Jul 03

3rd Time’s a Charm?

Ok, so I suffered a case of unstable servers, and finally have taken the time to build a new one from the ground up. 

With any luck the blog will be stable, and I can find more time than once in the last 2 years to post updates.

Permanent link to this article: http://onthespotblog.com/3rd-times-a-charm-2/

Jul 05

Independence Day

Happy 232nd Birthday America!  As I write this, I am recently back from the “Freedom over Texas” display in Downtown Houston.  While I’ve never attended the actual events at Eleanor Tinsley Park, I can take in the fireworks from a nearby venue that’s within walking distance of my apartment.

This was the first time in 5 years I decided to try my hand at photographing fireworks, to see if it could be easily done with the digital camera I upgraded to earlier this year.  I have found that it was not as easy as my previous camera was, partially due to the city lights creating a back light and making the long exposures I have done in the past difficult.  As this sample taken in 2003 at Shawnee Mission Park in Lenexa, Kansas shows:

Fireworks, July 4th, 2003, Shawnee-Mission Park, Lenexa, Kansas

Continue reading

Permanent link to this article: http://onthespotblog.com/independence-day/

Mar 24

Archstone Memorial Heights: March 24th Update

I happened to catch one of the maintenance staff members over the weekend, and was talking to him about the redevelopment.

According to him, it looks like the wrecking ball will hit the three buildings I identified previously around the first of May.

Don’t worry though, there’s plenty of other "prep" work going on in other parts of the complex.  I’ll have an update on that soon.

Permanent link to this article: http://onthespotblog.com/archstone-memorial-heights-march-24th-update/

Mar 15

Archstone Memorial Heights: And the Start is Eminent

Editor’s Note: This is the final of three parts outlining the beginning of the redevelopment of the Archstone Memorial Heights Apartment Complex, the first two parts can be found here and here.

It all started simple enough, a rent increase.  After living in the complex 2 1/2 years (and reportedly longer for others) Archstone increased rents across the board in December, 2006. Not a typical rent increase, rents shot up 25%.

With the onslaught that followed, many tenants moved on as their leases expired, leaving huge vacancys.  Archstone was able to fill most of those units in the months after.  I renegotiated, and got a more reasonable increase, staying for "one more year".

In December 2007, I was greeted with another across the board 20% increase.  Again tenants moved out in droves.  I had hoped to be ready to move on, but other constraints made me stay for yet another year.  I again renegotiated the lease, reducing the increase slightly.

The complex is not the best I’ve seen, but it’s not the worst.  With single pane windows and poor insulation, noise is always a problem (Particularly if you’re on the "street" side of the complex).  The units, by comparison with other complexes in the area, are what you could consider "basic", and small by comparison as well.

Continue reading

Permanent link to this article: http://onthespotblog.com/archstone-memorial-heights-and-the-start-is-eminent/

Mar 13

Archstone Memorial Heights vs. The City of Houston

Editor's Note: This is the second of three parts outlining the beginning of the redevelopment of the Archstone Memorial Heights Apartment Complex, the first part is posted here, and the final part will be posted in the near future.

At the May 30, 2007 city council meeting, a request to abandon three fire hydrant easements was on the city council agenda:

RECOMMENDATION from Director Department of Public Works & Engineering,
reviewed and approved by the Joint Referral Committee, on request from
Ronnie D. Harris of Brown & Gay Engineers, Inc., on behalf of ASN Multifamily
Limited Partnership [SCA-North Carolina (1) LLC, a Delaware limited partnership
{Archstone-Smith Operating Trust, a Maryland real estate investment trust,
(Peter Grimm, Vice President), sole member}, General Partner], for
abandonment and sale of three fire hydrant easements and a 10-foot-wide
water line easement in exchange for the conveyance to the City of a fire
hydrant easement, all located within Memorial Heights, Section One Replat,
out of the John Austin Survey, A-1, Parcels SY7-082A through D and

A look at the agenda backup quickly shows the areas of the property in question.  This motion was quickly rubber stamped through the council.

Continue reading

Permanent link to this article: http://onthespotblog.com/archstone-memorial-heights-vs-the-city-of-houston/

Mar 09

Archstone Memorial Heights: The Trashy Problem?

Editor's Note:  This is the first of three parts outlining the beginning of the redevelopment of the Archstone Memorial Heights Apartment Complex, the remaining two parts will be posted in the coming days, time permitting.

As reported recently on Off the Kuff and SwampLot Archstone Memorial Heights is on the verge of a complete redevelopment of it's complex at Heights and Washington Boulevards.  I have personal insight into the situation, as I have lived in the complex for the last four years.

One of the first signs of emminent changes coming was when the trash compactor failed in July 2007, and it wasn't repaired for weeks leaving piles of trash spilling out into common areas, leaving a stench for residents to smell anywhere in the area.

Continue reading

Permanent link to this article: http://onthespotblog.com/archstone-memorial-heights-the-trashy-problem/

Mar 08

One more time…

Ok, so it's time for me to try this again.  We'll get this down pat sometime…

I've got a couple of topics on the radar, more to come soon.

Permanent link to this article: http://onthespotblog.com/one-more-time/

Mar 04

Somebody Tell the Cops to Stop Watching 'Inspector Gadget'

Isiah Carey at FOX 26 tonight gives us the Insite on a report that the Houston Police Department is wanting to invest in handheld metal detectors and bulletproof partitions for patrol cars.

In my line of work (Information Technology), I frequently get requests from someone who wants technology to do a 'big-brother' type control over an employees actions.  The technology I work with does not have that kind of function for good reasons.  My response is, and always will be that the technology will not fix the problem, but it may help Human Resources in documenting the problem (and at that point, let Human Resources deal with it).

HPD seems to be in that mode, but Mayor White and Chief Hurtt seem to not have the word "NO" in their vocabulary.  We've seen money pumped out for red light cameras, tazers, cameras on tazers, and now the metal detectors and bulletproof partitions.

First, how much more room does an officer have on his belt?  All these gadgets can not be good for the officer to have to carry, along with his nightstick (they do still carry them don't they?) gun, bullets, handcuffs, etc.

Second, where is the money going to come from to fund these programs?  My bet, like always will be to slow the backfill of the already understaffed department.

That leads back to my point earlier.  The problem with HPD today is it is hundreds of officers short of what it needs.  Throwing more technology at the problem is not going to fix it – only hiring more officers will.

I challenge anyone from city council to respond to the question of where the funding is going to come from for this, and I ask them why a mandate to rebuild HPD's staffing levels has not been brought before the council.

Permanent link to this article: http://onthespotblog.com/somebody-tell-the-cops-to-stop-watching-inspector-gadget/

Feb 19

Why They Want us to See Red (Light Cameras)

Alexis Grant over at the Chronicle's new City Hall Blog (A nice blog by the way) reported last week that The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) released a new report last week on the improvement of intersection safety with the installation of red light cameras.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety is an organization that researches and lobbies for changes to laws at the federal, state and local levels.  It's funding is entirely from the insurance companies that we pay every month to provide coverage on our vehicles.

Over the weekend, I had a chance to read the report that Alexis was reporting about.  The IIHS report points out many flaws in their methodology, proving that their research is, for the most part, invalid.

The report focuses on two intersections in Philadelphia which were scheduled to get red light cameras, and three in Atlantic County, New Jersey that police say warranted cameras, but were not allowed by state law.

For one, the sampling period.  The interval of time after yellow lights were lengthened was only 6 weeks before the sampling was taken.  A few weeks later the red light cameras were turned on, and after 4 months grace period (warnings) and 12 months of enforcement, the final sampling was taken.  3 samples were tainted by malfunctioning equipment but they claim that didn't skew the results.

In fact, they even attest to longer yellow lights improving red light running over 12 months.  Could some of the improvement actually have been the longer yellows and not the cameras?

Another flaw is where the samples were taken.  The six experimental sites (the ones that had their timing changed and red light cameras) averaged 31,000 cars a day, whereas the three control sites (no changes made during the study) averaged 14,000 cars.  The report also says that the control sites were taken 50 miles away in New Jersey; meaning that a separate state, county and local jurisdiction could have tainted the results as well.

The conclusion of the report discusses 90% or more reduction in red light running.  It does not track the increase in rear-end collisions, as drivers slam on their brakes to avoid getting a ticket.

So, lets take some facts that the makers of the cameras, nor the city council, fail to tell you.

Innocent until proven guilty – A basic right in our country.  It's a part of our legal system.  With red light cameras, you're guilty until proven innocent, or otherwise incriminate someone else.

Face your accuser – another of our basic rights.  It's kind of hard to face a camera in court, let alone question it.

Cameras will not stop dangerous drivers – A drunk driver won't pull over for a camera flash, nor will it stop the guy that's driving 100 MPH.  That's what real police have to do.

It's all about safety – If that's the case, then why did Affiliated Computer Services of Dallas spend over $305,000 in lobbying as well as the campaigns of several elected officials in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania?  What the stories don't answer is how much did the IIHS spend on lobbying and campaigns? (Story credits: Don Russell, Philadelphia Daily News, 2003)

It will reduce accidents – The same intersections in the IIHS report actually saw an increase in the rear-end collisions in the first several months the cameras were active. (Story credit: Gwen Shaffer, Philadelphia Weekly, 2005)

It's no longer about protecting the public, if it was, there wouldn't be a need for these cameras.

(Editorial note – story references courtesy the National Motorists Association. This does not constitute an endorsement of all of their positions on traffic safety laws, only in the matters of camera enforcement.)



Permanent link to this article: http://onthespotblog.com/why-they-want-us-to-see-red-light-cameras/

Feb 16

Texas Legislature to Make Cameras see RED? (Continued)

As we come to mid-month, more news from Austin on all of the action to stop or slow the spread of the disease known as red light cameras.

Two more bills have been filed, House Bill 1570, and Senate Bill 195. House Bill 1570 is identical to the previously discussed Senate Bill 125, requiring that the revenue be directed towards a designated Trauma Facility. If both pass their respective chambers, it would hold promise for the bill to make it to Governor Perry’s desk.

Senate Bill 195 takes a radically different approach from the other bills proposed and looks back to the 78th legislative session. It repeals a section of the state transportation code that was enacted in 2003. The earlier changes eliminated the requirement that red light runners be served the criminal citation in person by the citing officer, allowing for the offense to be ticketed with a civil citation – bypassing the requirement of being served by the officer. The new bill repeals that change, making all red light cameras illegal in the state.

So, by my scorecard, here’s the bills that are in the legislature as we speak:

  • 3 bills prohibiting cameras on state highways
  • 2 bills requiring revenue to go to trauma facilities
  • 1 bill requiring minimum light change intervals at camera enforced intersections
  • 1 bill setting standard signage requirements
  • 1 bill repealing the previous legislatures authorizing change

Now, for some good news. The Senate Transportation and Homeland Security committee is planning a hearing February 21 in Austin, and both Senate Bill 125 and Senate Bill 195 are on the agenda. No hearings have been scheduled with the House Urban Affairs committee for the six on their agenda.

I will continue to support all of these bills, and strongly support Senate Bill 195, since it clearly removes the right to use cameras – while the others just restrict their usage.

As soon as I can get a transcript of the upcoming hearing, I will post a commentary. For those of you reading this after my post in the Chronicle’s City Hall blog, I hope to have some more insight into the flawed Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s report on cameras posted here later this weekend.

Permanent link to this article: http://onthespotblog.com/texas-legislature-to-make-cameras-see-red-continued-2/

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