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October 10th, 2005:

Caravanning

Here’s another look at the massive traffic jam that took place during the Rita evacuation, focusing on households that left with more than one car.

Although no statistical data is available yet on the massive evacuation, “there were certainly more vehicles utilized than were necessary to carry these individuals out of town,” said Janelle Gbur of the Texas Department of Transportation office here.

“It probably shouldn’t surprise us. For many people a car is the second-biggest investment in the household,” Gbur said.

[…]

Mayor Bill White said he repeatedly asked that people with space in their vehicles take other riders along. He and County Judge Robert Eckels also did what they could to provide mass transit on Metropolitan Transit Authority buses or Amtrak train lines, he said.

“I doubt whether the government can or should tell people or mandate how many vehicles can get out,” White said, “but we do need to educate people and ask that they be considerate to their neighbors.”

Eckels said he and other officials will study how many vehicles it takes before a route becomes congested, and future evacuation plans will be designed with that information.

According to a Houston Chronicle/KHOU-TV Channel 11 poll, almost half of the evacuees said they stayed in caravans of more than one car.

Thirty percent who said they left with three companions or fewer, a group that could have fit into most cars, left in multiple vehicles, the poll found.

For what it’s worth, during the many hours that we sat on I-45 south of Spring, I saw a lot of people exiting vehicles and walking around on the highway. Some were probably just stretching their legs, but many of them appeared to me to be going from one car to another. For a variety of reasons, it never occurred to us to take both cars – among other things, we wanted to ensure that we had one nondriver to deal with Olivia when she fussed. The car we did take was packed full, including a spot in the back for the dog. If we’d had a second kid with us, we probably would have needed two cars. I just hope like hell I’ll never have to find that out.

Regarding the poll finding that 42 percent of residents evacuated from areas that were not in storm surge zones, White said that was “perfectly reasonable for many people, based on the information known to all of us on Tuesday and Wednesday and well into Thursday.

“We need to have better plans, particularly at the state level, to allow people to have fuel and more exit lanes and better traffic control,” he said.

Eckels said he wasn’t surprised that 53 percent of the evacuees said they left Thursday, Sept. 22, since traffic became so much worse then, nor that 61 percent said they would evacuate again if a Category 4 hurricane were coming.

“I think people will leave a lot earlier next time, and I think the system will work a lot more smoothly next time,” he said.

If there is a provision in place to ensure adequate fuel supplies and more available lanes, and if the evacuation itself can be spread out over more time, with no single day bearing the majority of it, then I agree that things will work more smoothly next time. Without those items, I fear we’ll have a rerun. Alternately, we may see fewer people than appropriate leaving, which risks greater problems in the event that we’re not so lucky about where the storm hits. I’m glad there’s still a lot of talk about this, but I want to see specifics. Stace, for his part, is unimpressed.

When animals attack

Last week, I had some correspondence with a local attorney named Bruce Moldovan, whose firm is representing a dog owner in a lawsuit against the city of Houston. It’s an interesting case, and as I’m a dog owner myself, I thought I’d write about it.

The case is Pam Wilson v. City of Houston, et al., Cause number 2005-61295, in the 281st District Court, Harris County, Texas. The facts are pretty simple. The plaintiff, Pam Wilson, has two dogs and works at home with an employee. She has a sign on her property that reads “Do not Enter – Please Ring Bell – Beware of Dog”. A courier, whom I’ll call C, coming to her house to pick up a package, ignored the sign, entered her front yard through a closed gate, and knocked on the door. The employee answered the door, and both dogs ran into the yard when he did so. As C departed, he claimed to be bitten by one of the dogs. He showed his leg to the employee, who reported seeing no signs of any injury.

Later, C called the Bureau of Animal Regulation and Care (“BARC”) and complained of the alleged dog bite. No formal complaint was filed, no formal statement taken, no affidavit made nor requested. He simply made a call and said he’d been bitten. At this point, Houston City ordinance 6-17 (a) (PDF) takes over. It’s a scanned-in printed page, so I can’t copy and paste text from it, but what it says is that any animal that is alleged to have attacked someone “shall be impounded at once” and held for ten days to ensure that it doesn’t have rabies. Upon its eventual release, Section 6.17-1 calls for the dog to be permanently tattooed with an identification number, so that any repeat offenders can be quickly determined.

What’s the big deal about that? Compare to the relevant state law:

§ 822.0421. DETERMINATION THAT DOG IS DANGEROUS.

(a) If a person reports an incident described by
Section 822.041(2), the animal control authority may investigate
the incident. If, after receiving the sworn statements of any
witnesses
, the animal control authority determines the dog is a
dangerous dog, it shall notify the owner of that fact.

(b) An owner, not later than the 15th day after the date the
owner is notified that a dog owned by the owner is a dangerous dog,
may appeal the determination of the animal control authority to a
justice, county, or municipal court of competent jurisdiction.
An
owner may appeal the decision of the justice, county, or municipal
court in the same manner as appeal for other cases from the justice,
county, or municipal court.

Emphasis mine. The state requires a sworn statement in order to remove and confine a dog. It also allows for the dog’s owner to appeal the confinement order to an appropriate court. The City of Houston will seize a dog based on an anonymous phone call, and makes no provision for any kind of appeal. Needless to say, I find that pretty alarming.

Based on that, the lawsuit seeks to overturn Houston’s law. In addition to the lack of any kind of due process, the lawsuit claims that the confiscation and tattooing of the dogs represents a violation of the taking clause of the state constitution. From a copy of the plaintiff’s petition that Moldovan emailed to me:

For well over a century, the state of Texas has considered dogs to be property protected from unconstitutional takings and condemnation without affording the owner due process of law. See Lynn v. State, 33 Tex. Crim. 153, 25 S.W. 779 (1894) (noting, with specific respect to an owner’s dog, “That towns, cities, or even the legislature, has not the authority to authorize the wholesale destruction of property, without due process of law, we think, is not open to discussion in this state.”). Id. at 780. In enacting provisions relevant to dogs that are a danger to persons in the Texas Health and Safety Code, the Texas Legislature clearly envisioned dog owners being afforded basic notions of due process.

The petition then cites the Texas statute that I highlighted earlier. What’s curious about all this is that the Houston statutes were enacted in 1968. How, I asked Moldovan, is it that no one has successfully sued over it before? His best guess is that any time someone had threatened to do so in the past, the city simply gave them their dogs back, thus removing the incentive. In this case, Ms. Wilson did get her dog back in time for them all to evacuate for Hurricane Rita – the city agreed to let her “home quarantine” the dogs while the suit was pending. In turn, she did not seek an immediate restraining order on enforcement of the statute, so the status quo is still in place for now.

The city has not yet filed an answer to this lawsuit – one is not yet due – so that’s where things stand now. I’ll be keeping an eye on this case and will report back as it progresses through the system.

DeLay’s defense

Well, it’s pretty clear that Tom DeLay has been listening to the damage control experts, isn’t it? He’s got his attack points down, and he’s got a little wind at his back now, thanks in part to the efforts of his defense attorney and in part to the nature of the latest indictment plus recent comments by the first grand jury’s foreman. I don’t think those things will amount to much in the long run, barring a ruling in favor of the defense on the motion to dismiss the indictments, which I also don’t think will happen, but DeLay doesn’t need much to work with to be effective.

Though he’s talking about a different subject, I think Josh Marshall raises a point that’s worth considering as the DeLay Defense sets up its perimeter.

We tend to think that the real key to a scandalee’s fate is how many mobilize against him or her. Usually, though, the key issue is whether and how quickly they can find some committed group to mount a defense. If that happens, and quickly, a scandal equilibrium can be reached, and an embattled pol can often withstand merciless attacks and revelations. With no true base of support, however, a career can rapidly collapse even if the opposition itself isn’t all that intense.

Obviously, DeLay has a sizeable base of support at this time. Very few people on his side of the aisle have said anything (on the record, at least) against him, and the activists are firmly in his corner. What I’m wondering is whether or not anyone prominent – say, Ken Mehlman or Roy Blunt – will take a turn on the talk show circuit to aid in DeLay’s defense, or if the only person out there on TV doing the talking points thing will continue to be just DeLay himself.

What I’m getting at is that the more time, energy, and especially money that DeLay has to spend on himself, the less he can spread around to other Congressfolk. That’s been the basis for the loyalty he’s built up over the years. How far will it go before more self-involved concerns take over? If he’s not making deposits in campaign bank accounts, how much personal capital does DeLay have to withdraw? How much will that change if the Abramoff investigations start to go south for him? That feels like a pretty big wild card to me, and as the Chron article notes, it’s not something he has direct control over.

There is one bit of good news for DeLay – his buddy Tom Craddick appears to be officially off the hook for any indictments that may be remaining for Ronnie Earle to pursue.

Roy Minton of Austin, said Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle relayed the news to him last week.

“He called me … and said, ‘It’s good news.’ I said, ‘What’s ya got, Buddy?’ And he said, ‘We’re not going to indict Craddick.'”

A spokesman for Earle, Rudy Magallanes, refused to comment.

I continue to be slightly puzzled by this, just based on past revelations of what Craddick knew and when he knew it, but that’s the way it goes.

Finally, look for Chris Bell to give a detailed proposal on ethics reform in Texas tomorrow. Lord knows we could use some of that.

Friedman’s restructuring

Damon linked to this story about some layoffs in the Kinky Friedman campaign on Saturday. You can go argue in the comments over there about what it means for him to hire a consultant that once worked for Dan Quayle, but I found this tidbit to be the more interesting:

Two of Friedman’s longtime friends, Cleve Hattersley and Steve “Beano” Boynton, also were taken off the payroll, [campaign manager Dean] Barkley said, but they are continuing to work for the campaign as volunteers.

What exactly were two “longtime friends” doing on his campaign payroll in the first place, and how much were they getting paid? Given the amount of resources he’s going to have to expend just to get onto the ballot, you’d think they’d have best served him as volunteers from the beginning. If I were a Friedman supporter (which I’m not), I’d be a little worried about his burn rate. Remember in 2004 how all of a sudden the Howard Dean campaign was broke, despite its fundraising prowess? I’m curious to see what his latest quarterly report will look like.