31 May 2011
HFD endorsed the wrong candidate...
Ah, details. Why expect the former councilmember and controller to have a firm grasp of numbers when she's busy playing politics?
Even with the labor deal inked and her budget released late last week, Parker continued describing the fire department as part of the problem.
"In 13½ years in city government, I have never seen the fire department come in on budget. They routinely blow past their budget and we pick up the slack," Parker told the Chronicle editorial board.
Actually, Parker's finance department numbers show that HFD came in under budget twice from 2006 to 2011.
Chron user jj_monkey asks an interesting question in the comments. Anybody know more about the mayor's salary?
30 May 2011
How's that "sanctuary city" status working out for Houston?
The suspect accused of plowing down and killing a Houston police officer in north Houston Sunday was found to be an illegal immigrant, under the influence and carrying drugs, according to authorities.
Investigators said 26-year-old Johoan Rodriguez had a blood alcohol level of.238, which is three times the legal limit, and had cocaine in his pocket when he struck and killed Officer Kevin Will.
A horrific and needless tragedy. Our condolences go out to the family of Officer Kevin Will.
Here's hoping Governor Perry will include the "sanctuary city" legislation in the upcoming special session of the legislature. It's certainly not a cure-all for the nation's immigration problem, and it's certainly not a substitute for the federal government doing more about the problem, but it is something that the state can do to remove needless barriers that stand in the way of law enforcement (in the case of Houston, the needless barrier is a directive from the police chief in 1992, with only the most minor modifications since). Democratic maneuvers successfully killed this priority of Gov. Perry during the regular session.
Do "drastic measures" include cutting the dining and non-teaching tabs?
In Austin, the Texas Legislature will go into a special session starting Tuesday to vote on a school finance bill, and local school districts will have to wait longer to learn how big their budget gaps will be.
The Houston Independent School District is already considering drastic measures to deal with state cuts.
It would be interesting if, while KTRK is giving HISD a platform to lobby for their tax increase, their reporters also followed Matt Bramanti's lead and took a closer look at the school district's check register. Or perhaps the district's spending on non-teaching personnel/administration. Maybe the district's reserve funds. Who knows, maybe a good journalist who was trying just a little bit could even come up with a few more!
Oh, and here's a fact that keeps getting left out of MSM accounts of the legislative session (including this one) for some reason: the proposed 2012-13 public education budget actually increases spending in absolute terms compared to the 2010-2011 budget -- by $125 million. We've added students, yes, so per-student funding will decline, and some districts may suffer more than others. But if the school finance deal remains the same in the special session, the 2012-13 budget will slightly increase public education spending overall.
27 May 2011
HISD pushes tax increase; Bramanti highlights fun HISD spending
HISD has begun laying the groundwork for a tax increase. Here's a snippet from KTRK's story last night:
Apparently HISD Trustee Juliette Stipeche is not following Matt Bramanti on twitter. Bramanti fairly regularly examines the HISD check register. Here are the interesting expenditures he posted this week from HISD's obviously "bare bones" operation:
There's a possibility HISD will raise your taxes.
The district has laid off hundreds of teachers. It's closing and consolidating some schools and now the district may raise its tax rate. HISD is still trying to make up for a $60 million shortfall in next year's budget.
Most HISD board member say raising taxes is a likely scenario since most are reluctant to make further budget cuts.
"I believe it's something we seriously have to entertain because it's such a significant shortfall and I believe people would be so surprised by the devastating cuts if we have to take cuts further," said HISD Trustee Juliette Stipeche.
Tweet 1: This week's @HoustonISD checks include: $5,700 Schlitterbahn; $3,500 Hard Rock Cafe; $15,000 Four Seasons; $6,100 Kemah Boardwalk. #fun
Tweet 2: More @HoustonISD spending: $1,100 Demeris BBQ; $1,400 Teotihuacan Mexican Cafe; $1,700 Alonti Cafe; $2,900 Don Carlos. All in one day, 5/24.
UPDATE (06/23/2011) - HISD senior manager of media relations Jason Spencer sent us the following note, with his permission to post below:
The first point I would make is that none of the expenses listed in these two Tweets were the result of central office spending. Next to each item, we have listed the revenue source. Those that begin with TA2 are funded by “school activity funds.” This is not taxpayer money. School activity funds come from class fund raisers (such as car washes and bake sales), student out-of-pocket money (prom tickets, for example), or vending machine profits. The Four Seasons bill, for example, is probably related to a high school prom.
Items that begin with GF1 are funded through campus general fund budgets. This is tax money. These expenditures are for campus staff meeting meals, all from reasonably priced restaurants.
This week's @HoustonISD checks include: $5,700 Schlitterbahn (TA2-99-203210-068-99-973); $3,500 Hard Rock Café(TA2-99-203210-020-99-973; $15,000 Four Seasons(TA2-99-203210-016-99-973 & TA2-99-204842-016-99-973); $6,100 Kemah Boardwalk (TA2-99-203210-020-99-973).
More @HoustonISD spending: $1,100 Demeris BBQ(GF1-23-6351-056-10-S1-101); $1,400 Teotihuacan Mexican Café(GF1-13-6351-061-99-S1-101); $1,700 Alonti Café (GF1-23-6351-023-10-S1-101); $2,900 Don Carlos (TA2-99-203243-046-99-973). All in one day, 5/24.
26 May 2011
Judge: "Jesus" can be named at Houston National Cemetery prayer (updated)
Good call by Judge Hughes regarding a ludicrous edict by a VA bureaucrat.
A federal judge slapped down the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Thursday, saying it can't stop a pastor from using the words "Jesus Christ" in his Memorial Day invocation at Houston National Cemetery.
"The government cannot gag citizens when it says it is in the interest of national security, and it cannot do it in some bureaucrat's notion of cultural homogeneity," U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes wrote in his order, granting the Rev. Scott Rainey's motion for the court to intercede. "The right to free expression ranges from the dignity of Abraham Lincoln's speeches to Charlie Sheen's rants."
(05/27/2011 UPDATE): The Chronicle reports that the VA made this arrogant "concession" to Judge Hughes:
Assistant U.S. Attorney Fred Hindrichs told federal District Judge Lynn Hughes that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs will not demand that Memorial Day prayers at Houston National Cemetery on Monday be as non-denominational as possible.
"(The agency) will let the prayer go on this Monday," Hindrichs told Hughes.
No, the VA won't "let" Rev. Rainey's prayer go on as it has in the past. Rather, the First Amendment of the United States Constitution ensures that it will. The VA and its attorneys and petty bureaucrats need to get that part straight.
Bill King: COH finances bleak and getting bleaker
From 2003 through 2011, in the city's general fund, recurring expenses have exceeded recurring revenues by about $430 million. The majority of this deficit was financed by issuing 30-year pension bonds. Also, the city has been selling off everything that is not tied down.
The mayor was still able to pull a few more rabbits out of the hat for the upcoming year, like deferring pension contributions, spinning off the convention center with five years' worth of rent paid in advance, and selling property to a controlled subsidiary. But the hat is just about hareless at this point. As a result, the city is being forced to make real budget cuts that citizens are going to feel.
Michelle Mitchell, the former Goldman Sachs banker who served as the city's chief financial officer during most of Bill White's administration, gave a chilling five-year projection of the city's finances just before she retired last year. Her projections showed ever increasing deficits for as far as the eye could see without draconian budget cuts. She placed most of the blame on the city's pension plans, flatly stating that they are unsustainable.
Read the whole thing. Houston's financial difficulties are not going away any time soon, and indeed the pension liabilities suggest strongly they will get worse, steadily, without significant revisions/reforms.
Examiner News: METRO finances bleak and getting bleaker
The Metropolitan Transit Agency will be facing roughly a $2.6 billion negative cash balance by 2035, if both the general mobility payments to the city remain in place and its light-rail expansion plans go forward.
This according the transit agency’s own March 10 financial plan, based in part on current revenue and ridership projects and submitted to the Federal Transit Administration, concerning the agency’s New Starts Program funding for the North Corridor light-rail line.
METRO's playwright-in-chief is thought to be someone who understands financial reality. When is he going to hit the brakes on the unaffordable rail expansion?
25 May 2011
Chron columnist suffers broken heart over the color beige
Her heart is broken over... beige?
Weirdly, the renovation skips over the River Oaks Theatre; maybe Weingarten hoped to avoid another round of petitions and protests. Though the shopping-center building surrounding the theater is being beiged and turreted and blanded, the theater itself keeps its historical marquee and the horizontal black-and-white stripes over it.
The effect is heartbreaking.
With so much turmoil and tragedy in the world, it's good to know that the Chron's arts columnist and editorial board member is *ahem* keeping it all in perspective.
HFD: Voting machine fire not arson
“The fire doesn’t respect what time of year it is, who’s running or whatever,” Brolan said at a media briefing today. “All causes other than electrical heating and/or electrical shorting malfunctions have been eliminated through the course of this investigation. This fire will be classified as the result of an unspecified electrical short.”
An unspecified electrical short? Well, that sure cleared things up!
Port Authority brings in Rusty Hardin; state lege takes note
KTRK-13's Undercover Man Wayne Dolcefino checks in with the latest at the Port Authority:
Now that Rusty Hardin is involved, you know it's gotten serious.
Indeed, Texas Watchdog reports that the state lege has taken note:
No doubt! A little media oversight really seems to have gotten things rolling.
Take a bow, Wayne Dolcefino.
In the teeth of a month’s worth of stories broken by the vaunted investigative reporter for ABC-13 in Houston, the Texas Senate unanimously voted to subject the Port of Houston to the state’s sunset review process.
Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, said he thought the Port of Houston could also do with some state oversight.
24 May 2011
Rain Tax opponents lose in court; KTRK checks in with latest mistaken rain tax assessments
As a narrow legal/technical matter, Judge Hahn probably got it right. Nevertheless, as citizens we should expect public officials to behave in a more forthright and transparent manner than they did in passing this poorly vetted, poorly understood tax increase.
[Judge Buddie Hahn] ultimately sided with the city of Houston’s argument that Proposition 1 did not authorize the assessment of a drainage fee — state law did. So leaving mention of the drainage fee off the ballot was not misleading, he concluded.
And no, that's not a variant of the "stupid voters" criticism that we frequently see from local lefty bloggers. The proposition narrowly passed, despite the fact that many property owners seemed to rely on the assertions of proponents that they'd only be paying $5/month (of course, non-property owners probably were less concerned about those assertions). Trusting the assertions of politicans doesn't make a voter stupid. Naive, perhaps.
(UPDATE: Full Chron story on the lawsuit here).
Trees and shade from a fence/shrubs show up as impervious surfaces on the satellite shot of my property. A not-naive person might suspect that the city's assessments tend to err on the revenue-enhancing side.
If you have a trampoline, trailer or boat in your yard, you could be paying more than your fair share of the city's new drainage fee.
The city of Houston is using satellite images of your yard to figure out the impervious surface, but that satellite image is mistaking all sorts of things as impervious surfaces.
We found all sorts of examples of mistakes made in calculating the drainage fee. If you do not appeal the errors, you are stuck paying for more impervious surfaces than you really have.
From the department of bad conclusions...
This story is such a mess that it's hard to know where to begin.
The homeless population in Harris and Fort Bend counties grew by 25 percent this year, according to an annual count by the Coalition for the Homeless of Houston/Harris County.
The Jan. 31 census found 8,538 men, women and children were homeless this year, compared with 6,819 in 2010. If jail inmates without homes are included, this year's count is more than 13,000, the coalition said in a report released Monday.
The coalition used a different method this year that led to a more accurate count.
First, it's highly doubtful the reporter has any special skills at counting homeless people or evaluating methods of counting homeless people, yet the bolded sentence is written in such a way that it appears she evaluated the new method and signed off on its accuracy. It almost certainly should have concluded, "according to the advocacy group" or some such.
Second, because the methodology changed, it's not quite right to draw conclusions about the actual homeless population increasing from last year. It is accurate to say the new method produced a count 25% higher this year than the old method produced last year. Drawing further conclusions -- particularly the conclusions presented as fact in the story -- is dicey.
Unsurprisingly, one of Houston's most prolific derivative newsblogs made similar mistakes in their post on the topic.
(Hat tip to Matt Bramanti for an engaging email conversation about these problems earlier today)
County Judge touts Houston/Galveston, Houston/Dallas rail (updated)
Perhaps the best news for taxpayers is that the current fiscal condition of both the state and federal governments means there are far fewer tax dollars to be directed to these expensive, frequently underperforming, projects.
[Harris Count Judge Ed] Emmett was more optimistic than Henry on the prospect for passenger rail service between Houston and Galveston, as well as high speed rail between Houston and Dallas.
“There is good news on that front,” Emmett said, noting the emergence of Gulf Coast Rail District. “It is the entity that we need to focus on that can draw down the federal grants and state grants and they can cooperate with the Texas Department of Transportation in doing these projects.”
Correction: (Guidry News Service incorrectly reported in our original posting of this article that Emmett suggested that light rail, rather than full size commuter rail, be considered for the Houston to Galveston route. Instead, Emmett specifically noted that no one has envisioned the line as a light rail line, but as a less-expensive commuter rail line that could someday serve as a pre-cursor to a high-speed rail project.) [BH Note: Judge Emmett's office informs that the original news item got this line wrong originally. We have posted the original source's inline correction in bold. See also Joe Stinebaker's comment in the forum]
“We can actually sell this as a pre-curser to a high speed rail project,” Emmett said. “I think that rail will begin to move forward. And for those who say rail never pays for itself, neither do highways.”
23 May 2011
Is there a SW Houston serial arsonist?
No doubt they've fired up the supercomputers in HPD's Real Time Crime Center to help them figure it out. (Before Jay Wall emails -- we kid! It's apparently not well designed for proactive policing).
There may be a serial arsonist on the loose in southwest Houston. Officials say they are trying to determine if the same person is responsible for nearly 30 fires over the past 17 months, including a fire at an apartment complex on Gessner early Monday morning.
Arson investigators aren't saying much, if anything, publicly about what may be another fire bug at work in the city. Instead, they're putting the pieces together of a series of fires that started more than a year ago to see if there's a connection.
We've been tracking these fires with some interest, because several of them have taken place very close to our neighborhood. You'd think after a few dozen that
According to the Houston Fire Department, the serial arsonist is suspected of starting at least 30 fires since January 2010. Neighbors near Ripple Creek Townhomes are now fearful about the arsonist loose in their neighborhood.
UPDATE: Graf above edited for clarity (also see the comments).
Chron endorses Parker's "austerity budget"
Does this strike anyone else as a curious thing to say? Or as a curious state of affairs, even?
Mayor Parker noted that even though library hours are being cut, care has been taken to make sure they remain safe harbors for children. "One of the important things for us is to make sure that our libraries are open until parents get off work," said the mayor. "We are the day care of choice for a huge number of Houstonians."
The pension-fund deferrals are not an altogether different gimmick.
This budget will also forgo borrowing tens of millions of dollars to pay for employee pension obligations, a fiscal device used by Parker's predecessor, Bill White. The administration was able to save $24 million by delaying payouts for firefighter accrued time off and police pension fund payments.
Gotta love the establishment newspaper getting behind the current establishment, though. It was hard to see that one coming! ;) At least the mayor is not proposing a property tax increase to go with her massive water-rate and various fee increases, not to mention the rain tax enacted in her first term.
JJ_Monkey's comment on chron.com was interesting. We'd also be curious how much more this mayor's security detail is costing.
The last free art-car parade?
Works of art on wheels rolled through Downtown Houston. However a little something is looming over the 24th annual Art Car Parade. This could be the last year the event is free. "That would be tragic" says one Houstonian. The couple hundred cars in costume are so unique people come from all over the world to check it out. "It's great. It's one of the great cultural things that people come to Houston for. A lot of people fly in for this thing" says one man in the crowd.
An estimated 300,000 people enjoyed the parade for free but in this economy donations are down. So next year's frilly function could come with a fee
It's a little surprising the parade hasn't already gone the way of the International Festival.
22 May 2011
Parker Administration, Costello move on from not-$5/month rain tax to "food deserts"
Critics who pointed out the vagueness of the proposal were mostly dismissed during the debate over the Parker/Costello rain tax. Obviously, some of the points were valid.
"The charges are anywhere from three to six times what the proponents of the referendum said they would be, and, frankly, the city, as well," Sullivan said. "My personal feeling is, it was not a realistic estimate of what an average citizen's lot would cost."
Meanwhile, the Parker Administration and Councilmember Costello have moved on to work on another boondoggle:
Costello is turning out to be quite a master of the Houston Way. He may even be mayoral material, eventually!
[Mayor Parker's sustainability director Laura] Spanjian says the city is brainstorming ways to lure grocery stores into low-income food deserts. The market is generally considered risky.
“Can we incentivize supermarket owners and retailers to come into an area? Can we figure out a way to find land for them? Or can we find existing structures that they can renovate and turn into a supermarket? So we’re going to be looking at the gamut to try to really encourage supermarket owners to come into these neighborhoods.”
City Council Member Stephen Costello is working on the project. He says the city hopes to have one supermarket up and running in the next 12 to 18 months, though he’s not sure where it will go yet. He says once a developer is recruited the city will put forward possible incentives, like reimbursing some of the costs of building the store for example.
METRO's (rail construction) dysfunction turns out to be of some benefit
The True Believers continue to insist that by 2020 or so, we might have a variant of the flawed system voters narrowly approved in 2003, even though budget realities make it increasingly unlikely (as King notes).
On the balance-sheet side of things, DART has run up $3.5 billion in debts compared to Metro, which has a little more than $1 billion. Of course, Metro is planning on substantially exceeding DART's debt if it ever builds the LRT and will only have a fraction of the track DART has. Fortunately for Houston taxpayers and transit riders, that appears to be an increasingly unlikely scenario.
Speaking of which:
It's quite the approach to "customer" service!
Since the November 2003 election Metro has blown through some $700 million in local and federal tax dollars, but has only "just started work" on three rail lines, according to Ms. Slaughter. But hey, guess what? Metro now feels the need to go out into the community and - get this - get their opinion!
METRO's new police chief
A former captain in the Houston Police Department became METRO's new police chief today, ending a year-long search.
Victor Rodriguez was sworn in this afternoon as new chief of police at MPD's annual awards ceremony.
We can all be thankful it's not Martha Montalvo.
19 May 2011
Driver 1, Pole 0
A driver survived a major crash early Thursday after going airborne and slamming into a wooden electric pole, according to Houston police.
The driver crash-landed, veered right, then plowed through an electrical pole and several signs.
The pole was split in half.
Usually, the driver loses. Wonder how that DWI testing turned out?
18 May 2011
Checking in on New METRO: Postponing tram lines and cutting bus service
The Examiner's Mike Reed reports from one of METRO's recent roadshows:
“This keeps getting presented as rail or more (highway) paving,” Houston City Councilman Oliver Pennington said at one point, taking exception to remarks from trustee Burt Ballanfant. “A lot of people disagree with that.”
It was a far more moderate version of the type of comment an observer could have expected to hear more frequently at this venue in recent years, a time when tempers frequently flared during discussions of the proposed University light-rail line to run down the center of Richmond Avenue.
However, with construction of that line on hold — according to some Metro documents until at least 2017 — most of the talk turned toward transportation and more immediate problems.
“At the end of the day, what you are striving for is to marry the disparate ways of moving around,” board member Ballanfant said.
Metro cited the options, too: better bus service, commuter and light rail, bus rapid transit, HOV and HOT lanes — even street cars.
What is notable from this reporting is not all METRO's blather about being everything to everyone (never mind that it can't afford to do ALL those things, because of the expense of light rail), but rather the apparent concession that construction of the Westpark rail alignment (that was duplicitously moved to Richmond and renamed by the last pathetic bunch) has been postponed until at least 2017.
Whatever Houston's needs in 2003 when voters narrowly approved the rail referendum (which, incidentally, named a Westpark alignment and promised a 50% increase in bus service), how in the world can anyone at METRO tell Houstonians that the 2003 plan (as modified Frank Wilson and crew), which looks more and more unaffordable given the federal government's fiscal state, is what will serve a changing, growing Houston in the year 2020 and beyond? It's ludicrous. We'd be much better off rethinking it all.
Oh, and back to the promises of a 50% increase in bus service that never materialized (quite the contrary, actually)...
Tomorrow, METRO's amusingly named "Customer Service Committee" will be meeting to discuss, among other items, that very topic. From the agenda:
9:10 - 9:20 a.m. 2. Reduction of Branches and Routes
Purpose: Briefing Person(s) Responsible: J. Archer
Details: Improved service through route branch reductions.
That doesn't sound like progress in terms of that promised 50% increase in bus service. Instead, it sounds a lot like OLD METRO.
17 May 2011
News and views roundup (05/17/2011 edition)
- What Happened to Swamplot Comments — and Some Apologies - Swamplot
The threat of a nuisance lawsuit (like the one local Dem donor and bully attorney Steve Mostyn threatened against Texas Watchdog) is one of the factors that closed Lone Star Times, and now one has actually been filed against a local blog. Swamplot should be a lock to beat this, but they'll still lose time and money (not to mention peace of mind). Sadly, we may quickly be reaching the point where it's just not worth it to try to keep an indie blog (like this one) going.
- Introducing Transit as a Career - Write on METRO
Yesterday, six METRO staffers talked to students at the charter school, Raul Yzaguirre School for Success, as part of the American Public Transportation Association National Transportation Career Day.
It never fails to amaze that even during a slow economy, even after wasting millions of dollars over the last 6-8 years, and even after rebranding as "NEW METRO" and promising to be more responsible, this bloated transit organization still has so much staff to send out on adventures like this -- even as the City and County have laid off hundreds of workers already, and now the city is even talking of letting go firefighters. Astounding.
Does your place of employment have six workers just sitting around who can be dispatched to go talk to children?
- Houston ranks at bottom in mass transit coverage for workers - Carol Christian, Houston Chronicle
METRO's chief, a former politician (and playwright!) with no transit background, says "we're not doing badly."
- Sports authority dives into reserves to make debt payment - Mike Morris, Houston Chronicle
We are not sure why this was a story in the big newspaper, since the last story on this topic was full of quotes from important people telling us that none of this matters, even if the Sports Authority defaults. If it doesn't matter, it's not news, right? Hmm?
- Website anonymity pays dividends in Houston gang arrests - Dane Schiller, Houston Chronicle
- Data show Houston auto accidents are down 13% - James Pinkerton, Houston Chronicle
- Accidents fall at Houston red-light camera intersections - James Pinkerton, Houston Chronicle
- Traffic accidents declined at Houston intersections with red-light cameras after ticketing ceased - Grits for Breakfast
- The "Hot Sex Offenders" List: An Explanation And Apology - Richard Connelly, Hair Balls
Village Voice Houston abandoned quality journalism in favor of amateurish, sometimes outrageous, content years ago, in a quest for page views. Why apologize at this point? You are what you are.
14 May 2011
Bazan: Is Houston City Hall haunted by ghost of Lee P. Brown?
TOM BAZAN passes along a guest commentary on the proposed sale of certain City of Houston facilities (like the GRB convention center) that we have posted here.
KTRK's Dolcefino continues Port Authority reporting; County investigating
KTRK-13's Wayne Dolcefino continues his reporting on the Port Authority with a closer look at the sweetheart severance package (worth $380,000) given to former PR director Argentina James:
And who helped negotiate that sweetheart severance package? Houston Way Insider (and former mayoral candidate) Gene Locke, who pocketed $37,000 for the effort (according to Dolcefino)!
Late yesterday, the Harris County Attorney's Office announced it was launching an investigation into the Port's dealings. Also yesterday, the Houston Chronicle finally decided to do some reporting on the Port controversies (with no mention of Dolcefino, of course). We were a little surprised they didn't have Mike Snyder and Lisa Falkenberg back on the TV-News Media Criticism beat, but the newspaper played its belated coverage relatively straight.
10 May 2011
Rain Tax assessments on their way to property owners (updated)
Have you gotten your Rebuild Houston "rain tax" assessment yet?
They're starting to go out, so watch your snail mail. Or, go to the Rebuild Houston website and pull up your info.
My estimated monthly tax (let's call it what it is) is $9.77 (so much for the campaign promises of "about $5/month").
The estimates seem to be based on Google satellite imagery that was never designed for the purpose. In my case, large roof overhangs, shadows from trees, and shrubs all managed to get assessed as impervious surface for tax purposes (and a small portion of driveway was left out), which means I will have to take time to do a little measuring this weekend, pull up some property sketches I have, and submit materials to city bureaucrats for a correction. And hope all goes well.
My prediction from looking over the imagery just in my neighborhood is that if homeowners are paying any attention at all, the city is going to be inundated with correction requests.
Feel free to discuss your own Parker/Costello Rain Tax assessments in the comments. At some point, I'll post my assessed versus actual impervious surface figures there.
RELATED (05/12/2011): At Mayor Annise Parker's house, drainage tax higher than Renew Houston backers advertised. Is your tax higher, too? (Steve Miller, Texas Watchdog), Drainage Fee: A Tale of 2 Properties (Ned Hibberd, KRIV-26 News).
09 May 2011
News and views roundup (05/10/2011 edition)
Time to clear out the news links...
- OTC objectives: Year after BP spill, optimism warranted, but so is firm commitment to stewardship - Houston Chronicle
The editorial board at the newspaper of record in the energy capital of the world does not know the difference between oil and gasoline? It's well past time to end the inane staff editorials and redeploy the resources to the newsroom.
At a moment when events make supplies from the Mideast uncertain, and as oil nudges up to $4 per gallon, such a drop in Gulf production would be consequential.
- Vacant buildings pose risks across Houston - Zain Shauk, Houston Chronicle
What an odd headline, since the story focused on the 77002 zip code. Somebody better tell Stephen Klineberg things aren't as rosy downtown as he opined recently!
The recently released 2010 census results show one out of four buildings in Houston downtown's two census tracts is vacant, higher than the city's average vacancy rate of 12 percent.
- Midtown TIRZ the high bidder–without bidding - Chris Moran, Chron Houston Politics
So did the mayor misspeak when she characterized the TIRZ as the high bidder? Here's hoping Moran and crew have filed public information requests for related correspondence, and will share on scribd.
- City privatization plan could raise $10M for cash-strapped Houston - Chris Moran, Houston Chronicle
Agreed. It would be nice if public servants were better stewards of public spending ALL the time.
The union that represents the affected workers, the Houston Organization of Public Employees, is "incredibly concerned" about the plan, which it did not learn of until Thursday, executive director Annika Dowling said.
"It's disappointing that so many times when the city is in a budget crisis it privatizes jobs to save money," Dowling said.
- Another Public/Private Potential Boondoggle (But Maybe Not, I Don’t Know) - nonsequiteuse
More likely, a Houston Way boondoggle.
- City proposes to lease prime arts venues; local man likens it to desperate crack deal - John Nova Lomax, Hair Balls
- HCAD confirms bad news about property values - Ken Fountain, Examiner News
Except it's not such bad news for taxpayers.
- Houston Water Officials Say City Is Not On Verge Of Water Restrictions - David Pitman, KUHF-88.7 News
To the contrary -- the city probably is enjoying the extra revenue after the massive water rate increases!
- METRO Launches Public Workshops on Long-range Transit - Write on METRO
Will there be mariachi bands and scratch-off cards? It's not truly a METRO extravaganza without those.
At the community workshops - to be conducted in neighborhoods from Third Ward to Missouri City to Katy - there will be mini RideStores offering the full services of the RideStore, including Q® Fare Card distribution. There will also be a laptop connected to an interactive map where people can draw the routes they want and submit their instant map with a click.
In addition, there will also be a children's coloring corner, so families can bring their kids; and vendors in parking lots selling fast food."
- Push poll on Rebuild Houston – Off the Kuff
It's strange that after all these years of blockquoting from political articles, Kuffner still doesn't seem to understand what a push poll is. This almost certainly was not a true push poll.
- Emails reveal UH System plans to alter UHV's operations - Gabe Semenza, Victoria Advocate
- Fort Bend newspaper loses $1 million libel lawsuit - Cindy George, Houston Chronicle
KTRK Undercover Man's reporting on the Port Authority continues
KTRK-13's Undercover Man Wayne Dolcefino has posted a few more reports on the Port Authority since we last checked:
05 May 2011
News and views roundup (05/05/2011 edition)
- Efforts to turn downtown into residential haven remain elusive - Jeannie Kever, Houston Chronicle
Terrible headline. The expensive EFFORTS are not elusive. It's the promised results (although someone should really inform Stephen Klineberg).
- Pavilions developers to get advance from city - Purva Patel, Houston Chronicle
See above re: EFFORTS.
- Houston City Council OKs $50 cost for SafeClear tows - Chris Moran, Houston Chronicle
- City council votes to charge for Safe Clear - KHOU-11 News
- Increasing Security After Osama bin Laden's Death - Write on METRO
The biggest security threat is in the Park and Pillages.
- Only a fool would buy flood insurance during a drought. Right? - SciGuy
Nope. It's a bargain and a smart buy for homeowners in Houston.
- Ads on HISD Buses - Pat Hernandez, KUHF News
- Airport workers to lose their jobs - Katie McCall, KTRK-13 News
Be sure to watch the video, in which so many of the yellow-shirted employees are shown chatting with each other and playing on expensive Segways. The airport yellow-shirts are a jobs program the city can no longer afford. Many cities have volunteers to help travelers in their airports. We should do something similar.
- New McGuff blogger brought into this world - Mike McGuff
Congrats to the McGuffs!
- Amazon complains to the SEC about Texas trying to collect taxes on it – Off the Kuff
So, it's whining if Amazon objects to what it believes are unfair sales tax practices, but it's apparently not whining for Kuffner to employ a private firm to try to hold down his own property tax bill? Interesting.
Quit whining, Amazon.
- NY Senator Chuck Schumer Feels the Awesome Power of Michael Berry - Richard Connelly, Hair Balls
Did the one-time media critic turned KTRH-beat blogger for an amateurish corporate weekly REALLY just describe someone else as tiresome and beating a dead horse? Wow.
The tiresome KTRH talk-show host has found a new dead horse to beat:...
- What an odd editorial.... - Harris County Almanac
- Making lemonade at the Chronicle - Unca Darrell
Undercover Man puts Port Authority chairman on the hot seat
Last night, KTRK Undercover Man Wayne Dolcefino continued his reporting on the Port Authority with a closer look at defensive Port Authority Chairman Jim Edmonds (and a potential conflict of interest):
04 May 2011
Undercover Man reports on the Bayport Cruise Terminal boondoggle
KTRK-13's Undercover Man Wayne Dolcefino had a nicely done report on the Bayport Cruise Terminal boondoggle last night:
We've commented previously on the folly of this boondoggle, but the best print critique is still Joseph Keefe's in the Maritime Professional.
03 May 2011
ABC releases newspaper circulation figures (with new methodology)
The Audit Bureau of Circulations released its latest regular report on newspaper circulation today.
The organization has reworked the rules it uses, effectively establishing a new baseline, so the numbers can't be directly compared to previous circulation numbers any longer.
The Chron was quick to post its usual press release posing as a news article in which publisher Jack Sweeney exclaims how wonderful things are at the newspaper. At least they no longer force a journalist to attach his/her name to the press release.
01 May 2011
News and views roundup (05/01/2011 edition)
- TIRZ mum on purchase of city building on Main - Mike Morris, Chron Houston Politics
Largely unaccountable quasi-governmental agency as land speculator? Why not, it works for METRO.
- Reduce Harris County Jail costs through smarter policies - Grits for Breakfast
- Gulf Coast region has critical need for more trauma centers - David Callender, David Lopez, and Dan Wolterman, Houston Chronicle
- Truly traumatic: This area is four short on Level 1 trauma centers - Houston Chronicle
Well, yeah, but we have Reliant Park, Minute Maid Park, Toyota Center, Discovery Green, the Downtown Pavilions, an expensive seven-mile tram line to nowhere, and a soccer stadium on the way!
Why so negative about our priorities, Chron? I mean, you've been cheering on all THOSE "priorities" over the years....
- KIPP college grad rates draw both praise and concern - Jennifer Radcliffe, Houston Chronicle
- Texas investigates possible food stamp abuse - Christine Haas, KHOU-11 News
An interesting discovery by Christine Haas. Not necessarily illegal, but definitely interesting.
- Food stamp beneficiaries using Lone Star cards in Hawaii and other vacation hotspots; state investigating - Trent Seibert, Texas Watchdog
Texas Watchdog on why they find the discovery interesting.
- Less than 1% of Texas food stamps spent in other states - Terri Langford, Chron.com
A belated item that appears to be an attempt to downplay the KHOU and Texas Watchdog stories -- without actually linking to them. When I asked the reporter why she didn't link to them, she said they didn't look like stories to her, but editorials.
We're happy to link them all and let news consumers judge.
- Planned Parenthood: Punched in the Uterus by Misguided Texas Senate - Mandy Oaklander, Village Voice Houston
That's some kind of lede from the site of the amateurish alt-weekly.
A Texas Senate subcommittee wrangled the vulvas of Texas women into a chokehold yesterday with its latest assault on Planned Parenthood.