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Fort Worth

Hello, Motorola

Welcome to Texas.

Cellphone pioneer Motorola announced Wednesday that it’s opening a Texas manufacturing facility that will create 2,000 jobs and produce its new flagship device, Moto X, the first smartphone ever assembled in the U.S.

The company has already begun hiring for the Fort Worth plant. The site was most recently unoccupied but was once used by fellow phone manufacturer Nokia, meaning it was designed to produce mobile devices, said Will Moss, a spokesman for Motorola Mobility, which is owned by Google.

“It was a great facility in an ideal location,” said Moss, who said it will be an easy trip for Motorola engineering teams based in Chicago and Silicon Valley, and is also close to the company’s service and repair operations in Mexico.

The formal announcement came at AllThingsD’s D11 Conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., from Motorola CEO Dennis Woodside.

[…]

Moss said the Moto X will go on sale this summer. He said he could provide few details, citing priority secrets. He said the idea from the beginning was to bring manufacturing back to the U.S.

“It’s obviously our major market so, for us, having manufacturing here gets us much closer to our key customers and partners as well as our end users,” he said. “It makes for much leaner, more efficient operations.”

But Motorola will still have global manufacturing operations, including at factories in China and Brazil.

Motorola has always had a presence in Texas – I have a cousin that used to work for them in San Antonio some years ago – but bringing a manufacturing plant here, especially one that will be making their latest smartphone models, is a nice coup. Even better, as the story notes, Motorola came to this decision without being bribed by various incentives and tax giveaways. Rick Perry is claiming credit for it, of course, but it makes you wonder, if Texas is as dang good as he’s telling everyone it is, why we ever needed to throw money at businesses in order to steal them away from hellholes like New York and California.

Motorola isn’t the only company looking to move high-tech manufacturing back to the US. Part of that is the cost of overseas shipping outweighing the savings on outsourcing – foreign labor is getting more expensive, too – and part of it is about keeping a tighter rein on intellectual property. It’s good news for medium to long term US employment, assuming we can produce enough sufficiently educated workers to staff the plants. At least until the robots take over, anyway.

Cities generally ignore Abbott’s domestic partnership opinion

Good for them.

On the right side of history

Attorney General Greg Abbott’s opinion [last] week, while not binding, is the latest of several challenges to same-sex benefits across the country that so far have had mixed results in the courts and prompted changes after officials in other states took action. In Texas, local governments from El Paso to San Antonio and north to Dallas County have their legal departments reviewing their benefits plans but don’t appear ready to budge yet – noting that their policies don’t address issues such as marriage or gender.

“It’s a benefits package that top companies in the area offer to their employees,” said Clay Jenkins, the top administrative official for Dallas County, which has a lesbian sheriff. “It is not only the right thing to do but also allows us to attract top talent so we can continue to have success.”

The cities of Austin, El Paso and Fort Worth already offer some benefits to domestic partners, while Pflugerville, outside Austin, became the state’s first school district to extend similar benefits.

“If our policy violates the law, we’ll change it. But I’d conclude we are not doing that,” said Samuel T. Biscoe, Travis County’s top administrative official. “Legally, we are in good shape.”

Fort Worth spokesman Bill Begley said the city does not anticipate any problems to come from Abbott’s opinion. “Our domestic partner policy does not say anything about marriage or gender.”

See here for the background. As noted, Abbott’s opinion is not legally binding, it’s his opinion as to how a judge would rule. Someone will have to sue in order to get a result that does have the force of law. At least one such lawsuit is in the works in El Paso, by one of the leading homophobes there. Of course, it’s possible that by the time this gets to the point of a legal decision here we may have an opinion from the Supreme Court on the constitutionality of DOMA, and who knows how that could scramble things. This ain’t over yet, not by a longshot.

Bike sharing to come to Fort Worth

Good for them.

The Fort Worth Transportation Authority said Monday it’s raised more than $1 million, and plans to launch a central city bike-sharing program by next Spring that will include 30 stations and 300 bikes.

The program will start by April, Dick Ruddell, president of The T, said Monday. Stations will be between the Hospital District and TCU on the South Side and the Stockyards on the north, and the West 7th corridor on the west and Texas Wesleyan University to the east.

The heavy-duty three-speed bikes will come with locks, lights, baskets, and GPS devices that the T can use to track the locations of each bike. Users will be able to use credit cards or program membership cards to check bikes at out from kiosks at each station, and to check them back in. Rent rates will be based on time, and haven’t been determined yet.

Ruddell said there’s potential to expand the program beyond the initial numbers of stations, “but that’s certainly enough to get us started.”

“It’s the last mile of connectivity,” said Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, who joined Ruddell Monday in announcing the bike share program and another one the city announced to put down bright green-painted bike lanes at intersections and other heavily trafficked places where cars and bike paths meet.

The T has received a $940,000 Federal Transit Administration grant and sponsors have chipped in another $260,000 for the bike share program, Ruddell said.

See here and here for more info and a little jealousy from the latter.

Here’s how the U.S. Department of Transportation described the grant, announced this morning by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on his blog: “To further improve mobility and connectivity between popular destinations, the Fort Worth Transportation Authority will implement the Fort Worth Livability Bike Sharing Program. Bike stations will be placed in areas that have dense neighborhoods with high activity and access to a variety of transit connections. Bike stations will also be placed at the intermodal hub in Ft. Worth.”

Joan Hunter, spokeswoman for The T, said she learned of the grant through a call from the city this morning and was still tracking down details. But she said the transit agency has been working on a plan to run a pilot program for the bike-share in hopes of “being a catalyst for the city of Fort Worth.”

She said if the program works, officials are hoping the city will expand it and set up the Fort Worth bike share effort as a standalone entity. She said the agency was hoping to have the bike-share pilot project underway by the end of this year, but was still looking for the necessary funding. The federal grant will help a lot, she said.

They’ll be modeling this after the successful San Antonio bike sharing program, though there are still a lot details to be worked out first. Along with San Antonio, Fort Worth joins Houston and Austin in the bike sharing business. Don’t worry, Dallas, I’m sure you’ll get it sooner or later. Oh, and Metro got $11 million to rehab six bus operating facilities as part of the same set of grants. Very cool.

It’s Williams on Williams time again

I would not call it a good thing to come out of the updated interim maps since there’s a good chance one of these jokers will get elected, but for those of you with a morbid fascination with sideshows, the two Williams non-brothers who have spent the past year or so seeking out an office to run for have once again landed in the same race.

Executive-style hair...

Former Texas Secretary of State Roger Williams will join the Republican primary for a congressional seat that stretches 200 miles from the southern edge of Tarrant County to Hays County, south of Austin.

“We’re excited and ready to get going,” Williams told the Tribune Thursday morning, as he was preparing to file with the state GOP.

...versus the Bow Tie of Doom

Williams initially set out to run for U.S. Senate, but switched to a race for Congress after the Legislature drew new maps. But those maps died in court, and the Weatherford Republican ended up in a district, CD-12, with an incumbent — Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth — that he didn’t want to challenge.

Now he’s jumping into CD-25, where the incumbent — Democrat Lloyd Doggett of Austin — has decided to move into a neighboring district where a Democrat has a better chance. Williams, a car dealer and former Texas Secretary of State, would join a pack of other candidates that includes former Texas Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams (no relation), businessman Dave Garrison, former GOP consultant Chad Wilbanks and several others.

Roger Williams was going to run for CD33 originally, but it was re-drawn as a Democratic seat. No worries, he’s got the money to afford a house and a campaign wherever he wants. R-Dub managed to drop nearly two million bucks on his futile Senate candidacy, with another $425K of his own money for his brief run at CD33. I can’t wait to see how big a check he writes himself for this one. PoliTex has more.

Meanwhile, the Democratic primary in CD23 is on again as former Rep. Ciro Rodriguez made his move to that race, where he will take on State Rep. Pete Gallego for the right to challenge freshman Rep. Quico Canseco. This was the original matchup based on the Lege-drawn maps, then Ciro moved to CD35 when the original interim maps came out and State Rep. Joaquin Castro became Rep. Charlie Gonzalez’s heir apparent. Gallego threw a pre-emptive strike at Ciro a few days ago, but apparently it didn’t work. So this is back on, as if we didn’t have enough contentious primaries to watch.

And the most contentious of them all may be in CD33, not too surprising considering it’s a new strong-Democratic seat in an area that has had precious few opportunities for Democratic Congressional hopefuls. State Rep. Marc Veasey, Fort Worth City Council member Kathleen Hicks, former State Rep. Domingo Garcia, former Dallas City Council member Steve Salazar, who’s being backed by State Rep. Robert Alonzo, who’s a longtime rival of Garcia’s…this one will be manna for junkies, and will undoubtedly leave blood all over the place. And there’s still one more day of filing to go.

More angst over May elections

The Star Telegram adds to the litany of woe surrounding the upcoming changes to the state’s elections calendar.

Over three months, some voters would face a primary, followed by city and school elections, followed by primary runoffs, followed by city and school runoffs. And then, of course, the statewide and national general election next November.

“We have overlapping election cycles, and I am very concerned that voters are going to be confused,” Tarrant County Republican Party Chairwoman Stephanie Klick said. “With that confusion, it may impact turnout.”

“There’s going to be a lot of confusion,” agreed Tarrant County Democratic Party Chairman Steve Maxwell. “You’ve got three elections that voters are showing up for in the space of about eight weeks.”

[…]

In Tarrant County, cities including Arlington, Haltom City and Keller and school districts including Fort Worth typically hold May elections in even-numbered years. Tarrant County Elections Administrator Steve Raborn originally told those entities that he didn’t have enough voting equipment to handle both the nonpartisan elections and the primary runoffs in May.

Almost immediately, officials with several local entities made clear that they didn’t like their options. Moving elections to November would mean placing nonpartisan and partisan races on the same ballot, a shift that some worry may negatively affect the tone of the nonpartisan races.

Holding elections only in May of odd-numbered years, as cities including Fort Worth do, also poses problems, especially for entities that stagger their council terms so that only some seats are on the ballot each year.

Tarrant County Commissioner Gary Fickes said that he has heard from almost all the cities in his Northeast Tarrant precinct and that they are against moving their election dates.

“I see some real problems with forcing our government entities to change their elections,” Fickes said at a recent meeting.

I’m not exactly sure what the problems are with holding elections only in May of odd-numbered years. One presumes they would have existed before now but were somehow coped with; the point is that the issue of primary runoffs being too close to them would not arise. Frankly, for any affected city that has two or four year municipal terms, I’d say that’s the best solution if moving those elections to November is undesirable. Cities whose Council terms are three years, like Austin, remain screwed, but you can’t have everything.

For what it’s worth, as recently as the 2003-2004 election cycle, the uniform election calendar was much busier than it is now. There were uniform election dates in January and September – the constitutional amendment election of 2003 was held in September instead of November because the Republicans that were pushing the tort “reform” amendment on that year’s ballot didn’t want it to take place at the same time as a high-turnout city of Houston Mayoral election – with special elections and runoffs occurring in December, February and April. Go see the SOS Election Results page and look at all of the elections that took place between the 2002 general and the 2004 primaries. The 2005 Lege cut all this back to the May/November with March primaries calendar we know now; at the time people fretted about how long it could take to fill legislative vacancies and stuffing too many elections onto the May and November ballots. The point I’m making is that we adjusted to that change, and we’ll eventually adjust to this one. It’ll be more painful (and expensive) some places than others, but we’ll figure it out.

More redistricting plaintiffs

Here’s an update to the scorecard, for those of you hoping to keep track of the players.

The Texas Democratic Party officially entered the court fight over Republican-dominated redistricting maps Wednesday.

The new claims by the state Democratic Party came a day after the NAACP and other leading African American groups joined three redistricting lawsuits that already have been filed in San Antonio federal court.

“Allowing these partisan redistricting plans to take effect would violate the voting rights of every Texas voter who is not a partisan Republican,” said Chad Dunn, general counsel of the Texas Democratic Party.

I can’t tell if that is related to this action by State Rep. Marc Veasey and State Sen. Wendy Davis or if they are separate.

Davis and Veasey filed a motion in federal court [Friday] morning aiming to intervene in the state’s effort to get four redistricting maps approved in time for the 2012 elections.

Texas is among the states that must still get pre-clearance of redistricting plans under the federal Voting Rights Act. Earlier this week, the Texas Attorney General’s office filed a “pre-clearance submission” in federal court requesting that a three-judge panel approve the state’s new redistricting maps.

Traditionally, state officials seek out the U.S. Justice Department for that clearance. Texas decided to officially file the request in federal court and “informally” submit the information to the Department of Justice, according to legal filings. Democrats have charged that the state’s Republican leadership is pursuing the court case because they know a Justice Department under the Obama administration would determine the maps are in violation of the Voting Rights Act.

Davis and Veasey are hoping their legal action will allow them to argue against the Republican-approved maps in the federal case.

Their motion focuses largely on the congressional plan and specifically the way Senate District 10, currently represented by Davis, was redrawn in the new state senate map. In both cases, the Fort Worth Democrats argue that large minority communities are purposely drawn into districts where their voting strength would be effectively drowned out.

You can see their motion here, and some background information relating to SD10 that was provided by Sen. Davis’ staff is here. As we progress down the line and get updates on this lawsuit or that it will be increasingly difficult to remember which suit is which, and on what arguments and/or alternate maps they’re based. May as well just accept that now and get used to it. (According to this story, “Another redistricting lawsuit was transferred from federal court in Houston to San Antonio on Thursday.” Which lawsuit and which court are left as an exercise for the reader.)

Anyway. The full TDP statement on which the first story is based, plus a press release by Sen. Davis, are beneath the fold.

(more…)

“America’s largest city with no pro sports teams”

This Houston Press lamentation about the city of Austin contained the following tidbit that caught my eye:

Austin is America’s largest city with no pro sports teams (though some would debate the amateur status of the Texas Longhorns).

Well, that depends on how you define “city”, and on how you define “pro”. I presume they mean a team from one of the big four leagues – MLB, NFL, NBA, and NHL (*) – as Austin does have an NBA D-league team, and until 2008 had a minor league hockey team that could restart operations again. One could arguably include the Round Rock Express as well, but I think the meaning of “pro” is clear enough, so let’s not belabor this.

It’s the definition of “city” where it gets complicated. The list of US cities by population confirms the Press’ assertion: Austin comes in at #14, with a population of 790,390, and every city ahead of it has at least one pro team as defined above. In fact, the next two largest cities without pro teams are also in Texas – #16 Fort Worth (741,206) and #19 El Paso (649,121). You have to go down to #27 Louisville (597,337) to find the first non-Texas example.

The reason why I hesitate to use this as the definition is that if you keep going down this list, you find some places that sure seem like they’re a lot bigger than that. Cities like #40 Atlanta (420,003), #44 Miami (399,457), or #58 Saint Louis (319,294), for instance, sure don’t seem like they’re half or less Austin’s size. What gives with that?

The answer, of course, is that nobody cares about the municipality in which a stadium is located, as any fan of the Arlington Rangers, East Rutherford Giants, or Auburn Hills Pistons can attest. Teams may be identified with a city, but it’s the wider area that actually supports the team. Austin is only the fifth-largest urban area without a pro sports team, trailing Riverside-San Bernadino CA, Virginia Beach VA, Las Vegas NV, and Providence RI. It’s the third-largest MSA without a pro sports team, trailing Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario CA and Las Vegas-Paradise NV. More to the point, those lists give you a much better representation of the true big population centers in the US. Having Atlanta at #9 makes a lot more sense than having it at #40, barely half the size of Austin. There’s a much larger discussion in all of this about how these large metro areas are governed and how that governance could be vastly streamlined and more effective if a bunch of otherwise arbitrary boundary lines were obliterated, but that’s way beyond my scope here. Point is, making that statement about Austin is technically correct but kinda misleading. Which shouldn’t stop you from reading the story, which would be blog-worthy in its own right if I had the energy for it. Just keep this in mind when you get to that sentence.

(*) – You can include MLS if you want, but a peek at their standings tells me that they do not have a team in any city that wouldn’t already be counted in the Big Four. And in case you’re wondering, Chivas US is in Los Angeles, and Columbus OH is also the home of the NHL Blue Jackets franchise.

Senate map is out, controversy precedes it

Before we had a State Senate map, we had a brawl brewing over one proposed district on it.

Accusing the state Senate’s Republican leaders of a “shameful partisan attack,” Sen. Wendy Davis said Tuesday that a new redistricting map for her Tarrant County senatorial district violates the federal Voting Rights Act by ripping apart a powerful minority coalition that was crucial to her election over a Republican incumbent in 2008.

After reviewing the map for the first time Tuesday, the Fort Worth Democrat fired off an angry letter to the head of the Senate Select Committee on Redistricting and said she plans legal action to challenge the plan, which revamps her 10th senatorial district.

“I’m very sure we will be in a court battle,” Davis told the Star-Telegram.

Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, chairman of the redistricting committee, is expected to release the proposed map for the state’s 31 Senate districts today. The committee plans a hearing Thursday to take public testimony.

Davis said she was not given an opportunity to provide input for the plan or review preliminary maps, despite repeated requests. She vowed to fight the proposal “with every resource I can muster.”

“I will not allow the voting rights of hundreds of thousands of constituents in Tarrant County to be trampled to satisfy the partisan greed of the Senate leadership,” Davis said.

[…]

Davis said Seliger’s plan would shift African-American voters in southeast Fort Worth, Everman and Forest Hill into redrawn District 22, represented by Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury. Hispanic neighborhoods in north Fort Worth would become part of District 12, represented by Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound.

Putting aside the minority voting strength issue, it’s hard to see how folks in an urban area like that can be served by a Senator from another county in a district that’s mostly rural. What communities of interest do Granbury and Flower Mound share with Fort Worth? Regardless, minority voting strength will certainly be the focus of any legal action that may be taken against the upcoming map. A press release from Sen. Davis that talks about the cracking of these communities is here, a letter from Davis to Sen. Seliger over the latter not meeting with her before the map was created is here, and a letter from four current Fort Worth City Council members to the Justice Department is here.

In the meantime, the Seliger Senate map has now been released into the wild. I know what you want, so here it comes. First, some pictures. Here’s the Metroplex, source of Sen. Davis’ consternation:

Metroplex Senate districts

SD22, Sen. Birdwell’s district, stretches all the way down to Falls County, south of McClennan. It’s closer to Austin than Fort Worth at that end. Speaking of Austin:

Travis County Senate districts

Sens. Troy Fraser and Judith Zaffirini each wind up with a piece of the Capitol county. Neither Zaffirini nor Sen. Kirk Watson are particularly happy about it. I think if the GOP could draw a map that put a piece of Travis County into every single district, they would. Finally, here’s Harris:

Harris County Senate districts

Sen. Joan Huffman’s SD17 goes south but loses the tail that had snaked east across the coast through Galveston into Jefferson County. Sen. Mike Jackson gets all of Galveston, while Sen. Tommy Williams gets all of Chambers and Jefferson. And I am once again moved into a new district, as nearly all of my part of the Heights gets separated from Sen. Mario Gallegos’ SD06 in favor of Sen. John Whitmire’s SD15.

As for electoral data, see here for 2010 and here for 2008. As the map is drawn, it’s hard to see how Sen. Davis can hold on in a district that topped out at 43.50% for Sam Houston (43.12% for Obama), though I suppose it’s not totally out of the question. Interestingly, the Democrats could have some other opportunities over the long term:

Dist Incumbent Molina Houston old Houston new =================================================== 09 Harris 39.4 47.6 43.4 10 Davis 42.3 47.4 43.5 16 Carona 41.0 46.9 43.4 17 Huffman 43.6 47.6 40.8 19 Uresti 55.1 57.0 57.2 20 Hinojosa 55.7 59.7 59.7

I threw in Sens. Carlos Uresti and Chuy Hinojosa as points of comparison, as they were the least Democratic non-Davis districts, with Obama numbers around 55%. Sam Houston wasn’t the high scorer in their districts, either – Linda Yanez got 60.5% in SD20, and both Yanez (59.0) and Susan Strawn (58.4) did better in SD19. I’m not too worried about either of these guys. I wish I had Molina numbers from 2004 for the new districts to compare, but I don’t. I still suspect these districts are bluer now than they would have been then, and will be more so in 2012, but I can’t quantify that. I also suspect there’s only so much that can be done to protect Sens. Carona and Harris, though it may be enough to get them through most if not all of the decade. As with the SBOE, the draw to determine whether they run again in 2014 or 2016 could make a difference. I am sure that there will be alternate maps filed, starting with one from Sen. Davis, so we’ll see how it goes from here.

UPDATE: Something I had not noticed before: Sen. Zaffirini, whose district stretches from Laredo to Austin, would no longer have a piece of Bexar County.

Under the proposed changes, the number of senators representing San Antonio would slip from four to three because state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, would have a district that completely avoids Bexar County.

Zaffirini was upset she wouldn’t represent San Antonio if the proposal were to pass. It has her district running all the way from Laredo to East Austin’s historically black neighborhoods.

“I’ve worked hard for Bexar County,” she said. “I especially carry their higher education agenda passionately; I’ve made a difference for Bexar County over the years.”

There’s a good side-by-side comparison at the story.

UPDATE: Greg has more.

Dan Barrett for Fort Worth

I’m delighted to see this.

Democrat Dan Barrett, a lawyer and former state representative, is planning to file as a candidate for Mayor of Fort Worth.

“I think its time for a new direction,” Barrett said. “The other candidates in the race to me represent business as usual. I think we need new vision and I think I’m the person for the job.”

Barrett, a lawyer with Taylor, Olson, Adkins, Sralla, & Elam, served in the Texas House for about a year, from December 2007 to January 2009, representing District 97. The district covers southwest Fort Worth, Benbrook and Edgecliff Village.

Barrett won a seat in the House in a special election to finish out a term for Republican Anna Mowery, who resigned. Barrett was the only Democrat in a seven-way race. He lost his bid for a full-term in 2008 to Republican Mark Shelton.

I don’t know anything about the other candidates, but I do know that Barrett, whom I had the chance to interview in 2008, is a heck of a nice guy who would have been an outstanding State Rep. I am confident he would also be an excellent Mayor. I wish him the best of luck in this endeavor.

We’ll take it if you don’t want it

Dallas would like the FTA to know that they will gladly take any federal streetcar funds that Fort Worth doesn’t want.

That’s the message the Regional Transportation Council, with the support of Dallas leaders, is sending to the Federal Transit Administration this month in the wake of Fort Worth’s decision to shelve its streetcar plan.

“We’re going to write a letter, and we hope the FTA sees it our way,” said Dallas City Council member Linda Koop, who is also a member of the RTC.

[…]

Dallas won its own $23 million grant back in February, when [Transportation Secretary Ray] LaHood announced that the government would help build a loop beginning at Union Station and traveling across the Trinity to Oak Cliff, near Methodist Dallas Health Center and back.

Dallas leaders, working with the RTC and DART, soon must send the FTA a clear plan for how it would spend the money and where the additional $15.8 million in required local funds will come from.

Koop said those funds have been identified and that the $38.8 million project will proceed alongside a more ambitious effort to develop a full network of downtown streetcars. That system will likely connect to the soon-to-be-upgraded M-Line trolleys that run between Uptown and the Arts District, as well as tie into downtown light-rail service.

Some of the money earmarked for the starter line to Oak Cliff will pay for planning that can also lay the groundwork for that larger effort, Koop and others said. In all, the larger project could easily cost more than $100 million.

The RTC is also soliciting private funds to get this going, which is something that will be worth watching. All I know is that I felt this same way about high-speed rail funds after watching Republican governors in Ohio and Wisconsin turn their noses up at them, but sadly Texas didn’t get a piece of it. I wish Dallas better luck.

Fort Worth quits its pursuit of streetcars

I’m surprised by this.

The city’s discussion and study of the viability of a modern streetcar system for the central city is over for now.

The City Council voted 5-3 [last] Tuesday to pull the plug on a feasibility study of running a streetcar line to the near north side through downtown and the near south side.

[…]

“This has been a real struggle for me,” [Mayor Mike] Moncrief [who voted No] said. “The bottom line is, many of us are still wrestling with concerns over funding.”

A vote to proceed with the study would have paved the way for the city to accept a $25 million federal grant, which was expected to jump-start the estimated $88 million project.

A consultant, HDR Engineering, reported that streetcars were viable for the center city.

The line, according to city plans, would have consisted of three cars traversing a six-mile round-trip. It would have operated 14 hours a day, 365 days a year and carry an estimated 2,000 people a day.

The total cost of construction would have been offset by the federal grant. The rest would have been covered by the Trinity River Vision and Southside tax increment financing districts, or TIFs.

Officials estimated the system’s operating cost at $1.6 million a year, which initially would be funded by the Fort Worth Transportation Authority, or the T.

Later, residents of the neighborhoods where the line runs would vote on whether to take on operational costs.

I’ve blogged about this a few times – as with all transit-related projects, it’s been going on for awhile. The naysayers were concerned that costs were too high and the benefits were overstated. I don’t know enough about Fort Worth to evaluate this particular project, but I’m disappointed this is being shelved anyway. I hope they reconsider some day, and that they will still have an opportunity to get federal funds when they do. Speaking from our experience here, that should never be taken for granted. Thanks to Houston Tomorrow for the link.

Comparing stadium experiences

The Sugar Land Sun has an interesting three-part series comparing the minor league baseball experiences in Fort Worth and New Orleans to what we might expect in Sugar Land with its forthcoming stadium. Here’s the introduction:

Both cities provide key comparisons to Sugar Land that should allow residents to have realistic expectations of what non-Major League Baseball could bring.

The Fort Worth Cats play in the independent American Association and have no affiliation to a Major League Baseball franchise. Sugar Land’s team will play in the Atlantic League, an independent league.

The Cats share another trait with Sugar Land’s team: Both are or will be located in major metropolitan areas, and will vie for dollars with other sports options.

[…]

Like the Zephyrs, the Sugar Land team will compete against other sports options, namely the New Orleans Saints and the New Orleans Hornets, for ticket revenue.

And like the Zephyrs, the Sugar Land team will play in a stadium financed by taxpayer funds.

There is a key difference between the Zephyrs and would-be Sugar Land team: the Zephyrs are a Triple-A team with an affiliation to a Major League Team, the Florida Marlins. That give the team a little more cachet with baseball fans who want to see tomorrow’s Major League stars hit the field.

Actually, a fair number of true stars-in-waiting will bypass AAA ball, or at least not play a full season there. Double A is your better bet. But the point is well taken.

Here’s the Fort Worth story, and here’s the New Orleans story. Each provides a relevant point of interest for Sugar Land. From the former:

[A] 2005 analysis conducted by the University of North Texas estimates that the stadium, which it says [team owner Carl] Bell’s companies have spent $9 million at that time, generated $14 million for the city of Fort Worth, and $20 million for Tarrant county as a whole, an area nearly 36 times bigger than Sugar Land.

Sugar Land’s projects estimate the stadium will generate $7.7 million annually, or $23.1 million in the same time frame.

And from the latter:

[Jay Cicero, president and chief executive officer of the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation and the team’s first general manager since it moved to New Orleans] said the team’s base comes from locals and usually doesn’t rely on tourists.

“It’s 99.5 percent local,” he said. “You may some regional group nights where you get fans from farther away, but it’s mostly local fans.”

Historically, Minor League and independent baseball teams rely on local fanbases, especially when the economy goes south. When tourism dries up, local fans determine whether a team lives or dies.

When announcing its agreement with Opening Day Partners, the city estimated that 300,000 people would visit the stadium. The team would have to average 4,285 fans per game to hit that mark, excluding any other events such as college of high school baseball tournaments, that may be played there.

Should the team reach that mark, it would be the fourth-highest attended team in its league, according to current Atlantic League statistics. The team would also draw more than the average attendance of every Minor League Baseball team affiliated with a Major League Team.

I think Sugar Land will meet its projections initially, as I expect there will be a fair amount of excitement over the stadium’s opening and the team’s arrival. Maintaining that will be the challenge, especially if the team isn’t competitive right off. I think Sugar Land will have somewhat better prospects for having a fanbase that extends outside of Fort Bend County, from folks in neighboring counties who might not want to drive all the way into Houston, or who might be enticed by the lower minor league ticket prices. But it’s a good idea to keep all of this in mind, and to ask about how well the reality matched the projections in a few years’ time.

Fort Worth gets streetcar funds

Good for them, though they’re not quite ready to jump on it yet.

A downtown streetcar loop could be in Fort Worth’s near future, but the City Council has some serious issues to consider first.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced Thursday that an “urban circulator” project submitted by the city and Fort Worth Transit Authority was selected for almost $25 million in federal funding.

But Councilman Jungus Jordan said a feasibility study on the project won’t be finished until September or October, and the council has other projects with higher priority than the 2.5-mile streetcar loop.

[…]

The project’s selection for part of $293 million in federal funding means that the city must now apply to the Urban Circulator Grant Program, said Paul Griffo, a Transportation Department spokesman.

Jordan said that application can’t be made until after Council discussions that won’t begin until November, and could take weeks.

I presume the money will still be there when they get around to making the application. Some background on their plans can be found here and here. A full list of what got approved by the FTA is here; Dallas and Brownsville are on the list, though their projects are much smaller than Fort Worth’s, at least in terms of the size of the grant. A statement from State Sen. Wendy Davis, who was previously a Fort Worth City Council member, is here. I wish them well in getting this completed.

San Antonio smoking ban protests

The proposal to strengthen the smoking ban in San Antonio has drawn protest from a previously silent constituency.

LULAC, the San Antonio Mixed Beverage Association, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the San Antonio Restaurant Association joined forces to create the Save Our Jobs Alliance. The coalition opposes strengthening the city’s smoking ban.

LULAC got involved, [its President Rosa] Rosales said, because the organization believes “there is a disparity in the application of this ordinance.”

[…]

The proposal would adversely impact small, minority and women-owned businesses, Rosales said.

She took aim at cigar bars, which could be exempt from the new ordinance.

“Who goes to a bar to buy a $30 cigar? Who goes to a bar to buy a $40 cognac?” she said on the steps of City Hall during the alliance’s news conference Monday. “We don’t do that. We don’t have that kind of money. And that’s disparity treatment.”

Others, including Mi Tierra restaurateur and restaurant association president Ruben Cortez, said the proposed ordinance would put San Antonio businesses at a disadvantage.

“It’s all about economics,” Cortez said. “We’re not fighting the science.”

The San Antonio Mixed Beverage Association’s Bill Johnson, a bar owner who led Monday’s news conference, offered a doomsday scenario if the proposal were adopted later this year. He said it could lead to the loss of “hundreds, possibly thousands” of local jobs in the bar and restaurant industry.

San Antonio’s proposal doesn’t differ that much from what is currently in place in Austin, Houston, and Dallas. El Paso’s “strictest in the nation” smoking ban was enacted in 2002. Only the Alamo City and Fort Worth have more lenient ordinances. I have to ask, how does San Antonio differ from those other cities? Houston’s ordinance specifically exempts cigar bars, too. I don’t recall anyone making this argument about it back then, though I suppose I could have missed it.

As for the claims about job loss, again I say we have many examples to study. The results in El Paso after a year of their new ordinance showed that bars and restaurants did just fine. What San Antonio’s Council is studying isn’t anything new or untested. If you want to make claims about its potential economic impact, show me some data from Austin, Houston, Dallas, or El Paso that backs up those claims. We’re long past the hypothetical stage on anti-smoking ordinances, so please spare me the hyperbole. Show me jobs lost in other cities, or I call BS.

More on streetcars in Fort Worth

The TCU Daily Skiff writes about Fort Worth’s plans for streetcars.

The city of Fort Worth plans to move forward with bringing in a nationally recognized consultant to finalize aspects of a modern streetcar system that would consist of an initial loop through downtown Fort Worth as early as 2014 and possibly connecting to campus in the future, a city official said.

David Gaspers, a senior planner in the city’s planning and development department, said plans for the modern streetcars began in 2008 when Mayor Mike Moncrief and the city council appointed an initial study committee to look at the feasibility of a streetcar system for central Fort Worth. The committee found the streetcar system to be a feasible option and recommended an initial route spanning from downtown, Gaspers said.

Even though the initial route would connect nearest to campus at the Cultural District, Gaspers said he did not see why the streetcar line would not connect to the campus in the future. Historically, streetcars connected downtown Fort Worth to campus during the 1920s, he said.

“It would make sense that many of the new lines that would go in place would follow lines that were there, the historic streetcar lines,” Gaspers said. “It is hard to tell at this point when that would happen.”

That’s the same basic idea as what they’re doing in San Antonio. I don’t know the geography of Fort Worth, but if their plan is anything like SA’s, then the area in question is likely still pretty walkable, and thus at least reasonably well-suited for this kind of transit. I wish them luck in getting it done. Via Houston Tomorrow.

Cities lose out in transportation stimulus funding

This is not a surprise, but it is a missed opportunity.

Two-thirds of the country lives in large metropolitan areas, home to the nation’s worst traffic jams and some of its oldest roads and bridges. But cities and their surrounding regions are getting far less than two-thirds of federal transportation stimulus money.

According to an analysis by The New York Times of 5,274 transportation projects approved so far — the most complete look yet at how states plan to spend their stimulus money — the 100 largest metropolitan areas are getting less than half the money from the biggest pot of transportation stimulus money. In many cases, they have lost a tug of war with state lawmakers that urban advocates say could hurt the nation’s economic engines.

The stimulus law provided $26.6 billion for highways, bridges and other transportation projects, but left the decision on how to spend most of it to the states, which have a long history of giving short shrift to major metropolitan areas when it comes to dividing federal transportation money. Now that all 50 states have beat a June 30 deadline by winning approval for projects that will use more than half of that transportation money, worth $16.4 billion, it is clear that the stimulus program will continue that pattern of spending disproportionately on rural areas.

“If we’re trying to recover the nation’s economy, we should be focusing where the economy is, which is in these large areas,” said Robert Puentes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program, which advocates more targeted spending. “But states take this peanut-butter approach, taking the dollars and spreading them around very thinly, rather than taking the dollars and concentrating them where the most complex transportation problems are.”

There’s a sidebar graphic to the story that shows each large metro’s ratio of percentage of stimulus funding to percentage of GDP. The Dallas/Fort Worth region does better than Houston, getting 76% of its GDP share back in stimulus funds to Houston’s 42%.

The 100 largest metropolitan areas also contribute three-quarters of the nation’s economic activity, and one consequence of that is monumental traffic jams. A study of congestion in urban areas released Wednesday by the Texas Transportation Institute found that traffic jams in 2007 cost urban Americans 2.8 billion gallons of wasted gas and 4.2 billion hours of lost time.

I blogged about that the other day. Considering that a decent chunk of Houston’s share of this money is going towards the Grand Parkway Segment E, which won’t do a thing to alleviate congestion, Houston’s share of the pot is even less than it appears. Ryan Avent has more.

Potential challenger for Burnam

Via Campos, I see that State Rep. Lon Burnam of Fort Worth may get a primary challenger next year.

City Councilman Sal Espino has heard a lot of frustration from constituents about what state lawmakers did not accomplish in the recently completed legislative session.

Now, he’s trying to see what he can do about it and is considering whether to challenge state Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, for the District 90 state House seat in next year’s Democratic Party primary.

“There’s a lot of frustration about what is happening in Austin,” said Espino, who has served on the City Council since 2005. “There are a lot of issues [about] cities and local governments that are not being addressed.

“Fort Worth is the largest city in Texas without a Hispanic representing a House seat,” he said. “I don’t think [Burnam] has been able to get much meaningful legislation passed, although I admire his battle against the prior speaker.”

Burnam, who was elected to District 90 in 1996 on his third try, said he believes that Espino should stay where he is, especially because he was re-elected this year to another two-year term on the Fort Worth City Council.

“Sal has no experience in this arena,” Burnam said. “There is a role for people like Sal, but more importantly, there is a role for people like me . . . to stand up against [former House Speaker Tom] Craddick, to stand up over and over again. It takes people with experience and leadership to make a difference.”

I like Rep. Burnam, and as I said before I think he needs to be judged on a different set of criteria than some other Reps, as he plays a different role. I can understand the frustration his constituents may have about a lack of action in the Lege, but let’s face it: This was the first session since 2001 that was reasonably conducive to Democratic interests, though that was only to the point where the Republican insistence on voter ID derailed everything in its path. In short, there’s only so much that could have been done. Whether Rep. Burnam’s constituents agree with that, or see his role as I do, that’s the question.

Fort Worth’s red light camera experience

They like them so far.

The city Transportation Department pronounces itself pleased with progress made by red-light cameras.

The number of accidents has decreased at the targeted intersections. The cameras have resulted in about $1.2 million in fines — $765,000 went for expenses (including payments to ATS, the contractor), $221,000 went to the state and $221,000 went to the city.

And, no, Transportation Director Bill Verkest told the City Council, the city hasn’t shortened the yellow light times in order to catch more drivers.

According to this story, the city says that accidents are down 19% at the targeted intersections, with rear-end collisions up slightly. I don’t know what their methodology is for making those assertions. I do know that the city of Houston is due for an updated report on its red light cameras and the collision rates at the monitored approaches this August. One hopes this study will be less confusing and more clear – conducting it in a non-flawed manner would be a start.

Streetcars and buses

Here’s a little discussion starter for all you transit geeks: Infrastructurist’s list of 36 reasons why streetcars are better than buses. I’d boil a lot of it down to a smaller list: The ride is generally more pleasant, as it is smoother, quieter, and lacks any diesel exhaust smell, they’re more cost-effective in the long run, they can use green energy sources right now, and people tend to like them and use them more. Having said all that, M1EK‘s point about the difference between rail with dedicated right of way and rail that shares right of way with other traffic is still valid and needs to be addressed with any streetcar proposal. I think in Houston there are some corridors that could benefit today from streetcars, including a few that intersect or may someday intersect with a light rail line. Christof and Andrew have already tilled that field (I contributed as well), so go review what they had to say. With Austin and Fort Worth, we may be able to learn from other Texas cities’ experience soon. What do you think?

Houston extends red light camera contract

We’ll have red light cameras to kick around for at least a few more years.

The City Council extended the contract of the company that administers its red-light camera program for three more years Wednesday, aiming to thwart legislation pending in Austin that would sunset the use of the devices.

The ordinance, which passed Wednesday with only two nay votes — by members Mike Sullivan and Jolanda Jones — extends the camera program through May 2014. The action was a preemptive effort meant to keep the program active in case a bill in the Legislature succeeds in precluding municipalities from adding the cameras or extending contracts with vendors after June 1, 2009.

The provision was included as an amendment to a bill that already has passed in the House and is expected to be hashed out in the coming days in a conference committee. Rep. Gary Elkins, R-Houston, sponsored the amendment.

The cities of Amarillo, Arlington, Baytown, Fort Worth and Irving all took similar steps to extend their programs, in some cases continuing them for an additional 15 to 20 years.

Mayor Bill White defended the council’s action Wednesday.

“The fact is that where we have these cameras, the number of people who are photographed running the red light goes down consistently over time,” he said, adding later in a news conference that he believes the cameras will become an integral part of law enforcement all over the U.S. within 10 years.

Maybe we’ll get a valid study of their effect in Houston by then. We all saw this coming, so if you don’t like the cameras, take solace in the fact that Houston only extended the contract that far, unlike some other cities.

Burleson extended its agreement with American Traffic Solutions for 15 years, a city official said this week.

The Fort Worth City Council gave the city manager permission this week to immediately sign an extension through 2018 if it appears that the Legislature will imminently approve a ban on future contracts.

North Richland Hills extended its deal with Redflex through 2013.

Last week, Arlington officials gave the city staff permission to sign a new deal with ATS through 2027, and Southlake extended its terms with Redflex through 2024.

Count your blessings, camera-haters. The House conference committee members on the TxDOT sunset bill that had the anti-camera amendment will be fighting to keep it, so their days may still be numbered.

Skinning a cat: Alternate methods

As you know, the TxDOT sunset bill HB300 included among its many House amendments a couple that were aimed at killing off red light cameras in Texas’ cities, by putting them under the authority of DPS and by forbidding the renewal of existing contracts with camera vendors. While it is entirely possible that these amendments will be removed by the Senate, it’s safe to say that there exists legislative will to do away with the cameras. As such, the cities that operate them and which by and large have made money off of them are taking action now to protect their investments.

Officials in Arlington and Southlake are moving swiftly to sign 15- and 20-year deals with their respective vendors in hopes of getting around a plan by lawmakers to phase out the controversial devices.

“It’s not the state’s business. It’s our business in terms of how we regulate local traffic,” Arlington Councilman Mel LeBlanc said Wednesday. “We feel the original decision to institute red-light cameras has a lot of validity to it and is a public safety benefit to Arlington.”

[…]

Meanwhile, Southlake signed a 15-year deal with Redflex Traffic Systems on Wednesday, extending the city’s red-light camera program through 2024.

And Tuesday night, the Arlington City Council authorized staff to sign an extension with American Traffic Solutions through 2027. That hasn’t happened yet, but city officials say they’ll continue watching the activity in Austin and, if it looks like a ban is inevitable, sign the long-term deal before June 1.

Pretty clever, if you ask me. You have to figure that the reps who led the charge against the cameras – Gary Elkins, Carl Isett, and Solomon Ortiz, Jr are the big three – are kicking themselves for not covering that particular base. And because I know you’re curious:

Houston is “reviewing what our possible options are should the legislation pass,” spokesman Frank Michel said. Houston’s contract with ATS expires in June 2011.

I presume the cities with cameras would have 90 days after the bill is signed, which is how long it takes for a new law to take effect, to get their affairs in order. Look for this to turn into a stampede if the amendments remain in place.

Finally, on a tangential topic:

[Arlington] has cameras at 17 intersections and could place them at up to 40 under the contract. Wrecks at intersections with cameras have decreased 30 percent on average, said Steve Evans, management services director.

“We are seeing tangible benefits from the cameras,” said Councilman Robert Rivera, who represents southeast Arlington. “We’re seeing a reduction in fatalities, a reduction in accidents and an increased sense of awareness of safety in intersections.”

[…]

Southlake installed its first two cameras last year and recently installed four more. Accidents at the first two intersections decreased by an average of 17 percent, officials said.

In North Richland Hills, nine cameras are in operation, spokesman Frank Fiorello said.

Crashes decreased by 54 percent at those intersections between September 2007 and August 2008.

Sure does stand in contrast to Houston’s experience so far, doesn’t it? Which leads me to wonder again if that red light camera study was so screwed up as to be completely useless, if the study was fine but Houston’s implementation was fatally flawed, or if it was all just a statistical fluke that will vanish over time. I guess we’ll have to wait till the next study to get some idea of that.

We keep on growing

Don’t know how much longer we can or will keep this up, but the Houston metropolitan area just keeps growing like gangbusters.

The Houston metropolitan area added more than 130,000 residents between July 1, 2007 and July 1, 2008, the second-highest number in the country after Dallas-Fort Worth, the bureau said. Among counties, Harris County added more than 72,000 people, trailing only Maricopa County, Ariz., in growth in sheer numbers.

In percentage terms, the Austin-Round Rock metropolitan area posted 3.8 percent growth, the nation’s second-highest behind Raleigh-Cary, N.C., with 4.3 percent.

Four Texas counties, all in the Austin or Dallas-Fort Worth areas, were among the top 10 in growth rates. Fort Bend County ranked 14th with 4.8 percent growth.

This would be why Texas is getting at least three more Congressional seats in 2011, and why those seats will be going to the Metroplex, Central Texas, and here.

Jobs were the key to the Texas population gains, said Karl Eschbach, the state demographer.

“The particular edge that metro Texas had is that places like Houston were adding jobs at the beginning of the year when most of the rest of the country had slowed or stopped job creation, so Texas employers had a window where they were hiring while others elsewhere were laying off,” Eschbach said.

In 2008, Eschbach said, Texas was one of only six U.S. states, along with the District of Columbia, that experienced job growth. The other states that added jobs were far less populous.

But Bureau of Labor Statistics data show that jobs in Texas have begun to contract this year, making expected population trends for Texas metropolitan areas less clear, he said. While natural increase — births minus deaths — likely will remain stable, it’s possible that migration into Texas from other countries and states will decline as the state’s attraction as a job center diminishes, Eschbach said.

“Population movement occurs because of job creation; that’s not the only thing, but it’s the big thing,” he said. “When there are no jobs available anywhere, why move?”

The economy here is a lot more diverse than it once was, but I have a feeling that until the energy industry rebounds, we’ll fall back to the pack a bit. It’ll be interesting to see how that affects the population growth rate in the interim.