[Note: this post appears simultaneously on the Houston Chronicle website]
At a pretty big event last week in the tony Southampton neighborhood where about 100 or so people were celebrating and raising money for Mandell Park, people kept coming up to me and asking about the Metro referendum. What were they supposed to do, it was too confusing, what does it all mean?
By now, I answer those questions by asking one: Do you want more rail? Without exception the hundreds of people I’ve asked this of say yes. So I say Vote No on Metro. And they totally get it, and agree. (By the way, Metro has a new brochure out about this and it flatly states “None of the additional funding may be used for rail.”)
But what was striking about this event is that this crowd of fairly well-heeled Montrose citizens was Mayor Parker’s base. To a person they were mystified about how the Mayor got on the wrong side of this issue. One person even asked me “How did she get on the Dark Side?”
Good question. For that matter, how did Metro Chair Gilbert Garcia, State Senator Rodney Ellis, State Representative Carol Alvarado, and former Metro Chair Arthur Schechter get on the Dark Side?
As you have no doubt heard, the story is that Mayor Parker was persuaded to go there by County Commissioner Steve Radack and a few private developers who all threatened to go to the Legislature and more or less destroy Metro is they didn’t get their way. People who should know say that the Mayor believed that and succumbed to fear and everybody fell in line with her for their own fearful reasons, and now we have this amazing spectacle of a couple of dozen more or less progressive folks and organizations all supporting this latest, and most sinister, effort to end rail expansion in Houston.
Another story, which a couple of people close to the Mayor have stated, is just that the Mayor wants the money that will continue to come to the City if people vote yes for this referendum (although she’d only get one year of it if she even survives her next election).
Who knows why she’s doing this? And who knows why she’s telling people that the University line is “on track,” when anyone at Metro will tell you it’s dead if this referendum passes? Why is she yelling at questioners that “I support rail!” when clearly she knows that the referendum would end it?
I’m not talking to anyone, not a single person, who says they intend to vote yes on this. Even some pro-transit friends who are publicly following the Mayor’s lead tell me they will, of course, vote no in the privacy of the voting booth. It’s getting around that if you care about Houston’s future you have to vote No.
I was reminded recently of a quote from Will Hogg’s 1929 City Planning Commission Report that said “... the people of Houston and their officials will have to decide whether they are building a great city or merely a great population.” There is no more appropriate question to ask ourselves. Harris County, which seems to care only about fast population growth and low-paying jobs, clearly is satisfied with the latter, but it’s always been the case that the City’s leaders think of Houston as either a great city already or a potentially great city if certain things happen.
Shutting down high-capacity transit expansion says that dream is over, and this seems like a decision that ought not to have so many civic leaders on the wrong side. What happened to Houston’s courage?
Now Metro has a commercial out that pretty much makes the case for voting No. The last part is this exchange, between a man and woman having coffee, in which she has just informed him that if people vote for the item, then the small amount of sales tax Metro might add to its coffers can be used to make progress “with the exception of rail.”
Him: “What happens if people vote against it?”
Her: “General Mobility funding would end in September 2014, and Metro would retain all sales tax revenue.”
Then a narrator says “On November 6, the choice is yours.”
Houston Tomorrow’s analysis tells us that No is the correct vote for a lot of reasons. Those include health, happiness, and prosperity, and the continued forward motion of the City and region toward world status. They include a hundred details, like better air quality, less flooding, more quality development, and less destruction of the area’s natural spaces and farmlands.
Don’t be bamboozled. Vote No.
The Houston Transit Coalition has a new website, a Facebook page, and a Twitter page to help people get involved. And when you go to the website, be sure to hit the Donate Today link at the bottom. We can win this!