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January 7th, 2012:

Saturday video break: All Through The Night

Song #87 on the Popdose Top 100 Covers list is “All Through The Night”, by Jules Shear, and covered by Cyndi Lauper. If you’re like me, you’re probably thinking “Huh, I didn’t realize this was a cover for Cyndi Lauper”. So I’ll start with that one, since it’s likely what we’re all familiar with:

God, I love the 80s. This was probably my favorite Lauper song. I should try to catch up on her post-“Time After Time” stuff. Here’s the Jules Shear original:

Nice. Not what I was expecting, but nice. Had you ever heard that version before? Am I the only one who didn’t realize Cyndi Lauper had covered it? Let me know what you think.

CM Costello on fixing water leaks

CM Stephen Costello writes a letter in response to the Chron story about leaks in the city’s water pipes.

The article “City lost millions to water leaks” (Page A1, Dec. 30) was a timely discussion of our aging water/sewer system. One question in the article jumped out: “We have to ask why we have so many leaks. Is it all drought-related, or did we let our infrastructure fall into such a state of disrepair that it is now coming back to haunt us?” The answer is “yes,” partially related to the drought, and “absolutely yes” to aging infrastructure.

Houston’s water/sewer system is composed of more than 14,000 miles of water and sewer lines. Included in the Public Works & Engineering Department’s performance goals for FY 2012 are plans to replace 600,000 feet of pipe, clean 2 million feet of pipe and repair 9,000 water line and 2,000 sewer line failures. Every year, the city is spending $52 million repairing an aging system.

The city is also spending $2 billion over the next five years on complete replacement of old water and sewer lines. By federally mandated accounting standards, our water and sewer system is approximately 75 percent beyond its useful life. Shifting soils related to the prolonged drought placed strains on the water lines and simply resulted in more water line breaks than usual; however, the age of the system will continue to be an issue.

Over the past two years, infrastructure challenges have clearly moved to the forefront and city government has taken important steps to deal with them. In 2010, to address rising operating and maintenance costs in the water/sewer system, water rates were brought up to a level matching the actual cost of service. Next, voters passed Proposition One, now known as Rebuild Houston, in order to provide dedicated funding for street and drainage infrastructure. Rebuild Houston’s “pay-as-you-go” feature will allow the city to replace approximately 70 to 75 percent of existing street and drainage infrastructure – without issuance of municipal debt.

Infrastructure is the very foundation of our communities and well-built and well-maintained infrastructure translates into improved quality of life, enhanced public safety and increased economic opportunity. If we don’t pay enough attention to our infrastructure problems now, a broken and outdated system will force us to pay a much bigger price in the future.

Stephen C. Costello, Houston City Council member At-Large Position 1

He sent an email out with the letter as well. Just another reminder that the Renew/ReBuild Houston drainage fee and that water rate hike that the usual nihilistic suspects whined about were done for a very good reason.

Real estate optimism

I’m glad to see that real estate experts are optimistic about the new year, but there are a couple of key questions left unanswered.

While uncertainty in the global economy could hinder the nation’s (and Houston’s) recovery, those who work in the real estate business here remain optimistic going into 2012. Several offered forecasts for the Chronicle. Here are edited excerpts of their comments.

Housing

Houston is going to see somewhere around a 5 percent increase in home sales and maybe as much 2 or 2.5 percent increase in median price. That’s still lower than the historical norm, but those are better numbers than the last two or three years. The economy is going to continue to be fairly strong. The thing that could hold us all back, and is holding us all back, is simply a mental attitude that we don’t see the light yet at the end of the tunnel that things are going to get better. There’s so much uncertainty about the economy, politics, Europe, China.

Jim Gaines, research economist, Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University

Housing permits

For the 12 months through November 2011, Houston has generated 21,300 permits, a 0.2 percent growth versus the same period a year ago. Although this is only a slight increase, the trend over the past several quarters is very positive. The numbers for December, January and February will show strong increases. Bohlke predicts that the annual 2011 number will be 21,500 permits. This momentum will carry forward into 2012 due to strong job growth and low interest rates. Bohlke projects a minimum of 5 percent growth in new-home permits for calendar year 2012 over calendar year 2011. This translates to nearly 22,600 permits.

Gary Latz, vice president, consulting services, Bohlke Consulting Group

The first question is whether they’re talking about the greater Houston metro area, or specifically the city of Houston. Obviously, being in a dynamic and growing region is a good thing regardless, but where that dynamism does matter, as the city recognizes. I sent an email to Nancy Sarnoff to ask this question, and she told me that they were speaking about the greater area. So, adjust your expectations accordingly.

One reason why I was curious about that fact is because of my second question, namely how does this affect projections of property tax revenues for the city and the county in the next fiscal year? The greater area includes Fort Bend, Montgomery, and Galveston Counties, so even spectacular projections don’t necessarily translate into better news for the bottom lines of our local governments. That question remains unanswered for now, though I daresay we’ll begin to get some budget numbers from both entities in the near future. Let’s hope for the best. Prime Property has more.

A step forward for online gambling

Interesting.

The Justice Department has reversed its long-held opposition to many forms of Internet gambling, removing a big legal obstacle for states that want to sanction online gambling to help fix their budget deficits.

The legal opinion, issued by the department’s office of legal counsel in September but made public on Friday, came in response to requests by New York and Illinois to clarify whether the Wire Act of 1961, which prohibits wagering over telecommunications systems that cross state or national borders, prevented those states from using the Internet to sell lottery tickets to adults within their own borders.

Although the opinion dealt specifically with lottery tickets, it opened the door for states to allow Internet poker and other forms of online betting that do not involve sports. Many states are interested in online gambling as a way to raise tax revenue.

New York has offered an online subscription service since 2005 that allows state residents to enter a string of Lotto or Mega Millions drawings.

See here for some background. I don’t really expect anything to come of this here in Texas, but I won’t be too surprised if it’s part of the legislative conversation in 2013. If nothing else, I have to figure the Texas Lottery Commission would like to add online subscriptions to its bag of tricks. Worther keeping an eye on, in any event.