Tag Archives: Annise Parker

The ReBuild Houston Saga Ratchets Up

To outgoing Mayor Annise Parker, and at least one candidate hoping to succeed her, the innovative ReBuild Houston program is viewed as a signature accomplishment.

To others desperate for every last vote, the program comes with hesitant support, if not outright opposition, mostly due to “poor implementation. Thankfully for them, the issue has received little Press during this election cycle.

But today, ReBuild Houston enters the fray, just hours before we see Election Results.  Here’s the story from Katherine Driessen of the Houston Chronicle…

A trial court judge ruled Thursday that the ballot measure Houston voters narrowly approved in 2010 obscured the nature and cost of the drainage fee at the heart of the city’s multi-billion dollar ReBuild Houston program, effectively voiding the election.

Judge Buddie Hahn ordered the city to hold a new election on the drainage fee, though that’s unlikely to happen immediately as appeals get underway. Hahn sided with a ruling issued by the Texas Supreme Court in June, saying the city had failed to make clear the ballot language surrounding the drainage fee, part of the city’s effort to dramatically improve Houston’s roads and drainage during the next two decades.

In a brief court hearing Thursday, Hahn said he had little discretion because the “Supreme Court has just about said as a matter of law” that the election should be voided.

Conservative activists, who deride the fee as a “rain tax,” filed suit against the city in 2010. The city originally prevailed at trial court, but opponents appealed. Now, attorney Andy Taylor is calling on the city to halt collection of the drainage fee altogether.

All along, opponents have claimed that there’s no possible way that voters could understand what they were getting themselves into back in 2010.   So from the viewpoint of Conservative lawyers, Council Member Michael Kubosh and Mayoral Candidate Bill King, this ruling should be the “nail in the coffin” for ReBuild.  But to be frank, this argument borders on the ridiculous.  As fellow blogger Off the Kuff so well reasoned back in June, if you could read the ballot, you knew that a vote for ReNew Houston was a vote for a fee.  Quantum Mechanics it ain’t.

However that just about in the judges’ statement proves to be of import.  According to the Mayor’s Office,  the 2010 election results still apply.   Per City of Houston Press Release…

We are disappointed with the court’s ruling and are considering our legal options, including a possible appeal.  This case places at risk the voter approved amendment to the City Charter that prohibits the City from using debt financing or spending the drainage fee on anything other than street and drainage improvements.  Those two issues have nothing to do with whether the city is able to continue the Rebuild Houston program and the collection of the drainage fee.  The ordinance remains valid and in effect.

It may not have garnered constant press attention like the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance or the City’s looming Pension woes, but the fate of ReBuild Houston will prove critical to the future of Texas’ largest (and rapidly growing larger) city.  At the end of the day, if Houston can’t repair and improve its infrastructure, the Southeast Texas region, and the whole state will suffer greatly.

If you’d like more information on where 2015 Municipal Candidates stand on ReBuild Houston, check out the TLCQ Questionnaire Response page.

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Houston Opens Buffalo Bayou Park to Rave Reviews

Texas, meet your New “Riverwalk”.  

Last weekend against a backdrop of near perfect weather, the city of Houston cut the ribbon on a years-long project, and a dream come true for Mayor Annise Parker and many others in the city.  The newly-renovated Buffalo Bayou Park made its official debut to the world.  And if initial impressions hold up, it may be on its to becoming a world-class destination.

Here’s more on the big reveal from Leo Flores of the Memorial Examiner

Buffalo Bayou Park is officially opened. After a $58 million renovation, the 160-acre and 2.3 mile green space that stretches along Buffalo Bayou features two pedestrian bridges, a picnic pavilion, one of the city’s largest dog parks, a skate park, and children’s play area.

The park was made possible through a public and private partnership led by Buffalo Bayou Partnership, The City of Houston Parks Department, Harris County Flood Control District and the Kinder Foundation.

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“As Houston’s population grows, so will the desire for the quality of life amenities like parks and green spaces,” said Nancy Kinder, president of the Kinder Foundation.

“As a foundation, we saw an opportunity to work collaboratively to develop the urban jewel that is Buffalo Bayou Park, which will be enjoyed by individuals from all parts of the world.”

The park’s renovation project took just four years to complete, and was open throughout the construction. The vast improvements have taken the park from an empty grassy field to a vibrant green space where families can picnic, exercise, pontoon boat tours and even enjoy live entertainment.

The October 3rd grand opening was actually rescheduled from June 20th, due to the recent Memorial Day flood which heavily affected the park as it neared completion.  But even in that situation, designers were mostly impressed with how well the design coped with the event, and recovered in the weeks that followed.

Not only is the transfiguration gaining attention and envy from our in-state sibling cities, but it’s also garnering some national news coverage, especially from the architecture and design community.  

The 2.3 mile stretch represents the first phase in a series of projects, the next of which will focus on the downtown section of the bayou. If you haven’t been out to see the new Buffalo Bayou yet, be sure to do so in the coming days.  As of October 3rd’s grand opening, users can now rent bicycles, canoes and kayaks at various stations within the park.  Visit the Buffalo Bayou Partnership to learn about all the cool new amenities before you go.

 

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(photo credit:  Jazztour.ru)

 

 

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(photos credit:  Buffalo Bayou Partnership facebook)

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The new Buffalo Bayou Park visitors center is nearing completion, but now open for equipment rentals at Sabine St. and Allen Parkway.

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It’s also a great place to catch some stunning skyline views before or after a park visit.  

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Texas Supreme Court Sides with HERO Opponents on Ballot Language

As election day fast approaches, the situation surrounding the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance continues to be complex.  Showing no concern for perception, the State Supreme Court has jumped at the chance to heighten the drama.  As Mike Morris of the Houston Chronicle reports, the fact that City Council placed HERO on the ballot is not sufficient…

The Texas Supreme Court has again overruled Mayor Annise Parker’s administration in connection with the legal fight over her signature nondiscrimination ordinance, ruling Wednesday that the mayor and City Council erred in choosing the language that will appear on the November ballot when the ordinance faces possible repeal.

The justices, writing in “yet another mandamus proceeding concerning the City of Houston’s equal rights ordinance,” said the city charter is clear in requiring that voters be asked to vote for or against the ordinance. Parker had instead argued it was proper to vote for or against repealing the measure, and the council approved language with that approach Aug. 5.

“Though the ordinance is controversial, the law governing the City Council’s duties is clear. Our decision rests not on our views on the ordinance — a political issue the citizens of Houston must decide — but on the clear dictates of the City Charter,” the justices wrote. “The City Council must comply with its own laws regarding the handling of a referendum petition and any resulting election.”

Plaintiff and conservative activist Jared Woodfill said the original ballot language was “all about deception and trickery.” Woodfill noted that opponents have now sought and won two opinions on the ordinance at the state Supreme Court — the first essentially forcing a repeal or vote on the ordinance and now one on the actual ballot language.

“Deception and trickery” are an interesting choice of words from Mr. Woodfill.  Given the ridiculous amount of time that he, the Houston Area Pastor Council and HERO opponents spend promoting  the myth of predatory males lurking in a women’s restrooms, he’d seem to be an expert at both.  They have lied about the non-discrimination ordinance every step of the way, and two Supreme Court rulings in their favor cannot change that as fact.

But unfortunately, what this latest ruling can do is force City Council to call a special meeting and review the ballot language before the August 24th deadline.  As discussed previously, the ballot language is hugely important to HERO opponents because it allows them to deploy campaign tactics which have been successful in previous situations.  It also means that all of the propaganda and information they’ve already produced against HERO does not have to be changed.

If there is any positive to be had, it’s that Houston Unites— the campaign launched to protect the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, has now launched and is off to a great head start.  Check back later this week for more information on the Houston Unites group.

Texas Leftist will have more as it develops.

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(Photo credit:  RMI Limited)

City Council Puts 4-Year Term Proposal to Houston Voters

Though city finances remain far from certain thanks to a crushing revenue cap, Houston City Council chose to focus on more immediate needs in today’s meeting… their own elections.  Here’s the main item via the Houston Chronicle

Houston voters will decide whether elected city officials should serve two four-year terms rather than three two-year terms starting in 2016, potentially lengthening the terms of some current council members.

The City Council voted 12-5 Wednesday to place the item on the November ballot. Councilmen Richard Nguyen, Mike Laster, Steve Costello, Michael Kubosh and C.O. Bradford voted no.

The change, if passed, would take effect for officials elected this fall. Current freshman council members could pick up two four-year terms and those serving their second term would be permitted one four-year term. Elected officials who are already term-limited would not be affected by the change.

The council has generally supported lengthening terms, but there was debate about whether such a change should go into effect immediately or in 2020, when no current council members would benefit.

Credible arguments can be made on both sides of this issue.  With longer terms and fewer elections, it is quite conceivable that Council could become less focused on politics and more effective at serving the people.  It could also afford opportunities for increased cooperation with other levels of government like the State Legislature, County Commissioners’ Court and School District Board of Trustees.

On the other hand, a change to 4 year terms would also lessen the accountability Council Members have to voters.  Elections may be burdensome and ridiculously expensive, but they are far more than just As Off the Kuff states in a recent post, this fact would’ve been a tough pill to swallow under the Mayor’s original proposal to have 4-year terms go in effect for 2020 (thus not affecting any current Council Members).  But knowing that Houstonians will now vote for the possibility of some at City Hall to serve up to 10 years, this change seems a long shot for the November elections.

It’s a shame that Council did not consider other options, like proposing 4 year terms for the Mayor, City Controller or even At-Large Members.  That way, we would conceivably get the benefits from both points.

So there you have it.  Yet another major decision that will be put to voters this November.

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Houston Equal Rights Ordinance WILL See 2015 Ballot

Just over 1 year ago, the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance faced a contentious vote to be approved by City Council.  At that time, opponents questioned the need for local protections against discrimination, and even promoted blatant lies about the law regarding restroom usage.  After hours of debate and impassioned stories, HERO was passed.

But the drama and legal challenges continued, all of which (thus far) have now lead up to today’s Council meeting.  As Katherine Driessen of the Houston Chronicle reports, HERO now faces voters for the 2015 election…

City Council voted to affirm Houston’s equal rights ordinance Wednesday, a move that will send the law to voters in November per a Texas Supreme Court ruling.

City Council voted 12-5 to leave the law in place, with Councilmen Dave Martin, Oliver Pennington, Michael Kubosh, Jack Christie and Councilwoman Brenda Stardig voting to repeal the ordinance. A Texas Supreme Court ruling issued last month ordered the city to either repeal the ordinance or put it on the November ballot.

“All we’re saying by this is that everyone should have an equal opportunity to equal rights,” Councilwoman Ellen Cohen said.

City Council approved the equal rights ordinance 11-6 in May 2014. The ordinance bans discrimination based not just on sexual orientation and gender identity – the flash points for opponents – but also, as federal laws do, sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, religion, disability, pregnancy and genetic information, as well as family, marital or military status. The ordinance applies to businesses that serve the public, private employers, housing, city employment and city contracting. Religious institutions are exempt. Violators can be fined up to $5,000.

“Let the people vote!”  was the unending battle cry and singular for HERO opponents, as was evidenced at I Stand Sunday— the worldwide telecast which thrust the Houston Area/Texas/US Pastor Council into international fame and almost certain fortune.  In today’s vote by City Hall to place HERO on the ballot, it’s safe to assume that anti-equality leaders have gotten what they want.

But if one assumes as much, they probably little the need for fame and attention… once you get it, you only want more.  So it’s no surprise that the Pastor Council has planned an onslaught of lawsuits against the city, including suing for the legal fees they chose to incur thus far.

Texas Leftist will have more on the Pastor Council(s) soon.

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Amid Political Barbs, Houston City Council Passes Budget

With this year’s municipal elections looming large in the background, the Houston City Council did its annual duty, passing a $5.1 Billion Dollar budget.

Here’s more on the process from Mike Morris of the Houston Chronicle

Houston City Council, in passing a budget amendment on Wednesday, made the mayor and some union leaders nervous by dipping into funds set aside for uncertainties including dollars for possible employee raises, to keep a program that gives each of the 11 district council members $1 million to spend in their areas.

That amendment to Mayor Annise Parker’s budget, approved by an 11-4 margin, came despite the city facing a projected $126 million gap next summer between revenues and expenses in its $2.4 billion general fund, which is fed mainly by property and sales taxes and funds basic services. That estimated deficit far exceeds the one the city closed during the recession several years ago, when 776 workers were laid off.

Houston’s coming budget challenges are driven mainly by soaring pension and debt costs and the impact of a decade-old, voter-imposed cap on what the city can collect from property taxes, the main source of general fund revenue.

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The budget itself was approved shortly after 11 p.m. Wednesday after a solid 12 hours of debate, by an 11-4 margin, with Councilmen Jerry Davis, Dave Martin, Michael Kubosh and C.O. Bradford opposed. Few substantive amendments passed.

The highest-profile item approved was a proposal by Davis and Councilman Mike Laster to keep $11 million in the so-called council district service funds. That program, launched last year, is intended to help council members more quickly solve local problems such as mowing overgrown lots, fixing sidewalks or razing dangerous buildings.

The District Council member appropriation may have been one of the most high profile amendments that passed, but there was plenty of political theater over amendments that failed.  One of the day’s biggest debates was over a proposal to make across-the-board cuts to the city budget. Brought forth by Council Member Dave Martin, one amendment would have required every city department (except for the elected officials around the table) to make a 2 percent cut to their spending for city “savings” of $40 million.  The standoff sparked the usual debate of whether to save money via draconian cuts or invest in the city’s future.  Members like Martin and Jack Christie would prioritize these cuts above all else, but others acknowledge that the city has an actual job to do.

“The fact of the matter is we have costs and needs that need to be paid for now.” said Council Member Mike Laster.

“I am confident that there’s a lot of $ to cut in the budget, but it must be specific and start with the extras, not core services.”  tweeted Council Member Brenda Stardig.

In the end, more measured opinions like Stardig won out.  Martin’s amendment, even after being reduced from a $40 million dollar impact cut down to $20 million, was defeated 10 to 5.  Council Member Stephen Costello was one of the 5 in favor… a move likely made in hopes of shoring up support among his Conservative base for the Mayoral campaign.  Though votes like this could just as easily come back to haunt him if he were to be elected.

After a very long day, Mayor Annise Parker’s 6th and final budget was approved by Council.  Yet without intervention from the state, City leaders can do little to address growing pension obligations, which cause the greatest amount of uncertainty for how the city can move forward.  Nor can they anticipate what lies ahead for one of Parker’s signature initiatives– ReBuild Houston, which is currently tied up in litigation over apportionment of the drainage fee.  But with only months left for the current administration, these issues will be for the next Mayor to tackle.

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Lisa Falkenberg Receives Houston City Proclamation

Tuesday was a very special day at Houston City Council, as the city’s municipal government took some time to honor the work of one very special Houstonian.  Here’s the story from the Houston Chronicle

Houston Chronicle columnist Lisa Falkenberg was honored by Houston City Council Tuesday after being awarded the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary.

Houston Mayor Annise Parker officially proclaimed June 2, 2015 as Lisa Falkenberg Day in a ceremony in council chambers.

The proclamation, in part, states that the “City of Houston commends and congratulates Lisa Falkenberg for her commitment to exposing problems in local public policies and systems in order to encourage improvements therein and extends best wishes on her future endeavors.”

Lisa’s work is certainly cause for celebration within Houston, as she claimed the first ever Pulitzer Prize awarded to the Houston Chronicle, and the first for Bayou City journalism since Gene Goltz of the Houston Post won 50 years ago.  But above all of the fanfare, Falkenberg’s writing shined important light on the unfairness of how Texas chooses its grand juries.  HB 2150, a bill that would scrap Texas’ current “pick-a-pal” system of Grand Jury Selection, awaits the signature of Governor Abbott before it can become law.  The bill was sponsored by Houston Area Legislators Rep. Harold Dutton and Senator John Whitmire.

So for now, Falkenberg will continue to be Texas news instead of just writing about it.  Congrats, Lisa… can’t wait to see what’s ahead for you!

Feature Photo Credit:  Mayra Beltran of the Houston Chronicle

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