Category Archives: Houston

Houston City Council Passes Vehicles-For-Hire Amendments

After a long and heated battle, Uber and Lyft can finally operate legally in Houston.  Here’s the story from Doug Begley of the Houston Chronicle

It took 16 months, but Houston officials Wednesday finally found acceptable regulations to corral the changing paid ride industry.

By a 10-5 vote, with two council members absent, City Council approved new paid ride rules, amending the existing Chapter 46 that covers everything from taxis and limos to jitneys and airport shuttles. The changes open up Houston, legally, to new entrants like Uber and Lyft that use smartphone apps to connect willing drivers with interested riders, using the driver’s personal car.

This was a very public, brutal battle waged on both sides, and as such for the “losing side” in Council chambers, emotions were high.  After the vote, one cab driver even took his operator license, threw it on the floor and stomped on it right over the city seal.  Clearly many in the taxi industry are upset and fearful of how to make their living in the city’s new transport landscape.  But there were some silver linings.

Noah M. Horwitz, public relations consultant for Yellow Cab, released this statement on the newly- amended Chapter 46…

“We’re pleased with the comprehensive reforms that passed today at City Hall. While we did not get all that we wanted, neither did our opponents. And most of the new reforms, such as strenuous insurance and drug testing requirements, benefit the consumer most of all.

Furthermore, the biggest barrier to competition between the cab companies and Uber/Lyft has been removed. Now that taxis can variably price in a similar manner to Uber/Lyft, we can effectively compete with them on financial grounds while still providing a superior service.”

With fares now on an equal playing field, all TNCs can compete for Houston business fairly. At the end of the day, this point is a compromise that should be acceptable to all.

Council admitted that there are still many issues to work out regarding rides for people with disabilities. But rather than delay legislation any further, They chose to create a Disability Task Force set to report and discuss problems as they arise. The group will meet within a year, compile any concerns and bring them back before Council. In the mean time, all TNCs are required to diversify their fleet so that a larger share of vehicles will be available to disabled riders. This is a large step forward for all Houstonians because it increases choice and competition for affected persons, while lessening the burden of services like METRO Lift and Harris County Transit.

Like any major change, there are going to be hurt feelings and uncertainty while new regulations get implemented. But Houston has never been a city driven by fear and complacency. With a new, modernized Chapter 46 in hand, the Bayou City is finally read to hit the road again.

HERO Opponents File Suit Against City of Houston

Here’s the story from Mike Morris of the Houston Chronicle

Opponents of Houston’s new non-discrimination ordinance sued Mayor Annise Parker late Tuesday after city officials rejected a petition the group had submitted hoping to force a repeal referendum in November.

Plaintiff and conservative activist Jared Woodfill said his group is asking a state district judge to declare that City Secretary Anna Russell followed her legal duty and verified a sufficient number of signatures to force a referendum before City Attorney David Feldman illegally inserted himself into the process.

“If he felt there were underlying problems with the petition then he, like us, has the right to file a lawsuit if he doesn’t agree with what the city secretary did,” Woodfill said. “Going in before she’s ever made the decision and influencing her is inappropriate, it’s illegal and we believe the court will agree with us and that folks will have their voices heard in November on this issue.”

Feldman declined to comment until he had seen a copy of the lawsuit, but earlier Tuesday disputed the idea that his involvement crossed any ethical or legal lines.

“The fact is, that given my role as defined by law,  I’m supposed to give advice to city officials, whether they be elected, appointed or just employees,” he said. “That’s part of my role and the role of this department, so I don’t see anything out of the ordinary here in terms of our involvement.”

This move was to be expected, which is why Mayor Parker decided to delay the new ordinance while all of the legal battles are being worked out.  Plaintiffs listed on the lawsuit were Ex-Harris County Republican Party Chairman Jared Woodfill, almost convicted criminal Steven Hotze, Pastor F.N. Williams Sr. and Pastor Max Miller.  Noticeably absent from the plaintiff list was Pastor and Kendall Baker, whom has had his own trouble with the law. Rest assured, it ain’t no “family values” Brady Bunch.

UPDATE:  Be sure to visit Lone Star Q for an excellent post on the lawsuit as well.  Here is some critical information that they have published…

The lawsuit alleges that last Friday, City Secretary Anna Russell determined there were approximately 17,846 valid signatures on the petition, more than the 17,269 needed to qualify for the ballot. However, on Monday, Parker and City Attorney David Feldman held a press conference to announce that the petition contained only 15,249 valid signatures.

Given that there is a significant disagreement between the City Secretary’s numbers from Friday, and the announcement on Monday, this could certainly strengthen the plaintiff’s case in the lawsuit.  Kudos to Lone Star Q for publishing not only this information, but including both the lawsuit and City Secretary’s official memo, dated Friday August 1st.

(Steven Hotze.  photo credit:  Death and Taxes mag

BREAKING: HERO Opponents FAIL At Recall Attempt

It appears that the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance has survived an attempt to be forced onto the ballot.  According to City Secretary Anna Russell, opposing forces to the new law did not successfully attain the over 17,000 signatures needed to require a referendum.  According to Janice Evans in the Mayor’s office (via Twitter), the city was able to verify only 15,249 signatures of those turned in.

Even before the H.E.R.O.’s final passage, opponents had begun to organize in the effort to defeat the law.  From those with the HOUequality group, an independent community effort that was also checking petitions separately from the City Secretary, it was clear that some pages had to be thrown out because their collection dates were before the law was signed by the Mayor. In other cases, people printed their name and then didn’t sign, or their information was illegible.  Another issue seen by the independent group was that petition collector were not City of Houston voters.  These are just a couple of reasons that municipal officials likely invalidated petition pages.

“There are simply too many documents and irregularities to overlook.  The petition is invalid.”  City Attorney Feldman said.

“Clearly the majority of Houstonians were not interested in a repeal process.”  said Houston Mayor Annise Parker.

However, the Mayor also said that implementation of the ordinance will be delayed, as further legal challenges are anticipated.

UPDATE:  Here is a statement from the group Equal Rights Houston

Opponents of equal rights failed to submit the required number of valid petitions for one reason and one reason only: Houston is a city that doesn’t discriminate. Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance modernized our nondiscrimination laws in a balanced way with the support of the broadest coalition of Houstonians – from the Greater Houston Partnership to the NAACP, Rice University, LULAC, the GLBT Caucus, the League of Women Voters, the Houston Chronicle, public safety professionals and faith leaders. The Equal Rights Houston campaign will defend against any attempts, whether in the courts or at the ballot box, to overturn the basic, common sense protections the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance provides to all who live and work in our great city.

 

 

 

 

Houston: New METRO Rail Lines Delayed

Here’s the news directly from Swamplot

There’s still “some uncertainty” over the exact schedule, but all the pieces needed to allow Metro to open Houston’s second and third light-rail lines won’t be in place until late December, according to reports delivered to a committee of the transportation organization’s board of directors last Friday.

[…]

The contractor building the lines won’t be ready to turn over the completed tracks until September 30th to Metro, which will then need approximately 60 days to prepare for their operation.

Just for further verification, I went ahead and asked METRO via Twitter, and they gave the same response as quoted above.

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The article also cites delays in construction of axle counters, and construction that of a separate building project in downtown. Not mentioned however is the continuing drama surrounding METRO’s delivery of rail cars.  At this point, the CAF-USA factory in New York has actually made adjustments to be able to build the cars and ship them to Houston as quickly as possible.  But as Off the Kuff notes in a recent post, the delay for the opening of both lines actually gives  more time to get the necessary cars operational.

Delays have their annoyances, but it’s far more important that these lines start when everything is done the right way than it is to try and rush the process.  Let’s hope that METRO can get them running soon.

 

The Astrodome Park Proposal

Since the initial news, Lisa Gray of the Houston Chronicle has updates on the Astrodome saga.  The full plan from the Texans and the Houston Livestock show and Rodeo have finally been revealed, and the county, is now considering it…

Yesterday Harris County said that it’s open to a plan to raze the Astrodome and create in its place a park that salutes the Astrodome’s history. Just for a moment, let’s pretend that’s not crazy.

In the site plan, the proposed park is described as “reminiscent of Discovery Green” — which is to say, like one of Houston’s favorite parks, an intensely used, much-loved urban space. But the description of the Astrodome park and the its site plan — see the slideshow — seem very different. There’d be a ring that imitates the old Astrodome’s “ribs,” each decked out with a historic plaque. There’d be multiple “event stages.” And at the center, in something that looks like a mini-Dome, is what the site plan seems to call a Hall of Fame.

It’s unfortunate that more Houston- area business leaders don’t see the potential of a repurposed Astrodome. The park proposal is certainly not a bad idea, but short-sighted compared to what could be done. Still, this plan is a marked improvement over the worst-case scenario of a surface parking lot, and the choice to honor the original structure is appreciated and absolutely necessary.   If done right and well-maintained, even the park proposal could be utilized to grow the city’s tourism business.

But the secret to creating a tourist draw that Houston hasn’t seemed to figure out yet… it doesn’t happen overnight.  Like any business venture, you have to make an upfront investment, promote it and then trust that you’ve done everything  you can to make it a good visitor experience.

In recent years, the Bayou City has made some good choices that provide good tourism potential. With all of the city’s major sports facilities located in close proximity, it’s easy to envision a scenario where people come to the city for a sporting event, but then add a visit to the Dome sight to learn about sports history. Having a museum on the site (perhaps this is what the Rodeo/ Texans plan is referencing with their Mini-dome “hall of fame”) should be essential. The Astrodome’s mark is forever written into the 20th century, and Houston would be foolish to not observe and honor it as such.

Regarding this and any other possible proposals, we’ll see what happens soon enough. See Brains and Eggs, Off the Kuff and Texpatriate for more thoughts.

Montrose Residents Mobilize For Better Sidewalks

More than a century old, Montrose is one of the most well-known neighborhoods in Houston.  In that time, it’s been home to American Presidents, world-famous celebrities and various counter-cultural movements. It’s also quite possible that many Montrose residents and visitors are walking on 100-year old, original sidewalks.  One can only imagine the poor condition when many sidewalks haven’t been repaired since the Wilson administration.  As KPRC Local 2 reports, many in the neighborhood are fed up.

Families in Montrose are circulating a petition demanding the city to fix a dangerous problem in their neighborhood. We’re talking about sidewalks, or the lack of them, in some areas of Montrose.

The group has sent out a letter to residents asking them to sign a petition to ask the city for help in getting some repairs to the sidewalks. The sidewalks are chipped, broken or missing altogether, but the city says the repairs are not necessarily its responsibility.

Montrose is one of the trendiest neighborhoods inside the Loop, filed with little shops, restaurants and quaint homes. But now, more than ever, residents say the neighborhood’s aging sidewalks and streets are in desperate need of repair.

“They are always uneven, they are always littered, they’re impassable, so I end up walking in the street,” said resident Anna La Perna. “You can’t use the sidewalk.” The Montrose Sidewalks Coalition, a group made up of residents, sent a letter to neighbors asking them to sign a petition to encourage Mayor Annise Parker and the city to help with the issue.

“I think she is doing nothing and not enough. She is worried about a select few and not all of us,” said La Perna. The group also says people are tripping and getting hurt because of the mess.

Full disclosure… I am both a resident of Montrose and a frequent pedestrian and user of public transportation.  Just like the above, I end up walking on the street rather than risk tripping on large, broken pieces of sidewalk.  That said, I fully share the frustration of my neighbors and want these sidewalks fixed.  But under current municipal law, the City of Houston is not responsible for fixing sidewalks, and instead passes that burden on to property owners.

As the Montrose Sidewalks Coalition points out in their petition, the current ordinance may also present some bigger problems…

Our community’s children do not have safe routes to school and are forced into the street with oncoming traffic due to missing and broken sidewalks. We have many schools within easy walking distance, however the state of our school routes is appalling.

Many visually and mobility impaired citizens live in or visit Montrose for specialized services available in Montrose. The infrastructure is not ADA compliant and a significant barrier to access. Accessible design for the visually impaired is almost non existent. As older residents age in place, this will increasingly become a safety issue of large proportions.

Several sections of Montrose, suffering from a triumvirate of poor sidewalks, jagged curbs and pothole-ridden streets do not meet basic compliance standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  Could the lack of maintenance on Houston’s sidewalks leave the city liable in an injury or death case?  Would it leave property owners liable if someone hurts themselves on a poor sidewalk?

Poor sidewalks are a problem in every corner of Houston… not just Montrose.  A constant complaint shared by Houstonians, it is starting to capture major attention in the city’s  political debate.   Jenifer Rene Pool, a long-time public advocate and candidate for Houston City Council, made sidewalks a central issue of her 2013 campaign, and even recorded a YouTube video to state why these repairs are so important. As Pool points out below, sidewalks should be a cornerstone of the city’s general mobility plan.  For seniors or someone with a disability, it’s just not safe to get around by foot or in a wheelchair.  If other neighborhoods follow the lead of the Montrose petitioners, you can be sure sidewalks will be a hot topic in the 2015 elections.

This is not to say that nothing has been done.  Mayor Parker has made some good faith efforts to address the problem, most notably a complete streets executive order that ensures any future construction done by the city will take into account all forms of mobility, including safe, usable sidewalks.  Even if city government can’t immediately correct mistakes of the past, at least someone has a better plan for the future.  But until this executive order becomes an ordinance, there’s no guarantee that a future Mayoral administration would follow these practices.

Houston is changing rapidly, and perhaps no area has experienced those changes faster than Montrose. But every resident of the Bayou City deserves top quality infrastructure.  After so many decades of neglect and a massive amount of ground to cover, it’s going to be a massive challenge to accomplish and pay for such repairs.  But waiting any longer is also not an option.  If Houston is to be a true national leader in the 21st century, we can’t do it on infrastructure from the early 20th century.  True leadership has to start from the ground up.

 

 

Why A HERO Referendum Could Be Good for Houston And Texas

After years of planning, a slew of phone calls, repeated trips to City Hall, organizer trainings, exhaustive blog posts and countless closed-door meetings with Council Members, citizens finally found a voice when the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance was passed on May 28th.  The new law instituted an historic new level of protections for all Houstonians, and for many was a cause for celebration.

But today, after being dealt what in their view was an affront to their values, the opposition to HERO struck back, turning in 50,000 petition signatures to City Hall (pending verification by City Secretary Anna Russell).  If at least 17,000 of them are verified as residents of the city, then the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance will be placed on the November ballot, and could even be voted down.  Supporters of HERO will have to work even harder to thwart the litany of lies, and convince voters to keep this critical law on the books.

The referendum is going to be hard work, but it could actually end up being very good, not only for Houston Progressives, but for Progressive causes across Texas.  Here are the reasons why.

For starters, Houston is ready for the referendum.  Long before a non-discrimination bill came before Council, supporting organizations have been preparing for the possibility of a city-wide vote.  The campaign to defend the ordinance is well under way, and has already engaged a broad coalition of organizations and elected officials.  You can learn more about the Equal Rights Committee at the Equal Rights Houston website.

Secondly, as a city-specific referendum, the math is on HERO’s side.  The opposition is asking voters to repeal a law that their elected representatives passed.  In general, that’s tough to do.  But that vote also occurs only in the city of Houston… the same electorate that sent Mayor Parker to office three times in a row.  In every past election, similar argument’s about Parker’s “evil LGBT agenda” have been waged against her, and they have never won.  After seeing Houstonians through a recession, and 4 years of record job growth and prosperity that other cities in the nation only dream of, are Houston voters really going to get enraged enough to vote this down?

As Houstonians like the talented Christopher Busby prove, Equal Rights should NOT be a Democratic or a Republican issue.  Sad though it is, the fight for HERO has become politicized, with most of the opposition’s coalition being Republican (again, not all but most).  Because of this, a referendum will likely serve as a motivator for Democrats to vote in Houston and Harris County.  It could even stand to boost turnout for Democratic candidates.  Again as mentioned in the above, this is specifically the city of Houston, whose electorate has already proven that they vote on the Progressive side.  This assumption could be wrong, but barring some smoking gun to move the issue, it’s not likely.  Giving Houston’s Democrats another big reason to get out the vote is sure to have statewide implications.

Finally, the opposition is built on lies and misconceptions about the law.  The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance isn’t a mystery anymore. It’s a real law, and is available on the city’s website for any and all to read.   Even for the people that are confused, they can go to the link above and actually read the ordinance.  The Mayor said it best in today’s press conference…

“It is illegal today, it will be illegal tomorrow, it will be legal after HERO for a man to go into a woman’s bathroom.”

Like the childhood legend of monsters under the bed, fear dissipates when mom or dad flips the light on.  HERO has been brought to light, and there’s NOTHING scary about it.

There’s still a possibility that the petitions could be invalidated, but for now, it’s time to plan as though the referendum is going on.  HERO needs some heroes again, and I strongly suspect that they are on the way.