Regs, housing value, graffiti, blue states, HSR, Astrodome, and moreFinishing off the smaller items I started last week:
- An update to my high-speed rail post from earlier this week: Glaeser analyzes the Houston-Dallas route and finds the costs far exceed the benefits (3 or 6 to 1). AC changes some benefit assumptions and disagrees, finding a rough 1-to-1 cost-benefit match. I think the costs are probably substantially underestimated, which would put both of their analyses even deeper in the red. Too much wiggle room in all of the numbers. Hat tip to Jessie.
- A NYT columnist picks up on the blue state problem, with a focus on TX vs. CA:
"Consider Texas and California. In the Bush years, liberal polemicists turned the president’s home state — pious, lightly regulated, stingy with public services and mad for sprawl — into a symbol of everything that was barbaric about Republican America. Meanwhile, California, always liberalism’s favorite laboratory, was passing global-warming legislation, pouring billions into stem-cell research, and seemed to be negotiating its way toward universal health care.
But flash forward to the current recession, and suddenly Texas looks like a model citizen. The Lone Star kept growing well after the country had dipped into recession. Its unemployment rate and foreclosure rate are both well below the national average. It’s one of only six states that didn’t run budget deficits in 2009.
Meanwhile, California, long a paradise for regulators and public-sector unions, has become a fiscal disaster area. ...
But in state capital after state capital, the downturn has highlighted the weaknesses of liberal governance — the zeal for unsustainable social spending, the preference for regulation over job creation, the heavy reliance for tax revenue on the volatile incomes of the upper upper class.
And, inevitably, the tendency toward political corruption. The Republicans have their mistresses, but the Democrats are dealing with a more serious array of scandals: the Blagojevich-Burris embarrassment in Illinois, Senator Christopher Dodd’s dubious mortgage dealings in Connecticut, the expansive graft case in New Jersey, and a slew of corruption investigations featuring Democratic congressmen.
...And it also helps explain Obama’s current difficulties. The president is pushing a California-style climate-change bill at a time when businesses (and people) are fleeing the Golden State in droves. He’s pushing a health care plan that looks a lot like the system currently hemorrhaging money in Massachusetts. His ballooning deficits resemble the shortfalls paralyzing state capitals from Springfield to Sacramento....The president wants to govern America like a blue state. But for that to work, he’ll need the nation’s economy to start performing more like Texas."
- If you're interested in the CoH Chapter 15 debate, which could seriously impact TOD and dense development in Houston, HRG outlines the issues in detail here and here. Hat tip to Josh.
- Both good and bad news for Houston: "Warning: Oil supplies are running out fast: Catastrophic shortfalls threaten economic recovery, says world's top energy economist"
- Readers of my blog know I'm a big fan of Houston's entrepreneurial culture and light regulatory touch, which is why this Chronicle story on how red tape regulations are strangling the eco-friendly downtown free cab/jitney service makes my blood boil. Come on, people. The administration and council need to get their act together on this, and soon, before the service dies. And I'm a pretty big fan of Mayor White, but if he doesn't get this fixed and the service dies, I hope it blows back on his eco-credentials for his Senate campaign. In a strong mayor city like ours, there's no excuse.
- A KHOU story on Houston's projected growth and zoning (no!). Hat tip to HAIF.
- Joel Kotkin reviews Peter T. Kilborn’s Next Stop, Reloville: Life Inside America's New Rootless Professional Class in the Wall Street Journal. Includes several mentions of The Woodlands. Hat tip to Allen.
- KHH on "Why our suburbs develop like they do: because of our rigid development standards" and a great piece on how zoning burdens a city more and more with time (with a focus on Portland and Austin), and how lucky Houston is to not have the burden.
- America's 10 Best Undervalued Places to Live includes Houston and College Station (hat tip to Marc). By their reckoning, we're 37 percent undervalued, and College Station-Bryan, Texas is 21 percent undervalued. Excerpt:
"Houston. Unlike other metropolitan areas, Houston has not been hammered by the national housing bust. In fact, real home prices increased nearly 5 percent from the first quarter of 2008 to the first quarter of 2009, according to a Brookings Institution report. But even without a sharp decline in real estate values, projected job and population growth should drive future home price appreciation and create value, says James Gaines, a research economist at the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University. "The medium- and long-term prospects for Houston are extremely good," he says. The area's low-tax, pro-business climate will lure new employers to Houston and help bolster an already sound local economy anchored by the energy and healthcare sectors, Gaines says. More jobs, of course, mean more residents and greater demand for housing. "[Houston has] good demographic growth, job growth, and a reasonably balanced housing market," he says. The median home price in Houston was $120,000, in the first quarter, which IHS Global Insight considers 37 percent undervalued."
- An email pass-along. Glad to see some movement by the city on this.
City of Houston Debuts Graffiti WebsiteFinally, don't forget to comment on the future of the Astrodome at Offcite (from the Rice Design Alliance) before comments close on Monday. My comment is here.
New site provides information and resources on fighting graffiti
Mayor Bill White and Vice Mayor Pro-Tem and Council Member Sue Lovell have announced a new City of Houston website for citizens and organizations that want to fight graffiti in their neighborhoods. The site, www.houstontx.gov/graffiti provides resources for abating, or painting over, graffiti as well as information on government agencies, and groups that provide positive alternatives to graffiti.
The main section of the site, which will be regularly updated, features information, complete with contact phone numbers, and links to City of Houston departments, other governmental agencies, and community organizations that work to abate graffiti. The site also includes an interactive section, which invites citizens with ideas about dealing with graffiti to leave messages.
Citizens are encouraged to report graffiti by phone to 311. For more information, contact the office of Vice Mayor Pro-Tem and City Council Member Sue Lovell at 832.393.3013 or by e-mail at email@example.com