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October, 2007:

More on the Astrodome Redevelopment opposition

Following up on yesterday’s announcement that the Texans and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo had come out against the Astrodome Redevelopment plan, here’s today’s Chron story, with more details.

Scott Hanson, president of Astrodome Redevelopment, held out hope that the project would not die.

Astrodome Redevelopment may be willing to compromise with the rodeo on current sticking points, he said, adding that the developer may be willing to curtail food and merchandise sales during the annual event.

“Frankly, we are quite shocked by the Rodeo’s position,” Hanson said in an e-mail. “We have been working with the Rodeo organization for quite some time and were hopeful that our proposed redevelopment would only enhance their month-long event.”

Miya has a copy of the full statement.

Members of Commissioners Court have been reluctant to order the razing of the dome because of the sentimental value it holds for those who attended their first sporting events there or took in a major game.

In a poll commissioned by County Judge Ed Emmett’s office earlier this year, 84 percent of county residents opposed the razing of the dome, Emmett said.

“Clearly, we have to do something with the Astrodome,” he said. “The choices are: Do we tear it down and absorb the loss? Or do we redevelop it, and what do we redevelop it as? The worst thing would be for the dome to be redeveloped and have it fail.”

On the one hand, I’m a fan of preservation, and I have as much sentimental attachment to the Dome as anyone. On the other hand, it ain’t cheap to keep it running. As I see it, if the redevelopment plan falls through, the county can keep paying the maintenance and quit griping about it, find a private source of money to pay that maintenance while maybe turning the place into some kind of historic-preservation site, or convince us sentimental fools that the money we’re paying isn’t worth it, thus perhaps changing public attitudes enough to allow for demolition.

[Jamey Rootes, president of the Houston Texans,] said the Texans are worried that traffic to and from the hotel would worsen congestion on the South Loop and Kirby Drive on game days.

Astrodome Redevelopment would build a 2,100-space parking garage around two-thirds of the dome. The Texans would like to use the garage on game days and keep the revenue, Rootes said.

The Texans also share the rodeo’s concerns over sponsorship and deals for exclusive sales rights, he said.

But Rootes said the Texans may be willing to reopen negotiations if Astrodome Redevelopment can meet its demands.

I think the traffic concerns for Texans game days are overstated. I don’t see the hotel adding that much to the existing congestion. If the Texans are that concerned about it, they can start encouraging their customers to use the light rail to get to the game, especially as the system extensions make that option more viable to more people. The rest of their concerns sound like no big deal to me, certainly nothing that should be insurmountable.

Willie Loston, director of the Harris County Sports & Convention Corp., said the county attorney’s office is researching whether the county could approve the project over the objections of the Texans and the rodeo if the sports corporation determined the development would not hurt their operations.

If Commissioners Court were to go forward with the project under those circumstances, its members would have to be willing to be at odds with members of the rodeo’s board, among the city’s biggest movers and shakers.

Whatever the legalities may be, I can’t see the Court going against the wishes of these two entities. It sounds like the Texans can be placated, so the question is whether the Dome folks can make it worth the Rodeo’s while to get on board. We’ll see what happens.

Preventing Wrongful Convictions and Exonerating the Innocent

The Drum Major Institute hosted an event on Monday called “Preventing Wrongful Convictions and Exonerating the Innocent”, which featured Dallas County DA Craig Watkins as its headline speaker. Here’s a comprehensive liveblog of the panel discussion, which gets into all kinds of issues, from the cost of incarceration to the need to change attitudes and more. For those of you who have been following the HPD crime lab saga, with its bad science of serology, here’s a preview of the next crime lab scandal to come, which could happen anywhere. The speaker here is Barry Scheck of the Innocence Project.

Barry says that if you look at all felony arrests and compare exoneration rates it’s an “infinitely small number.” The point is, “what do we learn from all this,” he says. He mentions using laptop computers and other “best practices” — like videotaping interrogations — that reduce wrongful convictions.

He says there is an upcoming Washington Post series about “composite analysis of lead bullets.” Expert witnesses testified using bullet analysis for 30 years and used this practice to convict, and then three years ago the National Academy of Science said that was nonsense, that evidence just doesn’t stand. “This is laying dormant now,” he says, and all these cases are now in question. He says there are thousands of cases haven’t been looked at, all from people that were convicted from questionable evidence.

“The truth is that…in this whole area of forensic science where frankly DNA has changed everything” I think we are seeing a huge change in all of these areas.

The whole thing is compelling reading, and I highly recommend it. There’s also a couple of video clips here. Check it all out.

How the Candy Man stole Halloween

Happy Halloween, everyone! We’re going to be up to our clavicles in Trick or Treaters this evening – I’ll post some pictures like I did last year to give you a feel for how busy it gets. But before that, take a moment to read and remember the story of Ronald Clark O’Bryan, also known as the Candy Man, who murdered his son by poisoning his Halloween candy in 1974, thus also effectively killing the Trick or Treat tradition in Houston for a generation. May we never know his like again.

Blog My Wage

I’ve mentioned before that Council Member Peter Brown has been living on $92.12 this week ($23.03 a day for four days), which is what the wages of city health department worker Belinda Rodriguez allows. He’s blogging about his experience here, with pictures and video, and hopefully the recipe for the stew he’s going to make today. See how it goes for him, and how it goes every day for Belinda, at Blog My Wage.

“Including this one…”

Great moments in headline writing: State report says Texas has too many reports. You can live a long time before getting a meatball like that.

Now, it’s very easy to note a story like this and go into full-on snark mode, but before you get your Dave Barry on, the Report Of All Reports actually makes a pretty salient point:

In the past, the state regularly compiled a list of about 400 reports that agencies were required by the Legislature to produce. But the commission found more than 1,600, and state records administrator Michael Heskett is pretty sure his team hasn’t found them all.

Heskett’s initial findings indicate more than 400 report requirements are obsolete, duplicative or not needed as frequently as currently required.

“At first, we were overwhelmed by the sheer number of reporting requirements,” Heskett said. “We haven’t begun our evaluation yet. But I think we can reach our goal of eliminating the deadwood without compromising the need for accountability in our state agencies.”

Agencies stand to save thousands of staff hours and tons of paper, although the commission hasn’t estimated yet exactly how much of either, Heskett said.

In a typical legislative session, lawmakers call for about a dozen new reports to meet the requirements for a new law. Another 20 or so reports are attached to appropriations bills as a way of making sure allocated money is properly spent.

Unless these reports are repealed by the Legislature, agencies are required to prepare them, even if the need for the report — or the agency — no longer exists.

Seems like a pretty clear opportunity for the Lege to do some good and save some money in a fairly painless fashion. I’m not sure what the relevant committee for this would be, but I hope it has a proactive chair next session. Let’s keep an eye on it.

The Daylight Savings Time shuffle

Is one of your timekeeping gadgets off by an hour this week? If so, you’re not alone.

It might be silly to talk about the duplicitous hands of time or tick-tock treachery. But the fact remains that at least some folks, who trusted their alarm clocks to wake them up on time this week, found themselves running an hour behind.

Blame it on daylight saving time, whose slippery “spring forward — fall back” formula is enough to confound all but the most mathematically astute. This week’s problem arose when daylight saving time, which traditionally ends on the last Sunday in October, was extended to the first Sunday in November.


Unless PC owners installed patches provided by Microsoft or Apple, their machines, like the clueless clocks, would have registered the wrong time.

Some Houston computer stores e-mailed their customers to remind them of the delay in the resumption of Standard Time.

The change in the time switch came this year as part of the Energy Conservation Act designed to give Americans a bit more daylight — and energy savings.

President Bush signed the law in 2005.

The law also affected the beginning of daylight saving time, moving it to the second Sunday in March from the first Sunday in April.

And there were many problems with that earlier start to DST. At least from a BlackBerry perspective, the patch that was rolled out in haste back in February also fixed the issue at this end. So professionally speaking, it’s all good for me.

As it happens, I’m using a spiffy new alarm clock these days that has a DST auto-adjust feature built in. Since it did not fall back this weekend, I assume it was already hip to the new DST endpoints. I’m putting my BlackBerry on my nightstand this Saturday anyway, just in case. We’ll see what happens.

Sugar Land’s red light cameras roll out

Hey, Sugar Land! Are you ready for those red light cameras you’ve been expecting? Well, ready or not, here they are.

Sugar Land’s three cameras will start snapping pictures Monday, but violators will receive warnings for the first 30 days of the program. The city will start issuing real citations when the grace period ends. The owner of a vehicle photographed running a red light will be subject to a $75 fine.

The cameras are going up at three of Sugar Land’s most congested and busiest intersections: U.S. 59 at Texas 6, U.S. 59 at Williams Trace and Texas 6 at Lexington. Workers have spent the past few days making last-minute adjustments on the cameras.

A fourth camera, to be installed at the intersection of West Airport and Eldridge Parkway, will be delayed while road reconstruction is being done there.

“Because of that it doesn’t make sense to interfere with their construction,” Sugar Land Police Chief Steve Griffith said Monday. He said that camera probably will be working early next year.

City officials hope the red-light cameras will reduce the number of traffic accidents by about 25 percent at the intersections where they city experiences the most.

I’ll look forward to seeing their data as much as I’ve looked forward to seeing Houston’s. In the meantime, drive appropriately.

Referendum Roundup

Vince has collected a sizable amount of blog and media links with information and recommendations for bonds, propositions, and various local election issues. If you’re still not sure how to vote on some of these things, it should be useful to you. I’m reproducing it beneath the fold. Click on for more.


“A low turnout affair”

Riffing on my previous post about early voting turnout, Houtopia provides a little context.

As of yesterday, 15,792 folks had voted in person in Harris County. Compare that total with 2005, when 24,132 in-person votes had been cast. So far, 2007 is running at 65% of the 2005 pace. Two years ago, about 332,000 ballots were cast in Harris County, 192,000 of those in the City of Houston. If the current trend holds, we’ll see more like 216K votes countywide, and 125K in the City in 2007. That would put turnout in the neighborhood of 10% — pretty low.

While Mayor White is running a few commercials, he faces no serious opposition. A high-profile mayor’s race is the driver of turnout in odd-year elections in Houston, and the absence of a meaningful mayoral campaign has dampened interest in voting, to be sure. The only real mystery is whether or not White can best his 91% share of the vote from 2005. (We predict he’ll fall a little short, but not by much.)

It’s only yesterday that we received a batch of election-related mail. Two were from Commissioner’s Court touting the county bonds, one was pro-Prop 15, and the other was from the GLBT Caucus with their endorsed slate. That plus a single piece from Zaf Tahir last week has been it. No robocalls, either, as far as I know. If this is typical, it’s no wonder turnout is low.

There’s not that much money out there, either, at least not in the contested races.

“Incumbency has some advantages,” said Councilman M.J. Khan, who has nearly $300,000 on hand and no opponent. “One of the advantages is that they can raise more funds.”

Khan, who faced a challenger in 2005, said he collected money just in case.

White raised just $46,000 since September 27, but he had more than $2.2 million in cash available from previous events. The mayor’s totals by far outpaced his opponents: meat packing plant worker Amanda Ulman and engineer and wrestling promoter Outlaw Josey Wales IV. Neither filed campaign reports online Monday.

Councilman Peter Brown, who some speculate has ambitions to succeed White, has more than $500,000 on hand, more than any of his colleagues. His opponent, write-in candidate Leatrice Watson, has not filed a report this election cycle.

Council members Anne Clutterbuck, Sue Lovell and Melissa Noriega all headed into the election with more money left to spend than their opponents.

Councilman Jarvis Johnson, who faces police sergeant Kenneth Perkins, did not file his report by 5 p.m. Monday, as required.

At least 19 candidates failed to file their reports on time, making fundraising comparisons in several races impossible.

In the District I race to replace term-limited Councilwoman Carol Alvarado, candidates John Marron and James Rodriguez both spent more than $40,000 during the reporting period. Marron had a $20,000 on-hand cash advantage for the remainder of the campaign, according to the filings.

Buoyed by contributions from homebuilders Bob Perry, and Richard and David Weekley, District E candidate Mike Sullivan held a financial lead over opponents Manisha Mehta and Annette Dwyer. A fourth candidate, William R. Williams, did not file a report by 5 p.m.

Meanwhile, a political action committee opposing the Houston Independent School District’s controversial $805 million bond package, Concerned Citizens for School Equality, reported raising $42,220 in October, including a $15,000 donation from the campaign fund of state Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston. The group spent about $36,580, mostly on radio advertising. The report for a pro-bond PAC was not available.

In the District II HISD trustee race, former board member Carol Mims Galloway topped most of her competitors by raising $9,604 for the October filing period. Charles McCloud, the last of the five candidates to enter the race, filed a report that covered most of September and October, and showed a total of $22,555 raised.

District IV candidate Paula Harris raised $13,618 in October, including $4,000 from state Rep. Borris Miles, D-Houston, and $1,000 from the Houston Federation of Teachers. Her opponent, Davetta Mills Daniels, raised $14,822.

Stiles has his finance report spreadsheet for the eight-days-out deadline, which has quite a few holes in it. And no, I don’t know why that would be the case, either. But there it is.

And here this is, because I feel like it:

Remember, the lower the turnout, the more your vote counts. But you still have to vote.

Reliant and Rodeo oppose Astrodome Redevelopment

Here’s an obstacle that the Astrodome Redevelopment folks may not be able to clear:

The Texans and Houston rodeo officials came out today in opposition of plans to turn the iconic Reliant Astrodome into an upscale hotel and convention center saying the proposal could jeopardize their own organizations.

“The proposed redevelopment poses serious operational hurdles, threatens each organization’s financial well-being, and violates their lease agreement rights with Harris County,” the organizations said today in a written statement.

The Astrodome Redevelopment Corporation has proposed turning the dome into a convention hotel that would employ 1,550 and generate nearly $23 million a year in state and local taxes. The corporation hasn’t revealed details of its plans to finance the $450 million renovation.

The complex would have as many as 1,300 hotel rooms, ballrooms, convention meeting rooms, multiple restaurants, upscale shopping and one or more music venues. Swaths of Astroturf would be replaced with a series of ponds, fountains and tall trees.

A parking garage would be built around the Dome. Plans for a cineplex have been scrapped.

But in opposing that plan today, the Rodeo said the plan would have a “negative impact on the Rodeo’s future success, including its many youth and educational program.”

If anything is going to kill this remarkably durable scheme, it’ll be the Texans/Rodeo combination. We could finally be on the verge of the last days of the Dome. This is a very early version of the story – there will be more later, so stay tuned.

UPDATE: The updated version of the story has the bad news for Astrodome Redevelopment:

“Not until we saw their plans recently did we realize that this project has the ability to cannibalize our operations,” said Leroy Shafer, the rodeo’s chief operating officer. “Every dollar spent that is spent there is one that might not be spent at the rodeo.”

Jamey Rootes, a Texans’ official, said the Texans were worried that the hotel would hamper the flow of fans in and out of games on the Texans’ 10 game days.


Astrodome Redevelopment announced in early September that it had cleared a major hurdle by gaining preliminary approval from Deutsche Bank, a major commercial lender, to finance the deal.

In addition, the Texas Historical Commission approved the company’s renovation plans, qualifying it for a federal historic rehabilitation tax credit.

The tax credit was integral to Astrodome Redevelopment’s financing application. As much as $350 million of the work on the $450 million project may qualify for the tax credit, which could be worth $70 million to Astrodome Redevelopment, John Clanton, the firm’s chief executive, has said.

Shafer said restaurants that pay to operate at the rodeo could stop leasing if business was siphoned off by the hotel’s food court.

And Shafer said he was concerned that the hotel would decrease the value of exclusivity rights at the rodeo. Coca-Cola, for instance, buys the right to sell its products exclusively at the rodeo.

“It became obvious to us that a tremendous amount of our revenue will be lost at our show,” he said.

I know they’re saying that they’ve just seen Astrodome Redevelopment’s plans recently, but it still seems to me like they might have seen this coming. Be that as it may, I don’t see how the plan survives. So the question then becomes, what now with the Dome? Tear it down (and replace it with what?), find a funding source and turn it into a historic monument, or pursue some other redevelopment scheme? Let me know what you think.

Endorsement watch: Mayor White and the HISD bond referendum

Matt Stiles notes that Mayor White hasn’t taken a position on the HISD bond referendum yet. He prints the following statement from the Mayor:

HISD and other regional school districts do important work. I have seen with my own eyes that many HISD schools need maintenance and repairs.

Bond authorizations allow schools to borrow money to make capital expenditures. Without debt authority, school districts would have to raise taxes in order to pay for needed current improvements without debt. For this reason, I routinely support school bond issues.

I generally support HISD and its Superintendent.

Several weeks ago I requested information about the bond issue on two topics: whether HISD could support a bond issue of this amount without raising the tax rate; and, financial information about the economics of school closures and consolidations.

I am still waiting to receive the requested information from HISD on the second topic.

Very interesting. I have heard through the grapevine that the Mayor has already done his civic duty for this cycle, so it’s not a question of whether or not he has made up his mind. Being public about it is a different thing, and like Stiles I’d have to think HISD would have been quick to accommodate him on this request. I don’t know what to make of that.

Expand the map

Good news from the Senate 2008 Guru:

You may notice in the upper left hand corner of the website that we have a new addition to the Expand the Map! ActBlue page: State Representative and Lieutenant Colonel Rick Noriega. Representative/Lt. Col. Noriega has ignited the grassroots and netroots and achieved broad support among the establishment. Noriega is a terrific candidate and understands the meaning of words like “duty” and “service.” Further, incumbent Republican and Bush rubber stamp John Cornyn is extremely vulnerable. To recognize State Representative and Lieutenant Colonel Rick Noriega’s addition to the Expand the Map! ActBlue page, I would love to see readers of the Guru’s blog put up a half dozen contributions to Noriega today. Just six contributions – you can do it! Whether you can contribute $100 or $10, please contribute if you can! Many thanks!

You know I’m always happy to see more people climb on board the Noriega bandwagon. There’s plenty of room any time you want to join.

I should note that the other two people on the Guru’s list – Andrew Rice of Oklahoma, running against Sen. James “Global warming is a myth!” Inhofe; and Larry LaRocca of Idaho, running to replace (as if anyone could) Sen. Larry “Wide Stance” Craig – are both also well worth your support, if your interests expand beyond the borders of our fair state. Check ’em all out.

I’d call it a game-changer, wouldn’t you?

If you enjoyed that amazing video of Trinity’s improbable last-play touchdown to beat Millsaps this past Saturday, you can express your appreciation of it in a tangible fashion, according to this email I got from the ol’ bountiful mother:

In a play that brought back memories of the 1982 California-Stanford game, the Division III Trinity Tigers delivered one of the most unbelievable plays of the 2007 NCAA college football season. With two seconds remaining in the game and the ball on their own 39-yard line, Trinity needed an incredible 15 laterals before Riley Curry scored the winning touchdown over the Majors of Millsaps for an improbable 28-24 win and a Pontiac Game Changing Performance nomination.

Now it is up to Trinity fans to determine if the Tigers earned the “Pontiac Game Changing Performance” for the ninth week of the 2007 NCAA Football Season. TU fans can go to, where they can view video clips of the four finalists and vote for their favorite play. Voting begins on Sunday morning and ends at midnight on Wednesday. ESPN will announce this week’s “Pontiac Game Changing Performance” winner, on Thursday night, during the Pontiac Performance Halftime Report.

The winning university earns a $5,000 contribution from Pontiac to their general scholarship fund. Additionally, the winning play will be nominated for the “Pontiac Game Changing Performance of the Year” and the chance to win a $100,000 General Scholarship from Pontiac.

“Awarding more than $1 million since its inception, the Pontiac Game Changing Performance program continues to be a great example of how passionate fans can have a positive impact academically and athletically by generating scholarship dollars for university-wide programs,” said Kirk Herbstreit, ESPN GameDay Analyst.

In addition, each week one lucky individual who visits will also win a $5,000 scholarship for them self or their family. In total, Pontiac will provide $300,000 worth of scholarships to universities and individuals throughout the season.

For full program details, visit

Click away as you see fit.

Turns out, by the way, that the kid who scored the winning touchdown for the Tigers is a local boy.

Exhausted, Riley Curry found an opening, and with it, instant celebrity status en route to one of the most jaw-dropping plays in college football history.

The former Fort Bend Clements wide receiver took part in Trinity University’s miraculous 28-24 win over Millsaps College last Saturday afternoon, scoring the game-winning touchdown after a 61-yard, 15-lateral Hail Mary that has become the talk of the nation.

“All I remember is that I was exhausted, but when I saw the opening (at around the 15-yard line), I was in disbelief,” said Curry, who touched the ball four times during the 60 seconds it took to complete the play. “As I got into the end zone, I remember looking up and seeing the official raise his hands up,” Curry added.

“I looked up and the first thing I looked for was a flag. By then, I had about 15 teammates on top of me celebrating.”

With the touchdown, Curry has been on a whirlwind of interviews and phone calls from media, fans and old classmates. One of the biggest surprises for him came Monday morning, when he turned on ESPN’s First Take to see Skip Bayless and Patrick McEnroe debate whether his play was better than the California-Stanford play of 1982.

Riley is no stranger to last-second miracles, having scored a game-winning touchdown on a Hail Mary to help Clements defeat Fort Bend Austin on his final high school play in 2004.

“He made everything work every time he touched the ball,” said Tigers head coach Steve Mohr. “He found the opening and had the presence to take off and find the end zone.”

The Unofficial Scorer tots up the numbers from the play. The most amazing one to me is that it took one full minute of real time. The average NFL play lasts something like eight or ten seconds – see for yourself next time you watch. Keeping the ball alive for a minute is mindboggling.

HOPE-ing for higher wages

The Houston Organization of Public Employees, a/k/a HOPE, has been making its case for better wages for the city’s public employees.

The event was the latest public-relations move taken by the union, which also has sent dozens of members to City Council in recent weeks to complain about low wages and benefit costs. Several members also are featured in a Web site,, that derides their “second-class pay.” And more events are planned for this week, including a downtown rally Thursday night and a blog by Councilman Peter Brown, who will live on $92.12 for four days, the same budget as a city health department clerk.

I’ve got a press release beneath the fold with more information about this. Yeah, this kind of stunt is cheesy, but the point is to call attention to a situation, and it has already succeeded on that score.

The discussion led White to send an e-mail recently to all 13,000 civilian employees. He asked them to use “good judgment” in weighing claims by the union, which is a marriage of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the Service Employees International Union.

“This Administration is listening to your concerns,” White’s e-mail read. “Again, I thank both the employee representatives and the management representatives who have worked hard during this negotiation. We are attempting to bring this negotiation to a conclusion soon.”

At issue are the ongoing meet-and-confer contract negotiations — the first ever between civilian municipal workers in Texas. The talks began in May, and it is possible a deal could be reached within weeks.

The city has offered a four-year, 16-percent increase in the size of its civilian payroll budget, but so far only has guaranteed 2-percent across-the-board raises each year. White prefers to set aside some money and let supervisors give larger raises to the best employees.

“One of the issues from the very beginning was that the mayor wanted to make certain that part of the compensation made available in the budget would be performance-based,” said Anthony Hall, the city’s chief administrative officer.

Hall and other city officials say there’s only so much they can offer, without threatening to force layoffs or privatization of services on future mayors and councils who might face leaner budget circumstances.

The average municipal employee in Houston is paid about $37,000 annually, according to the city, a figure that increases to $59,000 with benefits such as vacation time, pension contributions and health insurance.

But the union last week focused on the lowest-paid workers, the laborers, data entry clerks and other entry-level positions that are paid less then $10 per hour. The union also praised the police department’s recent effort to pay all civilian employees a $20,000 annual salary.

I don’t necessarily have an issue with performance based raises, as long as the criteria for getting them is well understood. But I think starting the pay scale somewhere north of $20K per year is a reasonable thing to ask. We can argue about what a “living wage” means, but I hope we all agree that under $10 and hour ain’t it.


Texas blog roundup for the week of October 29

Here’s your Halloween eve blog roundup. Nothing scary about it, so go ahead and click on for more.


Houston TexBlog PAC fundraiser a success

I am pleased to report that our Houston TexBlog PAC fundraiser, at the lovely home of David Mincberg and Lainie Gordon, was a big success. By my count, we had about fifty people, and a whole lot of energy and enthusiasm for next year’s election. Rep. Senfronia Thompson, the next Speaker of the Texas House, addressed the crowd and spoke about all the reasons why it’s important to change the direction of our government – from CHIP to proper funding for the schools to inclusiveness and good stewardship of our state’s resources, she made the case clearly.

I was more than a bit nervous about this, having never attempted to organize anything like it, but the event exceeded my expectations. We raised some money, but as importantly we raised some hope. We’ll need as much of the latter as the former next year. You can still help with each by making a contribution to help us take back the House, and by getting involved early and often with the campaigns that will do it.

Some pictures from the event are here. Since Tiffany says there’s never a picture of me on this site, here’s one for her (which she took, I might add):

After Rep. Thompson is sworn in as our new Speaker in 2009, I’m going to print that out and ask her to sign it for me.

Among the many people who were there to lend their moral and financial support were State Sen. Mario Gallegos; State Reps. Thompson, Garnet Coleman, Hubert Vo, and Ellen Cohen; Judge Susan Criss; Judge Ruben Guerrero; Council Member Melissa Noriega; the Hon. Chris Bell; the Hon. Sue Schechter; champion debate teacher and former Congressional candidate Jim Henley; former State Rep. and current candidate for Travis County Tax Assessor Glen Maxey; candidates for State Rep. Armando Walle, Kristi Thibaut, and Ginny McDavid; judicial candidates Leslie Taylor, Larry Weiman, Mike Engelhart, David Melasky, and Fred Cook; District Clerk candidate Loren Jackson; and Harris County Department of Education candidate Debbie Kerner. I’ve probably overlooked someone, and if so I sincerely apologize for the lapse in my memory.

My thanks to everyone who attended. When we have the next one, be sure you don’t miss out.

UPDATE: Stace has more.

Endorsement watch: HCCS trustees

The Chron makes its recommendations for the two contested HCCS Trustee races.

District 1, Kevin J. Hoffman — In this position representing northside constituents, the best choice is Hoffman, a longtime civic activist and energy industry analyst who is president of the Near Northside Super Neighborhood Council No. 51. In advance of the extension of Metro light rail to HCCS’s Northeast College at Northline Mall, Hoffman wants to expand the range of courses offered to students there. In order to combat high dropout rates in northside high schools, he advocates creating more on-site, dual enrollment programs to allow students to take college courses before they graduate.

His opponent is HCCS Vice Chair Yolanda Navarro Flores. An Asian-American college employee complained that the trustee made discriminatory comments about her ability to supervise the district’s program in Mexico because of her ethnicity. Although Flores denied making such statements, the district settled the matter by promoting the employee and paying her $40,000.

District 7, Neeta Sane — In this open seat representing southern zones of HCCS, the superior candidate is Neeta Sane, operator of a software consulting company. Sane wants to use her background as an entrepreneur to build stronger partnerships between the community college and local businesses, while tailoring course offerings to the growing needs of a diverse student population.

Sane promises to work for consensus on a board often fractured in the recent past by infighting and a tendency to meddle inappropriately in personnel and other administrative affairs.

“With all the squabbling that I’ve heard from newspapers,” Sane said, “I think we need to build positive relationships and work as a team.”

I’d have to go back and do some reasearch, but it strikes me as remarkable that they called out Flores in their endorsement of Hoffman. Off the top of my head, I can’t recall a similar case. Far as I can tell, they usually just say things about the person they’re endorsing and leave it at that. Am I misremembering?

The HISD bond opposition makes its case

The HISD bond opponents get a big story in today’s Chron.

African-American political and religious leaders have been on the front lines opposing HISD’s proposed bond package, which, if approved, would build 24 new campuses and renovate 134 others. It also would consolidate several historically black campuses.

While churches and other nonprofit organizations are prohibited from campaigning on behalf of politicians, they are allowed to take stances on issues and bond referendums, said Robert Boston, a spokesman for Americans United for Separation of Church and State

Pastors at the churches on Sunday’s route said they were happy to pause from prayer and song to let members of Concerned Citizens For School Equality, the political action committee opposing the bond, speak to their congregations.

”They’re on a bus. They’re doing it old-school style,” said the Rev. Dewayne Cook, pastor of the Greater Pleasant Grove Baptist Church.

For what it’s worth, Marc Campos notes that turnout at early voting sites in African American neighborhoods is running much higher than at those in Latino areas. We know that the opposition to the bond is not monolithic, but that’s something to keep in mind.

At Windsor Village United Methodist Church, hundreds of parishioners stood and applauded when the Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell spoke against the bond. It is not a race issue or a class issue, just a matter of what is best for children, he said.

Caldwell told parishioners to ignore HISD’s argument that voting down the bond would delay construction and much-needed repairs by years.

“It can come back next year, y’all. We can vote again on this in May ’08,” he said. “Don’t let anyone tell you anything different.”

Can we get a judge’s ruling on this, please? I’ve got HISD people saying if the bond gets voted down we can’t do another one for four (or five) years, and here we have Kirbyjon Caldwell saying if it goes down we can try again next May. One of these statements (possibly both) is wrong, and each side has some self-interest in making it. Can someone please point me towards a relevant statute so we can clear this up once and for all? Thanks.

HISD trustee Larry Marshall, an avid supporter of the bond, said he was not worried by the opponents’ Sunday effort.

“That’s the beauty of this country. You have the right to disagree,” he said. “I think there will be more folks from the pews voting for this issue than voting against it. I’m optimistic.”

I think it passes by a slim margin. What do you think?

Early voting: Week two

So have you voted yet? Early voting totals so far (PDF) aren’t very impressive, though I haven’t attempted a comparison to previous years so I can’t really say for certain how we’re doing. I can say, as I did yesterday, that it wasn’t very busy at the Multi Service Center on West Gray on Friday. So have you voted yet? If not, what are you waiting for? If it’s more recommendations on how to vote on all the ballot propositions, Gary Denton has a nice roundup, while Muse has a straightforward recommendation. Perhaps those will help.

If it’s inspiration you need, here you go:

There you go.

Monster Mash and Fall Festival

The following is from an email sent out by State Rep. Jessica Farrar:

Halloween is right around the corner. That means kids of all ages will be dressing up and looking to have fun with family and friends this Wednesday evening. Unfortunately, it is not always safe for our children to be out knocking on doors and trick-or-treating, so we have to come up with alternatives that still allow them to take part in this great holiday.

That is why I am happy to announce that I, along with the Houston Parks and Recreation Department and Latinas on the Rise, will be hosting the 6th Annual Monster Mash at Moody Park (3725 Fulton) and the 1st Annual Fall Festival at Proctor Plaza Park (803 W. Temple). Both parties are scheduled from 6:00 P.M.-9:00 P.M. on Wednesday, October 31, 2007. These two simultaneous events are meant to serve as SAFE, FUN, and FREE options for the children and families in our community on Halloween night. We’ll have music, games, food, candy, a haunted house, facepainting, and costume contests for everyone that comes out.

BUT WE NEED YOUR HELP TO MAKE THIS HAPPEN. We need more community volunteers to help us with the Monster Mash and the Fall Festival. We could use your help at either of our events at the following times, even if it’s just for an hour or two:

* Tuesday, October 30th, 5:00 P.M.-9:00P.M. (Initial haunted house set-up)
* Wednesday, October 31st, 10:00 A.M.-5:30 P.M. (Finish haunted houses and set-up for rest of parties)
* Wednesday, October 31st, 5:30 P.M.-9:00 P.M. (Volunteer during parties)
* Wednesday, October 31st, 9:00 P.M.-10:30 P.M. (Clean-up)

If you are interested in helping out, please contact Lillian Ortiz in my office at [email protected] or at 713-691-6912.

Halloween is a bit too busy around my house for me to take part in this, but if you can help, or if you want to attend, please do so. Thanks.

Art Hall for Railroad Commissioner

Meet former San Antonio City Council member Art Hall, who is planning to run for Railroad Commissioner against incumbent Michael Williams.

Hall, born in Hempstead, Texas, and raised in Lubbock, represented San Antonio’s District 8 for two terms. He was the youngest person to represent the district and the first African-American council member elected outside of the city’s East Side. Hall said he was an advocate for environmental issues as a city councilman and does not plan to shift his priorities.

“I’ve been an advocate for water quality issues and energy conservation issues in San Antonio,” he said. “It was a natural fit for me.”

Hall said the district he represented is a Republican-majority district, proving he has the ability to work with people of different political ideologies to serve his constituents.

“The experience of having…been elected in a Republican district and the potential to work with either a woman, a Hispanic or an African-American on the Railroad Commission is something that I would embrace,” Hall said.

Hall acknowledges running as an African-American Democrat in a statewide election may be an uphill battle, but he is confident his experience and his platform will draw voters toward his side.

“For some people it will be something that they will support,” he said. “In my district, I’ve had people slam the door in my face, so you’re going to expect some reaction from both sides…I think for the most part, you’ll have some open-minded folks that will like what they see. I’m a realist. I know that people are going to be scared and vote against that possibility. Our goal is to make sure that we focus on the issues and we encourage people that are like-minded, whether it be partisan or otherwise, to go out and vote.”

Hall cites the fact that 30 percent of Texas Republicans do not vote straight ticket as proof it is possible to bring his progressive ideology to the commission. He acknowledges that he has worked hard to obtain his success, but said he still holds the same values that helped him achieve it.

“Values are something that are deep within a person,” he said. “I’d like to continue to be down to earth and focus in on the grassroots issues and values. I don’t think I’ll ever lose that.”

I like what I’m hearing so far. As I said before, I know that Dale Henry has some passionate supporters, but I’m going to need to see some evidence that he’ll run a more visible campaign before I let go of the skepticism about a repeat performance by him that I currently have. No matter what, I think it’s a great and encouraging sign that Democrats, especially young and ambitious Democrats like Art Hall, are looking at statewide runs next year. Link via The Walker Report.

Endorsement watch:

Here’s your slate of transit-friendly candidates, according to

The RichmondRail political action committee (RRail GPAC) has endorsed the following candidates for Houston City Council and Controller. These candidates have told the committee that

* they will support the Richmond-to-Cummins alignment for the University light rail line if chosen by the METRO board, and
* they have pledged to work with the City and METRO to make the resulting street as attractive and pedestrian-friendly as possible.

Candidate endorsements for 2007 City of Houston elections
City Controller: Annise Parker
City Council, At-Large Position 1: Peter Brown
City Council, At-Large Position 2: Sue Lovell
City Council, At-Large Position 3: Melissa Noriega
City Council, At-Large Position 4: no endorsement
City Council, At-Large Position 5: Jolanda Jones
City Council, At-Large Position 5: Joe Trevino
City Council, District A: no endorsement
City Council, District B: Kenneth Perkins
City Council, District C: Anne Clutterbuck
City Council, District C: Alfred Molison
City Council, District D: Wanda Adams
City Council, District D: Keith Caldwell
City Council, District E: William Williams
City Council, District F: M.J. Khan
City Council, District G: no endorsement
City Council, District H: Adrian Garcia
City Council, District I: no endorsement

Surveys were sent to all candidates running in the November 6 City of Houston elections. Candidates were asked the following questions:

* Do you support Rail on Richmond from Main to Cummins?
* Will you vote to approve the franchise agreements necessary to allow for the construction of rail on Richmond from Main to Cummins?
* Will you work for, and vote to fund, such improvements along Richmond Avenue in order to make our new light rail system truly neighborhood and pedestrian friendly?
* Will you partner with Metro and the Community to develop meaningful programs to mitigate the negative impacts of the light rail projects?

RRail GPAC supports all candidates whose responses were in alignment with the committee.

I asked why there were no endorsements in either the Mayor’s race or in At Large #4, and was told that it was due to a lack of response to the survey; the Mayor’s office told them they are not doing candidate questionnaires this year because they got so many of them. So there you have it.

Construction near where I work

Via Swamplot, I learn about two big construction projects going on near where I work. First, at OST and Kirby, a short walk from my office:

On Old Spanish Trail at Kirby, where Target and Garden Ridge used to be, Simmons Vedder is ready to go with this exciting version of a retail-and-residences mix. They company is leasing the land back from the Texas General Land Office.

Yes, that’s three stories of apartments above a brand new strip center facing O.S.T. No need for fake towers at the corners on this one!

I’ve complained quite a bit about the lack of good lunch options in the immediate vicinity of my workplace. Hopefully, that strip center will include someplace worthwhile to eat.

Swamplot also links to this Houston Business Journal story, which answers a question I’ve had about another large project farther east on OST.

[Simmons Vedder] broke ground in the first quarter of 2007 on Equinox, an 8.4-acre, upscale apartment complex at Old Spanish Trail at Almeda, also near the Medical Center. The project’s 304-unit first phase will be ready by mid-year 2008. Phase 2, with about 300 units, will likely start in summer 2008.

The total development cost for Equinox is about $67 million, [Simmons Vedder partner Rick] Craig says.

Simmons Vedder wanted to build near the Texas Medical Center because the considerable amount of commercial construction under way in the area is expected to generate a substantial number of additional jobs.

“It’s just a huge amount of activity, just massive,” Craig says. “We think we’ll have a lot of people associated with the medical profession who will want to live there to be close to work.”

Both of these projects (the one at Kirby is also a SV property) are within walking distance of the Smithlands light rail stop, too. A longish walk from Almeda, I admit – a bit less than a mile – but a doable one. Some friends of mine who lived in the apartments on OST on the other side of Almeda and who were Texans season ticket holders used to walk to the games at Reliant from there. Given the massive amounts of traffic at the stadium on Sundays, it was about a wash, timewise. Obviously, walking to the train will be a more appealing option to the folks at Kirby, but it will be an option for the folks at Almeda, too. Point is, having that kind of access to the Medical Center will make these locations more attractive to folks who work there and are looking to live in town.


This is the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen on a football field, and I’m not just saying it because it involved my alma mater.

The story behind the play.

The Trinity Tigers executed a 15-lateral, “Mississippi Miracle” on the last play Saturday afternoon to score the winning touchdown, stunning the Millsaps Majors 28-24 on the road to stay alive in the chase for the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference title.

The play that covered 60 yards was recorded in official statistics as a 44-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Blake Barmore to wide receiver Riley Curry.

But the Tigers, battling the defending conference champions in Jackson, Miss., will always remember it as more than that.

“It was the most remarkable play I’ve ever seen in college football,” Trinity coach Steve Mohr said in a telephone interview.


Junior receiver Shawn Thompson caught a pass over the middle from Barmore at the Millsaps 44 and started a series of laterals.

It ended with Curry picking up the final lateral off the turf and running for the score, denying what would have been a conference-title clinching victory for the Majors.

“As soon as I saw (Curry) in the end zone, I fell down and started crying,” Barmore said. “I’m kind of a big baby.”


What made the victory so sweet for Trinity players was that it unfolded at Harper Davis Field, where they lost 34-12 last year and were forced to watch the Majors celebrate an SCAC title.

This time, Trinity (7-1, 4-1) did the celebrating, with players piling on Curry in the end zone. The victory gave the Tigers an opportunity to control their own destiny for the SCAC championship. Millsaps (6-2, 5-1) can only hope that Trinity loses one of its final two games.

If both win out, the Tigers would hold the tiebreaker for the SCAC’s automatic bid to the Division III playoffs.

Woo hoo! Go Tigers! Thanks to Chad Orzel for the heads up.

Endorsement watch: The HISD bond referendum

The Chron comes out in favor of the HISD bond referendum.

This bond issue has drawn heated criticism over the manner in which district officials presented the package. Instead of soliciting community input regarding needed school improvements, the board of trustees approved the package and Superintendent Abelardo Saavedra presented it to the public as a finished product.

Since then, Saavedra has worked hard to persuade various factions that the construction projects, which were selected after a facilities assessment by an independent firm, are necessary for safety, worthwhile and fairly distributed throughout the district. Many major stakeholders, including the Greater Houston Partnership, have endorsed the bonds. Other groups, discounting the crying need for building repair and replacement, continue to oppose them.

Having given little consideration to public opinion beforehand, the superintendent found he had some mistakes to correct: He abandoned a poorly thought-out plan for prekindergarten through eighth grade campuses in the Fifth Ward and cut the number of schools to be consolidated. To his credit, Saavedra said he would spend more time talking with the community about ways to improve individual schools’ academic programs.

All the controversy has placed approval of the bonds at risk, particularly if turnout is low. Surely, district officials now better understand the importance of fostering trust among all the district’s constituents before going to taxpayers for bonding authority. District administrators, education professionals, the business community, parents and community leaders have a duty to work together to provide students a solid educational foundation and to solve some of HISD’s academic failures, including its high dropout rate.

Many who disagree with the bond proposal are justifiably upset that their schools have been given short shrift. This bond issue, legally limited to capital improvements, is necessary to ensure that HISD children have safe, functional classrooms equipped with up-to-date technology.

Voting down this bond issue will not give any student a better education. The plan, which includes building 24 schools and renovating 134 others, is needed to produce graduates prepared for a 21st century economy.

No real surprise. I haven’t checked the early voting turnout stats yet, so I don’t have a feel for whether that may be an issue for the referendum. It was mighty quiet at the West Gray center when Tiffany and I cast our ballots on Friday, however. Have you voted yet?

Light rail funding

Much as I like the decision by Metro to go all light rail all the time, it doesn’t come without risk. Federal funding is not guaranteed, so we may be back where we started, when the BRT decision was first made.

Changes in federal rules for evaluating transit projects have improved the cost-effectiveness scores for Metro’s planned North and Southeast lines above the minimum levels for funding, Metro President and CEO Frank Wilson announced last week.

As a result, he said, Metro no longer will need to resort to the less expensive alternative of Bus Rapid Transit and can build the light rail that voters approved and were promised.

But because the rule changes affect all applicants, the competitive position of Metro’s projects might not improve. If there were not enough federal dollars for so-called New Starts projects to fund them all, some would not make the cut.

Ron Fisher, director of project planning at the Federal Transit Administration, said the annual sum for New Starts has held steady at near $1.5 billion for several years.

“We can’t say what will happen in the future,” Fisher said. “The history is that once you have an acceptable rating, you are very likely to get funding.”


Federal funding is not an issue for the Uptown and East End lines, which Metro plans to pay for itself, backed by booming sales tax revenue. The University line always had the kind of ridership and cost projections to qualify for federal dollars, Metro says.

Among the FTA rule changes, Metro says, is a willingness to consider “rail bias” — that some people will ride rail and not buses even if cost and travel times are identical.

A second change, according to Slaughter, is that Metro may now forecast ridership in light of local transportation projects planned through 2035, vastly extending the previous planning horizon of 2011.

That means that the two lines would be evaluated as parts of a coordinated system that would include five light rail lines and several planned commuter rail lines, Slaughter said.

The third change was not an FTA rule, she said.

“We were able to show the Houston-Galveston Area Council that there were zones along corridors where population and employment will be greater than what they had estimated,” Slaughter said.

Slaughter said the FTA will get updated proposals Nov. 9.

I’ll feel better when the money is in hand. It all sounds good, but as long as certain Congressmen have it in for Metro, all bets are off.

On a side note, it would be nice to hear more about what projects Metro is kicking around for 2035. One thing I hope they’re looking at is all the dense development going up along and near Washington Avenue. I think that would make an excellent corridor for a rail line, connecting to Main Street on the east, the Uptown line on the west, and perhaps providing access to Memorial Park in between. I’m sure it’d be 20 years off if it’s even a twinkle in Frank Wilson’s eye now, but I have hope anyway.

Weekend Noriega update

Just a pair of recent articles on Rick Noriega since the announcement that Mikal Watts was dropping out of the Senate race.

Team Noriega, from the DMN.

Rick Noriega, the sole Democratic contender to challenge U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, is more than committed to politics. He’s married to it.

The Army lieutenant colonel and state representative from Houston’s East End was set to fight San Antonio plaintiffs lawyer Mikal Watts in the March primary, in what would have been an expensive and close fight.

That changed this week when Mr. Watts stepped out of the contest, saying that the campaign was taking a toll on his family. No other candidates have announced that they’re interested in the Democratic primary, though the filing deadline isn’t until January.

Family is a familiar reason given by politicos to step down from the campaign stump, but politics has characterized the Noriega family’s lives together for more than 20 years.

While he readies the jets for his campaign, his wife, Melissa Noriega, is gearing up for re-election in a couple of weeks to the at-large Houston City Council seat she won in July.

“We’re just doing what we believe we’re supposed to be doing,” Mr. Noriega said.

With his-and-hers campaign signs on their cars and an overflowing schedule of politicking interrupting family dinner time with their two sons, the Noriegas are ready for a crazy and trying year.

“We like this,” Ms. Noriega said. “It’s what we do.”

Democrats might bank on Noriega, from the Statesman’s editorial board blog.

There are any number of issues that next year’s Senate candidates should speak to: The war in Iraq and against Islamic extremists; paying for medical service in general and for children in particular; immigration and border walls; what, if anything, to do about global warming; expiring tax cuts and federal spending; and more.

And the Democratic candidate likely will want to argue this point: With Democrats likely to retain their Senate majority, and perhaps capture the White House, wouldn’t Texas benefit from having a Democratic senator? It’s safe to assume that some Texas business leaders will ponder that question, too.


Noriega is a serious candidate: He’s 49 years old, has a master’s degree in public administration from Harvard University; has served as a lieutenant colonel in the Texas National Guard and is a veteran of service in Afghanistan; and has been a state representative since 1998. He’s married and has two sons.

And there’s this: At a time when feelings about immigration – legal or otherwise, for and against – are running hot, Noriega, a native of Houston, is a proud Hispanic Texan. That could work for him by bringing to the ballot box Hispanic voters who might otherwise ignore the election, and against him by motivating some voters to oppose him because they think he would be soft on illegal immigration.


Cornyn, supposedly, is weaker than one might expect because of his close identification with President Bush. And he’s been working hard in recent weeks to explain that his vote against the State Children’s Health Insurance Program was not a vote against health care for kids. Making that point stick wasn’t helped by the fact that his fellow Texas Republican senator, Kay Bailey Hutchison, voted for the bill, which was vetoed by Bush.

I think we’ll be hearing about that a few more times between now and next November. It’s what Cornyn is all about. Perhaps in 2008, as the Bush era finally draws to a close, we’ll be ready to fully close the door on it.

Walle and Gutierrez

Couple of Democratic campaigns got kicked off this week, both of which might have a positive impact on the House Speakership next year. First, on Wednesday, Armando Walle officially began his campaign to oust Craddick D Kevin Bailey in HD140. Muse attended and filed a report, with pictures. And read this Observer blog post on the race if you haven’t already.

And on Saturday, Roland Gutierrez made his bid for HD119, now occupied by retiring Craddick D Robert Puente, official.

Gutierrez, 37, is the only announced candidate in next March’s Democratic Party primary for the District 119 slot that Puente — the dean of the Bexar County legislative delegation — has held for 16 years. The district covers a vast stretch of south and east Bexar County and is considered overwhelmingly Democratic.

Because of San Antonio’s term limits, Gutierrez would have to leave the council at the end of his second two-year term in 2009. But he will depart earlier — in mid-December — because of a state law that will require him to resign from his South Side council seat when he files for the House race.

Gutierrez said Puente’s decision not to run again “crystallized things for me, but I had been heavily leaning towards running for about two months before” Puente announced earlier this month that he would not seek re-election.

I cannot imagine that Gutierrez will get a free run at this seat. I figure Team Craddick will try to recruit someone who’ll play ball with them. Gutierrez ought to be a favorite to win – certainly, he should have an easier time with an open seat. Both he and Walle represent some new blood that the Lege could use. I’ll be rooting for both of them.

Anti-Bissonnet high rise ordinance proposed

In a sense, this is surprising, and in a sense, it’s not.

Mayor Bill White’s administration has proposed an ordinance that could require developers to reduce the size of a planned high-rise building that’s ignited a bitter dispute over what’s appropriate to develop in Houston.

The ordinance, distributed to City Council members Tuesday, could be on the council’s agenda next week — an unusually fast timetable for a new regulatory law in Houston. Such measures typically take months to work their way through the city bureaucracy.

White acknowledged that the ordinance was drafted in response to a controversial high-rise planned near Rice University that has not yet received a building permit. Residents of the adjoining Southampton and Boulevard Oaks neighborhoods hired a prominent attorney and staged a street protest against the project.

The ordinance would require traffic impact studies of projects on two-lane, two-way streets that include at least 100 dwelling units and increase density 100 percent or more. This description fits the 23-story building that developers Kevin Kirton and Matthew Morgan of Houston-based Buckhead Investment Partners want to build at 1717 Bissonnet.

The measure would give the public works director broad discretion to require steps to ease traffic problems involved. In the case of the Bissonnet project, White said, reducing the building’s size would be the most logical solution.

“The development on Bissonnet that will dump more than 2,000 (daily) trips onto a two-lane, two-way street exposed a loophole” in city regulations, White said, explaining why he put the ordinance on such a fast track.


The ordinance would authorize the public works director to use the traffic impact analysis as well as his “independent judgment” to determine whether the project would cause excessive impact on traffic. It would be the first time the city has required traffic impact studies of new developments.

If the director finds that the project would worsen traffic congestion, he could require any corrective action he deemed appropriate. The developers could appeal to the city Planning Commission.

Neighborhood leaders and the district councilwoman, Anne Clutterbuck, praised the ordinance Friday. Clutterbuck said it was a first step toward a broader traffic impact ordinance that would apply to other types of developments.

It’s surprising to see action being taken as swiftly and decisively on this. This sort of regulation on development just doesn’t happen in that fashion in Houston. It’s always been slow and incremental. On the other hand, given the neighborhood affected and the outcry they’ve been able to generate, it’s not surprising at all.

As I’ve said before, if this leads to a more comprehensive review of city ordinances on development, then it’s a worthwhile exercise regardless of the outcome in this particular case. I just hope we don’t limit the scope to just traffic flow, which I think in this case may be overstated anyway. Things like parking, sewage and drainage are important, too – more so, in many cases. Rethinking our implementation of form-based planning, so that projects are more appropriate for the neighborhoods they’re in, would be a big step forward. I’ll be very interested to see how this plays out. Tory has some related commentary.

Emmett: No lawsuit yet

You may recall that passions got so enflamed during the debate over the token tax cut that County Judge Ed Emmett threatened to file a lawsuit against Charles Bacarisse for wantonly misrepresenting his position, or something like that. It would now appear that cooler heads may be prevailing.

“I have not filed,” Emmett said this week. “We’ll wait and see what his minions continue to say.”

Emmett earlier this month threatened to sue Bacarisse because the former district clerk’s campaign mailed a flier that said Emmett “has not once publicly called for property tax relief.”

“You can put up with a lot in politics,” Emmett said then, “but he can’t get away with falsely stating my position. It’s not a question of being thin-skinned. You cannot let somebody constantly misstate your position.”

This week, Emmett said that his problem was with Bacarisse’s “minions,” referring to political consultants Jim McGrath and Chris Begala, who are helping run Bacarisse’s campaign.

How does one get to have a minion, anyway? I’ve always wanted one.

My guess here is that Emmett has since had a chance to talk to his attorney, who told him the idea of suing was ridiculous. I’ll bet this is the last we ever hear of it. Too bad for those of us in the wiseass business, but probably better for the county’s business.

Red light camera money

What to do, what to do…

Red light cameras installed at 50 intersections throughout the city have generated more than $6 million for the city since the program was launched last fall, Houston Police Chief Harold Hurtt said Thursday.

HPD officials are now deciding how to spend some of the money.

About $25,000 will be spent on an evaluation of the camera program by Rice University and the Texas Transportation Institute.

“They are going to be looking at everything, including where (the cameras) are placed,” said Executive Assistant Chief Martha Montalvo, who supervises the program.

The evaluation will examine accidents at intersections where cameras have been mounted, compared with surrounding areas, officials said.

The results from the review of the first 20 intersections are expected by the end of January, Montalvo said.

As you know, I’m very interested in what that review will say. It’s taking longer than I would have liked, but as long as it’s coming and there’s a delivery date, then I’m okay.

Almost $1 million will go toward equipment upgrades and safety programs aimed at troubled youth, and $635,000 to replace aging video cameras in patrol cars.

Hurtt also wants to buy three vehicles — at $80,000 each — that can be used to test a driver’s blood-alcohol level at the scene.

Another item on the list is $229,000 to send extra officers to patrol school zones and areas where HPD has received complaints about speeders.

Assuming each of the numbers cited in this story represents a separate expense and there’s no overlap, we’re talking about a little more than two of the six million dollars. It would be nice to have a full accounting of how this money does get spent; even better if we know how it’s intended to be spent beforehand.

Prop 15 opposition ramps up

It was reported earlier that there was no organized opposition to Proposition 15. Now it appears that some has emerged.

A well-known social conservative is urging Texans to oppose a $3 billion bond proposal for cancer research, warning the money could be used for controversial embryonic stem cell testing.

Cathie Adams, president of the Texas Eagle Forum, cautioned fellow Republicans in an e-mail this week that the borrowed money — $300 million annually over 10 years — might not stay in Texas and could be used for research on human embryos.

“And because legislators failed to pass a prohibition to embryonic stem cell research … the money could be used to take lives, rather than to save lives,” she wrote.

Backers of Proposition 15 on the Nov. 6 ballot said they think Adams’ fears are politically unfounded, although some agree that Texas law does not explicitly forbid using state money for embryonic stem cell research.


Perry spokeswoman Krista Moody pointed out that the governor is a strong advocate of Proposition 15 but “staunchly opposes” embryonic stem cell research.

Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Speaker Tom Craddick will each appoint three voting members to an oversight committee and a scientific research and prevention committee in charge of granting cancer research funds, she said, noting these powers will serve as checks and balances regarding the use of Proposition 15 funds.

“Although there is no statutory language that prohibits dedicating state funds, there’s also no statutory language that allows embryonic stem cell research,” she said, concluding there could be “serious liability” in a civil court for a scientist conducting embryonic stem cell research with Texas tax dollars.

Seems unlikely in the extreme to me, as things stand, that the oversight committee is going to fund stem cell research. I suppose it’s possible that a future Lege could pave a path for that (they could also pass the anti-stem cell legislation that Adams wants), and then some of this money could be used for it at that time. I do have to wonder why this is just being brought up now – methinks the anti-Prop 15 folks, who are already a tad bit touchy about their image, might be getting a little desperate.

Be that as it may, here’s a question for you. What happens if a few years down the line embryonic stem cells are definitively shown to have cancer-curing properties? The research is going on, here and elsewhere, whether the Eagle Forum likes it or not, after all. It’s one thing to oppose a theoretical benefit, or a bond measure, it’s another thing to look at a cancer victim and say that a bunch of stem cells have more value than they do. I think the opposition falls apart at that point, and that will be fine by me. We’ll see.

From the Unintended Consequences Department

Border crackdown leads to more drug smuggling. Quelle irony, no?

As tighter security makes crossing the border trickier and more hazardous, the traditional mom-and-pop operations in Mexico that used to ferry people across have been replaced by larger, more-professional criminal gangs, often with ties to the illegal-drug trade.

U.S. officials are reporting increased violence along the border, including gunfights between rival smuggling gangs, gangs hijacking each others’ customers en route to U.S. destinations and the rape or assault of migrants.

Special Agent Alonzo Pena, chief investigator for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Arizona, says as the border gets harder to cross, fees to smugglers have increased from next to nothing to as much as $6,000 a head, making the smuggling business an attractive new market for drug gangs.

“It’s one of the unintended consequences of sealing the border,” Mr. Pena says.

Border Patrol agents have noticed that smaller-scale smugglers on the Mexican side are being replaced by more-sophisticated ones who appear to have ties to Mexico’s cocaine cartels. Smugglers are carrying higher-caliber weapons and sometimes dress in camouflage uniforms and use military tactics to evade capture.

“Drug cartels have more resources,” explains Border Patrol agent Martin Hernandez, now in his fifth year monitoring the busy corridor between El Paso and Ciudad Juarez, in the Mexican state of Chihuahua.


The crackdown, together with a slower U.S. economy, has helped stanch the flow of illegal crossers in several ways. The higher risk of getting caught and higher cost of crossing has prompted many illegal workers in the U.S. to stay put rather than return home every year to do things like celebrate Christmas with their families. For those who still want to cross, the higher risk means putting their lives in the hands of more-organized criminal groups with the means to get them through.

Oddly enough, the front page story about a change in policy from catch-and-release to prosecuting illegal border crossers as part of a wider border crackdown didn’t make any mention of this side effect. Seems a pretty important omission to me.

Here’s a crazy idea. Why don’t we, instead of foolishly trying to “seal the border”, make it easier to enter the country legally, both for short term visits and long term path-to-citizenship residencies? Seems to me that would greatly reduce the number of illegal crossings for any reason, would satisfy the need for labor while reducing the ability to mistreat immigrant workers (since far fewer of them would be undocumented), and might just restore a teeny bit of our reputation as a shining beacon for the yearning-to-breathe-free masses. Doesn’t this make, like, a whole lot more sense than trying to build a useless fence that will do way more harm than good? I’m just saying. Thanks to Grits for the link and its accompanying graphic.

Speaking of the stupid fence, it seems the government can’t even pay landowners for access to their property so they can do surveying for it.

Opponents of the fence refused federal workers access to their land last month in South Texas. About the same time, the government offered to pay some property owners $3,000 in exchange for permission to conduct surveys. Congress has authorized $1.2 billion to build 700 miles of fencing.

After many of them balked at the money on principle, the government abandoned the plan.

“I think it’s blood money, bribery,” said Brownsville Mayor Patricio M. Ahumada Jr.

The proposal to build 370 miles of steel fence is widely opposed in the Rio Grande Valley, the most heavily populated part of the Texas-Mexico border and a region with an economy and culture wed to cross-border traffic.

The payments were being offered in a region where the median family income is about $30,000. But instead of welcoming the windfall, many residents were outraged when federal officials described the plan.

Ahumada, whose border city has already denied fence-planners access to city property, said the payments were insulting and disingenuous.

“The federal government is doing all it can to get access,” Ahumada said.


Noel Benavides, a city councilman and business owner in Roma, said the payments would cloud the issue.

“If this was really something that was going to be beneficial to the whole community and the whole nation, I would be the first person to say, ‘My friend, you can go in there and do what you need to do,’ ” Benavides said. “It’s going to be a waste of time. It’s not going to stop illegal immigrants.”


Ahumada said the issue was also a matter of historical and patriotic pride.

“You are talking about land that Texans and Americans shed blood for to keep,” he said. “And now they are trying to move the border further north (of the river) than established by treaty.”

Yeah, well, forget the Alamo. History isn’t what it used to be.

Urban League endorses HISD bond

One more endorsement for the HISD bond referencum.

The Houston Area Urban League, an advocacy group for blacks, announced today its endorsement of the Houston school district’s $805 million bond proposal.

The league’s support — which comes two weeks before Election Day — contrasts with the position of the city’s other large civil-rights group, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

“The Houston Area Urban League strongly believes in bettering our children’s future through education,” Sylvia Brooks, the urban league’s president and chief executive officer, said in a statement. “In order to do this, we must ensure that our children have the appropriate educational facilities.”

A bit late in the game, as early voting is on Day Five, but better late than never.