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Westpark zealots try to pull a fast one

Just yesterday, the Chron wrote an editorial about how everything was coming up roses and daffodils for Metro lately, thanks to some federal funding (with more in the pipeline) for the light rail expansion and a generally favorable political climate. So naturally, what do we see today but this article about a sneak attack in the Lege on the Universities line.

The proposal, which still faces an uphill battle in the final days of the legislative session, was quietly attached last week to a loosely related bill by House lawmakers.

“It effectively kills the light rail program,” said George Smalley, Metro’s vice president for communications and marketing.

The new restrictions, if enacted, would limit the agency’s eminent domain authority, needed to buy property for the rail lines, if a route differs from the 2003 referendum that authorized the light rail program.

The restrictions mirror the rhetoric of rail critics, who say the location of the controversial University Line down Richmond and Westpark doesn’t conform to the referendum.

“If you lose a line like the University Line because you lost the power of condemnation, then the whole thing is at grave risk,” Smalley said.


State Rep. Joe Pickett, who chairs the House Transportation Committee, said he added the new restrictions at the request of rail critics by amending another bill, which regulated fare enforcement by mass transit agencies.

The El Paso Democrat said they convinced him that the transit agency hadn’t complied with the referendum. He said he hadn’t talked with the agency, though, before adding the language.

At issue is whether it’s lawful to build a line partially on Richmond when the ballot described it as being on Westpark.

The agency says the largest share of the line would, in fact, be on Westpark, adding that the ballot referred to a general location, the details of which should be based on federally required cost and ridership studies. Those indicate that a segment should be on Richmond.

Pickett said he is open to changing the language.

“If … they intend to meet their promise that they made, then they shouldn’t have a problem,” he said. “It was pretty clear that there was a referendum that did state where (the line) was going, and we were just asked to ratify that.” The legislation came to light just as agency officials were hopeful that, after years of debate and uncertainty, they would have the funding and political support to move forward.

So once again, the people who lost the election and whose lawsuit is currently going nowhere have shown that they will do anything to overturn the will of the people and stop light rail in Houston. I’m amazed that they were able to influence Rep. Pickett, and appalled that he couldn’t have been bothered to at least ask Metro for a response. I’m sorry, but that’s just ignorant. Clearly, Rep. Pickett needs to hear from some people who are not anti-Metro crusaders. Feel free to give his office a call and tell him – politely! – that you support light rail in Houston, that you support Metro’s current expansion plans as they now stand, and that you oppose any effort by the Legislature to affect those plans. His Austin office number is (512) 463-0596 and his district office number is (915) 590-4349. If you do make a call, leave a comment here and tell us what kind of response you got. Thanks very much.

The bill in question is SB1263. Here’s the committee substitute version of the bill. The relevant text is the underlined section that begins “This subsection applies only to an authority created under Chapter 451, Transportation Code, that operates in an area in which the principal municipality has a population of 1.9 million or more.” You could mention that you oppose this amendment that’s been added to the committee substitute version of SB1263 when you call Pickett’s office.

By the way, there’s a real irony here in a sneak attack, made behind closed doors with no public input or notice, on an agency that’s often criticized for not operating in a transparent manner. I daresay some of the people who are behind this covert operation have been quoted in the Chronicle at one time or another berating Metro for not being more open about what it’s doing. And yet here they are, skulking through a back door, without the rest of us even having any idea who’s behind it. Way to go, y’all.

The good news is that Houston lawmakers are not going to take this lying down.

The bill had been planned for a local and consent calendar reserved for non-controversial or limited measures that draw little debate, perhaps on Wednesday. But the controversy appeared likely to force the measure to be considered like any other complex legislation.

With only a week left in the session, and with hundreds of bills in line for consideration, the bill might never get a vote.

Several lawmakers have also said they would fight any attempt to tie the agency’s hands.
“I’ve got my eye on it,” said state Rep. Wayne Smith, R-Baytown, who predicted that the bill wouldn’t survive in its current form.

State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, also planned to investigate the issue, saying that prohibiting the agency’s eminent domain powers “would prevent the common good.”

“I’ll get after it with all my might,” he said. “I’m a great supporter. Rail is a vital component of our future and our transportation system.”

That’s nice to hear. It would also be a good idea to call your own Rep and Senator and tell them you oppose Pickett’s amendment that removes Metro’s eminent domain power in the committee substitute for SB1263. Especially with all that’s going on right now in the House, let’s take nothing for granted.

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  1. Baby Snooks says:

    Sounds like some don’t like “tit for tat.”

    What people are fed up with are these “bait and switch” referendums with language meant to confuse the voters and/or a competing measure also with language meant to confuse the voters.

    As for eminent domain ask anyone who has lost a home or business to it what they think. Particularly about the fact they had to hire an attorney in order to get market value. One in particular who seems to have made quite a nice living off it. Ask the homeowners and businesss owners on Richmond facing condemnation under eminent domain what they think about it. On Richmond that most likely will become a two-lane street like Main Street. In a city where supposedly there is suddenly great concern about traffic impact.

    Sorry but some of us are calling asking them to support this. Some of us may ask if it’s too late to add another amendment dissolving Metro altogeher.

    The majority of people in Houston and Harris County wonder what they have to show for all the money Metro has wasted. So far it appears one rail line that serves very few and very unreliable bus lines for everyone else.

  2. TAN says:

    The same crowd that complains about traffic, spends way too much time away from their families sitting in their car, are now the ones fighting progress and mass transit solutions? Figures! Also opposing something positive just because you don’t like the people sponsoring it doesn’t make you right fellas. Help us move into the 21st century and add jobs to the tax base (this saves your taxes from being raised by the way)!

  3. Mike says:

    Baby Snooks,

    No doubt that eminent domain is not a happy prospect for those that face it. But why should we support legislation intended to handcuff one agency, Metro, when TxDOT and the feds routinely take land to build highways and local roads? Is there something more nefarious about taking the land to support mass transit? I don’t think so. If you want us to reconsider the application of eminent domain and compensation for landowners – fine – but this bill does not do that.

    And as for “all Metro has to show” for the last several years, I too am frustrated by the glacial implementation of the Metro solutions plan. But notice how quickly the ball has started rolling as the Obama administration has taken over and proposed a new budget. Give it time – we had 8 years of a completely incompetent White House that had no interest in funding transit projects. Now we have a White House that gets it. If you can wait another 5 years I think you’ll be happy with the progress of mass transit in Houston – 30 more miles of light rail and probably another 30+ of Quickline bus service.


  4. Baby Snooks says:

    But why should we support legislation intended to handcuff one agency, Metro, when TxDOT and the feds routinely take land to build highways and local roads? Is there something more nefarious about taking the land to support mass transit?

    Because Metro is not concerned with serving the needs of the public – it is concerned with the wants of the developers.

    And that is what is wrong with Metro and why Metro will never serve the needs of the public.

    It is without doubt one of the most corrupt “public” agencies we have.

  5. Dennis says:

    We’re waiting.

    Show us the evidence of all of that corruption, Baby Snooks.

  6. mark says:

    and txdot isn’t concerned with the needs and wants of developers? what color is the sky in your world?

  7. Baby Snooks says:

    Show us the evidence of all of that corruption, Baby Snooks.

    The Justice Department could send the board and half of our city and council officials, if not all of them, to prison and you are one of the ones who would still ask where the evidence was.

  8. mark says:

    and everyone knows there is absolutely NO corruption with highway contracts. why those people are as pure as the newly driven snow.