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Fort Worth

Other May election results

Roundup style, mostly.

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg easily wins a fourth term.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg

Mayor Ron Nirenberg vanquished the ghost of repeat challenger Greg Brockhouse in Saturday’s City election and secured his third term in office with a win of historic proportion.

Nirenberg is now on course to become the city’s first four-term mayor since his mentor, former Mayor Phil Hardberger, led a successful campaign in 2009 to relax term limits from two, two-year terms to four, two-year terms.

That longevity in office should give Nirenberg the time and space to forge the kind of legacy established by Hardberger and Julián Castro before him.

Hardberger can point to completion of the San Antonio River’s Museum Reach, acquisition of Hardberger Park, redevelopment of Main Plaza, and jump starting the transformation of Hemisfair Park after it lay idle for 50 years. He recruited Sheryl Sculley to become city manager. Her long tenure led to the modernization of the city’s financial practices, ambitious five-year bond cycles to address critical infrastructure needs, and a new level of professional standards for city staff.

Castro, then the youngest mayor of a Top 50 city, led efforts to bring early childhood education to the forefront, well in advance of national trends, with successful passage of Pre-K 4 SA. He launched SA2020 and with it, the Decade of Downtown. Castro joined forces with Sculley to take on the powerful police union and address runaway health care costs. His growing national profile earned him a cabinet seat as Housing and Urban Development Secretary in the Obama administration.

Nirenberg is poised to establish his own legacy. Voters chose him by a 31-point margin, 62% to 31%, over Brockhouse, with the remainder going to a dozen other names on the ballot, a definitive verdict on Nirenberg’s second-term record. A Bexar Facts poll conducted with the San Antonio Report and KSAT-TV in late March accurately predicted as much. The reason: Nirenberg’s strong leadership through the pandemic.

Nirenberg won by a much wider margin against Brockhouse this time. When I look around at current Mayors for future statewide potential, Nirenberg certainly belongs on the list, but for whatever the reason I haven’t heard his name bandied about. Maybe that will change now.

San Antonio had a high-profile ballot proposition, which would have stripped the city’s police union of it collective bargaining power. It was narrowly defeated, but its proponents are encouraged they did as well as they did, and expect to continue that fight.

Austin had its own slew of ballot propositions, with a particularly contentious one that would outlaw the public camps that homeless people are now using. That one passed, and we’ll see what happens next.

The folks behind Proposition B, the citizen initiative to re-criminalize public camping in Downtown Austin and near the UT Campus, got the victory they sought for the more than $1 million they spent. With all votes counted Saturday night, the measure backed by Save Austin Now prevailed by 14 points, 57.1%-42.9%.

That’s a slightly weaker showing than was predicted before polls closed by SAN co-founder Matt Mackowiak, also chair of the Travis County Republican Party, but a win’s a win:

Those who have been paying attention will note that Mayor Steve Adler and much of Council have already decided that the June 2019 vote that Prop B reverses was a failed experiment, and have moved on to other strategies to house Austin’s unsheltered poor. Perhaps SAN will catch up soon. Whatever its merits as policy, the campaign for Prop B did almost certainly boost turnout, which all told was 22.55% countywide (just under 90% of that was city voters). That’s the highest Austin’s seen in a May election since 1994.

Even CM Greg Casar, the politician most directly rebuked by tonight’s results, is looking ahead: “I do not believe Austin is as divided as this election makes it seem. The overwhelming majority of Austinites share a common goal, no matter how folks voted on Prop B. We all want to get people out of tents and into homes,” Casar said in a statement. “Our community must come together after this election & house 3,000 more people.”

I’ll leave it to the Austin folks to figure this out from here, but from my vantage point one obvious issue here is the ridiculously high housing prices in Austin, which is fueled in part by way more demand for housing than supply. I hope the city can find a way forward on that.

Fort Worth will have a new Mayor, after a June runoff.

Fort Worth voters will chose a new mayor for the first time in a decade in June with Mattie Parker and Deborah Peoples apparently headed to the runoff.

Mayor Betsy Price’s decision not to seek an unprecedented sixth term sparked 10 candidates to run, including two council members, the Tarrant County Democratic Party chairwoman and a slew of political newcomers.

According unofficial results in Tarrant County, Peoples, a former AT&T vice president, led with 33.60% of the vote Saturday night while Parker, a former Price chief of staff, had 30.82%, with all 176 vote centers reporting. Council member Brian Byrd was in third place with 14.75%.

Parker and Peoples maintained the upper hand with results for Denton County. There, Parker took 35.17% of the vote compared to 16% for Peoples. In Parker County, Parker had 42% of the vote followed by Byrd’s 23.3%. Peoples had 12.5%.

The runoff will be June 5.

Here are the Tarrant County results – scroll down to page 21 to see the Fort Worth Mayor’s race. There were 1,106 votes cast in total in this race in Denton County, and 176 total votes cast in Parker County, so Tarrant is really all you need to know. In 2019, Peoples lost to Mayor Betsy Price by a 56-42 margin. Adding up the votes this time, counting Ann Zadeh as progressive and Brian Byrn and Steve Penate as conservative, the vote was roughly a 55-42 margin for the Republican-aligned candidates. We’ll see how it goes in the runoff.

And then there was Lubbock.

Lubbock voters on Saturday backed a “sanctuary city for the unborn” ordinance that tries to outlaw abortions in the city’s limits, likely prompting a lawsuit over what opponents say is an unconstitutional ban on the procedure.

The unofficial vote, 62% for and 38% against the measure, comes less than a year after Planned Parenthood opened a clinic in Lubbock and months after the City Council rejected the ordinance on legal grounds and warned it could tee up a costly court fight.

The passage of the ordinance makes Lubbock one of some two dozen cities that have declared themselves a “sanctuary … for the unborn” and tried to prohibit abortions from being performed locally. But none of the cities in the movement — which started in the East Texas town of Waskom in 2019 — has been as big as Lubbock and none of them have been home to an abortion provider.

It’s unclear when the ordinance will go into effect, and if it will be challenged in court.

The push to declare Lubbock a “sanctuary city for the unborn” began in the last two years and was galvanized by the arrival of a Planned Parenthood clinic in 2020. Anti-abortion activists gathered enough signatures to bring the ordinance to the City Council — where it was voted down for conflicting with state law and Supreme Court rulings — and to then put it to a citywide vote.

Ardent supporters of the measure, who liken abortion to murder, say it reflects the views held by many in conservative Lubbock. They believe the ordinance would stand up in court and say they have an attorney who will defend the city free of charge if it is challenged.

But the strategy of bringing the abortion fight to the local level has divided even staunch anti-abortion activists, and Texas towns like Omaha and Mineral Wells have voted down similar ordinances or walked them back under advice from city attorneys.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, which previously sued seven East Texas towns that passed similar ordinances, has said they were watching the vote closely and hinted at a lawsuit in a statement Saturday.

Drucilla Tigner, a policy and advocacy strategist with the organization, said the “ACLU has a long history of challenging unconstitutional abortion bans and will continue to fight to protect the fundamental rights of the people of Lubbock.”

[…]

The Lubbock ordinance outlaws abortions within the city, and allows family members of a person who has an abortion to sue the provider and anyone who assists someone getting an abortion, like by driving them to a clinic.

There isn’t an exception for women pregnant as a result of rape or incest.

The ordinance would not be enforced by the government unless the Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, or made other changes to abortion laws.

It instead relies on private citizens filing lawsuits.

Richard D. Rosen, a constitutional law professor at Texas Tech University, expects someone would sue Planned Parenthood and the legal fight would go from there.

“As long as Roe is good law I think these suits will ultimately fail, but it [could make] abortion providers … expend money for attorneys fees and it takes time,” he said.

See here and here for the background. The lawsuit that was filed against those seven towns was later dropped after the ordinances to remove language that declared the Lilith Fund and the Texas Equal Access Fund “criminal entities”. The language banning abortions in those towns remains, however. Lubbock is in a much different position than those tiny little towns, and I have no idea what happens from here. It can’t be long before someone files a lawsuit for something.

Finally, I’m sorry to report that Virginia Elizondo lost her race for Spring Branch ISD. I wish her all the best in the future.

The best time to buy a house in Houston was last year

Or the year before that, or the year before that

The O’Neals are part of a nationwide real estate frenzy playing out in Houston that is propelling prices to new highs. Houses are frequently drawing multiple offers, often above the asking price and can sell in a matter of days if they’re in good condition, according to local real estate agents.

The median price of a single-family home reached $260,212 in 2020, up 6.2 percent from 2019, according to an analysis of home sales and prices compiled by the Houston Association of Realtors for the Houston Chronicle. The increase in the median sales price was nearly twice the 3.2 percent year-over-year gain in 2019, according to HAR.

The increase came amid demand fueled by continued low interest rates, an extreme shortage of houses on the market and a rekindled desire for homes in the suburbs stemming from the pandemic as people spend more time at home. At the same time, despite the rising prices, the pandemic forced people to cancel vacations, stop eating out and allowed them to pay down debt, giving them more buying power than ever. Some of that may carry over to the future.

“We have a new habit of spending a lot of time at home,” said Ted C. Jones, chief economist with Stewart Title. “We’ll definitely eat out more, but maybe not as much as we did 24 months ago.”

Meantime, said Frank Lucco, an appraiser with Accurity Qualified Analytics, “Houses are flying off the shelves.”

Lucco said he has never seen Houston home prices rise this quickly in his 43 years as an appraiser. Traditionally, home prices have risen 3 percent to 4 percent annually over the last two decades. The veteran appraiser has been constantly adjusting his appraisals upward to reflect Houston’s fast rising prices.

“There’s multiple contracts on houses,” he said. “It’s not uncommon for houses to sell in the same day it’s listed.”

In March, 2,165 houses in the Houston area — 23.2 percent of the month’s sales — sold for above asking price, according to HAR. That’s nearly three times the 8 percent that sold for more than asking a year ago.

Everyone reading this in Austin and its environs is no doubt nodding their head grimly. You want crazy home prices and bidding wars, that’s the place for it. The same is going on in the greater D/FW area as well. As this story notes, there’s a lot of demand out in the burbs, with their bigger houses and spacious yards that have been a blessing for many in the pandemic, but there’s also a lot of demand for the urban core, especially among younger buyers. There’s plenty of construction in my neighborhood, and I can’t think of any lots that have been on the market for more than a couple of weeks. Whatever else you might say, it’s better to be a place where people want to live.

Bills to allow casinos filed

Don’t bet on them, that’s my advice.

Sen. Carol Alvarado

Two Texas lawmakers on Tuesday filed legislation backed by the gaming empire Las Vegas Sands that would legalize casino gambling in Texas.

The legislation was filed by Rep. John Kuempel, R-Seguin, in the House and Sen. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, in the Senate. The proposals would create special casino licenses for four “destination resorts” in the state’s four largest metropolitan areas: Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio and Austin. At the same time, it would establish a Texas Gaming Commission to regulate the casinos, and it would separately legalize sports betting.

The legislation would require amending the Texas Constitution, which currently bans most gaming in Texas. That is only possible with a two-thirds vote of lawmakers in both chambers, and then voter approval in the November election.

Kuempel is the vice chair of the House Licensing and Administrative Procedures Committee, which oversees industries regulated by the state, including current gaming options. Alvarado, meanwhile, chairs the Senate Democratic Caucus.

Las Vegas Sands, founded by the late GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson, has spent the past few months building a massive push at the Capitol, spending millions of dollars to hire nearly six dozen lobbyists. The bill-filing deadline for the biennial legislative session, which got underway in January, is Friday.

“We appreciate the work of the bill’s sponsors and we are excited to engage in further discussion with elected leaders and community stakeholders on the possibilities for expanding Texas’ tourism offerings through destination resorts,” Andy Abboud, Las Vegas Sands senior vice president, said in a statement.

The legislation is consistent with the vision that Las Vegas Sands has laid out for casinos in Texas: a limited number of licenses for mixed-use “destination resorts” in the state’s biggest population centers, with a high minimum investment intended to attract only the best operators. To that end, the legislation calls for a land and development investment of at least $2 billion in Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston, as well as $1 billion for San Antonio and Austin.

The “destination resort” licenses would be considered “Class I” licenses. The legislation would then create three “Class II” licenses for “limited casino gaming” at horse-race tracks in Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio. After that, two “Class III” licenses would be made available for similarly limited casino gambling at greyhound tracks in Corpus Christi and Harlingen.

The full casino legalization would also extend to the state’s three federally recognized Native American tribes at their reservations in El Paso, Eagle Pass and Livingston. They are currently able to offer limited gaming.

See herer and here for more on the casinos’ latest push to legalize more forms of gambling in Texas. As the story notes, that recent DMN/UT Tyler poll included questions about casinos and sports betting, and found them both to have popular support; not a surprise, as gambling has always polled well in Texas. (They also have Mattress Mack in their corner.) The obstacles remain the same: Neither Greg Abbott nor Dan Patrick support this, and a two-thirds majority, which is needed to put the propositions to a vote, is a high bar to clear. Maybe this is the year it happens, but you could have said that about many previous legislative sessions. The smart money remains on the bills not passing.

We also have to worry about water

Hopefully not for too much longer.

On Friday, as the ice melted and lights flickered back on in homes and businesses across the state, Texans were melting snow into their toilet tanks and mopping up water from busted pipes.

The state’s power outage disaster had firmly transitioned into a water crisis.

The state’s power grid operators declared the worst is behind us, as most Texans have their power restored and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas is no longer calling for forced outages. They said residents can resume normal consumption of electricity.

But about half of the states’ population is still battling water infrastructure problems because of the cold weather — made worse as temperatures ticked up above freezing leading to pipes and water lines bursting.

For Texans who do have water, millions are being told to boil it before consuming in cities across the state including Houston, San Antonio, Austin, Fort Worth, Arlington, Galveston and Corpus Christi.

The state is accelerating efforts to restore water to Texans, Gov. Greg Abbott said at a Friday press conference. The state will connect overloaded local facilities with other labs to expedite clean-water testing efforts and grow the number of plumbers available to fix broken pipes, he said.

More than 1,180 public water systems in 160 counties reported disruptions from the winter storms, affecting 14.6 million people as of Friday morning, according to a spokesperson for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Reduced water pressure — due to pump failures and increased demand from burst pipes and millions of people dripping their faucets for days on end — is the root of the problem for many of these infrastructure problems. Reduced water pressure can lead to harmful bacteria growing in the water. Other times, power outages have prevented treatment centers from properly treating water.

“When the pressure drops significantly you can’t maintain water quality standards,” Texas Water Foundation CEO Sarah Rountree Schlessinger said. “You got to have that energy come back online … then, allow for sufficient time for pressurization, and then for water quality testing to occur.”

Water pressure improved noticeably at our house from Friday to Saturday – it feels pretty close to normal now, though I can’t say for certain. There’s likely a lot of stress on the system as well, as people who are newly back in their powered homes are showering and washing dishes and laundry. It’s hard to resist, but do try to keep your usage modest for the next few days.

Of course, if your pipes are busted, you’re not using any water anyway.

City and county leaders on Friday said tens of thousands of area residents and business owners suffered burst water pipes or other damage from the winter storm this week, with the resulting property damage likely costing tens of millions of dollars.

The Harris County engineer’s office estimated 55,000 homes in unincorporated portions of the county likely have pipe damage. The city reported it has received some 4,900 calls to its 311 system for water breaks, a figure officials said likely pales in comparison to the number of residents who have not reported the damage to City Hall.

“That number is higher, probably much higher,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said, adding that many people — including himself and some City Council members — shut off their water without calling the city. “There are still breaks that exist in our city that have yet to be reported, and the water is still running.”

With power restored to nearly all residents, County Judge Lina Hidalgo said the most serious problems remain access to water and food.

“We’ve been in touch with the major grocery stores, and they said the supply chains will catch up by this weekend,” Hidalgo said. “The issue, of course, is hoarding. So, I’ve been asking folks to only purchase what they need for their own families.”

Turner has said the city will work with the county to launch a fund to help residents confront the costs of repairing their pipes and the damage water has done to their homes, though details on that fund have not been announced yet.

The major disaster declaration may help with that as well. We dealt with busted pipes on Thursday – we were fortunate that our regular plumber put his regular customers at the top of his priority list, and that meant he could deal with us. We had something like nine cracked pipes, all under the house, all now replaced. Not cheap, but we’re in a position to be able to afford it. (The total amount was less than the deductible on our homeowners insurance, so it was all on us to pay, in case you were wondering.) Lots of people are going to need help with their repairs, and they should get it with as little resistance or red tape as possible.

We should also remember, it can always be worse.

Residents of San Angelo, a West Texas city in the Concho Valley, have gone days without safe drinking water after city officials discovered industrial chemicals contaminated the water system.

The crisis — which stretches into at least its fifth day Friday — in the city of 101,000 people has left residents frustrated and scared after the city told them Monday night to cease all uses of water other than flushing their toilets. They were also told that first boiling the water before use would not make it usable and, instead, only more dangerous.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality found the water, which smelled like chemicals or mothballs, is contaminated with benzene, acetone, naphthalene and other chemicals consistent with industrial production.

That story is from Monday, before we all froze solid. I’m sure the frigid weather, and the fact that you can’t fix water than has benzene in it by boiling it, has made the situation that much worse. I don’t know how things are today in San Angelo, but I sure hope those folks are getting the help they need.

More on police oversight boards

Ours in Houston isn’t very good. Some other cities do it better. We can learn from them.

Houston’s police oversight board is the weakest among Texas’ five largest cities and suffers from “a complete lack of transparency and public reporting,” a recent study from Rice University’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research concludes.

The report, released last week, analyzed police oversight institutions in Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, Austin and Fort Worth, concluding that the agencies in each city need more resources, and fewer legislative hurdles, while its members need more experience and training.

The Independent Police Oversight Board in Houston “has very limited powers to conduct its own investigations, instead being handed completed internal affairs investigations without the ability to independently collect further evidence on the event,” reads the report, co-authored by Kinder Institute director Bill Fulton, a member of Mayor Sylvester Turner’s recent police reform task force.

The group detailed its recommendations in a 153-page report released in late September, about three months after Turner announced his 45 appointees to the board. The group recommended that city officials bolster the police oversight board with paid staffing and facilities outside the police department and by changing policy to allow the board to report some of its findings to the community, which it is currently barred from doing.

Turner has signaled he intends to adopt at least some of those recommendations, saying in early September he is “99.999 percent certain there will be some adjustments” to the police oversight board. The mayor later said he’s “overwhelmingly supportive of most of the ideas” in the task force’s report, though he said some could be difficult to fund or would require state legislative action.

The task force’s recommendations align with those presented in the Kinder report, which recommends the board be staffed with “people with legal knowledge, police expertise and research skills.” Austin has by far the most paid staff members on its oversight group among Texas’ five largest cities, the report found.

“(M)ost agencies in the state’s big cities have fewer than five employees to oversee forces of thousands of officers,” according to the report. “Houston’s IPOB has no staff or resources.”

See here for more on Mayor Turner and the task force recommendations. For more on the Kinder report, which you can find here, I’ll refer you to this Grits for Breakfast post, which goes into more detail. At this point, we have all the information we need to act. It’s time to act. I’m hopeful we’ll get some at the city level in the upcoming weeks, but as Mayor Turner says, some of this needs to happen at the state level. And there, I fear, we’re more likely to run into obstacles. For instance:

That bill is authored by Rep. Matt Krause, one of the vulnerable Republicans we were unfortunately not able to knock off this election. The problem goes a lot deeper than one State Rep, though. Cities are not going to be able to do what their voters want them to do if the Republican legislature and Greg Abbott have anything to say about it.

The economic effect of losing college football this fall

I have some sympathy, but I also have some skepticism.

Texas’ five major conference football teams – Baylor University, Texas Christian University, Texas A&M University, Texas Tech University and the University of Texas at Austin — are massive economic drivers for their cities of Waco, Fort Worth, College Station, Lubbock and Austin, respectively, generating a flood of seasonal business for hotels, restaurants and bars in a typical year.

Economists and city leaders said canceling football would be devastating to local businesses that rely on the huge influxes of cash from home games.

“Forgoing even a single game costs the economy millions,” said Ray Perryman, a Waco economist and CEO of The Perryman Group. “Dealing with the health crisis is essential and must be given paramount priority, but the economic costs of restricting or eliminating college sports are very high.”

[…]

Doug Berg, an economics professor at Sam Houston State University, said towns like Lubbock and College Station would feel the impact of lost game day revenue more than larger cities like Austin with its more diversified business base.

Still, UT-Austin reported in 2015 it had a local economic impact of more than $63 million per home game.

A bigger proportion of municipal budgets in smaller towns is derived from sales and hotel occupancy taxes – both of which typically experience significant hikes during football season. For college towns, “it’s like losing Christmas,” Berg said.

The toll of losing football is “larger than we care to fathom,” said Eddie McBride, president of the Lubbock Chamber of Commerce.

One typical home game at Texas Tech, with an average attendance of about 60,000 people, pours “millions of dollars” back into the city of Lubbock, McBride said.

“We do count a lot on football,” McBride said. “It isn’t just sold seats…it’s going to people’s houses and buying food and drinks from the local grocery store and the beer store, and then going to the bars and the restaurants to watch the game.”

As we now know, the Big 12 will be playing football this fall, though what the situation with fans in the stands will be remains unclear. That’s not great for the Lubbocks and Wacos, but it’s not the worst case scenario, either. I can believe that Game Day is an economic boon in these smaller cities, but I’m way too skeptical of this type of financial forecasting to take the gloom and doom too seriously. The pattern is always big statements up front about what will or may happen, then no followup after the event in question to say what did happen. I’ve just been conditioned by too many of these in the past to take them at face value.

I mean sure, there will be fewer people visiting Lubbock and Waco on these Saturdays, and that will undoubtedly mean fewer hotel rooms rented and less beer consumed. That adds up to something, whatever it may actually be. One might speculate that the savings from fewer people catching COVID-19 as a result of this lessened activity balances this out. Maybe Ray Perryman can work up a spreadsheet on that.

We’re still not doing great with the Census

There’s still time, but we have a lot of work to do.

Despite an extended deadline, local government cash infusions and grassroots campaigns to improve Houston’s 2020 census response rate, almost half of Houston households are still missing from the official count.

As of July 5, 52.5% of Houston’s estimated 2.32 million residents have completed the decennial survey, according to the most recent census data. In Harris County, the response has been about 56 percent.

But Houston is not alone. Across the country, many other large metropolitan areas are also struggling to get their populations counted, reporting similar self-response rates to Houston’s. In Los Angeles, the household response rate is 51.6%, while Chicago polls higher at 54.5%, and 53.1% in New York City.

Other cities in Texas have slightly greater household response rates so far, with Austin hovering around 60.4%, Fort Worth at 58.9%, and Dallas at 53.4%.

Texas ranks 40th in state census response, according to recent census findings. The state’s response rate of 56.7% lags behind the national rate of 61.9%. In 2010, the response rate was slightly higher at both the state and national levels, according to a recent report from Understanding Houston, which analyzed census data. The state had a 64.4% self-response rate compared with a national self-response rate of 66.5%.

With the deadline extended to Oct. 31, the hope is that more Texans will complete the survey, pulling the response rate up.

[…]

A 2019 study by Lopez Negrete Communications found that one helpful tool for ensuring people participate was through community action— which has become increasingly difficult with stay-at-home orders in place. Traditional forms of influence noted in the report include churches, schools, public events and community health clinics, yet many of these cultural and community centers remain closed.

It’s not hard to see why it’s been a challenge to get people to do the Census. If we can’t go door to door and can’t engage with the community, there’s only so much that can be done. It’s bad enough that the Lege didn’t appropriate any money for Census outreach, now we have Greg Abbott’s lousy handling of the pandemic acting as headwinds. Maybe we’ll be lucky and things will improve enough by October to make some more progress. I sure hope so.

Whistling past the ICU

Clap louder!

Gov. Greg Abbott and top Texas health officials on Tuesday responded to growing alarm over hospitals now swelling with coronavirus patients, assuring there is still plenty of space available even as some facilities have neared or surpassed capacity.

Speaking on yet another day of record high hospitalizations from the pandemic, Abbott said he is confident the state can continue reopening while controlling the spread of new infections.

“As we begin to open up Texas and Texans return to their jobs, we remain laser-focused on maintaining abundant hospital capacity,” said Abbott, a Republican. “The best way to contain the spread of this virus is by all Texans working together and following simple safety precautions.”

On Tuesday, the Department of State Health Services reported just over 2,500 COVID-19 patients in Texas hospitals, the highest single-day total since the pandemic began and nearly 67 percent more than on Memorial Day in late May. State and local leaders have pointed to the holiday weekend as one likely cause for the increase.

Statewide, there are still thousands of hospital beds and ventilators available. But in some of the largest cities, including San Antonio and Houston, the surge is pushing new limits. In Harris County, some hospitals said late last week that their intensive care units were near or above capacity.

Bill McKeon, CEO of the Texas Medical Center, said their number of COVID-19 patients has nearly doubled from its previous peak in late April. Many of the patients admitted now are younger and generally healthier, but are still susceptible to serious illness or death from the disease.

“If it continues to grow at this rate, we’re going to be in real trouble,” McKeon said of the admissions. He added that while it may not be feasible to reimpose lockdowns or other restrictions, state leaders should consider slowing the reopening if the uptick continues.

The official death count is past 2,000 now, though everyone knows that’s an undercount. On a per capita basis that’s still pretty low, but we’re doing our best to catch up. The idea that we’re “controlling the spread” in any fashion is laughable, except there’s nothing funny about what’s happening. And then we get this:

Abbott remained unwilling Tuesday to allow local officials to enforce their own mask ordinances, even as he acknowledged that many Texans are not wearing them. He instead accused Democratic county judges of not having done enough to punish businesses that fail to comply with other protocols, such as limits on public gatherings.

While they have the authority, Abbott said, many “haven’t lifted a finger.”

Hey, remember when Greg Abbott cravenly flip-flopped on consequences for not following his own executive orders? Good times, good times. What would you like the county judges to use, harsh language? Let’s not forget who’s in charge here.

But local officials are still trying, at least:

The mayors of nine of Texas’ biggest cities urged Gov. Greg Abbott in a letter Tuesday to grant them the “authority to set rules and regulations” mandating face masks during the coronavirus pandemic.

As COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to climb in Texas, an executive order from Abbott bans local governments from imposing fines or criminal penalties on people who don’t wear masks in public. The mayors wrote that many people in their cities continue to refuse to wear face masks and that “a one-size-fits-all approach is not the best option” when it comes to regulating the issue.

The letter is signed by Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg, Austin Mayor Steve Adler, Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson, Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, El Paso Mayor Dee Margo, Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams, Plano Mayor Harry LaRosiliere and Grand Prairie Mayor Ron Jensen.

The letter asks Abbott to consider allowing each city’s local officials to decide whether to require the use of a face covering in order to prevent the spread of the virus.

Mayor Turner’s press release is here, and a copy of the letter sent to Abbott is here. There was no response as of Tuesday afternoon.

Finally, let’s not forget that even as businesses may want to reopen, coronavirus may not let them. It’s almost as if an unchecked pandemic is a hindrance to having your economy run at full capacity. But don’t worry, Greg Abbott has everything under control. Now keep clapping!

Here come the shelter-in-place orders

The shutdowns are getting shut-down-ier.

Be like Hank, except inside

Many of Texas’ biggest cities and counties are ordering residents to shelter in place whenever possible.

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff on Monday evening ordered residents to stay in their homes as the state grapples with the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus. The move came one day after Dallas County issued a similar order. Meanwhile, the Austin City Council and Travis County will team up Tuesday to issue a stay-at-home decree, Austin Mayor Steve Adler told The Texas Tribune on Monday. And Fort Worth city officials said Mayor Betsy Price and Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley will do the same at a Tuesday morning press conference.

By lunchtime Tuesday, residents in at least four of the state’s five biggest cities are expected to be under such orders. The only possible holdout is Houston, the state’s most populous city, which hasn’t publicly announced any plans. But the Houston Chronicle has reported Harris County officials began drafting a shelter-in-place order over the weekend.

“Our message is simple: You must stay at home,” Nirenberg said at a press conference in San Antonio on Monday evening. “The best way to reduce the spread of the coronavirus is through strict social distancing.”

San Antonio’s “Stay Home, Work Safe” order is effective 11:59 p.m. Tuesday through 11:59 p.m. April 9.

You can add in Galveston County and some other places as well. If Greg Abbott isn’t going to do it, then it looks like everyone else will. As for Houston, here’s that Chron story:

Harris County officials over the weekend began drafting an order to place further restrictions on public activity in order to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, according to sources with direct knowledge of the discussions.

Doctors and health experts across the country have said such orders are necessary to prevent COVID-19 from spreading so rapidly that it overwhelms the nation’s health care system. Texas Medical Center president and CEO William McKeon said Monday morning the presidents of TMC hospitals and other institutions were “unanimous in our strong recommendation to move to shelter in place.”

[…]

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said at a news conference Monday morning “it may be that we issue a stay-at-home order or something of the sort.” She said county officials are still assessing whether to do so, and seeking the advice of other local leaders including Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner.

Judge Hidalgo and Mayor Turner are holding a joint press conference with local health leaders this morning “for a COVID-19 related announcement”, which sure sounds like the prelude to a shelter-in-place announcement, but we’ll see.

What this means is that most businesses are ordered to shutter, minus “essential services” like grocery stores, pharmacies, and of course health care facilities. You’re either working from home, or you’re on a break, likely for two weeks initially (what Bexar County ordered), though it could get extended. You can go outside to exercise as long as you maintain social distancing, and there may be civil enforcement for violations. I’m making some assumptions here – who knows, maybe Judge Hidalgo and Mayor Turner have something else to say, though I can hardly imagine what it could be – but this is what we have seen in cities that have already gone down this road. So, on the likelihood that this is what’s in store, get ready to hunker down a little harder. It’s what everyone thinks is our best hope right now.

UPDATE: The shelter in place order for Harris County is now in effect, effective tonight at midnight through April 3.

Our first look at how Engage Texas will operate

Interesting move.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

As people filed in and out of the massive driver license office in Southwest Houston on Tuesday morning, two workers at a tent affiliated with a conservative advocacy group asked if the passersby would sign a petition or register to vote.

A follow-up question as two women filled out the forms: Are you conservative or liberal?

“Conservative means you believe in less government and less taxes,” one of the workers – wearing a lime green T-shirt with the group’s name, Engage Texas — asked them. “Liberal means you believe in more government and more taxes.”

State Rep. Chris Turner, who leads the Democratic Caucus in the Texas House, said he witnessed something similar Monday outside Department of Public Safety driver license offices in Fort Worth and in Hurst, a suburb of Dallas, where people who signed a petition to ‘ban late-term abortion’ were asked to register to vote.

“The taxpayers of Texas have a right to expect that their hard-earned dollars are not subsidizing political activity, as is the case here,” Turner wrote Tuesday in a letter to DPS. “And Texans who are trying to renew their driver licenses, already forced to wait hours – sometimes outside in the heat – are enduring enough already without having to deal with political operatives while stuck in line.”

But DPS said in a statement that public spaces outside driver license offices are available for “political speech,” and it appears that Engage Texas is just beginning to ramp up its efforts to register voters ahead of the 2020 elections in which the GOP faces more competitive races than it has in over a decade.

[…]

Texas Democratic Party spokesman Abhi Rahman said the difference between Engage Texas’ voter drive and those organized by Democratic and other groups is the use of a petition or other questions to gauge a person’s political interests.

“If you’re going to be there and register voters, that’s fine,” Rahman said. “But if you’re only registering conservative voters and you’re making them do a political test … that’s where the problem is.”

Chris Davis, elections administrator in Williamson County — where Turner said Engage Texas representatives told him the group was also posted — said he wasn’t aware of any part of the law that explicitly prohibits deputy voter registrars from screening for political affiliation before registering a voter.

But Davis said he believes they have an obligation to register anyone who would like to be registered.

“Their primary charge, as I see it, is to register folks, regardless of stripe, race, creed,” Davis said. “And I wouldn’t look kindly on anyone that is trying to determine a potential voter’s leanings or proclivities as it relates to their politics or stances or beliefs before they issue out an application.”

See here and here for the background. This appears to be legal, though apparently something no one had known would be allowed by DPS before now. Let’s be honest, if any Democratic-aligned group had tried something like this – not just operating on state property, but also overtly excluding people they don’t want to register – as recently as last year, Republicans everywhere would have had a capital-F freakout. I’m trying to come up with non-hyperbolic examples of reactions they would have had, and I can’t. Everything up to and including calling out the National Guard to arrest the registrars and defend DPS parking lots from them would have been possible. Now? Desperate times, I guess. But if that’s what they want

Legislation can’t be filed to stop what Engage Texas is doing until the Texas House and Senate’s 2021 session. In the meantime, Turner says, he expects a bevy of groups to take advantage of DPS’ hospitality.

“If this is DPS’ policy, and they say it is, I think it’s going to be a free-for-all out there now that this is well-known,” Turner says.

I approve that message. The DMN and the Texas Signal have more.

Uber’s vision for the future

I feel like this is more wishcasting than real planning. Still, some of it may happen, and if nothing else we should be aware of what it’s all about.

When Uber envisions the future, it not only wants to put urban air taxis and drones in the skies. It also wants to transform how people navigate cities and how they live in them.

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said the San Francisco-based tech company wants to turn today’s cities that are getting denser and more polluted into “cities of the future that are fundamentally green and built for people.” To do that, he said, cities need transportation options that range from cruising down the street on an electric scooter to commuting through the skies.

“We want not just to be the Amazon of transportation but also the Google of transportation,” he said.

One of the first places Uber wants that to play out is Dallas-Fort Worth: It’s one of the first three markets for Uber Elevate, an initiative to launch the aerial ride-sharing service.

[…]

Uber gave a progress report and made splashy announcements at its third annual Uber Elevate Summit. It announced the first international market for the air service: Melbourne, Australia. It revealed that Uber Eats is working with McDonald’s to deliver Big Macs and fries by drone. It touted the progress of six aviation companies that are designing the aircraft. And it dived into specifics, such as economics, safety and FAA-required certification. It showed off its different modes of transportation, from its new self-driving Volvo SUV to electric scooters.

Through splashy presentations and showroom floor exhibits, Uber and its business partners tried to build the case that urban air taxi service is not a far-fetched idea but one that’s coming to fruition.

Uber went public in May. The tech giant’s growth has been fueled by venture capital, but it is spending billions of dollars and has yet to turn a profit. That hasn’t slowed development of its aerial ride-sharing service. It expects to start flight demonstrations next year and launch commercial service in a few cities, including Dallas, in 2023. Eventually, it wants the urban air taxis to become autonomous.

Mark Moore, Uber’s director of engineering for vehicle systems, said he’s already seen some of the aircraft take flight. He declined to name the companies that are flight testing, saying they’re keeping quiet for competitive reasons.

“It’s incredibly impressive,” he said. “They’re nothing like helicopters.”

We first heard of Uber Elevate back in 2017. They had a goal at that time of rolling out a demo in 2020, so as far as their public pronouncements go, they’re on schedule. There re other operators in this space, one at Texas A&M that is working on flying motorcycles, with a test date of 2020, and a different kind of flying vehicle, based on battery power, that is farther away from reality. Beyond those two, we’ll just have to take Uber at their word that there are other companies testing prototypes now.

The challenges are not just technical.

Moore said the next four years will focus on demonstrations that “prove out the safety, noise and performance” of the vehicles.

In 2023, he said it will launch to paying customers in Dallas — but with a limited number of vehicles and limited operations. He said he expects five aircraft per manufacturer at launch. That will grow to about 50 per manufacturer in 2024. But, he said, some manufacturers may not be ready in time.

In Dallas, the average trip is expected to be 20 to 25 miles, Moore said.

But one of the major questions is whether Uber can win over regulators and the public. Unlike other tech innovations, early adopters won’t just use a new kind of technology. They’ll fly in public, so that affects the people driving, walking or living on the ground below, whether or not they choose to opt in.

[…]

“Uber is obsessed with making these vehicles as quiet as possible,” he said.

The Federal Aviation Administration’s acting administrator, Dan Elwell, said he’s enthusiastic about urban air taxis but acknowledged that their development gives him more to worry about.

“Everyone is riveted by this, especially me, but then I put on my FAA regulator hat and I got a whole new bucket of stuff to lose sleep over,” he said in a speech at the summit. “What you see is the ideal way to transporting people across cities. When I look at it, I see car-sized vehicles with multiple rotors hanging over dense urban populations.”

All that was discussed in the first Uber Elevate link I posted above. Noise is also a concern – much is done to abate highway noise for residences, but the only way to do that for aerial vehicles is to make the vehicles themselves as quiet as possible. How t ameliorate the “death from above” concerns, well, that’s going to be a key question. All this from a company that burns money faster than 747s burn jet fuel. I’ll keep an eye on this, but don’t be surprised if the next major update is that the timelines have been pushed back.

Lawsuit planned over cable franchise fee bill

I sure hope Houston gets involved in this.

Fort Worth and cities across Texas stand to lose millions of dollars due to a new law that slashes fees telecom providers pay to them. But before the savings go into effect next year, it’s likely cities will challenge the legislation in the courts.

The bill, signed by Gov. Greg Abbott earlier this month, would slash right-of-way fees telecom providers pay cities to supply cable and phone service. For years, companies paid cities two separate fees to run phone and cable TV lines in right-of-ways — even when delivered over the same line. The bill changes that practice, and allows providers to only pay the higher of the two fees.

Supporters of the bill, like Walt Baum, the president of the Texas Cable Association, said it’s necessary to end an “outdated double tax” on companies. But Bennett Sandlin, executive director of the Texas Municipal League, said he thinks the legislation violates sections of the Texas Constitution.

“The use of public land is a privilege, not a right,” Sandlin said. “They could certainly decide to run those wires through people’s backyards, but they would pay a lot more. They have to pay for that rental of public space.“

Fort Worth estimates a little over $4 million will be lost in revenue due to the law, according to a presentation given to the Fort Worth City Council outlining the legislative session’s impact. And in some cities, those losses are more than six times that, with Houston pinning its potential losses at up to $27 million.

Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, authored Senate Bill 1152 and chairs the Senate Business and Commerce committee. Since 2006, telecom providers — some who stand to potentially cut costs due to Hancock’s bill — have contributed over $150,000 to Hancock’s campaign, according to the National Institute on Money in Politics.

“I don’t know who saves millions more than the constituents that I work for,” Hancock said about providers paying less.

This wouldn’t be the first time one of Hancock’s bills spurred a lawsuit.

In 2017, a group of over 30 cities filed a lawsuit against the state alleging that a bill authored by Hancock violated articles of the Texas Constitution that prohibit the legislature from directing local municipalities to make gifts or grants to a corporation. The lawsuit, filed in Travis County District Court, is ongoing, and Kevin Pagan, McAllen’s city attorney, said he believes the newly signed legislation violates the same tenets.

Pagan said the new bill wrongly requires cities to make a gift to private companies by allowing providers to use the right-of-way at a lesser charge.

The telecom providers are, “already in the right-of-way. You’re already using our facilities. You’ve already agreed to pay us a franchise fee. And now under this law, you’re just going to stop paying,” Pagan said. “It’s a gift from the state legislature back to those companies.”

See here for the background. I have no idea what the odds of success are for this lawsuit, but as I said up front I sure hope the city of Houston signs on as a co-plaintiff, because we’re definitely taking it in the shorts from this bill. As for the claims from the cable lobbyist that this bill will lead to lower costs for cable subscribers, well, if you think that will happen I’ve got a nice beach house in Abilene to sell you.

The case for a second MLB team in the Metroplex

It’s an interesting argument, with a lot of aspects to it.

[T]he 2019 Street & Smith Baseball Yearbook contains an article (“Where to Next?” by G. Scott Thomas) rating the top 20 metro areas [for potential MLB expansion]. More than 100 reporters and editors filled out a report card (using grades from A to F) for each contender. In ranking order, the results are: Montreal, Portland, Nashville, Charlotte, Las Vegas, San Antonio, Vancouver, Raleigh-Durham, Mexico City, Austin, Monterrey, San Juan, New Orleans, Indianapolis, New Jersey (i.e., North Jersey), Havana, Sacramento, Columbus, Orlando, and San Bernardino. I was a bit surprised to see Nashville rank so highly, but otherwise the top 10 more or less line up with the favored locales of other pundits.

One viable metro area is missing from the list, however. That’s might be because it already has one team. I refer here to Dallas-Fort Worth, the Metroplex, or simply North Texas as it is increasingly referred to. Just as the Southern California conurbation eventually evolved into SoCal in popular discourse, North Texas will likely progress to NorTex (admittedly, it sounds like a public utility or a petroleum corporation) in the near future. Remember, you heard it here first.

Now it might seem unfair if not downright bigamous to bestow a second team on a metro area when so many other suitors are out there. On the other hand, such fairness was not a factor when Los Angeles and New York were awarded franchises in the first round of expansion. But a realistic case could be made for those teams then. The same is true for a potential NorTex franchise now.

First of all, did you know that NorTex is the largest market in the US with only one team? Yep, it’s true. One smaller metro area, San Francisco-Oakland (4,728,484 as of 2018) has two teams, though in past years some have opined that is one team too many. If the A’s can’t find a new home in the East Bay, they may be proved right. At any rate, the Bay Area has roughly 2.8 million people fewer than NorTex does, and has had two teams for more than half a century.

NorTex has 7,539,711 people according to a 2018 estimate (way up from 2,424,131 in 1970, two years before the Rangers hit town). That’s good for fourth place in the metro area population sweepstakes. Of course, New York and LA lead the pack and are not within striking distance. But third-place Chicago has “only” 9,498,716 people.

More important, however, are the metropolitan growth rates. NorTex has grown 17.33 percent since the 2010 census. Chicago is virtually stagnant with a growth rate of just 0.4 percent. This is not only much lower than DFW, it is lower than any of the other top 25 metro areas, including such renowned meltdown towns as Detroit and St. Louis. You have to go all the way down to Pittsburgh (No. 27 metro) to find a lower growth rate – in fact a negative rate of -1.34 percent. (The only other major league metro area in the red is Cleveland at -0.97 percent.)

You don’t have to be a math wizard to see that NorTex will likely surpass Chicago for third place within the lifetimes of many if not most of the people reading this article. As Bob Dylan once sang, “You don’t need a weathervane to see which way the wind blows.”

It’s a good read, so check it out. Obviously, MLB has to be in expansion mode for any of this to be a possibility. My guess is that when the expansion to 32 teams comes around, D/FW will not be on the short list, but if and when 36 teams are the target, it will be. How long that may take, I have no idea, but however long it takes I’d bet D/FW will still be in the picture.

May 4 election results

The hottest race was in San Antonio.

With more than 81 percent of the precincts counted, Mayor Ron Nirenberg took a nearly 3-point lead against Councilman Greg Brockhouse, but it likely won’t be enough to avoid a runoff to determine San Antonio’s next mayor.

Nirenberg, who led by two points following early voting pushed his lead to 48.42 percent with Brockhouse garnering 45.82 percent. However, a winning candidate would need to cross the 50 percent threshold to secure victory.

If neither candidate secures more than 50 percent of the vote, a runoff will be held next month.

“Did any of you think it was going to be easy?” Nirenberg said Saturday night to a group of supporters, volunteers and staff assembled at Augie’s. “We’re in for a long night. But guess what, this long night’s because this city deserves it. We will wait here and we will grind away at the progress earning every single vote and rechecked in the politics of division until we walk away winners. Because that’s what this city deserves. This is a city for all.

“This is about the future of San Antonio, it’s not just about one election. And we’re going to win, because this city needs to sustain progress.”

Here are the results. Nirenberg increased his lead over the course of Election Day and was up by a bit more than 3,000 votes. The runoff between the progressive Nirenberg and the not-progressive Brockhouse will be contentious, and important.

In Dallas, State Rep. Eric Johnson led the big field for Mayor.

With 149 of 529 precincts reporting, State Rep. Eric Johnson has 21 percent of the vote, Dallas City Councilman Scott Griggs has 17 percent, Lynn McBee has 15 percent, Mike Ablon has 13 percent and Regina Montoya and Miguel Solis have 10 percent.

Nine candidates ran for the open seat.

Mayor Mike Rawlings could not run again due to term limits.

Since no candidate got more than 50 percent of the votes, there will be a runoff between the top two candidates.

That runoff will happen on Saturday, June 8.

Those results are here, and they are more or less the same with 317 of 528 precincts reporting. Johnson is in his fifth term in the Lege and if he wins the runoff he’d vacate his seat, thus causing the fourth legislative special election of the cycle. In this case, it would be after the legislative session, so unless the Lege goes into overtime there would be no absence in Austin.

Elsewhere, Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price won again, holding off former Tarrant County Democratic Party Chair Deborah Peoples; those results are here. In races I was following, Nabila Mansoor was headed for a runoff in Sugar Land, collecting 34.22% of the vote to Naushad Kermally’s 39.16%. Steve Halvorson fell short again in Pasadena. The three Pearland ISD candidates also lost.

Congratulations to all the winners, and we’ll look to the runoffs in June.

Early voting for the May elections has begun

From the inbox:

Early Voting for the May 4, 2019 Joint Election starts Monday, April 22 and ends on Tuesday, April 30. During that period, Harris County voters may vote at any of the 25 Early Voting locations designated throughout the county. Polls will be open from 7 am to 7 pm, except for Sunday, April 28, when polls are open from 1 pm to 6 pm. Ballot by mail applicants must submit their applications by April 23.

Launching this election, voters will be able to see the approximate wait time at each polling location. This new Wait Time feature will be available on our website alongside a map of all the Early Voting locations.

“In an effort to make voting easier and more convenient, Early Voting hours have been extended and a Wait Time feature have been added to the website to help voters avoid lines” said Harris County Clerk Diane Trautman. “I encourage all of the nearly 785,000 registered voters that are eligible to cast a ballot in this election to exercise their right to vote.”

The Harris County Clerk’s office will conduct elections for 23 political subdivisions across the county. Voters residing in these political entities can find their individual sample ballots, the Early Voting schedule, and the Election Day polling locations at www.HarrisVotes.com.

An approximate additional 30 political entities in Harris County will also conduct elections on the same day. Voters should communicate directly with political entities conducting their own elections to obtain more information.

For more information about the May 4 Joint Election, voters may visit www.HarrisVotes.com or call the Harris County Clerk’s office at 713.755.6965.

###

Entities Conducting Elections with Harris County

City of Humble, City of Pasadena, City of South Houston, City of West University Place, Channelview ISD, Cypress-Fairbanks ISD, Goose Creek Consolidated ISD, Humble ISD, Pasadena ISD, Cypress Klein Utility District, Encanto Real Utility District, Greenwood Utility District, Bridgestone MUD, Crosby MUD, Faulkey Gully MUD, Trail of the Lake MUD, Harris County MUD No. 5, Harris County MUD No. 44, Harris County MUD No. 55, Harris County ESD No. 60, Harris County Fresh Water Supply District No. 1A, Harris County Fresh Water Supply District No. 58, Harris County Water Control and Improvement District No. 109.

You can see what the Wait Time feature looks like here. It’s pretty cool, and something we’ll surely need going forward, though for this election I doubt you’ll see anything but green lights. The City of Pasadena elections are the biggest ones of most interest within Harris County, with the balance of power on Pasadena City Council being up for grabs. See my interview with Steve Halvorson for more on that.

Early voting information for Fort Bend County is here. Fort Bend ISD and the City of Sugar Land, where Nabila Mansoor is running for City Council District 2, are races to watch.

Early voting information for Brazoria County is here. There’s a lot of energy right now for three candidates for Pearland ISD Board of Trustees: Al Lloyd, Dona Murphey, and Joseph Say. If all three win, they’d join Trustee Mike Floyd, elected in 2017, to form a majority on that Board.

Elsewhere, there are Mayor’s races in San Antonio, Dallas, and Fort Worth, none of which I have followed closely. There’s a longer story to write about why we still hold these municipal elections in May of odd-numbered years, but that will wait till another day. For more about the Harris County races, see this Chron story. Is there an election for you to vote in? Leave a comment and let us know.

The Fort Worth Mayor’s race

Worth keeping an eye on.

Deborah Peoples

Mayor Betsy Price has competition.

Democrat Deborah Peoples announced Tuesday night she is running for mayor in Fort Worth.

As Peoples addressed a crowd of several hundred people at 6 p.m., the back room of Angelo’s BBQ slowly became louder and louder. By the time Peoples arrived at the peak of her speech, the room was in an uproar.

“I believe it’s time. Time to stand up for Fort Worth, and time to stand up for each other,” she said to applause. “We have one chance to get this right. And we need a mayor who will stand up for all of us.”

The crowd started to chant, “it’s time” as Peoples continued.

“I am Deborah Peoples and I am running for Mayor of the City of Fort Worth,” she concluded.

Peoples was born in Texas and, 43 years ago, started working in Fort Worth’s Human Relations Commission. She said the work taught her the importance of keeping city government accountable to its residents.

Peoples has been the Tarrant County Democratic Party chair since 2013. Before that, she was a vice president for AT&T for 33 years.

“Many people do not feel like leadership listens to them,” Peoples said in an interview. “You have to have vision to be a leader. And I think in Fort Worth, we have been kind of lumbering from crisis to crisis.”

This is a May election, so things are already in full swing. Democrats made a lot of gains in 2018, winning in places they hadn’t won in years. In some ways, Beto O’Rourke carrying Tarrant County was the biggest psychological blow to the Republican identity, because Tarrant had long been the exception among the big urban counties. Winning the Fort Worth Mayor’s race, with the former Chair of the Tarrant County Democratic Party against the four-term Republican Mayor, would be another big dent. Price has won four two-year terms, so she’s going to be tough to beat, but this sure seems like a year where it could happen. Daily Kos has more.

Dallas hyperlooping

North Texas takes the lead for this super sexy but possibly vaporware transportation technology.

The Regional Transportation Council announced Wednesday that it will consider the feasibility of a hyperloop as a way to connect Dallas, Fort Worth and Arlington. The group is made up of 44 elected and appointed officials that choose funding priorities. It has been in discussions with Virgin Hyperloop One, a Los Angeles-based company that has a test track in Nevada.

“Whatever we build will be around for 100 years, so we need to consider it [a hyperloop system] as we move forward and let the process decide if it’s the best way to move or not,” said Michael Morris, transportation director for the North Central Texas Council of Governments.

The regional group has been exploring solutions that would speed up trips between Dallas and Fort Worth and boost economic activity. It plans to hire consultants later this year to evaluate hyperloop and high-speed rail and compare them based on a variety of factors, such as noise, vibration and potential ridership. The study, called an environmental impact statement, will cost about $5 million and take two to three years to complete, Morris said.

A hyperloop system that carries passengers isn’t a reality yet — but that hasn’t kept companies and transportation officials from imagining a time when long commutes and trips to a sports arena or a restaurant in another city could take only a few minutes. A computer model by Virgin Hyperloop One estimated that a trip between downtown Dallas and downtown Fort Worth would take about 6 minutes and 20 seconds by hyperloop with passengers cruising at about 360 miles per hour.

[…]

Hyperloop One got a new name and infusion of funding last year from the Virgin Group and its founder Richard Branson. Texas was already on the company’s radar. Last fall, it included a Texas route on its short list of potential hyperloop sites. The proposed route of approximately 640 miles, dubbed the Texas Triangle, would connect Dallas-Fort Worth to Austin, Houston, San Antonio and Laredo. The proposal was submitted by engineering firm AECOM.

Dan Katz, Virgin Hyperloop One’s director of North American projects, said the company began talking to North Texas officials because of the proposal. He said the Dallas-Fort Worth hyperloop route could be the first phase of a larger, statewide project.

See here for some background. As noted, that larger statewide project contains a connection to Houston, but that’s not on the table right now.

A Houston leg from San Antonio remains possible, but company officials said it is not part of the current projects.

[…]

Wednesday’s announcement fulfills part of the plan envisioned when Hyperloop Texas advanced in a global competition to develop the projects. The San Antonio-to-Houston leg left out of the process is among the busiest corridors in the state.

Katz said the company is proceeding based on where officials have shown interest, with North Texas officials promoting both the Dallas-Fort Worth and Fort Worth-to-Laredo lines. Dallas officials toured the company’s Nevada test site earlier this year.

Interest in a direct Dallas-to-Houston hyperloop has lagged, as Texas Central Partners has worked on a high-speed rail line between the metro areas.

Facing huge demands on travel between Texas’ biggest metro areas, however, officials across the state are looking at all options.

“Adding an option like hyperloop to the existing system of roadways, rail transit, bicycle/pedestrian facilities and high-speed rail to Houston would expand the system in an exciting way,” said Michael Morris, director of transportation for the North Central Texas Council of Governments. “Connecting other regions in Texas through hyperloop would open up economic opportunities throughout the state.”

Might open up some opportunities for choosing where to live, too. Again, it’s easier to dream on this technology than it is to objectively assess it, but if they’re doing an environmental impact statement we’ll get some of the latter as well. I look forward to seeing what that has to say. The Dallas Observer has more.

Where the anti-vaxxers are

A lot of them are right here.

Four Texas cities, including Houston, rank among the 15 metropolitan “hotspots” of vaccine exemptions, more than any other state, according to a new study.

The study found Austin, Fort Worth and Plano also are among the nation’s cities with the highest number of kindergartners not getting vaccinated for non-medical reasons. Since 2009, the proportion of children opting out of such recommended vaccines increased in Texas and 11 other states, the study showed.

“There are some scary trends we were able to identify,” said Dr. Peter Hotez, a Houston vaccine scientist and one of the study authors. “They’re a sign that anti-vaccine groups, such as Texans for Vaccine Choice, have been very successful at lobbying efforts – both of the Texas legislature and through social media and other advocacy — to convince parents not to vaccinate their kids.”

[…]

The overall number of people invoking non-medical exemptions isn’t yet high enough to threaten herd immunity, the idea that vaccination of most of the population provides protection for those individuals without immunity to a contagious disease. But public health officials fear clusters of “anti-vaxxers” could leave some children vulnerable.

Texas’ increasing exemptions have been well documented. Though the number is still small, they have spiked from less than 3,000 in 2003 to more than 45,000 of the state’s roughly 5.5 million schoolchildren today, a 19-fold increase.

Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital said he undertook the study because of the Texas increase. He said wanted to look at whether it was a phenomenon unique to the state or mirrored elsewhere. National vaccination rates haven’t changed much in recent years.

You can see the study here. Dr. Hotez is correct to identify the political problem as being a key aspect to this. One clear pathway to getting more kids vaccinated is to take away or at least tighten up the so-called “conscience” objections to vaccines. If the law says you have to vaccinate your kids, the odds are pretty good that you will. But first you have to pass such a law, and right now we have a legislature that’s not inclined to do that.

NASA to test Uber’s flying cars

Just simulations, thankfully.

NASA will soon begin testing in Dallas how Uber’s on-demand air-taxi concept would affect crowded areas.

Uber is in the midst of designing an air-taxi service, called UberAIR. Officials hope to conduct flight demonstrations starting in 2020 and start operating commercially in Dallas and Los Angeles by 2023.

And on Tuesday, NASA announced that it would help the company “ensure a safe and efficient system for future air transportation in populated areas.”

“NASA is excited to be partnering with Uber and others in the community to identify the key challenges facing the [urban air mobility] market, and explore necessary research, development and testing requirements to address those challenges,” Jaiwon Shin, associate administrator for NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate, said in a statement. “Urban air mobility could revolutionize the way people and cargo move in our cities and fundamentally change our lifestyle much like smartphones have.”

Under this agreement, Uber will provide NASA with its plans for implementing this cutting-edge ride-share network and NASA will use computer modeling and simulations to determine the impact of this kind of aircraft. The simulations will take place at NASA’s research facility at the Dallas Fort Worth International Airport.

NASA personnel will analyze safety issues that could arise from small passenger-carrying aircraft flying through the airport’s airspace during “peak scheduled air traffic,” according to the space agency.

See here for the background. There are still a lot of issues to be worked out, and there’s no real reason to think any of this is practical. But hey, we were promised flying cars, so onward we go. I just hope they remember to simulate a few falling-debris scenarios, because I’m pretty sure we’re going to need to know what to do with them.

Time for an update on that other high speed rail line

It’s been awhile.

TexasOklahomaPassengerRailStudyRoutes

Backers continue to move along on plans to build a bullet-train route between Dallas and Houston, but it’s not the only high-speed passenger rail project on Texas drawing boards.

With a proposal to run between cities such as Fort Worth, Waco, Austin, San Antonio and Laredo, the project recently got a green light for new money to do further study.

“We’re still an embryo,” said Kevin Feldt, a North Central Texas Council of Governments program manager overseeing the high-speed rail project regionally. “We’re still in the first week or two of pregnancy.”

Nobody has begun buying right of way or buying trains, let alone figured out funding and finance — topics that can fire skepticism about the passenger rail’s ability to break even or turn a profit — but there’s now an environmental impact statement, and potential investors have come calling.

“Suffice it to say, there’s interest in developing (from) Fort Worth southward, possibly to Monterrey, Mexico,” Feldt said. “We’ve had the French and Chinese and Spanish come to us and meet with us to talk about it.

“Some wanted to do one piece; we had others who wanted to do everything.”

The proposed line from North Texas cities — Dallas and Arlington included — is part of an 850-mile project called the Texas-Oklahoma Passenger Rail Program Corridor.

[…]

Feldt said that whatever comes out of the next round of study, actually building a high-speed passenger rail — not to mention a Hyperloop system — will be “a lot more complex” than the challenges the private company working to roll out the Dallas/Houston passenger train has encountered.

The Dallas/Houston corridor is not only flatter and easier to run a high-speed train across, but less populous.

Still, like Feldt, Bill Meadows, who chairs the Commission for High Speed Rail in the Dallas/Fort Worth Region, noted the interest from Chinese and French rail representatives in discussing a public-private project here.

And, said Meadows, “They like the (Interstate) 35 corridor better than the (Interstate) 45 corridor.”

See here for the last update that I have, from July of 2016. Since then, the Draft Environmental Study has been completed, which “formally identifies seven Selected Alternatives that will serve as the framework for future investment in new and improved conventional and high-speed passenger rail service in three regions between Oklahoma City and South Texas”. The story also mentions the Hyperloop One Global Challenge, for which Texas remains in contention, though it’s not clear to me from the story how it fits in here. There’s lots of other obstacles that will need to be cleared for anything tangible to happen here, from choosing a single route to putting together financing and governance, to overcoming the inevitable political opposition. But things continue to move, and at this stage that’s about all you can ask for.

Abbott versus the cities

The continuing story.

If Gov. Greg Abbott has disdain for how local Texas officials govern their cities, it didn’t show in a Wednesday sit-down with three mayors who were among 18 who jointly requested a meeting to discuss legislation that aims to limit or override several municipal powers.

“Whether we changed anybody’s mind or not, you never know,” said Galveston Mayor Jim Yarbrough. “But I will say it was a healthy conversation.”

What also remained to be seen Wednesday: whether Abbott plans to meet with mayors from the state’s five largest cities — who were also among those who requested to meet with the governor. So far, Abbott hasn’t responded to the requests from the mayors of Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio.

[…]

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said at a press conference Wednesday that when he was a member of the Texas House, Republican lawmakers repeatedly complained about government growing and overstepping its bounds.

“And now we find that the state government is really reaching down and telling local governments what they can or cannot do and pretty much trying to treat all cities as if we are all the same,” Turner said.

During invited testimony to the House Urban Affairs committee on Tuesday, several city officials and at least one lawmaker denounced what they said were overreaching and undemocratic attempts to subvert local governance.

“If people don’t like what you’re doing, then there are things called elections. I don’t see it as our job to overreach and try to govern your city,” said State Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston.

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg testified that it felt like the state was waging a war on Texas cities.

“The fundamental truth about the whole debate over local control is that taking authority away from cities — preventing us from carrying out the wishes of our constituents — is subverting the will of the voter,” Nirenberg said.

At Wednesday’s meeting with Abbott, Yarbrough said he and his counterparts from Corpus Christi and San Marcos told the governor that local officials have a better finger on the pulse of city residents’ expectations and demands.

“We wanted to make sure we preserved the ability for local municipalities to be able to adjust and react to the needs of their community,” he said.

See here for some background. It’s mighty nice of Abbott to take a few minutes out of his busy schedule of threatening legislators to meet with these concerned constituents, but they shouldn’t have had to take time out of their busy schedules to try to persuade the Governor to leave over a century of accepted governance in place and butt out of their business. And not for nothing, but the cities whose Mayors Abbott has been ignoring are the reason he can make elaborate claims about how awesome the Texas economy is.

Let’s begin with population. The five counties that contain the state’s five largest cities have a combined 12,309,787 residents, which is 44 percent of the state’s total. If you want to talk about elections, the registered voters in those counties make up 42 percent of Texas’ electorate.

Those counties out-perform the rest of the state economically. Texas’ five biggest urban counties constitute 53.5 percent of total Texas employment. If you broaden it out to the metropolitan statistical areas, which include the suburbs as well, the proportion becomes 75.8 percent — and growth in those regions has outpaced growth in the state overall since the recession.

Not convinced Texas’ cities drive the state? Let’s look at gross domestic product: The state’s five biggest MSAs contribute 71 percent of the state’s economic output, a proportion that has increased by two percentage points over the past decade. Focusing just on counties again, workers in the ones that contain Texas’ largest cities earn 60 percent of the state’s wages.

If you look at the embedded chart in that story, you’ll see that the metro area that is doing the best economically is the Austin-Round Rock MSA, and it’s not close. It’s even more impressive when you take into account how busy the city of Austin has been systematically destroying Texas with its regulations and liberalness and what have you.

As I said in my previous post on this subject, quite a few of the Mayors that are pleading with Abbott to back off are themselves Republicans, and represent Republican turf. It’s good that they are trying to talk some sense into him, but I’d advise them to temper their expectations. Abbott and Dan Patrick and a squadron of Republican legislators, especially in the Senate, don’t seem to have any interest in listening. The one thing that will get their attention is losing some elections. What action do these Mayors plan to take next year when they will have a chance to deliver that message?

Mayors to Abbott: Don’t mess with our cities

Good luck getting through.

Less than 24 hours after Gov. Greg Abbott blasted local government restrictions like tree ordinances as a threat to the “Texas brand,” city government leaders statewide are seeking a meeting with the Republican leader.

“We would like the opportunity to meet with you to discuss the role cities play in attracting jobs and investments to support the prosperity of the State of Texas,” a letter signed by 18 mayors, including Houston mayor Sylvester Turner to Abbott states.

[…]

The letter from the mayors makes clear that they fear the Texas Legislature is overreaching and doing too much harm to local governments.

“Harmful proposals such as revenue and spending caps, limiting annexation authority, and other measures preempting local development ordinances directly harm our ability to plan for future growth and continue to serve as the economic engines of Texas,” the letter states.

The mayors on the letter include those from Houston, Amarillo, Arlington, Austin, Corpus Christi, Dallas, Denton, El Paso, Fort Worth, Frisco, Galveston, Irving, Lubbock, McKinney, Plano, San Antonio, San Marcos, and Sugar Land.

You can see the letter here. You might note that some of the cities in question are Republican suburban kind of places. It’s not just us smug urbanites that would like to have our current level of autonomy left alone. I’m going to say the same thing to these Mayors that I’ve been saying to the business folk that have been working to defeat the bathroom bill, and that’s that they are going to have to follow up all these words with actions, because Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick don’t care what they have to say. If you’re not working to elect better leadership in 2018, which in this case means leadership that is not actively undermining and degrading Texas’ cities, then you’re part of the problem too, and your words have no meaning. The Current and the Press have more.

What about Fort Worth?

Now that Houston has voted to join the litigation against SB4, there remains one big city on the sidelines.

Holding signs that said, “No hate in my Texas” and “Diversity not division,” protesters on Tuesday urged city leaders to join a lawsuit seeking to have Texas’ so-called sanctuary cities law declared unconstitutional.

Members of the newly formed United Fort Worth want the Fort Worth City Council to join legal challenges to Senate Bill 4 — a measure that when it takes effect Sept. 1 will allow police to question people’s immigration status during traffic stops.

The grassroots group, formed three weeks ago by four young adults, held a press conference Tuesday at City Hall to highlight how they believe SB 4 will impact immigrants and other sectors of the Fort Worth community.

United Fort Worth includes advocacy groups such as Faith in Fort Worth, Indivisible FWTX, the North Texas Dream Team, Casa del Inmigrante and others to give voices to those who have not been heard, said Daniel Garcia Rodriguez, 22, one of United Fort Worth’s founders.

The city is approaching one million residents but has not focused on the social issues that confront it, Rodriguez contended.

“We have a lot of new people here,” Rodriguez said. “Hopefully, this coalition will help us share ideas with the city and together we can find a way to implement positive change.”

That includes persuading the city to join a lawsuit originally filed by the South Texas city of El Cenizo. San Antonio, Dallas and Austin are also challenging the constitutionality of SB 4.

“There are several large cities and small cities that have joined the lawsuit,” said Anita Quinones, an activist with Indivisible FWTX. “In the meantime, Fort Worth has been pretty quiet. There is opposition to Senate Bill 4 … in the community.”

Austin, El Paso, San Antonio, and Dallas were there more or less from the beginning. Houston took a little longer – there’s no question that everything else was on pause until pension reform was completed – but it was always going to get there. Fort Worth, which has a Republican Mayor and some progressive policies, including one of the longest-standing non-discrimination ordinances in the state, is more of a cipher. No elected officials from the city were quoted in the story, which may mean the author didn’t focus on them or maybe that no one in Fort Worth city government is talking about this yet. The activists have the right idea in getting organized and making this a priority for them. The first step is to get the attention of Mayor Betsy Price and the Fort Worth City Council, and to get them to engage on the issue. I wish them all the best.

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a flying car!

Seriously.

Uber is looking to North Texas as a testing ground for its initiative to make intra-urban flying vehicle rides a reality. The company announced Tuesday that Dallas and Fort Worth are its first U.S. partner cities for what its dubbing the “Uber Elevate Network.”

The company hopes to have the first demonstration of how such a network of flying, hailed vehicles would work in three years.

Uber is also working with Dallas’ Hillwood Properties to plan vertiports, sites where the aircraft would pick up and drop off passengers. Fort Worth’s Bell Helicopter is among companies partnering with Uber to help develop the actual vehicles, called VTOLs because they would vertically take off and land.

The announcement was made at a three-day Uber Elevate Summit being held in Dallas.

“This is an opportunity for our city to show leaders from around the world and across industries why Dallas should be a part of building a better future for urban mobility,” Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said in a prepared statement.

[…]

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that Bell is developing propulsion technology to build electric airborne vehicles “that are quieter than the usual helicopter.”

“It’s not going to happen right away, tomorrow, but the technology is definitely there,” Bell chief executive Mitch Snyder told the newspaper. “We definitely believe the hybrid electric is something we could go make and fly right now. But I think full electric, to give it the range and everything you want out of it, is not quite there.”

Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price said in a prepared statement that she is “thrilled” her city is part of the Elevate initiative.

“Being in the North Texas region, which encourages innovation and responsible businesses to thrive, we trust that this will be a beneficial choice for the development of the Elevate project,” she said.

Fast Company reported that Uber is portraying Elevate as “a cheap alternative to building new roads and expanding public transit” but noted that Rawlings maintains Dallas has to provide as many transportation options as possible.

“Anytime there’s innovation in the marketplace, I don’t think anybody truly knows the results of these things, or the costs,” Rawlings told Fast Company. “We’ve got to be multimodal — there’s no question — in this city.”

Well, that’s one way to avoid traffic, I suppose. Someone should call up Avery Brooks and tell him his question may soon be getting an answer. Uber has a former NASA engineer working on this idea, for which they released a white paper last October, and they say they hope to have it off the ground (as it were) by 2020. How likely is that? Wired asked the same question.

If that sounds ambitious, you possess a basic understanding of the challenges involved here. The kind of aircraft Uber envisions shuttling customers through the air—electric, with vertical takeoff and landing capability, and capable of flying 100 miles in just 40 minutes—don’t exist yet. Nor does the infrastructure to support them. The FAA, an agency not known for speed, must ensure these aircraft meet all federal safety regulations and figure out where and how they fit into a complex air traffic control system.

Instead of cracking those problems on its own, Uber plans to punt. It hopes to play the role of a catalyst, spurring manufacturers to build the aircraft, the FAA to figure out the regulations, and cities to wave them in. Company CEO Travis Kalanick apparently wants to play the role of Elon Musk, who came up with the idea for hyperloop and is letting everyone else figure out how to make it work. The reward for playing Kalanick’s game? Accessing Uber’s 55 million monthly active riders in nearly 600 cities worldwide.

And here’s the crazy part: Uber could make it happen. “I think 2020 is realistic for a vehicle that is not replacing an airplane but replacing a car,” says Richard Pat Anderson, director of the Flight Research Center at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. A purely electric aircraft might remain elusive, but a serial hybrid setup—where the aircraft carries a fuel-burning turbine to keep the juice flowing, much like the Chevrolet Volt—could work.

Which is not to say there aren’t other obstacles.

“If there are flying cars, then well obviously you have added this additional dimension where a car could potentially fall on your head and would be susceptible to weather,” [Tesla CEO] Musk said. “And of course you’d have to have a flying car [that operates by] autopilot because otherwise, forget it.”

Think weaving through traffic on a busy day is frustrating? Try adding an entirely new dimension to the mix. “Essentially with a flying car you’re talking about going 3-D,” Musk says. “There’s a fundamental flaw with cities where you’ve got dense office buildings and apartment buildings and duplexes, and they’re operating on three dimensions, but then you go to the street, and suddenly they’re two-dimensional.”

Getting your 3-D driving license from the DMV isn’t the only challenge a future of flying cars would have to overcome, Musk added. While Tesla has announced an update that promises to ease drivers’ “range anxiety,” seeing a flashing empty light while your car is in midair might cause more of a range heart attack. And just imagine being one of the poor street-bound souls if two-ton automobiles start falling out of the sky.

“Even in autopilot, and even if you’ve got redundant motors and blades, you’ve still gone from near-zero chance of something falling on your head to something greater than that,” Musk said.

So good luck with that, Dallas. I guess we may soon find out what a few billion dollars in venture capital and an utter disregard for the rule of law or the norms of society can do. The Verge and the Dallas Observer have more.

As goes Tarrant

The Trib ponders the one big urban county that is not like the others.

Among the state’s five biggest counties, Tarrant is the only one that hasn’t backed a Democratic presidential candidate in the past decade. The 2016 presidential election heightened Tarrant’s status as an outlier. Even as the rest of the state’s big-city territories moved deeper into the Democratic column, Tarrant steadfastly emerged as America’s most conservative large urban county.

President-elect Donald Trump, who takes office this week, won the county by an 8.6-point margin. It was the narrowest win for a GOP presidential nominee in decades in Tarrant. But among the country’s 20 largest counties, Tarrant was only one of two that swung Trump’s way in November — and it had the wider margin.

Across Tarrant County, Democratic pockets are fewer and less powerful than their Republican counterparts. All four of the state senate districts that fall in Tarrant County are represented by Republicans. The GOP also holds eight of the county’s 11 state House seats. Four of the five county commissioner court seats are held by Republicans.

Residents, elected officials and experts here point to a nuanced union of demographic, cultural and political forces to explain why.

“There’s just all kinds of interesting numbers out there that make Tarrant County a lot different,” said U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey of Fort Worth, the only Democrat holding one of the county’s five congressional seats.

Tarrant’s minority population, which tends to lean Democratic, hasn’t caught up to the state’s other big urban counties. At the same time, many Tarrant voters have a storied history of preferring practical governance to partisanship, according to officials and political observers. They say that helps support the moderate faction of the GOP, especially in Fort Worth, the nation’s 16th-largest city.

Then there’s the county’s development pattern. A lot of Tarrant remains rural. And, unlike Harris, Dallas and Travis counties, many of Tarrant’s affluent suburbs and conservative bedroom communities lie within its borders, not outside them. That’s helped give rise to the NE Tarrant Tea Party, a passionate and organized group that simultaneously supports far-right local candidates and serves as a powerful base for statewide Republicans.

[…]

Part of what has helped Tarrant become the state’s lone Republican urban county is that its minority populations, which largely and traditionally tend to lean Democratic, haven’t caught up to the state’s other big urban counties.

White residents’ share of the Tarrant population is falling, but it hasn’t declined as quickly as it has in Harris, Dallas, Travis and Bexar, said state demographer Lloyd Potter. The county’s Hispanic population is growing quickly, but it still lags behind the other big counties in terms of raw numbers, Potter added.

But that’s likely to change.

While Tarrant remains more white than Texas as a whole, it’s experienced a more significant drop in its share of white residents in the past 10 years compared to the state. In 2015, the county’s white population dropped to 48.5 percent — down from 56.4 percent in 2005.

Whites’ falling numbers in the county aren’t limited to its urban core in Fort Worth. In fact, the white population experienced a bigger drop in its share of the population in the suburbs from 2005 to 2015.

Here’s a fun fact, which I believe I have mentioned before: Tarrant County is a really good predictor of the overall Presidential race result in Texas. Witness the past four elections:

2004

Statewide – Bush 61.09%, Kerry 38.22%
Tarrant – Bush 62.39%, Kerry 37.01%

2008

Statewide – McCain 55.45%, Obama 43.68%
Tarrant – McCain 55.43%, Obama 43.43%

2012

Statewide – Romney 57.17%, Obama 41.38%
Tarrant – Romney 57.12%, Obama 41.43%

2016

Statewide – Trump 52.23%, Clinton 43.24%
Tarrant – Trump 51.74%, Clinton 43.14%

Almost spooky, isn’t it? One perfectly rational answer to the question “when will Texas turn blue?” is “when Tarrant County also turns blue”.

Anyway. The article is correct that Tarrant differs from the other big urban counties in that it’s actually a lot less urban than they are. Much of Tarrant is suburban, even rural, and that’s just not the case in Harris, Dallas, Bexar, and Travis. Tarrant’s demographics are changing, as the story notes, but I have no idea if there’s anything to suggest its demographics are changing any faster than the state’s are. The statewide judicial races and the one contested district court race were all in the 13-16 point range, which is consistent with the statewide results. I wish I could say I saw something to suggest change was coming faster, but at least in the numbers, I can’t. Maybe someone who is more familiar with the county can chime in.

Having said all this, one big opportunity in 2018 is in Tarrant, and that’s SD10, the Senate seat formerly held by Wendy Davis. Even in the dumpster fire of 2014, freshman Sen. Konni Burton only won by nine points, with 52.83% of the vote. If 2018 is a less hostile year, this is a winnable race, and as I’ve said before, any competitive Senate race is a big deal. Whatever we can do to hasten change in Tarrant County, 2018 would be a good time to do it.

Fort Worth updates its transgender bathroom policy

Everyone declares victory.

The new guidelines, condensed to two pages, affirm transgender students’ right to accommodations but eliminate a portion of the April guidelines that told schools not to out transgender students to their parents out of concern for their safety.

The new guidelines require parents to be involved with students and administrators in developing a “student individual support plan,” including provisions for bathroom use. Clint Bond, a spokesman for Fort Worth ISD, said the change was insignificant.

“In essence, there’s no change from the original guidelines issued on April 19 compared with the ones issued today,” Bond said. “The wording is a little bit different. We always intended to involve parents in the decision.”

[AG Ken] Paxton seemed to disagree in a Wednesday morning press release cheering the new guidelines, which he said brought Fort Worth in line with the opinion he issued on June 28. Paxton concluded in his opinion that state law did not allow schools to conceal transgender students’ gender identity from their parents.

Jacinto Ramos, president of the Fort Worth school board, called Paxton’s opinion a “good road map” to the revised guidelines. He emphasized that the changes reflected input from parents, students and community members. The district held six town hall forums, and appointed 45 parents, teachers, and community leaders to a Student Safety Advisory Council that met five times.

Ramos said that the guidelines are meant to be comprehensive, and not just address which bathrooms transgender students use.

“The original guidelines were written with every intention to protect all children, and obviously it got twisted up into a so-called bathroom policy, which couldn’t have been further from the truth,” Ramos said.

See here and here for some background. If the policy was amended to conform to the recent AG opinion on the matter, then indeed that represents a small change. The story quotes Lou Weaver of Equality Texas giving approval to the new policy, though I have not seen a statement on EQTX’s Facebook page about this, which strikes me as a bit odd. Whatever, if this previously-expected modification satisfies the pottylust of the Dan Patrick crowd, then huzzah and hallelujah, let us please turn our attention to actual problems. I doubt it really will satisfy their lust because nothing ever does, but I’m hoping for the best.

Alignments proposed for Oklahoma City-South Texas passenger rail

Check ’em out.

TexasOklahomaPassengerRailStudyRoutes

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) have released 10 service and route options for new and improved conventional and high-speed passenger rail service connecting Oklahoma City, Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio, and South Texas.  The options are evaluated in a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS).

“This corridor is home to major financial, energy, and education centers that people rely on every day,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.  “Providing efficient, more reliable, and faster higher-speed passenger rail options to move between cities is crucial for the economy and the population to thrive.  I encourage those along the I-35 corridor to participate in the comment and public hearing opportunities so that they are able to learn more and share their input.”

During a 45-day public comment period, FRA and TxDOT will take comments on the 10 options and the seven recommended preferred options that the two agencies identified.  Four public hearings will also be held to give residents a chance to learn about the Texas-Oklahoma Passenger Rail Study, understand how their communities may be affected, and provide comments.

Current passenger rail service along the Interstate 35 (I-35) corridor includes three intercity Amtrak services from Oklahoma City to Fort Worth (Heartland Flyer), Fort Worth to San Antonio (Texas Eagle), and Los Angeles to New Orleans through San Antonio (Sunset Limited).

The DEIS addresses the relationships of the major regional markets within the Texas-Oklahoma Passenger Rail Program corridor in three geographic sections, and preferred alternatives are recommended for each geographic section separately.  The three sections of study are:

  • Northern Section:  Edmond, Oklahoma, to Dallas and Fort Worth, Texas
  • Central Section:  Dallas and Fort Worth to San Antonio
  • Southern Section:  San Antonio to south Texas (Corpus Christi, Brownsville, Laredo, and the Rio Grande Valley)

More than 10 million people currently live along the 850-mile corridor, which is expected to grow by 39 percent in Texas and 25 percent in Oklahoma City by 2035.  As a state with some of the largest metropolitan areas in the nation, spread out over hundreds of miles, Texas is now in high demand for alternative modes of transportation.  Since the majority of the state’s population is centered in the eastern half of state, along I-35 stretching into Oklahoma City, the highways have experienced increased congestion.

“More passenger rail service will help relieve already congested roads along the I-35 corridor and help this region manage the significant population growth on the way,” said FRA Administrator Sarah E. Feinberg.  “I encourage everyone to provide feedback on the 10 options that FRA and the Texas DOT have presented to continue moving this effort forward.”

In fiscal year 2012, FRA awarded a $5.6 million grant to TxDOT to fund a study of new and improved passenger rail service to meet future intercity travel demand, improve rail facilities, reduce travel times, and improve connections with regional public transit services as an alternative to bus, plane, and private auto travel.  The Texas-Oklahoma Passenger Rail Study evaluates routes and types of service for passenger rail service between Oklahoma City, Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, and South Texas.

More information about the Texas-Oklahoma Passenger Rail Study can be found here.  The Final EIS is projected to be released by early 2017.

There are three public hearings scheduled to discuss these alignments, on August 9, 10, and 11, in Laredo, Austin, and Arlington, respectively. Relevant documentation is here if you have a few hours to spare and an enjoyment of poring over PDFs, while TxDOT’s page on the project is here. Just looking at the map, which I have embedded above, doesn’t give a clear picture of where the tracks would be. Streetsblog says it wouldn’t actually stop in “urban Austin”, but the map seems to indicate it would go near or by the airport, so perhaps this is a question of terminology.

This project has been kicking around for awhile – Oklahoma got a federal stimulus grant in 2009 to study rail between Oklahoma City and Tulsa, which isn’t actually part of this proposal but may have been the genesis of what we now have – with TxDOT creating the Texas-Oklahoma Passenger Rail Study page in late 2013; as you can see at that link, there’s a separate project to link this rail line, if it happens, to the Houston-Dallas high speed line, if that happens. An extension into Mexico has also been floated, though I have no idea if we’re even allowed to say that sort of thing out loud any more. As this is a TxDOT project, one presumes that there won’t be any questions about whether or not this qualifies as a real railroad for eminent domain purposes, which is not to say that there won’t be any resistance to the possibility. I’m never sure how seriously to take this, as TxDOT has never been all that interested in anything but roads and there are plenty of ways for the chuckleheads in Congress and the Lege to put up obstacles, but we are at the DEIS stage, and that’s progress. What do you think? See here for the impact statement, and KVUE has more.

Ken Paxton does not approve of transgender bathroom policies

Big surprise, right?

Best mugshot ever

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Tuesday issued an opinion saying the Fort Worth school superintendent who made headlines for formulating guidelines to accommodate transgender students exceeded his authority. Paxton also said that a portion of the guidelines instructing district employees not to out transgender students to their parents might violate state law.

Citing a part of the Texas education code, Paxton wrote that school district boards of trustees — not superintendents — are required to adopt policies while superintendents can only implement those policies “by developing administrative regulations.”

Attorney general opinions are not legally binding, and Paxton’s interpretation has no direct legal impact on the Fort Worth district.

[…]

The district has indicated that the board of trustees was not asked to vote on the policy because it is an “administrative guideline” — a policy that superintendents can implement without official board approval — that stemmed from a non-discrimination policy updated in 2011.

To ensure privacy of students, particularly in cases when the student has not disclosed gender identity status to a parent or guardian, Fort Worth ISD’s guidelines include a protection of privacy for transgender students, directing school personnel to only share information about the student’s gender identity and expression on a “need-to-know basis or as the student directs.”

In his opinion, Paxton indicated that portion of the guidelines violates state law to the extent that they “limit parental access to information about their child and operate to encourage students to withhold information from parents.” Policies dealing with “parental involvement with students’ gender identity choices” must be “addressed” by the school board before they are implemented, he said. He added that the guidelines “relegate parents to a subordinate status.”

In response to Paxton’s opinion, a spokesman for Fort Worth ISD said the district’s legal counsel was reviewing the opinion. “She will advise the superintendent as appropriate,” he added.

Scribner has stood by the guidelines and confirmed he will stay in his post. School board trustees have reiterated that they were in the loop on the policy change, with at least two saying they were surprised the issue had escalated.

Paxton was asked for this opinion by Dan Patrick, whose obsession with bathrooms is well established. I didn’t have a chance to read this opinion – which as we all know does not carry the force of law – when it first came out, but then thankfully John Wright spared me the need.

But nowhere in his nonbinding opinion does Paxton address the question of restroom use, and a closer review of the document reveals Patrick’s “victory” to be mostly hollow.

In the opinion, Paxton wrote that the guidelines violate state law by limiting when school officials can disclose a student’s gender identity to parents. However, FWISD representatives have already stated — in a brief to Paxton’s office cited in a footnote of the opinion — that they plan to revise the parental notification provisions to bring them into line with the Education Code.

David Mack Henderson, president of LGBT advocacy group Fairness Fort Worth, said Tuesday he expects those changes “will render General Paxton’s unenforceable opinion moot.”

Even before Patrick and other Republican lawmakers stormed into Fort Worth in April to call for Scribner’s resignation over the guidelines, school board Trustee Matthew Avila told the Observer that officials were likely to tweak the parental notification provisions, which LGBT advocates agree are on shaky legal ground.

“Generally, parents have a right to access their children’s information and control their upbringing,” Lambda Legal senior counsel Ken Upton said.

FWISD’s brief to Paxton’s office lists exceptions to this rule, including for child abuse investigations, and notes that a 2002 AG’s opinion determined there are “very narrow and unusual circumstances” in which student information can be withheld from parents. FWISD’s brief states that “absent such circumstances, District personnel involve parents in all student matters, including gender identity issues.”

With regard to a second question posed by Patrick, Paxton found that Scribner violated the Education Code by implementing the Transgender Guidelines without a vote from the school board — but only in the context of the parental notification provisions, which account for roughly four paragraphs of the eight-page document.

“While a superintendent is authorized to recommend policies to be adopted by the board, chapter 11 requires that policy decisions, like those addressing parental involvement with students’ gender identity choices, be addressed by the board of trustees prior to the development of any related administrative regulations,” Paxton wrote.

FWISD officials have said Scribner acted within his authority to implement the guidelines because they are an extension of the district’s 2012 nondiscrimination policy, which includes gender identity. The Education Code gives superintendents the authority to “ensure the implementation of the policies created by the board.”

So there’s less to this than meets the eye. Mostly, it’s an invitation for someone who has a kid in FWISD to file a lawsuit, much as Paxton has filed a lawsuit against the feds over their advisory on bathroom access. I firmly believe that in the end forces of darkness and cowardice like Paxton and Patrick will lose, but it will not be quick or easy getting there. There will be setbacks, and people will be hurt along the way. The only message these guys will ever comprehend is at the ballot box. Trail Blazers, Texas Monthly, and the Current have more.

Patrick doubles down on potty politics

It’s potties all the way down.

Dan Patrick is threatening their children

Declaring that “this fight is just beginning,” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick on Tuesday escalated his battle against guidelines in Texas and across the country that allow students to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity.

Speaking to reporters at the Texas Capitol, Patrick announced a number of new moves in the offensive, including a request for an opinion from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on whether the Fort Worth Independent School District broke the law when it adapted such guidelines last month. Patrick also said he was sending a letter to all Texas school districts advising them to ignore a similar directive issued this month by the federal government.

Throughout his remarks, Patrick suggested that state lawmakers would have to step in if Fort Worth ISD did not reconsider its actions. He also repeatedly pushed back on the idea that he is intruding on a local matter, saying it is “this superintendent and school board that is prohibiting local control.”

“When we have a rogue, runaway superintendent and a rogue, runaway school board, then the Legislature this coming-up session is going to have to look at this issue because the law is clear,” Patrick told reporters. “So what do parents do when the superintendent and the school board ignores them? When the superintendent and school board breaks the law, if that’s the case? The parents are going to look to us.”

Patrick’s request for an AG opinion is here. His attempt to denigrate and delegitimize duly elected officials who had the nerve to take a completely legal action that he disagreed with is despicable, but par for the course for an authoritarian like himself. I’m hardly the gatekeeper for what it means to be “conservative”, but I am old enough to recall a time when those who called themselves “conservative” would not have dreamed of butting in on local decision-making in which they had no direct stake like that. It’s not the disagreement that’s at issue here, nor even the heavyhanded threats to overrule the school board’s (again, perfectly legal and entirely consistent with the principles of treating all students equally) actions via the Legislature, which as we know with the federal government is something that can be and is done at that level. It’s the irresponsible use of epithets like “rogue” and “runaway” that tries to cast perfectly mundane actions by local officials in a sinister lights. Putting aside any other consideration here, that’s shameful behavior on Patrick’s part, though as we know completely of a piece. The only legitimate government to Dan Patrick – and Greg Abbott and Ken Paxton – is government that does only and exactly things he agrees with. It’s his way or the threats and recriminations and lawsuits begin.

But of course that isn’t the only consideration. There are many students in Texas public schools who are directly affected not just by inclusive and appropriate policies regarding bathroom usage, but also by the fearmongering and demagoguery being espoused by the likes of Dan Patrick. The most charitable explanation I can think of is that Patrick just simply doesn’t have any understanding of what it means to be transgender. Lord knows, there’s plenty of misinformation and misrepresentation out there (much of it coming from people like Dan Patrick, but let’s put that aside for now). Fortunately, we live in a time when parents of transgender children have begun to speak out in support of their kids and in response to the ignorance and fear of the likes of Dan Patrick. Equality Texas presented four such parents, and you really need to read and understand what they had to say to our Lite Governor.

Meet Kimberly Shappley. She is a Houston area mom and the mother of a transgender child, who was born a boy named Joseph Paul, and who identifies as her daughter, Kai. Kai is five years old.

“From my earliest memories, I noticed the nature and temperament of this child was more similar to my daughter than to my sons. Around age two, a family member asked me if my child was gay because of her flamboyantly feminine mannerisms and love for all things girly. I asked our daycare to put away all girly toys. When my child consistently and persistently insisted “I am a girl”, the adults in her life would get down on her level and look her in the eyes and firmly tell her, “no. you are a boy.” My child went into depression. It is very difficult to witness depression in a formerly joyful toddler. Haircuts became a nightmare of horror movie screams of, “Stop. Stop. Please don’t mommy. Please don’t let them cut my hair.” But I was adamant this child was going to have a flattop. This child would never get a single toy that she wanted, nor the birthday party theme she asked for. My sweet child began praying for Joseph to go to Heaven and live with Jesus. Kai was begging the Lord to let her die. Moments like these helped me to realize transition was necessary. I didn’t know how to do it. I just knew I needed to help my child,” said Kimberly Shappley, mom of a transgender child from Pearland.

“We are private people. We are lifelong Republicans, we are Christian. We are a Houston family who only want to protect our daughter and live quietly. We did not want to speak out publicly, but the lt. governor has forced us out of our private lives and into the public arena to protect our daughter. This is the face of a transgender child in Texas. I want Texans to look at my little girl’s photo. Do we as a state really want to force her to go into the boy’s bathroom? Why are we targeting innocent children for political games? The Superintendent of the Pearland school district, who is listening to the direction of the lt. governor and attorney general, wants to force my little girl into the boy’s bathroom. My number one job in life is “a mom” and I am speaking out today to protect my little girl,” said Shappley. “I urge Lt. Governor Patrick and other leaders to sit down with me and families like mine and educate themselves about transgender children.”

Here’s more from the Chronicle:

“I’m here to tell Dan Patrick – you specifically – you are endangering my child’s life because you have now told everyone in the state of Texas that it’s OK to harass my child, it’s OK for the school district to stop supporting him. And I want you to know my child has had no issues with his school,” said Ann Elder of Friendswood, holding a picture of her transgender son in short brown hair and a blue flannel shirt. “They have been supportive. He goes to the boy’s bathroom. Everything is perfectly fine.”

What do you have to say to that, Dan Patrick? You admitted to the Austin Chronicle that you didn’t know any transgender people on a “personal basis”. Will you take the time to meet these parents and their children, and try to understand their perspective? Or will you continue to pretend that they are something less than human and thus endanger their safety? It’s your choice to make. That choice will show us what kind of person you are. Trail Blazers, the StarTelegram, the Press, the Current, and Think Progress, which notes that the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals refused to do an en banc review of its earlier ruling upholding the Obama directive on transgender bathroom access in a case involving a school in Virginia, have more.

Dan Patrick is obsessed with children’s bathrooms

This guy, I swear.

Transgender advocates derided Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick on Wednesday for what they described as his “fake outrage” over the Fort Worth school district’s new transgender bathroom guidelines, calling the Republican a shameless bully.

“A bully like Dan Patrick can’t go unchallenged. He is wrong,” said Joel Burns, an openly gay former Fort Worth councilman. “He’s here to do harm for his own political gain.”

Burns, also an anti-bullying advocate, spoke during a news conference ahead of one Patrick scheduled in advance of a Forth Worth school board meeting, where the new guidelines are not on the agenda but are expected to come up during public comment.

“There is no news here,” said Steve Rudner, chairman of Equality Texas, who joined Burns at the news conference. “The only news here is that the lieutenant governor has decided to pick on an already bullied group of kids. It’s shameful and it’s despicable.”

The Fort Worth Independent School District superintendent said earlier Tuesday he will not heed Patrick’s request for his resignation over the district’s bathroom guidelines for transgender students.

Patrick on Monday called for Superintendent Kent Scribner to resign over a policy the superintendent announced last month that directs district employees to “acknowledge the gender identity that each student consistently and uniformly asserts,” allowing them to use the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity.

“I’m proud of these guidelines,’’ Scribner told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram editorial board Tuesday. “I think they provide educators with the ability to make all students more comfortable and confident in a learning environment.”

Patrick said the policy puts students in danger and Scribner should not have acted without “any discussion with parents, board members, principals, and other community leaders.”

“Campus safety should be of paramount concern for anyone in his position,” Patrick said in a statement Monday. “Every parent, especially those of young girls, should be outraged.”

Well, speaking as father of young girls, I’d say they have far more to fear from the Baylor football team than from any trans women or girls who might be sharing the ladies’ room with them. I can’t decide if Patrick is too willfully ignorant of the facts to understand that what he claims to fear is just not possible, or if he’s just cynically exploiting that fear in everyone else who’s ignorant. What I do know is that it’s ultimately the business community, against whose interests Patrick continues to work, that will have to stop him. I wish I could say I were optimistic about this, but alas, they have shown no capability to grasp this as yet. In the meantime, compare and contrast Dan Patrick with US Attorney General Loretta Lynch. To whom will history be kind, and who will be seen as this generation’s Bull Connor? Texas Monthly and the Austin Chronicle have more.

Recycling officially re-upped

That new recycling agreement with Waste Management was on Council’s agenda yesterday. Here’s a reminder of what it was about.

Originally, Houston was to ink a four-year deal with Waste Management, paying a $95-per-ton processing fee, a nearly 50 percent price hike. [Mayor] Turner, hoping the market would rebound quickly and strengthen the city’s negotiating position, countered with a one-year deal at a higher processing fee, but Waste Management rejected that.

The deal facing a vote Wednesday is a two-year agreement that omits glass, which is more costly to process and comparatively less valuable to resell, and carries a $90-per-ton processing fee.

Compared to what other Texas cities pay, that figure – and even the $65-per-ton processing fee Houston paid under its expiring contract – is an outlier.

San Antonio, Dallas and Fort Worth all pay their recycling contractors about $35 per ton to process recycled material; in the latter two cities, Waste Management is the vendor.

The other Texas cities’ contracts are much longer than any of the deals Houston was considering, however, and took effect when the market was stronger.

Dallas’ deal, inked in 2007, expires at the end of the year. Fort Worth’s current agreement began in 2013 and expires in 2018. San Antonio began its contract in August 2014, as commodities entered their current slide; that deal runs through 2024.

Only Austin pays rates similar to Houston’s, under 20-year deals with two contractors that began in 2012. Balcones Resources, which gets 60 percent of Austin’s recyclables, collects $79 per ton to process the first 2,000 tons of material every month and $75 for every ton after that. Texas Disposal Systems, which gets the remaining material, charges $90.50 per ton.

“We were in a really tough spot since we were negotiating the contract at a time when commodity prices are at one of their lowest points, and other cities had the advantage of negotiating during more favorable commodity markets,” said Melanie Scruggs of Texas Campaign for the Environment. “We’re also at a disadvantage because Waste Management has a monopoly and apparently there are no firms large enough that take residential recycling.”

[…]

Scruggs said a key difference between Houston and its peer cities is that Austin, Dallas and San Antonio have adopted waste diversion goals backed by investments in public education, recycling programs at apartment buildings or composting efforts. Those efforts have strengthened the cities’ recycling markets.

“It’s a signal the city is going to be providing, whether it’s ordinances or publicly funded incentives, things that would benefit their business,” Scruggs said. “Houston has no such environment for recycling as of yet, which is why we’ve been advocating that the city get a zero-waste goal and a plan.”

Turner on Tuesday said one of the options the city could consider at the expiration of the recycling contract in two years would be drafting a “recycling plan that is robust for Houston.”

In the end, the new contract was approved, with two No votes. The city and groups like TCE will get the word out to people about not putting glass in their bins. In a best-case scenario, people will bring glass to recycling centers and the city will make a few bucks from that to help offset these other costs. Most likely, the vast majority of that glass will wind up in trash bins, which will cost the city some money but not as much as it would for the glass to be in the recycling bins. A Zero Waste goal and plan would probably help with that – you can see the TCE make its case for that here – so I hope the city begins consideration of a “draft recycling plan” before this contract expires.

Everybody wants in on the rail action

We’re like a magical land of opportunity for high-speed rail interests.

For more than three years, Japanese-backed Texas Central Partners has drawn attention with its plans to develop a Dallas-Houston bullet train. While that project is furthest along, French and Chinese rail interests are more quietly discussing the prospects for rail projects with state and local officials.

“There comes a time when adding lanes is not a solution anymore, and that’s when you realize you need more public transportation,” said Alain Leray, president of SNCF America, the U.S. subsidiary of French rail operator SNCF. The company has been talking with Texas officials in earnest for about a year about potential rail projects, Leray said.

Chinese-backed rail interests have also approached some transportation officials in Texas about future projects, several transportation officials confirmed.

[…]

If passenger rail projects take off in Texas, many international firms will be logical partners, said Michael Morris, transportation director for the North Central Texas Council of Governments.

“The people you want to talk to are the people with extensive experience with high-speed rail,” Morris said. “High-speed rail isn’t built in our country, so most of the people with experience in high-speed rail are from other countries.”

Morris has heard from foreign rail firms for years, but solicitations have picked up over the last 12 months, he said, as state and federal studies of the environmental impact of rail projects in Texas have moved forward. The Federal Railroad Administration is studying Texas Central’s proposed Houston-Dallas project and the Texas Department of Transportation is studying the prospects of passenger rail as far north as Oklahoma City and as far south as Monterrey.

“Everyone in the world knows you can’t complete anything without an environmental clearance,” Morris said.

Ross Milloy, executive director of the Lone Star Rail District, which is trying to build a passenger rail line between Austin and San Antonio, said he has also noticed increased interest from international rail firms over the last year and a half.

“I think they view Texas as fertile ground,” Milloy said.

[…]

Just because multiple international firms are looking at Texas doesn’t mean they’ll all work together. Leray said he has talked to officials about the importance of developing a robust high-speed rail network in Texas, rather than just the Dallas-Houston segment. Among the concerns he raised in a Texas Tribune interview is that Texas Central’s line would be built specifically for Shinkansen trains and wouldn’t be able to accommodate other trains. SNCF operates rail systems in Europe that support trains by multiple manufacturers.

“If you choose a system which is not technologically neutral, you’re locking the people of Texas into being served by a monopoly,” Leray said. “And I ask, is this what the people of Texas want?”

In response, Keith pointed to the Shinsaken’s safety record — no collisions or derailments in more than 50 years of operation.

“By operating a single train technology, signaling and core operating system, Texas Central can leverage the history and record of the high-speed rail experience in Japan to ensure the safe, predictable operation of its trains,” Keith said.

[…]

Beyond Texas Central Partners’ Dallas-Houston line, the project appearing to draw the most interest is a rail line between Dallas and Fort Worth. TxDOT created a special commission last year to look at the prospects for such a project. Bill Meadows, chairman of that commission, said the assumption is that such a project would develop with a private partner.

“The state doesn’t want to be in the high-speed rail business,” Meadows said. “There’s enough private sector and regional interest that I see it moving forward in that fashion.”

The Dallas-Fort Worth line has outsized importance, Meadows argued, because it could someday connect a Dallas-Houston line with a train that travels along the state’s crowded I-35 corridor to Austin and San Antonio.

“It is the linchpin that ties the two corridors together,” Meadows said.

Didn’t know there was a fight over what kind of train technology to use on the line. When the lobbyists start getting involved, that’s when you know it’s gotten real. I don’t have anything to add, I’m just glad to see all this action. The Press and Paradise in Hell have more.

The (mostly) high speed rail extension to Fort Worth

I hope they can make this happen.

A proposed high-speed rail route cutting through Dallas-Fort Worth would go slower than previously planned but would include a station south of DFW Airport, according to a newly unveiled plan.

The proposal, which is being studied by a state-appointed commission, would bring passengers from downtown Fort Worth to Arlington along the Interstate 30 corridor, then cut north roughly along the Texas 360 corridor to the CentrePort-Dallas/Fort Worth Airport area. From there, rail passengers could connect with other transportation to the airport to catch flights.

The line would then follow the Trinity Railway Express commuter line from CentrePort to downtown Dallas, according to a conceptual map made public Monday. TRE would keep operating on its tracks, and a second set of tracks — possibly elevated — would be built in the same right of way or adjacent property for the futuristic bullet trains.

The top speed would be around 125 mph — far below the 220 mph that the trains are capable of traveling — partly because of the serpentine shape of the route and the relatively short distance between stations.

But the new route would make high-speed rail accessible to more people in North Texas, a region of about 7 million people that’s expected to grow to 10.7 million by 2040.

“Certainly with the proximity to DFW Airport in this option, I think it’s important to note there is an opportunity there,” said Bill Meadows, chairman of the Commission for High-Speed Rail in the Dallas/Fort Worth Region.

[…]

Although the commission’s main purpose is to provide planning for the Metroplex, Meadows maintains that its work is actually the initial steps in setting up high-speed rail that will connect Houston, Dallas, Arlington, Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio and other cities.

There is even interest in extending the lines north to Oklahoma City and south to Monterrey, Mexico, although that would likely take years to materialize, if not decades.

See here and here for the background. As the Dallas Observer notes, there are some questions about how effective this extension may be, given that it can’t go as fast as the Dallas to Houston portion of the line and that driving isn’t exactly burdensome. Still, if Houston and Fort Worth are your endpoints, this would be a very nice option, and there are all those possible expansion plans as well.

Paxton gets a court date

Mark your calendars.

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton will make his first court appearance on securities fraud charges later this month.

State District Judge George Gallagher issued an order on Friday that sets Paxton’s initial appearance for 10 a.m. Aug. 27.

But instead of being at the Collin County Courthouse where the indictments were issued, the hearing will be at the courthouse in Fort Worth where Gallagher is based. Under the law cited in the order, “any of the judicial proceedings except the trial on the merits [may be held] in a different county.”

There’s a copy of the court order at the link. Not a whole lot more to add, and there’s likely to not be much at the hearing, but we are officially on our way.