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October 23rd, 2010:

Saturday video break: Early voting theme song

Have you voted yet? If not, here’s a little ditty to hum as you enter the polling place.

Pretty catchy for an unapologetic political screed, if you ask me. Thanks to Juanita for the catch.

Metro to try mediation with CAF

Whatever works.

The Metropolitan Transit Authority plans to negotiate the cancellation of a $331 million contract with a Spanish rail car manufacturer through mediation, local transit bosses said Wednesday.

That is why, despite the agency’s announced intention to cancel the contract, no action [was] proposed on [Thursday’s] agenda, explained Metro President George Greanias and board Chairman Gilbert Garcia.

They said they hope to begin mediation next month and begin soliciting new bids in January to provide 105 light rail cars.


The Metro board will deal with the rail car contract on a future agenda. Regardless of whether mediation succeeds, Greanias and Garcia explained, the contract with Construcciones y Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles, or CAF, will be canceled.

“We are going to terminate this contract,” Greanias said. “We’re just trying to do it in the most businesslike, efficient manner we can.”

And if they can avoid litigation and minimize the cost of doing so, all the better.

Now for the bad news:

[Metro’s] president, George Greanias, announced that the light rail expansion budget for this year has been cut by close to 70 percent, from $458 million to $143 million.

That means more than a hundred construction, engineering, small business and community outreach contracts are being reduced or suspended.

The changes stem from Metro’s financial woes and the Federal Transit Administration’s announcement in September that Metro had violated Buy American rules, delaying its federal funding even further.

“These are difficult and regrettable decisions,” Greanias said. “We’ve taken the agency down to the foundation to start from a totally financially sound base.”

But, he added, “It’s going to be a very difficult path as we move forward.”

Utility work will continue on the North and Southeast lines until the end of this year, and utility and road work go on as planned in “select areas” on the East End line. The rest is going the way of the buffalo. At least for now.

Because Greanias and Metro’s board chairman, Gilbert Garcia, stressed that the light rail plans aren’t completely shutting down. That would be more expensive — costing about $200 million, according to Greanias — than suspending the operation until the federal funding picture becomes more clear.

This was expected, but it’s still lousy to see happen. All we can do is hope that the FTA funding that we’ve been counting on all along comes through sooner rather than later.

“Lunch Line”

Want to understand the history of the school lunch program and what’s going on with it today? Then you’ll want to see the documentary “Lunch Line”, for which The Lunch Tray is, fittingly enough, a sponsor:

Here’s a trailer of the film and a recent review from The Atlantic Monthly. The film makers, Uji Films, give this synopsis:

Lunch Line reframes the school lunch debate through an examination of the program’s surprising past, uncertain present, and possible future. In the film, six kids from one of the toughest neighborhoods in Chicago set out to fix school lunch and end up at the White House. Their unlikely journey parallels the dramatic transformation of school lunch from a weak patchwork of local anti-hunger efforts to a robust national feeding program. The film tracks key moments in school food and child nutrition from 1940s, 1960s, and 1980s to the present – revealing political twists, surprising alliances, and more common ground than people realize.

The event will be held at The Health Museum and will begin at 6:30pm with a reception featuring local and organic refreshments. Immediately following the screening of the film, I’ll be introducing a panel discussion featuring the film makers along with celebrity chef Monica Pope (Bravo Top Chef Masters and a Food & Wine Best New Chef); Recipe for Success‘s Director of Operations, chef Molly Graham; and Brian Giles, General Manager of Houston ISD/Aramark Food Services. Lisa Brooks, a writer, teacher and public school parent, will moderate.

Admission and parking are free. You just have to be one of the first people to RSVP to secure a seat in the theater. For more information and to RSVP, click here.

The screening is this Thursday, October 28, with the film itself beginning at 7 PM. Enjoy!

Endorsement watch: Congress

Nothing to see here. Six contested Congressional races in Harris County – the 7th CD, in which there is a write-in candidate but no Democrat on the ballot, is not included – six recommendations for the incumbents. Had there been a credible Democratic challenger in CD07, it would have been interesting to see what the Chron would have done, given that they endorsed the challenger in 2008 after giving a decidedly un-ringing endorsement to the incumbent in 2006. (They do seem to like telling certain candidates to change who they are.) But we’ll have to wait till 2012 for that.