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June 23rd, 2008:

Is there a Heights highrise in the works?

When Tiffany tells me to blog about something, I listen, so with that in mind let me point you to this HAIF thread, and this post in particular, about what might be the future site of a highrise on White Oak, next to Onion Creek, between Studewood and Heights Boulevard. It’s unclear at this point if this “mixed use development opportunity” on 25,000 square feet of land will in fact develop into something Ashbyesque, as the illustration on the real estate agent’s advert implies – as of now, at least, no permits have been pulled. But just for the record, here’s the case against anything like that:

Put simply, the same objections as Ashby exist. The scale is all wrong. There would be a big impact on traffic, mostly from ins and outs. It’s already the case that you have to dodge people pulling into and out of the Onion Creek parking lot. This development would also be a stone’s throw from the Viewpoint development (see here, here, and here for background on that), which would put even more pressure on not just the one-lane-each-way White Oak, but on the little side streets that surround these projects. Some of this could be mitigated by infrastructure improvements, but we all know how that goes.

This may wind up as much ado about nothing if the scale is reasonable, or it may turn into Ashby 2: The Wrath of Khan. The Heights Kids email list is already buzzing about it, so you can be sure that all relevant elected officials know about it by now. Who knows, maybe by the time there’s a buyer we’ll have had a comprehensive overhaul of our land use regulations, rendering the whole thing moot. Stranger things have happened.

UPDATE: Swamplot has more. Just to be clear, I agree with John in the comments that a midrise mixed-use development would be a good thing. White Oak has been in need of renewal for a long time, and something like that would be a good fit. But the scale matters. A 14-story tower is too much. I hope what’s in the works, if anything is actually planned as of now, is more modest than that.

Culberson versus wind

I suppose it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Rep. John Culberson is not a fan of wind energy.

In a video chat with constituents from his Capitol Hill office, Culberson said on June 10:

These people in the wind energy business have made their fortunes because they are subsidized by you and me, and the Democrats passed a big energy bill late last year that jacked up taxes on the oil and gas industry by about $14 billion and then handed the money over to the wind energy folks and other industries. That’s just dead wrong. We need to eliminate those subsidies. If they can’t make it in the free market – particularly with oil at $130 plus – the alternative energy guys can certainly make money if it’s a good idea.

[Challenger Michael] Skelly’s campaign brought the video to the news media’s attention today. You can watch the entire video here, with the quoted remark coming 20 minutes into Culberson’s presentation.

Not that Culberson objects to any and all subsidies. He sought $500,000 from Congress for start-up money for the privately funded construction of a John Quincy Adams Memorial Library.

I’m gonna take a wild guess here and postulate that Culberson has supported a bill or two in his day to hand some money over to the oil and gas business as well. I don’t have the time to dig into that myself, but if you want to ask him about it, you can do so via Twitter. Culberson appears to have become a fan of online debating, so you may even get an answer from him. If you do, please add a comment to point to it.

A statement from Michael Skelly is beneath the fold.

(more…)

Metro and the East End

I really don’t know what this story is trying to say.

The Metropolitan Transit Authority has loyal supporters in Houston’s East End, whose voters approved Metro’s transit plan in 2003 by a 14 percent margin.

Bus ridership is also strong there, and many in the community look forward to light rail on Harrisburg Boulevard.

But some of that support has waned as Metro’s plans have expanded to include a large bridge over freight tracks at Harrisburg near 65th Street, and nearby, build a service facility several blocks long for light rail trains.

Some residents and community leaders welcome the bridge, while others say the large Metro facility should find a different home.

The thing is, there’s really nothing in the article to demonstrate that support has waned. There’s a quote from the president of the East End Chamber of Commerce saying they can “live with” an overpass for the Harrisburg bridge, which is a compromise solution due to funding constraints, and some pro and con comments about the service faciltiy, and that’s about it. No indication that anyone has changed their minds and decided to oppose the rail construction, nor any regret for supporting the rail referendum in the first place. No quotes from elected officials warning Metro to do or not do something. Maybe I’m just used to the decibel levels generated by the anti-Richmond folks, but this all seems pretty tame to me. I certainly don’t want Metro to take anything for granted, but if this is as bad as it gets, the road ahead is pretty smooth.

The bounce

Put me down as being skeptical of that much-ballyhooed Newsweek poll that showed Sen. Barack Obama now enjoying a 15-point lead over Sen. John McCain. It’s not so much that I think the result is impossible, it’s that it’s clearly due to their methodology for determining party ID, and that makes it harder to compare to other polls.

Obama’s current lead also reflects the large party-identification advantage the Democrats now enjoy–55 percent of all voters call themselves Democrats or say they lean toward the party while just 36 percent call themselves Republicans or lean that way. Even as McCain seeks to gain voters by distancing himself from the unpopular Bush and emphasizing his maverick image, he is suffering from the GOP’s poor reputation among many voters. Still, history provides hope for the GOP. [Pollster Larry] Hugick points out that in May 1988 when the primaries ended, Democrat Michael Dukakis enjoyed a 54 percent to 38 percent lead over George H.W. Bush. But Bush wound up winning handily. “Those results should give people pause,” Hugick says, saying that a substantial number of voters, about 5 percent, have also moved into the undecided column. A significant improvement in the economy, or continued advances in Iraq–an issue McCain has identified with strongly as the senator who championed the “surge” first–could alter the Republican’s fortunes.

Boy, how many times do you think that Dukakis comparison is going to get trotted out? Five thirty eight dispenses with that, and also explains why state level polling, for which we’ve also seen some wildly different results based on different models for determining party ID, suggests a more modest bounce for Obama. MyDD, on the other hand, is more bullish. I’d like to see some similar results before I feel too comfortable with it.

The main question I have in looking at this is do we have any partisan ID models besides Mike Baselice’s that are being used in Texas polls? He says Republicans maintain an eight-point advantage statewide; I think that’s too high. We had a couple of polls in May that suggested a much narrower gap, one each by Research 2000 and Rasmussen, then Rasmussen’s subsequent poll swung sharply away from that, and that’s about it. There’s just not enough data to make a judgment, and unfortunately it looks like we’re not going to get much more, at least not on a regular basis. Like it or not, it’s what we’ve got to work with.

Dallas City Council says “No loonies, please”

Got this from a reader: Dallas City Council would like certain people to please zip their lips, and they plan to do something about it.

That’s because time and again, council members (particularly Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway) have grudgingly tolerated or even openly battled with some of the same eight or nine people who speak before the council with regularity, if not every week.

Sadly, most of these folks attempt to make points obvious only to themselves, using their allotted three minutes of open microphone time to jabber, patter, babble or drone. Often, these diatribes prove more impenetrable than a Fort Knox vault. Council members, in turn, leave the council chambers feeling as if they’ve just wasted half an hour. And arguably, they have.

So here’s what the council is proposing to do about it:

  • Eliminate the open microphone period at the beginning of voting agenda meetings. (Current practice: Five speakers are allowed to address the council before business starts.)
  • Prohibit persons from speaking during an end-of-meeting open microphone period if they spoke, other than at a public hearing, at the last held regular council meeting. (Current practice: Anyone may address the council at the end of any full council meeting.)
  • Require speakers to register in person, by phone, or by e-mail by 5 p.m. the day preceding council meeting. (Current practice: Speakers may register up to 9 a.m. on the morning of a meeting.)
  • Allow the mayor or a majority of the council to restrict time limits when a large number of persons want to speak at public hearings and open microphone periods. (Current practice: This is often de facto procedure, although not necessarily.)
  • Move to “clarify that ad hoc committees are not subject to the Texas Open Meetings Act unless otherwise required by state law.” (Current practice: Reporters and the public have access to such meetings. Dallas Public Information Director Frank Librio says he’s not immediately certain what would be considered an “ad hoc” committee under this new law.)

Of course, these council rules wouldn’t just affect a handful of hapless agitators: They’d affect anyone wishing to address the Dallas City Council.

About five years ago. Harris County Commissioners Court tried something similar, apparently without effect. As then, I have some sympathy for the effort. It is a waste of time, not just for the Council, for whom such distractions are a part of the job, but more for the other citizens who attend these meetings in the hopes of addressing their concerns. If anyone has been discouraged or deterred from doing so because of these frequent flyers, then I’d argue their speech has been impeded. It’s certainly possible that the proposed rules could make it easier for them to participate.

Having said that, I can’t see these alterations, which are to be debated on Wednesday, going through. This is pushing the envelope of the Open Meetings law, and it’s sure to result in some kind of legal action. I don’t know that there is a good solution to this problem, which is roughly the equivalent of troll moderation in an Internet forum. Any suggestions?

Term limits on the ballot in San Antonio

Earlier this year, I noted that San Antonio Mayor Phil Hardberger, in his second and final two-year term, announced in his State of the City address that he wanted to change San Antonio’s restrictive term limits law. He has now succeeded in getting an initiative on the ballot to do that.

It took the better part of two hours of debate before the council unanimously voted to adopt an ordinance that will put the proposal on the Nov. 4 ballot.

Most of the speakers, council members and members of the public said it was for the good of the citizens that the current limit of two two-year years terms be expanded to four two-year terms. They said that keeping the two years reelection time table would still allow voters to dump an incumbent who was not performing up to his or her constituents’ standards.

[…]

The mayor, who for months has been lining up the full council to take the step, stressed that this is not an effort to overturn the voter’s wishes and that term limits will still be part of the city charter.

The language that will appear on the November ballot takes up one sentence, although it is a rather long one. And in possibly the only surprise, it will apply to current as well as former council members.

That means, for example, that if the proposition passes — and the mayor is betting about $750,000 worth of a publicity campaign that it will — former Councilwoman Elena Guajardo, who was defeated after one term, would be able to serve one more term, if she were to decide to run again.

That penultimate paragraph is a bit unclear. I think what it’s saying, based on the subsequent graf, is that the current two-term limit law will remain in force for former Council members as well as current ones, so that no one who has been elected to their Council can take advantage of the extra allowable terms. That seems reasonable enough.

I’ll be rooting for this to pass, and if it does, I hope it will spur someone in Houston to take a crack at changing our term limits law as well. Good luck, Mr. Mayor. Rhetoric & Rhythm has more.

The names may change, but the stories remain the same

Via Banjo comes this story about the oldest living Major League baseball player, and some of the many stories of the old days he has to tell. This was the one Banjo highlighted, about how Hall of Fame pitcher Lefty Grove impressed a visiting scout:

“The scout, Ira Thomas, goes out into the woods to look for him, and eventually, here comes this tall, rawboned guy. And he’s got squirrel tails tied around his belt, with the heads hanging down. So the first question Ira Thomas asks him is, ‘Are you Lefty Grove?’

“And Lefty says, ‘I be.’

“He said, ‘Well, where’s your gun.’

” ‘I don’t use no gun.’

“He said, ‘Well, how do you kill the squirrels?’

” ‘I kill them with rocks.’

“He says, ‘I don’t believe you.’

“And Lefty says, ‘Well, you see that insulator on that crossbar?’ And he takes one of the rocks from his pocket, and throws it with his right hand — and the glass just shatters in all directions.

“And Thomas is amazed, but he says, ‘I thought you were a left-hander.’

“He says, ‘I am. But when I throw it left-handed, I tear them all up.’ ”

It’s a great story. It’s also one I read years ago in a book of baseball stories, circa 1949, by old-time sportswriter Arthur Dailey that we had at my parents’ house, except that it was about Dizzy Dean. I figured it was a legend when I first read it 30 years ago, and seeing it repeated about a different pitcher just confirms that feeling. But it’s still a great story, one that ought to be true even if it isn’t. And it’s another reason why I love the game of baseball. There’s enough characters in its history that can be fitted into such a tale and still be believable. You gotta love it.