This past week, Houston Mayor Annise Parker’s administration unveiled a much needed Equal Rights Ordinance for the city. Though its current state is much weaker than what is truly needed for the city, I do believe that City Council should take the draft that has been presented and actually pass an ordinance that will bring about true change. It’s time for Mayor Parker to stop presenting watered down ordinances and initiatives and pick tougher fights that will actually cement her legacy, instead of doing what seems habitual for her.
Currently, the Rebuild Houston ordinance’s task is to “reconstruct and maintain our drainage and street systems.” This “Pay-As-You-Go” fund, passed by voters in 2010, allows for the city to decrease its debt while prioritizing worst-first infrastructures. In what most have deemed Mayor Parker’s toughest fight, I truly believe she did not go far enough. The drainage fee, which has been attached to everyone’s water bill, should be used specifically for the purpose of creating a comprehensive transportation infrastructure plan that includes the redevelopment and rerouting of the current street grid and the burying of all utilities including power lines. We have streets that dead end for no reason; neighborhoods that only have one way in and out; streets built before the invention of heavy duty cars; and a curvy parkway that seems to cause more dangerous accidents than our highways. Our city needs more than just a complete streets project, we need to actually complete the streets.
Next in what seems to become a major talking point among Council, Mayor Parker must agree that our city’s charter needs a complete overhaul; not just a piece-meal proposal on City Council term limits, but a comprehensive review that addresses the following: 1) more shared responsibilities among City Council and the Mayor; 2) possibly going to an all single member City Council; 3) looking into the possibility of having an appointed City Controller, who would function like a City Manager but separate from the Mayor and Council; 4) moving all Council meetings to the late afternoon; and 5) creating a clause that forces the City to review the charter every 20 years. Our city’s charter is the backbone of our city’s governance and it has not had a major assessment, article-by-article, since 1913, after the passage of Home Rule Enabling Act by the State Legislature. Council Member C.O. Bradford, HCC Trustee Carroll Robinson and the Houston Chronicle have all called for a city charter review. Mayor Parker needs to put the Ad-Hoc committee to work and begin the process of making a major change to the operations of the city.
Last, but certainly not least, Mayor Parker needs to seriously take issue to the food deserts epidemic that plagues our city. While we are renovating parks, building luxury apartment complexes and connecting our city’s hike and bike trails, we truly need to do more than just have a conversation about the quality or lack thereof of grocery stores in our communities. We all know the statistics that have been presented to the Mayor and City Council about the need for more quality grocery stores in several of our neighborhoods. Mayor Parker should work with every type of food chain, from HEB to Kroger to Randalls, to bring these establishments to neighborhoods such as Fifth Ward, Settegast, Pleasantville and any other areas of town that do not have the same quality services that residents of River Oaks, West University and even the Montrose have.
Each of these issues is complex and will take time to achieve, but someone must be willing to get the ball rolling. With a strong mayor form of government and her political clout, Mayor Parker should not focus on the easy fights, just to say she has gotten something through Council. In her last years of leadership with the City of Houston, Mayor Parker should be more focused on making true and effective change for the future, regardless of the level of difficulty involved with solving these issues. Just remember, you cannot make an omelet without cracking a few eggs. #ijs