohibited substance screening or testing.

Hudson’s order also requires Vick to participate in inpatient or outpatient substance therapy and mental health counseling, if the pretrial services officer or supervising officer deem it appropriate. Vick must pay for the treatment.


Getting crowded in CD22

More folks are lining up to take a crack at the GOP nomination for CD22 and the right to run against Rep. Nick Lampson next year. Gary says Mike Manlove, the term-limited mayor of Pasadena, wants in. Muse writes about Alan Steinberg, a 25-year-old from Sugar Land with a fairly accomplished resume. And Greg forwarded me a lovely email from a fellow named Pete Olson, who likes to use the phrase “Surrender Democrats”. I think if he added a comma in there and got someone dressed as the Wicked Witch of the West to skywrite it over the district, he might have something. Or not. At least he seems to understand that in order to win this primary, he’s going to have to bring the crazy. Stock up on your popcorn now.

SCOTUS to take up voter ID laws

I have a bad feeling about this.

The Supreme Court agreed Tuesday to decide whether voter identification laws unfairly deter the poor and minorities from voting, stepping into a contentious partisan issue in advance of the 2008 elections.

The justices will hear arguments early next year in a challenge to an Indiana law that requires voters to present photo ID before casting their ballots. The state has defended the law as a way to combat voter fraud.


Election law experts had urged the court to take the Indiana case to instruct courts on how to weigh claims of voter fraud versus those of disenfranchisement. “The court better resolve this question before ballots start getting counted next fall,” said Stanford University law professor Pamela Karlan.

The court is expected to issue a decision by late June, in time for the November general election.

The Indiana law enacted in 2005 was upheld by a federal judge and by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago. Before the law’s passage, an Indiana voter had only to sign a poll book at the polling place, where a photo copy of the voter’s signature was kept on file for comparison.

“The purpose of the Indiana law is to reduce voting fraud, and voting fraud impairs the right of legitimate voters to vote by diluting their votes,” Judge Richard Posner said in his majority opinion.

But in a dissent, Judge Terence Evans said, “Let’s not beat around the bush. The Indiana voter photo ID law is a not-too-thinly veiled attempt to discourage election-day turnout by folks believed to skew Democratic.”

Bill Groth, an attorney who has represented the Indiana Democratic Party in the lawsuit, said he was thrilled that the nation’s highest court will take up the case. He said the appeals court made light of the right to vote in its decision, but the Supreme Court has guarded that right more seriously.

“The court has over and over stressed that the right to vote should be protected, and any state law that burdens that right should be carefully and meticulously reviewed,” Groth said.

Let me be blunt and say that I do not trust the Court in its current composition to protect anyone’s right to vote. Frankly, I think the best I can hope for is a decision akin to that in the revised Georgia law case, where there has to be some kind of effort to ensure that an acceptable-to-vote ID card is made available to everyone. The Court may surprise me (in a good way), but I wouldn’t bet on it.

S-CHIP bill passes the House, but not by enough

Close, but no cigar.

The House voted Tuesday to expand health insurance for children, but the Democratic-led victory may prove short-lived because the margin was too small to override President Bush’s promised veto.

Embarking on a health care debate likely to animate the 2008 elections, the House voted 265-159 to expand the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, or SCHIP, by $35 billion over five years. Bush says he will veto the bill because of its cost, its reliance on a tobacco tax increase and its potential for replacing private insurance with government grants.

SCHIP is a state-federal program that provides coverage for 6.6 million children from families that live above the poverty level but have trouble affording health insurance. The proposed expansion, backed by most governors and many health-advocacy groups, would add 4 million children to the rolls.

The bill drew support from 45 House Republicans, many of them moderates who do not want to be depicted as indifferent to low-income children’s health needs when they seek re-election next year. But most Republicans, under pressure from the White House and party leaders, sided with Bush, a move that Democrats see as a political blunder.

And if Democrats are smart about this (sadly, not exactly a sure thing), they’ll listen to the advice of Iowa Republican Senator Chuck Grassley:

Grassley said if he were the Democrats, he would send the SCHIP expansion to a vote every three months, along with campaign advertisements accusing Republicans of abandoning children. That way, pressure would mount either on Bush to sign the bill or on House Republicans to override the veto.

From your lips to Reid and Pelosi’s ears, dude. Of course, this is the approach they should have taken with getting the troops out of Iraq, and we know how that turned out. So let’s just say I’m not holding my breath on this one. (Link via Steve Benen.)

Eight Democrats opposed the bill. Some, from tobacco-growing districts, object to raising the federal cigarette tax to $1 a pack, a 61-cent increase. Some Hispanic members complained that the bill would make legal immigrant children wait five years to qualify for SCHIP.

Here’s the roll call, nicely broken down by party and state. The naysaying Dems:

Kathy Castor (FL)
Jim Marshall (GA)
Baron Hill (IN)
Gene Taylor (MS)
Bob Etheridge (NC)
Mike McIntyre (NC)
Dennis Kucinich (OH)
Dan Boren (OK)

I see the tobacco state connection, but I don’t see any Hispanics in there, so I think that paragraph could have used some better editing. Can anyone explain what Dennis Kucinich was doing? I can’t explain that vote.

Next up is President Bush’s inevitable veto, followed (one hopes) by the Democrats taking Chuck Grassley’s advice. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: The Observer reminds me that President Bush has a long-held antipathy to CHIP. Which if nothing else means that the Grassley Gambit can go on for as long as the Republicans want it to.

CCA denies motion for rehearing

No story just yet, but thanks to Vince‘s news alert feeds, I can tell you that the Court of Criminal Appeals has denied the motions made by Travis County DA Ronnie Earle to reconsider its to let stand the dismissal of the conspiracy charge against Tom DeLay. Looks like my initial skepticism was accurate, despite Paul Burka‘s persuasive case otherwise. So at long last, we’re at the point where the next step in the process is an actual trial for Tom DeLay. Better get him before the feds do, Ronnie. More later when this hits the wires.

UPDATE: Here’s a Chron story. I expect we’ll get more, with quotes, later.

Christie’s back

Jack Christie, who had dropped out of the race for City Council At Large #5 a few weeks ago after questions about his residency and homestead exemptions came up, has now dropped back in to the race.

Christie announced his withdrawal from the At-Large Position 5 race last week amid questions about his residency. Monday night, however, he told a small crowd at a candidate forum in Willow Meadows that he plans to campaign.

“I thought he was out of the race,” said Tom Nixon, another member of the now eight-candidate field who attended the forum at Willow Meadows Baptist Church. “I was surprised that he was there.”

Attempts to reach Christie on Tuesday were unsuccessful, and his campaign manager declined to discuss the issue.

His decision to re-enter the race is the latest twist in his campaign since the Houston Chronicle reported earlier this month that Christie and another candidate, Zafar Tahir, signed leases at properties inside the city to comply with Houston’s residency requirements.


Christie told the crowd Monday night that he still was a candidate, proclaiming that he pays property taxes in Houston, people at the event said.

His name would have appeared on the ballot, anyway, because he missed a Sept. 14 deadline for withdrawing formally, in accordance with state law, said Larry Schenk, a senior assistant city attorney who handles election issues.

I don’t think I’d realized that such a deadline had passed. Makes you wonder what would have happened had he qualified for the runoff anyway. Given that he’ll still be there for voters to choose, he may as well ask for their votes. What’s the worst that can happen to him? You almost have to feel a little sympathy for Tom Nixon, whose chance at garnering a unified Republican vote is slipping away.

You all know how I feel about the residency question. While I was highly unlikely to vote for Christie in the first place, I wouldn’t tell anyone not to vote for him based on where he lives. (The homestead exemption thing is a different matter, but never mind that for now.) I would tell you, however, that if this issue is important to you, that you ask your candidate of choice to Do Something about it when elected. I don’t know what the best way to tighten residency requirements might be – it’s not something I’ve given much thought to – but I’m sure there’s some way to improve the process. The point I’m making is that if this matters to you, there’s never been a better time to make it better. Don’t waste the opportunity.

Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Paul Bettencourt, who isn’t supporting a candidate in the race, has been critical of both Tahir and Christie, calling a potential runoff between them a “clash of carpetbaggers.”

He slightly modified his critique Tuesday. “It’s the clash of the carpetbaggers, Number 2,” he said of Christie’s return. “It’s back on.”

And the reason Paul Bettencourt once again plays a prominent role in this story is…what, exactly? We already had a quote concerning the property tax issue. I’m not sure what role Bettercourt is playing here, other than “guy who was quoted in the first story for some reason”. Am I missing something?

Interview with Marlon Barabin

Our busy week of Council interviews continues as I get back to the crowded At Large #5 race with Marlon Barabin. Barabin is a Master Sergeant in the Texas Air National Guard who has served two tours in Iraq. He is also a businessman and the President and CEO of the Houston’s Citizen’s Chamber of Commerce. The interview is here, as always in MP3 format, and the Kuff’s World post is here.


Zaf Tahir – At Large #5 – MP3
Joe Trevino – At Large #5 – MP3
Lawrence Allen – District D – MP3
John Marron – District I – MP3
Manisha Mehta – District E – MP3
Council Member Anne Clutterbuck – District C – MP3
James Rodriguez – District I – MP3

Border fence details now available

See what’s in store for the border, for all the good it won’t do.

For the first time, U.S. Border Patrol officials have released precise locations, a construction schedule and photos of the type of fencing proposed for some areas along the Texas-Mexico border.

The details, posted on the Federal Register Web site by U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Monday, triggered anger and disappointment from South Texas business, agriculture and wildlife interests.

Documents posted on the Web site identified 21 segments of fencing along 70 miles of river frontage in the lower Rio Grande Valley, including state parks and federal wildlife refugees. Most of the segments would be around ports of entry, including Brownsville, Rio Grande City, Harlingen and McAllen, according to the documents.

”It’s a waste of money — it’s not going to stop anything,” said Steve Ahlenius, president of the McAllen Chamber of Commerce. ”There are more effective ways to stop illegal immigration, and this isn’t one of them.”


Fence specifications outlined Monday for the Rio Grande Valley call for a 16-foot-high structure that is ”aesthetically pleasing,” yet stout enough to withstand a crash by a 10,000-pound vehicle traveling 40 mph. Individual segments of the fence could range from one to more than 13 miles.

The fencing would include a single-lane, unpaved patrol road, according to documents on the Web site. In the Valley, 508 acres of land will be ”temporarily impacted” by clearing to embed the fence 3 to 6 feet below the ground. The structure must have minimal impact on the movement of small animals and not stop water flow, according to the documents. If approved, construction will begin next spring and continue through December 2008, the government said.

The new plans have underscored ongoing criticism from some along the border who have said the government hasn’t consulted locals on the project.

”It’s a mistake, and clearly they have not listened to anything anybody who lives on the border has to say,” said David Benn, a Brownsville birding guide who volunteers at a private wildlife refuge that would be fenced. ”But I’m not surprised because I think the federal government knew what they were going to do, and all this public input is nothing but window dressing.”

The government plans to erect much of the fence along river levees maintained by the International Boundary and Water Commission, which has determined much of the levee system has eroded and needs to be repaired.

Fred Schuster, owner of the 3,000-acre Schuster Farms south of Alamo, said it didn’t make sense to install an expensive fence on levees needing repair. ”They need to upgrade the levees first and then think about where they want to build the fence,” said Schuster, whose family has farmed on the Rio Grande for 85 years.

Jim Chapman, who chairs the Sierra Club in the Rio Grande Valley, expressed dismay at plans to build on habitat the U.S. Department of Interior has spent nearly three decades preserving.
”The fence, even though it’s not continuous, is an unmitigated disaster for wildlife along the river,” Chapman said. ”It’s a mighty sorry way to treat the national wildlife refuge on the river that protects more species of plants and animals than any other refuge in North America.”

Read it and weep. The Rio Grande Guardian and Texas Observer have more.

TLCV rates Houston legislators

Actually, the Texas League of Conservation Voters has put out its scorecard for the entire Lege, but I’m just going to summarize it for the Harris County contingent. You can see the whole thing here (PDF), and I’ve reproduced their email beneath the fold. Here are the results for the Harris delegation to the House:

Name Score Grade =================================== Alma Allen (D) 93% A+ Kevin Bailey (D) 83% A Dwayne Bohac (R) 38% D Bill Callegari (R) 31% F Ellen Cohen (D) 88% A Garnet Coleman (D) 100% A+ Joe Crabb (R) 35% F John Davis (R) 41% D Harold Dutton (D) 77% B Gary Elkins (R) 26% F Jessica Farrar (D) 87% A Patricia Harless (R) 25% F Ana Hernandez (D) 92% A+ Scott Hochberg (D) 96% A+ Borris Miles (D) 100% A+ Jim Murphy (R) 35% D Rick Noriega (D) 96% A+ Debbie Riddle (R) 29% F Wayne Smith (R) 23% F Robert Talton (R) 25% F Senfronia Thompson (D) 100% A+ Sylvester Turner (D) 59% C Corbin Van Arsdale (R) 32% F Hubert Vo (D) 96% A+ Beverly Woolley (R) 28% F

Note that every Craddick D scored worse than every non-Craddick D, though they still scored better than every Republican. Overall, only two Republicans scored as high as 50% – Delwin Jones (52%), and the newest member of the Democratic contingent, Kirk England (69%).

There isn’t a comparable level of detail for the Senate, since there were far fewer environmental bills voted on over there. Special mention is given to Sen. Mike Jackson and his infamous SB1317, and to Sen. Dan Patrick, who apparently opposed every clean air bill that came up. Click on for a summary of that from the TLCV email, or go to the full report.

UPDATE: Fixed incorrect grades for Dwayne Bohac, Ana Hernandez, and Jim Murphy. Thanks to Thomas in the comments for the catch.