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June 6th, 2007:

“Just be yourself”

Why does this article about Joel Kotkin’s talk to the Greater Houston Partnership give me an after-school special vibe?

Just be yourself, Houston.

That was the essence of the message delivered to the Greater Houston Partnership on Tuesday by urban historian Joel Kotkin, who urged the region’s leaders not to be seduced by strategies focused on luring the “creative class” of hip young professionals.

Instead, Kotkin argued, Houston should continue its traditions of low taxes and limited regulations to maintain a favorable business environment and a low cost of living. Local governments, he said, should focus on expanding highway capacity and improving street and drainage systems.

“Downtown Houston will never be Midtown Manhattan,” said Kotkin, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation, a Washington-based think tank, and the author of several books on urban issues.

Just believe in yourself and people will love you for who you are! Who needs therapy, anyway?

OK, I think I’ve got that out of my system. On a more serious note:

In a report commissioned by the partnership, entitled “Opportunity Urbanism: An Emerging Paradigm for the 21st Century,” Kotkin argues that quality-of-life issues such as parks and cultural amenities need not be a top priority of local leaders.

These amenities, he said, develop organically in cities with strong economies that can help lift working-class people into the middle class.

Mayor Bill White said he agrees with Kotkin’s description of Houston as an “opportunity city” that’s open to new ideas and new residents from diverse backgrounds.

But Stephen Klineberg, a Rice University sociology professor who has studied Houston for 25 years, said Kotkin’s analysis represents a “serious misreading of the new competitive environment facing American cities like Houston in the 21st century.”

Kotkin doesn’t place enough emphasis on the need to provide a good education to the immigrants and other ethnic minorities who make up most of the Houston area’s younger population, said Klineberg, who spoke briefly at the partnership luncheon after Kotkin’s speech.

“If Houston is to have anything like the skilled work force we will need in the years ahead,” Klineberg said, its leaders must “ensure that all children in Houston, regardless of their parents’ incomes, have access to quality health care, to affordable housing and, above all, to truly effective public education from preschool through college.”

Kotkin’s report is here. He’s got some provocative ideas, and it’s always good to get an outside perspective, but if we’re talking about Houston I’ll take Klineberg over Kotkin.

Tory was at the talk but hasn’t posted on it yet. I’ll be interested to see what he says.

One more thing, on the subject of green space: The article quotes a couple who moved from Connecticut to a master-planned subdivision in Fort Bend. I think it’s important to draw a distinction between development like this, where things like green space are included by the builders, and development in denser urban areas, where there is no budget or incentive for park space to be created. New parks are not going to be created “organically” inside the Loop. There has to be some sort of mandate for it to happen. We can argue about what fraction of space in the core city needs to be green, and we can argue about what share of the financing for it should be public, but it’s not going to appear as a side effect of townhome/high rise construction.


Today is Olivia’s third birthday. If I had a working Internet connection at home, I’d have some pictures of her opening presents to show you, but alas, that will have to wait till Thursday. She did get a “Go, Diego, Go!” watch from her Aunt Kristin, which she proudly wore to school today, and there are a few more items to unwrap this evening. There’s a big mound of Tiffany-made cupcakes – chocolate with pink icing, as requested – waiting for her at school, too.

I know it’s a cliche to talk about the joys of parenthood, but Olivia really has been a joy to us. She amazes me every day. Watching her interact with Audrey has been even more amazing. I always find myself torn between the excitement of seeing her enter new phases of her life, and wishing whatever phase she’s in at the time would last forever. In the end, the thrill of the new wins out, as it should. But that doesn’t mean we can’t remember the past.

As it happens, Tiffany and I will celebrate by seeing Weird Al at the Verizon Theater tonight. We’ll make it up to Olivia with a trip to the swimming pool over the weekend. She’s still a little fuzzy on the whole day-and-date thing, so we can get away with that. For now, anyway.

And finally, happy birthday to Stace. It’s a good day all around, whatever Comcast may do to me.

HB1919 still needs your help

How typical of the Texas Association of Business.

Parents of children with autism cheered when Texas lawmakers revived a dead bill they say will give families hope, save some from bankruptcy and reduce long-term costs for taxpayers.

But the Texas Association of Business wants Gov. Rick Perry to veto House Bill 1919 because of an amendment that changes the definition of autism from a mental illness to a neurobiological illness and requires insurance companies to cover treatment for 3- to 5-year-olds with the disease.

The autism-insurance measure passed the Senate but languished in the House until lawmakers approved it as an amendment to insurance-related legislation just hours before the legislative session ended May 28.

As with the process of getting this bill passed with the ABA coverage intact, the best thing we all can do now is call Governor Perry’s office and ask him to support real family values by signing HB1919. Pete has the details.

“Somebody finally heard us,” Cynthia Singleton of Houston said after legislators approved the amendment. “Parents have been struggling for years to be heard and, I think, somebody finally cared enough to help make it happen.”

Singleton said she and her husband have spent more than $100,000 on treatment for their 8-year-old son with autism. They financed the treatment by selling a four-bedroom home in West Houston and renting a three-bedroom apartment for more than two years.

I know Cynthia and her family – not as well as Pete and his family, but I know them. But even if I didn’t know anyone who was personally affected by this bill, I’d wholeheartedly support it anyway. This is what insurance is for: to help people survive unforeseen setbacks that life deals out. If TAB has its way, this kind of insurance will only be available to those who need it the least.

Perry spokesman Robert Black said the governor and his staff have not decided whether to veto the bill.

Which means you may still be able to have an effect on his decision-making process. Give him a call and tell him what you think. Thanks very much.

UPDATE: More from Dig Deeper Texas, Luke Gilman, Autism Bulletin, and of course Pete.

Early voting: The one-trick pony

So here’s a story in the Chron about the runoff, and that can mean only one thing: Roy Morales gets to talk about his one issue.

Melissa Noriega, who nearly won the race for the At-large 3 seat outright in the regular election last month, criticized her opponent, Roy Morales, accusing him of using “fear as a tactic to try to get people worked up.”

At issue are local policies that Morales says make the city a “sanctuary” for illegal immigrants; he wants Houston police to do more to take them into custody.

Noriega, a Houston Independent School District special projects manager, said Monday that immigration enforcement is the federal government’s responsibility, a position shared by Mayor Bill White and Houston Police Chief Harold Hurtt.

“We’re short of police now,” she said after casting her ballot Monday afternoon. “Taking police resources to investigate things that are federal responsibilities takes away from people being safe.”

Houston police changed their policies last fall, and they now work more closely with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. But Morales, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, said the “sanctuary” perception remains, in part because the city spent federal grant funds on a controversial day-labor facility last year.

“I’m against sanctuary,” he said. “I’m against day-labor centers.”

The police now allow federal agents in city jails, and they detain wanted immigrants. Morales, who also voted Monday, said police should arrest illegal immigrants they encounter in traffic stops.

So Roy is against the “perception” of sanctuary, and thinks the cops should arrest illegal immigrants at traffic stops. Here’s a question to ponder: If you were to be pulled over for speeding and asked to prove that you were in this country legally, would you be able to do it? I don’t know about you, but I don’t carry my birth certificate or passport on me as a matter of course. This sort of approach could keep the cops and tow-truck drivers very busy, to say the least.

Of course, I don’t look like an illegal immigrant, so I won’t be getting harassed. Those of you who aren’t lucky enough to be a pasty white boy like me, well, you’re on your own in Roy’s world.

I’m against the perception of stupid public policy. Which is why the choice for City Council is clear.

How many of you have voted yet? If you have, were you the only one at the early voting center at the time?

Bradford still part of K-Mart lawsuit

It’s been almost two years since we last had an update on the K-Mart Kiddie Roundup story.

Former Houston police Chief C.O. Bradford’s request to be severed from a lawsuit related to an infamous crackdown on street racing has been denied by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

In an opinion filed Monday, the appellate court ruled that it does not have jurisdiction in the case and, therefore, did not have the authority to grant Bradford’s motion to be removed from the federal lawsuit.

Bradford was chief at the time of the raid. Contacted by phone Monday night, Bradford said he could not comment without consulting with his attorney.

The litigation was filed after almost 300 people were arrested on Aug. 18, 2002, during a raid on the Kmart parking lot in 8400 block of Westheimer in an attempt to combat street racing. Most of those arrested were charged with trespassing or curfew violations, but none was accused of street racing. The raid produced public outcry and the charges were dropped.

In response to the raid, 10 lawsuits involving more than 100 plaintiffs were filed, accusing police of brandishing pistols and shotguns, and verbally abusing some during the incident. Bradford, who was not at the raid, was named in all of the lawsuits.

In July 2005, in a scathing opinion, U.S. District Judge Nancy Atlas ruled that the lawsuits could go forward.


Bradford had appealed Atlas’ decision. But in its ruling Monday, the 5th Circuit said Bradford had made arguments about fact that could only be ruled on by the district court.

I’m not qualified to opine on the legal mumbojumbo. At a high level, it pretty much comes down to how much Bradford knew, and how much he could or should have known. It’s been clear from the beginning that fired HPD captain Mark Aguirre was directly responsible for the mess as it took place. Aguirre has claimed that Bradford knew what he was doing and approved of it; Bradford has denied that he approved the specific plan. That much certainly sounds like a matter of fact for the lower court to decide. How long it will take to get to that point from here, I have no idea.

Fixing TEAM

Color me skeptical about this.

The state elections director tried to assure skeptical voting officials Monday that a problem-ridden centralized voter information system would be fixed in time for the 2008 presidential elections.

“Although we are having tough growing pains, I think we will be ahead of the game for the 2008 presidential elections,” said Ann McGeehan, elections director for the secretary of state’s office.

Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Paul Bettencourt doesn’t believe it. “That’s not going to happen, period,” he said, following McGeehan’s presentation before more than 100 officials at the Tax Assessor-Collector’s Association Conference.

“I don’t think we’ll ever get there in the next few years,” Bettencourt said, blaming flaws in the system designed by IBM and Austin-based Hart InterCivic.

Glitches beset the Texas Election Administration Management (TEAM) system as soon as it went on line in January.


McGeehan promised improvements over the next few weeks, but Galveston Tax Assessor-Collector Cheryl Johnson remained unconvinced.

“Those will help us, but they are not going to change the basic problems that we are having,” said Johnson.

Previous bloggage is here and here. There’s really no reason why this should be so hard, and no reason why it can’t be fixed, but to say the least the burden of proof is on the vendor and the Secretary of State. It would be nice if there were a way to dry-run whatever solution they say they’ve cooked up before the next election.

The dissatisfaction with TEAM was reflected by the decision of Sulphur Springs-based NETDATA to resume selling voter registration systems to unhappy counties.

NETDATA got out of the voter-registration software businesses when its more than 20 clients switched over to TEAM, NETDATA president Tory Humphries said.

“I’ve decided to get back into it,”Humphries said.

A little competition is good for the soul, I say. Let’s hope that this acts as a catalyst. Meanwhile, I look forward to Racy Mind‘s deconstruction of the TEAM system.