Archive for February 21st, 2014

First of all the best headline of the day goes to Kuffer for the following:

Dan Patrick strongly denies having once been a decent human being.

It made my day. Way to go Kuffer!

This is kind of scary and I hope it gets resolved in a good way. This is about the Fire Department being over budget. I am not taking sides and at the same time I hope I don’t have to call 911. Check out the entire Chron front page piece here:

The safety of Houston’s citizens and its firefighters will be compromised over the next four months as the fire department limits the number of personnel on duty and removes trucks from service in an attempt to cut spending, Fire Chief Terry Garrison said Thursday.

“People that are suffering from EMS calls are going to be suffering a little longer, houses and buildings are going to burn a little bit longer, because our response times are going to be increased,” Garrison told members of the City Council’s budget committee. “We’re going to have to change our decision-making model when we get on the scene, because fires will be doubling in size every minute.”

City Councilman Stephen Costello, chairman of the budget committee, rejected Garrison’s bleak prediction.

“I find it hard to believe we’re going to compromise public safety. I really don’t believe that’s the case,” Costello said. “It’s simply a matter of, once we respond to a call, we make sure that we have backup from another station. They do it all the time when they have two- or three-alarm calls.”

City Council members listening to Garrison’s presentation Thursday visibly struggled to balance the two basic priorities of local government: financial responsibility and public safety. Those present voted 7-3 to hold HFD to its original $447 million budget rather than give it additional funding to cover soaring overtime costs. Committee votes are nonbinding but do indicate the will of the larger council.

HFD is on pace to exceed its budget by $10.5 million in the fiscal year that ends June 30. Most of that, $8.5 million, is due to overtime paid to firefighters to cover a staffing shortage exacerbated by a union contract that leaves the chief unable to restrict when firefighters take time off.

The department averaged 90 overtime shifts per day during the second half of last year, and has averaged 47 overtime shifts per day for the last 45 days.

To stay within budget over the remaining four months of the fiscal year, Garrison said, HFD must not average more than 23 overtime shifts per day.

On days the department exceeds that number, fire trucks will be idled and supervisory shifts will not be filled, the chief said.

Losing fire trucks

Under his plan, Garrison said that one in five department engine and ladder trucks could be pulled out of service during the peak vacation months of March and June, and staffing could drop by as much as 10 percent on an average day.

The first stations to lose fire trucks under the chief’s plan would be Station 78 in southwest Houston, Station 20 in the southeast, Station 77 in the northwest and Station 45 in the northeast. Some stations also could see one of the two paramedics on squad units pulled and replaced by lesser-trained technicians; some chief posts also could go unfilled.

“Every fire engine company that we take out of service, every unit that we put one less paramedic on, every district chief that we take out will have a direct impact on the service we deliver to our customers, in response time and in service delivery,” Garrison said.

The stations targeted to lose resources were chosen on the basis of past call volumes, the ability of nearby stations to step in, the need to protect key targets such as high-rises, and other factors, Garrison said. The cuts will be implemented in tiers, increasing in severity as more firefighters miss shifts each day.

Most of the time, Garrison said, the department will implement its first or second tier of cuts, dropping its daily staffing by up to 10 percent and idling 13 percent of its fire trucks and some medical units. During the peak vacation months of March and June, he said, the daily head count likely will drop 14 percent, with 19 percent of fire trucks idled and 9 percent of the emergency medical fleet parked.

Councilwoman Brenda Stardig, whose District A is one of two council districts in which additional trucks would be idled at each stage of the chief’s four-tier reduction plan, voted against the resolution requiring the fire department to solve its budget problem without additional funding, as did council members Dwight Boykins and Ed Gonzalez.

“I am very much about toeing the line on this budget, but if this comes at the cost of public safety, then there’s got to be a balance,” Stardig said. “The consequences I hear are at the risk of my constituents.”

Some residents upset

Garrison’s plan was not well received by some neighborhood leaders.

Jessica Castillo-Hulsey, a Second Ward civic activist who lives near fire stations 18 and 20, which likely will be affected, declared herself “pissed off.”

“I am concerned about the safety of our citizens. It will affect all of us: our families, our children, our seniors,” she said. “Why they cannot go somewhere else and cut? They’re playing with our safety.”

John McReynolds, president of Shadow Springs Civic Association in Stardig’s west side district, said he would have expected other services to be cut before public safety. He lives near Station 77, one of the first that could lose a truck.

“We would definitely be against idling any of the engines at 77,” he said. “We have had a number of incidents where their quick response, I think, made a difference with house fires and other issues. We’d be having to wait for things to come from farther away.”

How many total games did the team win over the past three years?

Yesterday I got another Alameel mailer.

I also got a Judge Dan Hinde mailer. I don’t know about that. He’s a GOPer. They got messed up data if you ask me.

4,228 Dems have voted early in person here in Harris County versus 9,278 GOPers and in the vote by mail category it is 11,464 for GOPers and 3,048 for Dems.

For you transportation geeks, check this from the Chron about Uber, Lyft, and cabs and decisions that will have to be made at City Hall:

Free rides suddenly became available in Houston on Thursday night as two online companies clamored for attention before they officially break into the city’s cab market.

Uber, which has been working with the city on a high-end private car service called Uber Black, announced late Thursday it would immediately launch its Uber X ridesharing service. The announcement followed competitor Lyft’s confirmation Wednesday that it would start service Friday.

The pattern is common as the two companies break into metro markets across the country. When one leaps, the other soon follows.

Entry of these services into more than 20 U.S. cities has prompted lawsuits and cease-and-desist letters from taxi owners concerned about their livelihoods and regulators who accused the firms of skirting the law.

Neither company, however, can accept fares in Houston until the city adjusts its taxi and private car rules, said Christopher Newport, chief of staff for the city’s regulatory affairs department.
The businesses contend that they are not taxi and limo services, but simply platforms that connects people who need rides with drivers. The services don’t own vehicles or employ drivers.

If drivers accept money, they could be charged with a Class C misdemeanor for operating an illegal taxi. The companies could be charged with running an unlicensed dispatch service. Both offenses are punishable by a $500 fine for each occurrence.

For Houstonians, the rides are free for now. In other markets, the ridesharing companies have charged prices based on peak demand, something cab companies have said is akin to price gouging.

Cabs operate under strict rules, and taxi companies have opposed loosening those regulations to accommodate competitors like Uber and Lyft.

The sudden leaps into the market also complicate the city’s efforts to rework its regulations, Newport said Wednesday.

In a joint meeting Tuesday, members of two City Council committees are expected to discuss possible changes to the taxi codes. Newport estimated any new regulations would take seven weeks to take effect.

The ‘Stros have won 162 games over the past three season – that’s a season.

Roy O stopped by Spring Training yesterday.

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