Texas Liberal

All People Matter

Renew Houston—Why The Regressive Funding? Who Gets The Jobs? Where Are The Green Plans?

There is an effort to place on the November 2010 ballot in Houston an initiative to fund a large multi-year program to strengthen and rebuild Houston’s streets and drainage system. This plan is called Renew Houston.

(Above–Urban runoff. Picture taken by Robert Lawton.)

As anybody who lives in Houston knows, this is an important concern.

Here is the Renew Houston web page.

Here is a Houston Chronicle story on this issue.

A Renew Houston press release says this initiative  is “citizen-driven.” What are the odds of something being “citizen-driven” in a city like Houston where turnout  for mayor’s races often runs around 15%?

Renew Houston could post a list of donors to show if it is citizen-driven.

Republican Houston At-Large City Councilmember Stephen Costello recently invited local bloggers to attend a briefing about Renew Houston. I went to this briefing.

Mr. Costello is leading this issue. Why is a Republican leading a citywide push in a Democratic city where there are so many unmet needs that go unaddressed year-after-year?

I don’t know. Next time you see one of our Democratic Councilmembers, ask them what it is they do all day.

While I support as a matter of principle large government programs meant to fix or build stuff, and that will employ people,—with the exception of taxpayer funds to build our Nero-like sports stadiums—I have questions about Renew Houston.

The sentence below is from the Chronicle story about one of the major funding sources for the plan–

“…. the “Stormwater User Fee” that is expected to amount to about $5 per month for an average homeowner and $90 a month for an average commercial property owner with 14 units per acre.”

This is a flat or regressive fee. With Renew Houston, property owners will pay the same no matter the value of the property. Should progressive ends be met by regressive means?

I also wonder who will get the jobs created over the life of the program.

On the introductory mailer sent out to voters in Houston, there was a so-called “union bug.”  This is a small union logo showing that the printing was done by a union shop.

That’s fine. I believe in unions. But what the bug suggested to me was that the Renew Houston people have gone to the unions, and said that jobs that union members may get will be forthcoming if they get on-board to support the initiative.

It is time to expand the pool of qualified blue-collar job seekers in Houston with an aggressive  program of apprenticeship and outreach into the most chronically poor Houston neighborhoods.There is no reason unions could not be part of this effort. Maybe also we could train some new engineers and college educated professionals along the way.

Mayor Annise Parker, a Democrat, could insist upon this as a condition of her backing of the plan. If  she did this, maybe Ms. Parker could expand her support in the next election beyond just over half of the 16% of people who voted in the 2009 election. People in every part of Houston would see that they matter at City Hall.

District I  Councilmember James Rodriguez could do the same. At his campaign web home, Mr. Rodriguez talks about “Bringing capital improvement  projects to the district” and “Promoting development that embraces the expectations of all our stakeholders”

Here’s your chance Mr. Rodriguez. Are people in your district going to get a fair share of this regressively-funded, taxpayer-sponsored program, or are they going to be shut-out in a closed shop? You could walk around Harrisburg Blvd, and Canal Street, and Navigation Blvd. and tell folks that you are going to fight for them, instead of relying on low-turnout and keeping your mouth shut as a reelection strategy.

(Below–As illustrated here, infrastructure is quite metaphoric. Here we see that all is connected. If there is a new source of revenue and a new source of jobs in Houston, then there will be those who get the beneficial runoff of prosperity and others who will be left high and dry.)

A final concern I have is the lack of any green plans in the Renew Houston strategy presentation I was shown.

The latest issue of the excellent urban policy magazine Next American City talks about ways to reduce the flow of rainwater into drainage systems with urban gardens, rain barrels, more trees and other plans. ( I subscribe to Next American City and suggest that you do the same.)

Renew Houston should discuss and implement long-term efforts to reduce the strain on our drainage systems with some of these green plans. In this way, what we build will work better and last longer.

I’m certain an enlightened progressive like Mayor Parker would not support this program unless it employed green strategies.

Though, I do note that in her campaign plank on infrastructure, Ms. Parker says nothing about green efforts on these important and costly plans.

(Below–An urban garden in Minneapolis planted to treat storm water from the concrete parking lot also in the picture.)

For the moment, I’m withholding support for Renew Houston until the issues I mention here are addressed. While meeting an important need of infrastructure improvement,  Renew Houston also seems narrowly-crafted to benefit engineering firms, to benefit those already in the pipeline for jobs to the exclusion of people who could benefit from training and work, and to use methods of drainage and waste-water removal not up to date with the new demands of sustainable urban living.

My fellow Houston bloggers Perry Dorrell, Charles KuffnerJohn Coby and Tory Gattis were at the briefing and have written posts on Renew Houston. Each of these bloggers is committed to a better Houston and their views should be considered.

June 10, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , ,

5 Comments »

  1. Green jobs right now equal waste of money

    Comment by customer service jobs fl | June 12, 2010

  2. No. They would be fine if the investment were to made for a real green strategy in Houston.

    Comment by Neil Aquino | June 13, 2010

  3. […] on this. For background and details about what Renew Houston is proposing, see John, Perry, Tory, Neil, and me. My impression of this idea and plan is a favorable one, and as things stand now I would […]

    Pingback by Renew Houston submits petitions – Off the Kuff | July 10, 2010

  4. […] adequately answer that question. There are things to criticize about Renew Houston, as Tory and Neil have done. But it’s what we’ve got, and the choice isn’t between Renew Houston […]

    Pingback by Opposition to Renew Houston – Off the Kuff | July 19, 2010

  5. Here’s the deal… The proposal is great in concept and is essentially a funding mechanism on needed infrastructure for the Houston region. The City of Houston cannot afford the the estimated costs for the needed stormwater improvements. It has been estimated between $4-10 billion. However, business as usual with standard storm water designs practiced by over 90% of civil engineering firms is not the best way to solve our problems. Green Infrastructure is the solution!

    Green Infrastructure and Low Impact Development (LID) costs less than traditional stormwater techniques and create positive economic impacts on the neighborhood level. The LID designs create more open space and cost less, what’s not to like. the Houston Land Water Sustainability Forum has been advocating for LID designs for quite some time. LID is practiced on the west and east coast with great success. LID is the future of sustainable GREEN stormwater management. End of story.

    Comment by K Davidson | July 22, 2010


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