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March 8th, 2011:

More Council redistricting drama

Greg liveblogs today’s special City Council meeting on the Census population report and Council redistricting. Read it for a blow-by-blow account of where individual Council members are standing, or which way they’re leaning, on the question. This could be a very close vote.

The Chron summarizes the issues in an editorial.

Now, a group of mostly Anglo and conservative district council members is attempting to undermine those multiple agreements by fighting the expansion on demographic, financial and partisan grounds. Their reasoning is untenable and would lead the city into an expensive legal cul-de-sac.

First the demographics. The recently announced U.S. Census results listed the city’s population in April 2010 as 2,099,451, or 549 people short of 2.1 million. Opponents of expansion have seized on that number to claim expansion is not legally justified. However, in a report to City Council, consultant Jerry Wood identified ample errors in the census enumeration. He concluded that just by adding neighborhoods mistakenly put outside the city limits, Houston’s population would be over the magic figure. The city has filed an appeal challenging the census totals.

The other issues raised by opponents — the costs of two new council offices and supposed political manipulation to put more liberals on the non-partisan council — do not touch the essence of the matter. The city is legally bound to carry out redistricting and expansion.

Mayor Annise Parker notes that whichever route council takes, the city likely will be sued by one faction or another. But with the extensive legal commitments in the past for expansion, she says she’d “rather be on the side of history.”

Yes. That. We had a deal, we need to live up to it. I’ve yet to see a convincing argument against that.

Dr. Murray adds on.

Let us suppose a majority of council refuses to follow through on the nine-to-eleven expansion of districts. That refusal will absolutely assure the City is sued. A trial, at great expense, will follow sometime down the road As an expert witness in redistricting litigation since 1971, I do not think the defenders of no action can find a credible expert to testify that, as of whatever day in 2011 or 2012 or 2013, when the expert is in the witness box, that there are fewer than 2.1 million in the city. That means the city almost certainly loses the case, and then must compensate the attorneys who brought the action, as well as cover their own litigation expenses.

Murray points out that Houston grew by an average of almost 15,000 residents per year last decade. Even if you agree that the Census counted every last person in Houston as of last April, do we really think we’re still 500-some people short of 2.1 million today?

Mary Benton notes that the Texas Asian American Redistricting Initiative (TAARI), a project of the Washington, D.C.-based Asian American Justice Center, has announced its support of proceeding with the two extra Council districts. I think we’re going to need to hear from more groups like this.

Campos and Stace discuss redistricting and Kingwood. Let’s just say that some parts of the city dislike the idea of two more Council seats than some others do.

Finally, here’s a letter from the Montie Beach Civic Club, advocating for it and the Brooke Smith subdivision to be kept with the rest of the Heights in a single City Council district. This is in conjunction with the One Heights, One District movement, about which you can lean more here or send email to [email protected] for more information.

UPDATE: Here’s a further update from Greg.

So will we have a Mayor’s race or not?

We’re now more than a month into the city election fundraising season, and as of this week the only person to file a declaration of Treasurer for the office of Mayor is the incumbent, Annise Parker. As of this time two years ago, all four major candidates had not only filed Treasurer’s reports but had already made formal announcements of their candidacies. Anyone who may be interested in challenging Mayor Parker now has one less month in which to raise money for their campaign.

At this point, I can’t even say there’s much happening in the rumor mill. I’d heard some chatter about two weeks ago that Council Member C.O. Bradford was going to be meeting with “advisors” about a possible entry into the race, but nothing since then. I’ve not heard a peep about Paul Bettencourt since his profile in the Chron was published nearly two months ago. Bradford as we know is not exactly flush with cash, and isn’t known as a prodigious fundraiser. Bettencourt, who likely can raise some bucks but would be starting out at zero, has never run in a non-partisan city election before, and has never really run in a race where his party wasn’t expected to make up a majority of the voters. The clock is ticking, for them and for anyone else out there who might be thinking about it.

It’s still early, and Mayor Parker is neither as popular as Bill White was six years ago nor in as favorable a climate, so it’s still the case that anything can happen. But the longer we go without anyone taking a concrete step towards a candidacy, the less likely it is that anything of consequence will happen.

Bradley’s nomination to Forensic Science Commission may be dead

Peggy Fikac brings the good news.

It’s not looking good for John Bradley, the tough-talking prosecutor named by Republican Gov. Rick Perry to head the Forensic Science Commission – and not just because of Democratic opposition to his appointment.

“The Democrats are not going to vote for him, and there are two Republicans that are not,” said Senate Nominations Committee Chairman Bob Deuell, R-Greenville. It takes a two-thirds vote of the Senate to confirm the governor’s appointees. There are 19 Senate Republicans and 11 (sic) Democrats.

“He probably thought he could talk a couple of Democrats into voting for him. I don’t think he can talk four” into it, Deuell said.


If there aren’t enough votes to confirm Bradley, Senate leaders expect to let his nomination linger without a vote. His appointment then would be valid through the end of the session.

Couldn’t happen to a nicer, more deserving guy. I don’t have any illusions that Perry will pick anyone better to replace him, but as he doesn’t currently have an election to win it’s at least theoretically possible that he’ll name someone a little less hackish. We can hope, anyway. Grits has more.

The missing people of San Marcos

Houston isn’t the only city that got unexpectedly bad news from the Census.

Just how many people live in San Marcos? Lately, that depends on whom you ask.

For the past three years, city officials have estimated the population to be more than 50,000 people. Estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau seemed to agree, offering a guess of 53,205 in 2009.

But official results from the 2010 census tell a different story. They put the city’s population at 44,894 , far below previous estimates and raising the possibility that San Marcos residents were undercounted.


The Census Bureau reports that San Marcos had a relatively low rate of mail-in participation in the census compared with the rest of Hays County, other nearby cities and the national average of 74 percent.

The data show that 67 percent of San Marcos households filled out and mailed in their census forms, up from 64 percent in 2000. New Braunfels had a 78 percent mail-in rate in 2010. Wimberley had 79 percent.

Different areas of San Marcos, including near downtown and Texas State University, ran as low as 61 percent, the data show.

Census volunteers were directed to follow up when households failed to send in forms. However, Lloyd Potter , the state’s official demographer and director of the Texas State Data Center said, “I think not getting a good return rate certainly increases the possibility of an undercount.”

On Jan. 1, the city released a population estimate of 53,023 people. The Texas State Data Center at the University of Texas at San Antonio estimated San Marcos had 55,678 residents in July 2009 and 56,563 in January 2010. Even the Census Bureau’s yearly American Community Survey offered an estimate of 53,205 in 2009.

Potter said he did not know whether anyone would be held accountable in the event of an undercount.

As it happens, Houston’s participation rate was also 67%, which was also up from 64% in 2000. Houston’s population total is off by at least 100,000 if you project from earlier estimates, but on a percentage basis San Marcos’ count is much farther off – about 18%, compared to about six percent for Houston. I have no idea what happened, but someone needs to figure it out, because either those estimates were badly flawed or the official count missed by a lot; either case is bad. In any event, consider this an extra dollop of evidence for those who favor proceeding with adding two extra Council seats based on Houston reaching 2.1 million in population.

Does this make an inner Loop location more likely?

One of the two Alamo Drafthouse theaters way out west will be closing down soon.

The arrival of an Edwards multiplex at West Oaks Mall will mean the closure of the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema at the regional shopping center, leaving the specialty theater chain with a single location in the Houston area.

Construction of the 14-screen Edwards multiplex will start this spring, and the theater will open in fall 2012, according to Los Angeles-based Pacific Retail Capital Partners, which owns the mall at Westheimer and Texas 6.


Lacy Smythe Edmondson, a spokeswoman for Triple Tap Ventures, which owns and operates the two Alamo Drafthouses in the Houston area, declined to comment on the looming closure. The other location is on Mason Road in Katy.

“Right now we’re focusing on staying open,” she said, adding that “we are evaluating a number of locations for Alamo Drafthouse Cinema inside the Loop as well as additional areas in the Houston metropolitan area.”

It’s apparently going to remain open through the construction period, which will through the end of 2012, so nothing will happen immediately. All I know is that one possible location for a close-to-me Alamo Drafthouse is no longer available. Beyond that, I have no idea where they’re looking. I’m just hoping to hear an announcement some day.