The Houston City Council took no major action this week, as Councilmembers high and low tagged proposals to delay them for one week. Instead, the only updates we have are those that seek to prognosticate towards the future involving existing proposals, almost all of which were pushed back by the dilatory tactic.
First, KPRC is reporting on a proposal to relax the City’s alcohol sales ordinance, which bans any store from selling beer or wine within 1000 feet to a school or a church. Mayor Parker has now proposed easing the regulation to 300 feet, applying only to “larger grocery stores.” I have no idea what the cutoff between a small store and a large grocery store is, and I am in no small part concerned about the possibility that this is an olive branch to Wal-Mart and the like. That being said, perhaps I am just misreading all of it.
The proposal is meant to attract more grocery stores to low-income areas, where very small churches are often ubiquitously located in strip-malls alongside shopping centers. These low-income areas are often called Food Deserts for the scarcity of healthy eating and shopping options nearby. The Houston Chronicle recently cataloged these problems, citing efforts by the City to help alleviate the problems.
Then, there is the Payday Lending ordinance. First proposed by the Mayor last month, it largely mirrors the ordinances that have taken hold in Austin, Dallas and San Antonio by regulating usurious fees and onerous fine print. Many on the City Council then threw cold water on the proposal last week, though the votes looked to be there to pass it. The worst of these detractors was Councilmember James Rodriguez, who is a major benefactor of the
loan sharks’ lenders’ campaign contributions despite ostensibly being a Democrat.
Today, Councilmembers Andrew Burks and Jerry Davis (two more, “Democrats”) immediately “tagged” the ordinance, prompting a one-week delay. This was expected, but what was not was that the aforementioned Councilmember Rodriguez was inconspicuously absent. As Mike Morris of the Chronicle notes, this means that at next week’s meeting –the last of the year– Rodriguez could tag the ordinance himself and send the ordinance into next session, when the Council will look very different.
For one thing, Melissa Noriega, a reliable ally of the Mayor, will likely be replaced by Michael Kubosh, an ardent opponent of the Mayor and basically anything she stands therefor. While I have certainly been empathetic to many of Kubosh’s past critiques, Payday Lending reform will not be one of them. While Al Hoang will be replaced by political mystery Richard Nguyen, Hoang was already considered a tossup on the ordinance, meaning nothing will likely change on that front.
But Wanda Adams, another stalwart ally of Parker’s, will likely be replaced by Dwight Boykins. Given Boykins’ long history with business interests and as a lobbyist, he could very well turn out to be opposed. The loss of two “YES” votes could cripple chances of passing the ordinance.
Of course, there could be movement in the opposite direction. Andrew Burks, an opponent, could be replaced by David Robinson, a supporter. Helena Brown, an opponent, could be replaced by Brenda Stardig, who has not taken a position but could conceivably be supportive. As I noted last week, Graciana Garces –the hand-picked successor to James Rodriguez– is wishy-washy on the ordinance (meaning she’s probably opposed). Her opponent, however, Robert Gallegos, is a proud supporter.
The only thing that is certain at this point is uncertainty. Too many variables are up for play in the runoff election.
Dos Centavos has more.