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The Bad News From SW Houston …

» Chron: Massive blaze in SW Houston kills 4 firefighters

Heartbreaking ...

In an instant or close to it, a group of firefighters who had put themselves in deliberate jeopardy out of concern that people might be trapped inside the Southwest Inn were buried in burning debris. The precise series of events is at the heart of an investigation to be led by ATF specialists, who arrived at the scene later in the day. But the gist of it was clear in seconds.

"We had an early and quick catastrophic failure of the roof," Garrison said. "There's no way that I would have anticipated that we would lose four firefighters. I want to tell the residents of Houston their firefighters acted absolutely courageously today, that there was probably a dozen acts of heroism on that scene."

The fire broke out not terribly far from home, although the first I got of this was a photo from fellow Sharpstown-onian Stace Medellin's facebook page. To say the least, it added a little to the homesickness of of being stuck in Austin for a few more days. Two of the firefighters who lost their lives were from Sharpstown's Station 51, with the other two from Station 68, also in SW Houston. Just catching some of the raw footage online yesterday, it definitely looked like it would have been a miracle to get out of that fire without losing a life. I know that Station 51 is a particular point of pride for many of the folks I know in Sharpstown, so there's definitely no shortage of grieving in the neighborhood. My prayers and thoughts go out to those who lost loved ones in this event, as well as those still battling injuries.

From the folks at the Houston Fire Department: If you feel compelled to help the families of our fallen brothers and sisters, please donate here.

Strangely enough, I managed to snap a pic during my last visit home. I'd intended this for posting on the Empty Lot Primary blog due to the Southwestern Inn hosting a political campaign sign that nobody could see unless they were going the wrong way on the feeder road. Definitely a happier time.

UPDATE: Now there's this ...


A Quick Aggre-blogpost for the Day …

Apologies for the dearth of blogging. The last half of the past week got a bit busy. A couple of things to note very quickly, though:

- Kuff interviewed all of the HD137 candidates last week. Gene Wu is a client, so I'm biased in my preference.

- This week, Kuff gets to CD14, where Nick Lampson gets the grilling.

- Stace moved into my 'hood. He won't last a month.

- Oh, and this happened when I picked up the guitar and hit record. It's not me singing ... I just play guitar.


The latest phase of plucking away at my noisemaker has been to explore some songs that I grew up loving in order to learn from other guitarists and develop a little better knowledge of song structure. This tune was exactly as much fun as I anticipated the project being, although I'm sure the neighbors have a different opinion. Next up is Pat Benatar's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot." Another Neil Giraldo solo. And if it goes well over next weekend, I might do another Benatar tune to maximize this chapter of the learning experience.


The Mother of All Redistricting Hearings (Until the Next One)

Today's the big day for redistricting legal wrangling. Follow Michael Li's live-tweeting for the play-by-play. I'm merely offering a few points of color commentary on points that I find interesting. So check back for the occasional update or two over the course of the day.

Fracking Asians

How southwest Houston gets carved up between HD137, HD149, and neighboring Fort Bend's HD26 is obviously Item #1 on my agenda. One point in particular has crept up in Plan H307, which is a proposed settlement plan by the Perez plaintiffs who didn't sell out sign on with AG Abbott's draft.

Here are the precincts in the court's original HD137 (Plan H302) that have 20% or more Asians among 1-of-4 General Election voters. Highlighted is the one precinct left out of HD137 under the new Plan H307.

Pct   Total  Asian  Asian-%   H307
508   2,041   616    30.2%    137
507   1,173   338    28.8%    137
311   1,874   483    25.8%    146
487   1,830   451    24.6%    137
503     778   161    20.7%    137
781   2,305   459    19.9%    137

Precinct 311 in HD146 was certainly a feature of the state's original plan and one of the inhibitors of any final plan is that sticking closely to that plan is going to be viewed as a positive during this part of the process. But it's bad enough that the state's plan carves up the Asian community of SW Houston into four districts. Putting Precinct 311 back into HD137 (where it's been since 2002) would at least restore the core of the most heavily Asian precincts within two districts on the southwest side.

Fair Math for Fair Park (And Beyond)

A tweet from Michael Li describing some of the arguments about the competing House District plans for Dallas County ...

Anglos are 33% of Dallas Co. pop. Should control 4.46 of 14 seats. Instead control 8 because of minority fragmentation.

Welcome to the post-immigration-boom debate over representational fairness. Its not clear whether Michael is stating this based on the total population demographics or if he's repeating a point raised in the court where he's tweeting from. Why there's no hashtag for such a thing is beyond me. But one of the fascinating things to see in action at either redistricting trials or post-rollout arguments among legislators/city council members/whatever ... is the way total population, voting age population, and Citizen Voting Age population counts are used interchangeably depending on who it helps.

In this case, Dallas' total population of Anglos is accurately stated as 33.1%. And for a county with 14 seats, that represents 4.6 seats. But as a matter of Citizen Voting Age Population, Dallas County is 49.8% Anglo. That represents 7.0 seats. I've previously pointed out this matter with regard to Harris County African-American State Rep districts. It's also an issue that's challenging, in particular, for Hispanic representation. And that's a point I feel like I've lived out with regard to Hispanic districts for Houston city council.

The point isn't necessarily that either should or should not be used as a concrete formula. The total population numbers do give a good guideline for what's fair, while the CVAP numbers give a good guideline for what's doable. An example from the Houston Community College round of redistricting demonstrates that three Hispanic candidates can get elected out of a situation where the CVAP calculation suggests two are viable. Sometimes, doing what's fair requires a bit more work than would be deemed "easy". Just look at Houston City Council ... CVAP calculations would suggest that the city have 2.7 districts out of 11. We have two. As in two point zero. Harris County numbers are similar: 25% of the county's CVAP is Hispanic. How many Hispanic districts were drawn by commissioner's court? Zero. The side of all of this that I find most troubling is the use of the diffusion of Hispanic population as an excuse to avoid drawing what's fair. Neither side of the spectrum is innocent of that.

The way the different numbers are used isn't exactly one of the points about redistricting that I'd describe as being for mass consumption. Its as wonky as it gets for the subject. Still, you'd expect to see the use of them get better by the time the debate is moved to a courthouse where the witnesses are supposed to be "expert" and the lawyers are supposed to be ... well heck, the lawyers are just going to be lawyers.


On Uncompartmentalized Coalitions

» FW Star-Telegram: Legal wrangling over Texas redistricting misses the big story (Michael Li)

I'm way overdue in commenting on this, but better late than never. Michael's definitely noticing much of the same thing I am with regard to some of the new challenges that demographics pose for redistricting. In his case, naturally, its from a very Metroplex-centric perspective ...

This year's big theme is the remarkable growth of the state's Hispanic population. After all, 65 percent of Texas' population growth over the last decade was Hispanic. Despite that, there's a compelling argument that Hispanic voting strength is actually diminished under the new voting maps approved by the Legislature.

As powerful as that story is, there's another equally important, but less commented upon, story in this year's redistricting fights: the emergence of diverse multi-ethnic districts in the state's urban areas, where historically discriminated-against minority groups have managed to achieve gains by working together.

There's no better example of this than state Senate District 10, which Wendy Davis won in 2008 based on the support of 99 percent of African-Americans and more than 80 percent of Hispanics, plus a smaller percentage of Anglos.

Over time, this may, in fact, be the bigger story of the last decade.

As urban Texas becomes more diverse -- and compartmentalized neighborhoods that are the exclusive preserve of one ethnic group disappear -- more and more districts like Davis' will emerge naturally. The competitive state House seats that have arisen in recent years in places like Irving and Grand Prairie are a product of the same phenomena.

At the day job, there's one part of any presentation on demographics that we show that's pretty sure to get some attention. All it is is a flip-through of the demographic majority maps for total population in Harris County from 1980 through 2010. If you view the full page and just go page by page, you get an old-school flip-book demonstrating the impact of demographic change over that span of time. There aren't many counties in the state where a similar effect can be seen. It's just a matter of scale depending on the county.

My previous take on the whole tangent is here. The new CVAP numbers and mapped distribution for Harris County add a few new wrinkles to the understanding - some challenging, but most re-affirming.


2006-10 Citizen Voting Age Population Update

Time for some new data from the Census Bureau. As stated a couple of dozen times before, the counts for citizen, voting age population (CVAP) are no rolled out on an annual basis as part of the Bureau's American Community Survey. It's been a little while since this came out, but I seem to be stuck in work mode for a couple of clients waiting on a district to be finalized and approved for running in. Priorities and whatnot.

Anyways, here's the Harris County view, with the 2005-09 CVAP counts left in and the 2006-10 CVAP counts tacked on for easy comparison.

          Total Pop. (%)     18+ Pop. (%)       CVAP-09 (%)        CVAP-10 (%)
TOTAL     4,092,459          2,944,624          2,195,535          2,230,550
Anglo     1,349,646 (33.0%)  1,085,630 (36.9%)  1,090,624 (49.7%)  1,051,265 (47.1%)
Hispanic  1,671,540 (40.8%)  1,082,570 (36.7%)    494,695 (22.5%)    530,490 (23.8%)
Afr.-Am.    754,258 (18.4%)    541,108 (18.4%)    481,492 (21.9%)    506,150 (22.7%)
Asian       249,853  (6.1%)    194,956  (6.6%)    106,547  (4.9%)    120,660  (5.4%)
Other        67,162  (1.6%)     40,360  (1.4%)     22,177  (1.0%)     21,985  (1.0%)

If those seem like huge changes for one year on the two CVAP counts, there are a few things worth keeping in mind:

1. Some of this is obviously affected by natural demographic changes from the five-year period initially calculated to the new five-year period. I'm not inclined to accept that the majority of the change from the 2009 to 2010 CVAP counts is a result of true population changes.

2. An issue noted from the 2005-09 data is still relevant to keep in mind: there are datapoints from as far back as 2006 incorporated into the estimates. This post gives a fair snapshot of it. Basically, what CVAP captures something of a midpoint of the change from the 2000 Census numbers to the 2010 Census numbers. I doubt this has a huge impact on the year-to-year changes, outside of losing the 2005 datapoints in the 2005-09 CVAP data. But it's definitely something worth checking before anyone gets too excited or too depressed over any particular change for any given column or row above.

3. The Census Bureau itself does a little bit of updating in how they calculate these estimates, so there's bound to be a little bit of correction built into these numbers. I'm not sure how much of an impact this has on year-to-year changes. But the Bureau's reporting of CVAP data has been an issue even beyond redistricting. I've not read any updates on specific changes, but I think it's worth chalking up a not-insignificant share of the change to changing methodology.

With that, here's the map of Harris County by Block Group, color-coded to reflect which demographic group has a majority within the block group. Standard coloring applies: red is for Anglo majority; black is for African-American majority; brown is for Hispanic majority; green is for Asian majority (this is actually a fairly new wrinkle for those keeping track at home). Yellow is for no majority, aka - multicultural.

Numbers and whatnot are included in the info window for those who want to poke, zoom, and click. Knock yourself out.

full pageGoogle Earth file for all of Southeast Texas

There's definitely some interesting finds here. One really nice change from last year is that the data is collected with 2010 block group boundary definitions instead of those from 2000. That might not mean much for those just using a visual overview of the map below. But the change makes it easy to stack this data up against 2010 Census data.

A cursory look at some CVAP Conversion ratios shows that 52.5% of adult Hispanics in Harris County are citizen. For Asians, the countywide ratio is 64.4%. Anglos and African-Americans are 96.6% and 96.2% respectively. That's taken straight from the ACS survey data's count of 18+ and CVAP. Interestingly, if you look at the combined Census Tract 4214 in Gulfton (bordered by Hillcroft, Gulfton, Renwick, and Bellaire), the 2010 Census counts 6,718 18+ Hispanics and the ACS counts 1,180 Citizen and Voting Age. That's a conversion rate of 17.6%. Welcome to Gulton, ya'll.

If you want to look around more of the data for Harris County and see some side-by-side comparisons, the combo map page is updated with the new map. As noted, the Google Earth file includes not just Harris County, but also Fort Bend, Brazoria, Galveston, Chambers, Jefferson, and Montgomery counties. It's fun for the entire family.


HD137: Scott Hochberg Not Running for Re-Election

Things that aren't making my day: Announced via email, Scott Hochberg is not running for re-election in 2012.

As I've written before, I've known Scott for a fair amount of time and it's always impressed me that there are so many politically active people who a) are still actively involved, and b) have known Scott far longer than I have. It was easy to see Scott make the transition to State Rep back then and it's inversely difficult to see him hang it up. To put it succinctly: he was the best and it was great to have him as my State Rep for the last decade.

The new district is safely Democratic-leaning, so if there's anyone interested in running, give me a ring.

Scott's statement in full, below the fold ...

UPDATE: Trib on the story.

UPDATE 2.0: Names in the mix so far ... Joe Madden, Chief of Staff for Garnet Coleman. At first glance, he'll need to move quickly to establish residency. There are a few others in the district that are good hypothetical candidates, but since the filing period is underway, the time to get the name in the hat is now.

UPDATE 3.0: Abby Rapoport of the Texas Observer bemoans the loss of the lege's resident nerd.

Dear friends,

After much consideration, I have decided not to seek reelection in 2012.

I am deeply and sincerely grateful to all my friends and supporters who have allowed me to hold this position of honor for what will be twenty years, especially those of ordinary means and busy schedules who, year after year, gave their time and financial contributions to my campaigns.

I especially thank those who have worked so hard on my district and capitol staff throughout the years, providing our constituents with the service and attention that they should expect from their government, and always going the extra mile. Whatever success I have had has been in a great part their making.

I thank my friends in all levels of government for their support, encouragement, and even their challenges, with special appreciation to Speaker and Mrs. Pete Laney for their guidance starting from my first days as a member-elect.

My decision should not be thought of as any commentary on the current political environment, the challenges ahead, or, for that matter, the disappointment of soon having to endure the designated hitter rule when watching hometown Houston baseball. It's simply my desire to move on to new challenges, and find some other ways to be of service to our community and state.

I plan to serve the remainder of my term that runs until January, 2013. With the Legislature not in session, I will continue to work with local business leaders to complete the establishment of the new Gulfton Management District, as well as on other local matters. Beyond that, I have no specific plans.

Best wishes for a joyous and safe holiday season, and again, thank you.


Scott Hochberg
State Representative
District 137 - Southwest Houston


KIPP Gulfton: In Need of a Little TLC

A little shaky video work from the neighborhood here for ya. I first noted that KIPP charter schools had purchased the Twelve Oaks hospital in the Sharpstown/Gulfton area back in December. There doesn't seem to be a rush to renovate the property just yet, as it has been idle since then. One particularly negative side effect of that idleness has been that the property is reaching the point of eyesore without a modest amount of maintenance. With that, here's a quick walkaround showing the deterioration of the front facade of the building, the littering in and around the property, and the weeds/grass moving through the parking lot out back.

All in all, there's nothing here that isn't fixable. A little bit of upkeep would seem to be in order, is all.


Number-Crunching the Jara Map: District F

Some quick number-crunching on the revised District F of the Jara map. In this case, nearly half of the district would be new to Al Hoang. And the new part of the district is nothing like the existing part that he presently represents.

             TOTAL           NEW              EXISTING
Population - 88,185        | 43,090         | 45,095
Anglo      - 26,410 (31.0) | 17,415 (43.5%) |  8,995 (19.9%)
Hispanic   - 18,925 (22.2) |  7,695 (19.2%) | 11,230 (24.9%)
Afr. Am.   - 29,000 (34.1) | 14,330 (35.8%) | 14,670 (32.5%)
Asian      - 12,935 (15.2) |  3,220  (8.0%) |  9,715 (21.5%)


The overall numbers aren't vastly different than the administration's proposed District F. But a few subtle changes that compound the newness of the geography are that the district is no longer as hollowed out by residents not eligible to vote. Add to that the higher Anglo and African-American share of the electorate, and the district doesn't seem to be as opportune for an Anglo-Asian coalition. Whether that means Al will have tougher re-election fights or that the district proves tougher for Asian candidates after Hoang remains to be seen.

Moving the district northward and adding Precinct 620, I think, is a good move for maintaining a strong Asian electoral opportunity in the area. But extending the northern part of the district east of Pct. 620 may carry some risks. The Asian population in Alief is not growing anymore. Adding areas where Anglo voting strength is likely to dominate could make this district very different before the end of the decade.


Number-Crunching the Jara Map

I'm looking primarily at the new "Gulfton/Sharpstown" district first off. No demographics beyond the overall CVAP counts. I've divvied up the district into four sections: Gulfton, Sharpstown, Apartment-landia, and Everything Else (mainly Braeburn Glen and Braeburn Valley). What jumps out at first glance is that the Sharpstown precincts account for over 55% of the vote in 2009. The VAP counts in those precincts is 49% Hispanic and 22% Anglo.

An earlier review indicated that the conversion rate for CVAP in Sharpstown was still about 50%, meaning you can probably slice that 49% in half to get the final CVAP share in that part of this new district. And since this is a zero sum game, that means the bulk of the loss in Hispanic numbers would go primarily to the Anglo population, as well as to the not-entirely-insignificant Asian population in Sharpstown. My napkin math would have the Anglo share of Sharpstown at something close to 40%. And bear in mind that we're still not accounting for who's likely to turn out in odd-year elections. I'll get around to looking up some data in VAN, but for the time being, I'd peg the electorate out of Sharpstown to be at or above 50% Anglo in 2009. Remove a hotly contested Mayor's race (granted, 2009 was a low-turnout open race), and I think it's a safe bet that Sharpstown is over 50% Anglo in voter makeup.

My point in all of this is that, considering the closeness of CVAP numbers in the overall district and the distribution of the heavily-Hispanic Gulfton area with the heavily-African-American southern edge of the district ... does this district not create the opportunity for Anglo voters to divide the interests of two different minority groups?

Here's the thumbnail math and portrait of each category within the district:

Sharpstown: 27% of the voting age population, 35% of the registered voters, 55% of the electorate in 2009 election. 22% turnout in 2009. 49% Hispanic, 22% Anglo, 14% Afr-Am.
(Pcts 256, 284, 296, 297, 311, 426, 427)

Gulfton: 35% of the voting age population, 23% of the registered voters, 14% of the electorate in 2009 election. 9% turnout in 2009. 72% Hispanic, 11% Anglo, 11% Afr-Am.
(Pcts. 272, 335, 345, 431, 432, 539, 546, 835)

Apartment-landia: 28% of the voting age population, 27% of the registered voters, 16% of the electorate in 2009 election. 8% turnout in 2009. 59% Hispanic, 7% Anglo, 24% Afr-Am.
(Pcts. 359, 421, 430, 433, 565, 567)

Everything Else: 10% of the voting age population, 15% of the registered voters, 16% of the electorate in 2009 election. 15% turnout in 2009. 47% Hispanic, 17% Anglo, 30% Afr-Am.
(Pcts. 425, 489, 555, 731, 788, 826, 829, 836)

There was no substantive difference in the vote share of each part of the district from the 2009 General Election to the Runoff. The single biggest dropoff was in Gulfton, which dropped slightly more than 1 percentage point.

The Hobby Report, together with the vote share math, offers a few illustrative electoral possibilities: that Anglos and Hispanics have a lower level of polarized voting; and that African-Americans have a highly-polarized level of voting with both Anglos and Hispanics. If, for example, a 3-person field were set with an Anglo, an African-American, and a Hispanic, VAP math and the polarization effect suggests that the Anglo and Hispanic make the runoff (based on polarization), while the Anglo defeats the Hispanic in the runoff (based on election vote share).

There are a number of factors that can tug and pull at that logic. A minority conservative with solid credibility and ability to raise funds to communicate such would have a good leg up in this district. It would also help if no Anglo were in the contest, but it also comes down to what kind of Anglo - liberal, moderate, conservative, or what have you - might actually be in the mix of a contest.

This is essentially the issue I ran into trying to draw a good opportunity for Hispanics on the southwest side of town: once you get the core of Gulfton and some surrounding areas where Hispanic population is heavy, you don't really have a place to go in order to fill out the ideal population needed for a district. So what you end up with is just what you see here - a jump ball situation, but one that favors Sharpstown and Anglo voters.

There's still some analysis to be done on what would become the revised District F. So yeah ... you've got that to look forward to.


COH Redistricting: The Day After

» Chron: Latino leaders offer own map of Houston City Council: Alternative is one of 16 received in past two weeks

It looks like most of Morris' story here is taken from the morning hearing. But it's clear from both the early and evening service that the plan Robert Jara is developing may have some steam to be the plan that gets across the finish line. I've got a lot of respect for Robert and the district he's proposing makes sense in terms of the communities served. Considering that I live in the district he's assembling, I have no quarrel with it, in and of itself. I'm glad to see that his quote to Mike Morris was consistent with the comments he's made in meetings with myself and others:

"This whole process is about putting a community of interest together so that they can have the opportunity to elect - there's no guarantee - the candidate of their choice," said political consultant Robert Jara, who presented the map. "It would give a Latino in that district a fighting chance to win."

That's not the same as an opportunity district in either the legal sense of the word or even the political sense of the word. But the district does have something of a "jump ball" makeup to it, politically speaking. Since I've been trying to draw attention to the Citizen Voting Age Population data and having it as part of the discussion in this process, here's what those numbers are for this district:

Afr. Am. .. 35.1%
Anglo ..... 32.2%
Hispanic .. 26.4%
Asian .....  9.9%

I'm absolutely positive that by the time you account for voter turnout in odd-year elections, the Anglo share will rise to a plurality, if not a majority. I feel very secure in suggesting that it would go north of 40%. Whether it would approach or surpass 50% might be a possibility given what I know anecdotally of turnout in my part of town. But since this district covers a broader territory than I'm familiar with, I'll wait until I see cold, hard numbers before assuming an effective Anglo majority.

And for visual sake, here's the district itself. I should have a full shapefile of the working draft soon. I'll have it posted when it's available.

ADD-ON: Here's the view of CVAP by block group, with the majority demographic color coded as follows - Anglo = red; Hispanic = brown; Afr.-Am. = black; no majority = yellow.

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