Even in the face of uncertainty and some fierce opposition, the bold plan for a high-speed rail line connecting Texas’ two largest metros marches forward. In fact, as Dug Begley of the Houston Chronicle reports, yesterday’s news on the project represents a rather significant leap forward…
Once a Houston destination for shopping, movies and visits with Santa, the site of Northwest Mall is poised for revival as a bullet train terminal, with local officials and train backers seeing dollar signs from the sales tax growth potential.
Texas Central Partners and Houston-area elected officials on Monday announced that the company, which is seeking federal approval for a 240-mile high-speed train line, has chosen the mall’s 45-acre tract near Loop 610 and U.S. 290 as its preferred site for the southern terminal.
Mayor Sylvester Turner called the announcement further proof of a dramatic change in how — and where — people will travel in the Houston region.
“We are moving to a new phase in this city,” Turner said at a Monday ceremony announcing the site selection and releasing renderings of the proposed station.
The station would alter mobility for miles around it, as Houston — with some yet-to-be-determined help from Texas Central — aims to connect the location to downtown, both Houston-area airports and other major job and entertainment centers.
Here’s a clip of Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner’s Press Conference announcing the preferred site…
The announcements come on the heels of a whirlwind round of contentious public hearings by the Federal Railroad Administration, where many residents shared concerns, complaints and a few praises about the project. Even with these large steps forward, the high speed rail line still faces major hurdles.
But if completed, this project could be the catalyst for what Mayor Turner calls a “Transportation Reformation”, especially for the Houston region. Though still a ways from reality, plans for local light rail projects which would connect downtown, the Galleria and to Houston’s airports have been accelerated. These associated projects could prove a major leap for Houston’s many complex transportation needs. Of course, funding them would require some serious buy-in from Houston voters, so it remains to be seen.
That’s the latest news. Off the Kuff has more excellent coverage.
(from the Mayor’s announcement, a rendering of the proposed station at the Northwest mall site)
In a state as divided and gerrymandered as Texas, it’s easy to assume that many of the state and local elections to be held this November are just about decided after the Primaries. Districts are drawn to be so heavily Republican or Democratic, it is highly unlikely to see any sort of “surprise” happen on Election Day. Even with candidate Jenifer Rene Pool‘s much celebrated and historic victory in the Primaries, the odds of defeating 6- term Republican Incumbent Steve Radack were always assumed to be long.
But where there’s a microphone, a politician and a video camera, there is inevitably room to challenge assumptions. Here’s the story from Jennifer Bauer of KPRC news…
HOUSTON – A video recorded on August 4 has upset some Houston residents, especially those affected by the widespread floods in 2015 and 2016.
The short video clip shows Harris County Commissioner Steve Radack, of Precinct 3, giving a presentation.
“There are some people, frankly, over the years and the many years I’ve been doing this, that enjoy floods,” Radack said. “They like to see a flood about every seven years because they want new cars. They want their homes redone.”
Someone in the audience recorded the video and posted it online, and now some flood victims are speaking out.
“It upset me. It upset quite a few people,” said Carlos Goenaga, a Meyerland resident whose home flooded in both the Memorial Day flood of 2015 and the Tax Day flood of 2016. “He’s either inexcusably ignorant or just extremely cynical.”
Given his long and well-respected tenure nearly three decades in office, the comments not only surprised many Harris County residents, but were deeply disturbing to those that have suffered from the area’s devastating floods. Democratic challenger Pool was quick to respond to Radack via Twitter…
For some livid Houstonians, “out of touch” is an understatement.
It would be easy to think that Pool is simply ceasing the moment on this one issue, but her long record of experience on infrastructure issues proves otherwise. Posted last month on her campaign website (and well before Radack’s comments), Pool has made the challenge of flooding a central part of her platform…
“We can lessen the impact of flooding and provide a more safe and secure future for our residents with common sense changes.”
As Off the Kuff rightly points out, Steve Radack not only has the advantage of incumbency on his side, but also has an insurmountable fundraising lead over Jenifer Pool. But of course anything could happen this November. Like a true Houston summer, this race is officially heating 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.
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.
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.
For recent immigrant communities across the United States, what happened this week is an all-too familiar song and dance: take two steps forward, and two steps back. Just hours before President Obama’s Executive Actions on Immigration were set to take effect, they have encountered a judicial road block. Here’s more from Michael D. Shear and Julia Preston of the New York Times…
WASHINGTON — One day before hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants were to begin applying for work permits and legal protection, administration officials on Tuesday postponed President Obama’s sweeping executive actions on immigration indefinitely, saying they had no choice but to comply with a federal judge’s last-minute order halting the programs.
In a decision late Monday, Judge Andrew S. Hanen, of Federal District Court for the Southern District of Texas, in Brownsville, ruled in favor of Texas and 25 other states that had challenged Mr. Obama’s immigration actions. The judge said that the administration’s programs would impose major burdens on states, unleashing illegal immigration and straining state budgets, and that the administration had not followed required procedures for changing federal rules.
Upon hearing news of Judge Hanen’s stay, Republican Congressional leaders across the country immediately championed the decision. You know… those same Republican Congressional leaders that continue to criticize President Obama for trying to do something sensible about Immigration, but won’t lift a finger in Congress to pass comprehensive reform themselves. If you’re thinking this whole situation screams of ultimate hypocrisy, you’d be correct.
Same goes for Texas Governor Greg Abbott, whom referred to the Obama Administration’s plan as “Executive Amnesty”. As the Burnt Orange Report points out, it seems that the Governor would rather have Texas families torn apart than do something sensible.
But even with the temporary setback, Houston city leaders are working hard to ensure that the process of helping hundreds of thousands of people come out of the shadows can move forward as soon as possible. Today after the weekly City Council Meeting, the Mayor unveiled new resources designed to help families stay up to date with the latest Immigration Action developments. Here’s that information via the City of Houston press release…
Houston Mayor Annise Parker today announced the launch of a new informational website for immigrants who are interested in applying for citizenship or deferred action. The new website is the product of a partnership between the City’s Department of Neighborhoods Office of International Communities (OIC) and the Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative (HILSC). The partnership was established last December in response to President Obama’s executive order on immigration.
“We formed this partnership with one simple goal in mind—to make sure that Houston is prepared for the implementation of the President’s executive order,” said Mayor Parker. “I am certain the recent court order delaying implementation of the President’s order will be temporary. When it is lifted, Houstonians affected who will be able to take advantage of the President’s order need access to accurate information and a way to connect with reputable organizations that can help them. With the launch of this new website, I’m pleased to report that Houston is ready.”
The website [www.citizenshipcorner.org] provides access to accurate, up-to-date information about applying for citizenship and new “deferred action” programs that offer the right to stay in the U.S. and work permits to eligible undocumented immigrants. The site will help people find trusted community organizations for legal guidance and assistance.
“The new immigration policies will have a huge impact on our community,” said Wafa Abdin, Vice President of Immigration and Refugee Services at Catholic Charities Cabrini Center for Immigrant Legal Assistance, a member of HILSC. “We are the largest provider of low-cost legal services for immigrants in Houston. We are working with our colleagues in the Houston region to address the increased demand from immigrants seeking accurate information and legal assistance as pertains to the expanded DACA and the new DAPA program.”
DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, is of course a program that was initiated by the Obama administration in 2012. Under the new plan, DACA is set to be expanded, so more people will be eligible for protection from deportation and a 3 year work permit.
DAPA, or Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, is a new program that would grant the same work permits and protection from deportation to parents of American Citizens or DACA recipients.
It’s important to note that despite the judges’ claims, the DACA program has been incredibly successful in its first two years. Over half a million work permits have already been granted, including some 88,000 for undocumented persons residing in Texas. Free from the looming threat of deportation, DACA has improved the lives of its beneficiaries, whom no longer have to seek illegal routes of doing business within the United States. The program of bringing more people out of the shadows is actually serving to make everyone safer.
And by the way, the “cost burdens” that everyone talks about from Immigration Action? That’s false as well. Each DACA recipient had to pay a $465 fee for the work permit, which brought over $250 million in additional revenue to the U.S. government. That’s more money that can be used to actually make the country safer… not the other way around.
Thankfully, Houston sees the extreme benefit that these programs can provide to the region. So visit www.citizenshipcorner.org and to stay up to date on the developments, and help stop the spread of misinformation.
The clock is slowly ticking on towards the Houston municipal elections. But one area that has seen significant action is the race for Mayor. This week, another major candidate has made moves that are sure to shake up the race. Theodore Schleifer of the Houston Chronicle reports that all the signs point to an impending announcement from Garcia…
Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia is sending every possible message that he intends to run for mayor this year, aggressively increasing his political operations and signaling to some close advisers and backers that a campaign may be imminent.
Garcia, under the Texas Constitution, would have to resign as a county official immediately upon declaring his candidacy. That presents Garcia, who watchers expect to immediately move to the field’s top tier if he joins the burgeoning mayoral fray, with a fateful decision: Does he step down as the county’s top Democratic officeholder to make a bid that would make him either Houston’s first Latino mayor, or politically unemployed?
“At the end of the day, it’s like standing at the craps table, placing the bet – and you could walk away with nothing,” said Garcia confidant Greg Compean.
Perhaps most tellingly, county sources say, is that Garcia’s top staff at the Sheriff’s Office are looking to jump as they eye other county positions that would give them a landing place beyond Garcia’s tenure and vest them in the county’s pension system. Garcia’s top lieutenant and close friend, Armando Tello, left last month for a lower-profile post in Precinct 6, and other executive officers currently are scoping out other opportunities.
“He’s running,” said Hispanic Chamber of Commerce head Laura Murillo, who once considered her own bid for mayor. “He’s getting ready to make his announcement very soon.”
Murillo is not in Garcia’s inner circle, but several of the sheriff’s other allies confirmed a bid is all but inevitable.
Sheriff Garcia joins a growing field of possible candidates… including State Representative Sylvester Turner, former Congressman and City Council member Chris Bell, current Council Members Stephen Costello, Jack Christie and Oliver Pennington, Ben Hall, Bill King and Orlando Sanchez. Crowded doesn’t even begin to tell the story here, but it’s important to note that some candidates have more potential than others. From the pillars of potential money and name ID, Garcia presumably sits in the upper echelon of contenders right out of the gate with Sylvester Turner. Though there is certainly nothing to stop Ben Hall from bank rolling his own massive campaign, as we basically saw from 2013.
Side note… are there any women interested in running for Mayor? Any??
By far, a Garcia run will have the most immediate impact on local politics. As Dos Centavos points out, his resignation as County Sheriff could mean a substantial roll back of the Progressive policy agenda that has been actualized in recent years. Would a more Conservative Sheriff dismantle aggressive Mental Health reforms and LGBT protections in Harris County law enforcement? That remains to be seen. But those fears aside, there is no doubt that Garcia is a most worthy candidate to lead the city of Houston.