Houston Faces Growing Pains with Chapter 42

Everyone of us can identify with the notion of growing pains… going from the small frame of a child, to one’s body awkwardly adjusting into adulthood. You probably remember the weird fit of your clothes, interesting voice changes, and of course a flood unexplained (and often unreasoned) emotions.

The city of Houston is about to experience some serious growing pains as well. Mayor Annise Parker has set up the latest coucil battle over Chapter 42 the city’s main proposal for density of new development… to take place on April 10th. And a battle it is sure to be.

Currently, Houston is the largest city in the United States of America without any formal zoning code. When a developer comes to the city, they can basically build whatever they want, regardless of what it’s next to, or where it is located. The only way that a particular area can “zone” itself for a certain type of development is to have very clear deed restrictions. If the neighborhood doesn’t have iron clad deed restrictions, then they are left susceptible to situations like Ashby High Rise… where the developers are going to build a 21-story skyscraper in the middle of an area of very old, very WEALTHY old Houston mansions. No zoning means there’s no stopping the developers… no matter how much money or influence the surrounding residents have. Chapter 42 plans to set some guidelines that will regulate future land use.

But what has many residents mad is that Chapter 42 actually encourages more high-density development like Ashby High Rise, and makes it much more expensive to build a single family home. The ordinance amendment is already in effect inside the loop, and most can tell that there are very few single family homes being built in Central Houston… but a TON of new, high-density apartments and townhomes. Under the next phase of the ordinance, the high-density regulation area will be extended to all of Houston between the loop and the Beltway. And that’s what has got current residents up in arms. Many (whom live in detached, single family homes already) don’t want more dense development coming to their area. They want to keep their neighborhood just as it is.

The truth of the matter though? Nothing in Houston is going to stay “as is”… this is one of the fastest growing cities in the United States. People will continue to move to Houston for the forseeable future, and when they get here, they will need affordable housing options. In Mayor Parker’s view, the purpose of Chapter 42 is to protect affordable housing within the Central city. But Chapter 42 isn’t doing that as it is… the Houston housing market is on fire right now, and property values have shot through the roof.

Another major problem with this ordinance? It definitely encourages more development, but it’s not encouraging smarter development. With so many of the new townhomes that have sprouted inside the loop, developers get to be too lax with how they meet the city’s “standards” that the current ones are practically useless. Many of the safety codes that Chapter 42 legislates are simply not being enforced. Everyday I pass by unsafe clusters of new townhomes… all built from wood… that couldn’t possibly have enough room for a fire truck if they were to catch fire. The cheap construction materials aren’t being measured against Hurricane force winds, or any sort of predictable fire prevention. The city was very lucky during Hurricane Ike, but what if we were to get some of the damage that happened on our coastal areas? And beyond that, Chapter 42 isn’t aesthetically pleasing either. Homes are littered with unsightly utility meeters, disjunct sidewalks, random utility poles and all of the other quirky issues that occur in Houston’s “Wild West” development culture.

Before Chapter 42 is expanded, it first needs to WORK properly. If the city of Houston cannot establish real zoning ordinances, we better be sure of what we’re getting before we expand half-zoning that doesn’t do as intended. The growing pains of this city are real, but if we really want to solve the issues, we have to take the right pain medicine. And my greatest concern is that Chapter 42 is more placebo than pain killer.

Get Schooled: The Truth on Texas Education Funding

As the Texas legislative session continues to tick away, many people in the state are becoming worried about Texas Schools, which took a $5 Billion dollar funding cut from the 2011 session thanks to the GOP. While some have been pandering to angry voters saying that they would “consider” restoring some of the funds, no significant action has taken place yet… save for a few brave Democrats like State Senator Wendy Davis consistently discussing the issue.

And now, two years later, Texans are bearing the consequences with 10,000 fewer teachers in the classroom, but 64,000 more kids to educate. That results in over-crowded classes and resources that are stretched to the bone for the many districts that were already having to do more with less. Even as Governor Perry boasts about an $11 Billion dollar “surplus”, he hasn’t pledged one penny to restore the cuts he made when the state budeget was at a deficit. Texas families are getting fed up.

Enter the group One Texas PAC… an advocacy group dedicated to electing Latino leaders… with this new video showing the truth at how those 2011 cuts have harmed our state’s children. This is worth watching by everyone just to catch up. You can also sign the petition on change.org.

ICYMI: The Move to a Blue Texas picks up steam

After being inundated with with the Conservative rantings at CPAC this week, here’s an event that got far less press coverage, but it is just as important. As a lone Liberal voice in the Washington wilderness, the Center for American Progress gave the most in-depth analysis of how to shift the red tide in Texas. The keynote speaker for the forum was US Congressman Joaquin Castro, and he spoke the absolute truth about how Texas presents many real opportunities for Democratic growth.

Followed by the Congressman’s comments was an expert panel that discussed these opportunities, as well as the challenges that probably lay ahead for groups like Battleground Texas. Those challenges may be large, but they’re definitely conquerable.

Finally… the Turn Texas Blue movement is getting the right kind of attention from the national Democratic base. If you missed this during CPAC blunder, be sure to check it out, and share with as many people as possible.

Going Proud? Sen. Rob Portman supports Marriage Equality

In a somewhat stunning development, a high-profile member of the Republican Party has “crossed the Rubicon”… reversing his stance on Marriage Equality.

Senator Rob Portman gave the revelation to CNN’s Dana Bash. He said that the decision was due to his Will coming out to the family.

Make no mistake of it… This is big news for Marriage Equality in the United States. To have a sitting GOP Senator reverse his position, knowing well that he must face the rest of his party is big news. For that, I congratulate Senator Portman. But who we should really be thanking here is his son Will. All of the constituents letters (certainly thousands of them) asking the Senator to reverse his stance didn’t do it. The images of same sex protests and weddings in the state of Ohio didn’t do it. As is typical with so many of our Republican lawmakers, it takes a situation that hits home for them to actually see the light.

For this blogger, I will celebrate the step forward for many in the Republican Party. I will be hopeful (like others) that Senator Portman’s leadership will shepherd others to follow suit. But this is more so a time recognize lawmakers that have supported equality from the start. Given that the Senator’s son revealed his sexuality two years ago, and since that time voted several times against equality, today’s news certainly doesn’t make up for the damage he’s already done. They didn’t need a personal connection to the issue, because they DID THEIR JOB as legislators, and represented all of their constituents fairly and equally. And that prize, on the whole, goes to Democrats.

So thanks Senator Portman… You have arrived to the party. But you’re much more than “fashionably late”.

FRC: Single people should be punished for having sex

Not sure what our brand new Pontiff’s views on the subject, but here’s a spectacular 19th century view from Patt Fagan of the Family Research Council. From Right Wing Watch, he says that unmarried people should be punished for having sex, and denied the use of Contraception. Here’s the direct quote, and audio can be found from the RWW article (linked above)…

The court decided that single people have the right to contraceptives. What’s that got to do with marriage? Everything, because what the Supreme Court essentially said is single people have the right to engage in sexual intercourse. Well, societies have always forbidden that, there were laws against it. Now sure, single people are inclined to push the fences and jump over them, particularly if they are in love with each other and going onto marriage, but they always knew they were doing wrong. In this case the Supreme Court said, take those fences away they can do whatever they like, and they didn’t address at all what status children had, what status the commons had, by commons I mean the rest of the United States, have they got any standing in this case? They just said no, singles have the right to contraceptives we mean singles have the right to have sex outside of marriage. Brushing aside millennia, thousands and thousands of years of wisdom, tradition, culture and setting in motion what we have…

It’s not the contraception, everybody thinks it’s about contraception, but what this court case said was young people have the right to engage in sex outside of marriage. Society never gave young people that right, functioning societies don’t do that, they stop it, they punish it, they corral people, they shame people, they do whatever. The institution for the expression of sexuality is marriage and all societies always shepherded young people there, what the Supreme Court said was forget that shepherding, you can’t block that, that’s not to be done.

So the question begs to mind… which societies is he talking about? Last I checked, there have always been people having children out of wedlock, and there have DEFINITELY always been people having sex out of wedlock. Sex of course is OLDER than the limited practice of Judeo-Christian marriage.

Sure, the comments may seem harmless enough. Who cares about the Family Reasearch Council anyway? Well if you don’t care, you really should. After all, it’s their donors who are pulling the puppet strings to many in the Republican Party… from Todd “legitimate rape” Akin, all the way up to ex-Presidential candidate Mitt Romney. This group invests millions and millions of dollars to have their far-flung opinions take center stage in our political debate. If Progressives and Moderates ever want that to change, they need to stand up to people like Patt Fagan, and call out their backward opinions.

PPP Power: Houston Wins the Bloomberg Challenge

As if the Art Car parade wasn’t sufficient evidence, Houstonians have proven once again that they really know how to turn today’s trash into tomorrow’s treasure. Per Mayor Annise Parker’s announcement, Houston was one of 5 cities selected (out of 305 submissions) that won the Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Mayoral Challenge. The city will receive a $1 million dollar prize to get the ‘One Bin For All’ concept rolling, along with lots of high-profile publicity from the Huffington Post. Houston was also chosen as the Fan Favorite selection (presumably for having the most number of votes from the Huffington Post website poll), and will receive another $50,000 dollar prize for that. The top prize of $5 million went to Providence, and Houston is one of 5 winners at the $1 million dollar level. Here’s more information directly from the City of Houston Press Release

“I am thrilled that Houston has been selected as a Mayors Challenge winner,” said Mayor Parker. “One Bin for All is a first-of-its kind innovation that will revolutionize the way we handle trash, achieving high-volume recycling and waste diversion, reduced greenhouse gas emissions and lower operating costs. I am anxious to begin implementation because I know this cutting-edge technology has the potential to improve health and quality of life not only in Houston, but around the world.”

“Recycling has often been treated as an individual responsibility, like paying taxes. But Mayor Parker’s innovative One Bin For All idea turns that notion on its head,” said Michael R. Bloomberg, philanthropist and Mayor of New York City. “Achieving a 75% recycling recovery rate in Houston would represent a huge leap forward in urban sustainability practices.”

One Bin for All utilizes game-changing technology to separate trash from recyclables, allowing residents to discard all materials in one bin. The anticipated end result is a dramatic increase in the amount of waste diverted from our landfills. Implementation will be achieved through a public/private partnership.

This got me thinking about just what makes Houston a great city. Definitely at the top of the list, is the willingness of our local government to reach out to area businesses and create ground-breaking Public/Private Partnerships. One Bin For All is just the latest, high-profile example, but Houston has been an international leader in innovative “P3s”… whether they be Discovery Green Park, the Bayou Greenways Initiative, or even vital services like Houston Transtar have been achieved through P3s. It’s one reason that Houston, and so many local governments are able to make things happen. The Public/Private Partnership model spurs innovation and leads to the creation of new industries. It makes life better and more interesting for us all.

Maybe our federal leaders should come down, spend some time in Houston, and help Washington work better!!

Paul Ryan not giving up on destroying health care

His words, not mine.

Fantastic catch by the Daily Kos. Hey you have to give Congressman Ryan a little credit for throwing a tinge of honesty into this morning’s budget bluster…

“This to us is something that we’re not going to give up on, because we’re not going to give up on destroying the health care system for the American people.”