Tag Archives: Houston Chronicle

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.



Mayor Turner Takes Chron to Task On Affordable Housing Debate

Across the United States, election season is coming to a fever pitch.  But one year ago, Houstonians were already preparing for a crucial series of elections which would shape the future of the city, region and beyond.  Most of the debate last year was around the defeated Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, with few other issues able to take center stage.

But even if less discussed than the tough fight over HERO, last year’s election was a critical in determining the city’s direction over one of our most difficult challenges… the rapid decrease of affordable housing.  In the next few years, will Houston still be a place where it is affordable to live?  Or will we continue to price out our citizens?

In the past few weeks, that set of challenges has landed squarely on City Council’s doorstep.  Thankfully for us, it appears that Houston made the right choice for Mayor last November.  After the Houston Chronicle’s Editorial Board lambasted Mayor Turner’s decision to reject a new housing development, he took the opportunity to inject some much-needed perspective in a rebuttal.  You really must read the whole post, but here is just a portion…

The “silver bullet” to eliminating systemic poverty is not moving families from areas that have been overlooked and underserved. Rather, the answer is to invest in these neighborhoods with quality affordable and mixed income housing, good schools, retail and economic development, parks and green space, transit options, and job and business opportunities. Far too often people who live outside high-poverty areas believe that the answer to eliminating poverty or improving school test scores is to close neighborhood schools and move these low-income families across town. That suggestion does not require any accountability from institutions to improve these neighborhoods and schools.

I have no problem with people disagreeing with my decisions – that comes with the job. I do, however, have a big problem with an institution that does not reflect the diversity of this city publishing a lecture on race and class that does not elevate all children, regardless of where they live. I know the people and their dreams because I was born and raised in such a community, where I still live. My dreams came true because my parents, neighborhood pastor and teachers believed in me. I choose to still live there today because it is my way of living by example for the youngsters in my neighborhood.

In an era where inequality is growing far faster than economic prosperity, and where the media often serves as our only line of defense against special interests, Mayor Sylvester Turner’s words here are an inspiration to millions of Houstonians, and those across our country.  What he says here is absolutely true… we will never solve our communities housing crisis, or the whole of issues that poverty and inequality catalyze by abandoning those communities for “somewhere else”.  It didn’t work with the first waves of so-called “white flight” in the mid 20th century, and it won’t work during the gentrification era of today. Every American deserves access to a safe neighborhood, work opportunity, living wages and affordable housing.  A big thanks to Mayor Tuner for reminding this city of that most basic American Dream.

Just one year ago, Houstonians had a big decision to make in choosing our next Mayor.  We definitely made the right choice with Sylvester Tuner.

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.

houston city council logo

Could Texas Attorney General Face Indictment?

One thing you can say for Texas… we sure like to stay in legal trouble.
Whether it’s picking constant fights with the Obama Administration, being a thorn in the side of the EPA, or spawning lawsuits from severe funding cuts to public schools, the Republican-dominated state government cannot seem to stay out of court.
That long list of woes does not exclude the person elected to defend the state n court matters either.  Besides his work issues, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s personal affairs are soon to become much more complicated. Here’s the story from Lauren McGaughy of the Houston Chronicle
AUSTIN – A Collin County judge has expanded the probe into Attorney General Ken Paxton’s alleged securities violations, by widening the scope of possible offenses under investigation by two special prosecutors.

In late April, Judge Scott Becker appointed Houston criminal defense attorneys Brian Wice and Kent Schaffer as special prosecutors to assist in the “investigation and, if warranted, the prosecution of Ken Paxton for the securities law complaints currently under investigation by the Texas Rangers.”

In an amended order issued May 20, however, it was expanded to “any and all offenses arising out of Ken Paxton’s alleged violations of the Texas Securities Act.”

“I requested the scope of our investigation be expanded because of things that were uncovered in the course of the investigation,” Schaffer told the Chronicle Thursday. “We wanted to make sure the scope of our investigation was not limited by the original order. We were simply going where the evidence took us.”

By expanding the scope of Paxton’s possible offenses, it also increases the possibility that he will be formally indicted on charges in the coming weeks.

Texans should be shocked at this.  It’s an insult to the state that our Attorney General… the person responsible for defending the government in legal matters, has so little disregard for the law himself.  An indictment could spell great difficulty for state legal affairs, as the Attorney General will almost surely face pressure to resign.  We can’t have our state’s top cop not doing his or her job effectively because they themselves are the subject of a court case.

Off the Kuff has more.



(Photo credit:  the Dallas Morning News)



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

Council Member Green Calls Out Congress On Infrastructure, Project Brays

It’s a story that local public officials know all too well in the modern era… abdication of the Federal Government when it comes to infrastructure projects.  Whether it was Democrats moving to prioritize other needs over needed infrastructure spending, or Republicans trying desperately to refuse spending of any kind, one thing is clear… federal partners have been absent from the picture for a long time.

As the Houston Chronicle Editorial board shares, some local officials have had enough, and are even linking this abdication to this week’s historic flood events…

“Acts of God” are what we call those violent forces of nature outside humanity’s control.

The floods that struck Brays Bayou during Monday’s storm, however, feel a bit like an act of Congress.

Floods are nothing new for the neighborhoods near those muddy waters, but after Tropical Storm Allison the federal government united with the Harris County Flood Control District to improve water retention and flood prevention in the Brays Bayou watershed. The project began with optimistic expectations, working off a bipartisan local-federal framework established by former Houston-area U.S. Reps. Tom DeLay, a Republican, and Ken Bentsen, a Democrat. However, the promised federal funding has been hard to come by. Groups such as the Bayou Preservation Association have had to engage in letter-writing campaigns to convince the federal government simply to reimburse the flood control district as promised. As the funds have tightened, the construction along Brays Bayou has slowed to a trickle. Now a project that was supposed to be completed last year has been pushed back to 2020, according to Dr. Phil Bedient, director of the Severe Storm Prediction, Education and Evacuation from Disaster Center at Rice University. That’s six years of potential floodwaters – including Monday’s flood – that could have been significantly reduced.

How many flooded homes and businesses would have survived if the project had been completed on time? It is a question that’s hard to answer, but in a speech during Wednesday’s City Council meeting Councilman Larry Green placed the blame at the feet of our representatives in Washington.

“We know that if Project Brays is fully funded it will allow for the widening and will provide Brays Bayou the opportunity for more capacity,” said Green, who represents District K in southwest Houston. “I implore our federal representatives to stop playing partisan politics when it comes to infrastructure investment.”

We live in a time when elected representatives care more about playing to primary voters than delivering for their district’s needs, and when any spending – no matter how necessary – can be dismissed as pork. But try telling that to the residents of Meyerland, or owners of grocery stores that sat underwater, or congregants at flooded synagogues.

The Chronicle’s question is certainly a valid one, especially when you consider just how common flooding is for the Houston area.  At some point, we know that there is going to be another flood.

The Weather Channel took on this question, and did a comparison of the 2015 Memorial Day Flood to others in Houston’s history, including Tropical Storm Allison.  Basically, floods happen in Houston… it’s not a matter of if, but when and where.



In 2001, Brays Bayou and the Meyerland did not flood as severely as other areas of the city.  For this area of town, the 2015 flood bore a much greater impact with more localized damage to homes and businesses.  It’s a shame to think that preparation was already in place that could have prevented so much damage.

President Obama has made campaigning for infrastructure investment a central hallmark of his time in office.  Whether 2009, 2012 or 2015, he has tried repeatedly to send the message to Congress that our nation’s aging roads, bridges  and flood systems were not built to last forever.  Whether you believe in Climate Change, population growth, or just change, the nation’s infrastructure must have investment or it will fail.

Infrastructure investment at the Federal level has all but dried up.  But our tax revenues have not.  Every single year, we send trillions of dollars to Washington in sales, income and property taxes.  But with the way Congress has functioned lately, you’d be hard-pressed to know it.  Eventually, Americans must ask one other question– if our tax dollars aren’t being used to improve the country, then what are they being used for??  Council Member Green is right… it’s time for Congress to get its act together.


Historic Flooding Affects Houston

As Houstonians spent much of Memorial Day 2015 hearing news of massive flooding to their West, they were mostly untouched for the daylight hours… able to observe the day’s solemn ceremonies as planned.

But with nightfall, the Bayou City joined that long list of Texans affected by the state’s massive storm, stranding motorists and even claiming lives.  Here’s the story from the Houston Chronicle…

At least two people were found dead early Tuesday morning as floodwaters swamped the Houston area following heavy storms overnight.


Throughout the city motorists woke Tuesday morning to flooded freeways and streets, making the morning commute dangerous and even impossible for most.

The 610 Loop as well as Katy, North and South freeways were underwater in spots throughout the area. Other major roads blocked by high water include Memorial Drive and Allen Parkway near downtown.

Dozens of vehicles were stranded in high water throughout the city. In many cases, the water came up to to the driver’s side windows of the abandoned cars, Other vehicles are almost submerged.

The event for Houston caused traffic to snarl across the city, with several major roads taking on water.  As I traveled home on Tuesday morning, I snapped a couple of pictures of a flooded Memorial Drive…



Memorial Drive at Waugh looking towards downtown Houston.


Memorial Drive at Waugh looking towards Memorial Park, with Williams tower in the background.






The Eastbound on ramp of Memorial Drive towards Downtown.


Bike trails on Allen Parkway at Waugh.




Bike trails on Buffalo Bayou.


Houston Mayor Annise Parker has petitioned Governor Greg Abbott to declare a state-level disaster for the area, and the Governor is said to be touring Houston later today.  As residents struggle to retrieve flooded cars and assess damage in their homes, these disaster declarations will have an enormous impact on the ability for Texans to receive assistance with these repairs.  Stay tuned for more updates when available.


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