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January 15th, 2015:

HERO repeal petition trial will be heard by a jury

Let’s get on with it.

PetitionsInvalid

A state district judge ruled Tuesday that the lawsuit surrounding the city’s embattled equal rights ordinance will go before a jury trial rather than a bench trial, a decision that conservative opponents of the law are hailing as a major victory.

Critics suing the city over its equal rights ordinance had been pushing for the case to go before a jury, a move Mayor Annise Parker’s administration said was not in compliance with state election law.

Judge Robert Schaffer issued a brief decision late Tuesday afternoon, one week before the trial is set to begin. Schaffer’s order denied the city’s request for a bench trial, a response to the plaintiffs’ earlier filing for a jury trial.

“It’s great news,” plaintiff Jared Woodfill said. “It’s great to see that this judge is not going to allow (the city) to keep the vote from the people.”

City Attorney David Feldman said he still “firmly believes” the case is better suited to a bench trial but that he respects Schaffer’s decision. City attorneys argued at a hearing last week that the case was best defined as an “election contest” under state law. Such cases can only be decided by a judge, not a jury.

The plaintiffs’ attorneys had countered that because no election on the equal rights ordinance had taken place, the case did not qualify as an election case.

“It’s an unusual case,” Feldman said. “But we’re prepared to move forward.”

See here and here for the background. As I said before, I don’t think it should really matter whether this is a bench trial or a jury trial. The facts are the facts. What the the repealers’ excitement at this ruling suggests to me is that they’re not confident in their facts and are counting more on winning via emotional appeal. If that’s your strategy, then yes, I’d rather go before a jury.

As for those facts, HouEquality shows how they could be a problem for the bad guys.

We have included a publicly available document from the Harris County District Clerk’s website with regards to the upcoming trial. These are excerpts of a deposition from an individual who gathered signatures for the opposition’s petition efforts.

In short, he admits under oath, that he committed fraud and perjured himself by attesting that the signatures he turned in were all collected by him when, in fact, they were not.

The court document makes for an interesting read and certainly is not an isolated case.

Go read the linked document – it’s a variety of excerpts from a deposition, so there are gaps between pages – and see here for more evidence of possible bad acts on the part of the petition gatherers. I for one am looking forward to how this plays out.

Heights-Northside mobility study

Mostly of interest for folks in my area, here’s the city’s report on mobility for neighborhoods in the upper left quadrant of the Inner Loop.

HeightsNorthside

Final Report: Heights-Northside Sub-regional Mobility Study

The Planning and Development Department, in partnership with the Department of Public Works and Engineering and Houston-Galveston Area Council, is pleased to announce that the Heights-Northside Sub-regional Mobility study has been finalized and can be downloaded (see links below).

After an extensive public comment period, the City received 125 comments regarding study recommendations, and letters from area organizations. Over the last several months, the project team has worked with City staff to evaluate all comments and provide responses to questions that were raised. Where appropriate, recommendations were modified to ensure that all final recommendations resulting from this study best serve the needs of the City and community, alike.

Final Report: Heights-Northside Sub-regional Mobility Study
Download Full Version (31 MB)

Download by Chapter:
I. Introduction
II. Existing Conditions
III. Community Involvement
IV. Defining Future Mobility Conditions
V. Changing Mobility Considerations
VI. A Balanced Approach: Corridor Sheets
VII. Outcomes
VIII. Next Steps

Appendix A: Data Collection
Appendix B: Thoroughfare Types
Appendix C: Transit Analysis
Appendix D: Hardy-Elysian Option Considerations
Appendix E: Travel Demand Results

Here’s the project website, which has archives of past community meetings and won’t be around much longer. I was alerted to this by Bill Shirley, who highlighted the following bit from the Corridor Streets section that was of interest to me.

“Pedestrian facilities along Studewood Street are in great condition north of White Oak Drive, but virtually nonexistent along the 4-lane segment of the roadway south of White Oak Drive which includes a 4-lane bridge. However, the use of this segment by pedestrians is evident by foot paths flanking both sides of the corridor. The contra-flow lane confuses drivers who are not familiar with its function, and additional signage could help mitigate this issue. The contra-flow lane also causes problems at major intersection due to the lack of protected lefts. At its northern boundary, the corridor terminates into a 6-legged intersection with E 20th/N Main Street/W Cavalcade Street. The current intersection configuration creates confusion, particularly for the pedestrians and bicyclists to navigate.”

I wrote about this awhile back, in the context of the new housing development that will be coming in across the street from the Kroger at Studemont and I-10, and how that area could be a lot more desirable, and a lot less of a burden to vehicular traffic, if that sidewalk were finished and bike options were added. The latter is known to be coming as part of the Bayou Greenways initiative, and it’s exciting to see that the sidewalk is at least on the drawing board as well. I don’t know how long term some of these projects are, but I’m looking forward to them.

Local control, schmocal control

From Lisa Falkenberg:

So, let me get this straight.

Government is the problem, not the solution. It’s a bumbling bureaucracy run by tyrants, cronies and other self-important suits who think they know better than you or I how to live our lives – UNLESS, of course, that bumbling bureaucracy operates under a pink dome on a well-manicured lawn in Austin.

Then, my dear reader, the government is the solution. The only solution. And if you and your local community dare to come up with your own solutions, well then, it is you who is the problem.

That seemed to be the perspective expressed by our newly elected governor, Greg Abbott, earlier this week while speaking to an influential group of conservatives at an event sponsored by the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

“Texas is being California-ized and you may not even be noticing it,” Abbott said. “This is being done at the city level with bag bans, fracking bans, tree-cutting bans. We’re forming a patchwork quilt of bans and rules and regulations that is eroding the Texas model.”

Silly me. I thought the “Texas model” was based on something called local control.

From the Express News:

Seriously, when Abbott decries the regulations that cities choose for themselves, he’s ignoring the other side of the equation. The state is so allergic to regulations, it often fails Texans. That’s why cities attempt to fill the void.

If, say, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality or the venerable Railroad Commission took the environmental impacts of fracking seriously, maybe folks in the city of Denton wouldn’t have felt compelled to pursue a fracking ban.

But beyond this, local control sort of strikes us as a Texas thing. Heck, when Abbott talks about pre-K funding, he often says districts should be able to choose how they spend those additional state funds, if they choose to pursue them. That’s local control.

From Tod Robberson:

“Our public education system is too centralized. One-size-fits-all solutions are pushed down from the top. We have too many unnecessary, unfunded mandates from Austin that tie the hands of our educators. The state should set high standards, provide the tools for success, then get out of the way.”

Those exact words were written by our incoming governor, Greg Abbott, in a guest column in May for the Waco Tribune. The fundamental message there reflects how Candidate Abbott felt about local control and, as he called it, the need for the state to “get out of the way.” So why is Abbott now reversing his philosophy and declaring that the state should intervene to circumvent local rights to govern how we live?

If Dallas, Houston or Austin wants to regulate the use of plastic bags in grocery stores, that is our business, not the state’s. That is, unless the state also wants to pick up the dime for cleanup of our roadways and waterways every time one of these bags gets discarded by a careless user. It is not enough for Abbott to declare that local ordinances shouldn’t get in the way of the free conduct of business.

[…]

Abbott seems to be maneuvering this argument in a way to justify state intervention in the regulation of gas-fracking operations. Just as is the case when local governments have a right to establish zoning rules — limits on where heavy industrial sites can be located, for example — local governments also have a right to say whether they want noisy, polluting fracking operations within their city limits. Abbott wants to take that right away.

Amazing. This is the same guy who fought so hard against increased federal intervention in our lives. When it comes to his perspective of top-down governance from Washington, he’s against it. But, somehow, he believes in the McCity concept that establishes uniform rules that must apply to all cities across the state. We all must look, smell, feel and behave the same, according to state mandate. Under Abbott’s vision, top-down governance from Austin is better than what we, the citizens of Dallas, Austin, Lubbock, Clarendon, Muleshoe, Brownsville and El Paso choose for ourselves.

Thank you, Greg Abbott, for restoring the concept of Big Government that you fought so hard in your campaign to wipe out.

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Texas blog roundup for the week of January 12

The Texas Progressive Alliance is girding its loins for what is likely to be an ugly legislative session as it brings you this week’s roundup.

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