Tag Archives: Ed Emmett

SAVED? Commissioners’ Court Moves Forward On Astrodome Plan

Last year as Houston’s world-famous Astrodome celebrated its 50th Anniversary, many of the folks in attendance were left to wonder if that celebration would be its last.  Since Harris County voters rejected a 2013 proposal to rehab the structure, many have been watching and waiting for some bad news to come.  Even as Judge Ed Emmett continued to push for solutions and not give up the cause, many have prepared themselves for some inevitably tough news.

Which is why this week’s discussions about a new plan to save the dome seemed equal parts fact and fiction.  Have county leaders really devised a plan that would not only save the historic structure, but do so at less than half the cost of the 2013 plan?? It doesn’t seem possible, but apparently this is what has happened.

Here’s the story from Mihir Zaveri of the Houston Chronicle

Harris County Commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday morning to move forward with a major renovation project that could keep the Astrodome from being demolished for years to come.

The $10.5 million approved Tuesday is the first piece of a $105 million project that would raise the floor of the Astrodome two levels and put 1,400 parking spaces underneath. County officials believe that would make the Dome suitable for festivals or conferences and usher in potential commercial uses in the more than 550,000 square feet that surrounds the core.

From Judge Emmett, here are more details of the plan, via Ted Oberg of ABC 13

Raise the Astrodome floor 30 feet to ground level, greatly easing vehicular and equipment access.

Install two levels of underground parking beneath the raised floor, adding approximately 1,400 premium parking spaces and additional storage.

Raised floor will create nearly eight acres of secure, column-free and weatherproof open space for use by the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, the Offshore Technology Conference, boat show, auto show and more than 100 festivals and community events that are currently subject to threatening weather and /or parking limitations.

The Astrodome’s upper levels encompass more than 500,000 square feet and will become available for redevelopment for a variety of uses.

The plan saves the iconic Astrodome for future use while converting the building into a revenue-generating asset for the taxpayers of Harris County.

After years of sifting through scores of elaborate solutions, in typical Houston fashion, simplicity seems to have won out in the end.  Best of all, the funding scheme put forth by Commissioner’s Court will not raise taxes, and does not require voter approval.  So basically, the Astrodome will be sticking around for a while.

In the coming weeks and months, this is sure to be a hot topic around Houston, as area voters discuss the merits of the plan.  Supporters of the Dome may find the project underwhelming, while opponents will call it a waste.  But the far greater injustice is what has happened over the years as this incredibly unique has sat idol, collecting dust.  It would be nearly as expensive to tear down, so citizens should be encouraged by what County leaders have offered today.

Look out Houston… we just might save the dome after all.

save-the-dome

 

Funding Model Emerges For the Astrodome

If there’s one thing Harris County voters made clear in 2013, it was this… we don’t want to spend public money to save the Astrodome.  And of course “we” meaning a clear majority of Harris County voters who bothered to show up for the 2013 elections.

astrodome2

While many around town saw the election result as a clear mandate to tear down the historic structure, at least one person was not ready to throw in the towel.  Thankfully for Houston and Texas, that one person is Harris County Judge Ed Emmett.  After spending months to develop a bold vision for the nearly doomed Dome’s future, the Judge and Harris County Commissioner’s Court are now ready to reveal the most critical part of the plan… funding.

Here’s the report from Gabrielle Banks of the Houston Chronicle

A few months ago Ed Emmett had a breakthrough moment about how to save the Astrodome, a goal he’s been chipping away at for the better part of eight years. The Harris County judge was driving out of the county administration building lot headed straight for the historic 1910 courthouse in downtown, and he thought, “There’s a building we completely re-purposed without bond money.”

Meanwhile, the Harris County Sports and Convention Corporation was mulling over a 38-page report by the Urban Land Institute outlining details for transforming the Astrodome into an indoor park with 1,200 parking spaces underneath it. What remained unclear was how to fund it.

And that’s where Emmett’s idea comes in. His plan has now become the blueprint for a public-private partnership overseen by a conservancy that would unite the city, county, the sports and convention corporation and other governmental entities with private investors to revive the Astrodome without requiring voter approval. Under the conservancy model, Emmett said, the Dome would earn tax credits, which would help significantly with covering expenses for renovation.

Astrodome1

 

(original photo credit:  the Texas Historical Commission)

So when exactly will the ‘Astrodome Park Conservancy’ or whatever it is to be called come to fruition?  No one is quite sure, but Commissioner’s Court is set to outline more details this week, and hopes to have a firm plan in place by the end of this year.

If this was to ultimately be the venue for saving the Dome, one wonders why we even attempted the “public money” route in the first place.  Maybe Harris County wanted to have more control over the redevelopment process?  But in any case, this is where we are in 2015, and this blogger is thankful that there may finally be a definitive path forward.

Beyond flagship investors like the big corporations one would expect to lead these efforts, let’s hope the Conservancy is also open to some small donation funding models (i.e. “buy a brick” investment).  They may not raise the big bucks, but they do tend to encourage participation from the public, foster promotion and tourism of the site and serve as an educational tool teach the importance of historic preservation.

Looking forward to more details on this, and it’s great to see a funding model finally materialize.  After 50 years of extraordinary history, the world’s first ever domed stadium may still have a bright future ahead.

Astrodome3

 

Here’s hoping.

 

Texas Leftist 2014 Endorsements

For those interested, here is the full list of Texas Leftist endorsements for 2014.  Some candidates will also have individual or group posts regarding their endorsement, which will be linked via candidate name from this post.  If a candidate participated in this year’s Texas Leftist Candidate Questionnaire, that information will appear beside their party affiliation.

Texas Leftist has chosen to endorse candidates because they have demonstrated a commitment to advancing public policies that will improve the lives of Texans.  Though each person’s individual positions vary, they are generally candidates that stand for equality, social justice, healthcare expansion, living wage, economic prosperity and common-sense governance.

Today is Election Day!!  Early Voting has begun for the state of Texas, and runs from October 20th until October 31st.  For any questions on where or how to vote, check out this previous post or visit the My Texas Votes website.

 

Though not endorsed by Texas Leftist, candidates Ron Hale, Ron Reynolds and Matthew Whittington did participate in this year’s Texas Leftist Candidate Questionnaire.  Please consult their interviews for more information.  

 

Federal Races

U.S. Senator:                                                    David Alameel (D)

U.S. Rep. District 2:                                      Niko Letsos (D)

U.S. Rep. District 7:                                      James Cargas (D)

U.S. Rep. District 14:                                    Don Brown (D)

 

State Races

Governor:                                                           Wendy Davis (D)

Lieutenant Governor:                                 Leticia Van de Putte (D) [TLCQ]

Attorney General:                                         Sam Houston (D)

 

Comptroller of Public Accounts:                Mike Collier (D)

Commissioner- General Land Office:     John Cook (D)

Commissioner of Agriculture:                      NO ENDORSEMENT

Railroad Commissioner:                                   Steve Brown (D)

 

State Senator, District 15:                               John Whitmire (D)   [TLCQ]

State Senator, District 17:                               Rita Lucido (D)   [TLCQ]

 

State Rep. District 16:                                         Michael Hayles (D)

State Rep. District 23:                                          Susan Criss (D) [TLCQ]

State Rep. District 132:                                       Luis Lopez (D)  [TLCQ]

State Rep. District 133:                                       Laura Nicol (D) [TLCQ]

State Rep. District 137:                                       Gene Wu (D)

State Rep. District 144:                                       Mary Ann Perez (D)

State Rep. District 148:                                       Jessica Cristina Farrar (D)

State Rep. District 149:                                       Hubert Vo (D)

State Rep. District 150:                                       Amy Perez (D)

 

District Races

1st Court of Appeals, Place 3                           Jim Sharp (D)

113th Judicial District                                           Steven Kirkland (D)

308th Family Judicial District                           Jim Evans (D)

309th Family Judicial District                           Kathy Vossler (D)

314th Family Judicial District                           Natalia Oakes (D)

District Attorney                                                      Kim Ogg (D)

 

Harris County Races

County Judge:                                                              Ed Emmett (R)

County Probate Court No. 3                             Jerry Simoneaux (D)

County Probate Court No. 4                             James S. Horwitz (D)

County Clerk                                                                Ann Harris- Bennett (D)

County Treasurer                                                      David Rosen (D)

County School Trustee Pos. 7                            Melissa Noriega (D)

 

Propositions

State of Texas Proposition 1 (Infrastructure)             FOR

Lone Star College System, Proposition 1                       FOR

 

 

 

Judge Ed Emmett Pressures Austin Over ACA Expansion

At an estimated population of over 4.3 million people, Harris County is the largest county in the state of Texas, and the third largest in the United States.  In population, Harris County is actually larger than 24 states.

With those big numbers come big challenges, especially regarding healthcare costs.  Thanks to the belligerence of Republicans in the Texas legislature, Harris County continues to shoulder a massive burden in uncompensated healthcare costs, while large counties in other states have access to new funds under the Affordable Care Act. Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, himself a Republican, is now speaking out to let Rick Perry and other Texas politicians know that the politics over the ACA cannot continue.  Here’s the story from News92 FM

Harris County taxpayers right now have to bear the entire cost of paying for indigent healthcare.

Judge Ed Emmett said the Affordable Care Act could help provide some relief.

Emmett said while certain people at the state can argue about the “benefits or detriments” of the Affordable Care Act, those are our tax dollars in Washington and state law makers need to find a way to bring them back to Texas.

“The tax dollars in Washington, those belong to people here too,” Emmett said. “And so those need to come back to the state of Texas to help us off set some of these property taxes.”

Emmett and other urban county judges from across the state, both Republicans and Democrats, have written to Texas lawmakers urging them to find a solution.

Emmett says during the last legislative session, Harris County missed out being reimbursed hundreds of millions of dollars.

$900 million over a two-year period would have come back to Harris County, of that less than $100 million would have gone to the Harris County Hospital District,” Emmett said.

Ask any property owner in Harris County… their taxes have shot up in the recent years, mostly thanks to a booming economy which increases property values.  But what hasn’t improved are the amount of funds available to appropriately combat a growing burden of uncompensated care.

This is a point on which Judge Emmett agrees with Leticia Van de Putte and Wendy Davis… if elected, they have already promised to make Medicaid Expansion a priority for the upcoming legislative session.  Outside of Austin, a bi-partisan coalition is forming to end senseless opposition to the Affordable Care Act.  Texas cannot afford to play any more political games, and the politicians that choose to continue do so at their own electoral risk.

The Parker Legacy

With political campaigns raining down upon the city of Houston, most everyone is focused on one date in the immediate future… November 5th 2013. A mere 6 weeks away (4 weeks for those smart enough to remember how critical Early Voting is in Harris County), the candidates barely have time to think about much else, as every word they say and place they go is influenced to sway voters.

But sometimes in the midst of all the craziness, something reveals that long-term goals are still very important. Take this exchange between Houston Mayor (and incumbent mayoral candidate) Annise Parker and the Texpatriate blog…

T: What was one ordinance you authored that has now become law?

AP: There have been so many! I would highlight our Hire Houston First initiative.

Hire Houston First gives a preference to companies bidding for city contracts if they hire local workers. It keeps our tax dollars working at home – when we hire Houston workers, they spend their earnings here, supporting other Houston businesses that can hire even more workers. In its first year, we certified 617 companies and awarded more than $139 million of city business under the Hire Houston First program, sustaining more than 6,000 jobs. Today, there are 944 firms that have been certified under Hire Houston First.

That’s a big deal for Houstonians who have been struggling since the recession. I understand what it feels like to suddenly not know how you’re going to make ends meet. When I was growing up, my father invested all his savings to start a fishing camp on the Gulf Coast. It was his dream, and it was a success – until one day a barge knocked down the only bridge to the peninsula where we were located. It wasn’t his fault, but my dad went broke. I can still see the worry in his eyes. It took a long time for our family to get back on its feet. And I know there are a lot of families like that in Houston today.

I am proud of Hire Houston First because it’s making real progress for Houston families.

From reading this, it’s pretty clear that Mayor Parker views Hire Houston First as not only good government policy, but a central part of her legacy as the city’s chief executive. She wants the “Parker era” to be remembered in part for this program, and how it, in her view, helped to bring Houston out of the Recession. Most people would agree that it’s a pretty good pick too, as Hire Houston First touches the lives of thousands of Houstonians through small business investment. The program also proves that government doesn’t always have to “get in the way”, but can be a true partner with the private sector to build up the community.

Barring unforeseen disasters, she may also be remembered as one of the most effective consensus builders in the city’s recent history. A prime example of consensus was the passage of changes to Chapter 42, Houston’s development code. Parker was able to take opposing sides that have argued over this issue for more than a decade, and create a compromise both could live with.

Beyond actual municipal legislation, Parker has managed to forge impressive common ground with Harris County Judge Ed Emmett and the Commissioner’s Court. With Commissioner’s Court being a majority Republican body, they clearly don’t agree with Parker on all issues. But she’s done a very good job at staying out of their way, and trying not to stoke as much controversy as her predecessor Bill White. Unlike county and state elections, Texas municipal elections are non-partisan, and Parker has used that fact to great advantage. Fruits of this working relationship have been wide-ranging, from the deal and on-time construction of the Dynamo Stadium to much more efficient cooperation of city and county jail procedures.

Much could still be added to the Parker legacy, as one more election night (and possible run-off) will determine whether she is granted a 3rd term as Mayor. Regardless of whether or not she is granted that term, it is the hope of this blog that the Mayor will use what time she has left to advance causes for equality. I’m with fellow Blogger Brains and Eggs and firmly believe that the time to push for equality is NOW. Demonstrated leadership in other Texas cities, New Mexico and across the country make true equality of Houston all the more imperative. And with proper public attention, City Council members are now being asked to weigh in on these issues. Parker’s common-sense style of consensus building has worked for some of her other achievements, and it would work just as well in this fight. She is uniquely skilled for this moment in Houston history. For even the most overtly cautious politician, all signs for progress seem to be converging upon the Bayou City. One could even argue that it’s the right move to encourage and unite portions of the Mayor’s base that have become apathetic in recent years. In other words… a move toward equality would likely strengthen Parker’s chances at reelection, not damage them. 

As outlined in this post, Mayor Parker has had many accomplishments… but until a firm push is made on LGBT equality, her legacy for the city of Houston will be incomplete.