Rahm Emanuel fires back at Texas Governor Rick Perry

Texas Governor Rick Perry tried to entice Illinois businesses to Texas with recent radio spots but Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel fired back yesterday:

Emanuel made pointed reference to a campaign gaffe Perry committed while running for president. At a Republican debate late in 2011, Perry said he had plans to eliminate three federal departments, but could remember only two.

Asked about Perry’s visit at a Monday news conference, Emanuel used the opportunity to tout Chicago’s infrastructure improvements and wealth of well-educated residents thanks to its universities, both of which he said were lacking in Texas.

He pointed to the 14 major businesses that have moved their headquarters to Chicago during his administration, and also drew attention to Texas’ drought.

“In the City of Chicago, we don’t have to measure our showers like they do in Texas,” said Emanuel, a Democrat who served as President Barack Obama’s chief of staff…

After a similar effort earlier this year in California, that state’s governor, Jerry Brown, called Perry’s $26,000 ad buy there “not a burp…it’s barely a fart.”

“If they want to get in the game, let them spend $25 million on radio and television,” said Brown, according to the Sacramento Bee.  “Then I’ll take them seriously.”

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn lashed back at Perry last week, telling reporters “We don’t need any advice from Gov. Perry.”

If Perry’s main goal was to draw the fire of Democratic leaders, he seems to have succeeded. I’ve seen some experts suggest ads like those Perry was in do little to attract businesses. At the same time, they might help insert Texas into conversations in a way that often don’t happen in the Chicago area.

It is interesting to note Emanuel’s defense: Chicago has well-educated residents and well-regarded colleges (the University of Chicago and Northwestern are a pretty good pair), has plenty of corporate headquarters, has spent on infrastructure, and don’t have droughts (but apparently does have flooding). Is this the best case for Chicago? I could imagine adding Chicago’s standing as a global city, transportation advantages, central location in the United States, continued leadership in commodity trading, beautiful parks along Lake Michigan, tourism, and well-developed metropolitan region.

By the way, it is fair to compare a state to a city or region? Sure, Chicago may be the center of Illinois life but there still is the rest of the state that may take exception (and vote with Perry to boot).

Texas Governor Rick Perry advertising for Illinois businesses to move to Texas

There is a new radio spot running in the Chicago area featuring Texas Governor Rick Perry suggesting Illinois businesses should move to Texas. Listen to the radio spot here and check out the associated web site texaswideopenforbusiness.com. Here is what the website says:

If you’re a business owner in Illinois, I want to express my admiration for your ability to survive in an environment that, intentionally or not, is designed for you to fail.

With rising taxes and government interference on the upswing, your situation is not unlike a burning building on the verge of collapse. If you’re thinking of “just riding it out” you might want to reconsider.

There is an escape route to economic freedom… a route to Texas. The Lone Star State has proven that limited government, low taxes, and a pro-business mindset work wonders when it comes to job creation and a robust economy. If you’re ready for a fresh start in a place that appreciates job creators like you, it’s time to check out Texas.

This echoes the glee in Indiana and Wisconsin when Illinois raised taxes several years ago.

Texas is indeed growing at a rate that a number of states, including Illinois, can only envy. Texas is known for warmer weather (actually, quite hot weather), lower taxes, and is a Republican-dominated state in recent decades. Metropolitan areas like Dallas, Houston, and Austin are booming. And yet, there are still businesses that are willing to locate in and near Chicago. Perhaps it is the world-class city with international connections as well as unique character. Perhaps it is the base of human capital with both high-skill and low-skill workers. Perhaps Chicago’s location in the middle of the country and at the center of transportation networks still matters to some.

I imagine many businesses are already aware of the business climate differences between Illinois and Texas. Is this just an attempt to trumpet the successes of Texas and poke Illinois in the eye?

A downtown law firm no more

A law firm in Austin, TX is leaving its downtown location for the suburbs:

Law firm Bowman and Brooke LLP [website] is vacating its current location at 600 Congress Ave. and heading to more suburban digs southwest of downtown [about 6 miles away, map here]….“Yes, price was a consideration but we’re not getting a tremendous difference in rent costs. There are other things that entered in like tenant improvement costs, and parking had a significant impact,” [Michelle Bailey, chief of operations] said.

The company had no parking allocation downtown and at its new location it will have 96 complimentary spaces for 44 employees — more than enough.

The article notes that “finding large blocks of office space [in downtown Austin] is somewhat akin to going on a treasure hunt” and suggests that lawyers “are now being challenged for territorial rights by emerging technology and energy firms.” In other words, plenty of businesses still want a downtown presence, and rents are being bid up by new entrants. This sounds more like a story of urban revival than suburban sprawl to me, though the two are clearly linked here.

Perhaps a more fascinating revelation, however, is Bowman and Brooke determination that it “wasn’t necessary for its attorneys to be downtown, close to other law firms and courthouses” because “[w]e tend to be a national firm with our attorneys flying all over the country” and “we don’t have a lot of local interaction.” What does it mean to practice law without significant local interaction, especially when one is “a nationally recognized trial firm that defends corporate clients in widely publicized catastrophic injury and wrongful death claims“? While simply having a downtown (rather than a suburban) office location may do little to humanize a corporate law firm, it seems telling that Bowman and Brooke seems to place such a low priority on engaging its local community.

Leader in Texas adverse possession movement hasn’t been successful yet

The adverse possession advice being peddled through a Texas man’s website and e-book hasn’t exactly worked out yet:

If you direct your browser to 16dollarhouse.com and plunk down $9.97 for an e-book, you can still learn from Ken Robinson ( “poised, measured, insightful and wise” and an AMERICAN, all caps, as the site informs you) how to use adverse possession, a once obscure Texas law, to get a house on the cheap.

Be forewarned that Robinson’s legal theories haven’t worked out so well in practice. Earlier this year, he was evicted from his $350,000 Flower Mound McMansion after a judge decided that his claim to the house was bullshit. His disciples have fared little better.

Following news of Robinson’s scheme, officials in Tarrant County made the rounds evicting squatters who moved into homes after filing adverse possession claims. Eight of them were charged with theft or burglary.

David Cooper was the first to go to trial, which wrapped up today…

But Texas law also says you can’t steal people’s stuff and, in Cooper’s case, the house actually wasn’t abandoned. It belonged to a couple who were spending a lot of time in Houston, where the wife was undergoing cancer treatment. When it became clear that the home wasn’t abandoned, Cooper was arrested and charged with burglary and theft.

See more about the ruling on Robinson’s Flower Mound case here.

This would be an interesting protest movement that someone like Occupy Wall Street might want to take up: identify and then occupy Texas houses.

The financial reasons The Woodlands, Texas does not want to incorporate

Many communities want to incorporate so they can control land use as well as fund and provide local services. But The Woodlands, Texas has resisted incorporation for financial reasons:

For one, The Woodlands is one of the nation’s best case studies when it comes to weighing the costs and benefits of incorporation. According to Bruce Tough, Chairman of the township’s seven-member Board of Directors, his community boasts an unprecedented level of success when it comes to governance, public services, and environmental excellence. Just 20 years after it was founded, the township had won a Special Award for Excellence from the Urban Land Institute and a LivCom Nations in Bloom Gold Award. Residents enjoy more than 190 miles of hiking and biking paths. A little over 20 percent of the township’s acreage is set aside for green space, greenbelts, and golf courses…

Unlike similarly successful (and now former) townships including Irvine, California, The Woodlands has reliably refused to incorporate as either a standalone city or part of Houston, even as the issue is raised every few years by developers, residents, or the city of Houston, which provides municipal services such as waste removal, water, and local law enforcement from the sheriff’s department. Tough points to the township’s one-of-a-kind public service provider agreement with Houston and the fact that the township is run more like a business than a municipal government as the primary reasons why The Woodlands doesn’t need to incorporate. Houston agrees not to annex The Woodlands during the next 50 years. In exchange, The Woodlands continues to make service payments to Houston.

Among residents, the question of incorporating is primarily a financial concern. Research indicates that becoming a standalone city could raise property taxes in The Woodlands from 32.5 cents up to anywhere from 58.14 cents to a staggering 81.5 cents per $100 valuation. (By comparison, the property tax rate in Houston hovers around 63 cents.) The costs would include road maintenance, setting up new sewage and water provisions, and establishing a separate police department. Estimates for just those few basic services reach into the hundreds of millions, costs residents fear would be added to their annual tax bills…

For now, The Woodlands residents can relax. For its population, the township has one of the lowest tax rates in the United States but more and better services than similar counterparts. There is no local income tax charged in The Woodlands, and Texas is one of seven states without state income tax. The bulk of their tax money comes from sales tax levied against visitors who flock to the downtown promenade and amphitheater.

This is an interesting case but it sounds like the primary reason The Woodlands has not incorporated is because it can afford not to. In other words, it can afford to contract with Houston for municipal services and it can rely on visitors to provide a lot of revenue rather than having to tax its residents at a higher rate. The community of over 93,000 residents has a median household income of $103,229, is 88.4% white, a poverty rate of 5.1%, and 59% of residents have a college degree. Many communities do not have this luxury.

Judge rules against man who wanted to claim Texas McMansion through adverse possession

Last July, I wrote about a Texas man who claimed he could occupy an abandoned McMansion and then claim possession of the home after a certain amount of time. His “adverse possession” case has moved forward as a judge ruled that the bank can indeed remove him from the home:

Anyone who was rooting for the man who used Texas’ adverse possession law to snag a McMansion for only $16 will be bummed to hear that he’ll be forced to leave the home after Bank of America claimed ownership of it. Drat!

Kenneth made waves in Flower Mound, Texas in July when he claimed the right to take over a $340,000 home in suburban Dallas, after filing a simple document and paying $16 to the city. He cited a law which said he could legally take possession of the house after living there for three years. His neighbors grumbled while he watered the lawn and paid utility bills, and now a judge says he has to move by Valentine’s Day.

The Associated Press says Bank of America can boot Kenneth, as they hold the lien on the house. Foreclosure was completed last month, says BOA, and now it’s time for Kenneth to vacate the premises…

“I’m just thankful for Flower Mound and Denton County for following the proper lawful procedures,” [Kenneth] said. “I went in doing this strictly by following a lawful process.” And now that the process has played itself out, he says, “I’m neither happy nor disappointed.”

I would venture to guess that Bank of America and some other people paid special attention to this case in order to forestall efforts by others who might be interested in using adverse possession to claim homes.

It would be helpful to have more information here:

1. Are the neighbors now happy that the home has officially gone through foreclosure? Did Kenneth make peace with any of the neighbors?

2. Does Bank of America have a quick timetable for moving this house to the market and selling it or will it be another home that languishes while the bank decides whether to accept offers?

3. Has Flower Mound changed its rules yet, like perhaps upped the $16 application fee, in order to avoid cases and attention like this in the future?

4. Where will Kenneth live next?

When the South’s top-ranked community for quality of life is full of McMansions

I think there is some annoyance in this article that On Numbers named West University Place that top suburb in the South for quality of life. How do I know? The reference to McMansions is a hint…

What makes a suburb an awesome suburb? If you said McMansions, refreshing homogeneity and a proximity to a Chili’s restaurant, then have we got a suburb for you.

Houston’s ritziest city-within-a-city, West University Place, was named the ‘burb with the best quality of life in the South by On Numbers.

On Numbers, a Business Journals publication, looked at more than 1,100 cities, towns, villages, municipalities and otherwise census-designated places with populations greater than 10,000 from Maryland to Texas, and graded them on 20 criteria, including household income, poverty rate, length of commute, percentage of professional workers, the percentage of homes that were built after 1990, and the rate of adults that have advanced degrees.

I don’t know if West University Place has a lot of McMansions but this comment seems fairly pointed. The McMansions are tied to bland suburbia, full of homogeneity (race? social class? attitudes and beliefs?) and chain restaurants.

For the record, On Numbers argues that they chose this community because of its high education levels:

Many streets in the Houston suburb are named after colleges, authors or poets. Rice University is located nearby. And 85 percent of West University Place’s adults hold bachelor’s degrees, the highest percentage in any Southern community.

This strong educational background is a key reason why West University Place ranks No. 1 in On Numbers’ quality-of-life standings for the Southern United States.

This is a wealthy community – a median household income of just over $180k and a median house value of over $660k – so it makes sense that it has a high quality-of-life.

The negative comment does raise some questions about quality-of-life measures. Should it include something like community atmosphere or history? Should a community be knocked down the list if it full of mass culture? Can you pick up on something like this from 20 statistics? Without a visit to the community, it would be hard. Additionally, the ratings privilege a more recent housing stock (homes built since 1990) and big houses (percent with 9+ rooms). New does not necessarily equal quality.

In order to put rankings like these together, you have to have a certain idea about what Americans want in their communities.

Looking for sidewalks in Tyler, Texas

A “news app developer” who moved to Tyler, Texas has found that it is difficult to walk around the community due to a lack of sidewalks and development that revolves around the automobile:

Several people insisted I couldn’t live without a car in Tyler–and they were absolutely right. When I landed at Tyler Pounds Regional Airport I hadn’t driven a car in four months. Since I landed, I’ve driven nearly every day. (Mostly ferrying my son to school and various activities.)

I very carefully selected the house I’m renting–an eccentric, hundred-year-old single-story in the Charnwood neighborhood–so that I can get to as many things as possible without driving. It’s within a mile of:

  • 2 parks (Children’s Park and Bergfield Park)
  • 2 coffee shops (Brady’s Speciality Coffee and Downtown Coffee Lounge)
  • 2 hospitals (Trinity Mother Frances and East Texas Medical Center)
  • 1 bookstore (Fireside Books)
  • 3 bus lines (the red, green and blue)
  • Tyler Public Library

Interestingly, it seems like the city knows about the problem. But addressing the issue won’t necessarily be easy:

Now that I’ve been out and walked the streets of Tyler, I have to say I think the plans laid out in Tyler 21 are impressively on-target. Tyler needs to build a lot more sidewalks. However, I also foresee a few challenges that just building more sidewalks won’t solve:

  • Tyler’s downtown is a food desert. It is impossible to live within walking distance of a grocery store. Getting a green market as a downtown anchor should be a very high priority.
  • The lack of pedestrian signals makes travel on foot unsafe. Front and Broadway have some of the longest continuous sidewalks in the city, but crossing either one on foot is nearly impossible. (The tunnel under Broadway at Hogg Middle School is a notable exception.)
  • Too many bus stops lack shelters. Nobody wants to stand on the corner and look lost. If there isn’t a shelter, there effectively isn’t a bus stop.

This sounds like the sort of place James Howard Kunstler would love to visit so that he could bemoan its unfriendliness toward pedestrians. As this writer points out, Tyler would have to undergo some major changes to make it truly walkable. The infrastructure of sidewalks needs to be there but there also need to be places for people to want to walk to. Building the sidewalks doesn’t necessarily lead to a street culture. Can a regional center like this effectively revive itself through building sidewalks and encouraging businesses and residents to take advantage of these new public spaces?

Second, isn’t the bigger issue here who is going to pay for all of this? Perhaps Tyler has some money set aside for this but this could be expensive and particularly in an era of economic crisis, some would argue that the money could be spent elsewhere. (To be fair, some people could always argue that the money could be spent on something more necessary than sidewalks.)

I don’t know much about Tyler, Texas but wouldn’t this plan also involve convincing people to move back into the denser parts of the city rather than living on the fringes in typical suburban neighborhoods? What would be the selling point?

On the whole, it sounds like there is a lot of work to be done.

A unique way to acquire a McMansion: “adverse posession”

Amidst many foreclosures across the country, one Texas man believes he has found a way to acquire a suburban McMansion for $16. The move involves invoking “adverse possession” to take possession of the $300,000 home:

“This is not a normal process, but it is not a process that is not known,” he said. “It’s just not known to everybody.”

He says an online form he printed out and filed at the Denton County courthouse for $16 gave him rights to the house. The paper says the house was abandoned and he’s claiming ownership…

But, Robinson said just by setting up camp in the living room, Texas law gives him exclusive negotiating rights with the original owner. If the owner wants him out, he would have to pay off his massive mortgage debt and the bank would have to file a complicated lawsuit.

Robinson believes because of the cost, neither is likely. The law says if he stays in the house, after three years he can ask the court for the title.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out as it would require someone, the true owner, the bank holding the mortgage, or the government, to move this guy out. It is funny that the neighbors seem to be the ones leading the charge against this guy: are they simply jealous that he was able to acquire a home for this little money?

But perhaps this story hints at a positive side effect of the foreclosure crisis: states and other governmental bodies get a chance to review all sorts of laws regarding mortgages, foreclosures, and housing possession.

Texas population trends, the “demographic revolution,” and comparing Chicago and Houston

Census data regarding Texas has been released and there are several demographic changes underway:

1. Texas is growing, particularly compared to some other areas of the country:

The first results of the 2010 Census were released in December, showing that Texas’ population grew more than twice as fast as that of the nation as a whole, to 25.1 million.

As a result, the Lone Star State will gain four additional congressional seats, more than any other state.

2. The cities are growing as our minority populations:

Texas’ largest cities grew larger and more diverse, as did many suburban counties, part of what Rice University sociologist Stephen Klineberg calls “this accelerating demographic revolution.”

“The number of Anglos is falling more rapidly than one would expect, and the number of Latinos is rising more rapidly,” Klineberg said.

Latinos accounted for 35.3 percent of the total [population growth in Houston] — 41 percent in Harris County alone — while the number of Anglos dropped to 39.7 percent.

African-Americans made up 17.3 percent of the metro area’s population, while Asians made up 7 percent…

Statewide, the number of Anglos grew by just 4 percent, according to Rice sociologist Steve Murdock, a former director of the Census Bureau.

The number of Hispanics, African-Americans and Asians grew exponentially more rapidly.

“I don’t think most of us expected the absolute amount of Anglo growth would be so low,” Murdock said.

3. Shedding light on my question from a few days ago about what Chicago’s population drop looks like compared to Houston’s growth or loss, here is the answer:

The city of Houston’s population grew to 2.1 million, up 7.5 percent over the past decade, and the metropolitan area — which now encompasses a 10-county area — surged to 5,946,800 people. The area’s incorporated cities are included in the count.

Chicago’s population dropped by 7 percent, but it remained well ahead of Houston at 2.7 million and No. 3 in the national rankings.

4. This will affect what Texas suburbs look like in the coming years:

And if the lessons of the 2010 Census are any indicator, the new residents will be a diverse lot.

“The idea of predominantly white suburbs” no longer holds true, Murdock said.

Texas’ growth has some similarities and differences compared to the rest of the country. The main difference is the overall population growth. The similarities are that the population growth is being driven by immigrant and minority populations and the urban areas, particularly the suburbs, are becoming more diverse.