Rockets Blocked Out

Highlights from Hair Balls


According to sources with knowledge of the situation, the Houston Astros, who are part owners of Comcast SportsNet Houston along with the Houston Rockets and NBC, nixed an 11th-hour deal with DirecTV that could have put CSN Houston on the provider and delivered Rockets games to its subscribers at the beginning of the Rockets season. Additionally, it is believed that such a deal, had it been completed with DirecTV, would almost certainly have led to similar deals with U-verse and Dish Network. Currently, CSN Houston airs only on Comcast and a few smaller providers that represent about 40 percent of the coverage area.

Without the approval of the Astros, who own 46 percent of the channel to the Rockets' 30 percent and NBC's 22 percent, no deals can be made. The Astros allegedly balked at negotiations between CSN, the Rockets and DirecTV before a final deal could be struck because they believed they could hold out for a better price. While the Rockets have been broadcasting on CSN Houston since October, the Astros won't have games on the channel until this spring.

It has been assumed for some time now that no final deals would be made until the Astros games were threatened. If the Astros did indeed block the Rockets from making a deal with DirecTV, it is easy to see why many believed no deals would be done until Astros games were on the chopping block.

If true, it would be an ironic turn of events for the Rockets. Astros team president George Postolos, who held the same position with the Rockets until 2006, was one of the first to trumpet the idea of a joint network between the Rockets and the Astros in the late 1990s when he was still with the Rockets. Now, as the head of the Astros, he could be the person preventing his former team and employer from airing their games to the majority of Houstonians, which has been an embarrassment to the Rockets, particularly with the All Star game being played in Houston this year.

Astros owner Jim Crane has been a somewhat controversial figure since he took over the team in 2011. He fired virtually everyone on the business side of the ball club and went through a housecleaning that affected the entire organization from the field to the broadcast booth, even redesigning the uniforms and logo.

If Crane and the Astros are responsible for keeping the Rockets off the air this season, it would no doubt infuriate fans of the Rockets who have been rightfully frustrated over the lack of broadcast options for regular-season games.

The Astros referred questions to Matt Hutchings, president and general manager of CSN Houston, who responded with the following statement via e-mail:

"We have offered the network at what we feel is a fair market value, considering we have two pro teams (and confidentially will be announcing a third, the Dynamo, soon), local and regional collegiate and high school product, and daily news and sports talk shows. DIRECTV is valuing it at a different rate, which we believe is below FMV, and we're in the process of negotiating and reaching a compromise that both organizations feel is fair and a good value. One large provider, Comcast, and four smaller providers believe the value is there and have signed on."


Houston chicken farmers trying to escape the coop.

Casey Michel

Ken Cousino knows exactly when the move to legalize chicken farming in Houston took off. Isabella, a nearby nine-year-old, had been a steady customer at Cousino's Quality Feed and Garden, picking up fodder for her few pet chickens. One day she entered in tears.

The city had arrived, she said. Told her she had to get rid of her chickens. Told her to forget her babies. Citing a city ordinance proscribing chickens from scuffling within 100 feet of a property line — and pointing out a complaint from one of Isabella's neighbors — the city had enforced a regulation that almost every major metropolis across the nation has either trashed or substantially reduced. Isabella found friends outside of town and dropped the hens off. And then she turned to the city — eyes less rheumy, a desire to reclaim her property sharpened by an experience on the butt end of an outdated ordinance. She started a petition. She wanted her chickens back.

"We had customers start signing her petition, meeting with neighborhood associations, garnering support for hens," Cousino said. "I've been about a year heavily involved. We had a seminar last November at our store, teaching people about backyard chicken-raising, introducing new organic chicken food, looking for certified organic eggs. There was tons of enthusiasm, lots of interest."

At the same time Isabella was beginning her movement to reclaim her pets, Claire Krebs, a recent Rice graduate and recent returnee to Houston, realized that she'd come back to a city lacking what almost every other major metropolis offers. San Francisco has urban chicken farms. New York, all concrete and soot, allows them. New Orleans even provides "Coop Tours," taking tourists through Taj Mahal-esque abodes for local chickens. Hell, Bellaire even maintains a brief island of chicken legalization.

"I spoke to an animal control operator who works in Bellaire," Krebs said on Wednesday. "He said he's had one complaint about the chickens in six years."

And yet here stands Houston, all but chicken-free, and here stood Krebs, confused by the situation. As both a millennial and a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, Krebs was, naturally, unemployed. Ample opportunity to ask around about this lack of coops, to formHens for Houston, and to generate a bit of interest in both adjusting the 100-foot restrictions and legalizing chicken waste as fertilizer. Abundant time to garner support from the Bureau of Animal Regulation and Care, and to assure neighborhood associations that her organization wouldn't change any additional localized measures. Plenty of time to assure any potential detractors that roosters — unnecessary for laying any eggs, as both Cousino and Krebs noted — would still be barred. "These eggs they're layin' don't need any roosters," Cousino said. "They're just periods. And these birds have periods every day."

Just look at San Antonio and Dallas, Krebs said. The former doesn't have a "setback" — the 100-foot demarcation Houston enforces — while the latter has shrunk its setback to 20 feet. And both have far fewer complaints per capita, almost none of which are related to the distance allocations.

"We looked at the actual numbers of these complaints, and they're almost always because of the smell and the mess and the animals running at large," Krebs noted. "We're not trying to change that — we believe no pet should be a nuisance, be it a chicken or a barking dog or a feral cat. And we're really trying to be good neighbors, which is why I think we haven't had any strong opposition."

Krebs pointed out that Mayor Annise Parker is already on board with the measure, and would like to see language presented to the city council before the end of March lifting or amending this ordinance. "Things have really started moving quickly since we got back from the holidays," Krebs said. "We're going to be meeting with BARC next week to go over our proposal, and we're going to open it up to other stakeholders come Feb. 15."

Whatever the outcome of the forthcoming debate, there's one little girl watching the deliberation more closely than others. And Isabella, according to Cousino, is eagerly awaiting the day she can go pick up her former hens and bring them back home.

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