Archive for May, 2007

Judge denies “fishing” expedition; rail foes file suit

Friday, May 25th, 2007

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Late Tuesday, Judge Levi Benton ruled in favor of METRO to deny rail opponents’ requested “Rule 202″ motion. Opponents claim that METRO is violating terms of the 2003 transit referendum. They asked the judge to compel METRO officials to provide oral testimony so they could fish for ammunition for their planned lawsuit. Judge Benton denied their motion, perhaps because it was plain the plaintiff intended to file suit with or without extra depositions.

Sure enough, plaintiff Daphne Scarbrough filed suit against METRO the next day. Her high-profile attorney, Andy Taylor, boldly described the suit as “nuclear war” against METRO. But despite Taylor’s bravado, it’s important to remember that lawsuits have always been a part of rail politics in Houston, but litigation has never stopped a rail project.

The Houston Chronicle has the story:
“Merchant seeks to bar Metro projects without new election”.

What’s interesting is this: one anti-Richmond merchant now seems intent to shut down Houston’s entire transit system expansion just to keep light rail off of Richmond. That may not go over well in the Near North Side, East End, Third Ward, or Uptown…

Rail opposition: same old faces, same old tactics

Tuesday, May 15th, 2007

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Last month, rail opponents announced they were filing — NOT a lawsuit — but a “section 202 motion” with the intent to eventually file a lawsuit against METRO. They are asking a judge to grant them authority to use depositions to “fish” for some kind of evidence of wrongdoing by METRO.

Harris Cty Civil Court HouseRail opponents would have us believe that their legal case is open and shut. But if the ballot is so clear, why do they need permission to gather additional evidence to make their case? They are asking a judge to authorize a fishing expedition, an attempt to find something — anything — to justify a lawsuit to stop this project.

Their motion is now scheduled for a civil court hearing Wednesday, May 16, 2007 at 4:00 pm, in the 215th Judicial District Court of Harris County, 201 Caroline between Franklin and Congress, 13th floor, 77002.

Since the 1970s, lawsuits have been a routine part of rail politics in Houston, but they have never stopped a project. Here’s the program for this round:

Who will be in the courtroom on Tuesday?

Ms. ScarbroughThe plaintiff: Daphne Scarbrough, who owns The Brass Maiden, a high end home goods store on Richmond, says she’s worried about her business. She’s spending her time organizing against rail in her neighborhood, in the Third Ward, on the
Near North Side, and even in the state legislature.

Counsel for the plaintiff: William A. “Andy” Taylor, Andy Taylor & Associates. In 2003, Andy Taylor was the attorney for Texans for True Mobility, a secretive group that ran $1.5 million in ads opposing the METRO Solutions referendum. Texans for True Mobility was co-chaired by Congressman John Culberson.

Public relations for the plaintiff: Chris Begala, a professional political consultant who accompanied Scarbrough to Austin in April 2007 to lobby for anti-METRO legislation. In 2003, Begala served as spokesman for the aforementioned Texans for True Mobility.

Fund raiser for the plaintiff: ??? We don’t know who is funding the current legal action. But in 2003, Taylor and Begala’s anti-rail work was funded by Congressman Tom Delay, suburban apartment developer Michael Stevens, and others. Taylor fought in court to keep the donor list secret.

The defendant: Metropolitan Transit Authority

Counsel for the defendant: Andy Edison, Bracewell & Giuliani

The judge: Levi Benton, 215th Judicial District Court of Harris County

On the sidelines (but not by choice)

The voters: In 2003, voters in Houston and Harris County approved rail expansion by a more than 9,000 vote margin. We want to see more transit, not more delay. And we don’t want our tax dollars going to defend against frivolous lawsuits.

The community: Community organizations in the Near North Side, the East End, the Third Ward, and Neartown have worked hard for more and better transit in our neighborhoods. There is widespread public support in all of these corridors for METRO’s proposed lines. Richmondrail.org’s online petition has been signed by almost 3,000 Houstonians who support neighborhood-friendly light rail on Richmond Avenue. Further, every active civic club along Richmond or US-59 between Main Street and Shepherd formally supports rail on Richmond, as do the Museum District Business Alliance and the Neartown Association.

The history? This is just the latest in years of anti-rail legal tactics.

Tuesday, May 15th, 2007

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While rail transit has finally gained widespread public support in Houston, the opponents continue to mount narrow legal challenges. Once again, rail opponents hope to achieve in court what they can no longer achieve at the ballot box:

Sept 1999 - METRO board endorses a 7-mile light rail system from downtown to the Astrodome
Jan 2000 - Design team begins work on the Main Street line
May 2000 - Suburban Congressman Tom DeLay moves to kill $65 million in federal funding for the line
Oct 2000 - Federal transportation bill passes with DeLay’s language barring METRO from spending any federal dollars on rail in fiscal 2001; METRO Board decides to proceed with local funding
Nov 2000 - Houston City Council authorizes METRO to use city streets for Main Street line
Dec 2000 - Rail opponents file a petition with 1,100 signatures requesting the City of Houston hold a referendum before building the Main Street line; City Attorney rules they need 20,000 to force the vote
Jan 2001 - Rail opponents sue to try to force the City to hold an election; State district judge issues restraining order to prohibit work on rail until lawsuit can be heard
Mar 2001 - State court rules unanimously to lift injunction; METRO breaks ground on Main Street line
Jun 2001 - Rail opponents appeal decision; Texas Supreme Court refuses to stop work on the line or require a referendum
Oct 2001 - Rail opponents get Proposition 3 on the ballot which, if passed, would require an election be held about the Main Street line (and requires the line to be torn up if that election fails) and requires election on any future rail lines
Nov 2001 - In a City election, 74% of Houston voters approve Mayor Brown’s Proposition 1 that lets work continue on the Main Street rail line but guarantees a referendum on any future extensions; voters reject Proposition 3

May 2003 - METRO holds public meetings regarding Solutions transit expansion plan
Aug 2003 - METRO board approves ballot resolution to put Solutions plan before voters
Oct 2003 - Texans for True Mobility, led by suburban developer Michael Stevens and Congressman John Culberson, and funded in part by Congressman Tom Delay, spends $1.5 million on anti-rail “issue education” ads to oppose METRO referendum
Nov 2003 - In a City election, METRO Solutions referendum is approved by voters with more than a 9,000 vote margin
Jan 2004 - Main Street light rail line opens in time for Super Bowl

Dec 2005 - Rail opponents get state Rep. Martha Wong to preemptively announce opposition to any future Richmond alignment
Jan 2006 - Rail opponents get Congressman Culberson to urge METRO to build the University line on Westpark
Apr 2006 - Houston City
Council members host 9 public forums for University line
Jun 2006 - METRO holds first scoping meetings for University line; RichmondRail.org becomes first grassroots group in Houston history to fight FOR rail on a specific street

Jul 2006 - More than 1,000 Houstonians sign RichmondRail.org’s petition supporting rail on Richmond
Aug 2006 - Congressman Culberson asks METRO to take Richmond alignment off the table
Nov 2006 - In a state and federal election, Martha Wong draws only 38% of the vote in precincts along University corridor and loses seat to Ellen Cohen; John Culberson’s support falls from 25% to around 18% of the vote in precincts along University line corridor, but he is reelected due to
support in west Harris County.
Dec 2006 - METRO board approves three final options for the University line west of Main Street: two on Richmond as far west as Greenway Plaza, and one along the Southwest Freeway
Jan 2007 - Congressman Culberson urges METRO to build rail along Southwest Freeway, and pledges to keep “fighting to keep rail off of Richmond”
Feb 2007 - President Bush’s budget includes federal funds for METRO’s North and Southeast transit lines
Mar 2007 - Public supporters of rail on Richmond outnumber opponents at Congressman’s town hall meeting; almost 3,000 sign petition of support for Richmond
Apr 2007 - Rail opponents introduce House Bill 1813 to gut METRO board; Texans for True Mobility spokesman Chris Begala testifies in its favor; lacking legislative support, the bill is left to die in committee
Apr 2007 - Rail opponents file “202 motion” request to seek court authorization to depose METRO and seek evidence of wrongdoing, not just on the University line but on other corridors



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