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July 27th, 2015:

Interview with CM Mike Laster

Mike Laster

Mike Laster

In addition to the two open District Council seats, there are several District Council members who have drawn opponents for November. I am going to focus on two of these races, with the first one being District J this week. Council Member Mike Laster has represented District J since its creation in 2011. An attorney and and founding Board Member of the Greater Sharpstown Management District (GSMD), CM Laster currently serves as Chair of the Housing, Sustainable Growth and Development Committee, and as a member of the Public Safety and the Transportation, Technology and Infrastructure Committees. He previously served in the City Attorney’s office in the Real Estate division. We had quite a few things to talk about:

You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2015 Election page.

UPDATE: Fixed the problem with the wrong file. Sorry about that.

Hall for all the haters

He is who we thought he was.

Dave Wilson

Dave Wilson

Houston mayoral candidate Ben Hall said Thursday he signed a petition seeking to define gender identity and prevent men “who perceive or express themselves as women” from entering women’s restrooms because he wants to protect the right to vote.

Hall’s press conference at his Montrose law firm comes three days after an LGBT blog reported that Hall signed the request, which it framed as “anti-gay.”

“I’m trying to correct the record about people who are mischaracterizing why we signed the petition. I want to make sure we change that narrative,” said Hall, who was accompanied by his wife. “We signed this petition because everybody has the right to vote, whether you like the outcome or not.”

Hall added that he “will protect all our citizens from illegal discrimination, gay or straight.”

Of this year’s crowded slate of mayoral contenders, Hall, the 2013 mayoral runner-up, is the most vocal opponent of the city’s equal rights ordinance, which bans discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, religion, disability, pregnancy, genetic information, and family, marital or military status.

A picture of Hall’s signature was posted to the HOUEquality Facebook page a few days ago; Hair Balls confirmed it was in fact Hall’s autograph. I think everyone would agree that the one sure beneficiary of Friday’s Supreme Court ruling is Hall, who is the one Mayoral candidate with any visibility who is full-on for repeal. He’s got Wilson and the Hotzes in his camp, and where else are these voters going to go? Bill King isn’t a HERO supporter, but I don’t see him lining up with the repeal forces, not if he wants business support. Oliver Pennington voted against HERO on Council, but he’s not in the race any more. Who else is there? As David Ortez reported, at least one fringe candidate is rabidly pro-repeal as well, but there’s a reason why fringe candidates are on the fringe. Hall is the choice of those who think that HERO was crammed down their throats, and who want very badly to stick it to Mayor Parker. And yes, that choice of words is quite deliberate.

Texas Central Railway gets some initial funding

They’ll need more than this, but it’s a start.

Texas Central Partners, which aims to build a bullet train between Texas’ two biggest cities, announced Wednesday they had raised $75 million in private investments in the company’s first round of fundraising.

That funds are intended to allow the ambitious $10 billion project to move forward from feasibility studies to development planning.

The company also hired a new CEO: Tim Keith, former CEO of RREEF/Deutsche Bank Infrastructure Investments.

“It’s an enormous boost for the project. The first capital to raise is the hardest to raise,” he said in an interview. “It’s a terrific day for me but it’s a historic day for the project and for Houston.”

[…]

The funds will help move to the second phase: development planning. Keith said the $75 million will be used to wrap up the environmental study, work with federal authorities to settle on rules for high-speed rail in Texas, grow the company with key hires, expand its consulting base and sponsor more ridership studies.

[…]

The $75 million raised is more than the company sought for the first round of investments.

While it allows the project to move forward, the funds are small change compared to the final $10 billion price tag. Keith says the rest will come through big private investment from private equity funds, large pension funds and large real estate and asset investors.

“It’s a big project, it’s a big idea, it has a big cost to build, but it will deliver lots of benefits to the state,” Keith said.

Glad to hear it. There’s still a long way to go and a lot of obstacles to clear, however.

Keith and his company have plenty of obstacles to overcome before the project becomes a reality. State and federal authorities are still evaluating the line. And organized opposition from rural Texans who farm and live in the large expanse between Dallas and Houston that nearly derailed the project during this year’s legislative session has not died down.

Many landowners oppose the fact that Texas Central is allowed to use eminent domain for the project. Company officials say they plan to work with residents and will only use eminent domain as a last resort, when a land deal simply can’t be reached.

But Kyle Workman, president of Texans Against High Speed Rail, said that eminent domain will have to be used in most cases.

“Because nobody wants to sell their land,” he said.

Remember, the opponents are still organizing even with the Lege not in session. TCR is going to need to make all the gains it can before 2017, to make it that much harder to put up obstacles for them. We’ll see how far this takes them.

BP settlement cash

Nice.

BagOfMoney

The city of Houston, Harris County and Metro netted $23 million in compensation from BP for revenue they could not collect in the wake of the company’s 2010 Gulf oil spill, officials announced Thursday.

Houston will pocket about $12.2 million from the costliest environmental lawsuit in U.S. history to cover hotel and sales tax shortfalls. The Metropolitan Transit Authority will receive more than $9.2 million for lost sales tax revenue, and Harris County will get $2.1 million for lost hotel occupancy tax revenues, officials announced in a joint statement.

However, expenses for the case and fees for two outside lawyers who represented the city, county and Metro will carve off nearly 40 percent of those totals.

Nearby communities and government entities, including the city of Galveston, Jefferson County, the city of Beaumont, and Orange Port Authority also are among the 511 entities that said the spill caused an economic shortfall.

The payouts are part of the $18.7 billion that BP agreed to pay earlier this month for damages and penalties resulting from the Deepwater Horizon spill – the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history.

[…]

Houston Mayor Annise Parker and Harris County Commissioners Steve Radack and Jack Morman said they were satisfied with the settlement. Commissioners Court has not yet determined how the county will split the money.

“Frankly, I wish we would have gotten more, but certainly it was a worthwhile lawsuit,” Radack said.

Several commissioners received a total of 1,700 identical emails from BP employees, via a server in United Arab Emirates, urging them not to pursue legal action against the company, according to Soard at the County Attorney’s office.

County Judge Ed Emmett, who voted in Commissioners Court against seeking damages, said, “I thought it was a stretch to say that we lost so much revenue because people didn’t rent hotel rooms here because of the BP spill.”

“Am I glad the county won? Sure. Would we have been part of the lawsuit if it had been just up to me? Probably not.”

He said he was disappointed the county would only to realize $1.3 million after the lawyers took their cut. Commissioner R. Jack Cagle had also voted against entering the lawsuit, in his case because he thought the county attorney could handle the case.

As to whether it was appropriate to seek damages, Janice Evans, spokeswoman for the mayor, said, “We raised the same exact issues as more than 500 other governmental entities and all parties have agreed to this, as has the court, so we would not characterize it as opportunist.”

Whether the amount that these three entities will receive is “enough” is not one I can answer, nor can I answer it for the 500 others involved in the litigation, not to mention BP itself. It’s something, and I’m quite sure it will be put to good use.