Like ancient tribes confronting their worst fears by climbing their island's smoking volcano, a group of 75 Houstonians gathered earlier this month near the banks of Brays Bayou, a normally placid waterway that can turn into a raging beast.
The crowd wasn't there for some pagan ceremony, however. They came to the Jewish Community Center (itself a few dozen yards from the bayou) to begin flexing some political muscle.
It was the first major meeting of Houston Voters Against Flooding, which hopes to hold candidates to promises to put flood control concerns over the area's traditional pro-developer philosophy.
"The city says new developments should have 'no adverse impact' on flooding, but clearly they do," says Shawn Levanthal, acting executive director for the fledgling PAC.
The group will soon name a board of directors, one from each of the city's watersheds, and develop an analysis and platform to be posted on its Web site, www.houstonvotersagainstflooding.com. Members may eventually endorse candidates.
Among their other concerns is the delay in new floodplain maps, which everyone believes will result in lots of currently "safe" homes newly declared to be within the 100-year floodplain. (The maps were promised to be out in June; now they may not come out until after the city elections, Levanthal says.) They're also gathering information on the number of 9.9-acre developments in the city -- developments under ten acres are exempt from flood-control mediation mandates.
"We had a lot of people there who were really knowledgeable, really passionate about flooding," Levanthal says. "Now we're looking to get more people involved." -- Richard Connelly
No Square Meal Deal
It's back to the drawing board for the mayor's office, which has been forced to scrap the idea of moving a homeless-feeding program to Elizabeth Baldwin Park, at Elgin and Crawford in the Midtown area. After reading about the plan to open up Baldwin Park to the homeless during the renovation of Root Memorial Square (see "Dead End," June 26), homeowners near the park told city officials that the park was for families -- not hundreds of homeless people.
Councilwoman Ada Edwards was upset that she wasn't even told about earlier meetings to find another spot. She also questioned whether it was healthy -- or legal -- to feed people in the park without a permit. For years, church groups have been passing out food to the homeless at Root Square, near the Rockets' new arena.
"That's a continuing problem we have down here, that people just seem to disregard district council people when they have meetings like this, and then we come in when it's all fully aflame," Edwards said.
Richard Cantu, who is representing the mayor in the search for a new place for the Root Square crowd, said things are "kind of in the air." -- Craig Malisow
Moores or Les?
Les Alexander was accused of reneging on his vow to provide minorities a stake in business at the Rockets' new arena. And the Astros have their own mold ordeal growing over the roof of Minute Maid Park.
But such stadium woes seem minor compared to the misfortunes of former Houstonian John J. Moores, owner of the San Diego Padres.
Laid-back San Diego has been laying siege to his ballpark plans since shortly after a ballot measure passed in the Padres' post-World Series euphoria of 1998. At last count, there were 19 lawsuits and one criminal case that bounced a San Diego city councilwoman from office.
San Diego came up with $300 million in stadium bonds, although the legal bouts have delayed the opening until next season. Now the city has ordered more negotiations on plans by Moores' JMI Realty for $500 million in development adjacent to the stadium. The company wants to vastly reduce a key amenity -- a planned pocket park beyond center field -- in favor of more buildings and more revenues.
The testy Moores even exploded publicly over a student's critical piece in the San Diego State campus paper. Moores had given some $50 million to that university -- about the same amount as he's forked over in past years to his University of Houston alma mater.
With his Padres a mere 27 or so games out of first place, some San Diego fans find the new venue's name -- Petco Park -- particularly apt for the doghouse it has become. -- George Flynn
Stop the Wackiness!
Hair Balls -- like many media aficionados -- cringed when we heard the TV news teaser the night of July 23: The Rockets' new arena was about to be named the Toyota Center.
How long, we wondered, before some reporter or columnist tried in vain to stick some inane nickname on the new building? Not damn long, as it turned out. Someone in TV (either KPRC's Chris Wragge or KTRK's Ted Oberg) impishly declared we should call the new building "The Hatchback."
Why? What causes this idiocy?
Houston Chronicle columnist Fran Blinebury wanted everyone to call Compaq Center "The Laptop." (No one did.) The Houston Business Journal said Minute Maid Park should be referred to as "The Juice Box." (It isn't.) And who can forget the Chron's Dale Robertson campaign to call Enron Field "The Gas House," with the Astros being "The New Gas House Gang"? (Lord, we've tried to forget.)
By the way, the Astros and their opponents are no longer hitting cheap pop-fly home runs into the Crawford Boxes, at least on television or radio. The boxes haven't been moved back; instead they are now the Landry's Crawford Boxes, courtesy of restaurateur Tilman Fertitta.
Nicknamed "The Overpriced Fish Food Boxes," of course. -- R.C.
U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, frustrated by the inaction over congressional redistricting in the current special state legislative session, called for another session this week to enact further reforms.
The powerful Republican from Sugar Land says emergency action is needed to correct a long-standing inequity: Not a single Republican has been able to gain the post of county Democratic chair anywhere in Texas.
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"Republicans now control every statewide office; we've got the majority in the [Texas] legislature. But -- because of the Democrats' legacy of Byzantine political ploys -- Republicans have been denied their constitutional right to become a county Democratic chair," DeLay said. "The electorate should be outraged."
Staffers said there may be problems in redrawing current county lines to ensure GOP dominance in what has traditionally been Democrat-only balloting. DeLay's counsel and receptionist were added to the state payroll by Attorney General Greg Abbott to begin preparing new maps.
Governor Rick Perry repeated his position that he is not DeLay's puppet but withheld further comment until the congressman returns from a Middle East trip with new instructions for him. A Perry aide said the costs of one more special session for this issue can be covered by cutting health care from another 5,000 Texas children.
DeLay's spokesman said the new initiative already has been enthusiastically endorsed by many prominent civic and business groups, including the Hotel-Motel Associations of Oklahoma, Louisiana and New Mexico. -- G.F.