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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

Manuel Acosta’s Portrait Of Cesar Chavez—The Need For A More Politically Active Hispanic Community In Houston

File:Portrait of Cesar Chavez by Manuel Gregorio Acosta, 1969.jpg

Above is a portrait of the labor leader Cesar Chavez that was completed by the artist Manuel Acosta.

The painting is from 1969. Mr. Acosta lived 1921-1989.

Here are some facts about Mr. Acosta and a number of his paintings. This information comes from the El Paso Museum of Art.

Here is a biography of Mr. Chavez from the Cesar Chavez foundation.

From that biography–

“For more than three decades Cesar led the first successful farm workers union in American history, achieving dignity, respect, fair wages, medical coverage, pension benefits, and humane living conditions, as well as countless other rights and protections for hundreds of thousands of farm workers. Against previously insurmountable odds, he led successful strikes and boycotts that resulted in the first industry-wide labor contracts in the history of American agriculture. His union’s efforts brought about the passage of the groundbreaking 1975 California Agricultural Labor Relations Act to protect farm workers. Today, it remains the only law in the nation that protects the farm workers’ right to unionize.”

Here in Houston, I very much wish that our Hispanic population was more active in fighting for a better Houston, and for a greater role for Hispanics in Houston politics.

Here is an article from the excellent magazine Next American City that discusses the longstanding political inaction of Houston’s Hispanic community.

(Blogger’s Note–I subscribe to the print edition of Next American City. Content costs money to produce.)

From this article—

“Yet another factor in Houston, says Cano, is the lack of community organizations. There are far more community organizations in Los Angeles and Chicago than in Houston, and the groups in other cities engage in political campaigns more often. This is not to say that community organizations in Houston don’t exist. “If you look carefully, there is a whole ecosystem in the desert . . . under the sand,” says Cano. “In Houston, an organization can have a meeting once every two years, they can get together and solve a problem.”

Our new mayor-elect in Houston, Annise Parker, has a history as a community activist fighting for the rights of gay citizens on Houston.

Sharing some of her knowledge of community activism with groups still in need political and social advancement, would be a very cost efficient way for Mayor Parker to help accomplish the needed goal of a Houston that is a good place to live for all it’s people.

December 29, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

If Indians Can Go The Polls While Under Attack By Maoist Rebels, Why Can’t Houston’s Hispanics Vote In Greater Numbers?


Even facing attack from Maoist rebels in some places, voters in India went to the polls yesterday to begin the month long process of the Indian national election. 

These attacks killed 17.

Above is a picture of women waiting to vote in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.

(Please click here for an overview of the Indian election.)

Turnout in India, despite the violence and all the poverty in India, is expected to be 62% when all the votes are counted. 

Now why is it that Hispanics in Houston and Harris County can’t vote in greater numbers? What are the reasons? 

Turnout in many mostly Hispanic state legislative districts  in Harris County was between 40% and 45%  of people eligible to vote in 2008.

Where are the leaders in this important community? Where are the people?

Here is a great article from the urban planning magazine Next American City that details the history of Hispanic political activism in Houston.

When will Hispanics in Houston find the leadership that their numbers and potential merits?

April 17, 2009 Posted by | Houston, Politics | , , , , | Leave a comment