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May 3rd, 2014:

Saturday video break: Barefootin’

I’ve sung the praises of Pete Townshend’s Deep End Live concert before, and here’s another awesome cut from it, “Barefootin'”:

Back in the day when mixtapes were a thing, I’d make party music mixes, and this would be my go-to song to lead things off and get the festivities started. I mean, come on, how could that not make you want to get up and dance? Here’s the original, from 1965 and Robert Parker:

You can see why Pete Townshend would kick off his show with this tune, but no question in my mind his cover is the better version.

734K ACA enrollments in Texas

Pretty damn impressive, all things considered.

It's constitutional - deal with it

It’s constitutional – deal with it

New numbers out show that 734,000 Texans bought health insurance through the federal marketplace from last October to April 19, 2014, a report released by Health and Human Services shows.

Prior to March 1, an anemic 295,000 people had signed up, but in the final stretch of the Affordable Care Act first-year sign-up, another 439,000 obtained private insurance through the exchange.

Health care advocates applauded the new sign-up numbers and said the results are impressive, especially in the face of strong opposition from virtually every state Republican leader.

Texas has made more progress on affordable health insurance in the last six months than in the last decade,” said Stacey Pogue, a health care analyst at the left-leaning Center for Public Policy Priorities.

“We know that Texas could do much more,” she said. “Too many Texans are still one illness or one accident away from going bankrupt.”

Emphasis mine. Keep that in mind the next time you hear a Republican dead-ender talk about how horrible Obamacare is. After more than a decade in complete control of Texas government, they’ve not done a damn thing to try to solve this problem. Hell, in that time they’ve never even recognized it as a problem. Then the federal government – President Obama and the Democrats in Congress – stepped in and finally did something about it, and the Republican leadership in Texas resents it like crazy, because it so clearly points out their abject failure. The final enrollment surge, generated purely by tons of need for health insurance coverage, since the state did everything it could to impede signups, was impressive enough that even the TPPF’s designated hack had to admit is was remarkable. Just imagine what could have been if only Rick Perry and Greg Abbott and the rest of them gave a damn.

Some details from Texas Well and Healthy:

BACKGROUND ON HEALTH CARE COVERAGE NUMBERS

  • Eight-four percent of Texans who signed up also received financial assistance, lowering their monthly costs.
  • Thirty percent of Texans who selected insurance plans through the Marketplace were 18-34 years old.
  • Approximately six million Texans were uninsured in 2012. With 25 percent of the state uninsured, Texas has the worst rate in the nation.
  • About half of the state’s one million uninsured children and teens are eligible for Medicaid or CHIP.
  • More than one million Texas adults are in the Coverage Gap. Their jobs do not provide insurance, but their income is not high enough to qualify for assistance in the Marketplace. The Texas legislature can provide insurance to Texans in the Coverage Gap by accepting federal health care funds.

The overall numbers are right in line with that Baker Institute study that had pegged the figure at 746K. You can see how Texas compared to other states in the updated Kaiser numbers.

More from the Chron:

For weeks, officials have said an estimated 8 million people nationwide signed up for coverage. Until Thursday, it was unclear that a little more than 9 percent of enrollees were Texans. Before the marketplace’s Oct. 1 launch, government officials projected about 625,000 Texans would sign up for coverage.

“I’m pleasantly surprised,” said Vivian Ho, James A. Baker III Institute health economics chair at Rice University. “I thought that anyone who wanted insurance would have signed up by Dec. 31.”

Although the state surpassed enrollment expectations, Ho said millions of Texans remain uninsured. About half of Texas’ estimated 6 million uninsured residents could have applied for marketplace coverage created by the 2010 Affordable Care Act.

“We’ve only made a slight dent in the number of uninsured in Texas,” Ho said. “We need more resources down here.”

No one from the offices of U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz or Gov. Rick Perry responded to requests for comment about the number of Texas enrollments. All three lawmakers oppose the health care law commonly known as Obamacare, and Cruz repeatedly has pushed for its repeal.

No comment from any of them? Not even a smart-aleck remark? Wimps.

Thursday’s report did not include Houston-area enrollment information. In April, the Associated Press reported more than 177,000 Houston residents signed up for health coverage, exceeding expectations and indicating a last-minute enrollment push just before the March 31 deadline might have helped Texas.

Texas Hospital Association officials said they were encouraged by the enrollment update but agreed with Ho that the state needs to do more to help its remaining uninsured residents. Texas has the nation’s highest rate of uninsured residents.

Perry has refused to expand Medicaid, which would extend health coverage to more than 1 million residents who earn too much to qualify for the program and too little to afford private health insurance.

“Our federal income tax dollars are going to other states because the state’s leadership said no to connecting low-wage working families with health insurance options,” hospital association president and CEO Ted Shaw said in a written statement. “Other states have proposed innovative private-market solutions to expand coverage using available federal funding, and Texas should follow their lead.”

Maybe next year, if we have a better Governor, we can exceed this year’s totals. A statement from Rep. Garnet Coleman is here, and Progress Texas and Stace have more.

Judge will allow Ashby to rise

We have a decision.

Sue me!

Developers can move forward with the proposed Ashby high-rise after a much-anticipated ruling Thursday by a judge who agreed the tower is a nuisance for its immediate neighbors but concluded there was no way he could stop the project or determine a more appropriate alternative.

“If an injunction is granted, there is no question but that it will have a chilling effect on other developments in Houston,” wrote state District Judge Randy Wilson, a stance that drew mostly positive comments from the development community for eliminating uncertainty for groups considering future projects.

But Wilson also awarded $1.2 million in damages to 20 of those residents who had filed suit against the developer, Buckhead Investment Partners of Houston. While that is $438,000 less than a jury recommended in December, it still reflects a belief that those who live closest to the project, on a 1.6-acre site at 1717 Bissonnet, will see their property values suffer.

In firmly denying the residents’ primary request, however, Wilson said a permanent injunction would be difficult to enforce and would invite an “endless series of lawsuits” testing various tweaks and revisions to the project’s scope.

“A 21-story residential development is believed by the neighbors (and the jury) to be too big,” Wilson said in the ruling. “However, this court has zero evidence with which to find what size is just right.”

[…]

Buckhead welcomed the ruling but said it would appeal the monetary damages. It also said construction will resume as soon as possible.

“With hundreds of new Houstonians moving to our city each day, this type of urban housing option is becoming increasingly more necessary and desirable,” the company said in a statement. “We remain concerned about the dangerous precedent that any fully entitled and lawfully permitted real estate project may be penalized by the awarding of damages.”

Jean Frizzell, attorney for the disappointed residents, said they are considering their legal options.

“This case has never been about money and has always been about their community and homes,” he said in an email.

Via Swamplot, you can see a copy of the judge’s order here. Judge Wilson mentioned the z-word (“zoning”, for you non-Houstonians) in his decision, which undoubtedly had a lot of people crossing themselves and fashioning garlic necklaces. I said before that I had no idea what he should do, but this seems as sensible to me as anything. Not that it matters in some sense, since it’s going to get appealed – the developers have already said they’ll appeal the damages award, and the residents may appeal the go-ahead for construction, which will happen straightaway barring any further rulings or injunctions. It will still be a few years before the last chapter of this story is written. Prime Property and Hair Balls have more.

Sriracha for San Antonio?

State Rep. Jason Villalba will finally make his pilgrimage to California to visit Huy Fong Foods and try to convince them to pick up stakes and move to Texas.

State and city officials are hoping to woo the CEO of Huy Fong Foods Inc. into moving or expanding production of Sriracha, the company’s increasingly popular spicy Asian sauce, to San Antonio.

State Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, is leading a delegation of Texas officials May 12 to meet with CEO David Tran and tour the company’s embattled factory near Los Angeles.

A California judge forced the company to shut down some production after complaints that fumes emitted from the facility caused asthma, nosebleeds and sinus irritation.

“These talks are still very preliminary and we haven’t drilled down on site-selection yet, but with it’s proximity to the Rio Grande Valley and the economic infrastructure to support this type of factory, San Antonio is high on the list,” Villalba said.

Mario Hernandez, president of San Antonio Economic Development Foundation, said the organization reached out two months ago to Tran, who indicated an expansion is more likely than a full-fledged relocation to the Alamo City, which would cost millions.

“We would welcome the opportunity on a complete relocation, but a more likely scenario is future expansion,” Hernandez said.

San Antonio is an ideal location for production of the spicy condiment because it is close to the Rio Grande Valley, a region with a large agriculture industry that could easily grow chilies for the product, Villalba said.

Because the chilies must be transported to a factory for production soon after being harvested, San Antonio, the largest city in South Texas, logistically would be a prime location for a manufacturing plant.

[…]

The Dallas Republican received an invitation from Tran last week and will be joined by state Rep. Hubert Vo, D-Houston, who speaks fluent Vietnamese; Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples; and officials from Gov. Rick Perry’s and Attorney General Greg Abbott’s offices.

“In one of the fastest-growing areas of the country there is an insatiable need for jobs of all types,” said state Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, who was invited by Villalba but couldn’t attend because of a scheduling conflict.

See here for all my previous Sriracha blogging. You have to admire Rep. Villalba for being a team player – it was originally the city of Denton that made a move on Huy Fong, but despite being in Rep. Villalba’s back yard, he’s going with the more practical possibility. I still don’t think Huy Fong is going to move its operations to Texas – if it moves anywhere, it’ll be elsewhere in California – but expansion is an intriguing possibility, one I don’t recall seeing mentioned before. If that really is on the table, it’s an attainable goal and would be a very nice coup.

Here’s a bit more on the expansion possibility from Forbes:

The city of Irwindale voted unanimously [last] Wednesday to table a vote on a resolution until the next meeting, delaying a final decision for another two weeks. If the city council had cemented their vote, the factory would have had until July 22 to stop releasing the peppery fumes that residents were complaining of suffering from heartburn, asthma and nosebleeds.

But aside from the meeting, Tran has given little indication that he is seriously considering moving out of California, where his business has operated for the last 34 years.

“We have never had any issues, so moving was never discussed,” Tran told Forbes. “But why would we need to move if we do not have harmful odors?”

One deterrent for the company to move is that the chili peppers used for the company’s sauces are geographically closer to the factory and must be immediately processed after being picked. But Tran doesn’t see either the proximity to the pepper farms or the city council’s decision to be the end of Huy Fong Foods.

“We could grow in the state [of Texas] if need be,” Tran said. “But after seeing the supporters yesterday, I don’t feel alone, so I need to try to stay here instead of relocating. There is, however, the possibility of expansion to other locations due to growing sales.”

See here for more on Irwindale City Council’s actions. I find it hard to believe the two sides won’t get this worked out. Given that Villalba and crew will be in town two days before Council votes on that resolution, perhaps his visit will serve as incentive towards a resolution.

Enabling bike parking at restaurants

Good to see this effort is making progress.

Public House on White Oak

It has taken some time, but a community effort to add bike racks in the Heights is seeing results.

Heights resident Mitch Cohen has placed two racks along 19th Street this year that can each store about 10 bikes and will continue raising money for more.

“I haven’t exactly taken over the area with bike racks, but it has been fun,” said Cohen, who manages the Heights’ First Saturday Arts Market and began working on the rack project about two years ago.

This grassroots effort was inspired while Cohen and other organizers of White Linen Nights in the Heights were cycling from business to business in the area to encourage them to participate.

Cycling is a popular activity and mode of transportation in the Heights, but the volunteers noticed there weren’t many bike racks along the community’s busiest streets, including 19th Street and White Oak Drive.

Cohen knew the Houston Heights Association had placed some racks in the area, and he decided to start a similar effort.

Fred Zapalac of Blue Line Bike Lab, 3302 White Oak Drive, agreed to help Cohen buy the racks at cost.

The fundraising effort got a boost in September 2012, when a couple of artists at the First Saturday Art Market raised $200 in one day by selling pins.

Cohen used that money to buy “Property of the Heights” T-shirts designed by then-Heights resident Leigh Hajovsky. From there, he was able to raise $400 by selling the shirts for $20 a piece during White Linen Nights. With Zapalac’s help, Cohen bought two bike racks with the money.

See here and here for the background. I’m not at all surprised by Mitch Cohen’s persistence in getting this done, but it sure would be nice if he had a little more help. You could probably put a bike rack in front of every business in the greater Heights for a few thousand bucks. Surely the various civic organizations, or maybe a generous donor or two, could help Mitch get this done in a much shorter time frame. The city is now officially encouraging bike parking for businesses in dense neighborhoods. We should be doing more to embrace that.