Mayor White's State of the City addressI don't normally directly cover local news, but, through the generosity of the Greater Houston Partnership, I was able to attend Mayor White's State of the City luncheon today as a member of the media (we get the tables in the very, very back corner). Overall, I liked just about everything I heard. I took a lot of notes, and plan on passing most of them along (one of the perks of a blog vs. the limitations of TV and print news).
I think Mayor White remains as popular as ever, but he does have one issue. He's one of those Mayors trying to get the city to do all the less visible "little things" right that add up to one well-managed city (especially when it comes to infrastructure), rather than focus on big-PR "ribbon-cutting" events/accomplishments. That's absolutely the right thing to do (Lanier was like that too). The problem is, when you talk to people, it's clear they like him, but they have trouble naming the things he's done, other than accept the Katrina evacuees (now considered a mixed blessing). This will be a bigger problem if he decides to run for higher office in 2010, like governor. I think he must've heard the same things I have, because the speech was very clear and forceful in articulating his accomplishments at the halfway point of his expected six years in office before term limiting out.
Some miscellaneous accomplishments he noted:
- Crime is down significantly from a year ago (the post-Katrina surge)
- Big investments in neighborhood drainage, as well as water and sewer infrastructure overhauls
- Parks and libraries have longer hours
- 42 point mobility plan, including light syncing, SafeClear, and promotion of flex work hours (next are rapid mobility response teams)
- Substantial congestion reduction from accidents and 18% fewer freeway accidents (SafeClear)
- Unfunded pension liabilities fixed
- 58% reduction in toxic emissions from a targeted plant
- Public personnel policies reformed (including incentive pay)
- New downtown park, privately funded
- 2,500 tax delinquent foreclosures, 900 of which have had title transferred for new use as affordable housing
- Smoke free ordinance
- 5 new non-profit preventative health clinics
- Rapid transit plan with 3 new starts this year
- Got 1,300 dropouts back into HISD, with a 95% graduation rate for those in the program
- Citywide wireless internet access coming soon
- More city services along with tax discipline
Some programs he's pushing for 2007:
- "Apartments to standard"
- Big plan to reduce billboards
- Better incentives for historical preservation
- Rapid mobility response teams
- Privately-funded summer scholarships to increase student retention and performance
- Penalties for city contractors that don't provide health insurance (he called it "leveling the competitive playing field" because some contractors push the health care cost of their employees on the city/state/feds - didn't catch the details of this one)
- The home weatherizing program they did in a poor neighborhood last year saved on average $355 per home over about six months (if I heard right). That's definitely big savings for a low income household. He wants to expand that to 10% of all Houston houses, or about 30,000 homes, over the next 5 years. Lower utility bills makes home ownership more affordable.
- Wants a goal of an overall 5% drop in energy usage per capita (? - or was it per GNP) over the next 5 years - both fixed and mobile.
- This will also help with emissions and Clean Air Act compliance, and reduce the need for new plants (most likely to be coal-fired)
- Called for us to join NY and CA on car fuel efficiency and emission standards
- Also wants to cut our solid waste output by a similar amount (we have massive landfills)
- Wants TXDoT's budget delinked from gas consumed via the gas tax (it means fuel efficiency cuts needed funding for roads)
- Says Wal-Mart is targeting even larger percentage reductions (20-25%) in energy, fuel, and waste, so our goals are modest
- Energy savings put more discretionary income in citizens' pockets, which further helps those citizens and the city. This mirrors a favorite point of mine: affordability = discretionary income = vibrancy and opportunity.
- Is planning a major summit of local leaders at the GRB in September to build a plan around these goals.
He asked for two things from each citizen of Houston:
- A renewed commitment to supporting our nonprofits
- Reaching out to others different from yourself; embracing diversity and unifying in civic cooperation
- Network of high-speed, congestion-priced MaX Lanes (probably involving the conversion of many freeway left lanes and/or HOV lanes)
- Competitive, privatized, subsidized express commuter transit services (bus and vanpool) from park-and-ride lots all over the city to all of our multiple employment centers
- Cash-out parking at major job centers to incentivize transit ridership and carpooling (employer charges for parking, but gives you an equivalent amount of cash you can either use for parking or keep for yourself if you find an alternate way to work)
Update: Chronicle's story and op-ed