Once upon a time, in 1970s and 1980s America, there was a kid growing up in the western suburbs of Houston, and that kid’s name was Neal Meyer. That kid once thought, like many teenagers do, that he knew everything there was to know about the world. Some people would say to this day that I still do think that. Meanwhile, little did I know, that there was a man a decade or so older than I was, who grew up and came of age less than 10 miles away from me, whom I knew nothing about. His name was Paul Magaziner.
Paul was born on July 8th, 1950 to Carl and Florence Magaziner in Houston. I only knew Paul, deep down, at a kind of surface level, but one thing I could divine about Paul, albeit very quietly, is that Paul was born into the Jewish tradition, and an old tradition Judaism is. He was the eldest of the kids born to Carl and Florence, and went to a religious school growing up. In a trait that was to follow Paul all of his life, he was very protective of his sisters. None of this stopped Paul from getting a kick out of life. He enjoyed smoking cigars, occasionally playing practical jokes, as well as off-color humor, which of course is verboten in this maddeningly woke age.
When Paul reached adulthood, he did what many young people do and decided to do what his parents did before him: His parents owned a printing business and Paul joined the family firm. As time went on, Paul eventually took over the business and Paul found his calling. Paul was an ace of a businessman. He was successful enough that he expanded his business to several different spots around the country. Paul also dabbled for years in real estate and was as good at the real estate game as he was in the printing business. It was a testament to Paul that I learned he had a very high retention rate of his employees and that many of the people who worked for Paul worked for him for years.
Paul met his wife Susan in 1977 through some family connections. Their respective families knew each other loosely, but Paul and Susan didn’t know each other. They went on a date and Paul once said to me that once that it was like bottled lightning. I met Susan once back in 2008 when Randall O’Toole had his American Dream Coalition conference here in Houston, which I helped sponsor. Paul, who was rather short, had lost a touch of his hair, and was a bit pudgy at this point in his life (as most of us get when we get older), introduced the ever stylish, blond-haired Susan to everyone, and all I could think of was, “Damn, Paul! You married up!” Paul and Susan had two kids who themselves have gone on to get married and start their own families. Paul often mentioned his hobbies in his emails and in phone calls I had with him. He and Susan were avid travelers and Paul loved loved fishing and playing golf.
One of the things that anyone who knew Paul had to get used to was that Paul (in his latter years) was an early-to-bed and early-to-rise kind of guy. As such, Paul would frequently wake up not long after 4:00am, whip up a pot of coffee, and start voraciously reading the news, whether it was business news, finance, the economy, or local, national, or international affairs. Along the way, Paul would start firing off emails at 4:30 or 5:00am in the morning to everyone and anyone who came to his mind. He would also get some business work done. Hence, by 7:00am Paul would have already downed that entire pot of coffee, tended to some business, and have fired off a ton of emails by the time that all of us rather more sane types were just crawling out of bed.
I don’t know how many times over the years I knew Paul that I would check my emails mid-morning or during my work lunch breaks, only to find some wild, 5:04am email from Paul. Typically, Paul’s emails would look something like this:
From: [email protected]
Subject: NO SUBJECT
Neal, HISD had lots track of tens of thousands of students during this COVID event…..
Just crazy. Kids are being lost….. Nobody held accountable!
New school buildings going millions over budget from HISD bond….
Paul almost never wrote an email with a subject line, forever leaving his intended recipients in the dark about what Paul was writing about until they clicked on his emails. Then there was Paul’s scattered, mile-a-minute mind that was so stuffed full of facts and information that he wanted to convey that he could never quite discipline himself to sitting down to write everything he wanted to say down in a semi-coherent way. It was in a way comical, but that’s what you got when you were dealing with Paul.
And then there was METRO…
Sadly, it was my fate to have been introduced to this bon vivant of a man through politics. I met Paul back in late 2005 at one of the endless town hall meetings that was to consume the next 12 or so years of my life. Paul once said to me that one day some lawyers and agents representing METRO came striding into the offices of his business and subsequently told Paul they were going to have to clip off a chunk of his property in order to build a rail line down Richmond Avenue.
Paul reacted to being told this by going on the warpath.
Now, one of the things that we learn is that, yes, both the Texas and U.S. Constitutions have baked-in protections for property rights, requiring the government to pay property holders for eminent-domain takings. However, the hard reality is that when it comes to eminent-domain takings, the real meaning of this lies in the fine print. It’s quite possible for a governmental entity to confiscate only a small part of one’s property, but in doing so making it all but unusable for the purpose for which it is currently being used. For instance, a small business owner might be planning his or her entire business life around the fact that a property will have a certain number of parking spots to accommodate customers. However, if the government comes along and takes half of those parking spots, that could easily cause the business to go under. Other doings like cutting off access to properties via blocking curb cuts often have similar effects on property owners. Hence, Paul was none too pleased at being told that that a chunk of his property was going to be taken away.
In my reflection on the 2003 METRO referendum, which voters approved by a very slim majority (if I recall correctly, 189,000 voters voted in favor while 176,000 residents voted against it), the main way that METRO had to get people to try to vote for the referendum was to make a bunch of promises to residents all over the Houston area. Yes, we will build rail lines everywhere! Yes, we will increase bus service by 50% over what it is today! Yes, we will add lots of new Park and Rides all over the place! And so on. Any sane person would have asked, “how can they afford to do all of this when they aren’t doing this now?”
After METRO had won the 2003 transit referendum, there was a lot of giddy optimism (at least in certain circles of Houston) about what METRO could accomplish via building the rail lines outlined in the referendum. And, it quickly became clear that METRO’s main concentration was going to be set on building rail lines and not on fulfilling other stated promises or objectives, such as increasing bus service in its jurisdiction by 50%.
When Paul entered the METRO swamp feud, it quickly became apparent to him that, having won the referendum, the agency was taking on a lot of stuff at once. Plans and priorities seemed to be changing constantly and good information on what the agency was actually moving forward with (and how effective all this new transit actually would be) was hard to come by. Debate in Houston politics was fierce. I personally tried to fill in some of the informational gap by publishing a spreadsheet of METRO’s ridership numbers between 1997 – 2007 or so, which covered the times immediately before the agency started building rail lines and afterwards. It cost me some $150 of my own money to pay for the Texas Public Information Act requests (TX-PIA) from METRO, and it took me roughly 10 weeks to put all that information down into a downloadable spreadsheet.
Paul could see all of this unfolding and he quickly got himself into the habit of regularly making large-scale, precise TX-PIA requests to METRO on all sorts of issues. Eventually, Paul built up what was certainly by far the largest library of information about the agency that anyone in Houston ever had. We would not have known 10% of what we know about METRO and all the things that happened if it weren’t for Paul. Indeed on a few occasions, METRO’s own board members would chat with Paul about some things because they themselves weren’t clear about what was going on about some issue.
Paul and I had our disagreements about transit. Paul often held that rail should be built to the far-flung suburbs to bring in people towards downtown and the city, something I disagreed with because Houston’s population and spacial density is too low, and that Houston already has the Park and Ride system whose purpose is to accomplish the same thing. Paul and I also disagreed over what METRO’s “reimagined” New Bus Network would accomplish and what it did. I had dialed back my time spent on METRO by the time METRO unveiled the New Bus Network, so I haven’t studied the matter carefully, but I was cautiously optimistic about METRO’s intention to turn the bus network into more of a grid pattern to try to attract ridership. Paul, on the other hand, was fiercely critical of the New Bus Network. Paul stated that he thought that transit service was being diverted or taken away from people and neighborhoods who needed it most. Paul went on to file a Title 6 Civil Rights complaint against METRO about this.
If there was one thing that I regret about Paul’s efforts in this area, it’s that Paul never created a site for sharing this information, nor did Paul ever become active on social media when the likes of Facebook arose in the late 2000s. Instead, Paul tended to stick to more old-fashioned venues of engaging the public about METRO. A partial list of sites and links featuring Paul and METRO can be found at the Houston Business Journal; there’s this YouTube video of Paul being interviewed about METRO by fellow activist Charles White. Here is an article by the Houston Chronicle’s Dug Begley, in which Begley mentions Paul and METRO’s New Bus Network. The Texas Monitor has an article about Paul’s complaint he filed with the Feds over the disastrous Uptown bus rapid transit lane, something that Dug Begley wrote about back in March 2022, and which I predicted would happen back in 2015. And blogHOUSTON featured an early guest commentary on METRO Solutions from Paul way back in 2009.
In all, one might say Paul’s feuds with METRO started with concerns about how it would affect his business, but as time went on what Paul wanted was to hold the agency accountable for all the waste and unfulfilled promises that were (and still are) constantly being made about transit and by transit fans and supporters.
Sadly, Paul’s battles with METRO extracted a severe price from him, as politics almost always does from outsiders like Paul who get involved. You put much in, but rarely get anything back. When I think about Paul, I’d rather remember him for being the good man that he was, a man who knew how to enjoy life, and for what he did with his accomplishments of his family and his businesses. When told of the news of the pancreatic cancer that was to claim him, Paul fought it with everything he had. True to form, Paul gave all kinds of advice about every possible subject to all of the caregivers who looked after him. Like many people I’ve come to know, Paul was taken away from us a little too soon and we Houstonians have lost one of our best men.
Paul Magaziner – Rest in Peace.