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July 25th, 2008:

Deputies to back Garcia

Good.

Harris County’s sheriff’s deputy unions are expected today to endorse a challenger in the sheriff’s race — an unprecedented move that union leaders say reflects a long-standing dissatisfaction with incumbent Tommy Thomas.

The three unions, which together represent the majority of deputies, plan to endorse Houston Councilman Adrian Garcia over Thomas in the November election.

The announcement is the latest blow against the beleaguered Republican sheriff, whose policies have come under fire by his own deputies and whose jail is under scrutiny by federal investigators.

“It’s basically the lack of the current administration’s willingness to work with us, inconsistency in policies and fair treatment of personnel,” said Richard Newby, head of the largest of the three unions. “This is something that’s been building for a while.”

Deputies have complained about understaffing that has stretched patrols thin and required them to work overtime. They’ve said the department’s contract deputy program — which allows civic associations and municipal utility districts to subsidize deputy salaries in exchange for increased patrols — has created bare spots in patrol coverage and left dozens of unsubsidized patrol positions unfilled.

[…]

The sheriff defended his tenure, saying he was unfazed by the unions’ endorsement of his opponent.

“It appears they’re across the board endorsing Democrats in the races,” he said.

The sheriff said he did not believe the contract deputy issue influenced the unions’ decision.

“Bear in mind that the decision to endorse in these races is made by a handful of people,” he said. “It’s not made by all the members of the union.”

This is the first time the unions have come together to support a challenger for the sheriff’s post, Newby said. When polled, union members said they favored Garcia 3-to-1, he said.

How many different ways can you say “The Sheriff is out of touch”? This is a big deal, as it undercuts any claim Thomas might make about his experience versus Garcia’s. He’s lost the trust of the people who work for him, and they want to see a change at the top. What more can you say? Now if we can get Garcia’s fundraising in gear – one hopes stories like this will help it tick up a bit – then we’ll really be on our way. There’s a press conference for today on this, so look for more info later.

UPDATE: I have press releases from the Garcia campaign and from the three unions beneath the fold.

(more…)

Metro makes change to east end of Universities line

One more change for the route of the Universities Line.

The Metropolitan Transit Authority board voted Thursday to reroute the planned University light rail line away from a half-mile stretch of Wheeler Avenue following months of entreaties by residents and elected officials.

The audience responded with a rare burst of applause after the unanimous vote. Earlier, speakers who had raked the agency at the City Council and neighborhood meetings were generous with praise.

“The proposed route is good because now we won’t have a train that passes through a historic neighborhood,” said Cheryl Armitige, who grew up in the Third Ward.

[…]

The original route went east on Wheeler from Main, north on Ennis and east on Alabama to Scott at the University of Houston. Metro says it intends, if possible, to extend it north to Elgin and east across the Gulf Freeway to the Eastwood Transit Center.

The new route would turn north from Wheeler on Hutchins, east on Cleburne, north on Dowling and continue east on Alabama to Scott as before.

The difference in length is negligible, but the change likely will boost the cost for the segment east of Main from $185 million to $200 million because it would require new design and engineering work, environmental impact studies and public meetings, Metro officials said.

Having the line on Alabama, which is less residential than Wheeler, would have less impact on residents and be more likely to attract development, [Metro board member Gerald] Smith said.

He attributed the opposition on Wheeler largely to quality-of-life concerns about loss of land in front of homes and the noise and vibration from the trains. But [Council Member Jolanda] Jones said she was also concerned that large-scale development and gentrification would follow, changing the character of the historically black neighborhood.

So the residents of the Third Ward got what they wanted, just as the residents of Afton Oaks on the west end of the route did. Good for them, and good for Metro for doing what it can to accommodate them. Looking at the before-and-after maps (see the sidebar in the story, or these three maps provided by Metro), this means the train will not directly approach TSU, or run along its western border. It will have the same station location, so the service TSU gets from the line will be the same. Metro’s press release on the change says that the ridership projections are the same, which makes sense if none of the stations move. More on the residents’ concerns here and here.

Unclear from this is how it will affect the FTA approval/funding process. At this point, the other lines are farther along in securing funds. The U-line is the linchpin of the expanded system, and it’s already behind, plus it still has the Scarbrough lawsuit to deal with. I just hope this change doesn’t set things back any more.

John Edwards in town

Former Senator and Vice Presidential candidate John Edwards was in town this week to promote his anti-poverty agenda.

Edwards, from North Carolina, said he would “fight with every fiber of my being” to help low-income Americans.

The former Democratic vice-presidential candidate and one-time presidential hopeful joined local community and political leaders in a private roundtable discussion on poverty, the foreclosure crisis and similar issues hosted by ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now.

[…]

The effort, dubbed Half in Ten, hopes to encourage state and national legislators to enact measures that will help reduce the number of impoverished citizens by 50 percent in the next 10 years.

Edwards said as the campaign’s chairman he can bring national attention to the need to raise people out of poverty.

“I’ve got a soapbox,” he said, “and I intend to use that soapbox with every fiber of my being to speak for those who have no voice.”

He said that some of the measures that could help the poor and people in financial crisis would be to raise the minimum wage, expand the earned-income tax credit and make child care more affordable.

These are all worthy goals, though I suspect Edwards will have more luck with Congress than he will with the Texas Legislature, even with Sen. Rodney Ellis’ stated support. I just don’t see a minimum-wage increase as being a priority in Austin next year. That said, there are some things that might have a chance, such as better protections for mortgage-seekers, and easier access to banking for low-income folks, which is something City Controller Annise Parker has been championing here. With a careful selection of targets, you might have some success.

Obligatory Questions Department:

When asked if he would accept an invitation from Sen. Barack Obama to be his running mate, Edwards said he is not lobbying for the job but he would seriously consider it.

I’d be fine with an Obama-Edwards ticket, though that wouldn’t be my first choice – I’d call Kathleen Sebelius and Hillary Clinton my top two at this point. If President Obama wants to tap him as Attorney General, now that would excite me. Otherwise, keep doing what you’re doing, John. You do have that soapbox, and this is a good use of it.

UPDATE: Houtopia was at this event. neoHouston has a somewhat different take.

More motorcycles

I suppose an increase in the number of motorcycles was inevitable.

Though data on new motorcycle registrations are not yet available, there are already nearly 400,000 of them on Texas roads.

“We’re seeing an increased number of motorcycles, no doubt about it,” said Texas Department of Transportation spokesman Mark Cross.

With the increase comes added concern about accidents and injuries. Both riders and authorities fear the larger number of inexperienced riders will lead to an uptick in operator fatalities.

July has been an especially deadly month for motorcyclists in unincorporated Harris County with five reported motorcyclist fatalities so far.

“You hear people all the time talking about buying a motorcycle or scooter due to rising fuel cost, so we should anticipate a rise in the future number of motorcycle operators on the roads. With this we have to consider that a large number of these new motorcycle operators will be amateurs,” said Lt. Darryl Coleman, of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office Traffic Enforcement Section.

[…]

“We’re seeing different types of people walk through the door, people who wouldn’t be buying if gas weren’t so high,” said Joe Cantu, who has seen a dramatic increase in business at Houston Motorcycle Exchange in the Heights.

“We can’t keep up with the demand. It’s never been like this before. Two months ago we had 80 bikes on the floor. Now we have less than 20,” said Cantu, who has been in the business for more than 25 years.

The sales manager estimated that motorcycles get anywhere between 40 and 80 miles per gallon of gas, “depending on the bike and the driver.”

[…]

Jean Hudgins,Houston area vice president of the Texas Motorcycle Roadriders Association, said inexperienced riders are also to blame for many accidents.

Christopher Ramon Shaw was killed July 17 when he was “probably speeding” and lost control of a 2008 Yamaha R1 sport bike, Baytown Police Lt. Eric Freed said.

Shaw, a 34-year-old La Porte resident, Shaw, wasn’t licensed to operate a motorcycle on his Texas driver’s license, a state requirement for anyone who operates a motorcycle.

“The first thing people need to do when they get a motorcycle, any motorcycle, is take a safety course, especially if they’ve never ridden before,” said Hudgins.

Is taking the safety class a requirement for getting a Class M license? I’ve browsed through the Transportation Codes but couldn’t determine the answer to that. I also couldn’t tell if it is possible to buy a motorcycle without having a Class M license and/or proof of a motorcycle safety class. Seems to me that if the answer to either of these questions is “no”, then this would be a good time for the Lege to address the matter. If we are going to have more motorcycles on the streets, we should do our best to ensure that their operators are as well-equipped for it as possible. Making sure the automobile drivers are less clueless about them is unfortunately a different problem.

The next Mayor of San Antonio

Before Houston elects a new Mayor next November, San Antonio will do the same in May. Ken Rodriguez takes a look at what is shaping up to be a historic race.

“So,” my friend wanted to know, “what do you think of the mayor’s race?”

Could be historic, I said: “Right now we’ve got an all-Latino field. That’s never happened before.”

“Never?” my friend asked in disbelief.

“Not in modern times,” I replied.

Though no one has officially announced, we’ve got three Hispanics raising money to succeed Phil Hardberger: Juli├ín Castro. Diane Cibrian. Fernando Reyes.

Think about that. In modern San Antonio history, only two Latinos have served as mayor — Henry Cisneros and Ed Garza — but no current Anglo powerbroker has filed a campaign finance report to signify a run.

Cisneros, of course, served in the 80s. He was Mayor while I was in college. Garza was the predecessor to current Mayor Phil Hardberger.

Gordon Hartman would be viable. A philanthropist and former homebuilder, he’s got name ID, writes big checks to local charities and has weighed an ’09 run since at least ’05.

But he’s a North Side mystery. He hasn’t filed a campaign finance report. And he couldn’t be reached for comment regarding his mayoral intentions.

If Hartman were to run, he could be a minority candidate. The lone Anglo in a field of Latinos.

Remarkable.

The city may have turned a historic corner. One Anglo pillar in the business community puts it this way: “I think the perception is you are not going to have another Anglo mayor in San Antonio for a long, long time.”

The observation is based partly on the city’s growing Hispanic majority and partly on the shrinking power of the Anglo business community.

It’s an interesting contrast to Houston, where the three known Mayoral candidates so far are all Anglo. Everyone agrees that at least one non-white candidate will jump in at some point, but it’s not clear who they might be.

As for San Antonio, Castro is probably the frontrunner. He lost in a runoff to Hardberger in 2005, and as Rodriguez notes, he’s been running pretty much continuously since then. He was perceived as more style than substance back then, so I daresay he’ll work to address that this time around. Having open seat Mayoral races in two of the big cities here is going to make next year very interesting. Link via BOR.

“Money should NEVER stand in the way of health care”

I’m just going to reiterate the title of this post, and then urge you to follow the link to understand what it’s about and maybe take action to help: Money should NEVER stand in the way of health care. Just ask yourself a question: Would you rather we as a society spent our money helping this woman treat her cancer, or would you rather we spent it raising her two orphaned kids later on? I think that’s a pretty easy call to make, but then I’m just a soft-hearted liberal who doesn’t like the idea of two more motherless children in the world. Thanks to The Bloggess on Twitter for the link.