Sunday, July 18, 2004

When ill-informed homebuyers attack

Two Thursdays ago, I had business to attend to at the City of Houston’s Planning Commission meeting. It was the first time I had been to a Commission meeting in Houston, and it brought back memories from my days in Denton, with discussions about plats, variances, Texas Local Government Code regulations, and the like. It was all so eerily familiar; the only difference is that, since Houston has no zoning, the Commission obviously doesn't hear rezoning applications.

Despite the fact that there is no zoning in Houston, homeowners here complain about unwanted development in their neighborhoods just as much as homeowners in Denton did. Several replat and variance cases regarding new townhome construction (which, over the past several years, has become ubiquitous inside Loop 610 as people begin moving back into the inner city) drew protests from property owners who didn't like the fact that a developer was about to bulldoze a nearby single-family tract, subdivide it into three or four narrow lots, and build boxy three-story townhomes on them. However, their protests were for naught; if the replats conformed to all applicable city regulations and there were no deed restrictions to prohibit such types of development, then state law required the Commission to approve the replat. Without zoning, the question as to whether such proposed development is compatible with surrounding land uses or densities is irrelevant.

Which made me wonder: were these complaining property owners around eleven years ago, when Houston's most recent attempt at zoning was narrowly defeated in a referendum? If so, how did they vote?

Then there was the new homeowner in Fourth Ward who came to complain about the narrow streets in his neighborhood. He thought the city was stupid and irresponsible for allowing such narrow streets to be built in the first place. He apparently didn't understand that he had purchased a townhome in what was once an historic African-American neighborhood settled by freed slaves after the Civil War (which has since been almost completely bulldozed by townhome developers). Because these freed slaves were collectively allocated a relatively small tract of land on what was then the outskirts of Houston, they had to conserve space by building narrow streets and small houses. Even after this bit of history was explained to him, however, he was not satisfied and continued to complain.

Ah, the joys of gentrification. Inner-city home-buyers, like their suburban counterparts, need to do their research before buying that new inside-the-loop townhome. The history behind your new neighborhood is an important a thing for you to learn and know.

(Retroblogged on August 23, 2015.)

The Astros suck.

The slumping Astros skidded into the All-Star break with a .500 record, having lost 7 out of their last ten games. This triggered the replacement of Jimy Williams, whose tenure as manager of the Astros can best be described as mediocre. Phil Garner takes over as the team's skipper, and the hope is that this change in management will cause the underperforming team, which as of July 18th is in 5th place in the NL Central Division and 12 games behind division-leading St. Louis, to turn things around and claw its way back into title contention.

Yeah, right. The Astros have about as much chance of contending for the NL Central title as Ralph Nader has of winning the presidency. Even if the Astros could somehow right their sinking ship, they're no way they'll be able to catch up to the red-hot Cardinals. Their best hope for the postseason, should they actually start winning again, is to get into a position to compete for the NL wild card spot. And at this point, the chances of that happening appear to be very slim. Especially since something like eight or nine teams are ahead of them in the wild-card race. The Astros, quite frankly, will do well to avoid a losing season.

In a word, they suck.

2004 was supposed to be "the" year for the Astros. With the much-hyped offseason signing of Andy Pettite and Roger Clemens, the 'Stros were supposed to not only contend for the division crown but be in the World Series picture. And indeed, the team started the season well and at one point enjoyed sitting at the top of the NL Central with a 21-11 record. However, by mid-May the downhill slide began; between May 12th and the start of the All-Star Break the Astros went 23-33 and quickly found their way into the division cellar. Even the trade for Carlos Beltran, intended to augment the team's anemic performance at the plate, had little effect.

As disappointing as it is to watch, I am not surprised by the team's descent into oblivion. These are the Astros, after all: the biggest underachievers in a city full of underachieving sports teams (hey, even the freakin' Oilers managed to get past the first round of the playoffs now and then). This team has broken my heart so many times that I've come to expect this type of performance from them. In fact, the only thing that surprises me at all about this year's slump is that it's occurring so early. Usually, the Astros wait until the end of the season to begin sucking and fall out of playoff contention. Or, they make it to the playoffs and lose in the first round (as they did in 1997, 1998, 1999 and 2001). That's why I chuckled at all the offseason hype surrounding Pettite and Clemens: I knew it wouldn't do any good.

New manager? Please. What this team needs is an exorcist...

(Retroblogged on August 23, 2015. The Astros, of course, would make an impressive rally over the second half of the season and get into the playoffs.)

Monday, July 05, 2004

The home stretch!

As of July 6, Lori and I have only 60 more days left until the baby's due date. Right now Lori is in full "nesting" mode. She's rearranging furniture and cleaning closets in order to make room for all the baby's stuff, and she's constantly on my case to put away my drafting table and my film editing equipment so there will be enough room for the crib and other baby-related items. Needless to say, life is going to dramatically change for all of us soon. Especially for these guys:
At least Lori and I know what's coming. The cats don't. How are they going to react when we bring home a small, hairless animal who sleeps and cries a lot and demands all of Lori's and my attention?

Here's what I predict: Athena (squinting, on the left) will absolutely hate the baby. She doesn't think she gets enough attention as it is and is always jealous of the other two cats. Come September, she will probably spend all her time hiding under the couch, sulking, and won't go near the baby. Elektra (staring, on the lower right) is the curious one and will probably spend a lot of time observing this new creature, even if only from a safe distance. At least until the baby begins to cry; then she'll get scared and run away. And Hermes III (looking away, at the top) will probably try to sleep in the crib with the baby. He likes to be as close to the center of attention as possible, and he'll therefore hang out as close to the baby as he can.

(Retroblogged on August 23, 2015. We more or less accurately predicted how the cats would react to Kirby, although Athena wasn't quite as skittish around the baby as we expected. And yes, Hermes III did try to sleep in the crib with the  baby!)

Justice in sports

Over the past month a couple of sporting events proved to me that, indeed, there is at least some justice in this world.

First, it was the Detroit Pistons knocking off the heavily-favored (and heavily-hyped) Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA finals. The Lakers, featuring a lineup of superstar players such as Shaq and Kobe and a superstar coach in Phil Jackson, were expected to walk all over Detroit. What the Pistons lacked in flashy superstars, however, they more than made up for it by playing solid, fundamental basketball as a team. The Lakers, on the other hand, played like a group of bored, spoiled prima donnas. The result was a thorough ass-kicking; in fact, it would have been a sweep had Kobe Bryant not drained a miracle three-point shot late in game 2. The 2004 NBA Finals truly were a victory of substance over style, and I enjoyed every minute of it.

Second, it was Cal State - Fullerton defeating the Texas Longhorns to claim the NCAA baseball championship. This is the second year in a row that a small school from a so-called "mid-major" conference has made it to the College World Series and vanquished a big-time school to claim the title. Cal State - Fullerton is a Big West member that doesn't even field a football team, but that didn't keep them from knocking off one of the biggest and wealthiest programs in the nation. It just goes to show what can happen in college athletics when there is a level playing field between the big schools and the little schools (which, by the way, occurs in every sport except football).

Also, the refusal of the Longhorn players and their coach, Augie Garrido, to come out of their locker room to accept the second place trophy after the game was over was disappointing. It reinforces a commonly-held perception about UT athletics and its lack of class.

(Retroblogged on August 23, 2015. This is the oldest entry.)