Category Archives: City of Houston

Mayor Annise Parker Reports on Hire Houston First

Mayor Annise Parker reported the results of the City’s contracting efforts to ensure Houstonians are hired first. Back when Parker was first talking about it in 2009 as a candidate, DosCentavos really liked the idea. Here are the results, thus far:

As of September 30, 2012, more than $139 million of city business had been awarded to designated Hire Houston First firms, sustaining more than 6,000 jobs.  This encompassed 895 formal bid contracts for construction and purchasing contracts as well as informal non-contract purchase orders.  81 percent of the time, HHF companies won the formal bid contracts because they submitted the lowest bids.  The other 19 percent of the time the city utilized the local preference component of HHF to award the work to the local firm.  The majority of these formal bid contracts were for construction work.

“My goal was to encourage the use of local companies and workers on taxpayer-funded projects to maximize the economic impact of our governmental spending,” said Mayor Parker.  “I knew our local firms would be competitive.  Now we have the numbers to prove it.  As the program moves into its second year, I want to see more Houston area companies designated to benefit from the local preference when the bid competition warrants.  Our tax dollars need to stay here where they are supporting local businesses and the jobs they provide.”

HHF allows the city to consider a vendor’s principle place of business and to grant preference to local businesses in awarding certain city contracts.  For contracts under $100,000, the city may select the local firm’s price if it is within five percent of the lowest bid from an out-of-town company.  For contracts exceeding $100,000, there can be no more than a three percent difference between the out-of-town low bid and the next highest offer from a local vendor.

The total number of HHF designated firms is 617, an average of 51 new approvals each month.  322 of these companies have never been awarded contracts by the city.  The remaining 295 have had at least one city contract.  Out of 68 prime contracts awarded to HHF firms, 61 went to firms that had previously been awarded city contracts.  The remaining seven contracts went to HHF firms that have never worked for the city prior to their HHF designation.   Their contracts totaled $2.7 million.  532 of the 617 approved applications are in Harris County. The numbers are expected to grow as the city’s Office of Business Opportunity steps up outreach to get more companies registered in the second year of the program.

To qualify for designation, businesses must meet at least one of two requirements:

  • Be headquartered in the incorporated city limits or the eight local counties of Harris, Brazoria, Chambers, Fort Bend, Galveston, Liberty, Montgomery and Waller, or
  • Have 20 percent or more of the entity’s workforce and a substantial part of its operations regularly based within the city limits or the eight counties.

Sounds great, but I immediately wondered about how minority- and women-owned firms benefited, especially Latino and Latina-owned firms. Still, hiring locally is still quite important and a great source of local buying-power. 

Give Me The 311!

Houston Mayor Annise Parker and the 311 Department announced today that there is a new 311 Smartphone app ready to take your service requests for stuff, like garbage container issues, traffic signal maintenance, water line break, dead animals, etc. My favorite in SW Houston will be the Road Maintenance one since I’ve driven through some kidney-busters recently.

Prior to 311’s transformation, the 311 Call Center provided telephone Service Request and information service 18 hours a day, seven days a week. Due to budget-required layoffs in FY2012, 311 had to stop offering service on the weekends. As of August 15, 2012, 311 Help & Info launched 24 hour a day, seven day a week service.  Additionally, 311 installed a labor model that more closely matches the demands of Houstonians. Furthermore, the service extension was implemented at an operating cost to the City of $600,000 less per year than the former 311 Call Center model.

In addition to expanded call-center hours and the new Smartphone app, 311’s redesigned website,www.Houston311.org, enables Houstonians to easily submit a request for service online. For example, the 311 website only received 2,144 “hits” in January 2011. In January 2013, following its redesign, the website received more than 13,485 “hits.” Over the past week, 311 has also launched a new interactive mapping tool that allows Houstonians to track the progress of their request and view other requests in the area.

Learn how to use it here. And to download the app, you can find it on Google Play or the Apple one.

Houston Fights Crime Better Than Most Major Cities

Thanks to the Office of Mayor Pro-Tem Ed Gonzalez for the heads-up. Click the image to enlarge. This info is quite encouraging.

Houston Crime

Catching Up on City Stuff

The Labor Guy

After all the pedo ruckus some of us made a while back, it looks like Mayor Annise Parker finally got a Labor dude on the Port Commission, Dean Corgey. Since everyone was talking about “firsts” after another appointment, is it safe to say that the working people got their first representative on the commission?

An Opponent for MAP?

Looks like a wealthy lawyer is once again making noise about running for Houston Mayor. We’ve all been wondering, from which direction will he run at Mayor Parker? The Chron talked to him.

In our conversation this morning, Hall stressed job creation, economic growth, international trade, and a more creative, compromise-seeking approach to the city’s pensions issues, and also emphasized that the city’s strength lies in its diversity. He said Parker’s 16-year tenure at City Hall as a council member, controller and now mayor, has produced “leadership fatigue.”

That’s a bold statement from someone who has walked those halls for a long time, too.

The 2013 Elections

It’s about that time to start thinking about the 2013 Elections. With all the activity at Houston Community College lately with what will end up being two appointments, I’ve had my ear talked off about another HCC race–District I. Yes, that one is up again. Unfortunately, my own HCC trustee has resigned, but he leaves after producing some good results:  Thank you, Richard Schechter!

Now, the City elections will be interesting. At-Large 3 is open, as is District I–one of the Latino seats. Both will have a long list of candidates. Will any current Council members be targeted? Well, with the Mayor getting a well-financed challenge, it’s possible that some would want to try some sort of coattail riding–if coattails even form. So the DC will have the ojos open.

A Closer Look at Houston’s District J

My Council Member, Mike Laster, gave a State of the District report the other day and provided a snapshot of District J. Here’s his report as written in his Journal.

Demographics and Destiny…

This past Tuesday I had the opportunity to present a “State of the District” message to those gathered at the Southwest 2000 Bi-Monthly Breakfast hosted by Houston Baptist University. In preparation for my presentation I consulted the “Council District J Profile” produced by the City’s Planning and Development Department. The “Profile” can be found for review as an icon attachment at the District J website.

The Profile information is compiled from the 2010 U.S. Census data. It gives us a snapshot of the communities in District J when it was created along with District K.

The Profile confirms much of what we know intuitively about our neighborhoods – simply because we live here. Just over 181,000 persons call this part of Houston home. The District is three times as densely populated than the rest of Houston, hosting 9,000 persons per square mile to the City’s 3,100 persons per square mile. We are profoundly ethnically diverse – both from a residential and commercial stand point. Sixty-Eight percent (68%) of our households speak a language other than English at home. I firmly believe that it is the international connections of our people that will help District J lead Houston in international economic development in the coming years.

We are not without our challenges though. While 66% of our population is between the ages of 18 and 64, 41% of the population does not have a high school diploma. The District is home to 75,240 total housing units (both apartments and single family residences), yet 79% of those are renter occupied. Most concerning is that the median household income for District J has fallen nearly $7,000.00 in the past decade to $30,269.

While these numbers help us accurately understand who we are as a community, they do not determine our destiny. They serve as a starting point. I profoundly believe that the decent, hard-working people of District J will come together to build a community filled with pride and optimism. With effort and good will, we will build a better southwest Houston.

Now that I’ve resided in District J for ten months and will more than likely remain for the long haul, I need to start getting more involved, particularly in the area in which I live, which is surrounded by Harwin, Fondren, Hillcroft, and Bellaire, which isn’t a part of the civic association, according to the SCA maps. This little area is described quite well by the demographic information–we have $300K townhomes, $60K condos, and lots of affordable apartments. Just like any other neighborhood, we want good streets and great services, so I’m looking forward to hearing about the various construction projects and improvements being made to the area.

Mayor Parker Launches Parental Involvement Campaign

“Is My Child Ready?” was launched this week by the Mayor’s Office of Education Initiatives. The program’s work is to engage parents so that they may get more involved in their children’s education.

The campaign coincides with the release of students’ STAAR test results by area school districts scheduled for this spring.  The STAAR exams are part of the state’s new standardized academic accountability system.  The campaign will target “hard to reach” parents to encourage them to ask their schools key questions about their children’s performance on the STAAR test.

The commitment I liked most was this.

The campaign will promote parents’ long-term involvement in their children’s education with an emphasis on post-secondary readiness.  Currently, more than half of Texas freshmen in two-year colleges and nearly a fourth in four-year schools require remedial courses.  Deficient academic preparation also leads to low rates of college completion.

While Texas legislators are seeking ways of blaming college advising and student services offices as a means of cutting their budgets, it is good to see Mayor Parker promoting a solution, rather than some punitive measure, like I expect the Lege to do. It seems she knows one of the roots of the problem, so, hopefully, the Lege will follow suit and commit to these types of programs, too.

And it’s bilingual, too.

The multi-media campaign will deliver messages in various formats, including billboards, signage on METRO buses, electronic communications via SMS texts, emails and campaign websites and posters at libraries, multi-service centers and schools throughout the Houston region.  Public information sessions for parents will also be held.

TEXT “READY” or “LISTO” to 91011
The campaign invites parents to text “READY” to 91011 or visit www.ismychildready.org for key facts and specific questions to ask schools about their children’s STAAR test scores.  Spanish-speaking parents can text “LISTO” to 91011 or visit the campaign’s Spanish language website www.estalistomihijo.org.

“We want parents to talk with teachers and counselors and become informed on what they can do every day to help their children do well in the classroom,” said Mark Cueva, Mayor’s Office of Education Initiatives division manager.  “Asking questions about a student’s performance on the STAAR test and what parents can do to help that child do better is a good starting point.”

For full information about the campaign, visit www.ismychildready.org.

Way to go, Mayor! Every bit counts in this effort! Perhaps partnering with local higher education institutions is a good next step?

HFD’s Holiday Safety Tips

Thanks to the Houston Fire Department for posting their Holiday Safety Tips (and thanks to Mayor Parker for the heads up). Since it’s chilly these next couple of nights, here are some important ones.

Fireplace

  • Use a screen at the base of the fireplace. Use a flash arrester at the top of the chimney to keep the sparks off the roof.
  • Never use any paper or flammable liquids in the fireplace.
  • To set the fire: Make sure the damper is open before building the fire. Use aged wood and an approved product designed for igniting a fire in a fireplace. OR use a gas fired log lighter that has been installed by a licensed plumber and purchased through a reliable company. Read labels to make sure you are using the correct item for that designed purpose.

Portable Space HeatersSpace Heater Graphic

  • Do not use extension cords on electrical heaters.
  • Make sure wires are in good condition.
  • When purchasing a heater, check to see if it has a safety switch (when it falls over, it will cut off).

Gas Heaters

  • Make sure they have copper flexible threaded connectors rather than rubber hose (American Gas Association Seal).
  • Use soapy water to check for leaks. Never use a match.
  • You will want a blue flame to make sure it is not putting off too much carbon monoxide. A blue flame produces less hazardous carbon monoxide.
  • Make sure you have enough ventilation for the recommended size room and heater.
  • Keep heater away from anything combustible (at least 3 feet) and secure,so as not to tip over.

 

Report: Eating, Drinking, and Sleeping – Good for Houston

The Greater Houston Restaurant Association released the results of a study on the impact of the hospitality industry on the local economy. At face value, this looks pretty good for Houston.

- Hotels and restaurants in Harris County directly employed more than 162,000 workers in 2011 and had $7.9 billion in sales during the year. People working as hospitality employees comprised 9% of Harris County’s total private sector employment.
- In 2011, there were an estimated 41,800 indirect and induced jobs at suppliers and other businesses. The total employment contribution of the Harris County hospitality industry is estimated to be 203,900 full-time and part-time jobs. For every ten hotel and restaurant employees, there are nearly three indirect or induced jobs in the local economy.
- Hotels and restaurants and their employees contributed an estimated $792 million in direct, indirect and induced state and local taxes in 2011. The majority of direct taxes were property taxes paid by hospitality industry establishments and their employees.
- Hotels and restaurants remitted $740 million in 2011 in sales and hotel occupancy taxes on consumer purchases.
- The hospitality industry made a combined tax contribution, taxes paid and remitted, of $1.5 billion in 2011.
- Indirect and induced economic activity related to hotels and restaurants supported an additional 41,800 jobs and $5.3 billion in sales.
- For every million dollars of direct industry sales, there was an estimated $700,000 of associated indirect and induced sales related to hospitality industry purchases from: local suppliers and hospitality industry & supplier employee purchases from local businesses.
- Indirect and induced economic activity related to the hospitality industry in Harris County contributed $156 million in additional state and local taxes.
- The hospitality industry’s total Harris County direct, indirect and induced income contribution totaled $6.0 billion in 2011, including $3.5 billion of direct wages, tips and benefits paid to hospitality industry employees and $2.5 billion of indirect and induced income earned by employees of suppliers and other businesses.
- For each dollar of direct compensation paid to hospitality industry employees, the total estimated contribution to Harris County personal income was $1.70.

Someone like me would argue various issues also come into play in some of these sectors, whether it is low wages, lack of employee benefits, or wage theft, or some other issue the GHRA may not enjoy reading about with their report, but for now, it is good to know just what the industry’s  impact is on the Houston area. The issues to which I refer may not reflect on the entire industry, but they deserve their own study nonetheless.

Still, this report gives us a picture of an industry that one way or another benefits Houston.

I won’t get into the food truck debate, though, since I tend to agree with Gustavo Arellano on that issue.

Endorsement: Vote FOR the City of Houston Bonds

There are five proposals on the ballot in which the City of Houston asks voters to approve $410 million in bonds. According to Mayor Parker, this is one of the smallest bond packages and items that will benefit from the bond approval are very much needed.

The proposals are as follows:

  • Proposition A — Public safety: $144 million
  • Proposition B — Parks: $166 million
  • Proposition C — Health, Sanitation, Recycling, Gen. Government: $57 million
  • Proposition D — Library: $28 million
  • Proposition E — Housing: $15 million

Proposition B is particularly important as $100 million of it will be earmarked, along with private matching funds, to connect bayous with green spaces, with the idea that parks be more accessible and closer to all Houstonians.

All of the City’s council districts stand to gain gain from the bonds, whether it be fire stations, libraries, green spaces, or general improvements. The Affordable Housing proposal would invest in clearing blighted properties for the purpose of building affordable housing.

Ultimately, these are good investments in the future. No, it’s not everything Houston needs, but it is a start. The biggest selling point is that a tax increase will not be needed; but for me, it’s all about simply creating a more livable and sustainable Houston.

I recommend a FOR vote for all of the City of Houston propositions.

LEUV Mixer an Educational Experience

Latinos. Engaged. United. Voting. held a mixer and dinner on Tuesday to discuss  the various referendums on the 2012 ballot. Over 30 community leaders, including educators, school principals and counselors, higher education professionals, public servants and business owners attended and engaged in a lively discussion.

LEUV co-founder, Stace Medellin, provided a “lightning round” overview of the ballot, briefly describing the individual races and bond referendums. Touching on the METRO referendum, Medellin stated that voters have an important choice:  Support the current way of providing 25 cents of every METRO tax dollar to the county and cities in its service area or allow METRO the keep its tax dollar to use as they see fit. All in the room thought it fitting that a METRO train passed by during the presentation. Stace reminded those in attendance that educating themselves and others is of the essence, and that if voters want to find out what is on their ballot, that a great resource is HarrisVotes.com, where a personal sample ballot can be generated.

HISD Trustee Juliet Stipeche gave a powerful presentation on the Houston ISD Bond referendum, which would authorize the investment of $1.89 Billion to build and improve most of HISD’s high schools, improve technology, and other facility improvements. Stipeche gave the background on the need for new facilities, given that the average age of the high schools is 50 years, way above the national average of 42 years. Add to that issues with plumbing, mold, and structural problems and one sees the need for major investment that would put the district back on track and set for the next couple of decades.

During his presentation, Medellin touched on LEUV’s evolving support for the HISD bond. What began with questions over the contracting process and a push for ethics and campaign finance reform for trustees turned into support for the bond once the reform package was passed unanimously in its first reading in September. HISD will bring the ethics reform package up to a final vote at their October meeting.

Community activist Michael Espinoza made a brief presentation on the Houston Community College bond which would authorize the investment of $425 million to build new facilities across all of HCC’s campuses. Espinoza provided background on his own history as an organizer, and found that whether it was janitors, students, immigrant children, or members of a church, that the one issue that seemed to impact these communities was education, and that Houston Community College played a major role in this process. Specifically, the bond would pay for a new health care education and early college facility in the Medical Center, workforce facilities in Stafford and North Shore, and a new campus in West Houston (Westheimer/Eldridge area).

David Cisneros, a recent graduate of Tulane University who recently returned to  Houston, represented Parks by You. Speaking to City of Houston’s Prop B, which would authorize the investment of $166 million to be spent on parks, Cisneros spoke about Houston’s history and interest in providing its residents with green spaces. $100 million of the bond would be invested in uniting the various bayous through the development of green space and parkland. Parks by You is matching that investment, and has raised $20 million, thus far.

The question and answer session allowed those in attendance to truly engage the presenters. One comment made by Trebor Gordon, an announced candidate for City Council At-Large 3, was that he arrived with plenty of questions, but that he felt all of the questions were answered by the presenters. Others asked questions to bring some clarification to the difference between infrastructure investment through bonds and annual budget investment in education and policy-making.

There were also 2012 candidates who attended to do some good ol’ retail politicking, including Diane Trautman for County Trustee-At-Large, Erica Lee for County Trustee, Pct. 1, and Gene Wu for Texas House District 137.

LEUV is committed to developing various events and campaigns in the near future. According to Dr. Rey Guerra, a LEUV Co-Founder, “We are excited about how far we have come in just six months and we know that the best is yet to come, including continuing the Tacos and Votes program during Early Vote weekend in October.”

LEUV would like to thanks all those who showed their support, the candidates who attended, and those who provided a wealth of information on the bonds and the 2012 election. A very special thanks to Julia’s Bistro on Main and Alabama who provided a beautiful venue with the METRO rail as a nice backdrop.