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January 10th, 2014:

Friday random ten: I’ve got this bridge to sell you

In honor of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, ten songs about bridges.

1. The Bridge – Eddie From Ohio
2. Bridge of Sighs – Robin Trower
3. Bridge Over Troubled Water – Aretha Franklin
4. Bridge Over Troubled Water – Johnny Cash
5. Bridge Over Troubled Water – Simon and Garfunkel
6. Brothers Under The Bridge – Bruce Springsteen
7. Crooked Bridge – SixMileBridge
8. Throw Aggi Off The Bridge – Black Tambourine
9. The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy) – Simon and Garfunkel
10. The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy) – Harpers Bizarre

I had to violate my usual rule about not repeating song titles or artists in order to get to ten, but I figured in this case it was worth it.

Runoff precinct analysis: At Large races

I finally got a draft canvass report from the Harris County Clerk for the December runoff elections. Let’s take a look at the two At Large runoffs and see what we can learn about them. Here’s At Large #2:

Dist Burks Robinson Burks % Rob % ===================================== A 2,145 2,331 47.92% 52.08% B 1,798 451 79.95% 20.05% C 1,464 4,286 25.46% 74.54% D 4,244 1,229 77.54% 22.46% E 1,086 1,347 44.64% 55.36% F 278 418 39.94% 60.06% G 1,280 2,980 30.05% 69.95% H 791 820 49.10% 50.90% I 1,425 1,459 49.41% 50.59% J 300 471 38.91% 61.09% K 1,292 1,006 56.22% 43.78%

Andrew Burks did pretty well where he needed to, in Districts B, D, and K – better than he did in the 2011 runoff, at least on a percentage basis. It seems likely to me that the lesser turnout this year hurt him. He had about a 5,000 vote lead in B and D in 2011, but only a 4,400 vote lead this year, a drop of 600 votes in a race he lost by 500 votes. I don’t mean to pile on Burks, but I have to think that a better candidate could have pulled this one out. Robinson did just enough in C and G to edge him. It’ll be interesting to see if he draws a serious challenger in 2015.

On to At Large #3:

Dist Morales Kubosh Mor % Kub % ===================================== A 2,108 2,755 43.35% 56.65% B 862 1,359 38.81% 61.19% C 2,784 2,821 49.67% 50.33% D 1,800 3,601 33.33% 66.67% E 1,347 1,271 51.45% 48.55% F 404 332 54.89% 45.11% G 2,155 2,280 48.59% 51.41% H 944 739 56.09% 43.91% I 1,962 1,156 62.92% 37.08% J 437 376 53.75% 46.25% K 954 1,345 41.50% 58.50%

Despite Michael Kubosh’s relatively substantial win, it looks to me like the conditions were there for Roy Morales to pull it out. He held his own in the Republican districts, and got a boost from the elevated turnout in the District I runoff. He lost in B, D, and K, where you would expect Kubosh to do well, but he didn’t get creamed. If he had had David Robinson’s numbers in District C, he would have won. Obviously, Mayor Parker did not get involved, and Kubosh did a decent job of presenting himself to Parker supporters, which enabled him to not only be competitive in C but to carry it. You have to tip your hat to that. Further, despite my speculation that there could be a significant undervote in this race, the undervote rate was less in AL3 than it was in AL2. As with Robinson, I look forward to seeing who, if anyone, decides to challenge Kubosh in two years. Both of them, but especially Kubosh, can affect that with their performance in office. I can’t wait to see how it goes when Mayor Parker gets on with the rest of her third term agenda.

I’ll have a look at the other races in a later entry. In the meantime, let me know what you think about these numbers.

Council OKs ordinance to help bring grocery stores to food deserts

Good.

Supermarkets now can sell beer and wine next to schools and churches, an exemption to city regulations Houston City Council granted unanimously Wednesday, hoping to encourage grocers to locate in neighborhoods that lack access to fresh, healthy food.

These so-called “food deserts” are common in Houston, typically in poor areas such as Third Ward and Fifth Ward that also tend to have a high concentration of churches. Without the rule change, grocers – which industry experts say must offer beer and wine to be competitive – could not operate within 300 feet of churches and most private schools, or within 1,000 feet of public schools.

Councilman Stephen Costello, who helped lead efforts to pass the exemption and long has worked on the food desert issue, said an independent grocer has agreed to open a 20,000-square-foot store in south Houston, and said he has meetings scheduled soon with four large grocery chains.

“We’re talking to them about how the city can help them come into these under-served areas because, obviously, they’re taking a risk. There’s a reason they’re not there in the first place,” Costello said. “This item was one of the last variables we were trying to overcome. We’re figuring out ways to try to peel back the onion to get them to come into these areas.”

[…]

The language passed Wednesday defines a grocery store as covering at least 10,000 square feet of floor space, and excludes businesses that allow alcoholic drinks to be consumed on site and those that derive more than 25 percent of their gross receipts from booze sales.

Jane West, of the Super Neighborhood Alliance, said members of the civic club coalition were satisfied with the amended language. Still, West said the impact of the change may be limited.

“I hope it does, but I’m very skeptical it will actually provide the benefit it’s promised to provide,” she said. “To me, the risk is they’re just going to encourage more of the large convenience stores, the kind of stores they want to eliminate.”

As I said when this first came up, I didn’t understand the restriction on alcohol sales near churches. Be that as it may, this strikes me as a sensible approach, one that will still keep bars and liquor stores out of the affected areas. As to whether or not it will actually provide the promised benefit, the proof will be in whether or not any new grocery stores get built in places that had previously lacked them. CM Costello says one is in hand, and we’ll see when that announcement happens, and if any others follow it. Finally, for those of you that scoff at the whole notion of “food deserts” in the first place, just think of this as the city loosening some regulations in order to encourage new businesses. Does that make it feel better? Texpatriate has more.

I got those “can’t get my rail cars built on time” blues

Actually, I don’t, but Metro does.

The company building 39 new Metro railcars has yet to deliver an acceptable vehicle almost six months after the original due date, potentially delaying full service for rail lines scheduled to open later this year.

The first car hasn’t passed a required water leak test and exceeds the maximum weight specified in the builder’s contract with the Metropolitan Transit Authority. In a Dec. 30 letter to CAF USA, the American subsidiary of the Spanish train-building giant, interim Metro CEO Tom Lambert demanded that the company explain how it will deliver all the cars by the Sept. 25 deadline.

“It is imperative that CAF demonstrate to Metro that it is seriously willing and able to meet its obligations,” Lambert wrote. Metro is withholding a $12.8 million payment until an acceptable rail car is delivered, he wrote.

In a reply, CAF’s worldwide CEO, Jose Maria Baztarrica, assured Lambert that U.S. representatives of the company would come to Houston to “fix all the various issues.”

Continued delay would leave Metro officials with options for opening the lines on time, but possibly not on a full schedule. Fewer railcars ready to hit the street could mean that trains operated less frequently or failed to cover the entire route.

“We can work through it, and we will,” Metro board chairman Gilbert Garcia said, stressing the important factor is that CAF deliver high-quality vehicles. “We have to be prepared that the cars are delayed and now we need to have a plan going forward of what we’re going to do.”

The railcar manufacturer is now promising swift action to get this resolved.

“If they are having a problem, then to me it is a big problem, even if it is a minor fix,” said Andres Arizkorreta, CEO of Construcciones y Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles, commonly known as CAF. “These are things we must do.”

[…]

Arizkorreta flew to Houston on Wednesday. On Thursday morning, he assured Metro officials the water leak would be fixed within 10 days by installing a gasket

Remedying the leak, which was minor, is necessary before the car can enter service by undergoing weeks of on-track testing, interim Metro CEO Tom Lambert said.

“The best thing we can do now is get this one at the test track,” Lambert said. “The sooner we do that, the sooner we can build the others.”

Additional cars might come at a brisker pace. Manufacture of the cars will accelerate as CAF U.S.A. expands its Elmira, N.Y., plant, Arizkorreta assured Metro.

Officials said they were pleased with the quick corrections.

“I am convinced this is moving in the right direction,” Metro chairman Gilbert Garcia said.

About 100 workers will be hired specifically to handle Houston railcar building, roughly doubling the staff now handling the order. CAF agreed in writing Thursday to give Metro a revised delivery schedule by Feb. 15.

That all sounds good, but the weight issue remains a problem. It’s not clear how that will be fixed. I’m going to be optimistic and say that this will mostly get worked out before the Southeast and Harrisburg lines open, but we’ll know more in a month. I hope it doesn’t cause any operational problems, or force reduced frequencies when the new lines open. Metro had already set its schedule back by a year after nearly blowing its Full Funding Grant Agreement due to the shenanigans of previous CEO Frank Wilson, who was trying to circumvent the FTA’s Buy American requirements. It’s possible that in the absence of those requirements, or at least in the absence of Metro trying to get around them and getting caught at it, that we’d be farther along now. Nothing can be done about any of that now, so let’s keep CAF’s feet to the fire and hope they have good news in February.

Craft beer: Still good for your economy

Yet another study says so.

Texas ranks second only to California in the economic impact derived from craft brewing, a report from the Brewers Association says.

This burgeoning class of smaller, independently owned craft breweries, along with their distributors, retailers and bar/restaurant workers, added $2.3 billion to the Texas economy in 2012, the report says.

That’s part of an estimated $33.9 billion national number cited in the report, which the industry group said measures “the total impact of beer brewed by craft brewers as it moves through the three-tier system (breweries, wholesalers and retailers), as well as all non-beer products that brewpub restaurants sell.”

The Brewers Association said the nation’s 2,000-plus craft breweries and brewpub restaurants sold 13.2 million barrels of beer with a retail value of nearly $12 billion during 2012.

[…]

The Texas Craft Brewers Guild hailed the Brewers Association findings as confirming its own assessment last year that craft brewing could be upward of a $5.6 billion industry here by 2020.

The guild noted that Texas ranked fourth among the states in the number of craft-related jobs and third in “labor income produced from craft breweries through direct and indirect economic impact.”

It also found positive news in the state’s No. 34 ranking for per-capita economic impact.

“This finding clearly demonstrates … there remains significant room for growth for the Texas craft beer industry,” the guild said in a statement.

You can see the study here, and the Texas Craft Brewers Guild’s statement is here. The TCBG has done its own study with similar findings. You can see it with your own eyes – craft beers are on the menu at restaurants all over town, local microbrewers are expanding, and as a general rule new startups do a lot of hiring as they expand. I don’t think the market is anywhere near saturated yet. Keep on keeping on, y’all.