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July 14th, 2010:

Radack’s Hill update

Texas Watchdog has an interesting story on Radack’s Hill, also known as the Hockley Soap Box Derby track. I note that Commissioner Radack is still hard at work pumping up the economic prospects of his pet project.

According to Radack the new derby park in Houston is one that rivals the same track used for the All-American Soap Box Derby World Championship race, a distinction Radack thinks will help bring people to Houston.

“There are people who travel (the soap box derby) circuit around the country,” Radack said.

That world championship race is held in Akron, Ohio, home to Derby Downs. According to an article in the Akron Beacon Journal, Derby Downs and the Hockley soap box derby park have the same size hill and same amenities: concession stands, grandstands and a barn to house the derby cars.

Although Derby Downs is home to the All-American Soap Box Derby, the park has lately been mired in financial trouble.

According to the Beacon Journal:

“Akron’s Soap Box Derby struggles with more than $600,000 in debt and the lack of a national sponsor for the fourth year in a row.”

Another article in the Akron newspaper said the Akron City Council donated $60,000 to the the derby park last year and backed the derby’s loan repayment to a bank.

And last Monday, the city of Akron agreed to donate $60,000 to the race track once again this year, the newspaper reported.

With this in mind Texas Watchdog asked Radack if the new race park will really help the economy or even be able to sustain itself?

“We have warmer weather here. I think people will use this track 300 days a year. People in Houston go golfing when it is sleeting,” Radack said. “As we get more people who are interested, we will have more and more organized races. I think there could be dozens a year.”

I remain less optimistic than Commissioner Radack about the potential for this thing to draw people to it. Part of the reason for this is because the thing is in the middle of nowhere, far away from where the people are. According to Google Maps, it’s a 37.5 mile drive from my house to the Hockley park. That’s most of the way to Galveston; I checked, and it’s 53.3 miles to Moody Gardens. And I’m in the northwest quadrant of the Loop, with easy highway access to US 290. There are almost no locals to speak of out there. According to Neighborhood Link, the entire 77447 ZIP code has just over 8000 people in it. By comparison, there are over 40,000 people in 77009, and it’s geographically much smaller. I guess people could travel in for the big events, assuming they happen, but again, it’s a long way to go to get there (42.9 miles from IAH, according to Google).

To be clear, this is first and foremost a park, and building parks is something County Commissioners do. If it’s enjoyed as a park, it’s a success regardless of any grandiose claims about soap box derbies. I don’t live anywhere near this park, but I don’t live in Radack’s precinct, so that’s not really relevant. (Note, though, that even just considering his precinct, this thing is pretty darned remote.) And I’m sure Radack believes that in another 20 years or so there will be plenty of people nearby, especially if he and his colleagues go ahead with that boondoggle known as the Grand Parkway. I harp on the Soap Box Derby stuff, and I daresay Texas Watchdog is doing so as well, because Radack has made it about that. For better or worse, the Hockley park will be judged on how well his predictions about it turn out.

“HEB with a Montrose feel”

The West U Examiner gives us an update on the plans for an HEB where the Wilshire Village Apartments used to be.

Having recently closed its land deal for the property at Dunlavy and Alabama streets, H-E-B will be putting the finishing touches on three grocery store designs to be considered at the site.

The price paid for the property was not disclosed. There is no timetable yet for selecting a plan or to begin building at the site, spokeswoman Cyndy Garza-Roberts said.

During a meeting with the Neartown/Montrose Super Neighborhood in mid-May, H-E-B representatives said residents in the area and other concerned parties in the community would have an opportunity to voice preferences on the final design.

“Once we have them (the plans) ready, we will work with homeowners associations and (neighboring) St. Stephen’s Church,” Garza-Roberts said. “We are very confident they will be pleased. It’s going to be unique and compliment the Montrose feel.”

We’ll see what the neighbors, some of whom are quite skeptical about HEB’s plans, think of this. I’ve expressed some of the same concerns about this as I have about the “Heights” Wal-Mart. The HEB location is on streets that are at least somewhat better suited for the kind of traffic it’s likely to see, and it has the bonus of being near a future University Line rail stop, so the situations aren’t identical, but they are similar. If HEB can convince the locals that they can make this work in a way that won’t be too disruptive, maybe there’s hope for Wal-Mart as well. Maybe. I look forward to seeing what they have to show.

Start stocking up on those forever stamps

They’re about to be a bargain.

Fighting to survive a deepening financial crisis, the Postal Service said Tuesday it wants to increase the price of first-class stamps by 2 cents — to 46 cents — starting in January. Other postage costs would rise as well.


While the cost of a first-class stamp would go up, people who bought Forever stamps at the current 44 cents or at lower prices would still be able to use them without paying the difference.

Officials also said they plan a new design for Forever stamps, which currently have am image of the Liberty Bell. New Forever stamps will have images of evergreen trees. All Forever stamps would remain valid.

Forever stamps are pretty much all we buy these days, so we’ll be prepared for when this happens. I figure the rate goes up two cents every couple of years, so this is no big deal. What struck me was this:

Post office finances are complicated by a requirement that the agency make annual payments of more than $5 billion to fund future health benefits for retirees, something not required of other government agencies. The post office avoided financial disaster last year only after Congress allowed it to delay $4 billion of that payment.

The postal inspector general also contends that the Postal Service has been overcharged billions of dollars for retirement benefits for employees who worked for the old Post Office Department before it was converted to the Postal Service in 1970.

I probably should have known about these things, but if I did I’d forgotten them. The latter seems like lawsuit material; the former, I hope, will eventually be ameliorated by health care reform. Hope they can hold on till that happens.