Sports Illustrated has name two Houston legends – Jose Altuve and J.J. Watt as its Co-Sportspersons of the Year for 2017. They were bestowed the award for entirely different reasons.
Altuve had one of the most magical seasons imaginable winning the American League batting title, MVP and Silver Slugger awards. Oh, and yeah – winning the World Series for the first time in Astros history after the city was devastated by Hurricane Harvey. Altuve carried the team at times during the post-season recording a record 17 hits, 6 home runs and batting .472 at Minute Maid. Other than Mike Trout he is probably the best baseball player alive right now. And by all signs a credit to his community for charitable works and tremendous attitude.
Watt on the other hand, had a miserable 2017 on the field. He played in 4 games with zero sacks and was lost for the season early in the Chiefs game . All of this coming after losing most of the 2016 season to injury as well. Whether he ever returns to the greatness he showed during his first 5 years in the league is questionable at this point. But in the face of Harvey, Watt determined to raise some money for relief. He set his goal at $200,000 and ended up raising $37 million and it appears that almost all of that money has gone or will go to actual relief efforts.
So two Houston athletes get well-deserved kudos from SI.
Over the past 30-40 years, real estate developers in Houston have planned and built entire neighborhoods that were destined to flood. There are two giant reservoirs located on what used to be the far western edge of the Houston metropolitan area. These are the Addicks and Barker reservoirs which were built in the 1940’s after severe floods almost wiped out central Houston in 1929 and 1935. Two miles-long earthen dams on the eastern edge of the reservoirs contain rain water that would otherwise flow into Buffalo Bayou which snakes through some of the priciest real estate in Houston and its suburbs before dumping into the Houston Ship Channel. The HSC itself was once the easternmost part of the Bayou until it was dredged and channelized to allow massive cargo ships to dock close to downtown Houston – almost 40 miles inland from the Gulf of Mexico. The map below shows a much smaller Houston and the plan for the Addicks and Barker reservoirs as well as a White Oak reservoir and two canals that were never built.
Most of the time the Addicks and Barker reservoirs are empty and house golf courses, soccer and baseball fields, shooting ranges, hiking trails, model aircraft runways, dog parks and host of other wonderful recreational uses. Major streets even run through them. But they are designed to flood in a big storm. When the Army Corps of Engineers designed and built them, the government only bought land behind the dams up to the then-existing 100 year flood plain. However, if water ever reached the spillway elevation on the dams, it would flood areas far beyond the government owned land. So, probably because it was cheap and relatively close-in, several developers snapped up the land outside the 100 year flood plain and built neighborhoods, shopping centers and commercial buildings in an area that would flood if water in the reservoirs went above the 100 year flood plain. These neighborhoods include parts of such high-profile areas as Cinco (make that Sinko) Ranch and Kelliwood. The map below shows areas that were built in the basin of the Addicks reservoir that will flood at various elevations. The purple area is government-owned land. But every area that is colored will flood if the water reaches the spillway.
Red doesn’t know what kjnd of disclosures were given to purchasers, but plenty of homeowners have come forward claiming that they never knew that their homes would flood if the reservoirs filled up. Red does kind of suspect that might just be the case. He also suspects that if a prospective home buyer had been told, “By the way, if that there reservoir ever fills up, you’re gonna be under 6 feet of water. Just thought you’d like to know”, many buyers might just have considered other options.
Then along comes a Hurricane Harvey and the worst possible scenario plays out. The masters of the dam are faced with a dilemma. Do we flood more houses and businesses behind the dam – where stuff never should have been built anyway – or do we flood homes and businesses along Buffalo Bayou – where stuff probably should not have been built either? Hands were tied to some degree as the reservoirs filled up. Uncontrolled releases downstream were unacceptable and the prospect of the dams failing was just too dire. The folks below the dams were flooded – but so were the homes built where they never should have been in the first place.
And that folks, is the real estate crime of the century.
From the Annals of the Hub – In 1969, Houston Intercontinental Airport opened. HIA replaced Hobby Airport which continued to serve general aviation until the advent of Southwest Airlines which revitalized the subsidiary airport. HIA had been envisioned since 1957, when the Civil Aeronautics Administration recommended a replacement for undersized and overcrowded Hobby Airport. The project started in 1963 with plans for a massive $125 million facility about 10 miles north of downtown Houston. The project was repeatedly delayed and its projected opening date was changed eight times. The delays did not help improve the quality of the new airport and the overall incompetence of the design was quickly revealed. Within 3 years, the it had become apparent that the terminals were inadequate for the amount of traffic, the runways were in disrepair, the terminal trams were pathetic and there was a shortage of parking space. The problems resulted in the addition of a third terminal and other improvements. The airport was later renamed for George Bush.
Red for one has always hated the place. It is relatively convenient but very confusing, always too crowded, ugly and sprawling, and just a general pain in the ass for the traveler. It is great for getting your daily 10,000 steps in. Not to mention that it’s primary tenant is the lowly rated United Airlines. If Red can fly out of Hobby that’s where he will be.
In what can hardly be called news, the Texas Department of Transportation has revealed that 44 of the State’s most congested roadways are in – of all places – Houston. Even less surprising is that the stretch of the I-610 West Loop between I-69 and I-10 is the worst. Red thanks TxDOT for this valuable information, but is still wondering why nothing was done to relieve congestion when that part of the West Loop was rebuilt about a decade ago. Yes that entire stretch was rebuilt and not a single land was added – with the exception of additional entrance/exit ramps crossing the I-69 interchange. KHOU reports
The annual hours of delay per mile along that one stretch is more than 1.1 million hours.
We asked TxDOT, specifically, about what it’s doing to improve the worst stretch. For starters, connectors at 610 and the Southwest Freeway are being modified. And it plans to build elevated express lanes over the existing loop in the years to come.
From the Annals of Voting Rights – In 1944, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its opinion in Smith v. Allwright. The Court held that the Democratic Party’s “white primary” system was unconstitutional. The case started when African-American dentist Lonnie E. Smith attempted to vote in the Democratic primary in his Harris County precinct. Under the “white primary” system, Smith was denied a ballot. In the 1940’s, winning the Democratic primary was tantamount to election in all but rate cases. If you could not vote in the primary, essentially you could not vote at all. Smith fought back with the assistance of attorneys supplied by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (including future U.S. Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall). Smith filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas in 1942 arguing that he had been wrongfully denied his right to vote under the Fourteenth, Fifteenth, and Seventeenth amendments by the precinct election judge, S. E. Allwright. He lost at the district court, but appealed all the way to the Supreme Court which in an 8-1 decision ruled in his favor. Discrimination continued in the form of “poll taxes” and other tactics employed to suppress minority voting, but tThe Smith decision did end the white primary in Texas. The number of African Americans registered to vote in Texas increased from 30,000 in 1940 to 100,000 in 1947.
From the Annals of Girl Power – In 1981, Kathy Whitmire was elected as the first female mayor of Houston. She defeated Sheriff Jack Heard with 62% of the vote- who was never heard from again (Red just couldn’t resist that one). The unexpected rise of Whitmire put a temporary end to the good ‘ol boy network that had run Houston since – well forever. Whitmire served five terms finally losing to Bob Lanier in 1991. She has never run for office again.
The Texas Tribune details the Hobson’s Choice facing voters residing within the Houston Independent School. Under the “Robin Hood” plan HISD is due to send $165 million to poorer school districts subject to voter approval. The voters can turn down the plan, but then the district faces the prospect of having some of its most expensive real estate figuratively moved to another close-by poorer district. That is, if the voters say ‘no’ to the incredibly poorly worded proposition on the November ballot, then the state can take some expensive real property off of the HISD rolls and instead assign it to another district to boost its property tax base. Locals bigwigs are lining up behind the “no” vote in the hopes that the Legislature will blink when faced with the proposition of telling the largest school district in the state that it is stripping away some $18 billion of its tax base. And the kicker is, the obligation to pay the $165 million is still there – only to be paid by the smaller number of taxpayers. Red envisions James Dean speeding towards the cliff and this time his sleeve gets caught in the door handle.