31 March 2011
News and views roundup (03/31/2011 edition)
- Metro land buys point to less than a dream scenario - Michael Reed, Examiner News
More from the "Rogue Agency" files. The taxpayer money this agency has wasted (continues to waste?) boggles the mind.
- How Hakeem Olajuwon Sold Metro $5.6 Million of Swampland for Just $15 Million - Swamplot
Swamplot rewriting/riffing off the above.
- On Metro Rail passenger capacity - Fireballs, Lightning Bolts and Hell Storms
Calling at-grade trams a rail system doesn't really make it so. Good thing we have the buses!
- New HPD contract holds off base salary raises for 2 years - Chris Moran, Houston Chronicle
- New police union contract includes 'personal fitness' days - Gabe Gutierrez, KHOU-11 News
- Houston school trustee wants 'red light' cameras in school zones; no can do, HISD says - Lynn Walsh, Texas Watchdog
- Patrick's drainage bill advances - Joe Holley, Chron Houston Politics
So far as I can tell, every state senator whose district includes any part of Houston supports Sen. Patrick's proposal. That includes Republicans AND Democrats. So Mayor Parker may want to take note of that before she screeches too much more about Sen. Patrick. Area legislators seem to have some legitimate concerns about the way certain muni officials promoted the ambiguous, ever evolving Drainage Tax (pre and post election). Perhaps a lesson for the future is that more detail up front is best.
- Citizen Patrick - Harris County Almanac
- Mayor Parker Decries Fairness of Bills Applying Only to Houston; Forgets Public Employee Union Bill Passed in 2005 Was Only For Houston - Yvonne Larsen, Big Jolly Politics
- Houston: One of the great unsung restaurant cities - Alison Cook, Houston Chronicle
It's true. I'd take it further and suggest that there are many great unsung aspects of living in Houston. We're not a tourist destination and we don't get much in the way of "world class" props from outsiders -- but that's okay.
- Arturo Boada Files Suit Against His Former Restaurant, Arturo's Uptown Italiano - Village Voice Houston Eating
I hate to see the falling out, but am happy to read that Boada will soon open a new restaurant in the old Bistro Don Camillo space (an old fav, and nearby as well).
- KGOW's kapow kapow - Jeff Balke, Village Voice Houston
- If UT values basic research, why isn't its news office promoting the hard sciences? - Eric Berger, SciGuy/Chron.com
There’s nothing here to substantiate the simplistic and draconian view Berger ascribes to O’Donnell, and like too many Texas journalists, Berger apparently didn’t bother to interview O’Donnell for his perspective before attacking him editorially. That’s unfair and unprofessional, but it happens all the time.
I wholeheartedly disagree with the notion that academic research is not valuable, and there’s no question of its economic benefits and the importance of training a new generation of researchers. For that reason I’m glad [Rick] O’Donnell is no longer a special adviser to the regents.
- Texas students should not take back seat to research - Ronald Trowbridge, Houston Chronicle
Maybe SciGuy should have talked to Professor Trowbridge too!
- Mistrial Declared In Eversole Trial - KPRC-2 News
Eversole is one shady character, but turning that into a conviction was always going to be tough.
- Reasonable doubt? - The Defense Rests
Posted by Kevin Whited @ 03/31/11 09:18 PM |
30 March 2011
Mayor to HFD: Decide between job cuts or pension plan underfunding
Mayor Annise Parker, who was not shy during the last mayoral campaign about criticizing what she strongly suggested were unsustainable fiscal policies by her predecessor (and in fact probably won because she convinced voters she was the most fiscally sound candidate in a weak field), has now decided that some unsustainable fiscal policies aren't so bad after all.
According to a report by Chris Moran in today's Chronicle, Mayor Parker hopes to fund police and fire pensions by some $14 million less than the city's obligation to the plans. The administration contends that the savings could also help the city avoid layoffs of hundreds of firefighters at HFD next year.
Moran included some good observations from a local expert on public pensions:
Paying less than the actuarially determined commitment is a recipe for future disaster, warned John Diamond, a public finance expert at the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University who blogs about pensions and other fiscal matters.
"If you don't pay it now, you're just going to have to pay more later. Basically, they are kicking the can down the road so politically they look good," Diamond said.
Parker is trying to honor a commitment to public safety while looking for massive cuts in a $1.9 billion budget, nearly two-thirds of which is spent on the police and fire departments.
Diamond acknowledged the second-year mayor had inherited a problem that's "too hard … for someone to solve without dooming their political careers."
Generally, it seems that Dem leaders are the ones having the most trouble making these hard choices. Republican governors in Wisconsin, Ohio, and New Jersey have seemed willing to tackle these sorts of problems. (UPDATE: Gov. Cuomo seems a refreshing exception).
Ultimately, the state of Texas may have to deal with the public pension problems as municipalities continue to kick the can down the road (as Diamond put it). In the state of California, a strong move is afoot to put significant state/local pension reform before voters (UPDATE: More on this from the WSJ's excellent columnist Daniel Henninger). As underfunded local and state pension obligations become more problematic here, Texas may have to consider similar measures.
UPDATE: See Professor Diamond's most recent post on muni pension problems.
Posted by Kevin Whited @ 03/30/11 10:04 PM |
29 March 2011
News and views roundup (03/29/2011 edition)
- New York Times follow-up on Cleveland, Texas, rape story corrects, repeats original mistakes - Mallary Jean Tenore, Poynter
- Metro braces to take fans along for the NCAA ride - Zain Shauk, Houston Chronicle
it's sad that Houston's only tram line gets overwhelmed so easily, whether by heavy rain or crowds. It's a good thing we have buses to deploy!
Passengers are expected to overflow transit systems heading to those venues, but Metro officials said they have it covered.
They are planning maximum staffing and increased capacity for Metro services, including bus lines set to run parallel to Metro's Main Street light rail line on game days.
- NW Harris Co. now big enough to be city — with big-city woes - Jeannie Kever, Houston Chronicle
Everything about this quote -- from the placement in the story, to the relevance of including an urban affairs statist in a story about the suburban northwest, to the non-descriptive "description" of the left-statist Houston Tomorrow advocacy group -- is bizarre. This comment was pretty interesting, though.
"There are a ton of issues," said David Crossley, president of Houston Tomorrow, a local think tank focusing on urban issues.
- Houston Airport system to lay off 100 employees - KTRK-13 News
About the only area governmental agency seemingly unaffected by the budget crunch is METRO.
- Harris County Theocracy - Defending People
- Harris County Sports Authority may default on bonds - Lou Minatti
- Harris County Tax Assessor Collector blasts Mayor Annise Parker - Isiah Carey's Insite
- Former Opponent Endorses Mayor Parker for Re-Election - On the Beat with Mary Benton
Why leave out record water-rate increases (a near doubling), massive fee hikes, and endorsement of a rain tax?
The Mayor seems poised to run on a record of responsible leadership during a time of economic challenges facing the city. Her solutions have included employee furloughs, layoffs and streamlining of all city departments.
Posted by Kevin Whited @ 03/29/11 09:57 PM |
28 March 2011
News and views roundup (03/28/2011 edition)
- Drainage fee exemption plan met with opposition - Miya Shay, KTRK-13 News
- County official slams Parker for 'overcharging' on drainage fees - Charlotte Aguilar, Examiner News
- Coalition for a Greater Houston Rejects Mayors’ Exemption Proposal - On the Beat with Mary Benton
- Mayor's new exemptions from drainage fees still leave HISD with added charges - Charlotte Aguilar, Examiner News
- Homeowners Will Pay More For Drainage Fee Exemptions - -KPRC-2 News
As much as this fugly proposal keeps evolving, can any voters actually say they had any idea what they were voting for (or against)?
- City saving time with high-wire fix - Chris Moran, Chron Houston Politics
Isn't the city broke? And capital budget or not, is this really the highest priority?
- Let's rid our city of unsightly overhead electrical wires - Peter Brown, Houston Chronicle
We have to concede that we are still a little disappointed that voters deprived us of the fun of having a different sort of nitwit mayor.
- Proposed ordinance calls for annual inspections of home day cares - Miya Shay, KTRK-13 News
It won't actually DO much of anything, almost certainly would not have changed the Tata outcome, and WILL tie up firefighting resources -- but by all means, SOMETHING MUST BE DONE! It's really quite amazing how many bad proposals are generated by one liberal councilmember.
"It's the one thing we could do, and we should do something," Councilwoman Sue Lovell said.
- Why are these HPD officers still on the street? - James Pinkerton, Houston Chronicle
Because it's nearly impossible to fire muni employees for cause in the City of Houston? Recall that crime lab analysts who fabricated results were reinstated in the past.
- Harris County keeps perks while slashing services - Mike Morris, Houston Chronicle
- Facebook, files tell gang-rape suspects' stories in Liberty County - Cindy Horswell, Houston Chronicle
- Leaders speak out in controversial rape case - Deborah Wrigley, KTRK-13 News
- Rockets Playing Well Under the Radar - Hair Balls
Meh, they're hovering around .500. It can be hard to get excited about Houston's mediocre professional sports teams, although Rick Adelman really has done a pretty good job coaching up scrubs the past couple of years. You'd think team management might make a contract extension a priority, but perhaps Adelman has had enough scrub basketball and hopes to take over a team with championship talent.
- Texas State Rep. Past Due On School Taxes After Receiving Over $1.4 Million From Houston Independent School District - Yvonne Larsen, Big Jolly Politics
- The more things change.... - Harris County Almanac
- Pretty as a picture: Honfleur, cradle of Impressionism - James Howard Gibbons, Houston Chronicle
The former editorial page editor of the Chron is working on a book of personal essays. We're sure it will be.... precious!
Posted by Kevin Whited @ 03/28/11 09:57 PM |
27 March 2011
Repeat: Channel 2 finds MAP workers not working while on the clock
FIve months after catching METRO MAP workers not working, KPRC-2's Stephen Dean decided to revisit the issue, and AGAIN found MAP workers not working:
METRO Motorist Assistance Program employees started arriving to shoot pool, play dominoes, watch television and socialize while rush hour was under way as Local 2 Investigates tracked them over the past three weeks.
Some workers arrived before 6 p.m. on some evenings, and the entire group avoided helping a single stranded motorist for the entire time until their shift ended at 9 p.m.
"Unacceptable," said METRO Chief Executive Officer George Greanias upon learning of the nightly routine from Local 2 Investigates. "The fact that some employees, based on your news report at least, seem to feel that on duty time is to be spent recreating, when in fact that's not the case, is extremely troubling."
These revelations don't even shock anymore. We expect them. It's a given that METRO wastes our money. It's taxpayer money and there's so much of of it floating around, who cares if a few MAP employees don't work their entire shift?
METRO was dysfunctional and arrogant under Frank "Procurement Disaster" Wilson. The roots are still the same even as George Greanias fights an uphill battle to change the OLD METRO. An integrity-less culture festered for so many years, it's just standard operating procedure at METRO.
Here's one employee's response to KPRC when asked about it: ""We always come in and turn our paperwork in at this time," he said.
And here's the response of another employee: "Well, that's the way we do it, close the lane at 8 o'clock and 9 o'clock you go back home. That's it."
That's the way we've always done it. The mantra of every successful company, right?
And Greanias' reaction?
He insisted that action was taken after the Local 2 Investigates report in October to keep closer watch over MAP workers, but he admitted it may not have gone far enough. "I'm not going to commit a ton more of METRO resources to policing people, when what I want are adults who will do the job that they tell us they're committed to do," said Greanias.
There are a couple of glaring problems here (besides Greanias' misdirected irritation). First, does METRO have a clear job expectation? Because the MAP employees think it's a part of their job to knock off working a few hours early. If the job expectation IS clear, then METRO has a problem with the MAP employees, and the supervisors who are allowing this to happen. And if the supervisors are allowing this to happen, then Greanias should also look further up the food chain. Who knows what other stink bombs are just waiting to explode?
By the way, METRO's MAP page says, "It's safe!
Don't worry about who will assist you. M.A.P. vehicles are staffed with experienced uniformed METRO Police officers and Harris County Sheriff's Department deputies."
But in Stephen Dean's story last fall we learned:
Police officers are no longer manning the MAP vehicles at METRO. Lambert said he decided two years ago to move those officers to patrol duties where they are badly needed. Employees of other METRO departments, such as wrecker drivers, were moved into the MAP jobs, and Lambert said he is not rethinking that decision.
METRO's bloated PR department should update that page.
It was Tom Lambert who removed security personnel from Park and Rides and turned them into Park and Pillages. We can see why METRO promoted him!
Posted by Anne Linehan @ 03/27/11 09:33 AM |
25 March 2011
SafeClear morphing back into $afeClear
One of Bill White's crowning achievements as mayor, the SafeClear program, is in the news again, and it looks as if it will be heading back in its original direction: making money!
The city's 6-year-old free towing service on local freeways will start costing motorists $50 per car under a plan expected to come before City Council soon.
"We can no longer afford to pay for this program," said Councilwoman Sue Lovell, who chairs council's transportation committee and helped work out the new arrangement with city-contracted towing companies.
Then can the program. Citizens can't afford it either. Remember the real intent of the revenue generating program when it was concocted? Repair referral$ on the west-side, and revenue from selling impounded cars on the east-side. And remember what happened when it was enacted?
Woman dies trying to stop towing of her car
Eyewitnesses say a driver lost her life Monday night because she didn't want to have to pay for a Safe Clear tow off the East Freeway.
Panic is what happened.
Here's Councilmember Sue Lovell: "We don't want your cousin coming. We don't want someone who's not trained coming," Lovell said.
Councilmember Lovell has the means to ensure that she can pay the $50 break-down tax which means her car wouldn't end up in an impound lot racking up fees before being auctioned off.
Here's Councilmember Melissa Noriega: "It was free originally we were making people do this, and we can't do it anymore. But we have a tow that's far below market value," said City Council Member Melissa Noriega.
No, it was not free originally. It cost citizens $75 when former Mayor Bill White and Houston Bicyclist Bob Stein rolled it out.
And remember what proponents of the original revenue-generating program said in defense of it when began: If you don't have a perfectly functioning car that never breaks down, then you should not be driving on the freeways, because you are inconveniencing more well-off folks. Stick to the feeder roads.
Posted by Anne Linehan @ 03/25/11 05:13 AM |
24 March 2011
Do you blog and Facebook for free? Sucker!
You may have seen the latest outrageous government revelation: The Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs is looking for someone to handle the Interior Department's Facebook page. What might the going rate be for a Facebook Updater? $115,000/year! Yowza!
We can't quite top that, but closer to home, we do have METRO's blogger (er, Communications Weblog Specialist), who four years ago was making a measly $76,000 a year. Since it's government work, she probably gets regular raises, and no doubt, the NEW METRO's George Greanias would tell local taxpayers that with her grueling work load, she's worth every penny.
Posted by Anne Linehan @ 03/24/11 06:32 PM |
23 March 2011
News and views roundup (03/23/2011 edition)
- HFD exam lawsuit settled for 7 black firefighters - Chris Moran, Houston Chronicle
- Houston inspector general probing Councilman Stephen Costello's engineering work for city - Steve Miller, Texas Watchdog
- Houston officials review council's Costello for possible conflict - Chris Moran, Houston Chronicle
The Chron is getting better. They only trailed by three hours or so getting a version of this story posted.
- UPDATE: CM Costello cleared by OIG - Miya Shay, Twitter
- Jung Center takes 'leadership lessons' from Doris Kearns Goodwin - Social Climbing
Think the leadership lessons included "How to plagiarize and remain a celebrity?" Hey, maybe they could invite Rick Casey next!
- Houston Council member seeks daycare regulation - Terri Langford, Houston Chronicle
All problems can be solved with just one more act of Council!
- Familiar faces at the center of Houston ISD's funding decisions - Lynn Walsh, Texas Watchdog
- Constable Bailey resigns in wake of layoffs - Mike Morris, Chron Houston Politics
Sometimes a little new blood is not a terrible thing.
- Why the AT&T/T-Mobile merger is a disconnect - Dwight Silverman, TechBlog
Hmm, because if better-than-average service WERE the norm in the telecommunications business, it would kind of confound the meanings of norm and average, wouldn't it?
T-Mobile's pricing is generally lower, which helps keep AT&T and Verizon in check, and it has a reputation for better-than-average service, which sadly is not the norm in the telecommunications business.
Posted by Kevin Whited @ 03/23/11 06:46 PM |
Shutter the Chron editorial board (cont'd)
You'd think the editorial board at the area newspaper of record could manage to craft a persuasive piece on why a retired space shuttle belongs in the Houston area permanently.
Alas, you'd be wrong. Matt Bramanti explains in the comments on the editorial:
"The Discovery, the orbiter that flew first and furthest"
Discovery is the oldest surviving space-capable orbiter, but it was not the first to fly. Enterprise was the first to fly in the atmosphere; Columbia was the first to fly in space.
"when the shuttle fleet is decommissioned after two final flights this summer"
The next flight is scheduled for April, not the summer.
"The primary reason Houston became Space City was that a Texan, Lyndon Baines Johnson, occupied the White House at the time."
Wrong again, guys. Johnson's efforts as a Senator put the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston. (The site was selected in 1961, when Kennedy occupied the White House.)
Factual errors like those would be irritating in any newspaper; they're inexcusable in a Houston rag.
Yes. To repeat ourselves: Shutter the thing. Redeploy the resources to news coverage.
Posted by Kevin Whited @ 03/23/11 10:06 AM |
21 March 2011
News and views roundup (03/21/2010 edition)
- Tata reportedly on flight back to U.S. - KTRK-13 News
KTRK must be so disappointed that Art Rascon didn't locate her with his "wanted" flyers.
- Two Direct Connector Lanes Open at 59 and Sam Houston Tollway Interchange - Wendy Siegle, KUHF-88.7 News
- Houston's historic districts see few changes - Chris Moran, Houston Chronicle
- County attorney lays off 20 - Mike Morris, Chron Houston Politics
- Pat Lykos and the First Amendment - Life at the Harris County Criminal Justice Center
- When Will Harris County Judge Ed Emmett Show The Leadership He Is Asking Of Others? - Texas Liberal
- Rodeo exec: Fatality on ride is first in carnival's 38 years - Anita Hassan, Houston Chronicle
- NewsFix debuts on KIAH 39; McGuff talks about it on Talk650 AM Monday - Mike McGuff
Somebody hire McGuff. We like his reporting.
- Food for the road - Lisa Gray, Houston Chronicle
- Fires At Local Mosque - Rhymes with Right
- Newswatch | Developments in major news stories - Chron.com
The Chron Froot Loops Bureau has gotten more sophisticated!
Posted by Kevin Whited @ 03/21/11 07:50 AM |
20 March 2011
Just remember, the Grand Parkway is NOT about development
Or for developers. Nope:
Meanwhile, an 1800-acre tract of land west of I-45 and north of the Hardy Toll Road in Harris County will soon become the “nature-inspired, mixed-use” community of Springwoods Village.
Springwoods Village developer CDC Houston is hesitant to comment about Exxon, but loves the progress of the Grand Parkway.
Of course. And while CDC Houston plans to build upwards of 5,000 homes near the planned F-2 segment of the Grand Parkway, other existing homes will have to be bulldozed to make way for it.
Posted by Anne Linehan @ 03/20/11 08:29 AM |
18 March 2011
News and views roundup (03/18/2011 edition)
- Court files tell of repeated rape of girl in Cleveland - Cindy Horswell, Houston Chronicle
Sick gets sicker. The alleged perpetrators had better start preparing their Chron Eye weepy stories.
- Man who killed infant son dealt bad hand at birth - Harvey Rice, Houston Chronicle
Usually, Allan Turner takes the lead on the Chron Eye for the Death Row Killer Guy beat, but maybe they needed something for the Galveston "bureau" actually to do.
- Houston is not among strongest performing Metros - Houstonomics
I know -- let's continue to raise the cost of business/living here, via increased fees, rain taxes, water bills, and property regulations! And build more high-cost, at-grade rail while cutting bus service. Throw in a federal administration seemingly hostile to the oil industry. What could go wrong?!
- Constables laying off deputies as budget cuts bite - Mike Morris, Houston Chronicle
- No police raises for 2 years; layoffs on the table - Chris Moran, Chron Houston Politics
- HPD amends process for filing complaints against officers - Cindy George, Houston Chronicle
- Cy-Fair ISD watchdog finds expenses for hair removal, nail salons and liquor on the ISD checkbook…on the taxpayer’s dime - AFP Texas Blog
- Your Worst Kitchen Nightmare: Gordon Ramsay Coming to Houston - Village Voice Houston Eating
- Houston to Get Its Own Mardi Gras Celebration in 2012 - KUHF-88.7 News
It will probably be a one-time thing, though. We get "evented-out" easily.
Posted by Kevin Whited @ 03/18/11 08:40 AM |
17 March 2011
News and views roundup (03/17/2011 edition)
- Texans not very outraged about cuts - David Jennings, Big Jolly Politics
- Caught on video: Protest escalates into fight outside City Hall - Brad Woodard, KHOU-11 News
Good followup coverage of the rally in this story and the one above.
- 13 Undercover investigates HPD brutality complaints - Wayne Dolcefino, KTRK-13 News
- Harris County bracing for cuts in state funding for programs - Mike Morris, Houston Chronicle
OVERrepresented in this story: Entrenched bureaucrats and pols in favor of the status quo.
UNrepresented in this story: ANY voices from taxpayers or limited-government advocates.
- Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na, BAT VAN! - Hair Balls
Somebody at the Village Voice Houston Amateur Hour either doesn't pay much attention to local news or just shamelessly ripped off Wayne Dolcefino. Par for the course either way, really.
- Shields May Have Violated Code Of Fair Campaign Practices - Sara Waisanen, InstantNewsWestU.com
Are there any grownups in West U politics?
Posted by Kevin Whited @ 03/17/11 09:38 AM |
16 March 2011
News and views roundup (03/16/2011 edition)
- Possible opponent definitely at odds with mayor - Chris Moran, Chron Houston Politics
"The mayor cost herself whatever projects she can't get to the street and is now effectively overcharging the citizens of Houston because of her own lawsuit in Travis County," Bettencourt said Thursday.
- Houston ISD Tax Dollars At Work: Paying For National Rifle Association Memberships? - Yvonne Larsen, BigJollyPolitics
- Eckels named prez of Lone Star High-Speed Rail - Marci Gilbert, Houston Tomorrow
Isn't it interesting how so many pols always find a way to be associated with these sorts of boondoggles?
- Houston port desperate for cruise lines, mulls alternate uses for empty terminal - Jennifer Dawson, HBJ
Speaking of boondoggles...
- Accused hacker of downtown Houston construction sign turns himself in - KTRK-13 News
- Playing both sides: Lawmakers regulate TWIA while reaping profits from legal actions involving agency - Houston Chronicle
Chron ed board cites its own belated, weak story on this topic, when Texas Watchdog did all the heavy lifting on this topic. Way to be up to speed, Chron!
- The hero behind Herod Elementary - Bayou City History
- KIAH's "NewsFix": The Anticipated TV News Revolution Begins Saturday, But We Won't Be Covering It - Village Voice Houston
Our Craig Hlavaty -- wisely deemed the most camera-ready personality available in the Press newsroom -- will be appearing regularly in a Hair Balls segment of the show. He's been busy taping bits for a while now.
Tribune execs, including Lee Abrams before the fall, met with Press editor Margaret Downing and publisher Stuart Folb about the partnership.
It seems entirely appropriate that a mostly news-free newscast would include Village Voice Houston staffers. Their nod to journalistic ethics is amusing, though, considering the source.
- Transcript of Art Rascon's live chat about search for Jessica Tata - KTRK-13 News
You mean Art Rascon didn't find Tata after bouncing around Nigeria with "Wanted" flyers for a few days? Shocking!
- 'Lucky winner' at Astros game learns nothing is free - David Barron, Houston Chronicle
- KTRK 13's Marvin Zindler photography exhibit: Bayou City Noir - Mike McGuff
Posted by Kevin Whited @ 03/16/11 09:32 AM |
15 March 2011
News and views roundup (03/15/2011 edition)
- Texas state legislators make big bucks off TWIA windstorm agency: Houston Chronicle overview following up on Texas Watchdog reports - Mark Lisheron, Texas Watchdog
Nice of Texas Watchdog to cite the weak Chron story we linked yesterday, even if the Chron didn't have the courtesy to link to Texas Watchdog's influential reporting on the topic.
- The real (estimated) cost to demolish the Dome - Mike Morris, Chron Houston Politics
Thanks to Mike Morris for getting an official to admit on the record the previous demolition number was an estimate -- and not an entirely forthcoming one since it included non-demolition costs. As we have noted previously, we don't appreciate political critters fudging numbers to make their preferred boondoggles look better. Until we see some actual bids for demolition only -- WHY aren't we seeing actual bids at this point? -- then we simply don't buy into the notion that it will cost many many more times to demolish the Astrodome than it did to demolish Texas Stadium. Show us real numbers!
- 28 Houston city workers face scrap-metal theft charges - Allan Turner and Chris Moran, Houston Chronicle
- Parker asks for environmental check on pipeline - Chris Moran, Chron Houston Politics
Madam Mayor is not at all interested in a legitimate traffic engineering study about the coming downtown mobility mess that will be caused by laying light rail down busy streets in front of busy parking garages, but she is interested in pushing a study that will potentially hurt local jobs? Priorities, hmm.
- Neighbors battle over historical district designation - Cynthia Cisneros, KTRK-13 News
- Deputy accidentally shoots himself - KTRK-13 News
- Weddings: Carrie Feibel, Eric Kayne - Rosalie Radomsky, NY Times
Chron romance makes NY Times. Awww.
Posted by Kevin Whited @ 03/15/11 07:41 AM |
14 March 2011
News and views roundup (03/14/2011 edition)
Time to spring forward with some links:
- Windstorm-related work proved profitable for Texas lawmakers - Purva Patel and Lise Olsen, Houston Chronicle
Leave it to the Houston Chronicle to deploy multiple reporters to produce a "watchdog" story that: 1) does not advance the story substantively from the reporting that has already been done by Texas Watchdog over the last few weeks and does not make the documents it obtained available online, 2) does not acknowledge the Texas Watchdog reporting, 3) does not even acknowledge that TWIA reforms are now in the works as a result (in part) of the reporting by Texas Watchdog, which was cited in recent hearings on the troubled agency. Instead of proudly featuring this as a Sunday "exclusive" Page One story, a newspaper with better editors would have spiked this story or insisted it be improved substantially.
- Hear ye, hear ye: Public notices regarding public money need to be where we'll see them - in newspapers - Houston Chronicle
As Matt Bramanti describes the editorial, "Houston Chronicle bravely calls for government to seize money from citizens, give it to Houston Chronicle."
- City financially assisting construction of some Houston housing - Chris Moran, Houston Chronicle
Highly unusual, or just the latest manifestation of The Houston Way (Parker/Icken edition)?
Incentivizing market-rate home construction is highly unusual, according to economic development experts.
- Morman laying off 'dozens' of employees - Chron Houston Politics
All that wasteful and irresponsible spending, and Sylvia Garcia STILL couldn't buy herself enough support to get re-elected. Ouch!
His predecessor, Sylvia Garcia, spent down Precinct Two's operating balance from $48 million in 2009 to $22 million last year to $4.6 million at the start of this fiscal year, which started March 1.
Each commissioner is getting just $7.8 million in new operating revenue this fiscal year.
Precinct Two has a $19 million operating budget to cover its expenses, compared to the $31 million Garcia spent to operate the precinct last year.
"I knew from the get-go that, first of all, I was coming into a bloated bureaucracy," said Morman, who beat Garcia last fall and took office at the start of this year, having campaigned on a platform of limited government. "We were immediately able to identify areas of duplication where we just had too many people for the jobs that we were performing. And then budget issues have forced us to make additional layoffs and cuts."
- METRO flexes muscle, Ampco corrects sign - Big Jolly Politics
- High court denies property owner's suit over University light rail line - Michael Reed, Examiner News
- Marketing Boot Camp for Small Biz Owners - Write on METRO
Another sign that METRO's PR/marketing department is bloated, and should be significantly scaled back.
- ABC13 continues search for Tata in Nigeria - Art Rascon, KTRK-13 News
KTRK sent Art Rascon to Nigeria to "find" Tata? Seriously??
- Ministers, Jackson Lee urge fire suspect to return - Paige Hewitt, Houston Chronicle
We really know that all it will take to find Tata is a Queen Sheila press conference. To return to a theme -- why give the Queen media attention for this sort of thing?
- Houston Students' Fights Posted Online - Owen Conflenti, KPRC-2
True life Juvenile Fight Club?
- The Poop Scoop: Houston Oddities - The Loop Scoop
Posted by Kevin Whited @ 03/14/11 07:41 AM |
09 March 2011
News and views roundup (03/09/2011 editon)
It's a slim version of news and views today...
- Council will expand by two seats - Chron Houston Politics
- Commissioners Approve Budget - Pat Hernandez, KUHF-88.7 News
- Harris County cuts $120 million, 900 vacant jobs - Mike Morris, Houston Chronicle
That's some interesting editorializing in the lede. Here's another way the lede might have been written:
Facing an 11.3 percent drop in revenue, Harris County Commissioners Court passed a budget today that could mean dozens of law enforcement jobs cut or left vacant, hundreds fewer patients receiveing [sic] mental health counseling and fewer books in county libraries.
Or the lede might just have provided numbers, and quoted the sorts of folks who usually provide those sorts of insights later in the story.
Facing an 11.3 percent drop in revenue, Harris County Commissioners Court passed a budget today that held the line on tax and fee increases that could stall a slow economy and further burden area homeowners.
- Gallegos to Grier: Turn off that computer - Michael Reed, Examiner News
- Rush Limbaugh Gets Pwned By CenterPoint - Village Voice Houston
It's bad enough when the amateurs crank out this sort of filler to generate pageviews. But the paid staff?
- Local Tea Party activist supports leftist rally - David Jennings, Big Jolly Politics
Posted by Kevin Whited @ 03/09/11 10:31 PM |
08 March 2011
News and views roundup (03/08/2011 edition)
Time to clear out a few links:
- Sumners says drainage fee math is all wet - Chron Houston Politics
Best to keep the public in the dark until the last possible moment?
Sumners' own calculations indicate that the monthly rates the city proposes will bring in $157.2 million annually for improving and maintaining city drainage, not the $122.4 million presented at City Council in January. The city stuck by its numbers and referred Sumners back to that very presentation.
The city has also asked the state attorney general to exempt the city from releasing much of the information Sumners requests on the grounds that it is the subject of pending litigation.
- METRO disputes "Lost Opportunity" - David Jennings, Big Jolly Politics
METRO's bloated/expensive PR department has time to pick nits with bloggers? And nits they are -- good for David Jennings for sticking to his guns.
- Spanish rail-car vendor criticizes Metro’s latest deal to buy new cars - Jeremy Desel, KHOU-11 News
- Portland rail: Going nowhere - Ethan Epstein, The American Spectator
You know the adage, "When you're in a hole, stop digging"? TriMet has revised it to: "When you're in a hole, build more light rail." Despite its financial distress, TriMet now plans to build another MAX line, its most expensive yet. Construction is slated to begin this summer on a segment connecting Portland and Milwaukie, a sleepy town of 20,000. The price tag: $1.5 billion. As the line would stretch only 7.3 miles, the cost per mile would be a little more than $200 million. The federal government has agreed to foot half the bill, and TriMet plans to fund most of the rest by floating $724 million in bonds.
The story is about Portland and its celebrated (by UrbanUtopian types, anyway) rail culture; there are plenty of warning signs for Houston throughout, though, so be sure to click over.
- Is Harris County Sheriff, Adrian Garcia, Sending His Director Of Public Affairs To Bully His GOP Opponent? - Eric Weinman, Patriot Statesman
- The Corruption Trials Behind the Astrodome’s Lost Decade - Swamplot
- The Dome Pavilion - Camposcommunications’s Blog
- Tougher historic preservation rules renew debate over property rights - Gabe Gutierrez, KHOU-11 News
- Changes to HISD's magnet program could include fund redistribution - Ericka Mellon, Houston Chronicle
Are Terry Grier and crew determined to annoy every constituency possible?
- The Re-Honkification of the Heights - Greg's Opinion
- The Protean Future Of American Cities - Joel Kotkin, Forbes
Sure, being cool is nice, but the obsession with hipness often means missing a bigger story: the gradual diminution of the urban core as engines for job creation. For example, while Chicago’s Loop has doubled its population to 20,000, it has also experienced a large drop in private-sector employment, which now constitutes a considerably smaller share of regional employment than a decade ago. The same goes for the new urbanist mecca of Portland as well as the heavily hyped Los Angeles downtown area.
None of this suggests, however, that the American urban core is in a state of permanent decline. The urban option will continue to appeal to small but growing segment of the population, and certain highly paid professionals, notably in finance, will continue to cluster there.
But the bigger story — all but ignored by the mainstream media — is the continued evolution of urban regions toward a more dispersed, multi-centered form.
Not Houston-specific, but Kotkin's observations are always intriguing, particularly as they relate to the Houston area.
- Deer Park man accused of illegally streaming content on Internet - Jessica Fax, Houston Chronicle
Posted by Kevin Whited @ 03/08/11 09:14 AM |
07 March 2011
Astrodome Nostalgia Syndrome (ANS) continues to bleed taxpayers
The push to continue to waste taxpayer money on the decrepit Astrodome was joined last week by none other than Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, who came out in favor of a "minimalist" plan to maintain the structure (which has cost taxpayers millions of dollars to maintain as a useless eyesore) as an events venue (of no real need, especially). From the Chronicle's reporting:
Emmett said he favors a "minimalist" approach that would see the Dome's roof replaced, its seats removed, its shell intact, and grass laid down. He did not have a cost estimate for the idea.
"Anything we do to or with the Dome is going to be expensive, but it really is time to move forward," he said during the annual State of the County speech to roughly 1,100 people at the Hilton Americas-Houston Hotel. "I think we owe it to future generations to preserve the Dome as a gathering place for special events.
"The taxpayers have to be engaged early in the process, for it is their Dome," he continued, "but now's the time to make a decision."
Houston's major festivals could be held at the Dome, he said, rather than in a less-than-ideal spot around downtown's City Hall, where property is hard to secure at night.
"I think people would flock to it," Emmett said (Mike Morris, Emmett: Dome should be saved as festival venue, Houston Chronicle).
Why? When the Houston International Festival left its downtown home for a run out among the concrete on the outer fringes of the city core, the results were not good (and the festival shortly returned to downtown, where it belonged).
Unfortunately for taxpayers who will be asked to fund any Astrodome rehab boondoggle, this unbelievable figure made it into the area's newspaper of record:
An estimate last year put the cost of razing the structure at $128 million.
Not really. It was one of several estimates designed to fool taxpayers into thinking rehabbing the Dome wouldn't cost much more than razing it.
So let's inject a dose of reality into the cost discussion: The Dallas Morning News (that area's newspaper of record) put the bill for demolishing another venerable stadium in our state (Texas Stadium, where the Cowboys played for many years) at just under $6 million.
Are we really to believe that demolishing the Astrodome will cost roughly 21 times more than demolishing Texas Stadium?
Only if you don't think much about it.
Unfortunately, when the area newspaper of record spreads these unbelievable numbers, they take on the appearance of reality, leading sources like CultureMap to do their usual thing with grownup topics:
Consider these options:
* It would cost about $128 million to tear it down — that's $128 million of public funding (which includes the existing $40 million bond debt that has to be satisfied no matter what is done).
* To repair the Dome just enough to become habitable (and able to produce at least some revenue), the Sports and Convention Corp says it would cost $30 million (though some reports say less).
Hmmm …$128 million to end up with nothing versus $30 million to stop the bleeding and still have an historic building with both revenue and jobs potential.
See how that works -- a $30 million rehab proposal suddenly looks much more reasonable than spending four times as much on demolition!
Except we've seen no compelling reason to think that the demolition should cost more than the $6 million it took to demolish Texas Stadium. Incidentally, it costs taxpayers roughly $2 million per year to maintain the Astrodome as an eyesore, which means the thing could have been torn down years ago, saving taxpayers a considerable amount of money.
Back to Judge Emmett's speech from last week, via Village Voice Houston:
"Every time I drive by the corner of Main and Holcombe," he told the crowd at the Hilton Americas, "I shake my head in wonder that the Shamrock Hotel is no longer there. I hope not to do the same as an old man at the spot where the Astrodome once stood."
We understand Harris County budgets are tight right now, but we are beginning to think the County may need to authorize emergency appropriations for mental health in our area -- allocated for treatment of those afflicted with Astrodome Nostalgia Syndrome (especially those entrusted with spending our tax dollars)!
In all seriousness -- we generally appreciate Judge Emmett's leadership, but on this one, we would encourage him to take the lead as a private investor if he's so nostalgic about preserving the Astrodome. The taxpayers have already thrown enough money down that hole. It's time to pony up the cost of demolition and stop the bleeding. It was time years ago.
BLOGVERSATION: Swamplot, Campos Communications.
Posted by Kevin Whited @ 03/07/11 08:25 AM |
06 March 2011
Take Two: A downtown train-traffic-pedestrian-infrastructure adventure only METRO could love!
Nearly two years ago, we drew on a number of obscure, little-read documents on METRO's downtown light-rail plans to post some thoughts on downtown's coming traffic/train/pedestrian mobility nightmare (needless to say, we did not buy into the rosy conclusions of some of the documents, especially when drilling down into those documents raised concerns that have still not really been addressed).
There was little public followup on the concerns raised in the documents, although rumor has it that some of downtown's power brokers were then and are now concerned about the potential impact of METRO's light-rail follies on downtown mobility (especially downtown parking garage access, since the goofy at-grade rail system will be gobbling lanes and affecting traffic in/out of many garages).
The City of Houston recently got into the action, producing its own "study" of the planned Capitol/Rusk light-rail alignment on four downtown parking garages. Their (unbelievable) conclusion: The Capitol/Rusk light-rail alignment will have no appreciable impact on the operation of those four parking garages.
The document in question was produced by the City of Houston Public Works & Engineering department in December 2010. We have posted the public's document to scribd for broader public access (for some reason, these sorts of documents frequently require some effort on the part of the public to obtain; just ask Tom Bazan about difficulties obtaining documents related to METRO's light-rail adventurism).
We would like to encourage readers to have a read, and then to come back and discuss.
After a quick survey, a number of items stood out for us:
- The study "did NOT measure the impact of LRT on the downtown street network." We would suggest this renders it of limited utility (of course, had the study been broader in scope, all of the issues we raised in our last post would have come into the fore, and downtown property managers might have raised objections. Best to keep them and the public in the dark, we suppose). In all likelihood, more than four downtown parking garages will be affected by running at-grade rail down busy streets like Capitol and Rusk, crossing other busy streets in the process; those potential impacts are also ignored/whitewashed.
- As noted in our previous post on downtown mobility, actual Basis of Design documents concede that maintaining 6/12-minute headways for the planned Capitol/Rusk light-rail tram may not be possible (which would, of course, have snowball effects on the entire downtown mobility ecosystem). This is a more significant problem for the planned at-grade system than planners let on, which is probably why most documents (including the latest "study') prefer to ignore such issues
- Buses represent an imperfect simulation of a light-rail tram.
- Existing traffic signal timing was not altered, even though the existing Main Street light-rail tram currently enjoys signal priority. As noted above, the Capitol/Rusk alignments present significant challenges in terms of mobility, and will likely affect signal timing (with effects that cascade throughout downtown at street level).
- In quite a number of cases, the average delay entering/exiting garages actually declined during the light-rail simulation! Yes, you read that right -- we are supposed to believe that the exercise to simulate the elimination of one lane of traffic for a rail station and one lane of traffic for a light-rail tram that occupies most of a block every six minutes actually improves the ability to get in/out of downtown parking garages in a nontrivial number of instances!
In all honesty, we didn't find this study particularly compelling or helpful. The parameters seemed to be narrowly confined so as to produce the preferred political outcome (we know the current mayor is in favor of the light-rail plan crafted by OLD METRO, and we know that public works grew increasingly political in the last administration). And the public remains largely in the dark as to the impact of running at-grade rail down the important Capitol/Rusk corridor.
What have we missed? Gotten wrong? Gotten right? Please leave your thoughts in the comment thread.
Posted by Kevin Whited @ 03/06/11 08:51 PM |
04 March 2011
METRO's blogger: We're too big to handle our maintenance problems
So if you're stuck on the wrong side of a malfunctioning gate in a Park and Pillage, Mary Sit advises you to have METRO's maintenance phone number on speed dial:
If you're a regular commuter, it's a good idea to enter this number and e-mail in your cell phone directory. The phone number is staffed Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. And of course, there's voice mail after hours.
METRO's service area extends beyond Houston and spans some 1,285 square miles. That includes more than 30 million square feet of properties.
"Due to the size of the service area, and the large portfolio of properties, it is almost impossible for us to be completely on top of all the day-to-day issues that come up on our sites," explains Rocky Marrero, vice president of facilities maintenance. "For this reason, we rely heavily on the reports of bus operators, and more importantly, our patrons, who help us by reporting their observations directly to our work request line. "
Remember, METRO also admits it can't handle security because its service area is too large. Patrons are advised to manage their own security. By contrast, METRO's bloated PR department is fully staffed and at the ready to handle any PR emergency.
Since METRO admits its service area is too big, maybe the taxpayer-funded, quasi-governmental transportation monopoly should be broken up.
Posted by Anne Linehan @ 03/04/11 10:06 AM |
02 March 2011
Daily Caller: Queen Sheila treats her staffers badly. Very badly
The Daily Caller posted a detailed report today about Queen Sheila Jackson Lee's horrible treatment of staffers. It's a pretty interesting read (profanities and all).
How one treats subordinates and service workers is often a good reflection of character (or lack thereof), so this latest report on the Queen won't really come as a shock to any locals.
The voters who keep re-electing her year after year after year don't seem to mind, though.
Posted by Kevin Whited @ 03/02/11 05:46 PM |
01 March 2011
Dolcefino checks out the BAT vans
KTRK-13's Undercover Man Wayne Dolcefino takes a look at HPD's BAT vans:
Posted by Kevin Whited @ 03/01/11 09:07 PM |