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September 19th, 2010:

Weekend link dump for September 19

Avast, ye scurvy dogs!

Eating on $4 a day. Following along for the week, here’s Day One.

This is what happens when Republicans run things.

RIP-to-be, Bloglines. RSS may not be dead, but I guess I need to start transitioning things to Google Reader.

And is going away, too. I don’t use that any more, thanks to the built-in WordPress “Links” feature, but I still have a Blogrolling account from back in the day, which was created in 2002. As I said in the comments there, it’s like the end of an era.

A transcript of that bizarre speech given by that Ohio Republican that went viral.

New York State Progressive Bloggers’ Joint Statement Regarding Park51 / Cordoba House

Don’t mess with Amarillo skateboarders. And here’s the remix.

Who better to judge your transgressions than someone who’s committed them himself?

Strike a blow for truthiness!

You think you hate flying now? Just you wait!

How far will the crazy take them?

The enduring myth of ACORN.

Go ahead, kids. Surf all you want.

Just a reminder that most people who claim to care about the deficit are lying through their teeth.

From the “Couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy” files. And just as the sun rises in the east, this was inevitable.

Let’s get it on

If you’re in Austin, go see these films at the Alamo Drafthouse.

We know that “tax cuts” are always the solution. Apparently, “liberal overreach” is always the problem.

How can you govern effectively if successes beyond anyone’s wildest expectations are considered abject failures?

From the “Things that are useful to know even if I’ll almost certainly never need to know them” department: Ten things to know about doing book signings. I’ll be happy to autograph the Internet for you if you’re interested.

Lisa Murkowski, meet Shelley Sekula Gibbs. Y’all have a lot to talk about.

Public Hearing on Final Draft of Historic Preservation Ordinance

From the Inbox:

Final Draft of Proposed Amendments to Historic Preservation Ordinance Released


After a two-month process involving public input from stakeholders, I have released the final draft of proposed amendments to the City’s Historic Preservation Ordinance and a specified process for transitioning the existing historic districts to the stronger protections offered by the proposed amendments. I envision the transition process to beginning following passage of the amended ordinance. To view the proposed amendments, transition process and other information, please visit

I appreciate the engagement of City Council and other stakeholders. The new draft incorporates the concerns I heard from you, as well as the many suggestions offered at the series of town hall meetings during the last two months. It is a good compromise that reflects the needs of the preservation community while still protecting private property rights.

Annise Parker


Public Hearing on Proposed Historic Preservation Amendments

The City of Houston Planning Commission will conduct a public hearing on the proposed amendments Thursday, September 23, 2010, 6:30 p.m. in the General Assembly room on the third floor of the George R. Brown Convention Center, 1001 Avenida de Las Americas, Houston, TX 77010.

Speakers will be allowed one minute to make their comments at the public hearing. If someone cannot attend the meetings, but would like to comment, please email [email protected] or mail your comments to Historic Preservation, City of Houston, Planning and Development Department, P.O. Box 1562 , Houston, Texas 77251-1562 by Wednesday, September 22, 2010.

To view the proposed amendments and other information about the process, please visit

For a map and directions to the George R. Brown Convention Center, please go to

Some street parking may be available or attendees can park in the Hilton/George R. Brown Convention Center parking garage located on Polk Street, subject to availability. Attendees can submit their parking stub for validation (from that garage only).

Swamplot has a brief summary, while the Chron goes into some detail.

As expected, the revised law will close a loophole that allowed property owners to demolish the structures on their land even when a city commission disapproved of their plans.

However, the city also is raising the bar on neighborhoods that wish to receive the historic designation, reducing the size of areas that can qualify and requiring the approval of far more property owners to achieve the distinction. Existing districts will have to reapply, a change that has rankled some preservation advocates.


Under the new proposal, historic districts could be no larger than 400 properties, and 60 percent of property owners in the proposed area must return ballots mailed by the city showing they want the designation, said Marlene Gafrick, director of the city’s Department of Planning and Development.

If the amendments pass City Council, which is expected to take up the matter next month, then all 16 existing districts and three that are pending must petition the city for reconsideration of their historic status within 15 days. The revisions to the ordinance propose no threshold for how many in a given area must approve of the historic designation for it to remain so, Gafrick said.

The department will mail ballots to property owners and evaluate whether the entire area previously covered by the designation should remain historic, be reduced or if the district should be eliminated.

I don’t care for that last change, and I expect the existing protected districts won’t either. It seems wrong to me that this could allow for the un-protecting of districts that went through quite a bit of trouble to comply with the ordinances we now have. Why not just give them the option to remain as they are, with no changes to the rules? Then if they want to apply for designation under the stricter rules, they can pursue that. I don’t see the need to make them petition for reconsideration, especially on such a short time frame.

I’m sure that will be brought up at the hearing. According to the story, the realtors and the builders have not taken a position on the revisions, while Houstonians for Responsible Growth, who represent developers, say they like them. I’m not sure that a preservation ordinance that gets the support of those groups while being opposed by neighborhood groups is worth having, but we’ll see what happens.

This ain’t your daddy’s Fort Bend

Interesting article about the changing demographics in Fort Bend County and the changes in politics that have come with it.

Today the GOP holds 27 of 31 elective offices in the county.

Rick Miller aims to keep it that way. The 65-year-old retired Navy pilot moved to Sugar Land in 1999, and, with his wife, Babs, started getting politically active in 2006. When an internecine feud led to the resignation of the Republican party chair in 2007, he ran and won.

“The demographics are changing here in Fort Bend County,” Miller acknowledges, “and we’re kind of watching it really closely. We saw the effect of that in the Obama presidential race against McCain. The election was a lot closer than we thought it was going to be. Fort Bend went for McCain, but it was really pretty close.”

In 2004, the county gave nearly two-thirds of its vote to Bush-Cheney. Four years later, the McCain-Palin ticket won the county by a margin of 4,710 votes, 51 percent to 49 percent.

Miller’s Democratic counterpart, Stephen Brown, sees the county as “ground zero” in his party’s bid to emerge from political purgatory. “It’s only when we start to win suburban Texas that we have a chance to take the state back – the House, the Senate and the Governor’s Mansion,” he says.


In 2004, only 11,000 people voted in Fort Bend County’s Democratic presidential primary. Four years later, that number jumped to 68,517. Brown’s job is to get the newcomers out to vote and to reignite the 2008 momentum. His goal for November is 70,000 Democratic voters.

Political scientist [Richard] Murray says he thinks Bill White “probably will carry Fort Bend – and he must.”

I’m quite certain that Bill White cannot be elected Governor unless he wins Fort Bend. He could carry Fort Bend and still lose the election, but if he loses in Fort Bend, I feel confident he can’t win.

You can see some of the trends in Fort Bend’s voting patterns here, here, here, and here. The pattern is similar to what we’ve seen in Harris County – the number of Republican voters grows a little, while the number of Democratic voters grows a lot. Maybe the enthusiasm gap, if it actually exists in Texas, will counter some of that. On the other hand, Fort Bend’s Democratic Party is vastly better organized now than it was in 2006, thanks to its new party chair, and that will have an effect as well. If I had to place a bet, I’d put my coin on White carrying the county. We’ll see how it goes.

EPA-TCEQ agreement in the works

A compromise is in the works between the EPA and the TCEQ over the controversial “flex permits” that the EPA has deemed not in compliance with the Clean Air Act.

“We’re very close,” said Richard Hyde, deputy director of permitting and registration at the commission. He said the object of the meeting today is to bounce the compromise off industry and environmental groups. A deal between the commission and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency could be formalized as soon as the end of the month.

EPA regional administrator Al Armendariz said he was optimistic about the negotiations but that there is still distance between the two agencies.

“It’s an indication that we’re making progress,” he said of today’s meeting.

At issue has been whether industrial plants that had been operating under broad, so-called flexible permits awarded years ago by the state ought to be subjected to more precise, stringent permits. The flexible permits set facility-wide emissions limits, which regulators say leave them in the dark about how many gases particular parts of the plant are belching into the air .

Firms that don’t take the voluntary route could face the wrath of the EPA, including a federal takeover of permits and tougher regulations.

According to a draft of the compromise obtained by the American-Statesman, the commission will require companies that want to “deflex” to submit within a year a permit application that spells out emissions points, such as individual boilers, and to explain the basis of their emissions requests.

The compromise also requires companies to essentially pull back the veil on their plants and explain what, if any, major modifications have been made since they won flexible permits. Such modifications will qualify them for more stringent rules. The companies also will be required to describe all air pollution control technology they have installed on plants. Each company is entrusted to do the look-back itself.

You can read the draft agreement here. This will go a long way towards turning down the heat on this issue, and will give industry some regulatory certainty, but it will not affect the ongoing lawsuit, or presumably any of the newly-filed lawsuits.

Statewide smoking ban still on tap

Now that every major city in Texas has an ordinance that bans smoking in most public places, attention turns to the Lege where another attempt will be made next year to pass a similar ban.

Similar legislation died in the waning days of the 2009 Legislature despite the support of cyclist and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong and an aggressive push by a statewide coalition of public-health organizations. Proponents couldn’t overcome opposition from conservative free-enterprise groups that denounced the ban as government intrusion into private property rights

Spokesmen for the coalition, Smoke-Free Texas, said Wednesday that supporters are preparing to reintroduce the measure in the 2011 Legislature, convening in January, while conceding that they face the same obstacles.

State Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, who co-authored the Senate version of the bill in 2009, said she is eager to resume that role in 2011.

“We’re as vibrant and strong as ever,” said James Gray, government relations director for the American Cancer Society, one of the member groups of Smoke-Free Texas. “We’re a group that’s not going away until it’s done.”

But Peggy Venable, Texas director of Americans for Prosperity, said opposition forces are equally determined to deliver another knockout if the bill resurfaces.

“We’re concerned about it — not because we want to encourage more people to smoke, but because we care about property rights and individual freedoms,” said Venable, a nonsmoker and breast cancer survivor.

I generally don’t strain myself trying to understand the thinking of the Free Market Fairy people, but even taking that into account, I don’t quite get this. As noted in the story, one complaint about the municipal approach is that bars and restaurants on or close the a city’s boundaries may find themselves competing with joints that are outside the city’s limits and thus not subject to the same rules. You’d think that getting a uniform standard would be appealing, and given that the Americans for Prosperity crowd isn’t actively working to repeal the existing municipal bans – to the best of my recollection, these groups weren’t involved in the local debates, at least not in Houston and San Antonio – legislative action is the logical course. Not for them, I guess. Anyway, given all the other things that will be happening next year it’s hard to say what the odds of success are, but the battle will be joined.