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Sugar Land

Mayors to Abbott: Don’t mess with our cities

Good luck getting through.

Less than 24 hours after Gov. Greg Abbott blasted local government restrictions like tree ordinances as a threat to the “Texas brand,” city government leaders statewide are seeking a meeting with the Republican leader.

“We would like the opportunity to meet with you to discuss the role cities play in attracting jobs and investments to support the prosperity of the State of Texas,” a letter signed by 18 mayors, including Houston mayor Sylvester Turner to Abbott states.


The letter from the mayors makes clear that they fear the Texas Legislature is overreaching and doing too much harm to local governments.

“Harmful proposals such as revenue and spending caps, limiting annexation authority, and other measures preempting local development ordinances directly harm our ability to plan for future growth and continue to serve as the economic engines of Texas,” the letter states.

The mayors on the letter include those from Houston, Amarillo, Arlington, Austin, Corpus Christi, Dallas, Denton, El Paso, Fort Worth, Frisco, Galveston, Irving, Lubbock, McKinney, Plano, San Antonio, San Marcos, and Sugar Land.

You can see the letter here. You might note that some of the cities in question are Republican suburban kind of places. It’s not just us smug urbanites that would like to have our current level of autonomy left alone. I’m going to say the same thing to these Mayors that I’ve been saying to the business folk that have been working to defeat the bathroom bill, and that’s that they are going to have to follow up all these words with actions, because Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick don’t care what they have to say. If you’re not working to elect better leadership in 2018, which in this case means leadership that is not actively undermining and degrading Texas’ cities, then you’re part of the problem too, and your words have no meaning. The Current and the Press have more.

Early voting so far

The Chron looks at the first day of early voting and some area races.

Early voting began Monday for local elections next month that will determine who leads increasingly diverse Pasadena, the fate of a major school bond referendum in League City and whether Houston’s largest school district pays tens of millions to the state to comply with a controversial policy and avoid a potentially bigger financial hit.

Across Harris County, 1,153 voters turned out Monday for the elections, figures show. They included many who live within the Houston Independent School District and voted for a second time on “recapture,” a process through which so-called property tax-wealthy school districts pay the state to help fund districts that collect less.


Two candidates, Bill Benton and Edmund Samora, are seeking to unseat Rosenberg Mayor Cynthia McConathy, who stirred debate last year after sending an email to city employees inviting them to participate in prayer at the start of the new year. Richmond Mayor Evalyn Moore has been serving in her post since the 2012 death of her husband, Hilmar Moore, who had been the city’s mayor for 63 years. She now faces Tres Davis, who is running what an online fundraiser calls a “People’s Campaign.”

Meanwhile, in Stafford, longtime Mayor Leonard Scarcella, who has held his seat since 1969, is running unopposed.

Sugar Land has only one contested seat: that to fill the position of Harish Jajoo, a city councilman who ran unsuccessfully in 2016 to be the city’s first South Asian mayor. He chose not to seek re-election as a councilman.

Of note among school district trustee races, Lamar Consolidated ISD’s Anna Gonzales, who was indicted on charges related to bribery in a case that was dismissed last year, faces an opponent in Joe Hubenak, the son of the late state representative and LCISD board member by the same name.

In Brazoria County, Pearland voters are heading to the polls to vote for mayor, City Council and school trustees. A letter from a real estate agent denouncing “liberal gay rights Democrats” trying to take over the city and school board elections there – which are nonpartisan – drew ire from many progressive groups, as well as longtime Mayor Tom Reid and two other candidates endorsed by the letter.

In Clear Creek ISD, the district is asking voters to approve a $487 million bond that officials say is needed to build new schools and keep up with growing student populations. But conservative groups are concerned that the bond’s steep price tag includes too many unnecessary frills, such as $13.7 million to renovate Clear Creek High School’s auditorium.

Consternation over the bond has set up a showdown between two warring political action committees, or PACs, which have spread from national races down to municipal races and local bond referenda.

The Harris County Clerk is sending out its daily EV reports as usual, with a new feature this time – they are posting that report online, which you can find here. As that is a generic URL, I presume it will simply be updated each day, so be sure to hit Refresh if you’re going back at a later date. The vast majority of the vote in the usual places should be for the HISD recapture referendum. There’s no way to tell how many of the mail ballots are for that and how many are for the other races. I may venture some guesses at overall turnout later in the process, but for now I’m just going to shrug and say this is all too new and unprecedented to make anything resembling an educated guess. Have you voted yet (I have not yet), and if so how are you voting on the HISD issue, if that’s on your ballot?

A look ahead to Fort Bend County elections in 2017

(Note: From time to time I solicit guest posts on various topics, from people who have a particular interest or expertise in a particular topic. I don’t know much about local and municipal elections in Fort Bend County, so today’s post is by Steve Brown.

As has been aptly reported here over the last couple of weeks, Secretary Hilary Clinton was able to carry what was once seen as dependably “red” Fort Bend County. Those of us who’ve been working to turn Fort Bend purple, if not blue, have long known that our county wasn’t as conservative as most people believed. Our demographically diverse population, young families and growing base of millennials point to a Fort Bend ready to embrace more progressive values like adequate public school funding and climate change and denounce divisive, hate driven agendas. I have confidence that local Democratic Party leaders will continue working in advance of the 2018 midterms to keep that momentum going, but there are a few local elections on May 6, 2017 that can help to cement support among persuadable suburban voters and build our bench of new leaders.

There are a number of municipalities, school districts & MUDs that will hold elections this year – like Stafford, Rosenberg, Fulshear, Lamar Consolidated ISD to name a few. However, I want to draw your attention to the Fort Bend ISD and Sugar Land races.

If there’s one thing that the 2016 election taught us, it’s that a majority of voters in Fort Bend’s Commissioner 4 precinct either embraced Clinton’s message, rejected Trump or both. These voters live in diverse, highly educated communities like Telfair, Avalon and Sweetwater. Democrats have traditionally done well in our strongholds of Missouri City (which moved its city council election to November) and Fresno. The emergence of winnable precincts in and around Sugar Land create unique electoral opportunities. Although Clinton didn’t have the coattails to boost our down ballot candidates, she did leave behind a road map for these local races.

Fort Bend ISD

Fort Bend ISD trustees are elected district-wide. This year, three school board seats are up – one for a trustee who lives on the east side of the district, one from the west side and one elected at-large. Currently, there are only two minorities on Fort Bend ISD’s Board, and one of them, K.P. George, is up for re-election in May. It would be ideal to add at least one more progressive and/or minority to a Board that governs a district representing one of the most diverse student populations in the country.

Sugar Land City Council

Similarly, a progressive candidate in one of Sugar Land’s 4 district races could help to reshape that governing body as well. Clinton won about half of the precincts in Sugar Land and came extremely close in a handful of others to arguably make Sugar Land a “toss-up” municipality. Sugar Land’s four district council members will be up for re-election in May. Sugar Land recently annexed two master-planned communities so it may be too early to predict how that might impact electoral outcomes there. Nevertheless, good candidates should definitely consider running this Spring, and possibly win office with as few as 3500 votes.

2018 Midterms

As we look forward to the 2018 mid-term elections, having solid candidates to engage persuadable voters in the parts of Sugar Land and Fort Bend ISD that overlap with Commissioner’s Precinct 4 will help lay the groundwork to win that commissioner’s precinct in 2018. A prospective nominee for that office could be buoyed by the support of a newly minted school board trustee and Sugar Land city council member- not to mention access to their voter base and donors. With the right collaboration and coordination it’s plausible that GOTV in Precincts 2 and 4 (which would both be on the ballot in 2018) could help to elect Democrats countywide – including County Judge, District Attorney and various judicial benches. A competitive commissioner’s 4 race could also have a positive effect on the HD 26 race in 2018 and 2020.

Democrats can’t win the state if we can’t win suburbs – especially the diverse ones. Fort Bend has been on the cusp of political change for some time now. We can finally reach that tipping point by taking seriously these low hanging local elections. All elections matter.

Steve Brown is a former Chair of the Fort Bend County Democratic Party and Managing Director at Capitol Assets Sustainable Energy Development LLC.

Steve Brown: Why we need the US90A rail line

(Note: From time to time I solicit guest posts on various topics, from people who have a particular interest or expertise in a particular topic. Today’s post is by Steve Brown, on the newly revived US90A commuter rail line.)

Steve Brown

Steve Brown

In May 2015, Metro began operating two light rail lines serving the East End and Southeast communities. Those routes, along with an extension of the Main St. line, were part of the 2003 Metro Solutions referendum. Included in that referendum was also a nine mile commuter line connecting Southwest Houston to Missouri City along Main/90A. Despite its bi-partisan support, that route has yet to break ground…or even clear its final environmental stage.

When the METRO Solutions referendum squeaked out a victory with 51.7% of the vote, it was the votes from Fort Bend that pushed it into the winner’s column. The METRO Solutions referendum received 66% of the Fort Bend County vote. That shouldn’t be a surprise. According to the most recent Kinder Houston Area Survey (2016), Fort Bend residents beat out Harris and Montgomery County in favoring more spending for rail and buses. That study also found that a majority of Fort Bend residents believe that the development of a much improved mass transit system is “very important.”

Fort Bend County is one of the fastest growing counties in the nation, and is projected to increase by 60 percent by 2035. According to METRO, 24,000 daily work trips are made along the 90A corridor between Fort Bend and the Texas Medical Center. That number is expected to jump to 32,000 by 2035. The Houston-Galveston Area Council (H-GAC) also estimates that trips along US 90A to all major employment centers, such as downtown Houston, Uptown/Galleria, and Greenway Plaza in Houston will increase approximately 37 percent in that same time period. That’s why I was overjoyed to hear that METRO’s Board recently voted to submit this project to FTA for project development. The project development phase is a preliminary stage, so it doesn’t guarantee full funding.

What’s needed now is a robust strategy for the next legislative session to advocate for state funding for the 90A line, and the creation of a special district to spearhead this effort.

Under the state’s Transportation Code, the legislature can create special “Commuter Rail Districts” (CRD). These Districts have the statutory power to develop, construct, own, and operate commuter rail facilities and connect political subdivisions in the district. The Fort Bend CRD, for instance, could accept grants and loans from the federal and state government. It could also issue revenue bonds and impose taxes. This district would function as the project leader and fiscal agent in partnering with METRO, local municipalities, private investors, Fort Bend Express and other key stakeholders.

A lot has changed along Main/90A since 2003. The 90A line should definitely stop in Missouri City but it shouldn’t end there. Constellation Field in Sugar Land has become a major local attraction, and the Imperial Market development will break ground later this year. Combined, they will be a hub for Sugar Land’s retail, entertainment, residential and office growth. As such, having the 90A commuter line terminate at Imperial Market (or even the Sugar Land airport) makes a lot of sense…assuming they’re willing to coordinate with the CRD.

Additionally, Missouri City’s residential growth and development has steadily drifted towards SH6 in recent years. In addition to the 90A route, we should also examine the feasibility of having a Hillcroft spur with stops around the Fountain of Praise/Fountain Life Center, Chasewood/Briargate and traveling adjacent to the Fort Bend Tollway before terminating on SH6. Not only would that route help to spark needed economic development in key East Fort Bend communities, it would also serve commuters from Fresno, Sienna Plantation and Riverstone. This “Hillcroft Spur” could function as a Bus Rapid Transit alternative to rail, at least initially, and potentially replace the 2 METRO Park and Rides in Fort Bend.

Finally, the state legislature needs invest in urban and suburban transit. We’re not going to be able to adequately address traffic congestion in this state with more toll roads. According to the American Public Transit Association, commuter rail annually yields $5.2 billion in economic and societal benefits. Those benefits are often greater than the initial investment and include cost savings from avoided congestion, mitigation of traffic accidents and tax revenue generated. These projects are also dynamic job creators and economic development incubators.

It’s time that we get the right people at the table to brainstorm innovative mobility solutions in Fort Bend, and finally make the METRO 90A/Southwest Houston commuter line a reality.

Steve Brown is a former Chair of the Fort Bend County Democratic Party and a past Director of Government Affairs for Metro.

Commuter rail status

There’s still a push for commuter rail in Houston.


With freight trains on Houston area tracks teeming with cargo, supporters of commuter rail to the suburbs are focusing on three spots where they can potentially build their own lines for passengers.

The Gulf Coast Rail District – created in part to find a way to make commuter rail work in Houston – is studying three possible routes for large passenger trains.

What’s clear, at least for the near future, is that commuter trains will not share any track with local freight railroads, or buy any of their land.

“There is a lot of freight moving through the region because of all the new business, and the freight carriers are trying to meet the demand for that,” said Maureen Crocker, executive director of the rail district. “They are not willing to discuss the use of their rail for passenger rail operations.”


Without access to the freight lines, Crocker said, commuter rail must find its own way. Focusing on land owned by local governments or the state, and near current freight lines, officials identified three possible routes for study: along U.S. 290, U.S. 90A and the Westpark corridor.

The plan is to further study all three, looking at how much ridership they could expect while analyzing the type of property that would have to be purchased, engineering challenges and costly factors such as bridges.

Each of the routes includes some easily obtainable land and could connect suburban commuters to the city. The goal would be to develop commuter rail from the suburbs to Loop 610 – or farther into the central city under some scenarios – and connect it to local transit.

Both the Westpark corridor and U.S. 290 offer close access from western or northwestern suburbs to The Galleria and Uptown areas, where a single bus or light rail trip could carry travelers from a train station to their final destination. The U.S. 90A corridor, which Metro has studied before, offers access from the southwest to the Texas Medical Center.

Developing rail along any of the corridors would pose many challenges. In the case of the Westpark and U.S. 290 routes, both would abut local roads, meaning ramps and entrances would have to undergo serious changes. Other projects, such as light rail and toll roads, also are being considered for the space.

The terrain poses challenges as well. A U.S. 90A commuter rail system would need to cross the Brazos River and would pass by the southern tip of Sugar Land Regional Airport.

“There are challenges out in Fort Bend County,” Crocker said. “But the demand is so high we would like to take another look at it.”

To me, US90A is the clear first choice. I’ve been advocating for Metro to turn its attention back to what it calls the US90A Southwest Rail Corridor (SWRC). As recently as two years ago, they were holding open houses to get community support and finish up a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), which would put them and that project in the queue for federal funds. Unfortunately, as of September of 2012, the plans are on hold. I would hope it wouldn’t be too difficult to revive that process, in partnership with the GCRD. Note that while Metro’s original plan for the SWRC stopped at Missouri City, just across the Fort Bend County line, while the GCRD plan goes all the way to Rosenberg. The latter would clearly have much greater ridership potential, and would include destinations that would be of interest outside the regular commute, such as the airport and Skeeters Field. You only get to do this sort of thing right the first time, so it would be best to plan to maximize ridership from the beginning.

As for the other two, it must be noted that the corridors in question are already fairly well served by Metro park and ride. There’s some overlap with the US90A corridor, but not as much. Both Westpark and US90A continue well into Fort Bend County and thus beyond Metro’s existing service area, so I suppose the Westpark corridor would be the next best choice for commuter rail. The other key factor at play here is that the US90A line would connect up with the existing Main Street Line, thus potentially carrying people all the way from Rosenberg and elsewhere in Fort Bend to the Medical Center, downtown, and beyond. The 290 corridor will at least have the Uptown BRT line available to it as a connection, and if it were to happen it might revive discussion of the Inner Katy Line for a seamless trip into downtown via Washington Avenue. As for Westpark, well, go tell it to John Culberson. You know what we’d need to make any Westpark commuter rail line the best it could be. Anything the GCRD can do about that would be good for all of us.

The red light camera debate keeps raging on

Elsewhere, thankfully. Not here.

They still have these in some cities

League City is the latest to put the plug on red light cameras at intersections. Cameras at three League City intersections were to be turned off by midnight Wednesday, after the City Council voted to cut short its five-year agreement with Arizona-based contractor Redflex Traffic Systems Inc. The contract was set to expire in October 2014.

In Texas, roughly 60 cities have the camera programs, with fewer than 10 in the Houston area, according to data from the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety.

The League City decision follows action by Montgomery County commissioners last week to end its contract with Redflex, the company that runs 10 red light cameras in The Woodlands.

Redflex spokeswoman Jody Ryan said the contract with Montgomery County is still operational, and it is under discussion with the county.

Use of the cameras spiked to nearly 700 cities by some estimates, but has declined to 530, based on the latest count by the insurance institute.

“They are dropping and adding so much we don’t count their use,” said Nancy White, a spokeswoman for AAA in Washington.

Can I just say how glad I am that we’re no longer debating this in Houston? I had no problems with the cameras, and I still don’t quite understand the fuss they generated, but this is one of those debates that has no resolution. Either you think they’re a good idea or you don’t, and there’s really no middle ground – you either have them in your city or you don’t, and if you don’t like them the only acceptable number to have is zero. It’s useless to cite accident data in the debate – small sample sizes and imprecise definitions render the statistics largely meaningless, with as many studies showing a benefit to having the cameras as there are studies showing the opposite. There’s no compromise – ultimately, one side wins and one side loses. I suppose one advantage to the anti-camera forces winning is that at that point the argument generally ends, since the pro-camera folks no longer have anything to fight about. I have no doubt that had the 2010 camera referendum gone the other way in Houston the anti-camera folks would still be looking for a way to prevail. I’m wearing myself out just thinking about it. Anyway, like I said I’m just glad we’re done with this here. There are plenty of other things to be arguing about, and some of those things do have outcomes that are generally satisfactory to most people. I’m happy we’ve moved on.

Somebody else’s red light camera problems

Sugar Land:

They still have these in some cities

A Fort Bend County activist wants to pull the plug on Sugar Land’s red-light cameras, but city officials aren’t about to budge on their plans to ticket motorists caught on camera running red lights.

H.F. Van Der Grinten, a semiretired shipmaster, took his message to Sugar Land Municipal Court at 1200 Texas 6 early Monday, where he criticized the city’s red-light camera ordinance.

“Red-light cameras are unfair to the driving public because drivers are forced to guess how long the yellow light will remain illuminated,” said Van Der Grinten, 72, who lives in New Territory in Sugar Land’s extraterritorial jurisdiction. “Red-light cameras do not reduce accidents, and they amount to little more than taxation by method of random selection.”

Van Der Grinten distributed fliers to motorists who appeared before a hearing officer to protest their red-light tickets. The handouts urged motorists to demand their ticket be dismissed because photographic evidence “does not identify me as the driver of the vehicle cited.”

Some other dude is quoted in the story saying that red light cameras are about revenue and not law enforcement. As they say, it’s like deja vu all over again.

And if that weren’t enough, there’s League City.

The company that manages the red-light camera equipment for the city sued League City about the upcoming election that would give voters a chance to get rid of the system.

Redflex Traffic Systems claims the ballot language is too vague, confusing and violates the company’s contract with the city.

Earlier this month, the city council approved the ballot measure that would allow the voters to decide if the red-light cameras should continue once the city’s contract with Redflex expires in 2014.

Redflex claims that the ballot language the council approved — in which a “yes” vote would remove the cameras and a “no” vote would keep the status quo — is confusing.

“Additionally, the proposition as worded is misleading and confusing because a vote ‘for’ the proposition is a vote ‘against’ the ordinance and the city’s current policy with respect to the use of red light cameras,” the company claims in its lawsuit filed in the 122nd District Court in Galveston County on Thursday.

Mayor Tim Paulissen called Redflex’s lawsuit frivolous and hopes a judge will toss it out.

I’m so happy that we’re just voting on boring old bond referendums and that Metro proposition. I don’t miss this debate at all.

Sugar Land has its own Ashby

The unhappy dissenters part of it, anyway.

Today Southhampton, tomorrow the world!

The planned development of the city’s last piece of open land would turn the abandoned Imperial Sugar site – the very genesis of the city – into an $800 million urban space with museums, parks, luxury apartments, restaurants and a theater.

“It represents our evolution,” said Doug Adolph, a city spokesman, “where we’ve been and where we’re going.”

Yet the project has stirred vocal and passionate opposition. More than 2,000 residents signed a petition against part of the plan and homeowners formed a committee – complete with study groups, a website and an email distribution list – to track the project’s progress since 2007, fighting various components. Tuesday, before the City Council tentatively approved the project, many among the crowd of about 150 residents voiced emotional appeals against it.

The crux of their opposition: No more apartments.

Yeah, as Greg notes, the kid of apartments that will be built on this location are probably not what the folks who were speaking out against them have in mind. If they really want to put a “No Vacancy” sign up at Sugar Land’s city limits, I suppose that might be good for the other places that people would move to instead, but it’s not a good move for them. In the end, I suspect this will all blow over.

Skeeter mascots

Meet Swatson and Moe, the mascots of the Sugar Land Skeeters. I guess when your franchise is named for a winged pest, your options for cuddly anthropomorphic representations are somewhat constrained. Be that as it may, the Phillies Phanatic comparison works pretty well for them. What do you think?

Downtown suburbia

Lisa Gray writes approvingly of a forthcoming urban development in Sugar Land.

A far bigger project in the works is the Imperial, a 715-acre development that includes the site of the defunct Imperial Sugar refinery – the factory that built Sugar Land, the old industrial center of what was once a company town.

The walkable, bike-friendly development will include a baseball stadium for the minor-league Skeeters; housing (single-family, multifamily and assisted living); restaurants and bars; and an office park. It’ll give spread-out Sugar Land something that feels like the tight-packed middle of town, the place where things happen – something that the area seems hungry for. Even without any residential development at all on the site, the brand-new Saturday farmers market already attracts around 5,000 shoppers from the surrounding neighborhoods.

In the last decade, high-density town-center developments like that have sprouted all over Houston’s suburbs, creating some lively places: among them, Woodlands Town Center, Pearland Town Center and, of course, Sugar Land Town Square. The thing that makes Imperial different is that it isn’t being created entirely from scratch on a bulldozed site. Unlike those other brand-new town centers, it’ll have some history to it.

That sounds great, and some day when I go to a Skeeters game I will be sure to walk around and check it out. I find myself amused by the trend Gray notes of dense urban development being in far-flung suburbia, all of which are places that had been built originally so people could escape the urban environment. Not such a bad thing after all, apparently.

Here in Houston as you know we are undergoing a review of Chapter 42, our land development ordinance, to update the codes that allow and restrict dense development in the city. Nancy Sarnoff has an update on that.

The city of Houston is revisiting changes to its development code that were proposed three years ago but never adopted.

The revisions include expanding the city’s “urban area” to Beltway 8 and requiring additional parking in high-density, single-family developments.

If the changes are approved, developments common in Houston’s inner city, such as compact clusters of townhomes, would be allowed outside the loop, too. Certain neighborhoods, however, would have tools to protect their traditional character.

Click here for the proposed ordinance and a summary of the changes.

City Council will have a public hearing about this new set of changes on Wednesday, December 7, at 9 AM. I don’t feel like I understand what’s going on with this well enough to comment about it. The related parking issues we’ve discussed, but the rest of this is still somewhat formless in my mind. The full Chron story that followed adds another wrinkle to this.

“If you can put a few more homes on a lot, you’re able to sometimes keep those price points down where you can provide some affordability,” said Suzy Hartgrove, a spokeswoman for the city’s Planning & Development Department.


Mike Dishberger, townhome developer and president of the Greater Houston Builders Association, who served on the city committee that worked on the revisions, said the proposed changes could actually result in less development inside the Loop.

That’s because there’s more available land in the suburban areas, he said, and the loosened density restrictions will allow them to build more homes in smaller spaces.

“It changes all the economics of it,” he said.

This is a corollary of what Matt Yglesias was saying when he noted that you generally don’t have to “encourage” downtown-style office development, you just have to allow it. Of course, there is still a fair amount of space inside the Loop that could be ripe for this kind of development. I don’t know what you have to do to get it to happen there, but I do know we should be thinking about it more than we currently are.

What next for Sugar Land prison property?

Now that the Central Unit in Sugar Land has been closed, what will happen to the empty facility?

The fate of the Central Unit site will be decided by the three-member School Land Board, which oversees real estate investments on behalf of the $26 billion Permanent University Fund.

The board is chaired by Texas General Land Office Commissioner Jerry Patterson.

“Our staff is going to look at the land value – the property minus the structure,” land office spokesman Jim Suydam said. “We’ll look at historical considerations and access considerations. It’ll probably be a year before anything happens.”

Sugar Land city officials hope to develop the property to support the Sugar Land Business Park, which is near capacity, city spokesman Doug Adolph said.


The final decision about the property, however, will be up to the School Land Board. The prison system still owns the property, said Suydam, and the land board could either buy it or serve as a broker to sell it to another party.

Sugar Land city officials hope they get the opportunity to buy the property.

One way or another, you can be certain it will look very different in a few years’ time. That should be good for everyone.

Will there be more prison closures?

This story, which is primarily about the soon-to-be-closed Central Unit in Sugar Land, discussed the possibility that other prisons may also wind up being closed, but doesn’t seem to hopeful about it.

Officials note that Texas is perhaps the only state in the country now with hundreds of empty prison bunks and the possibility of having even more in the future, if trends hold.

Even so, House Corrections Committee Chairman Jerry Madden, R-Richardson, said that the future of nearby prisons is secure for now.

“There’s been no discussion about others down there,” he said. “Development has surrounded Central, and the community there wanted another use for that site. This is driven partly by what the communities want there, but no one has said they want this for any other units down there.”

Even so, Madden said other opportunities may emerge as other rural prisons become urban, in a shift that benefits community-based rehabilitation and treatment programs that have proven successful in reducing recidivism in Texas.

All things considered, I expect this was a unique situation, aided by a historic budget shortfall. I will be very surprised to see any sequels in the next few legislative sessions. Grits, who is more optimistic than I am about this, has more.

Sugar Land prison set to close

This has been a long time coming.

Texas joins a nationwide trend of shutting expensive state prisons, driven partly by red ink in state budgets, partly by a drop in convict numbers (with the lowest crime rate since 1973) and partly by a policy shift from lock-’em-up justice to rehabilitation programs.

“From where Texas was just a few short years ago, this is huge,” said House Corrections Committee Chairman Jerry Madden, a Richardson Republican and an architect of the changes. “There were those who said this day would never come.”

Michelle Lyons, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, said the Central Unit in Sugar Land — the state’s second-oldest prison, opened in April 1909 — will be vacant by the end of the month. The closure will send 71 correctional officers to new jobs in other lockups.

Just a few months ago, it housed more than 900 felons — including a trusty whose nighttime escape to go shopping at a nearly Walmart Super Center made national headlines.

On Tuesday, Lyons said, just about 80 felons and 200 correctional officers remained on site, working to move the prison system’s soap factory to the Roach Unit in distant Childress and a prison trucking hub to the nearby Ramsey Unit for now.

“Inmates have been relocated to other units. Most of the staff is transferring to other units,” Lyons said. “After the end of the month, we plan to be out of there.”

Then, the state’s General Land Office will take over, handling an expected environmental assessment among other steps needed to put the 325-acre site on the market for development — either through a sale or lease.

“The buildings are a liability,” said Jim Suydam, a General Land Office spokesman, noting that the farmlands around the lockup are now suburbia. “Nobody wants a prison.”

The fact that Sugar Land officials wanted the prison to be closed so the land could be redeveloped was at least as big a factor as the other things mentioned. As such, I don’t know that this is the start of a trend or a one-off. This was the easiest and most obvious prison to close, and it still took a pretty extraordinary set of circumstances to make it happen. I hate to be a pessimist, but I’ll need to see this happen again to feel differently.

Sugar Land prison to be closed

Good news.

Lawmakers trying to settle on the state’s budget for the next two years have agreed to shutter a 102-year-old state prison in Sugar Land.

Under the proposal adopted this week by negotiators from both chambers of the Legislature, the state would stop funding beyond Aug. 31 the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s Central Unit, which sits on 326 acres near Texas 6 and U.S. 90A.

Proponents said closing the prison would save the state about $50 million over two years while allowing the $30 million property, which is adjacent to the Sugar Land Regional Airport, to be sold for economic development.

House Corrections Committee chairman Jerry Madden, R-Richardson, said the generally steady prison population has diminished the need to keep the unit open. Lawmakers started considering the closure four years ago when lobbied by the Sugar Land community, he said.

See here and here for some background on this, which was something local officials had been lobbying for. The bad news, as Grits notes, is that the savings from this could be better spent.

As recently as a week ago, it appeared to have been spared as budget conferees debated whether taking 1,500 prison beds offline was a good idea. They feared that an increase in the prison population during the next two years might leave the state short of beds.

Two other lockups also had been targeted for possible closure: a pre-release center in Mineral Wells and the Dawson State Jail in Dallas.

Instead of closing them, Madden said budget writers agreed to set aside about $15 million for prison officials to lease additional beds if needed over the next two years.

“I don’t think we’ll need the additional beds, but it’s a precaution,” [Sen. John] Whitmire said.

Hopefully, that money won’t get spent, and lawmakers will realize that closing some other unneeded prisons and continuing to fund diversion and treatment programs that reduce the need for more prisons is a good idea going forward. Given the lack of a fix for the structural deficit and the billions that are being deferred to make this budget look balanced, they’ll certainly need to find more savings in 2013. Hair Balls has more.

A night with the Skeeters

I learned a couple of interesting things from this Richard Justice column about the forthcoming Sugar Land Skeeters minor league baseball team. Among them: You may think you know what a Skeeter is, but you don’t.

If you’re wondering what a Skeeter is, don’t.

“It’s not a mosquito,” [team president Matt] O’Brien said.

He will unveil a mascot later this year, and then we’ll all know.

Why wait that long? Leave your guesses as to what a Sugar Land Skeeter is if it’s not a mosquito in the comments. Bonus points for links to a representative image.

Houston hasn’t had a minor league baseball team in 50 years, and the gamble for the Skeeters is trying to survive in the shadow of a major league franchise.

And then O’Brien starts rattling off reasons people will enjoy the ballpark experience.

“At times, we’ll feel like dinner theater,” he said. “It’s a place to eat, have fun and socialize with your neighbors.”

If the Skeeters are a success, there likely will be more teams added within two or three years. Baytown has been mentioned for a franchise. So have The Woodlands, Conroe and Waco.

These would be Atlantic League teams – the league is looking at expanding into Texas, if only to make future Skeeter scheduling easier. There’s also supposed to be a Montgomery County team coming online in 2012, but I have not heard anything more about that recently. I don’t know if they’ve officially landed a team, and if so what league it’s in. I’m not sure there’s room for two minor league teams out that way.

The description of the minor league experience as being a bit like dinner theater is apt. I’ve been to minor league games all over the country, and they do work hard to keep you entertained. A common factor now seems to be having a play area for kids. Speaking from recent personal experience, you can spend the better part of the game there with the kiddos if they’re not as into watching the action on the field as you might be. Minor league games are very different than their major league counterparts, but they’re a lot of fun. I plan to make the trek out there once or twice a summer.

One more thing:

There will be all the bells and whistles of minor league baseball. One section of the outfield will be a playground, another an old-fashioned Texas icehouse.

Tickets will go for $8, and $1.75 will get you a hot dog. Depending on your taste in beer, a cold one will cost between $4 and $6.

Again, speaking from personal experience, let me implore President O’Brien and the entire Skeeters staff to ensure there are microbrews available at the games. If you don’t have Saint Arnold, No Label, and Southern Star on tap, you’re doing it wrong. Trust me on this.

Population growth in the Houston suburbs

The Chron’s Newswatch blog had a post the other day showing population changes in different ethnic groups for a number of Houston suburbs between 2000 and 2010. It was done as a chart, and while it was a very nice chart, I’m a numbers guy, not a pictures guy. So I translated it all into something that made sense to me, and here it is.

Bellaire Group Pop 2000 Pop 2010 % Diff ==================================== Anglo 13,030 12,237 -6.1% Latino 1,220 1,601 31.2% Black 125 270 116.0% Asian 985 2,360 139.6% Other 282 388 37.6% Overall 15,642 16,855 7.8% Cinco Ranch Group Pop 2000 Pop 2010 % Diff ==================================== Anglo 9,326 12,536 34.4% Latino 649 2,339 260.4% Black 313 640 104.5% Asian 739 2,339 216.5% Other 168 420 150.0% Overall 11,196 18,274 63.2% Conroe Group Pop 2000 Pop 2010 % Diff ==================================== Anglo 20,062 27,148 35.3% Latino 12,000 21,640 80.3% Black 4,012 5,508 37.3% Asian 331 956 188.9% Other 405 956 136.0% Overall 36,811 56,207 52.7% Katy Group Pop 2000 Pop 2010 % Diff ==================================== Anglo 8,266 8,842 7.0% Latino 2,791 4,090 46.5% Black 530 705 33.0% Asian 59 212 259.3% Other 177 254 43.5% Overall 11,775 14,102 19.8% League City Group Pop 2000 Pop 2010 % Diff ==================================== Anglo 34,810 56,993 63.7% Latino 6,135 14,457 135.6% Black 2,272 5,766 153.8% Asian 1,409 4,429 214.3% Other 818 1,922 135.0% Overall 45,444 83,568 83.9% Pasadena Group Pop 2000 Pop 2010 % Diff ==================================== Anglo 66,870 48,737 -27.1% Latino 68,287 92,705 35.8% Black 1,983 2,832 42.8% Asian 2,550 3,130 22.7% Other 1,983 1,639 -17.3% Overall 141,674 149,043 5.2% Pearland Group Pop 2000 Pop 2010 % Diff ==================================== Anglo 27,628 44,531 61.2% Latino 6,098 18,707 206.8% Black 1,957 14,692 650.7% Asian 1,355 11,224 729.8% Other 602 2,099 248.7% Overall 37,640 91,252 142.4% Spring Group Pop 2000 Pop 2010 % Diff ==================================== Anglo 26,779 25,466 -4.9% Latino 5,822 15,421 164.9% Black 2,511 10,262 308.7% Asian 509 1,629 220.0% Other 764 1,520 99.0% Overall 36,385 54,298 49.2% Sugar Land Group Pop 2000 Pop 2010 % Diff ==================================== Anglo 38,443 34,995 -9.0% Latino 5,003 8,276 65.4% Black 3,230 5,754 78.1% Asian 15,009 27,665 84.3% Other 1,583 2,128 34.4% Overall 63,328 78,817 24.5% The Woodlands Group Pop 2000 Pop 2010 % Diff ==================================== Anglo 48,693 73,670 51.3% Latino 3,673 11,449 211.7% Black 946 2,159 128.2% Asian 1,558 4,505 189.2% Other 779 2,065 165.1% Overall 55,649 93,847 68.6%

Please note that the individual totals may not sum up exactly because of rounding. Charts are nice, but I don’t think you can fully appreciate the huge scope of some of these changes without seeing numbers. Hope it’s as helpful to you as it was to me.

Sugar Land seeks someone to develop prison land

I hope they get their wish.

Sugar Land city officials hope to convert a 330-acre state prison property into a light industrial business park and are looking for private partners for the development.

The tract, which sits adjacent to the Sugar Land Regional Airport northwest of the intersection of Texas 6 and U.S. 90A, is occupied by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s Central Prison Unit.

You can see more on the City of Sugar Land website; if you think you might be the developer they’re seeking, go here. This is all contingent on the Lege actually closing that prison, which is currently in the budget plan and which Grits thinks might really happen. At this point, I don’t see anything standing in their way. The Trib has more.

More on Metro’s rail to Fort Bend plan

Here’s a story from the first of the public meetings Metro is holding on the proposed US90A rail line to Fort Bend.

Planners of a proposed project to extend light rail service from Houston to Missouri City are hopeful about securing $1 million federal funding for the undertaking.

Kimberly Slaughter, senior vice president of the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, said U.S. Rep. Al Green has been pushing for the funds to be allocated from either this year’s or next year’s presidential budget.


The plan drew loud applause from those attending a Metro public meeting Tuesday night in Missouri City that was held to seek public comments as the authority prepares a draft environmental impact statement as part of its effort to seek federal funding for the project.

“Not a day goes by that I’m not asked by someone, ‘Mayor, when are we going to get on the train?'” Owen said.

Although the current proposal wouldn’t stretch the line beyond Missouri City, mayors Leonard Scarcella of Stafford and Joe Gurecky of Rosenberg also have been pushing for light rail to be expanded further west into Fort Bend County.

For sure, the projected ridership of the line would be far greater if it extended into Sugar Land, which is where most of the people are. Metro doesn’t operate in Fort Bend and would need to be brought in to collaborate in some fashion that’s not fully defined, but clearly there’s ample support for this to happen. We’ll see how it goes.

In related news, as noted earlier, Metro has received the $14 million it was owed by CAF from their settlement, and PDiddie wrote up his account of meeting with Metro folks at the Rail Operations Center. Which is right across the street from the Fannin South station, which is where the US90A line would meet up with the rest of the light rail system.

The Skeeters have a stadium name

We now know the name of the stadium that will someday house the Sugar Land Skeeters.

Fun at the ol’ ballpark will now officially take place at….StarTex Power Field.

It’s named, as you already know if you work for this particular obscure company, for an energy retailer.

“There was great interest from a variety of businesses, but StarTex Power was the best choice,” said Skeeters president Matt O’Brien. “Their reputation for high ethical standards, award-winning customer service, and commitment to the community makes them an ideal partner.”

Financial details of the 10-year naming rights deal were not disclosed and the deal still has to be approved by the Sugar Land city council, which presumably will get those details.

Um, yeah. Am I the only one who thinks they should take the next logical step and call the team the StarTex Power Skeeters? Because that actually sounds kind of awesome. Like something out of “Starship Troopers”, maybe. Who’s with me on this?

Will their first fan giveaway be flyswatters?

The Sugar Land Skeeters? For serious?

Sugar Land’s minor league baseball team has yet to be formed, but planners have begun selling tickets for its 2012 inaugural season Wednesday after unveiling the team’s name, the Skeeters.

Hair Balls has a rendering of the team’s logo. Am I the only one who thinks that “Sugar Land Imperials” was a no-brainer for the team’s name? For some reason, that didn’t even make the finals. Well, what’s done is done. Maybe former exterminator Tom DeLay can be their spokesperson. Or better yet, he can wear the mascot costume at the games. Yeah, now it makes sense. Around the Loop has more.

An early peek at the Sugar Land baseball stadium

From the city’s web page:

Sugar Land recently began the process to select a final design-build contractor for the construction of a minor league baseball stadium northeast of State Highway 6 and U.S. Highway 90A. A final decision is expected in late January.

Architectural renderings have been prepared and are available above in the “On Deck” box. Construction is expected to begin in the spring of 2011 to have the stadium ready for opening day in April 2012.

Sugar Land City Council approved on Oct. 5 Lease and Development Agreements with Opening Day Partners, LLC to bring professional minor league baseball to Sugar Land. ODP — an experienced community-focused operator that emphasizes year-round community events and activities at their stadiums — will own and operate Sugar Land’s baseball team. ODP will be the owner of an Atlantic League expansion team in Sugar Land.

Click over to see the pictures, or if you need a little snarky commentary thrown in, visit Swamplot.

Sugar Land contemplates its transportation options

Via Houston Tomorrow, here’s an interesting story about how Sugar Land is thinking about the effect of the planned baseball stadium and Imperial Sugar Mill redevelopment on traffic.

Both projects mean this older part of Sugar Land is likely to become much more popular, making it ripe for heavy congestion. This is something local resident Gavin Peterson says the area isn’t exactly ready for.

“Developing in this area that we’re in right now by the sugar factory, it’s not really built for a lot of traffic.”

The city knows this, which is why it’s spending 200,000 dollars on a mobility plan to discover how best to get its current and future residents from point A to point B. Patrick Walsh is Sugar Land’s transportation director. He says with all the new entertainment spots popping up, Sugar Land needs to think hard about its long-term transportation goals.

“So the city is looking at: ‘How do we connect these activity centers? How do we move people from one to the other? How do we get people from our residential areas into the activity centers?”

Resident Sandy Hellums is on Sugar Land’s citizens’ Mobility Advisory Committee. She says the biggest problem right now is lack of options.

“It is very difficult to move around as a pedestrian in a lot of our entertainment districts. There is no alternative in terms of pubic transportation. There’s no rail; there’s no buses; it’s pretty much your car and that’s it.”

Transportation director Walsh says more transit alternatives are exactly what the city’s exploring. He says Sugar Land hopes to double the number of its walking and biking trails over the next five to ten years and is coming up with ideas for intra-city transit options, like trolleys, that would link different parts of the town. Hellums has been tuned into the changing desires of residents at town meetings.

“I’m hearing that over and over at all of these things that people, especially with introduction of the baseball stadium, people would love to be able to bike to one park, jump on the trolley, go to the science museum and then walk over to the baseball stadium. I mean that would really be the ideal where you could spend your whole weekend in Sugar Land and not have to use your car.”

That does sound nice, but I’m thinking that for a transit system to be successful it needs to be more than a weekend option. In the bigger picture, there’s the commuter rail line that could come out that way and would go right to the stadium if it did. Getting it all to work together, and figuring out how to pay for it all, will be the challenges. They have a chance to get this right, and I wish them good luck in doing so. See the Sugar Land Mobility page for more.

Commuter rail along US 90A

Here’s an update on a piece of the 2003 Metro Solutions referendum that has been largely quiescent till now, the proposed commuter rail line from the Fannin South station to Fort Bend County.

Though efforts soon stalled after a 2003 referendum in which voters approved a light rail expansion, the project has seen renewed political support, in particular from U.S. Rep. Al Green, D-Houston, who has been working closely with Fort Bend mayors to revive the project, and U.S. Reps. Gene Green, D-Houston, and Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, who have thrown their weight behind congressional efforts to secure the needed funding.

The 90A rail project is anticipated to cost $250 million, with the hope that half of that amount will be funded by the federal government. Officials are reluctant to give an estimated completion date due to the uncertainty of federal funding, which is typically a long process. Adding to that challenge is the state of the U.S. economy.

“The question is when will the federal money be available, and how quickly can we do it after that? said George Greanias, Metro’s recently-appointed acting president and CEO. “The moment the federal funds come in, we will move forward into construction as fast as we can.”

Greanias also reaffirmed Metro’s support for the project.

“We’re very committed to this,” he said. “We think it’s an essential part of building a network of rail.”

The planned four-stop, 8-mile rail would extend from the city’s existing Main Street Line to a terminus in Missouri City, with stops at Fannin South, Buffalo Center, Chimney Rock and Missouri City. The ride would be 30 minutes start-to-finish, and connect many of Texas Medical Center’s employees who live in Missouri City to their work.

Metro expects initial ridership for the line to be 12,000; with that population expanding to 23,000 by 2030. The train cars would likely be the same Siemens cars used by Metro’s existing rail lines, with the capacity to run 65 miles per hour, Grenais said.

Additionally, Sugar Land, which has voiced concerns in the past of how a rail would affect traffic flow in their neighborhoods, recently passed a city council resolution supporting Metro’s 90A rail proposal to extend the rail from Main Street to Beltway 8, with the caveat that “support … does not necessarily constitute support for extensions of commuter rail further west to Sugar Land.”

Link via neoHouston, who analyzes the proposed route and suggests an alternative, which goes right into Sugar Land. He’s not the first person to come to the conclusion that extending such a line into the population center of Fort Bend, which has a regional airport and will soon have a baseball stadium, makes all kinds of sense. Christof Spieler, now a Metro board member, came to the same conclusion back in 2008. He was critiquing the original 2004 H-GAC study that drew up a 15-mile line into Rosenberg, but the same idea holds true: Put the line where the people are. Seems so easy when you put it that way, doesn’t it?

Well, of course it’s more complicated than that. As neoHouston notes, Metro doesn’t currently operate in Fort Bend, which is why this proposed line ends at Beltway 8. Support out there is steadily increasing, but it’s still early days. And of course there’s the money issue. Rep. Green has moved the ball forward, and with help from his Democratic colleagues but no interference from Tom DeLay, there’s reason to hope. Maybe if Sugar Land sees that this is really coming, they’ll begin to want to be a part of it. We can hope, anyway.

Comparing stadium experiences

The Sugar Land Sun has an interesting three-part series comparing the minor league baseball experiences in Fort Worth and New Orleans to what we might expect in Sugar Land with its forthcoming stadium. Here’s the introduction:

Both cities provide key comparisons to Sugar Land that should allow residents to have realistic expectations of what non-Major League Baseball could bring.

The Fort Worth Cats play in the independent American Association and have no affiliation to a Major League Baseball franchise. Sugar Land’s team will play in the Atlantic League, an independent league.

The Cats share another trait with Sugar Land’s team: Both are or will be located in major metropolitan areas, and will vie for dollars with other sports options.


Like the Zephyrs, the Sugar Land team will compete against other sports options, namely the New Orleans Saints and the New Orleans Hornets, for ticket revenue.

And like the Zephyrs, the Sugar Land team will play in a stadium financed by taxpayer funds.

There is a key difference between the Zephyrs and would-be Sugar Land team: the Zephyrs are a Triple-A team with an affiliation to a Major League Team, the Florida Marlins. That give the team a little more cachet with baseball fans who want to see tomorrow’s Major League stars hit the field.

Actually, a fair number of true stars-in-waiting will bypass AAA ball, or at least not play a full season there. Double A is your better bet. But the point is well taken.

Here’s the Fort Worth story, and here’s the New Orleans story. Each provides a relevant point of interest for Sugar Land. From the former:

[A] 2005 analysis conducted by the University of North Texas estimates that the stadium, which it says [team owner Carl] Bell’s companies have spent $9 million at that time, generated $14 million for the city of Fort Worth, and $20 million for Tarrant county as a whole, an area nearly 36 times bigger than Sugar Land.

Sugar Land’s projects estimate the stadium will generate $7.7 million annually, or $23.1 million in the same time frame.

And from the latter:

[Jay Cicero, president and chief executive officer of the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation and the team’s first general manager since it moved to New Orleans] said the team’s base comes from locals and usually doesn’t rely on tourists.

“It’s 99.5 percent local,” he said. “You may some regional group nights where you get fans from farther away, but it’s mostly local fans.”

Historically, Minor League and independent baseball teams rely on local fanbases, especially when the economy goes south. When tourism dries up, local fans determine whether a team lives or dies.

When announcing its agreement with Opening Day Partners, the city estimated that 300,000 people would visit the stadium. The team would have to average 4,285 fans per game to hit that mark, excluding any other events such as college of high school baseball tournaments, that may be played there.

Should the team reach that mark, it would be the fourth-highest attended team in its league, according to current Atlantic League statistics. The team would also draw more than the average attendance of every Minor League Baseball team affiliated with a Major League Team.

I think Sugar Land will meet its projections initially, as I expect there will be a fair amount of excitement over the stadium’s opening and the team’s arrival. Maintaining that will be the challenge, especially if the team isn’t competitive right off. I think Sugar Land will have somewhat better prospects for having a fanbase that extends outside of Fort Bend County, from folks in neighboring counties who might not want to drive all the way into Houston, or who might be enticed by the lower minor league ticket prices. But it’s a good idea to keep all of this in mind, and to ask about how well the reality matched the projections in a few years’ time.

Sugar Land stadium site selected

The location for the Sugar Land baseball stadium has been chosen.

Sugar Land City Council has chosen an area near the northeast corner of Hwy. 6 and U.S. Hwy. 90A as their preferred site for a minor league baseball stadium.

The preferred location is part of the Imperial Redevelopment/Tract 3 site proposed by Johnson Development Corporation, Cherokee Sugar Land LP and the Texas General Land Office.

The city will now begin a detailed process to confirm the site’s development capabilities and suitability prior to a final decision by City Council that’s expected by the end of the summer.

Here’s an aerial map of the location, courtesy of Hair Balls. I’ll be very interested to see what the vision is for the stadium and the development that is expected to be built around it. Given that the locals are hoping for this to be a regional attraction that will draw in folks from elsewhere, one way to go with this is to mimic an urban downtown stadium setting, with shared parking for all establishments and pedestrian access between them. They could have something really cool if they think outside the box a bit. Or they could go the standard suburban islands-in-a-sea-of-parking-lots route, which would be boring but familiar. We’ll see how it goes. Muse has more, and you can learn about job opportunities at the new stadium here.

Sugar Land gets its stadium

They’ve been working on it for over two years now, and at long last, the city of Sugar Land has struck a deal to build a minor league baseball stadium.

The project promises to create 120 jobs, generate $7.7 million and draw 300,000 visitors annually, according to the deal between the city and Opening Day Partners, a Lancaster, Pa.-based ballpark developer that also owns and operates minor league baseball teams.

“Sugar Land is a great spot. This ballpark here is going to be the best,” said Brooks Robinson, a Major League Hall of Famer who is an ODP partner. “I’ve seen the enthusiasm the city has for it. I’ve had a chance to meet a lot of people here. The vibes I get are fantastic.”

The project is estimated at $40 million, including $30 million in construction, of which the city will pitch in $25 million and the company $5 million.

In the remaining costs, the city will spend $5 million for site and parking development while the company will put in $5 million for project startup and team franchising.


Planners have yet to map out an exact location for the facility among three possible sites, but are leaning toward a tract leased from the University of Houston System at U.S. 59 and University Boulevard.

City officials believe the stadium would become a “regional draw” and help establish Sugar Land as a tourist destination.

Regina Morales, the city’s director of economic development, said the project would spark further development around it.

“The long-term economic benefits will not only benefit Sugar Land, but also the surrounding area,” City Manager Allen Bogard said.

I recommend you have a chat with Andrew Zimbalist before you go putting any of that into future budget projections. The team will be from the independent Atlantic League, with a 140-game schedule. I figure I’ll trek out there some day in 2012 to see the place for myself. Minor league baseball has a unique vibe that you have to experience to understand, and if they do it right it ought to be a hoot. Construction will start in March, with the inevitable team-naming contest to follow. Anyone want to get a head start on that and suggest what the future franchise should call itself?

West U and Bellaire on the Google Fiber bandwagon

The deadline for submitting an application for a city to be a part of Google’s experimental fiber network was last Friday, the 26th. The cities of West University Place and Bellaire got theirs in before the deadline.

Cindy Siegel and Bob Kelly won’t be making any photo-op leaps to promote their respective cities’ cases for bring Google’s fiber to Bellaire or West University Place. Both cities are taking low-key approaches to their responses to Google’s bid requests, and both municipalities have something few other cities can boast; high-density entities with relatively low square mileage, with great proximity to one of the most tech-savvy large cities in the country.

Can Bellaire and West U compete against the others?

“We’re taking a more straightforward, practical approach,” said Bellaire City Manager Bernie Satterwhite. “If you look at what some of the other cities are doing, and look at some of the institutions that would benefit from this, I would think it might diminish our chances somewhat.”

In the same breath, though, Satterwhite told the Examiner: “But, it’s worth our while to pursue this.”

West University Place City Manager Michael Ross, however, thinks his city’s conservative, under-the-radar set of sales pitches to Google, will play to an advantage for his municipality.

“I feel our chances are extremely high,” said Ross. “It’s been proven time and time again that West University Place is a community that is very desirable for technology. We do everything we can with our current provider—what we’d really like is what, in this case, is a ‘supreme’ provider.”

They join Sugar Land in submitting an application, and we know all about Austin. Does anyone know if the city of Houston ever did anything about this? My guess would be No, since I’ve not seen any indication of it. But in the event I just missed it, leave a comment if you know what happened.

Montgomery County gets in the minor league act

We know about Sugar Land’s plan to build a stadium for a minor league baseball team. They’ve now been joined by a neighbor to the north in that pursuit.

The East Montgomery County Improvement District signed a memorandum of understanding with the Ventura Sports Group and Sugar Land-based Wallace Bajjali Development Partners to build a stadium in Montgomery County with the intention of hosting independent minor league baseball in 2012.

The site would be in Porter just off the U.S. 59 feeder road near the proposed intersection with the Grand Parkway extension.

According to the parties involved, the ballpark — located on 42 acres of land purchased by Wallace Bajjali — would be part of a larger development, which could feature a hotel, dining and retail.

“We bought this land knowing it was a growth corridor,” said David Wallace, CEO of Wallace Bajjali and former mayor of Sugar Land.

As the story notes, Venture was the runnerup in the Sugar Land process. I guess there’s only so many outfits that do this sort of thing.

The project is a mix of private funds with public money, which McCrady said could come from a parking tax, a venue tax and/or a sales tax.

Remember what Oliver Luck said a few weeks ago? I wonder how the mix of public and private funds will compare to that for Dynamo Stadium, assuming it ever really does get built.

Like in the Sugar Land plan, the first pitch will not be thrown by any major league club’s prospect. Only independent leagues will be considered.

The Astros declined to waive their right to block an affiliated team from moving into their metropolitan area in the Sugar Land case.

“We had heard time and time again that the Astros were not interested, so we didn’t approach them,” [Ventura managing partner Mark] Schuster said.

Yeah, I’m curious as to what the Astros think about all this. It’s not clear to me that it wouldn’t have been better for them to want affiliated teams in their area, like the Yankees and the Mets have. I guess we’ll see how it goes.

UPDATE: Houstonist has more.

Sugar Land wants Google Fiber for Communities

Sugar Land joins Austin in making a concerted pitch to bring Google Fiber For Communities to their town.

“This project is suited to Sugar Land. Our population is highly educated. We have high standards,” said Sharlett Chowning, director of information technology in her presentation to City Council on Tuesday.

The proposed Internet speeds would be “like downloading a full-length 3D high-definition video in five minutes,” Chowning said.

Interested communities must submit an application by March 26, and the city’s department of information technology is working on Sugar Land’s submission.

Here’s the official city of Sugar Land web page on their effort, complete with logo, slogan, action items for individuals who want to get involved, and social media links. Are we gonna get in the game, Houston, or are we just going to sit back and let these other cities take the initiative?

More on the Sugar Land minor league baseball push

Here’s an update from the Chron to last week’s news about Sugar Land’s pursuit of a minor league baseball team.

The preliminary discussions about the ballpark put it in the Class AAA compatibility range, typically requiring a seating capacity at least in the high four-digits, but the exact capacity is among the features that will be sorted out during the 90-day period, which ends in mid-May.

Which league will make the expansion or relocation to Sugar Land is the biggest question.

For now, it seems clear it will not be a team affiliated with a major league club. Sugar Land is part of the territory controlled by the Astros, so they can block any move of a competitor’s minor league club, and they are not inclined to bring one of their own affiliates to the area, according to Thompson and Opening Day Partners chairman Peter Kirk.

What will most likely happen, assuming this does go forward, is for a team from one of the independent leagues – the Atlantic League and the American Association, which seems to be the better geographic fit, are mentioned – to move or create a team there. These are AAA teams, so you’ll get an overall better quality of baseball than you’d get from a lower-level farm team, but what you won’t get is a peek at the Astros of the future. Odds are you’ll get a number of recognizable names, guys who used to be on a major league team and are trying to catch on with one again. It ought to make for an interesting mix. The city and the developer are in a 90-day negotiating window with the intent of having a facility ready by Opening Day 2012, so we’ll know soon enough what will happen.

Sugar Land moves forward on getting a baseball team

They couldn’t get the Dynamo, but the city of Sugar Land is making progress on landing a baseball team.

The city council of Sugar Land agreed this week to work with a company that specializes in getting cities to build minor-league baseball parks and get teams to go in them.

The city approved a Memorandum of Understanding with Opening Day Partners that will provide an exclusive window for the two sides to forge a plan to build a stadium and see what level of minor-league team should be in it.

Sugar Land has already designated an entertainment district near Highway 59 (approved by voters in a special election) to hold the stadium, and the hope is to have it ready for the 2012 season, with public and private financing.

“This is a project that combines more than a decade of citizen surveys, parks master plans, City Comprehensive Plans and Economic Development plans with the efforts of a citizen task force,” Mayor James Thompson told Fort Bend Now. “We are looking forward to the possibility of working with Opening Day Partners to make our vision a reality.”

Cool. They’ve been working on this for at least two years now. Still a ways to go, but it is progress. I’d catch a game there when and if they succeed. Bob, Juanita, and Banjo have more.

Close the Sugar Land prison

Grits has a question.

Why not begin to close Texas’ oldest, most outdated prisons, particularly when locals would benefit from a “higher and better use” of the property and the state is looking to trim the budget?

At the top of his list is the 100 year old Central Unit in Sugar Land. Go read what he has to say and see if you agree, and see here for more on the topic.

Sneak preview of HMNS Sugar Land facility

You may have heard that the Houston Museum of Natural Science will be opening a site in Sugar Land on October 3. If you’re in the are Thursday afternoon, you can get a sneak preview of it as they finish up construction. Here are the details if you’re interested.

Join the Houston Museum of Natural Science, the City of Sugar Land, and Newland Communities for a special guided tour of the new satellite facility, the Houston Museum of Natural Science at Sugar Land, opening Oct. 3. This project, the result of many years of planning and partnership, was made possible when Newland Communities donated the building to the City of Sugar Land and the Sugar Land 4B Corporation approved funding for the renovation of the former prison building into a shell of a world class museum to be operated by the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

Dr. Carolyn Sumners, vice president for the physical sciences at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, will present the fascinating tale behind this historic prison building and give an overview of the floor plans and coming exhibitions before leading guests on a tour of the 43,000 square foot building and the surrounding 5.5 acres.

See where the state-of-the-art Science on a Sphere and Stan, the T-rex, will be installed. Walk through the space of the four permanent galleries, which will reflect the most popular exhibit areas of the main Museum campus. And, get a sneak peak at the view from the second floor where the special exhibit, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Exhibition, will be housed.

Tour takes 30 minutes to 1 hour. Staff will be on hand to answer questions before and after the tour. Please note: due to the construction, closed-toed shoes and long pants are required on site.

This takes place tomorrow – Thursday, August 27, at 4 PM, at the HMNS-Sugar Land campus, 13016 University Blvd. (at the corner of University and New Territory Blvds.) You can get directions here. Enjoy!


So yesterday was the annual Pride parade in Houston. It was greeted by this sweet article in the lifestyle section.

Today’s Pride Festival will celebrate the diversity of the Houston area’s thriving gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.

That diversity includes the determinedly domestic life that Ben Austin and Bill Thomasson have carved out with their two children in a southwestern suburb.

The walls of their roomy Sugar Land home are filled with family pictures — Thomasson is one of 11 siblings — as well as multiplication tables, maps and pennants of potential colleges. Not that Ava, 7, and Elijah, 6, are ready to think about college just yet. Elijah’s interests encompass the world of sports, while Ava is expert on all things canine.

The couple adopted the children from state authorities while living in Oakland, Calif., after taking required parent-training classes and fostering each of the children for more than a year. Ava was almost 4 when she entered the system, and Elijah was just a month old.


Austin, an adopted only child who went to Bellaire High School, met Thomasson in a gym in Oakland, Calif., in 2002. He says the two fell into domestication almost immediately and in April 2004 made it official with a domestic partnership. Both men wear wedding bands.

Both men played college baseball, which gets Elijah’s approval.

“He just thinks it’s better to have two dads because they both play baseball,” Austin says.

Gotta admit, that would be a bonus. The story made a nice and necessary counterweight to this remarkably self-loathing op-ed from Friday.

The gay parenting movement is still more evidence of the fundamental selfishness of post-Stonewall gay America. Whereas many gay couples can and do bring parentless children into their homes in an act of loving and giving, thousands of other gay couples who could have adopted use various technologies and arrangements to make babies that from the start have no mother or have no father. This cruel act — to one’s own child — is almost never criticized in the gay community, which is so focused on everyone’s freedom and self-esteem, it doesn’t seem to want to bother to notice that children are being hurt by being denied up front the right to have both a mother and a father.

The gay and lesbian community today is infected with what I like to call Equality Mania. That’s the belief that there is literally nothing more important than total equality between gays and straights, no matter what the costs. They are willing to sacrifice other good, important values in the name of gay equality — such as the religious freedom of same-sex marriage opponents, the welfare of children and (in the case of gays in the military) even national security.

I don’t even know where to begin. I mean, “Equality Mania”? Who knew a desire to be treated like everyone else was a disorder of some kind? I’m just dumbfounded. I think it’s safe to say this is an extreme minority position, one that’s in decline, but one that likely will never go away completely.

Anyway. To get the bad taste of that piece out of your mouth, here’s five great moments in Houston’s gay history, and here’s the news that the Caucus blog is back. Hope everyone had a happy weekend.