Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Houston, where we are? (UPDATED)

This started out as a "noise machine" post, but after thinking for a bit I decided to change tack and make this about where Houston is now.

Ever heard the one about the road to hell?

How can you restore public trust when you owe said public $160 Million? It's very unusual, in Houston, to have a one-term mayor. If Parker continues along the path of fee (tax) increases that are punitive to the poor and middle class while releasing the City's claim to $160 Million in funding you could see that. (Bill King in a walk anyone?)

Consider this: The raise in Water rates is an attempt to close a $102 Million dollar budget short-fall. That's exceeded by the amount Metro owes the City.

Who's connecting these dots? Another $10 Million out the door while taxpayers get left holding the bill. Isn't it these mis-placed spending priorities that got Houston in this jam in the first place?

Ideally you'd have a watchdog media explaining the inter-connectivity of the City budget to Houstonians who are being forced to subsidize the income of Millionaires. Houston's transportation backbone has been turned into a social-mobility project designed to hustle the movers and shakers from their offices to their cocktail parties. The mission of public transit is, in many places, to move those who cannot, or choose to not, move themselves via personal vehicles. In Houston the mission seems to be to feed the beast in order to swell Metro's budget, all the while engaging in a nifty piece of attempted social engineering. The results of this experiment have left more questions than answers.

What percentage of DangerTrain riders are the result of "forced boardings"? (Bus riders who, as a part of their route design, are forced to ride the train for a mile or less?)

Can the development model forwarded by light rail proponents work? (So far results are mixed. There's been almost none of the promised "mixed use" development activity along the red-line, in fact, the lack of automobile access has hindered business development along the corridor since a majority of Houstonians still use their cars.)

Will more people move 'inside the loop' in order to take advantage of walkable communities etc? (This is an especially valid question when you consider that one of the side effects of spiraling real estate costs is a marked increase in urban communities in the suburbs.)

One of the first things the board should do is step back and determine if the existing plans are workable in the first place. There's evidence that points both ways and the intent of this post is not to answer the question, but to start the discussion.

A discussion that should focus on....City finances first and foremost. Currently, as is always the case in Houston, the debate is being framed as being "those who want success" vs. "those who want failure", with the 'want success' crowd enjoying a distinct advantage in media coverage (The former newspaper of record being as in bed with one side as you can get in Texas without a common law declaration) as well as support from the current players in public office. This leaves the 'want failure' (for lack of a better term) crowd at a competitive disadvantage. They would argue that, of course, they don't want Houston to fail, but that they fear the current path it finds itself on is a road to financial ruin. Given that the only argument from the 'success' crowd to be publicly aired for fixing the budget problem is deficit spending on City and State level, the so-called nay-sayers have a valid point.

You have a city looking down the barrel at a huge budget short-fall, and a host of special-interest projects that are being proposed because "Something! MUST be done!" If that sounds a little bit like the recent health care debate that should give you pause. The bill was told to be 'better than nothing', but we're finding out now that nothing could have been better than THIS something, at least until something better could be found.

Which is something I think Houston should do. Stop the Ferris wheel, get a group of people from every side of the political spectrum and take a good, hard look at what it is they're doing. Tory Gattis would be a good committee choice, as would Tom Kirkendall and, of course, Bill King on the left I think Chistof Spieler, David Crossley and Scott Henson (certainly when it comes to discussions on municipal jails) would be excellent choices. I'm not suggesting to scrap plans for the train, or rip up the existing tracks or close down Reliant Stadium and make everyone play in the Astrodome. I'm really not. Reliant, Toyota and The Ballpark at Union Station...Enron...Astros Minute Maid Park are already there, as is the DangerTrain. All I'm saying is let's be sure the nuts and bolts of the City, the water and sewer, street repair, emergency services and HPD are up and running at peak condition before we decide to give away a substantial amount of money we don't have to continue rooting down the rabbit-hold of world-classiness.

Real world-class cities have wonderful living conditions, it's the wanna-bees who have glitzy facades in place while the foundation rots.


Off the Kuff


The Dynamo Stadium was just approved. What's amazing isn't that it passed, but that approval was unanimous.

My favorite bit was from the comments to the story:

jfre81 wrote:
You know something, I'll go right ahead and be contrary to most people on here. Good to hear this. Should be a centerpiece for the continuing redevelopment of that area. In that sense it's more than just a stadium
How correct they are. It's also a financial mistake and a credit risk all at the same time. How's that area re-development working out for ya' so far with the other stadiums?

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