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March 12th, 2016:

Saturday video break: If I Had A Hammer

Here’s national treasure Pete Seeger, with an introduction by John Mellencamp:

The recording I have of this comes from a Smithsonian collection, with Seeger leading and being backed up by a church choir, with him doing it singalong style, as a song like this was meant to be done.

Of course, it can also be done in a more pop-friendly way, as Trini Lopez did it:

Which doesn’t mean you can’t still sing along, of course. I don’t think I’m capable of not singing along with this one.

Recycling agreement reached

From the Mayor’s office:

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner announced that he has reached agreement with Waste Management (WM) on a proposed new contract that will allow the city to continue offering recycling services without any disruption. The proposal, expected to be presented to City Council for approval in two weeks, is a two-year contract with a $90 per ton processing fee and a guarantee to WM of at least 75 percent of the City’s recycling stream.

The only change in service that Houstonians will notice is the elimination of glass from the list of items that are acceptable for placement in the green curbside recycling bins. The exclusion of glass will lower processing costs for WM, as glass generally breaks during collection and transportation to the processing site. It is also unduly destructive to the processing equipment. Residents may continue to drop off glass for recycling at the City’s neighborhood depositories.

“I want to thank Waste Management for being willing to reconsider our arrangement and engage in shared sacrifice,” said Mayor Turner. “This agreement makes good economic sense for the city and for Waste Management. It reaffirms our commitment to recycling, doesn’t tie the City to a long-term contract, allows Waste Management to avoid the employee layoffs that would have likely resulted from cancellation of service in Houston and provides an opportunity for potential competitors to enter the market.”

The original negotiated agreement would have locked the city into a six-year contract with a cost of $95 per ton. Citing the need for a shorter contract in case market conditions improve, Mayor Turner countered with a two-year offer at $104 per ton. WM declined the mayor’s counter and submitted a three-year deal with costs of $7.6 million over two years and $11.5 million over three years. The new agreement saves the City more than $900 thousand per year and $2 million over the two year period.

“I want to applaud the mayor and staff for working hard to find creative solutions to reach a mutually-acceptable agreement,” said Waste Management TexOma Area Vice President Don Smith. “Removing glass from the recycle stream was a painful decision but allowed the City to keep the interests of the residents of the City of Houston front and center as they worked with us to find a solution to the City’s recycling needs.”

The City’s current contract with WM is set to expire on March 16, 2016, but WM has agreed to an extension until the new proposal is considered by City Council on March 23. City Council does not meet next week due to spring break.

Clearly, Mayor Turner and Waste Management got that idea for a two-year deal from me. It’s unfortunate that glass will no longer be accepted for curbside recycling – I get it, and I know that helped reduce the cost for the city – but given the closing of the Center Street recycling dropoff location, this is a pain for me. Looks like the North Main Repository is my new friend. I’ll take the trade if that’s what it took, but I hope some day we can get that restored. Kudos to all for getting this deal done with no disruption in service.

UPDATE: Here’s the Chron story, with reactions from various people, and a statement from Melanie Scruggs of the Texas Campaign for the Environment:

“Over the past several weeks, thousands of Houstonians have emailed, called, written letters or testified in favor of continuing curbside recycling. Many residents also called on Waste Management through social media, urging them to agree to a short-term, affordable deal with the city. We are tremendously grateful that Houstonians’ voices have been heard so clearly!”

“It is unfortunate that a lack of recycling competition, low commodity prices and strained city finances have resulted in shortened public services. It is a temporary step backward that curbside recycling will no longer accept glass, as this will eliminate the energy savings of recycling glass and send more material to landfills. We advise the public to reduce and reuse glass containers, especially while they are to be excluded from the big, green bins, and to use neighborhood drop-offs to recycle glass.”

“Now that curbside recycling is no longer in peril, we call on Mayor Turner to lead Houston in the next step toward ‘zero waste’ by establishing a zero waste goal and pursuing a long-term Zero Waste plan that will create new recycling businesses, generate more recycling jobs, and divert more materials, including glass, from landfills over time.”

For what it’s worth, in the early days of the small-bin recycling, neither glass nor cardboard were accepted, and I think only #1 and #2 plastics were taken. We’ve come a long way even with this step back, is what I’m saying.

Supreme Court asked to weigh in on Austin rideshare referendum

Of course it is.

Uber

The Texas Supreme Court has been pulled into the ongoing battle between Uber and the City of Austin.

An Austin resident, supported by Uber, has asked the Supreme Court to weigh in on the ballot language for a new measure regulating vehicle-for-hire companies within the city, scheduled to come before voters on May 7.

“The adopted ballot language wholly fails to inform voters as to what they are voting for,” reads the request, filed by Samantha Phelps, an active Uber supported who helped collect signatures for a petition vying to overturn a stricter vehicle-for-hire ordinance approved by the city council. “The Council falsely portrayed the Proposed Ordinance as something that only takes away and does not give. That portrayal could not be further from the truth.”

[…]

The approved ballot language asks voters if the original December ordinance should be repealed and replaced with an ordinance that would, “prohibit required fingerprinting, repeal the requirement to identify the vehicles with a distinctive emblem, repeal the prohibition against loading and unloading passengers in a travel lane, and require other regulations for Transportation Network Companies?”

The writ claims this language will “mislead Austin voters” as it does not address specifics of the proposed measure.

The writ reads, “the proposed ballot language gives recognizable descriptions of the regulations repealed by the Proposed Ordinance, but only the scantest vague reference to the regulations imposed by the Proposed Ordinance.”

See here for the background. Maybe we just need to pass a law requiring the Supreme Court to write the language of all ballot referenda in the state from here on. It would just save time, and might reduce the number of lawsuits filed after the election by the losing side claiming that the voters were too stupid to know what they were voting on. The Austin Chronicle has more.

“Space City” trademark lawsuit

Fascinating.

Houston’s convention bureau is suing the operators of a popular local convention over the use of “Space City” in its name, claiming it infringes on a 12-year-old trademark.

The convention in question, Space City Comic Con, also happens to compete with a similar event that is half-owned by the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau itself. The bureau acquired a 50 percent stake in the more established Comicpalooza last September, spokesman A.J. Mistretta said.

Both events bring in television and film stars for appearances that attract thousands of autograph buyers. Fans come dressed as their favorite characters from science fiction, anime and super-hero fantasies to browse exhibits, purchase items from vendors and play video and table-top games. The fests charge comparable admission fees.

The convention bureau, which declined to discuss the case for this article, may believe it’s losing money if people are confused over which show is sponsored by the economic development arm of Houston, said Betsy Gelb, professor of marketing and entrepreneurship at the Bauer College of Business at the University of Houston. She agreed that if it managed to trademark “Space City,” it has every reason to defend it in court.

But, she added, “Does it help your image to do this?”

[…]

The convention bureau claims in its lawsuit in federal court in Houston that through its promotional efforts, “Space City” has become widely known in the United States and that Space City Comic Con is causing “irreparable harm” by using the trademarked name.

The bureau is seeking a court order to force the show to stop using “Space City.” The lawsuit also would require the company to give up any profits earned from using the trademark and stop competing unfairly against the bureau.

Gotta admit, in almost 30 years of living in Houston, I don’t think I’ve ever thought of it as “Space City”. Speaking as a longtime Rockets fan, on those occasions when I feel the need to attach a nickname to Houston, “Clutch City” is by far the most likely moniker to come to mind, however outdated that may be by now. “Bayou City” is a distant second. I get “Space City”, of course, and if the GHCVB thinks that has value and specific meaning, I won’t argue. It’s just not something that naturally occurs to me. My guess is that in the end the Space City Comic Con will rebrand itself and that will be the end of this. I don’t know that that will happen in time for this year’s Con, which as always happens over the Memorial Day weekend and for which marketing is underway. The Space City folks say on their Facebook page that they have not been contacted for comment about this, despite what the Chron story says, and they encourage their fans to contact the GHCVB to tell them what they think about this. So it could get quite contentious, but in the end I do think some kind of settlement will be reached. Taking this to a courthouse won’t be good for anyone but the lawyers.

Our long national breakfast taco nightmare is finally over

At long last, peace in our time.

With an escalating culinary battle threatening to destabilize the region, the mayors of Austin and San Antonio met Thursday morning to announce a taco truce.

“As St. Paul admonishes us, let us not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with breakfast tacos,” Austin Mayor Steve Adler said. “We will have guac in our times.”

Adler and San Antonio Mayor Ivy Taylor sought to bring to a close a weeks-long feud between their cities over which has the better breakfast tacos, proclaiming peace with the signing of the “I-35 Accords” and declaring each other’s tacos similarly delicious.

As the history books will show, the Great Breakfast Taco War of 2016 was first ignited by a provocative article in Eater Austin from writer Matthew Sedacca, headlined “How Austin Became the the Home of the Crucial Breakfast Taco.”

Soon thereafter, a petition on Change.org to exile Sedacca from Texas quickly gained over 1,700 signatures, describing the Eater article as a “churlishly negligent treatise.” Sedacca’s “wild inaccuracies, which dangerously approach libel,” the petition reads, “have already stirred the ire of many South Texas communities and further discord may loom on the horizon.” Competing op-eds in the cities’ respective newspapers only further escalated the conflict.

But, proclaiming March 10, 2016 as “Breakfast Taco Day,” Adler and Taylor sought to put aside their differences and embrace their mutual appreciation of the popular morning meal.

“What we must do and what we will do is lead,” Adler said alongside Taylor at Austin’s downtown Hilton hotel. “And that means celebrating the fact that there is more that unites our tacos than divides them. Let us break our fast with the tortilla of hope and the egg of peace.”

And so possibly the dumbest controversy ever – okay, maybe the dumbest one of 2016 so far – comes to an end. Now go and eat whatever breakfast taco you like best. It’s all good. The Rivard Report has more.