Thursday, October 1, 2015

Live blogging the Houston Parks, Bikes, and Waterways Mayoral Forum

19:38 Improve Houston's cooperation with other entities to improve quality of life? Bell: we are a progressive city, and are ready to start acting like the fourth/third largest city, if we keep vision for green space. Costello: we rely a lot on philanthropic community. We need to pursue grants and other sources. Garcia: mayor's office and city government focuses on brick-and-mortar issues, but needs vision. See Discovery Green: that was just parking lots. Mentions goal zero. King: 1.8 million people in the unincorporated part of Harris County. County government is not set up to serve these people in an urban setting. Similar problems with bantustans like Bellaire. McVey commits to a sustainable plan for development. We need federal and state funds to close jurisdictional gaps. Turner: equity. Congratulates Parks Dept, and the forward looking programs like 2020.

19:31 Maintenance: King harks back to finances. McVey: fix waste in government. Wants to hire efficiency constants to see how to squeeze savings and rebuild the structure. Turner cites his budget-balancing at the state level. Bell wants to take medians out of Parks and Rec. Costello agrees. Debunks the "three times as expensive" figure. Garcia wants to find efficiencies. Money is already allocated for complete streets.

19:18 Connectivity: Costello is looking to get power lines underground. Complete Streets is not really workable, but ought to be merged with bike plan, separate bikes from cars. Wants public education about bike rights and responsibilities. Garcia: we want a network effect. Create canopies so people can walk: transit-oriented development. All about ensuring a financial commitment: pay for it by reforming pensions. King: a complete street costs three times what a regular street costs, a light rail line costs 2.5 billion dollars. McVey estimates 6-8 billion to bury the lines. The new master plan is a good start. But it didn't include how to pay for any of it. Turner: you can't talk about complete streets without complete neighborhoods. Walkability. Car culture segregates the city into haves and have-nots. Bell jokes that we should air-condition the bike lanes. More seriously, wants to split streets management out into a separate department. Potholes are a serious problem. Bike lanes: we need to enforce the three foot law, and make an example of some scofflaw drivers.

19:12 Public health and safety ordinance. Garcia wants an anti-idling ordinance but only voluntary plastic bag programs. King notes air quality is about older diesel vehicles. For water quality, the city is way out of compliance with Clean Water Act. McVey thinks idling trucks are just a mobility problem, wants to keep trucks out of the city and keeping them on the Grand Parkway, even if that means letting them use it for free. Turner likes a plastic bag ban and wants aggressive action on particulates, wants multimodal transportation. Also light rail from Missouri City. Bell wants to discuss water, wants a Bayou Conservation Corps. Costello wants recycling expanded to multifamily, small business etc. Stormwater is a problem, mentions technical fixes like better pavement materials.

19:05 How to fund the Parks and Recreation Department? King: we're going deeper and deeper into debt over pensions. McVey wants to tear down the silos that city departments live in. Turner notes that the new parks are financed by the management district, and reiterates the need to modify the cap. Bell thinks the cap is irresponsible. When it comes to parks, wants to use technology to track maintenance levels to work smarter. Costello identifies core services/competencies in public departments. Garcia wants to look at management districts and... tergs? I think he's using an acronym, but I don't know which one.

18:58 How to address and pay for immediate parks/infrastructure plan. McVey seems oddly focused on "rooftops" as synechdoche for tax base. Also wants government to be more efficient. Turner mentions state funding for local parks. Wants to modify the revenue cap. Bell wants to repeal the revenue cap. Also wants public-private partnerships. Costello thinks congestion mitigation funding can go to bike infrastructure. Garcia thinks we need to look at the models that have been successful. King says we can't get rid of the revenue cap, we need to get control of expenses, and right-size the public payroll.

18:52 Walkability and access: Turner brings up low-income families and widespread access rather than focusing on destination parks. Bell wants to focus on repairing sidewalk. Also supports pocket parks, mentions Baldwin Park near my house. Costello thinks bike trails are "really" walking trails. Wants a grid of walk/bike trails dovetailing into Bayou 2020. Garcia wants private-public partnerships. His angle is economic development. King thinks the linear parks project has to be the backbone of any plan, but wants to use vacant and delinquent land for neighborhood parks. McVey is focused on a general plan and business development.

18:50 Regarding billboards: All candidates support keeping the ban, though McVey mentions evacuation infrastructure.

Steve Costello is a board member of Memorial Park Conservancy, a runner, and to be honest doesn't bike in the city.

Chris Bell wants to discuss a program to make our young people "Bayou Keepers".

Sylvester Turner knows parks and green space are not fluff issues: they mean money and quality of life. If we can build stadiums, we can build park infrastructure.

Marty McVey wants to talk about revenue, smart growth, economic development. Parks are related somehow.

18:40 Bill King wants to talk about finance and deficits.

Garcia gets first intro, reprises his background and doesn't mention parks.

18:38 The meeting opens with a disruption by a fringe candidate who wasn't invited to the panel.

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