By Mary Alys Cherry
While we wouldn’t trade living in the Bay Area for most any other place, sometimes we do feel a bit isolated and are forced to miss some events we’d like to attend because of the distance involved.
It was different this past month when several prominent figures dropped in to share their views.
Harris County Judge Ed Emmett spoke to Space Center Rotary, Houston Mayor Annise Parker was the keynote speaker at the Clear Lake Area Chamber luncheon, State Rep. Dr. Greg Bonnen gave a legislative update at the Bay Area Houston Transportation Partnership reception and Houston City Councilman Dave Martin spoke at the BayTran monthly luncheon.
Judge Emmett was back again, joining Galveston County Judge Mark Henry for an update on the State of the Counties for the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership and area lawmakers Sen. Larry Taylor and Reps. Bonnen and John Davis offered a legislative update for the Clear Lake Chamber.
Meanwhile, Congressmen Gene Green, Steve Stockman and Randy Weber and Mayors Johnny Isbell of Pasadena and Tom Reid of Pearland and Port Commission Chairman Janiece Longoria spoke at the Economic Alliance Outlook Conference. All of which brings us up to date with Houston, Austin and Washington. Here’s some of what they said — with additional remarks on our website:
“The Houston Astrodome is a unique open space unmatched anywhere in the world,” yet Harris County Judge Ed Emmett feels no matter what he does in office, how many problems he solves, he will always be judged by what happens to it.
He talked at length about it when he addressed the Space Center Rotary Club, explaining some of the many steps the county had gone through in an effort to find a way to put the iconic building known as the Eighth Wonder of the World back into good use once again.
“Many think our icon is similar to the Eiffel Tower in Paris, built in 1889 for the World’s Fair and now one of the most recognizable structures in the world,” he said, pointing out that the French icon originally was to have been torn down – that is until the city recognized its value and decided otherwise.
Despite many ideas being tossed about, no one has the money to make their ideas work, he said.
“We took a look at turning it into a hotel, but the Marriott Hotel Corp. said there was no way it would work as a hotel.”
Emmett said he’s in favor of keeping it. For the rest of us, “it’s time to decide what to do with it.” Days later the matter was put on the Nov. 5 ballot to redevelop the Dome into a modern multipurpose venue for sports, exhibitions and community events.
That was one of several subjects he broached.
Turning to the Port of Houston, which he calls “the economic engine that drives our economy,” the judge says “we need to build its infrastructure to make the Port the door to North America. We need to make sure it remains proficient or the ships will go somewhere else. Translation: Better the flow of goods, the better the economy.”
No matter where she goes, Houston Mayor Annise Parker says she likely will get one of two questions from the audience:
What will happen to the Astrodome?
Could Houston end up like Detroit (which recently declared bankruptcy)?
For the record, she hopes we will vote to save the Dome, and, no, she does not see Houston going bankrupt, she told Clear Lake Area Chamber members who greeted her with a standing ovation as she arrived to speak at their monthly luncheon at Lakewood Yacht Club.
“Many cities are facing cutbacks and Houston does have pension problems we are working on on a lot of fronts, but Detroit lost population and kept on spending.” Being a former city controller, she does not intend for that to happen here.
Parker, who is running for a final term as mayor, knows all too well about keeping a city afloat when its economy is sinking. She remembers back when Houston was a one-industry town just like Detroit back in the early 1980s and suffered through a recession. Today its economy thrives, depending on several different industries.
More recently, she vividly recalls what it was like to take over the reins to the city four years ago when the city was again experiencing a recession and had to lay off 750 city employees.
“It was like jumping from a leaky boat in the middle of a storm. United Airlines was moving, NASA’s shuttle program was ending and the Clear Lake area was facing the loss of hundreds of jobs….” And, the city was having problems balancing its budget – we had to cut $200 million — a problem it does not have today.
Rep. Greg Bonnen
Speaking at Bay Area Houston Transportation Partnership reception at Cullen’s, Dr. Greg Bonnen told about his freshman term in the Legislature.
It wasn’t long before he saw how serious some of the state problems were becoming. “Thousands are moving here – 1,200 per day — putting a strain on our water supplies. Some 80,000 new students are enrolling in our schools each year. We need more money for our schools. We need about $4 billion annually for our roads.”
But, at least the lawmakers approved two proposed amendments to the Texas Constitution that would allow for the use of unneeded funds in the state’s Rainy Day Fund to help solve water and transportation problems. One amendment appropriating $2 billion from the Rainy Day Fund to provide for a water infrastructure plan will be on the ballot Nov. 5.
A second amendment providing about $1.2 billion for road repairs was approved and will be on the ballot in November 2014.
The neurosurgeon, who served on both the House Appropriations Committee and the House Insurance Committee, said he is hopeful voters will realize how important the water management plan is and approve the amendment. If so, then he said, “I think 50 years from now people will say, ‘I’m glad that 50 years ago those people were paying attention and looked out for us.’”