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March 28th, 2016:

More Congressional seats are likely on the way

If current trends continue, that is.

Texas could pick up two, perhaps three, new congressional seats following the 2020 decennial Census if current population growth continues through the decade, political and demographic experts said Thursday.

With continued growth in Texas’ four major metropolitan areas, they said, the state could almost match the gains it made in political representation after the 2010 Census, when it added four seats in Congress.

The Houston metropolitan area has led the way this decade, according to Census Bureau data released Thursday, potentially positioning the area for two additional seats in fast-growing Fort Bend and Montgomery counties.

The San Antonio area likely would be at the top of the list for an additional congressional seat, as well, said state demographer and University of Texas at San Antonio professor Lloyd Potter.

All told, the state’s largest metro areas – anchored in Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, Austin and San Antonio – added about 400,000 people last year, more than any other state in the country.

[…]

The greater Houston area, which includes The Woodlands and Sugar Land, added about 159,000 residents between July 2014 and July 2015, while the second-fastest-growing Texas metro area, Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, saw an increase of 145,000.

The state’s population growth was led by Latinos in the last decade, Potter said, a trend that has accelerated.

“I can see areas that, maybe historically, were largely non-Hispanic white shifting and becoming more integrated in terms of having people of Hispanic descent, Asian and even African-American in them,” Potter said.

Under those circumstances, it could become increasingly difficult for Republicans, who will control the state legislature for the foreseeable future, to draw the new congressional and state district lines in ways that favor their party.

In the short term, given the party’s firm grip on power in Texas, growth in the state will favor the GOP, but that political calculus cannot last in the long-term, according to Bob Stein, a political science professor at Rice University.

“There simply aren’t enough bodies to go around to draw what we might call safe Republican districts,” Stein said. “Nonetheless, I think Republicans will find a way to advantage themselves, particularly in the statehouse. But increasingly, what you’re going to find is a black and Hispanic population become an obstacle to drawing districts.”

Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves here. As I said before, let’s wait and see what the next estimates have to say, because things could slow down considerably before the actual Census takes place if the oil and gas industry is still in a slump. There’s also the matter of that pesky never-ending litigation spawned by the 2011 redistricting (technically, we’re fighting over the 2013 maps), which if nothing else may offer some direction on how the GOP might proceed in 2021. With all that said, here are a few thoughts:

– If trends continue and Texas does get three new Congressional seats, I fully expect two of them to be drawn as Republican districts. Never mind that it was almost entirely growth in the minority population drove the increase – that didn’t matter to the Republican map-drawers in 2011, and it won’t matter to them in 2021 unless they are forced to take it into consideration by the courts. Even then, the only scenario under which I see more than one Democratic district being drawn is if the Republicans conclude that they can’t draw any more GOP districts without putting their incumbents at risk.

(I will stipulate here that the Democrats thought this way when they were in charge, too, and that we’d be having a different conversation now if we had some kind of independent redistricting commission in place. That ain’t gonna happen, and I will further stipulate that it won’t happen if by some miracle the Dems seize control of the Lege in 2021. Let’s keep our eye on the ball that is actually in play.)

– I fully expect the Republicans to try once again to draw Lloyd Doggett out of a district. They tried in 2003, they tried in 2011, why wouldn’t they try in 2021? Death, taxes, and Lloyd Doggett has a target on his back in redistricting.

– You can also be sure that they will try to make CD23 as Republican-friendly as possible. That district is one of the few that is still under dispute in the ongoing litigation, and if there’s one lesson to be taken from the 2011 experience it’s that whatever egregious thing you do in drawing the maps, you’re going to get at least two cycles of benefit from it before any corrections are made, so why not go for broke? That will be the case in 2021, and assuming President Trump doesn’t dissolve Congress in his second term, I’d bet it’s a point of contention in 2031, too.

– Moving on to other entities, I wonder if the Republicans will try to do to Kirk Watson in the Senate what they’ve tried to do to Doggett in Congress. It amazes me that Travis County has pieces of so many Congressional districts in it – I joked back in 2011 that if the GOP could have figured out a way to put a piece of all 36 Congressional districts in Travis County they would have – all but one of which is held by a Republican, yet the large majority of SD14 is in Travis County, and the large majority of Travis County is represented by good old liberal Watson. Maybe it’s harder to stick a shiv in a colleague than some chump in Washington, I don’t know. But if SD14 survives more or less intact in 2021, I will begin to wonder just what Sen. Watson has on his fellow Senators.

– I also wonder if SD19, which has a lot of overlap with CD23, might get tinkered with in a way that would make it more of a district that could be won by either party based on whether or not it’s a Presidential year. SD19 isn’t that heavily Democratic, though Sen. Uresti survived 2010 intact and is on a Presidential cycle this decade. There’s less pressing a need for this from a GOP perspective since the two thirds rule was killed, and there’s still that pesky litigation and the queasiness they may feel about knifing a colleague, but hey, a seat’s a seat.

– The GOP will likely try to make SD10 a little redder, and if they think about it, they might take a look at SD16, too. That district can be pretty purple in Presidential years (it’s on a non-Presidential cycle this time around), and with a less-congenial member in place now than John Carona was, it could be a tempting target. Major surgery isn’t required to shore it up, just a little nip and tuck. Just a thought.

– As for the State House, the two main questions for me are whether Harris County will get 25 members again, and if Dallas County, which lost two seats in 2011, will get one or more back. We won’t know the answer to these questions until the Redistricting Committee gets down to brass tacks in 2021.

– The ongoing litigation is as much about the State House as it is Congress, though in both cases the number of districts currently in dispute is small. As with the Congressional districts, I fully expect that the same fights will occur over the same places, which includes the places where the court ruled against the plaintiffs initially. Some of those places – western Harris County (HD132), Fort Bend (HD26), the Killeen/Fort Hood area (HD54) – could support districts that are tossup/lean Dem right now if one were inclined to draw such things. I suspect that battleground will be bigger in 2021.

– Since the debacle of 2010, much has been written about the decline of Anglo Democrats in the Lege. That number has dipped again, thanks to the retirement of Rep. Elliott Naishtat and subsequent primary win by Gina Hinojosa. What could at least temporarily reverse that trend is for Dems to finally win a couple of the swingy Dallas County seats that are currently held by Republicans, specifically (in order of difficulty) HDs 114, 115, and 102. (HDs 105 and 107 are far closer electorally, but checking the candidateswebsites, the Dems in question are both Latinas.) Longer term, if the Dems can make themselves more competitive in suburban areas, that number will increase. This is a corollary of Mary Beth Roger’s prescription for Texas Dems, and it’s something that needs more emphasis. Texas Dems ain’t going anywhere till we can be a credible electoral threat in suburban counties. Our pre-2010 caucus was bolstered by the presence of legacy rural incumbents. We’re not winning those seats back any time soon. The good news is that we don’t need to. The opportunities are elsewhere. The bad news is that we haven’t figured our how to take advantage of it, and it’s not clear that we’re putting that much effort into figuring it out.

The reverse Ashby

You have to admit, this is kind of clever.

Sue me!

A Houston developer has filed a pre-emptive strike against the owners of a luxury high-rise near the Galleria to head off an “inevitable lawsuit” over its plans to build a tower next door.

“We’re a little bit in shock,” said Karen Brown, president of the Cosmopolitan Condominium Association, which is now a defendant in a lawsuit filed by the developer this week in Harris County.

Brown said Wednesday that her group met with the developer, Dinerstein Co., several times to discuss homeowners’ concerns over the size of the proposed tower, its proximity to their own 22-story building, and related traffic and safety issues. She said the association wants the building to be half as tall and 100 feet farther away.

“They want to build a 40-story building 10 feet from us,” Brown said. “We think that’s unreasonable.”

But she said she was surprised to learn that the owner of the lot next door, an affiliate of Dinerstein Co., had filed suit against her group.

The dispute concerns a proposal to build a high-rise condo on the northwest corner of Post Oak and San Felipe, adjacent to the Cosmopolitan, 1600 Post Oak Blvd. The developer purchased the 1.5-acre parcel, currently a shopping center, last year.

In its lawsuit, the developer is asking for a declaratory judgment prohibiting the homeowners association from asserting a nuisance claim for the construction of the tower. It also wants a judge to declare that the association does not have standing to assert an action “based on alleged violations of city ordinances.” Attorney’s fees are also being sought.

The developer claims in the lawsuit that it addressed concerns raised by the condo owners by modifying the proposed building’s design. The changes included lowering the height of the parking garage, allowing it to line up with the Cosmopolitan’s garage; moving the building’s cooling systems to the roof; and designing the structure so views from the Cosmopolitan would be less obstructed.

Basically, “we’re suing you before you can sue us”. Well, the best defense is a good offense, so one can see the allure. Nancy Sarnoff adds a few details.

“It’s an interesting strategy for the developer to file first and to be the plaintiff,” said Matthew Festa, a South Texas College of Law professor who specializes in land-use issues.

But other than the role reversal, “it’s replay of the Ashby,” said Festa, referring to the nearly 10-year-old case in which homeowners opposed a developer’s fully entitled plans to build a residential tower in their upscale neighborhood near Rice University.

[…]

In a paper presented at a land-use conference in Austin last year, Houston real estate lawyer Reid Wilson wondered if nuisance law could become a routine land use weapon to oppose new development in what he calls “nuisance zoning.”

“Nuisance law is intended to protect an owner from adjacent uses which substantially interfere with the owner’s use and enjoyment of their land,” he said. “The problem is that nuisance is determined by a judge, so a developer never knows for sure if the ‘nuisance zoning’ will apply until the judge rules.”

In the Ashby case, the plaintiffs argued multiple claims, including that the high-rise would worsen traffic and block sunlight, and that its construction would damage the plaintiffs’ house foundations.

Wilson, whose firm defended the Ashby developer in litigation, said nuisance law needs to be clarified. He hopes the pending opinion in the appeal will do just that.

See here for all my prior Ashby blogging, and here for more on the appeal of that verdict, which who knows when will be resolved. I’m just gonna keep the popcorn warm and see how this goes. Swamplot has more.

“Prison gerrymandering” tossed by federal court

Noted for the record.

go_to_jail

The Federal District Court for Florida’s Northern District ruled Monday that the prison gerrymandering in Florida’s Jefferson County unconstitutionally dilutes the voting power of its residents. By packing inmates who can’t vote into a district, but counting them when drawing electoral maps, District Judge Mark Walker said the county had violated the “one person, one vote” principle in the Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment.

The American Civil Liberties Union’s attorney, Nancy Abudu, argued the case on behalf of Jefferson County residents who felt the prison gerrymandering watered down the strength of their political power by unfairly stacking the deck for residents who live in the same district as the non-voting prisoners.

“If I want to get a road fixed, if I want a law changed, if I want more impact on a school board member or county commissioner, I have more power because my representative has to deal with fewer people,” she told ThinkProgress. “It’s about access and the ability to influence, and making sure officials are responsive to their electorate.”

Abudu emphasized that not only do the inmates in Jefferson County lack the right to vote, the vast majority are not residents of the county, but were arrested in other parts of the state and shipped hundreds of miles away to serve their sentence.

According to the ACLU, of the nearly 1,200 inmates in the correctional center, only nine were convicted in Jefferson County. Yet the inmates make up a whopping 43 percent of the voting age population in District 3. “It skews the numbers so dramatically in this instance,” Abudu told ThinkProgress.

This may or may not have an effect in Texas at some point, but it is an issue that has come up in the Legislature before. Most Texas prisons are in lightly-populated rural areas, and an awful lot of prisoners come from big urban counties like Harris and Dallas, but as in Florida they count towards the population of those rural counties, where they neither reside or can vote. That does skew how districts are drawn, mostly at the State Rep level since those are the smallest ones. Harold Dutton has championed this issue in the Lege in past years, and I’m sure he’ll be back at it again. I don’t think the effect is that much, and unless SCOTUS eventually upholds this ruling (or a lawsuit is filed and successfully litigated here) it won’t affect Texas, but this is out there and it may mean something to us one of these days. Daily Kos has more.

What do you do with a problem like I-10?

From a conversation that Cite Editor Raj Mankad conducted with Andrew Albers and Ernesto Alfaro, who co-teach a survey of landscape architecture at the Rice School of Architecture.

Mankad: Let’s come back to I-10 and the failure of its…

Alfaro: … hubris …

Mankad: … its massive expansion. We talked about designers finding opportunities in the most problematic of sites. What is the opportunity there?

Albers: There is a bottleneck that exists at the reservoirs in the Energy Corridor. The Energy Corridor has been a huge economic driver for the city. And where Eldridge Parkway meets I-10 and then Memorial Drive is at its heart. These intersections are routinely blocked with traffic creating quality of life issue for those who find themselves in the area. Partially in response to these concerns, The Energy Corridor District assembled a team to investigate the future of the corridor. The district commissioned a master plan to address these and other issues.

This master plan documented ideas that could be implemented throughout the city. Very simple ideas that have been around since the birth of cities. Greater connectivity. Parallel roads. The answer is not more lanes, the answer is more options. The plan looks at ways to transform the existing infrastructure that we have—park-and-ride lots and bus lanes. METRO can adjust them to create a system that offers options and that gets people away from the reliance on the single-occupant car.

A circulator bus would move people around the Energy Corridor. If you go to lunch in the Energy Corridor, you have to get to your garage, get out of your garage, drive to where you want to go, find parking. By the time you have done that, it is 30 minutes. Then you have to repeat the whole process coming back. Your lunch hour is consumed by going and coming. So take that out of the equation with a circulator bus.

Instead of driving to the Energy Corridor, maybe you could get on a bus and come to the Energy Corridor, get off at the park-and-ride, get on a circulator bus, and get to where you are going. So it is about making linkages, creating different approaches to the problem of traffic.

Additionally, I-10 serves as a manmade barrier to pedestrians and bicyclists. The Energy Corridor is split between north and south by I-10. The scale is so immense. The plan looks at ways to links these parts of the city back together; for pedestrians; for bicycles; and for alternative transportation.

Mankad: I understand that the big detention basins and drainage ditches scooped out for the I-10 construction could provide more opportunities for cyclists and pedestrians at Langham Park. There is always this positive and negative, this yin yang, especially with hydrology.

Alfaro: If it we were to get crazy about I-10, imagine rail or bus rapid transit going through the center in both directions to get all those commuters in and out, parks on either side, and provide the connectivity elsewhere. You would have these amazing green spaces in the middle of I-10. That’s what I would want. Make it a landscape. Use the terrain, use the topography. Screw it.

The Energy Corridor is itself seeking feedback on this issue, so it’s not just the pointed-headed academics who are thinking about these things. The travel-to-lunch problem that Albers describes is even worse when you consider that a lot of those trips involve taking indirect, roundabout routes because you can’t get from Point A to Point B directly thanks to the presence of I-10. Circulators would help a bit with traffic, and would also enable more people to take transit to work in that area, as would making life easier for pedestrians. We do a lot of things to facilitate highway driving in this town, and a lot of those things have negative effects on local traffic that we just haven’t given any thought to in the past. The Energy Corridor is trying to deal with those effects now, as well they should. I look forward to seeing what they do.