The biggest applause for Mayor Annise Parker's third State of the City speech probably came when she talked about creating an independent forensics crime lab and when she talked about the work in helping to eliminate a backlog of untested rape kits.
That was part of the speech she gave this afternoon before the Greater Houston Partnership, but later according to her, they weren't the main points of her agenda. Those would be greening the city and improving the situation for the city's homeless. Still, she closed out her speech, and dedicated a press conference to, talking about a draft ordinance she's putting together to protect citizens civil rights, especially for the city's LBGT community.
Parker's annual speech hinted at her plans for the next two years, her final time as mayor. She gave a nod to her constituents in real estate as she trumpeted the city's "building boom" and the Super Bowl game that'll be here in 2017. There's been a large amount of growth in building, she said, and 100 major projects that are underway with "projected capital investments of 7 ½ billion dollars."
"The game didn't start these [building] projects, but the game gives a focal point for completing already planned improvements here in the central business district. We are doing it."
That was her refrain throughout the speech: "Doing it". A shout-out to accomplishments during her tenure that started in 2010. But she acknowledged at least one fault, such as the initiative Rebuild Houston, which was still lacking with some embarrassing holes. Literally. On the upside, she pointed out the progress, so far, with $250 million in tax dollars spent on streets and drainage, 87 projects completed, and 450 miles of streets rebuilt or paved.
The big coup however, and the one the audience of Houston's movers and shakers seemed to approve of the most was the newly independent Houston Forensic Science Center, long plagued with problems under the Houston Police Department.
Parker now called it a "crime lab independent of police, independent of prosecutors and independent of political influence."
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She added that work was being done to eliminate the backlog of untested rape kits. Evidence, around 6,600, that goes back to 1987. "This backlog was a terrible miscarriage of our responsibility to thousands of rape survivors," she said. "It should never have happened."
On the environmental front the mayor discussed preserving trees and challenging developers who threatened them. "We're not going to tolerate the destruction of street trees, "she said. She also mentioned expanding access for bicyclists and the city's bike share program. She then made a funny when she said "We are uber excited about catching a lift," a reference to the inclusion of app-based ride share companies Uber and Lyft. She expected to get down and dirty with that discussion in the coming months.
Still it was homelessness, a key issue perhaps that she wants to be remembered for. She called the homeless problem a "stain on the reality" of Houston as a compassionate place. She also urged companies to do like the city and hire ex-felons after showing a short multimedia presentation of an ex-felon who was homeless.
To close her speech, Parker made a legislative move and talked up a draft ordinance that would give Houston a special council to monitor, mediate and protect people from discrimination. It's a human rights ordinance that she hopes will be on the council agenda by next month.