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March 14th, 2012:

Interview with Wanda Adams

CM Wanda Adams

Also running in HD131 is Wanda Adams, who has served two full terms in Houston City Council District D and was re-elected easily for her third term last November. Adams is a native Houstonian who graduated from Kashmere High School and Texas Southern University. She worked for the city prior to her election to Council in 2007, serving in the City of Houston Housing Authority and the Harris County Mental Health and Mental Retardation Association, and in the Citizens’ Assistance Division of the Mayor’s Office. She is the Chair of the Housing, Sustainable Growth, and Development Committee on Council. Here’s our conversation:

Download the MP3 file

You can find a list of all interviews for this cycle, plus other related information, on my 2012 Harris County Primary Elections page. You can also follow this blog by liking its Facebook page.

Mayor tells Ashby foes it’s over

Mayor Annise Parker told the attendees at that neighborhood meeting to discuss the proposed settlement of the Ashby highrise lawsuit that it’s a done deal.

Going up whether you like it or not

“We have exhausted all legal means to stop this project,” said Parker, reiterating her opposition against the project.

Next week, Buckhead and its architects will begin meeting to make changes to the plans based on the settlement, said Buckhead’s Kevin Kirton.

Residents who have spent years fighting the project expressed further disappointment at Monday night’s meeting at Congregation Emanu El.

“I feel wholly deflated,” said Jim Reeder, co-chair of the Stop Ashby High Rise Task Force.

The Stop Ashby folks expressed their opinion of the proposal before the meeting. I can’t tell from the Chron story how, or if, their concerns were addressed, but Your Houston News tells us a bit about what was brought up.

Going back to 2005, documentation existed – both with the Southampton Civic Club and the City of Houston- indicating knowledge of this development taking shape, but know one publicly acknowledged or acted upon it.

http://www.yourhoustonnews.com/river_oaks/news/a-lesson-in-civics/article_aa6b7d0e-3765-52bc-8792-ba9db194b853.html

http://www.yourhoustonnews.com/west_university/news/drainage-documents-pointed-to-high-rise-in/article_7b3fe94f-3b06-5e3f-a6fb-f2ef7ce3c049.html

I can only imagine where our neighborhood would be today if the folks referred to in these articles – key figures at both the Civic Club and community as well as elected officials at the city –had acted to stop the project back then, instead of waiting until 2007 to begin publicly admonishing the project. It may be coincidence, but the same folks came together to support a similar high-density project in the Rice Village area during that time. Early opposition to the Ashby high-rise at that time could have jeopardized the project in the Village area – the one in which the city faced opposition from area residents and which involved the selling of a block of Bolsover Street to developers by the city.

Many folks listed in those articles – Kathy Easterly, Erik Eriksson, and others – were in attendance at this meeting, but chose not to speak. In fact, other elected officials, including At-Large Position 1 Council member Stephen Costello, former At-Large Council member Sue Lovell and others, were in attendance but also chose not to speak. The former District C council member, Southampton resident, and former president of the Southampton Civic Club, Anne Clutterbuck, was not in attendance.

Many more folks lined up at the microphones to comment and ask questions that, according to the mayor, were put into the public record. Comments ranged from a passionate plea by one resident questioning safety measures that would protect her child from harm by speeding traffic being forced onto Wroxton Road by the new construction to demands that the city forcibly take the property by eminent domain. Another resident, once again, floated the idea that the city could create a nonprofit entity by which residents could begin the process of raising money to buy the property from the developers – an idea that a representative of the developers attending the meeting said they would consider.

I don’t know what Mayor Parker or City Attorney David Feldman said to these concerns, but this is what I would have said: 1) Wroxton is still going to be a little side road with a lot of stop signs on it. More stop signs, and maybe some speed bumps, can be added if needed. No one is going to drive on Wroxton if they want to get somewhere in a hurry. 2) Under what pretext, exactly, would the city invoke eminent domain that wouldn’t subsequently be laughed out of court in the ensuing lawsuit? 3) Buckhead asked for $40 million in damages in the lawsuit the city is now settling. While I’m sure they’d have accepted a lower price for a buyout, I’m also sure there are better uses for the money.

The bottom line is that in a city with no zoning and relatively few constraints on development (at least, at the time this project was first proposed), what exactly was there for the city to do about this? I understand the residents’ concerns, and I have a lot of sympathy for them. I agree this is a poorly conceived and poorly located project. It’s entirely possible the city could have gotten a better settlement, though given the empty hand they were playing it’s hard to see how. We all knew how this was going to turn out, barring a loss of nerve or some kind of implosion on Buckhead’s part. What else was there to do?

Anyway. Here’s a photo gallery from the meeting. Did anybody here attend this? If so, what was your impression? Prime Property and Swamplot have more. Be sure to read this comment for an interesting prediction about what may come next.

It’s Super-Commuter!

You think you have a long drive to work? Ben Wear writes about a study of people who take it to the extreme.

A flying car would make that commute feel shorter

The researchers define a supercommuter as someone who works in the central county of a metropolitan area but lives beyond the official boundaries of that metropolitan area. They used census data to draw their conclusions.

Among their findings:

  • City “labor sheds,” the areas from which workers flow into the workplace, “are expanding rapidly and super-commuter growth rates are far outpacing workforce growth rates.” Supercommuting is growing in eight of the nation’s 10 largest cities, with the exceptions being Atlanta and Minneapolis.

    To some degree, the study’s authors say, the growth of the Internet and other electronic tools that make it possible for workers to carry their office with them have contributed to the phenomenon. Some of these employees work from home some of the time, traveling to an actual office only once or twice a week.

  • Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston have the greatest percentages of supercommuters, with approximately 13 percent of the workforces in those cities living beyond the exurbs. According to the report released last month, 51,900 people commute from Dallas-Fort Worth to Houston each week, and 44,300 people from Houston work in Dallas.

    Perhaps these people should call each other and discuss some house swaps.

  • Houston has 251,200 supercommuters working there, a figure that grew 98 percent between 2002 and 2009. Dallas had 175,700 of them, with 38.4 percent growth during those seven years. Mind you, that’s a period during which the average cost of gas rose from about a $1.20 a gallon to well above $3 a gallon.

Austin is very much a part of this trend. The report says that about 35,400 people from greater Austin commute to Houston, and 32,400 live here and work in Dallas-Fort Worth. So, not even counting Austinites who commute to San Antonio — the report didn’t have that data — that means about 1 of every 25 people who lives in this area (including infants and children) works in those two cities.

Report co-author Mitchell Moss said he and researchers did not make the opposite calculation, figuring how many people like Hurt commute to Austin from Houston or the Metroplex.

The report said these supercommuters tend to be young and to make less than $40,000. The motivation, typically, is to live where housing is cheap and work where the work is.

The study in question was done by NYU’s Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management. Here’s the abstract:

The twenty-first century is emerging as the century of the “super-commuter,” a person who works in the central county of a given metropolitan area, but lives beyond the boundaries of that metropolitan area, commuting long distance by air, rail, car, bus, or a combination of modes. The super-commuter typically travels once or twice weekly for work, and is a rapidly growing part of our workforce. The changing structure of the workplace, advances in telecommunications, and the global pattern of economic life have made the super-commuter a new force in transportation.

Many workers are not required to appear in one office five days a week; they conduct work from home, remote locations, and even while driving or flying. The international growth of broadband internet access, the development of home-based computer systems that rival those of the workplace, and the rise of mobile communications systems have contributed to the emergence of the super-commuter in the United States. Super-commuters are well-positioned to take advantage of higher salaries in one region and lower housing costs in another.

Many workers are not expected to physically appear in a single office at all: the global economy has made it possible for highly-skilled workers to be employed on a strictly virtual basis, acquiring clients anywhere and communicating via email, phone and video conference. Furthermore, the global economy has rendered the clock irrelevant, making it possible for people to work, virtually, in a different time zone than the one in which they live. Simply put, the workplace is no longer fixed in one location, but rather where the worker is situated. As a result, city labor sheds (where workers live) have expanded over the past decade to encompass not just a city’s exurbs, but also distant, non-local metropolitan regions, resulting in greater economic integration between cities situated hundreds of miles apart.

NYU’s Rudin Center has found that super-commuting is a growing trend in major United States regions, with growth in eight of the ten largest metropolitan areas.

The full report is here. There was a Chron story from five years ago that said “9.7 percent of Houston-area residents and 7.2 percent of Dallas-Fort Worth-area residents have commutes of more than an hour”, so there’s a comparison for you. The 251,200 supercommuters for the Houston area (which they define as the “Harris County Center of the Houston-Baytown-Huntsville CSA”) must represent both those who go as well as those who come, because the table on page 12 that lists the top 10 metro areas of residence for non-local workers in our area only sums to about 144,000, and I rather doubt the tail is long enough to have another 100K people in it. Dallas-Forth Worth (51,900), Austin (35,400), and San Antonio (31,100) are the three biggest contributors to our non-local work force, while some 44,000 people live here but work in the Metroplex. You’ve got to figure that these folks would form a large portion of the initial ridership for that long-awaited high speed rail network in Texas if it ever gets built. Anyway, the next time you’re stuck on the freeway and you find yourself wondering where all these people came from, now you know. Houston Tomorrow has more.

The homecoming queen’s got a strong right leg

I love this story.

[Mary Morlan] Isom, who is also LSU’s reigning homecoming queen, has been trying out this week for a spot on LSU’s football team as a placekicker. If she makes it, she would be the first woman football player in school history.

However, Isom said she knows not everyone is keen on the idea of women playing a historically male sport.

“There are definitely people with varied opinions about it,” she said. “Whether those individuals like it or not, I’m still chugging along and pursuing this goal.”

As for family and friends, including the football team, they’re behind her 100 percent.

Isom said Wednesday that the football players, many of whom she already knew because the soccer and football teams use the same facilities, were supportive of her ever since she approached the team with the idea in January 2011.

Isom even joked that she’s “just one of the guys.”

“Those upperclassmen have been by my side for three, four years now,” she said.

Isom was the goalie for LSU’s women’s soccer team for four years. Having graduated and enrolled in grad school, NCAA rules allow her a year of eligibility in another sport. The challenge for her here is especially great because LSU’s returning placekicker was 16 for 18 on field goals last year, so they don’t exactly have a screaming need there. Nonetheless, I wish her the best of luck in her quest, and hope that others follow in her footsteps.