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Caldwell County

One way to approach the feral hog problem

This has some promise.

The Caldwell County Feral Hog Task Force, a volunteer group [Nick] Dornak started two years ago, is now at the forefront of the state’s patchwork effort to control the wild swine population boom that is hurting farmers, frustrating hunters and poisoning the water in some beloved Central Texas streams and creeks.

Dornak was running the task force’s monthly feral hog bounty claim — hunters and trappers get $5 for every tail or receipt for a hog sale they turn in — when he set up his table across the street from the hallowed Texas barbecue hall that is Kreuz Market.

Kreuz and other pork-serving establishments use a different kind of oinker for their short ribs. Domesticated pigs are like Babe: pink, round and thinly furred. Feral hogs are like Chewbacca: dark, muscular and hairy. And they’re big. A man in Stephenville caught a 790-pounder on his ranch this year.

While many people are familiar with the havoc feral hogs have wreaked in recent years on the agricultural industry by eating crops and digging ruts in fields that can break farm equipment, Dornak, the coordinator of the Plum Creek Watershed Partnership, came to the subject from a different angle.

“The hogs use streams and rivers as highways, which is a really, really big environmental issue,” he said. “They defecate in and near the water, and we’re talking tens of thousands of pounds of feral pig manure in the state of Texas.”

As a result, the E. coli level in Plum Creek is now three to five times higher than what is considered safe for recreational activities like swimming, Dornak said.

The task force, which has received about $100,000 in funding from the county and state, runs the bounty for hunters, provides vouchers for farmers to buy traps, contracts with a helicopter operator that lets veterans shoot swine from the sky and manages three “smart traps,” enormous smartphone-controlled corrals that can trap entire sounders, or families, of hogs at once.

Their efforts have resulted in 8,300 silenced swine in Caldwell County, one of the most afflicted areas in the hog boom that began about 20 years ago. Dornak says it’s the only county-based group of its kind in Texas, and he has been invited to speak in other areas of the state about tackling the problem from the local level.

“We’re kind of the shining star in the state as far as feral hog control,” he said.

See here for more about feral hogs and our efforts to control them than you want to know. Dornak is on to something here, but as with any other effort to keep the hog population in check it is limited by the number of people who are willing and able to get out there and hunt the varmints. The hogs have the advantage here, and they seem to know it. Still, every little bit helps.

Early voting for special election runoffs has begun

EarlyVoting

It began yesterday, but I forgot to queue up a post in time to mention it. Here’s some relevant information for those of you who need to get out and vote in one or more of these runoffs.

For SD26 and HD123, here are the Bexar County early voting locations. The Bexar County Elections page is here as well.

For HD17, here are the early voting locations for Bastrop County, Caldwell County, and Lee County. The Bastrop County Elections page is here, and they already have Election Day voting locations up as well. Both the Caldwell and Lee pages have early voting and election day locations. As for Karnes County and Gonzales County, you’ll need to call the elections administrators for information, as you had to do for the January election.

For HD13, here are the early voting locations for Burleson County, Colorado County, Fayette County, Grimes County, Lavaca County, and Washington County. All of those pages also have Election Day locations, except for Fayette and Washington. I could not find information for Austin County, so call the elections administrator there for the scoop.

Googling around on the candidates’ names, I found basically zero new information since the original election, except for a couple of stories relating to the SD26 runoff. The only endorsements I found, as was the case in January, was from the Express News, which reiterated their choices from the first round.

In the Senate race, we recommend Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer to replace mayoral candidate Leticia Van de Putte.

The district will be in good hands regardless of who wins the showdown between Martinez Fischer and Rep. José Menéndez. Both Democrats who have been in the House since 2001.

But Martinez Fischer’s strong leadership ability unequivocally makes him the right choice for the Senate.

[…]

We strongly encourage voters to cast their ballots for former City Councilman Diego Bernal, who faces Republican Nunzio Previtera.

Bernal represented San Antonio’s City Council District 1 from 2011 until resigning late last year to seek the House seat. During his tenure at City Hall, Bernal showed courage by successfully sponsoring a highly controversial nondiscrimination ordinance that provided new protections for sexual orientation, gender identity and veteran status.

The 38-year-old Bernal also played a lead role in creating an advisory panel to study the future of Alamo Plaza. The city has failed to nurture the downtown asset, and Bernal’s efforts have revived hope for real improvements. This is an issue of statewide importance.

They also had a recent story about how Bexar Dems are dismayed by the negativity in the all-Dem SD26 runoff. Those of us who remember the SD06 special election from two years ago feel their pain. I figure turnout will be less than or equal to the first round, so if you live in any of these districts, your vote counts for a lot. There are no Dems in either HD17 or HD13, but John Cyrier and Carolyn Bilski are backed by the Texas Parent PAC, and Cyrier’s opponent in particular is aligned with the likes of Empower Texans, so even without a home team there’s still a rooting interest. I’ll keep an eye on the voting as we go. The Rivard Report has more.

Special Election Day for SD26, HD123, and HD17

At long last, we have some endorsements. The Express News recommends TMF for SD26.

Martinez Fischer has demonstrated distinctive leadership that makes him the clear-cut choice for the Senate.

Early in his career, Martinez Fischer stirred the pot ineffectively. The 44-year-old lawyer admits he is “rough around the edges,” but he learned his legislative lessons well and emerged as a powerful force in recent years.

More than any other Democratic legislator from San Antonio, Martinez Fischer has demonstrated a knack for being in the center of the action when it matters most.

Martinez Fischer has generated the most headlines for the confrontational aspects of his role as the chairman of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus and his sometimes overexuberant partisan comments.

But his use of the levers of power to be positioned to help make crucial decisions — even in the Republican-dominated House — is the more important aspect of his performance.

[…]

We are confident that Martinez Fischer will be as effective as a Democrat is able to be in the GOP-dominated Senate. He has the standing to be a go-to guy for progressives as well as San Antonio’s pragmatic civic leaders.

They also recommend Diego Bernal in HD123.

During his tenure at City Hall, Bernal showed courage by successfully sponsoring a highly controversial nondiscrimination ordinance that provided new protections for sexual orientation, gender identity and veteran status.

Bernal, 38, also took the lead in creating an advisory panel to study the future of Alamo Plaza. The plaza has received lip service over the years, but the city has failed to nurture the downtown asset. Bernal’s efforts have revived hope for real improvements.

The former councilman has demonstrated a commitment to public service, and voters have good reason to expect that he will get up to speed on state issues quickly.

Both excellent choices, in my opinion.

vote-button

I don’t know what to expect from the three legislative special elections today except low turnout, the likelihood of at least one runoff, and the eventual need for another such election to fill the seat of either State Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer or Rep. Jose Menendez. For those of you in one of these districts, here’s where you are voting today if you have not already done so:

Bexar County polling sites.
Bexar County Precinct Finder.

Bastrop County Precinct Finder. There’s no general listing of polling sites. It appears you have to do the precinct location lookup to find out where you need to go to vote.

Caldwell County polling sites.

Gonzales County election information. There is no information specific to the January special election that I can find. I recommend calling the voter registrar at 830-672-2841 to inquire.

Karnes County election information. There is no information specific to the January special election that I can find. I recommend calling the elections administrator at 830-780-2246 to inquire.

Lee County elections information. They still have info pertaining to the SD18 special election up, but nothing for this one. I recommend calling the elections administrator at 979-542-3684 to inquire.

According to the Bastrop County Elections webpage, 3,114 early votes were cast in the HD17 election. I didn’t see any similar data for Bexar County. There were 35,196 total votes cast in the HD17 election in November, so you can get a feel for just how minuscule overall turnout is going to be. The Austin Chronicle has a good last-minute look at the races and the candidates if you’re still undecided.

Finally, yesterday was the filing deadline for the January 13 special election to fill the HD13 seat vacated by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst. The list of candidates that have filed, according to VoteTexas.govBecky Berger, Republican. Berger was a candidate for Railroad Commissioner least year. She’s also a wingnut.

Carolyn Cerny Bilski, Republican. Bilski is the Austin County Judge. Here’s a brief profile of her.

Leighton Schubert, Republican. This appears to be the press release announcing his candidacy.

Cecil R. Webster, Sr., Democrat. Webster was a candidate for Fayette County Judge last year, and garnered 22% of the vote, which put him ahead of the statewide Democrats in that county.

Here’s a Victoria Advocate story about the HD13 election. I’ll do some more searching for stories later this week.

HD17 overview

The Chron provides an overview of the special election in HD17. Given that current Rep. Tim Kleinschmidt hadn’t planned to resign till January 14, it seems that the swift date for this election, the same day as the ones in Bexar County, caught the prospective candidates a bit by surprise.

Rep. Tim Kleinschmidt

Kleinschmidt has not made any endorsements in the race, though his chief of staff is actively campaigning for Republican candidate John Cyrier and is expected to stay on if Cyrier wins.

Cyrier, a construction executive who served on the Caldwell County Commissioners Court from 2010-2013, is positioning himself the only serious contender with a voting record and one who will not require on-the-job training at the Capitol. Endorsed by the Texas Farm Bureau and several state representatives from the area, Cyrier has been working to consolidate support from the region’s GOP power brokers and seize the mantle of odds-on establishment favorite.

[…]

Bastrop entrepreneur Brent Golemon is running as a different kind of Republican, expressing concern over the direction of the state while pitching himself as the only “principled conservative” in the race. If elected, he said he would work to undo burdensome regulations on businesses and schools that have kept Texas from reaching its full potential.

“We’re not the lesser of two evils – we’re actually a positive place to be,” Golemon said. “‘At least we’re not as bad off as California.’ That’s not a good way of saying: ‘Come to Texas. Be a Texan.’ ”

[…]

Two Democrats are also running, though just one of them – pastor Ty McDonald – is seen as having a shot at spoiling either Republican’s chances of winning more than half the vote and avoiding a runoff Jan. 6. The other Democrat, Cedar Creek real estate agent Shelley Cartier, has kept a lower profile than McDonald, who last year weighed a challenge to Kleinschmidt.

McDonald also has somewhat of an advantage in name recognition as a one time congressional candidate and wife of former Bastrop County Judge Ronnie McDonald. Plus, she fashions herself as more conservative than liberal on social issues, creating the opportunity for crossover appeal in a district where voters’ priorities are hardly partisan lightning rods.

“People tend to have a hard time boxing me in,” McDonald said. The seat, she added, is “up for grabs, and I’m ready to part the red sea.”

Rounding out the five-person lineup is independent Linda Curtis, a longtime Bastrop activist who helps run a political action committee that boosts independent politicians. She also has been mindful of the race’s quirks as a self-styled populist looking to rebuke the leadership in Austin.

“Rick Perry is sneaking an election during the Christmas holiday,” Curtis said in a news release announcing her candidacy. “Lets not make this The Grinch That Stole An Election.”

I will have an interview with Ty McDonald later this week. The presence of Linda Curtis, whom the Austin Chronicle notes has been plying a gadfly/professional outsider schtick for many years, adds an interesting dimension to the race. In a November election, I could see her peeling off a fair number of votes, which I’d guess would more from the R column than the D though not by a huge amount. I don’t know how well that will play in a January election, where the large majority of the participants will be hardcore partisans. One can make an impact as an indy in a race like this, but it likely takes a certain level of resources, since you have to make sure people know that there is an election in the first place, and/or a certain level of name recognition – perhaps “notoriety” is a more accurate term – to cut through the noise. We’ll see how it plays out here. If you live in HD17, what (if anything) are you hearing about this election? Leave a comment and let us know.

Hog killin’ update

Because I know you like to know about this sort of thing.

After a competition to kill feral hogs left more than 1,000 of the destructive animals dead in Hays and Caldwell counties, plans are emerging to further control the population.

Both counties participated in the state’s Hog Out County Grants Program, a competition among counties to kill the most feral hogs and to educate people about the hogs from October through December.

The 28 counties that participated last year, including Hays, Caldwell and Williamson, earned points for the number of hogs killed and the number of participants at educational workshops.

According to the state’s Department of Agriculture, Texas is home to nearly 2.6 million feral hogs, the largest population nationwide, and one that’s growing. The Hog Out County Grants Program is one of two the department funds that is aimed at eliminating feral hogs, which damage property, crops and pastures.

The Texas AgriLife Extension Service estimates that the economic damage cause by hogs statewide is $500 million annually. The funds the department will award as a result of the Hog Out program are to be used by counties to implement a plan to reduce their feral hog populations.

The county with the most points wins $20,000. The second- and third-place counties earn $15,000 and $10,000, respectively.

It’s all just a drop in the bucket, really. As we heard before, killing 750,000 of these beasts a year would not be enough to cause a drop in their population. But what are you gonna do? And in case you were wondering, yes, they’re going to try to do something useful with all that meat. Good luck with that.

It was nice knowing you, Lockhart

There’s so much that’s wrong with this.

Image courtesy bbqfilm.com

Community leaders believe the four lanes of Texas 130 will spur growth — despite what is expected to be a charge of about 15 cents a mile to drive on it. The tollway, which will link Lockhart to Austin to the north and will provide a much faster route to San Antonio to the south, has drawn the attention of a handful of developers, but no dirt has turned yet.

“We can only imagine what fruits it will bear for Caldwell County,” County Judge Tom Bonn told the crowd at the summit. “We are ready for industry. We are ready for development. We are ready for jobs.”

But as shown by the short history of the existing 49 miles of Texas 130, which loops east of Round Rock and Austin and opened in sections between 2006 and 2008, the presence of a tollway does not guarantee instant development. Drive that road today and, aside from concentrations of housing and retail in Hutto and Pflugerville and the nearly finished Formula One racetrack, most of the road is flanked by empty land.

And those two communities, given their proximity to Round Rock and the thousands of Dell Inc. jobs, were already booming before Texas 130 and nearby tollways Texas 45 North and Loop 1 opened. Caldwell County, at least at this point, has no such employment base. Not yet, anyway.

Caldwell County Commissioner John Cyrier, who runs an Austin commercial construction company, said bringing that first big employer to the county is the key. An 85 mph tollway could help with that, officials say.

“We’re trying to attract a business,” Cyrier said. “Then the rooftops will come, and the retail. We’re hoping for at least 10,000 rooftops.”

Those rooftops, of course, would come with people, and traffic, and all sorts of change. Lockhart, at least compared with the astonishing growth of other towns ringing Austin, has been a tranquil island of stability. Its population grew just 9 percent between 2000 and 2010, to about 12,700. And the biggest reason to visit Lockhart remains its brisket, ribs and sausage.

“I think people are very optimistic about it,” Cyrier said of the expected growth. “They’re wanting the quality of life, and the jobs to come. They’re tired of their grandkids going away.

“I’ve been very surprised with it. I thought maybe people would be upset with it, fighting it.”

Jeff Gibeaux, a civil engineer and downtown Lockhart developer who has lived in the city for 20 years, said the more dominant reaction among locals is skepticism that significant change is on the way. After all, Lockhart is about the same distance from downtown Austin as Hutto, Georgetown, Leander and Bastrop, yet unlike those towns has never taken off as a bedroom community.

Which is precisely why, Gibeaux argues, that with Texas 130 in place, his town and Caldwell County probably are about to boom.

“As I tell people, it’s the last piece of pie in the dish,” Gibeaux said. “You can’t go anywhere else” with development.

It’s sprawl in its embryonic form. I understand why Lockhart wants to grow – many small, rural towns have been steadily losing population to the cities and suburbs – but boy is it hard for me to see how being a 40-mile commute on a toll road will bring the masses in. Maybe that’s just me, though. Of course, you can go elsewhere with development, just not this kind of development. That’s more of a subject for places like Austin and San Antonio to address, however. I’m dubious about all this, but check back in 20 years and we’ll see who’s right.

On a side note, the way this toll road came to have an 85 MPH speed limit was dodgy.

Before construction on the toll road stretch began, U.S. Highway 183 in the county was a four-lane road. The road had a posted speed limit of 65 mph and a reputation for accidents. Now U.S. 183 will serve as the frontage roads to the new toll road with two one-way lanes on each side. Though it’s widely considered safer than the older road, TxDOT has set the speed limit for the new U.S. 183 through Caldwell County at 55 mph.

The news of the lower speed limit designation for U.S. 183 has been “the talk of the town,” said Caldwell County Judge Tom Bonn. For three years, local residents had patiently put up with lower speed limits because of construction and had assumed that the 65 mph limit would return once the project was completed, Bonn said. He believes that the speed limit was set at 55 mph to encourage drivers to use the toll road.

Furthering suspicion is a report by the Austin American-Statesman noting that the speed limit was chosen based on a trial run conducted last year by an engineer hired by the SH 130 Concession Company. TxDOT declined to comment on why a TxDOT engineer did not perform the test.

Chris Lippincott, a SH 130 Concession Company spokesman, said a lower speed limit is prudent considering the economic development that the toll road will draw to the frontage roads.

“Whataburger and Home Depot do not want their customers pulling out of their driveways onto a 65 mph racetrack,” Lippincott said. “When you look at frontage roads with high speeds, you tend to find limited growth and too many wrecks.”

Local elected officials are skeptical. Both the Caldwell County Commissioners and the Lockhart City Council have passed resolutions calling on TxDOT to return the U.S. 183 speed limit to 65 mph and offer a discounted toll rate for Caldwell County residents that have to commute to jobs in Travis County. Members of the Legislature are also hearing complaints about it.

“I think public opinion is going to change it,” Bonn said. “It’s a bad decision.”

The profit motive sure does skew these public infrastructure projects, doesn’t it?

Our gay state

Is getting gayer, according to the Census.

It’s no secret that Austin and Central Texas have much appeal for same-sex couples, but new census data from 2010 underscore the depth and breadth of the attraction. Among the highlights from an American-Statesman analysis of the data:

• Travis County has the state’s highest rate — 1.25 percent, more than twice the statewide average — of households describing themselves as led by same-sex couples. There were about 5,000 same-sex households in Travis County in 2010, a 69 percent increase since 2000.

Travis County’s percentage of same-sex couple households ranks 13th among U.S. counties with at least 200,000 households, according to City of Austin demographer Ryan Robinson. Travis ranked 10th nationally in percentage of lesbian couple households.

• The percentage of same-sex couple households in Austin also grew since 2000 and was even higher than the county’s — 1.28 percent of the city’s 324,892 households were led by same-sex couples in 2010. Those 4,182 same-sex couples were split almost evenly between male couples and female couples.

• Growth among same-sex couple households extended to the four other counties which make up the Austin metropolitan area — Bastrop, Caldwell, Hays and Williamson — expanding on a trend noted across the country after the 2000 census, which found more same-sex couples living in suburban communities outside traditional urban enclaves.

Like Travis, other metro area counties exceeded the statewide average for same-sex couple households and had gains from 2000 ranging from 52 percent in Caldwell to 146 percent in Hays and 170 percent in Williamson, where the overall population increased 69 percent since 2000. Hays’ total population grew 61 percent since 2000.

Bastrop County ranked third, and Hays County fourth, among Texas counties with at least 4,300 households.

You should see the accompanying graphic of growth by county for more information. The greater Houston area saw considerable growth as well, with Montgomery and Fort Bend Counties registering in the 101-300% range, while Galveston, Brazoria, Liberty, and Waller Counties were in the 51-100% group. Harris and Chambers grew at “only” 1 to 50%, which is obviously too big a range to judge whether those scare quotes are needed. Please note that a high growth rate may be simply a function of a very low starting point. Going from one to three represents 200% growth, after all. Also, as the story notes, the growth may really be a reflection of how many such households are willing to identify themselves as such. Anyway, just another dimension to the diversity of Texas to think about.

New map, new opportunities: Outside the urban areas, part 1

Here’s the first post in my series of analyses of the new districts. I’m using 2008 electoral data, since the next election is a Presidential year, and I feel confident that the districts were drawn with an eye strongly towards protecting Republican gains in such a year. Without further ado, here we go.

HD12

District: 12

Incumbent: None

Counties: McLennan (part), Limestone, Falls, Robertson, Brazos (part)

Best 2008 Dem performance: Sam Houston, 46.67%

This district contains parts of Jim Dunnam’s old district, with the eastern part of the old HD57 being chopped off and reconstituted to accommodate Marva Beck. Lack of an incumbent is a big part of the draw here. A big downside is the eight point spread from the top of the ticket – neither Obama nor Noriega cracked 40% – to the Sam Houston number, which suggests that any Democratic candidate may have to swim against the tide. Lack of an incumbent also means you can’t accuse the other guy of voting to gut public education. Not a top priority, and may never be on the radar, but deserves a decent candidate for the first go-round at least.

HD17

District: 17

Incumbent: Tim Kleinschmidt (first elected in 2008)

Counties: Lee, Bastrop, Caldwell, Gonzales, Karnes

Best 2008 Dem performance: Susan Strawn, 48.27% (plurality)

Big change in this district, which used to contain Burleson, Colorado, Fayette, and parts of Brazos. Basically, it shifted south. Bastrop is the population center, and it was a purple county in 2008, with Strawn and Sam Houston scoring pluralities there. The more it becomes an Austin suburb a la Hays and Williamson, the better the prospects for a win. This district was on the radar for Dems in 2008 as an open D seat and in 2010, and I expect it will continue to be.

HDs 32 and 34

District: 32
District: 34

Incumbent: Todd Hunter (HD32, first elected in 2008); Raul Torres and Connie Scott (HD34, first elected in 2010)

Counties: Nueces

Best Dem performance in 2008: For HD32, Sam Houston, 46.20%. For HD34, Sam Houston, 58.83%

HD32 can charitably be described as a reach if Hunter runs for re-election. Nueces County has been trending away from the Democrats, the three counties that were removed from HD32 (Aransas, Calhoun, and San Patricio) were a net winner for Juan Garcia, whom Hunter defeated in 2008, and Hunter has done very well both in terms of fundraising and moving up the ladder in his two terms. However, it’s the worst kept secret in the state that Hunter wants to run for Congress, and if that map is at all favorable to him this seat may be open in 2012. So keep that in the back of your mind.

I’ll be honest, I’m not really sure why Torres and Scott were paired, unless they were considered to be hopeless cases for salvation. This is the more Democratic part of Nueces, with all Dems in 2008 winning a majority, up to 20 points in their favor downballot. This has got to be one of the easiest pickup opportunities for the Dems in 2012.

HD35

District: 35

Incumbent: Jose Aliseda (first elected in 2010)

Counties: Atascosa, LaSalle, McMullen, Live Oak, Bee, San Patricio, Duval

Best 2008 Dem performance: Sam Houston, 50.77%

Republicans have been trying to carve out a South Texas district for themselves for awhile, and this one may be their best shot going forward. The good news for them is that McCain and Cornyn scored solid wins in 2008, with McCain getting nearly 55% and Cornyn 51%. The bad news is that Dems carried the rest of the races, with Houston, Strawn, and Linda Yanez all getting majorities. Aliseda got into one of the more entertaining kerfuffles during the House debate over HB150; I don’t know if he got what he wanted or not, but what he got is a very swingy district that may be a battleground through the decade.

HD41

District: HD41

Incumbent: Aaron Pena (first elected as a Democrat in 2002, switched parties after the 2010 election)

Counties: Hidalgo (part)

Best Dem performance in 2008: Sam Houston, 60.15%

I can’t think of a single seat the Democrats would like to win more than this one. Technically, Pena is the incumbent in HD40, and Veronica Gonzales is the incumbent in HD41, but as the Legislative Study Group noted:

CSHB150 also radically changes Hidalgo County districts in an effort to squeeze a partisan performing district out of the existing population. The incumbent in HD 40 would only represent 1.5 % of his current district, and the incumbent in HD 41 would only represent 1.1 % of her district. The gerrymandered map in Hidalgo County takes great pains to draw the incumbents in HD 40 and 41 into almost entirely new districts, narrowing down to one city block at times.

For this reason, the district numbers were swapped, thus giving Pena and Gonzales most of their previous constituents back. Despite being on the Redistricting Committee and drawing what one presumes was the best map he could for himself, Pena isn’t exactly sitting pretty. The low score among Democrats was Obama’s 54.83%, with everyone but Jim Jordan getting at least 56%. Do his constituents love him enough to overcome the party label or not? Assuming he does run for re-election, that is.

Peña said he is in employment negotiations with a law firm that would require him to move out of the Valley. If he does take the job, he said, he won’t seek office in 2012.

In other words, he’s got a graceful way out if he decides that he can’t win his custom-designed district. We’ll find out soon enough. More non-urban areas coming up next.

The Census and Central Texas

While much of the focus post-Census will be on redistricting, the data it contains is fascinating and illuminating in its own right, absent any political context. This story about explosive growth in former small towns around Austin that now serve as its suburbs is a good read. A couple of points:

The total population in Travis, Williamson, Hays, Bastrop and Caldwell counties grew to 1,716,289, an increase of 37 percent since 2000. But it was the suburbs that provided some of the more eye-popping gains.

While Austin grew by 20.4 percent during the past decade to 790,390, remaining the state’s fourth-largest city , the suburbs grew at even faster rates:

• Hutto grew by 1,076 percent. Only the city of Fate, in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, grew faster in the past decade .

• South of Austin, Kyle added 22,702 residents, a 427 percent increase, as it became the retail hub of northern Hays County, and nearby Buda grew by more than 200 percent.

• Pflugerville shed its pastoral history to add 30,000 residents, a 187 percent increase, and Manor exploded by 318 percent.

• Even Uhland, a gem east of Kyle on the Hays-Caldwell county line, nearly tripled its 2000 population – from 386 to 1,014 – and was the state’s 36th fastest-growing city.

The population booms offer some measures of prosperity but present challenges as well. Cities like Buda, once known as much for its antique shops as the cafes on Main Street, already are dealing with the impact of both. During the past decade, Buda incorporated 1,790 acres and added nearly 5,000 residents. New subdivisions and retail developments abound.

I’ve made this point before, but the smaller your starting population, the easier it is to have a huge growth rate. Houston grew by only 7.5 percent since 2000, but that represents nearly 150,000 people, which is more than twice as much as the total increase for Hutto, Kyle, Pflugerville, Uhland, and Buda combined. Rate isn’t everything.

Metro area residents have long offered a wide range of theories for the growth of the suburbs, from the availability and attractiveness of bigger homes for the buck in cities like Pflugerville and Kyle to the forces of gentrification that are pricing some longtime Central Austin residents out of their homes.

Lloyd Potter, the state’s official demographer and the director of the Texas State Data Center, said dramatic growth in the Austin metro area was consistent with statewide patterns .

“If you look at the urban areas from Dallas-Fort Worth to Houston and Harris County and all the way from Williamson to Bexar County, you see this little cluster of counties that are growing quite rapidly,” Potter said.

The state demographer attributed slightly more than half the growth to net births and the rest to newcomers.

“Certainly, it implies there’s growing economic opportunity, and with that you see this dispersion of the populace outward from these urban centers,” he said.

But the dramatic rise in suburban counties can also be traced to something more pragmatic – the availability of those wide open spaces on which to build, Potter said.

So while Travis County had healthy growth, “most of Travis is built out,” he said. “With Hays and Williamson, there’s land that is developable.”

That’s true, but here’s the thing: It’s also true about a number of Texas’ big cities, especially Houston. I spend 90% or more of my life inside the Loop, but I still see plenty of open spaces, and spaces with vacant buildings. There’s less than there used to be – twenty years ago, Midtown was a big nothing – but there’s still a lot, especially east of 288/59. And in the coming months, we’ll see the political consequences of seeing all this population shift to the suburbs. Without going off on a long rant about urbanism, it’s vital for cities like Houston to think long and hard about investing in their infrastructure to ensure that they can keep up with population growth and shifts. This also means ensuring that our development regulations make sense, including parking requirements, and that they allow and encourage dense development where they should. It’s not just about growing the tax base, it’s about maintaining our voice in the Legislature and in Congress. If we’re not keeping up, we’re falling behind. For more on this and other Census-related stories, go see Greg.