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July 22nd, 2010:

The Great Texas Clean Up Festival

Looking for something to do Saturday? The Sierra Club has a suggestion.


Join us on JULY 24TH, from 4-10pm for a day of music and art.

Featured artists: Amos Garcia, Kate Fu, Kyle Fu, JSQUARD, Lizbeth Ortiz, Andrew Chapa, Rockey Perez, Roger Hunter, Mickael Allen, Christian Navarrete,the Contemporary Art Museum Teen Council

At the Discovery Green, 1500 McKinney Street.
Houston, Texas 77010

For questions, email: [email protected]

It’s more than just music:

On July 24th, the Sierra Club and the Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Service (TEJAS) with other environmental groups, community organizations, and businesses from Houston and around the state will come together to help clean up Texas. With a concert free to the public, this broad and diverse coalition will speak out with Texans standing up demanding clean air and clean energy for a healthier Texas future.

Speakers include State Sen. Rodney Ellis, State Rep. Ana Hernandez, Representative Ana Hernandez, Matthew Tejada of Air Alliance Houston, and Juan Parras of TEJAS. Come on out, hear some music, and see what they’ve got to say about a cleaner Texas.

The new Historic Preservation ordinance

From Swamplot:

The mayor’s office is out with a “public comment draft” of proposed changes to Houston’s Historic Preservation Ordinance. The biggest (and most expected) change: There’ll be no more 90-day “compliance waivers” issued for historic-district properties. Under the previous ordinance, owners of contributing properties in historic districts whose plans for new construction, demolition, or renovation had been rejected by the city’s historic commission could proceed with those plans anyway after simply waiting 90 days. Under these changes, the Old Sixth Ward — labeled a “protected” historic district because the waivers weren’t allowed there — will now be the model for all others.

But the changes also include a completely revised process for neighborhoods to vote on historic-district status. Previously, for a neighborhood to file an historic-preservation application, it needed to submit a petition signed by owners representing more than 51 percent of its tracts. But the new system puts power into the hands of owners who are willing to express an opinion and takes it away from those who can’t be bothered or found. It allows an application to be filed if 67 percent of the property owners in a district who send in special cards distributed for that purpose indicate on those cards that they’re in favor of the designation.

I like that change. If you really don’t care one way or another, or at least don’t care enough to officially say so, you shouldn’t be part of the process. The threshold is low enough for opponents to win, and it makes the job of those who favor historic preservation status easier, too. Finally, getting rid of the 90-day waivers, which are one of the biggest jokes in Houston, is a huge step in the right direction. What was the point of even having a commission if its rulings meant nothing?

Of course, this is a long way from finished, and even if it makes it to the finish line, there may be many changes along the way. But first this proposal has to overcome the usual opposition from the usual suspects.

Josh Sanders, executive director of Houstonians for Responsible Growth, an organization that includes developers and advocates for private property rights, said the new rules could hurt the economy.

“It’s going to slow growth. It’s going to potentially slow down an area that’s rapidly redeveloping,” Sanders said, adding that residents should be able to vote on whether to accept the new rules.

I believe the petition process, in which a one-third minority can prevent a given subdivision from gaining the historic designation, is more than sufficient to ensure that all interested parties have a say in the outcome. And slowing things down, in these historic areas, is the point. Ask the people who used to live in Freedmen’s Town if they think easing the throttle on rapid development is a feature or a bug. As for the call for a vote, that’s just a page from the anti-rail playbook, in which the solution to something you don’t like is to keep calling for the people to vote on whatever it is you don’t like in the hope that sooner or later they’ll vote against it.

Anyway, there’s more to read there and at the Swamplot link, so go take a look; see also these relevant links from the Planning Office. The press release from the Mayor’s office, with a list of dates and locations for public meetings about the proposed changes, is beneath the fold.


Meet the Mostyns

I have two things to say about this.

Attorney Steve Mostyn said Tuesday he and his wife, Amber Anderson, are committed to putting a “substantial” amount of money that likely will exceed $3 million into ending hard-right Republican politics in Texas government.

The pair already has put $1.3 million into committees that can help Democrat and former Houston Mayor Bill White win the governor’s office, making them far and away his biggest benefactors in this race.

“My gut seems to be dictating this instead of my head,” Mostyn said. “If my head was dictating it, I’d probably put the money into a trust fund for my kids.”

The couple’s largesse and manner of giving is rapidly turning them into a Democratic version of Houston homebuilder Bob Perry, a frequent and substantial donor to Republican and conservative candidates and causes.

The Mostyns are also the main funders of the Back to Basics PAC. Regarding the comparisons to Bob Perry, call me when Governor White names a Mostyn Law Firm employee to a newly-created commission that has the power to positively affect their own firm’s bottom line. It’s never been just about the money where Bob Perry is concerned, it’s been about what he has gotten for that money.

Two, I have been in favor of restricting the total amount of money that a single donor can give in an election cycle for a long time. A bill to do just that was introduced last session by Democratic Reps. Mark Strama and Mike Villarreal but predictably got nowhere. (I actually think the $100K limit this bill would have imposed is too low. I’d go for $250K, with an inflation adjuster built in to allow for the increasing cost of elections. But these are details to be quibbled over. It’s the principle that matters.) I know plenty of other Democrats who would like to see such limitations enacted. If Republicans don’t like what the Mostyns are doing, perhaps they will reconsider their opposition to bills like this one. Until such time as we are living in my ideal world, however, I’m not going to criticize Democratic activists for engaging in legal activities.

“Warning” versus “reprimand”

Rick Casey answers a question that has been bugging me about the State Commission on Judicial Conduct ruling that issued a “public warning” to Sharon Keller.

A majority of the panel agreed that Keller needed to be sanctioned for ignoring the procedures she admitted to knowing. Because of the poor performance of Richard’s lawyers and evidence of other problems at the Court of Criminal Appeals itself, none of the commissioners argued to remove Keller from office.

Some did urge a “public reprimand,” a step up from the “warning.” But a reprimand results in a judge being ineligible to sit as a visiting judge after retiring from the bench.

One member asked why they would prohibit Keller from sitting later if they did not did not think she needed to be removed now. That argument carried the day for the lower sanction.

So a reprimand would have had a real-life effect on Keller, while a warning is, well, nothing more than the finger wag in her direction I thought it was. Grits points out the obvious flaw in the Commission’s reasoning.

It’s a bit of a strange argument: Why would they prohibit Keller from sitting later if they did not think she needed to be removed now? Another question might be, “Why would the mid-range verdict of a ‘public reprimand’ exist if that’s the commission’s basic calculus?” By that logic, judges don’t deserve a public reprimand until they behave so badly they warrant removal, at which point presumably the commission would instead vote to remove them. What a Catch-22! If, as I suspect, the same commissioners have voted to give other judges public reprimands, that seems a bit disingenuous.

I can actually see a strong argument for a public reprimand as the right outcome – not removing her now but preventing Keller from sitting as a visiting judge later. One might think it proper to allow voters to pass judgment on Keller instead of having her administratively removed, but down the line you wouldn’t want someone who would knowingly violate court rules to sit as a visiting judge.

He also notes that the “warning” option seems to have come out of nowhere, as it wasn’t given by the Commission as a possible outcome when they heard the two sides’ appeals. Has any other judge received a “warning” before? I can’t help but think that the Commission was just simply reluctant to actually punish Keller. Remember, she’s said if she had to do it all over again, she wouldn’t do anything differently. Given that so far all this has cost her is money, of which she has plenty, why would she see any need to change? No consequences means no need for introspection.

The State of Texas and IBM: Not getting any better

No group hugs are expected any time soon.

Agencies that help Texans renew their automobile registrations, draw unemployment benefits and apply for food stamps and Medicaid face crushing demands – and IBM, the technology contractor for those agencies, isn’t even providing mundane services, a top state technology official testified today.

“We’ve experienced significant service delivery problems” that force state employees to wait many days for routine help with computer matters, said Ed Swedberg, a deputy executive director at the Department of Information Resources.

Speaking of a troubled, $863 million state contract with IBM, Swedberg described to a House budget panel “a major backlog of work requests” that, he said, have gone unheeded by the contractor.

“These are day-to-day requests, such as adding memory to a server, restoring a file or re-setting a password,” he said. “This is of course frustrating … and more importantly affects the agencies’ ability to serve citizens and other constituents.”

An IBM spokesman responded that the state is to blame for any problems.

“We are looking at each of [the department’s] numerous shortcomings since the very beginning of the contract,” said IBM spokesman Jeff Tieszen, who dismissed Swedberg’s testimony as simply more “misguided accusations” from the state.

See here for the previous entry. Did I mention that this has “lawsuit” written all over it?