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July 31st, 2010:

Saturday video break: When you gotta go, you gotta go

If your dog could sing, he’d probably sing this to you:

I don’t think I can add anything to that.

Ready or not, here comes Wal-Mart

It’s a done deal.

Wal-Mart has placed 16 acres of land in the Washington Avenue corridor under contract, company spokeswoman Kellie Duhr confirmed Thursday. The deal comes two days after concerned Heights-area residents voiced their opposition to the project to the Houston City Council.

Though some council members complimented the residents on their proactive efforts and passion for their neighborhood, most stressed the city can do little to stop Wal-Mart from building a reportedly 152,000-square-foot store near Yale and Koehler. Property owner The Ainbinder Co. holds 24 acres in the area and plans a retail development anchored by the Supercenter.

Mayor Annise Parker said she and Councilman Ed Gonzalez, whose District H includes the Heights area, plan to form a committee of nearby residents and businesses through which the community can articulate its concerns. Gonzalez was not present at Tuesday’s meeting.

Parker said the aim of the group would be “not to stop the project, but to make sure that whatever goes in there, that at least we attempt to negotiate mitigations to potential neighborhood impacts.”

I’m not sure how much actual leverage the city has here, though I’m sure the 4000+ members of Stop the Heights Wal-Mart will be scouring the city’s codes to see what they can make happen. Let’s just say this is going to be interesting to watch.

By the way, a little searching showed that Excited About the Heights Wal-Mart has four (count ’em) fans, and Bring On the Heights Wal-Mart has 21. I wouldn’t call any of this scientific, but that’s a pretty strong statement of public opinion.

Also by the way, there’s now a Stop Heights Wal-Mart website. They’re collecting money for yard signs to be distributed during White Linen Night. I’m sure I’ll publish a picture of said sign when I see one in the ‘hood.

Speaking of pictures, there’s some action going on at the site. I snapped these yesterday from Yale:

Some sort of construction on the Wal-Mart site

The entrance to the construction site

Not sure what exactly they’re doing, but there it is. See They Are Building A Wal-Mart On My Street for more.

Towards healthier school lunches

Good for DISD.

As part of a nationwide push against childhood obesity, the Dallas Independent School District is overhauling its cafeteria menu by featuring healthier food and tossing aside classic artery cloggers.

“The challenge to improve school nutrition is coming from all directions,” said Dora Rivas, the district’s executive director of child nutrition services. “There is a great impetus right now to really work on providing healthier meals.”


Gone are nachos – a lunchroom favorite – for elementary students. Potato chips and desserts will no longer be part of meals, though they will be available a la carte.

Hamburgers and oven fries will be offered only once every two weeks at the middle school and elementary level. And breaded and pre-fried foods will be on the menu more sparingly.

New items will include black bean burgers, hummus plates and Asian chicken bowls. Romaine lettuce and spinach will take the place of iceberg lettuce in salads.

Brown rice will replace white rice.

For actual expert commentary on this sort of thing, I’ll refer you to The Lunch Tray. What I do know is that making this kind of change work is harder than it looks. Taking nachos off the school menu is a no-brainer, sure, but how much good are you really doing if students reject the healthier choices? It doesn’t make much sense if all that good food winds up in the garbage can because nobody wanted to eat it. That certainly doesn’t mean that it’s better to let the kids drive the decisions, just that it will take more than simply substituting black bean burgers for nachos to make this work. Frankly, what it will likely take is a certain amount of marketing to make the kids at least willing to give new foods a try – trust me on this, that is highly non-trivial – and a willingness to listen and adapt to the feedback you get. I hope DISD has someone thinking about all this, and I wish them all the best of luck with it.

One more thing:

The healthy upgrades do come at a price. DISD already spends about $80 million each year providing 120,000 lunches, 46,000 breakfasts and 10,000 after-school snacks. The new menu’s food and supplies could cost up to an extra $3 million this year, said Brad Trudeau, the district’s director of food production and procurement.

That’s a 3.75 percent increase in the cost of providing meals. Given the great long-term upside of getting the kids to eat healthier foods, it would be penny-wise and pound foolish in the extreme to see that as anything but a fine and worthwhile investment. There is a point at which you would say it’s costing too much, but 3.75 percent is a long way from that point.

Dewhurst the deficit peacock

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst wants you to believe that he cares about deficit spending.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst warned Wednesday that new federal health care legislation will bust Texas’ budget, saddling state taxpayers with $27 billion in extra costs over the next decade.

“That’s an astounding number for us,” Dewhurst told the Texas State Society at a breakfast that included a half-dozen members of Congress. “We’re on the hook for all those folks we’ve been trying to get to sign up for Medicaid.”

Let’s put aside for a second the fact that his figures are alarmist and highly misleading. Dewhurst is fretting about $27 billion over a decade. That’s $2.7 billion per year, or $5.4 billion per biennium, which is what really matters from a budgetary perspective. Let me bring you this blast from the past, quoted from the Quorum Report:

Chisum first laid out HB 2, which appropriates the $14 billion to make whole the property tax revenue lost by schools, and quickly moved to a vote.

Emphasis mine. This was from the 2007 legislative session, the first regular session that followed the special session of 2006 in which the Lege adopted a one-third cut in property taxes as a fix for the Supreme Court ruling over school finances. Because of that cut, $14 billion had to be taken from general revenue to make up the difference. That’s all in one budget. Now, of course, the Lege did create the new business margins tax, which along with an increase in the cigarette tax and some other small measures was supposed to replace the revenue lost to that property tax cut. Except for the fact that the margins tax has fallen short of projections, which we knew from the beginning it would do. In the end, we’ve spent about eight billion dollars of general revenue to pay for that tax cut, and we’ll spend billions more in this biennium and the biennia to follow. And David Dewhurst doesn’t make a peep about it. In fact, he thinks that’s just peachy. The lesson we learn from this is that it’s not the spending Dewhurst cares about, it’s who the beneficiaries are of that spending.

Metro gets record of decision for University line

Very good news.

Metro has received word that final approval has been given concerning the environmental review process for the University light-rail line.

“Houston clearly needs the University Line as an East-West transit artery,” said George Greanias, action president and CEO of the transit agency. “We’re extremely gratified the FTA has taken a big step in advancing this important project.”

The approval in the form of a federal Record of Decision allows Metro to go forward with utility coordination, design and pre-construction planning along the 11.3-mile route, some of which will run along Richmond Avenue from roughly Main to Cummins streets.

Metro’s press release about the FTA action is beneath the fold. There is of course still the matter of getting federal funds, and ensuring that Metro’s financial position is sufficiently strong to carry the debt load all this will eventually incur, but that’s a concern for another day. Between this and the conclusion of the document shredding investigation, it’s been a pretty darned good week for Metro.

On a side note, you can see Metro’s response to the FTA concerning Buy America. Maybe they can go three for three and get a favorable resolution to this soon, too.

UPDATE: Here’s the Chron story on the record of decision.