Tweeting from low Earth orbit on board the International Space Station, NASA astronaut and Clear Lake City resident Rick Mastracchio sends out this spiderweb-like nighttime image he snapped of Houston. What’s that bright spot in the section in the lower right? “Think I left my lights on!” he writes.
Photo: Rick Mastracchio
Photographic Signs of Intelligent Nightlife
A TREESTARTER FOR MEADOWCREEK VILLAGE PARK There’s no ponderous selfie video to go with the appeal (a more generic promotional vid from Trees for Houston is posted instead), but the Beautification Committee of the Meadowcreek Village Civic Club has taken to a crowdfunding site to raise money for twenty 15-gallon trees they hope to plant at drought-stricken Meadowcreek Village Park on Forest Oaks Blvd. just south of Allendale Rd. The $3,000 the committee hopes to raise from online donations won’t be going to buy the trees, however — Trees for Houston has already donated them. Instead, they’re trying to fund the trees’ watering costs for 2 years, which committee chair Joe Rocha figures will cost $75 per tree per annum. With a mere 43 days to go before the end-of-the-year watering-fund deadline, the campaign is almost a third of the way toward its goal. [YouCaring] Drawing of Meadowcreek Village Park: Beautification Committee
Air conditioning repair guy David Lewis finds what he considers a novel installation of the AC condenser units found on the ground outside most Houston homes. The site (above and at left) is a 6,500-sq.-ft. doctors’ office converted from a house built in 1940, about a mile away from Rice University. Here, the condensers have their own vented add-on room tucked behind an added exterior stair — where they’re protected from the elements, thieves, and offended eyeballs. The expensive setup also means there’s a little more work for repairs: “You must have the area well ventilated hence the brown vents and weird hoods on the units. The greatest downside is that those hoods prevent service to the unit. If the condenser fan motor decides to quit then the hood must first be removed to allow access for replacement.”
Photos: David Lewis
WILL POWER LINE BIKE TRAILS COME TO HARRIS COUNTY? Approved this week and sent on to Gov. Perry was a new draft of that bill proposing bike trails along CenterPoint utility rights of way. CenterPoint didn’t seem too crazy about the first draft of the bill, saying back in February that it wouldn’t allow the trails unless it was assured it wouldn’t be liable should something shocking happen. This revised draft, the Houston Chronicle’s Mike Morris reports, covers CenterPoint all the way up to “willful or wanton acts or gross negligence.” And Morris writes that as many as 142 miles of right of way in Harris County could be available for trails if Gov. Perry signs off on the bill, many of them providing missing north-south connections between the existing trails that run primarily east-west along the bayous. (Houston Chronicle ($); previously on Swamplot) Photo: StateImpact
GARBAGE PROGRAM STILL ‘ABSOLUTELY DOABLE,’ SAYS MAYOR PARKER
So Houston’s “One Bin for All” idea didn’t win the $5 million grand prize in Mayor Bloomberg’s philanthrophic challenge — but it did tie for second. And that means $1 million will be coming Houston’s way, along with $50,000 extra for being so darn lovable and winning the “fan favorite” vote online. And what’s the city going to do with all this dough? The Houston Chronicle’s Carol Christian reports that the consolation prizes might be just enough to get the program off the ground: Though the idea to combine garbage, recycling, and yard waste into one big bin for mechanized sorting later has been around for awhile, Mayor Parker says, “This award will allow us the seed money to begin the process . . . We have thoroughly researched the technology. It’s absolutely doable.” Construction on a new sorting facility could begin as early as 2014, reports Christian. [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Photo of recycling bin in the Heights: Charles Kuffner
Thieves made off with copper wiring from UH’s University Center late Saturday night, a UH public safety department bulletin reports: A contractor noticed early Sunday morning that the wiring had gone missing; a reader tells Swamplot that this knocked out the building’s power and is delaying renovations. The Barnes & Noble and Cougar Byte stores inside the UC have been scrambling to set up temporary locations elsewhere on campus.
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CENTERPOINT SAYS NO BIKE TRAILS WITHOUT ‘ADDITIONAL LIABILITY PROTECTION’ Houston lawmakers Sarah Davis and Jim Murphy have each introduced a bill to the state legislature that would have more bike trails built here along CenterPoint-owned utility rights-of-way, but the energy provider’s response seems to StateImpact reporter Dave Fehling a little overprotective: “a CenterPoint media liaison said it would permit trails ‘if — and only if — the Texas Legislature provides additional liability protection to CenterPoint from people entering its rights of way.'” Fehling adds: “What has resulted, though, are bills that would give what lawyers say is almost blanket immunity to CenterPoint Energy should someone get hurt on company property while using it for recreation, even if CenterPoint was ‘grossly negligent.’” [StateImpact; previously on Swamplot] Photo: StateImpact
IF YOU TYPED ‘POTHOLE,’ PLEASE TYPE ‘YES’ A spurting water main? One of your neighbor’s free-range hens clucking the ever-loving night away? There’s an app for that: today, the city is launching a 311 app that will help smartphone-equipped Houstonians report and track complaints: “‘Say you see a pothole on your street. Before you even leave for work you can walk over, launch the app and type in ‘pothole,’ [city spokesperson Chris Newport] said. ‘You have the option of taking a picture, punching in the address and answering two other questions before you hit send.'” [Houston Chronicle] Photo: Chelsea Gomez (Oakes)
A LITTLE ELECTION DAY MUD-SLINGING IN SPRING A $58 million bond measure to reimburse developer DR Horton for utility and road construction on 400 soon-to-be-developed acres just south of The Woodlands and east of Gosling Rd. is expected to pass in today’s election by a mere 2 votes. The couple expected to account for the winning margin just moved into the area in a trailer they’ve parked in a clearing. And, yeah, they’ll be the only people allowed to vote on the measure. Does this sound like a strange picture in an elective democracy? It’s the normal course of events for establishing municipal utility districts on empty land. 659 MUDs are currently active in the Houston area; since 2009, 88 new ones have been established statewide. [Houston Chronicle] Photo of Willow and Spring Creeks: Northampton MUD
COMMENT OF THE DAY: FOR WHOM THE BELL TOWER TOLL CALLS “The bell tower was already there. It was the result of the neighborhood going ballistic over a cell tower going in, and is the disguise for said tower, making it the Ma Bell Tower. And the only ringing for which it is responsible is in your purse or pocket.” [mollusk, commenting on Union Kitchen Expanding to 1111 Studewood Place]
Inspired by the photo tour of sidewalk-blocking utility poles along Harrisburg Blvd. featured earlier this week on Swamplot, a reader wonders if anyone might pay similar attention to the poles left lining the west side of Yale St. in front of the San Jacinto Stone property south of I-10 after the street was widened (and a row of street trees removed) to accommodate a new left-turn lane at Koehler St. for the coming Walmart:
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COMMENT OF THE DAY: OBSTACLE COURSE SIDEWALKS WERE PART OF THE EAST END PLAN “. . . The City government had the power, through its consent agreement, to require wider sidewalks. Put another foot or two on a sidewalk and suddenly an intrusive fixture, like a power pole, become less of an obstacle. However, elected officials at that time were freaked out about right-of-way takes. Also, the mayoral administration at that time decided that the City should not burden METRO with more costs, a position with which of course METRO heartily agreed. There was no other funding mechanism (like the recently created East End TIRZ) to fill the cost gap. There were those of us who tried very hard to express our concern, but it was decided otherwise. So when you are dismayed at the photos above, rest assured that when the City officials made their choice, they knew full well that we would end up with those results.” [Local Planner, commenting on Power to the Pedestrians: Sidewalk Utility Poles of the East End Line]
Courtesy of a reader wielding a camera along Harrisburg Blvd., here’s a tour of a few standout elements you can expect to encounter in a stroll along the path of Houston’s new East End light-rail line, now that sidewalk coordination work between CenterPoint Energy, Metro, and the Greater East End Management District has been completed.
“Most of the poles,” the reader reports, “are now in the center of the sidewalk leaving 24 inches to squeeze by on either side.” Or maybe a bit more:
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PROPERTY OWNERS, NOT DEVELOPERS, PAYING FOR NEW CITY DRAINAGE PROGRAM SO FAR Although it’s been collecting drainage fees from property owners for a year, the city of Houston still has yet to begin collecting a parallel funding source for its new ReBuild Houston infrastructure program. A deputy director of public works admitted in a meeting last week that a promised developer impact fee — one of 4 sources of funding established for street and drainage improvements — has not yet been put in place. Fees from developers are meant to pay for measures that would offset the effects of future development on flooding and street capacity, according to a city website describing the program. [The Leader]