Weekend brunch for 26 April 2020

News and views from around the web

[WB1] Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced the latest installment this week of Harris County Government by Overreaching Edict – a draconian order (effective 27 April – Monday) to citizens to wear a mask everywhere in Harris County AND to wash hands upon leaving home, to be enforced by a fine of $1,000.

Local law enforcement immediately pushed back on the draconian overreach, signaling they would not be enforcing any such thing. Mayor Turner, who initially endorsed the county judge’s latest Pinochet-like pronouncement, later stood with law enforcement officials to note that nobody planned to enforce the silly overreach (our words, not his, since he had previously endorsed it) and instead that law enforcement would hand out masks as their primary means of enforcement.

Local leaders have been squandering what little credibility they have left on a daily basis it seems.

[WB2] Quite a few models were badly wrong about the threat of the pandemic to Houston and elsewhere (thankfully), so wrong that the “surge” hospital facility that was constructed at NRG was not needed and will be disassembled.

While this is good news, the lack of transparency from local officials about their modeling, the data that has motivated their decisions, and even accurate current information about hospital utilization, testing, and tracing all remain highly problematic.

Many of us favored the strong measures that were ostensibly taken in March to prevent our medical facilities from being overrun, but it’s now time for a sober reassessment of where we stand and what we need to do to get our area, state, and country back on track.

One Houston-area restaurant is already doing so. Colleyville, TX is getting on with the program. Georgia and Colorado (run by a conservative and a progressive governor, respectively) are as well. Texas governor Greg Abbott’s “strike force” is, disappointingly, a little behind some localities and states, but will have news about re-opening Texas on Monday.

[WB3] The spirit of meanness and lust for power that motivated Harris County’s draconian mask/handwashing decree and $1,000 fines isn’t entirely absent from the mayor’s office, which announced that it would make parks more inconvenient over the weekend for the citizens who pay for them — this after closing them on Easter for no good reason (which is to say, we have no evidence that COVID-19 easily spreads outdoors among people properly distanced; indeed, we have quite a bit of evidence to the contrary, and that the real threat is close-contact spreading in confined spaces).

[WB4] Local media is in love with the idea of “czars” to save us from everything (and local pols are, no doubt, in love with the idea of deflecting blame from themselves for shortcomings), so we now have two new local “czars” to lead our pandemic recovery. What, you thought that was the job of the people you elected?

[WB5] The last appointed czars apparently did such a fantastic job with their tasks that the Texas General Land Office is reclaiming control of area Hurricane Harvey recovery. Mayor Turner was VERY upset over this news, vowing to fight the takeover despite the fact that the city’s program had only commenced repairs on 59 homes and reimbursed 44 homeowners for repairs they paid for themselves. Harris County, which has not started work on any homes and has issued just 50 reimbursement checks, was happy enough to cede control to the GLO. Hurricane Harvey pounded Texas nearly three years ago

[WB6] Mayor Turner has announced that the city’s budget will be battered by COVID-19 and the oil industry downturn – although the City of Houston still has not implemented a hiring freeze, announced worker furloughs, or cut back on unnecessary staffers who engaged in campaign-tweeting during the workday. There are plans to discuss a new garbage equipment fee in this week’s Council agenda, however (see item #16) – surely the first of many creative new fees to come after years of financial mismanagement during an economic boom.

[WB7] Holly Hansen takes a closer look at the local Democratic agenda to release dangerous Harris County inmates during the COVID-19 pandemic. HPD Chief Art Acevedo continues to rail against this “release them all” mentality, even teasing a website that he indicates will help the public make informed decisions about leaders who are making these decisions. We look forward to the launch of that website.

[WB8] Some newspaper staffers never deviate from admiration for their own work (it’s just Houston’s most important industry and thousands of jobs and more than a few newspaper advertisers getting crushed, but let’s focus on what’s REALLY important), while some TV reporters never deviate from their own obsessions.

[WB9] For some reason, Nancy Sarnoff (and her editors) decided to use space in the Houston newspaper to run the print/html equivalent of an infomercial from a San Francisco-based real-estate investment startup barker with the counterintuitive observation that Houston-area home prices will rise by 1.2% next year, despite the COVID-19 and oil-price-related downturns. The barker actually offers this reasoning to conclude the infomercial equivalent:

Homeowners often refinance to secure a lower interest rate, but also to pull cash out of their homes. The latter could come into play by homeowners who have lost their jobs or otherwise been financially impacted by the pandemic, [Ralph] McLaughlin said.

Has this person EVER financed (or refinanced) a home? Because banks are not known for simply handing out cash to the newly unemployed.

The Chronicle continues to make some really strange editorial choices.

[WB10] METRO is using COVID-19 as its latest excuse for delays to its Post Oak BRT boondoggle. The unneeded project is well behind schedule, thanks to all sorts of missteps.

As my dad says, Stay Safe and Dodge the Virus!

Kevin Whited
About Kevin Whited 4232 Articles
Kevin Whited is co-founder and publisher of blogHOUSTON. Follow him on twitter: @PubliusTX