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Recent editorials from Texas newspapers

January 3, 2019

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Texas newspapers:

San Antonio Express-News. Jan. 2, 2019.

At long last, Bexar County has opened its Justice Intake and Assessment Center.

It’s a clean and safe space where arrested people can be assessed, formally charged, and either released on bond or placed in jail. This expansion to the jail campus west of downtown follows best practices. It uses an open-booking model, meaning if people are calm and orderly, they can wait in an open space as opposed to a cell.

There is a closed sally port for prisoner transport. There is private space for public defenders to meet their clients, and dedicated space for prosecutors as well as medical and mental health providers. It is a tremendous upgrade over the city’s intake center at the Frank Wing Municipal Court building, an antiquated and dingy place where arrested people are held in cells. It’s not a place you would want a loved one to be held.

But while the county has opened its new intake center, the city, which is responsible for about 60 percent of the arrests in the region, has refused to participate. It has chosen to stick with Frank Wing despite its many shortcomings. This is a mistake. The city and county should be working together to make the new intake center work.

There are some design issues at the county’s new building, which the city has cited as reason to not make the move. But these are not impossible obstacles. At any rate, these design concerns pale in comparison to larger issues: First, taxpayers should not be funding two intake centers. It’s redundant and wasteful. Second, the Frank Wing building is part of the planned expansion of University of Texas at San Antonio’s downtown campus. Sticking with the building, then, is not a long-term plan. Is the city going to build a new intake center? This brings us to the third point, like it or not, the county built a new center. The ship has sailed.

Unfortunately, it does have some design issues. First and foremost, it needs a bigger entrance. It’s too small for instances when there will be multiple arrested people, some of whom will be agitated and distraught. It also needs more DWI stations. The courtroom for bail hearings is too small, and a property room will need to be built for people arrested by city police. But Bexar County officials have said, again and again, these design issues can be fixed and accommodated.

This issue was crystallized for us during a recent tour of the Lubbock County Detention Center. Lubbock County uses open booking, and we saw an orderly detention center where arrested people were safe and treated with respect, and treated others with respect. They watched ESPN while waiting for their bail hearings. When one inmate became distraught, he was placed in a cell. When another inmate showed obvious signs of mental illness, detention officers rushed to calm her.

The difference between that environment and Frank Wing, where we saw and heard inmates kicking their cell doors, languishing in group cells with a single shared toilet, sleeping on the floor or sitting on metal benches, was striking.

The Lubbock detention center also highlighted Bexar county’s design flaws. The front entrance was much bigger, for example, providing enough space for arrested people to be safely transferred. The courtroom for bail hearings was much bigger.

There has been some city pushback against open booking, but this is really irrelevant. It is the county’s jail, meaning the county chooses how to control its population. What matters is that people in custody are in a safe space, officers are back in the community as quickly as possible, and taxpayers aren’t paying for two intake centers.

The county will need some time to work out processes at its new building and to address these design concerns, so from that vantage point, having two intake centers for a brief transition period is beneficial. But a prolonged failure to partner on this is a public disservice.

Let’s go, city and county. Figure this out, and put the community first.

___

Houston Chronicle. Jan. 3, 2019.

The New Year is a time for new approaches and fresh starts. May we suggest that U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, the senior senator from our storm-ravaged state, adopt a wholly different approach to leadership on one of the most important problems in Texas, or anywhere: climate change.

The scientific community — including 97 percent of actively publishing climate scientists — has reached consensus: A host of factors, including the way humankind uses fossil fuels, is causing the Earth to warm. That warming has triggered significant changes to the climate. And those changes have serious risks to people and infrastructure all over the planet, including right here in Houston.

The four warmest years on record, according to NASA data, were 2014-2017. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that Europe had recorded the highest temperatures for the first 11 months of last year since continental testing began in 1910. The U.S. Navy has sounded the alarm over the risks of climate change. The Department of Defense has named it among our greatest national security challenges. The White House’s long-term scientific planning committee has agreed, as has state of Texas, the European Union and the United Nations.

It’s also true that storms are getting stronger, less predictable and more frequent. Sea levels are rising, threatening both tiny islands in the Pacific and cities as large as Miami. Babies born today will be finishing graduate school when summer temperatures in Houston and Dallas will likely reach 120.

Not everything about these changes is settled science. But we all know the changes ahead are incredibly dangerous — and that rethinking how the world uses energy could mitigate the danger.

Yet despite such enormous economic and human stakes in Texas, Cornyn has offered mostly silence with occasional sides of skepticism.

Two tweets sent by the senator earlier this week highlight his lack of leadership.

When CBS News announced it would no longer allow guests to argue that climate change is not real, he offered a Sphinx-like rebuttal on Twitter: “Science is not static.”

Well of course, scientific understanding evolves. Our understanding of climate change will, too. But given Cornyn’s career-long refusal to back any meaningful response to climate change, his comment is mere casuistry.

Cornyn also used Twitter to mock a New York Times column stating, “Nothing else measures up to the rising toll and enormous dangers of climate change.” Our senator retweeted the piece with a single word of commentary: “Really.”

He went on to argue other crises ranked ahead of climate worries in 2018, from North Korean nukes to Iranian missiles to the opioid epidemic. Fair arguments, in terms of subjectivity.

But we can’t ignore how Cornyn’s tweets on climate change fit so cleanly into his record of silence, sprinkled with skepticism.

He has for years acknowledged the reality of climate change. Even as early as 2014, he conceded human activity was warming the planet dangerously. Many in his party were slower to acknowledge even this much.

Where he has fallen so unconscionably short is in his insistence that whatever its effects, the proper remedy to climate change is within the purview of private industry, or if regulation is ever needed, through state laws. After all, as he wrote in a 2015 op-ed, private-sector ingenuity has helped address previous environmental threats.

Translation: Congress needn’t be bothered.

What a dereliction of duty.

He’s hardly alone among Republican leaders, but for the senior senator from Texas, the energy capital of the world and with a coastline especially vulnerable to climate change, it’s a devastating shortcoming.

Congress could play a powerful role. If it did, just imagine the good a senator might accomplish?

Congress could help guide — through both sticks and carrots — industry and consumers to adapt to and even exploit coming climate changes.

An engine that burns oil without releasing carbon into the atmosphere? Natural gas drilling that does not include methane flaring? Air conditioners that use a fraction of the electricity now required? Batteries capable of storing at home days’ worth of energy generated by sunny or windy days?

Each of these could be billion-dollar bonanzas. Why shouldn’t the U.S. government take a prominent role in developing solutions like these?

And why shouldn’t these companies of the future be given incentive to start in Texas?

Government needn’t act alone, but left solely to their own devices, companies will naturally prioritize solutions that return short-term gains. Congress could help ensure that long-term dangers are addressed, too.

Instead, Texans are asked to settle for silence and skepticism from its senior senator, and for that matter, its junior senator, too.

We deserve better.

___

Longview News-Journal. Jan. 3, 2019.

If you have a good memory, you might still be able to close your eyes and see those artist’s renderings of the proposed Hinsley Crossing retail development, and maybe those showing what the new Hinsley Park was supposed to look like.

The sketches showed an impressive retail center, anchored by a Kroger Marketplace store, other large stores and places for a number of smaller national niche chains. The new park was shown with numerous modern and well-designed amenities.

At this point, it seems the symbolism of “closed eyes” is appropriate to describing the city’s adventure in this project.

The drawings and an aggressive public relations push were enough to convince Longview voters to give necessary approvals for the project — though there were plenty of pockets of opposition. At the time, those people may have been seen by some as being against progress. Uh, no.

Today — some three years later — there is no new retail development and no new park, either. Not only that, not one spade of dirt has been turned and, so far as we can tell, not a single retail establishment has signed on the line to take part in the plans.

It seems we’ve been had.

It isn’t so much that the city has lost anything valuable — the original Hinsley Park remains a park and no public money has been given developers — but our pride has been wounded a bit that we were so easily taken.

The city probably cannot calculate how many work hours were spent dealing with this project when something useful might have been done. That is an “opportunity” cost, though. The waste was time, not money, beyond those related to the ballot proposition to remove the park designation from Hinsley, a step needed to allow the project to begin.

One lesson we hope the city has learned, though, is that any such project must have a timeline. The lack of a schedule has allowed for an indefinite slide that has allowed the project to hang on for years. If some progress had been required, we could have been free of this weight long ago.

As it stands, the supposed developers are still able to tell us the project is soon to start. Sorry, but we simply don’t believe that.

In the beginning the delays were attributed to weather. Later it was difficulty with Kroger as the anchor store, or it was something else, and on and on.

Any day we expect to hear that construction can only begin at the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, when the moon is in the seventh house and Jupiter aligns with Mars.

We’ve taken our lumps and can chalk it up to experience. We hope we have learned, and do not get fooled again.

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