Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Peter Brown's Magical See-Saw Ride

Politicians seem to think that voters have no memory. They endorse policies or programs today that often contradict what they said yesterday. Take Peter Brown for example. On his web site he states:
Houston’s economy can’t grow if we’re simultaneously losing jobs as we add them.
This is certainly true, but Brown's actions belie his words. He has been an advocate for severe restrictions on the sign industry, and in a 1988 OpEd article in the Houston Post, called billboards "a plague". Apparently, the jobs destroyed--and to be destroyed--by Brown's support of anti-sign regulations don't count. Apparently, jobs in the sign industry are expendable. If Brown truly meant what he says, he would not vote to literally erase hundreds of jobs.

Brown's hypocrisy isn't limited to signs. Consider his position on land-use regulations. His web site states:
Businesses that try to build or expand within the city limits are subject to confusing and unpredictable standards. The city must streamline the permitting process by removing obstacles and streamlining Chapter 42 into a user-friendly, cross-referenced and consolidated development code. This will provide the predictability property owners and developers want.
Yet, Brown supported zoning--the most confusing and unpredictable "standards" possible--in the 1990s. More recently he has called for central planning in Houston to dictate where development occurs. Apparently, Brown believes that city mandates enforced at the point of a gun are not confusing and unpredictable.

His web site previously contained a section called "Lessons from U.S. Cities". One of his lessons came from New York City, which is divided into 59 districts. His site stated:
Categorical performance standards are set for each District. Citizens therefore have real access to their government, with direct contact and coordination among the various city agencies at the “street” or grass-roots level, where it counts.
In some ways, this is even worse than central planning. Each district could have radically different standards. If implemented in Houston, developers might have to deal with dozens of different standards, but Brown would have us believe that this wouldn't be confusing and unpredictable.

Brown, like many politicians, is a chameleon. He endorses whatever position seems to be popular at the moment. He never stops to identify the fact that today's unprincipled pandering contradicts yesterday's appeasing conformity. In his zeal to get elected--read, be popular--Brown votes to wipe out jobs while claiming that he wants to create jobs; he erects barriers to development while claiming that he wants to streamline regulations on developers. He wants to eat our cake, and have it too. And then he wants us to bake him another cake.

This is the type of short-term, out of context thinking that gives politicians a bad name.

While licking boots out of one side of his mouth, Brown likes to crow about his "accomplishments" out of the other side. His web site claims:
  • Saved taxpayers millions by redesigning city initiated plans for critical city-wide firehouse renovations.
  • As Chairman of the Sustainable Growth Committee, saved the city over $1 million through developing the City’s first “Green Waste” recycling program, preventing over 90,000 tons of waste from filling our landfills.
  • Cut $800,000 from the proposed Riverside Health Clinic renovation plan, ensuring Council action and ultimately saving the clinic from closure.
  • Generated $8 million in new revenue by prompting the city to collect unenforced commercial trash hauler franchise fees.
While saving more than $10 million during four years on city council is certainly a good thing, I previously laid out a plan to save the city $104 million in one year. After more than two terms, he is bragging about saving the city less than .015% of its budget during that time. And of course, he doesn't mention the additional costs he has imposed on Houstonians by supporting a myriad of regulations--like taco truck tags, banning "attention-getting devices", or mandating inspections of apartment complexes.

For all of his touchy-feely, "civic minded" rhetoric, Peter Brown is a typical politician. He stands for nothing, except expanding government power. Certainly, he mouths platitudes to the "pro-business" crowd with talk of cutting regulations, while simultaneously appeasing the pro-land-use regulation crowd with talk of banning billboards and controlling development. Forrest Gump said of a box of chocolates-- "You never know what you will get." The same is true of Peter Brown, except you know that somewhere a gun stands behind his edicts.


Anonymous said...

I've been following your blog for a couple weeks now and have been checking past entries. I recently attended a mayoral forum where Brown said he has never supported Zoning. You noted that he did in the 1990s- where is that noted? I'm just curious to know...

Btw- I like your different perspective of city government- I don't agree with everything, but it's nice to read something that doesn't get the mainstream coverage that it deserves...

Brian Phillips said...


In an article in the Houston Post titled “We’ve Strayed Far from City Planning,” (April 17, 1988) Brown wrote that zoning “gives investors and developers confidence in the economic strength and future potential of an area.” He also wrote: “Perhaps one of the reasons some politicians and developers in Houston have traditionally opposed city planning is its very democratic nature—it redistributes some of the power and decision-making authority and invites public debate on important issues.”

Kay Crooker, Brown's co-author of the article, was an outspoken advocate of zoning. If Brown did not support zoning, why did he co-author an article supporting zoning?

Brown has long called for "planning", which is just a nice way of saying zoning. You can read an article I wrote on this in The Freeman in 1990.