A bill filed Monday in Austin would mandate that more than half of the folks running each of Houston’s often opaque but increasingly well-heeled tax increment reinvestment zones be elected for 2-year terms by nearby residents of the zones, as opposed to the current system of city council appointments. The bill, proposed by west Houston rep Dwayne Bohac, employs the same handy Houston-targeting filter trick as that other recently filed state bill calling for a vote on what Harris County wants to do to the Astrodome: the bill’s language pinpoints only cities with a population of more than 2 million (of which Texas has exactly 1). If the measure makes it through all the necessary committees and passes, elections for board members would need to be held in 2018.
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STATE COMMITTEE OKAYS BILL TO REQUIRE ‘CERTAIN COUNTIES’ TO VOTE ON ASTRODOME PARKING GARAGE-IFICATION The Texas senate’s committee on intergovernmental relations gave an early stamp of approval to that bill that would require Harris County to hold a vote on the plan recently set in motion to turn the Astrodome’s sunken field into an underground parking garage, Mihir Zaveri notes in the Chronicle this morning. The bill’s language doesn’t explicitly single out the Dome and the county commissioners; it would just mandate that “certain counties” — those with a population of 3.3 million or more — would need to call a vote on work related to “certain sports facilities” if the price tag of a given project reaches $10 million — namely, those sports facilities already more than 50 years old when the bill passes. (Harris County, with a population estimated around 4.5 million, is the only Texas county that comes remotely close to passing the bill’s size threshold.) [Houston Chronicle; Texas Legislature; previously on Swamplot] Schematic of Astrodome parking plan: Harris County Engineering Dept.
A letter up on the website of the Texas Education Agency — addressed to the HISD Board of Trustees and dated to last Thursday — provides what the state organization says is a preliminary list of the high-value Houston properties that might be detached from the district and tacked onto Aldine ISD. The transfer is the proposed response to last fall’s election by HISD residents not to authorize that payment of over-the-per-student-cap property tax revenue to the state for redistribution to other districts. Campaigners had hoped the “no” vote on the resolution would cause the Legislature to look at reforming the state’s education funding scheme (which the state high court raised an eyebrow at last year, but left in place).
On the same day the letter was issued, the HISD board voted to call a new election on the recapture/detachment question; the TEA has also set a lower figure for the district’s initial required payment to the state, in light of the fact that HISD doesn’t collect some potential property tax revenue because of homestead exemption rules. The letter tallies up the marked-for-snagging properties at more than $8.024 billion in total assessment value, and includes the Galleria, the Williams Tower, a slew of downtown office buildings, the CityWestPlace complex near Beltway 8, and 2 refineries. The list itself mentions only addresses and parcel numbers, connected mostly to the buildings below and a number of their associated parking garages:
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Update, November 22: The finalized county precinct data has been incorporated into the map above; a layer showing voter turnout has been added as well.
With all 1,012 precincts shaded in by civic data whiz Jeff Reichman, the interactive map above of last week’s election results shows both stark splits and gray areas in blue-swung Harris County, which gave only 41.8 percent of its vote to Wrestlemania hall-of-famer and historically litigious president-elect Donald Trump. The red-to-blue shading shows who won by what percentage, with results ranging from count-’em-on-one-hand margins to total blowouts for one major candidate or the other. You can click on each precinct to see the breakdown of votes and turnout (though Stein, Johnson, and McMullin voters will have to look elsewhere for the details on those candidates’ spreads).
On the east side of town, the red-blue divide runs roughly along the track of Beltway 8; the border of that central dark blue zone stretches north to include Greenspoint and then runs east along FM 1960 to 290. The split gets murkier on the west side of the Inner and Outer Loops, with many precincts showing much closer margins. More noticeably red areas inside Beltway 8 show up near Memorial, River Oaks, Bellaire, and Shepherd Park Plaza — plus spots like tiny Precinct 0830 on S. Main, where Trump took a total of 3 votes to Clinton’s 1.
Map of presidential election results by precinct: Jeff Reichman
COMMENT OF THE DAY: THE NUMBERS ON HEIGHTS WETTING AND THE PRESIDENCY “Prop. 1 passed by 2087 votes. There were 654 undervotes (voters who voted but didn’t vote on Prop 1.), of which only 143 were on election day. By the way: 78 percent turnout in the damp Heights, and 72 percent of registered voters voted on Prop 1. — compared to about 60 percent county-wide and 55 percent nationally for the Presidential election.” [Angostura, commenting on Your Heights Dry Zone Ballot Problem Didn’t Affect Yesterday’s Moist Election Outcome] Map of proposed H-E-B in Heights damp zone: Houston Heights Beverage Coalition
A pair of electorally-minded readers send in 2 separate claims that Prop. 1 — the H-E-B-backed Heights alcohol sales one, not the provoke-Texas-into-reforming-education-funding-by-messing-with-the-system one — didn’t show up on their ballots yesterday, even though they were each registered to vote in what the Tax Assessor’s office calls the boundaries of the historic dry zone. Hector DeLeon of the Harris County Clerk’s outreach department told Swamplot earlier today that in the 1 case of a missing ballot option they’d heard about and looked into — in the context of around a 25 percent and thousands-of-voters margin of victory for the pro-beer-and-wine-sales folks — the problem appeared to be a voter not seeing where on the ballot the proposition was listed, rather than an actual missing option.
DeLeon does say, however, that while it’s extraordinarily rare, it’s not impossible that the local option election could have be left off of a few ballots. An election worker has to select some location info by hand in the process of generating the 4-digit voting machine access codes that voters get upon signing the polling place ledger; DeLeon says that can (and occasionally, does) leave room for a who-votes-on-what mistake, especially in the case of certain unusual election zones (like, say, the Lost City of Houston Heights). One reader claims a poll worker at the Helms Community Learning Center on W. 21st St. told him that this sort of input error had been made on some ballots shortly after the polls opened, and had been corrected for the voters who stuck around to sort it out and get a new code issued. (The reader, who had already cast their ballot and came back later to learn more about what had happened, says they didn’t get to cast a new one.) DeLeon also says that the county clerk’s office doesn’t keep any records of access code issues if they’re caused by human error and considered resolved at the site — so there would be no official documentation to check against the reader’s story.
Photo: Ed T [license]
Not Rigged, Just Human
HISD PROP 1 VOTERS TO STATE: COME AND TAKE IT OR MAYBE DO SOMETHING ELSE INSTEAD While the Heights Dry Zone was dampened yesterday by a 63-to-36-percent moistening vote for City of Houston Prop. 1, HISD’s non-alcohol-related Prop. 1 was shot down yesterday by about the same margin (62-to-37-percent against). Laura Isensee writes that the measure was on the ballot this year because Houston’s rising property tax values have put it above a wealth threshold requiring it to share revenue into the state’s education funding system, “even if the majority of its students come from low-income households.” Crossing that threshold means the district was asked to send around $162 million this year to be distributed around; the ‘no’ vote however, denied the district permission to send the money the usual way (which no district has ever refused to do before). To get at the funds, the state could redraw the boundaries of HISD to move some higher-tax-value property into other nearby districts — or it could overhaul the education funding system during this year’s legislative session, as that Texas Supreme Court ruling in May strongly recommended (but did not order). Isensee writes that mayor Turner and others who campaigned against the proposition are hoping the vote will spur the Legislature to reform education funding in the upcoming session; lieutenant governor Dan Patrick has already said a special summer session could be called to tackle the issue, while governor Greg Abbott has already said that won’t be necessary. [Houston Public Media] Photo of HISD central office at 4400 West 18th St.: HISD
The final go-ahead on H-E-B’s planned store on the former N. Shepherd Fiesta spot at W. 24th St. is still purportedly dependent on whether or not the Heights-Dry-Zone-moistening ballot initiative it’s been backing passes tomorrow — but 2 designs for the proposed structure (depicted above) are already queued up on the agenda for November’s first city planning commission meeting next week. A variance request submitted by the company asks for permission to put the proposed 2-story parking-garage-and-store combo just 10 feet back from the property line on the N. Shepherd side of the block (as shown at the top), instead of the 25 feet that would normally be required (as depicted on the 2nd rendering).
What difference would that make? Documentation submitted with the request says that if the parking structure can’t stick out closer to the street, the company will add an extra row of surface parking spaces between the edge of the garage and the curb, which will cut into space otherwise planned for benches and landscaping. From the looks of the included drawings above, the developers will also ditch a planned bike rack, as well as something labeled as an Art Wall — below are the side-view perspectives on the proposed scene, with those 2 rendered ladies in white and blue stuck roughly in the same spot each time as a reference:
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Hedging Against Setbacks
H-E-B WILL DOUBLE DOWN ON A HEIGHTS DRY ZONE STORE OR NOT BUILD AT ALL The H-E-B proposed for the former N. Shepherd Fiesta site at W. 24th St. would be another 2-story store, Houston H-E-B president Scott McClelland tells Jack Witthaus. The grocery chain is backing the Houston Heights Beverage Coalition’s dry-zone dampening campaign and showed up for the press conference last week on the now-cleared 4-ish-acre site. The company has already been planning its first double-decker Houston location (rendered above) on the 3-acre site of the existing H-E-B in Bellaire; plans for that development show about 75,000 sq. ft. of store stacked on top of an all-parking ground level. McClelland tells Witthaus that the proposed H-E-B in the dry area of the Heights would be about 80,000 sq. ft. and come with a 2018 expected completion date, but that H-E-B won’t build in the zone at all if the upcoming election doesn’t go their way. [Houston Business Journal; previously on Swamplot] Rendering of proposed 2-story H-E-B in Bellaire: Terra Associates
The marker above (showing a now-officially-proposed H-E-B on N. Shepherd Dr.) is a little out of place, if it’s aiming for the former Fiesta site on N. Shepherd between W. 23rd and W. 24th streets as H-E-B says — but you get the idea, and the Houston Heights Beverage Coalition held a press conference on the site this morning to drive the point home. The red line on the map also only roughly shows the boundary of the nominal dry zone that the H-E-B-backed PAC is hoping to get loosened up a bit via that upcoming local election on take-home beer and wine sales. But you can find out for sure whether or not you’re close enough to be eligible to vote in the Houston-Heights-only election by checking your ballot at at HarrisVotes.com — and also check whether or not you’re registered, which you’ve only got until Tuesday to do. (If printing out a form is too much of a hassle, maybe try your nearest taco truck.)
Map of proposed H-E-B in Heights Dry Zone: Houston Heights Beverage Coalition
Here’s the map posted by Houstonia’s Katharine Shilcutt this morning showing the usual haunts of 8 taco trucks now also serving as mobile voter registration hubs. This particular registration push, which started yesterday and will last through Texas’s October 11th registration deadline, is a combined effort of communication designer Thomas Hull and the local chapter of political-activity-encourager Mi Familia Vota. The plan developed in the wake of Latinos for Trump founder Marco Gutierrez’s comments earlier this month, which painted an accidentally delicious picture of a future US landscape hosting “taco trucks on every corner”; those comments, in turn, spurred a “Guac the Vote” campaign from the US Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, which has been calling for taco-truck-based voter registration at the national level.
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Guac the Vote
YES, THE HEIGHTS DRY ZONE PETITIONERS REALLY DID COLLECT ENOUGH SIGNATURES FOR A VOTE Tuesday’s city council meeting gave the formal OK to the H-E-B-backed Heights Beverage Coalition’s petition for a local option election on whether or not to allow the take-home sale of beer and wine within the boundaries of the nominal dry zone formerly known as City of Houston Heights. The number of signatures required was set as 35 percent of the voters in the affected zone who voted in the 2014 governor’s election — which county clerk Stan Stanart pegged at 1,511 in early July. The city secretary announced the petitioner’s total as 1,759 valid signatures; Tuesday’s vote to approve those findings means the measure will be on the ballot in November. [City of Houston, Houston Public Media; previously on Swamplot] Photo of TABC regional headquarters at 427 W. 20th St.: LoopNet
COMMENT OF THE DAY: HOW TO CUT THE COST OF THE FREE ASTRODOME MISCONCEPTION “No one voted to tear [the Astrodome] down. We voted not to spend money to refurbish it. Big difference. The only way forward is a multi-option vote: Tear it down, fix it up, or keep paying to do neither. Spell out the costs of each, so voters won’t assume doing nothing is free.” [Memebag, commenting on Count Wants To Fill In the Astrodome’s Flood Levels with Parking; previously on Swamplot] Illustration: Lulu
TRUMP’S LAST-MINUTE VENUE SCRAMBLE ENDS AT WOODLANDS MARRIOTT, GILLEY’S BAR Yesterday morning presumptive GOP presidential nominee and figurehead of an alleged real estate education scam Donald Trump briefly appeared to have cancelled public rallies scheduled for Dallas tonight and Houston tomorrow, in both cases for lack of a venue. Multiple major Dallas-Forth Worth-area convention centers, citing unusually short notice and security concerns, reportedly refused to host the event. The campaign announced hours later that it would be holding tonight’s rally at a Gilley’s-branded nightclub in Dallas; tomorrow’s Houston event landed a convention room in the Woodlands Waterway Marriott immediately next door to Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion. During the interrim, the Houston Press tried to help Trump out, checking on availability at venues ranging from NRG Stadium to the Sam Houston Race Park, as well as some concert spots; a Warehouse Live employee told reporter Diana Wray that the venue was otherwise engaged for Friday, but that the hypothetical pairing of a Trump rally with tomorrow night’s planned BET-sponsored Trap Karaoke night would be “something to see.” [Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Houston Press] Photo of Woodlands Waterway Marriott Hotel and Convention Center at 1601 Lake Robbins Dr.: Marriott International
HEIGHTS DRY ZONE SIGNATURE GATHERERS RETURN FROM THE HUNT VICTORIOUS Reports comes from both NextDoor and The Heights Life blog that the H-E-B-backed Houston Heights Beverage Coalition has collected the signatures it needs to trigger a local election over legalizing carry-out beer and wine sales in the Heights dry zone. The petition was officially issued in mid-May, at which point the 60-day collection clock started ticking; the group claimed they needed 1,500 signatures to meet the required threshold of 35 percent of the population living in the zone. [Previously on Swamplot] Photo of TABC regional headquarters at 427 W. 20th St.: LoopNet