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March 9th, 2011:

It’s official – Council will expand

Very good news.

Council voted today to declare that the city’s population is 2.1 million. The number was a trigger point that mandates the city add a 15th and 16th council seat by the city charter.


After much debate that included a special meeting yesterday, the council voted 13-1 to expand. Only Council Member Brenda Stardig voted against the item. Council Member Mike Sullivan, who had repeatedly spoken out against expansion, in the end voted with the majority.

Hallelujah. It’s gratifying to see that in the end, even (most of) those who were openly critical of this effort did the right thing and supported it. There may yet be litigation, but the 13-1 Council vote is a strong statement, and I’d say it’s unlikely that such litigation would succeed in stopping the redistricting. The rumor mill about who’s going to run for what will kick into a higher gear shortly. See Greg for another liveblog of the Council meeting, this op-ed by City Controller Ronald Green in favor of adding the two districts, and this report by Jerry Wood that explains in detail why the city’s population is indeed over 2.1 million for more.

UPDATE: Here’s the Chron story about the Council vote.

Push for HB275

HB275 is the bill by Rep. Jim Pitts to spend money from the Rainy Day Fund to close the budget shortfall from the 2010-11 biennium. Here’s an update about it from a group called Spring Branch Speaks, sent to me via email:


We were informed late last night that the hearing for HB 275 (use of the “Rainy Day Fund”) has been postponed.  We are concerned about this action.

If you have not made advocacy phone calls or emails to the Representatives of the House Appropriations Committee, it’s even more important to do so now.

We must keep up the pressure!  Make your voice heard by contacting the members of the House Appropriations Committee at the email addresses/phone numbers below and ask them to:

  1. Send HB 275 to the House of Representatives for consideration.
  2. Spend the “Rainy Day Fund” to protect this year’s budget and the next two year’s budget for funding public education.
  3. Don’t pass up this investment in the future of Texas and our community schools.

Thank you to those of you who already emailed or called.  We appreciate the quick work – the path of legislative bills is unpredictable; information regarding the process is often at the last minute as political changes occur.


If you are in town for Spring Break, please consider attending the “Save Texas Schools” rally in Austin this Saturday, March 12th (see details below).  Free transportation is available if you RSVP by Friday!

The House Appropriations Committee:
Rep. Jim Pitts [email protected] 512-463-0516
Rep. Sylvester Turner [email protected] 512-463-0554
Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock [email protected] 512-463-0684
Rep. Angie Chen Button [email protected] 512-463-0486
Rep. Warren Chisum [email protected] 512-463-0736
Rep. Myra Crownover [email protected] 512-463-0582
Rep. Drew Darby [email protected] 512-463-0331
Rep. Dawnna Dukes [email protected] 512-463-0506
Rep. Craig Eiland [email protected] 512-463-0502
Rep. Helen Giddings [email protected] 512-463-0953
Rep. Lance Gooden [email protected] 512-463-0458
Rep. Scott Hochberg [email protected] 512-463-0492
Rep. Eric Johnson [email protected] 512-463-0586
Rep. Susan King [email protected] 512-463-0718
Rep. Dee Margo [email protected] 512-463-0728
Rep. Armando Martinez [email protected] 512-463-0530
Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon [email protected] 512-463-0708
Rep. Doug Miller [email protected] 512-463-0325
Rep. Geanie Morrison [email protected] 512-463-0456
Rep. John Otto [email protected] 512-463-0570
Rep. Diane Patrick [email protected] 512-463-0624
Rep. Debbie Riddle [email protected] 512-463-0572
Rep. Charles Schwertner [email protected] 512-463-0309
Rep. Mark Shelton [email protected] 512-463-0608
Rep. Raul Torres [email protected] 512-463-0484
Rep. Mike Villarreal [email protected] 512-463-0532
Rep. John Zerwas [email protected] 512-463-0657
For additional information please click on these links:
Save Texas Schools

**Parents for Public Schools of Houston, a non-profit, is providing 2 buses for interested persons to attend the rally. Buses Leave at 7:00 am from the Hattie Mae White HISD Administration Bldg. located at 4400 West 18th St. (across from Northwest Mall)  Buses expected to return by 5:30 pm.

To ride these buses you must RSVP by Friday, March 11, to Nancy Lomax by email at [email protected], or call 713-668-7075.  This is a family friendly event.  Children over the age of 4 may accompany their parent on the bus.  Please bring: a pillow, a sack lunch, drinks, and snacks because there will be no opportunity to buy food in Austin.  (These items may be left on the bus during the Rally.)  And don’t forget your umbrella or signs!  It’s raining on the future of Texas.

Statewide March & Rally Austin, TX
Saturday, March 12
March: 11:00 a.m. starting at 12th & Trinity

Rally: Noon-2:00 p.m. at State Capitol Bldg, 11th & Congress

Texas students are tough, but they’ve never faced a crisis like this. In communities across the state, the same grim headlines repeat: campus closures, teacher layoffs, deep cuts to core academic programs.

There is help for Texas students – IF our leaders have the courage to use it – and you can make a difference.

On Saturday, March 12th, join thousands of Texans for a march and rally at the State Capitol to send a clear message to our leaders:

*  Make education a top priority!

*  Use the $9.3 billion Texas “Rainy Day” Fund to support schools.

*  Sign the paperwork for $830 Million in federal aid for teachers.

*  Fix school funding laws to be fair to all districts and to our growing student population.

Plan now to be part of this historic event! Talk to your family, friends, students, co-workers, teachers, neighbors, business leaders, members of your faith community and more. Ask them to join you in Austin on March 12th to show our leaders what matters to Texas.

Together, we can make a difference. Please stand up for Texas schools on March 12th at the State Capitol.  Our future depends on it!


For more information on how you can get involved in spreading the word please visit the Save TX Schools website for more information.

Thank you,

Spring Branch Speaks

Parent-organized community outreach with SBISD in mind.

Also sent to me in email, the following call for those in Rep. Dwayne Bohac’s district (HD138) to call his office and let him know that you support using the Rainy Day Fund to help mitigate the cuts to public education:

If you live in zip code 77018- Garden Oaks, Oak Forest, Shepherd Park Plaza, Candlelight Plaza, and the surrounding neighborhoods you are most likely in district 138. It also includes people living in 77043, 77080, 77092 and some in 77040 and 77041. His district includes parts in Houston ISD, Cyfair ISD and Spring Branch ISD,
it stretches all the way to HWY 6. Please call Dwayne Bohac today. 512-463-0727 [email protected]

He is not getting enough calls from constituents. Please call or email him and call the office to tell them your name and that you just emailed. Governor Perry just addressed the Republican caucus and pleaded with them not to use the rainy day fund. Bohac needs to hear from his constituents, the real people who made him an elected official. You can also go to the state capitol Monday-Thursday, with or without an appointment. Arrive early. Call ahead if you want to make sure you see him personally. Be prepared to speak to a staffer if he is not available. Staffers are important and will relay your message.

He needs to know what you want him to do:

In 2006, a structural deficit was created when they lowered property taxes and restructured the business enterprise taxes. In theory, the business taxes were suppose to generate enough revenue to make up for the loss revenue in lowered property taxes. This has never happened and a 10 billion structural deficit occurs. It will continue to occur until they fix it. You can find more about this at
For the short term they need to utilize the rainy day fund, a fund that replenishes and whose purpose is to help in lean years. They can also accept $830 million in federal money to help supplement public education funding.

For the the long term they need to close exemptions and loopholes for large businesses, restructure taxes to generate the revenue they lost when they cut property taxes. They can also find additional sources of new revenue, such as taxing voluntary goods/ services ( cigarettes, sodas, etc.).

Please let your friends, neighbors and community members know the importance of this issue and urge them to contact Bohac soon. Please forward this email. Below is a District map. It is a fairly large district. Please share this info with anyone in these areas. If you want to help efforts in your area please contact [email protected] or [email protected] or [email protected]

Thank you again for helping support our public schools.
For constituents in House District 138. This petition list will be given to Representative Dwayne Bohac in person. If you live in zip code 77018- Garden Oaks, Oak Forest, Shepherd Park Plaza, Candlelight Plaza, and the surrounding neighborhoods you are most likely in district 138. It also includes people living in 77043, 77080, 77092 and some in 77040 and 77041. His district includes parts in Houston ISD, Cyfair ISD and Spring Branch ISD. If you know people in any of these zip codes please send them the link to the district 138 petition. (Please also sign the general list for all HISD delegates)

The rally in Austin is Saturday. The more noise we make, not just then but all through the session, the better.

Infill growth

Anyone who’s been watching Washington Avenue has seen this.

From downtown through midtown and along Washington Avenue, a population growth spurt has taken off since 2000.

One buzz word to describe what’s going on is “infill,” said Jerry Wood, previously Houston’s deputy assistant director for planning and development and now an independent consultant advising the city on census issues.

Wood said that infill, or the use of vacant land in an otherwise built-up area, has happened in such neighborhoods as Rice Military (between Westcott and Shepherd south of Washington), First Ward (near Houston Avenue north of Washington) and Cottage Grove (both sides of Interstate 10, between Shepherd and Hempstead Highway).

“In Cottage Grove, three-and four-story townhouses are replacing bungalows at a high rate,” Wood said. “That’s been true throughout that ZIP code.

They’re also replacing a lot of empty lots and vacant buildings. The growth in that part of town is astonishing, and for the most part good. The main downside, as noted in the story, is that the infrastructure has not come close to keeping up. Most of the streets parallel to Washington are very narrow, with no sidewalks and drainage ditches. Parking is a big problem, and there’s often no room for cars driving in opposite directions to get past each other. (Yes, this includes all of the streets around the Wal-Mart site.) The area desperately needs a comprehensive transportation solution to help deal with this.

The print version of this story had a chart listing population change in several area ZIP codes. Here’s a reproduction of that:

ZIP Code 2000 Pop 2010 Pop % Change ========================================= 77002 13,159 16,885 28% 77003 9,137 10,168 11% 77006 18,861 19,337 3% 77007 22,619 30,538 35% 77008 28,661 30,502 6% 77009 42,474 38,172 -10% 77010 76 366 382% 77018 27,094 25,804 -5% 77019 15,871 18,946 19% 77098 12,355 13,508 9% Total 190,307 204,226 7%

77010 is a tiny area, just a few blocks, on the east side of downtown; Google Maps centers it on Discovery Green, which says to me that the population growth there is likely the result of the One Park Place tower. 77002 is the rest of downtown and a little bit of midtown; if you picture the area in the middle of the Loop that’s bounded by 45, 59, I-10, that’s more or less 77002. 77007 is basically Super Neighborhood 22, which is the main focus of the story. 77019 is River Oaks/north Montrose and most of Midtown, and which includes Estates at Memorial, while 77098 includes 2727 Kirby. Finally, 77003 is EaDo and the Harrisburg area, which I’ll bet shows double digit growth in the next Census as well.

What’s truly curious to me is the two ZIP codes that show negative growth. 77009 is all of the Heights plus a roughly equivalent area east of I-45, which includes places like the Near Northside and Lindale Park. I’ll admit to not being as familiar with the eastern half of the area as the western part, but I cannot fathom it losing over four thousand people this decade. I see fewer vacant lots, not more, and the gentrification of the Heights has brought a little baby boom with it. 77018 is more or less Garden Oaks/Oak Forest, and while its loss is smaller, I don’t understand it, either.

One possible clue to what’s happening may be in the other way the data was presented, in terms of the ethnic makeup of these areas:

Ethnicity 2000 Pop 2010 Pop % Change ========================================= White 84,281 101,825 21% Hispanic 82,379 71,076 -14% Black 18,084 20,470 13% Asian 3,113 7,199 131%

The increase in white population is easy to believe, as is the increase in Asians. It’s the decline in the Hispanic population that’s strange. You can see a graphic representation of this for the whole county at Greg’s place. Obviously, some of the Latino growth in the burbs is fueled by inner city folks moving outward in search of affordable houses and better schools. I have to wonder if some of it is also due to insufficient participation in the Census. All I can say is that I just don’t believe 77009 lost ten percent of its people. I hope a review of the Census process leads to an adjustment of these numbers.

Teachers and the economy

Some familiar themes in this story.

Gov. Rick Perry can’t quit talking about jobs.

He used the word 19 times in his recent state of the state address and has made it a top spending priority. But if Perry realizes his vision of a budget balanced through cuts alone, 100,000 teachers could lose their jobs.

That’s about a third of the 333,000 teachers employed by Texas public schools.

“In a small town, the school is the largest employer,” said Deborah Ottmers, assistant superintendent for business and finance at the Fredericksburg school district. These proposed cuts would be “a huge hit on the economy in any town.”

Plans for layoffs are stirring panic from Houston to far West Texas. And while the Legislature has until May to write a budget, districts can’t wait to see what happens. The pink slips have already started in places such as Austin, Round Rock and Dallas.

Perry, meanwhile, keeps talking about jobs. Just not teaching jobs.

That would be because he doesn’t care about public sector jobs, and if anyone were ever able to get him to answer a question about it he’d likely say that losing these jobs is a good thing that will be good for the economy. He won’t have a plausible explanation for how and why that’s so, but it’s a matter of faith so those things aren’t important. When unemployment rises in Texas as a result of his preferred budget policies, he’ll just simply deny that’s what’s happening and continue to insist that everything is dandy and we’re the envy of the nation.

If you’re a teacher and you voted for Rick Perry, what did you expect? If you live in one of those small towns that voted overwhelmingly for Rick Perry as most rural areas did and are now facing a huge blow to your local economy, again, what did you expect? Rick Perry is many things, but subtle is not one of them. Whatever you thought the 2010 campaign was about, he’s been very clear about what he wants to do. None of what is happening now is, or should be, a surprise. But if you do feel caught off guard, here are some things you can do to get back on track.

Horse racing folks feeling good about gambling’s chances this time

They always say that, but maybe this time they’re right.

The chief executive officer at Retama Park expressed cautious optimism Thursday that the state could one day allow slot machines at horse racetracks, a move that has long been deemed as critical to the financial well-being of a struggling industry in Texas.

Retama CEO Bryan Brown made his comments in the wake of legislation introduced in Austin earlier in the day.


Brown said he has never felt better about the prospects that the track in Selma, in operation since 1995, could build an alternate facility on site that would house slot machines.

“This has been a work in progress,” Brown said. “And, you know, a lot of times (during this process) we’ve been excited. A lot of times we’ve been down about the prospects. But we’ve never felt this good about what might happen.”

As noted before, I’m rethinking my pessimism about gambling. The budget issues may just be enough to overcome legislators’ resistance to it. I still think it’s an underdog, I still think the horse racing interests and the casino interests will ultimately work at cross purposes as they always have – see the last paragraph of this story for an example of what I mean – and I retain the right to my skepticism until someone shows me at least one legislator who’s flipped on the issue, but I do see a possible way forward now, which I had not seen before.

Two smoking stories

Rep. Myra Crownover will make her biennial attempt to pass a statewide smoking ban in Texas, which if it passes would make it harder to smoke.

Although she believes in limited government, Crownover said 53,000 people die each year in the U.S. from second-hand smoke, and that is unacceptable.

“I think this is the most important public health issue before the Legislature at this time,” she said. Banning indoor smoking, she said, would benefit both customers and employees.

The bill would also create a level playing field for business across the state with a uniform statewide policy instead of the hodgepodge of city regulations that exist now, said Crownover. And people who choose to smoke would still be able to do so outside, she said.

Dr. Joel Dunnington, speaking for the American Cancer Society, told the House Public Health Committee the smoking ban would save $440 million to the state’s economy biennually because most bar and restaurant employees don’t have health insurance. When those employees get sick, they end up going to public hospitals, where often the cost is passed on to taxpayers.

The Legislative Budget Board estimates the savings would be a bit more modest: $31 million over the next biennium.

Meanwhile, in its attempt to find loose change under every budgetary couch cushion, the Lege will also make it harder to quit smoking.

Finding ways to cut health care costs is all the rage under the Pink Dome — and curbing smoking is a proven way to do it. But both the House and Senate budget proposals slash tobacco cessation programs by more than 80 percent, or $20 million over the biennium.

Health care advocates say such cuts would devastate programs that deter children from smoking and eliminate regional efforts that have curbed tobacco use among adults. And they argue that the money, which comes from a multibillion-dollar lawsuit settled with big tobacco companies in the late 1990s, is supposed to be used for anti-smoking education.

“If you ask what the biggest health threats are to the state, tobacco is in the top three, but we’re not putting money where our mouth is,” said Troy Alexander, associate director of advocacy for the Texas Medical Association, one of several groups gathering at the Capitol this morning to oppose cuts to tobacco control and obesity reduction efforts. “If you look at how we’re taxing tobacco, we’re not hesitating to benefit from the use of tobacco, but we aren’t doing much to reduce consumption.”

Well, when cost cutting becomes an end rather than a means to an end, one should expect some contradictory policies. I don’t know what else to say.