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June 3rd, 2007:

Olivia goes to Reckling Park

It was a beautiful day for outdoor baseball today. Unlike yesterday, which is when we originally had tickets to see Rice play TCU. When the start of the game got delayed from 6 PM to 8:30, I asked if we could exchange our tickets for Sunday’s 6 PM game, figuring I had nothing to lose. To my pleasant surprise, they agreed. So Olivia, our friend Andrea, and I headed out to Reckling Park to see some Rice Owls baseball. We had a great time, the Owls won the game to advance to the Super Regional (the baseball version of the Sweet 16), and Olivia got to experience the joys of Fig Newtons and milk at the ballpark. What could be better?

More pictures after the jump.

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Where can you get a drink in this town?

It’s harder than you think to get a drink in Brazoria County.

Counties, cities or justice-of-the-peace precincts can be, by local-option election, totally wet, totally dry or anywhere in between. It’s all up to local voters.

Roy Hale, of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, keeps a spreadsheet 2,345 lines long to try to follow what is legal where, but even he acknowledges it’s almost impossible to keep up with regulations throughout the state.

In Brazoria County alone, there have been 33 different issues on ballots concerning alcohol sales since 1919.

In the same 1933 election in which they approved doing away with prohibition, Brazoria County voters approved only the sale of beer in the county. In 1936 and 1937, voters twice turned down the idea of approving the sale of other forms of alcohol. Since then, the only changes to the regulations have been in cities or JP precincts.

Richwood, for example, voted to prohibit all sale of beer in 1967, and then voted a year later to approve its sale at stores for off-premise consumption only.

Voters in a JP precinct that includes the town of Sweeny outlawed the sale of beer in 1958. Now that precinct is in parts of two modern precincts, and voters in both would have to approve the sale of beer for it to be legal there again, Hale said.

Angleton, Surfside Beach, Freeport and Iowa Colony voted in the 1970s to legalize the sale of all alcoholic beverages.

Quintana approved the sale of beer and wine only.

In the latest two elections, in 2002 and 2006, Pearland and West Columbia voters approved the sale of mixed beverages in restaurants. That category is the newest form of alcohol sales, Hale said.

“It seems to be more acceptable to voters because you don’t have a place that’s just a bar,” he said.

Sounds like a good argument for staying in Houston, if you ask me. Be that as it may, the folks in Brazoria County may get to vote on liberalizing their alcohol rules this November. I’ll drink to that.

The session from the Houston/Harris perspective

A lot of what’s in the Chron overview of how the Lege affected Houston and Harris County is stuff I’ve blogged about in some detail, but I want to add a few comments to this effort:

Among the more visible changes locals can expect: backyard July Fourth fireworks will be safer, though perhaps a little less festive; dog owners will be held responsible the first time their pets seriously injure another person; all 20 acres of West 11th Street Park will be preserved; and red-light cameras are here to stay.

I had previously written that the West 11th Street Park was still not out of the woods, since it was apparently matching funds that were approved. However, looking at the statement by the Friends of the West 11th Street Park and the conference committee report on the budget, I think that may have been a misunderstanding. While the report does say “$3,750,000 in matching funds for the City of Houston 11th Street Park”, I think the “match” is to the funds that the City of Houston had put up when it bought the parkland from HISD. $3.75 million is enough to pay the loan plus interest, so there’s no need for it to match anything else. I feel much better about this now.

The county did have to play a little defense after its ability to build toll roads was jeopardized by a proposed moratorium on pay roads. Although the two-year building moratorium on private toll roads was approved, it will not affect six road construction projects for the Harris County Toll Road Authority.

“By controlling our own toll roads, we can use that money to build other access roads and free roads in Harris County,” Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said. “It means our toll roads will be built quicker and more efficiently, tolls will be lower and money will stay in Harris County.”

Unfortunately, HCTRA got all this without any real accountability being required of them. I guarantee this will be an issue in the future.

Lawmakers also ended the debate about whether cities have the right to issue civil citations to red-light runners caught on camera by incorporating it into state law.

“Our goal was to make sure we could regulate the use and revenues of red-light cameras,” said State Rep. Jim Murphy, R-Houston, who carried the bills in the House.

Cities will be required to study an intersection’s traffic volume, collision history and frequency of red-light violations before installing cameras. After cameras go up, cities will be required to do the same to determine whether there has been a reduction in accidents.

I have presumed all along that this will mean the end of the Kubosh lawsuit, though I’m equally certain that it won’t mean he’ll give up. I presume that there will be a motion to dismiss the suit based on the new law, and that it will be successful. Any lawyers want to address that? I also think this is not the last we’ll hear about red light cameras. I’m not sure if the sunset provision for SB1119 is still in there or not, but if it is then the matter will definitely come up again in 2009.

Loch Ness Monster

Well, I don’t know what this footage of something in Loch Ness shows, but until I see a huge red eye and a long sharp tooth, I’m not conceding anything.

“I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw this jet black thing, about 45-feet (15 meters) long, moving fairly fast in the water,” said Gordon Holmes, the 55-year-old a lab technician from Shipley, Yorkshire, who took the video this past Saturday.

He said it moved at about 6 mph (10 kph) and kept a fairly straight course.

“My initial thought is it could be a very big eel, they have serpent-like features and they may explain all the sightings in Loch Ness over the years.”

[…]

Nessie watcher and marine biologist Adrian Shine of the Loch Ness 2000 center in Drumnadrochit, on the shores of the lake, viewed the video and hopes to properly analyze it in the coming months.

“I see myself as a skeptical interpreter of what happens in the loch, but I do keep an open mind about these things and there is no doubt this is some of the best footage I have seen,” Shine said.

He said the video is particularly useful because Holmes panned back to get the background shore into the shot. That means it was less likely to be a fake and provided geographical bearings allowing one to calculate how big the creature was and how fast it was traveling.

[…]

[T]here have been more than 4,000 purported Nessie sightings since she was first caught on camera by a surgeon on vacation in the 1930s.

Since then, the faithful have speculated whether it is a completely unknown species, a sturgeon — even though they have not been native to Scotland’s waters for many years — or even a last surviving dinosaur.

Shine doubts that last explanation.

“There are a number of possible explanations to the sightings in the loch. It could be some biological creature, it could just be the waves of the loch or it could be some psychological phenomenon in as much as we see what we want to see,” he said.

Maybe it was just Bigfoot doing the backstroke.

Dome financing comes through

The Astrodome Redevelopment crew, who missed a March 31 deadline to demonstrate that they had private financing lined up, then got an extension till the end of May, managed to put something together this time.

“We felt like we complied” with the deadline, Astrodome Redevelopment president Scott Hanson said. “We submitted a package with our financing.”

Willie Loston, director of the Harris County Sports & Convention Corp., which oversees Reliant Park, said he and other county officials could not say whether Astrodome Redevelopment complied because they haven’t had time to review the company’s submission.

Loston said he and Mike Surface, chair of the sports and convention corporation, will review the submission in the coming days. They will report to the sports and convention corporation’s board on the issue at its mid-June meeting.

“We felt like we complied” doesn’t exactly sound like a fully confident pronouncement to me, but we’ll see what the county folks think. I’m very curious to see who might be willing to invest in this potentially very white elephant.

Related matter:

Astrodome Redevelopment has discussed building a ramp connecting the hotel parking lot to Loop 610 so hotel traffic wouldn’t interfere with other events at Reliant Park.

The company discussed whether taxes generated by the hotel could be used to pay for the ramp and possibly other infrastructure improvements needed to operate the facility.

But a proposal to rebate the facility’s hotel and sales taxes to the county died in the Legislature last month.

“Any bill that would have helped fund the infrastructure would have been beneficial,” Hanson said. “It was disappointing.”

The bill’s death meant that Astrodome Redevelopment could no longer include contingent plans for some public financing for infrastructure, Hanson said. “We’ve gone with a different package,” he said.

Loston said, “Today, this is a 100 percent privately financed project.”

Hat tip to Miya Shay for calling that one last week.