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Sic transit HARTA By Wade Roberts Houston The recent referendum on creating a Houston Area Rapid Transit Authority where you simply can’t tell the good guys from the bad guys, no matter how hard you try. Fred Hofheinz, the leading progressive contender in the upcoming Houston mayor’s race, and Dick Gottlieb, the leading conservative, were both out campaigning for the transit scheme. Leonel Castillo, the liberal city controller, was out stirring up opposition to the proposal, while his good buddy, State Rep. Hawkins Menefee, was fervently defending his legislative creation. “There were a lot of legitimate differences of opinion,” Menefee said. While Houston poll and civic leaders were seriously split over the HARTA referendum, the voters didn’t have much trouble making up their minds. Harris County squashed the referendum by almost a three to one margin. Although a mere 16 percent of the eligible voters participated in the balloting, the turnout was significantly higher than in any other recent referendum. Opposition to HARTA crossed geographic, economic, racial and social lines. The only segment supporting the proposal was affluent whites. Minorities overwhelmingly voted thumbs down. The transit board was rejected by as much as a five to one ratio in some predominantly black and chicano precincts. THE REFERENDUM was authorized by S.B. 642 which overwhelmingly passed the Texas Legislature in May. It gave Houston the authority to institute proceedings toward the establishment of a county-wide transit authority with a variety of powers, not the least of which is the ability to levy a “vehicles emissions tax” to collect revenue. This summer, under the provisions of the bill, a nine-member board was appointed five members by the Houston City Council, two by the Harris County Commissioners Court and two by the mayors of all the incorporated municipalities located in whole or in part within the ‘boundaries of Harris County. The referendum was set, inappropriately enough, on Oct. 6, the Jewish high holy day, Yom Kippur. Two opposing vocal groups appeared in the weeks before the referendum. The pro 18 The Texas Observer faction the Community Improvement Mayor Louie Welch. Comptroller Castillo countered with Sponsors for Meaningful Area Rapid Transit. CIC boasted a number of distinguished supporters, including lawyer Leon Jawarski; Representatives Menefee and Kay Bailey, House co-sponsors of the HARTA bill; Sen. Jim Wallace, the Senate sponsor; and Bill Hartman, editor of the Baytown Sun. Castillo was virtually alone in his opposition during the early weeks. After all, who could possibly oppose the notion of mass transit? That was the issue, as far as the public was concerned mass transit vs. more congestion. But Castillo had some interesting objections: Houston doesn’t need another governmental unit, he said. The board would have power of eminent domain over public and private holdings \(How about a trolley in your backyard, a subway beneath, a monorail The board members were not to be subject to public recall. The board could raise the emission tax without a public referendum \(the tax was set from a yearly minimum of $4 for motor cycles to a maximum of $15 for big The board could issue bonds and notes without prior approval by voters. The board would have massive police powers. \(SB 642 allows the authority to set up its own police force with the power to enforce any and all state laws in addition to transit authority rules and regulations. County Commissioner Tom Bass asked why HARTA couldn’t contract with the city police or the county sheriff for law enforcement services. “We may find it better to contract,” answered Willoughby Williams, transit board chairman, “but we don’t want women on mass transit getting CIC embarked upon a PR blitzkrieg through television, radio, billboards, mailings, ads and newspaper supplements. HARTA proponents happily accepted invitations to speak before various gatherings, only to find themselves deluged with hostile questions. The proposed board would have no more power of domain than any public utility company, they argued. The board members would be appointed by elected officials who would be sensitive to public desires. They promised to hold hearings and referendums on bond issuances. They would have no more police powers than many office buildings with private security forces. They pointed out the fact that, in order to raise tax rates, they were required to receive the approval of the Legislature. And the Legislature traditionally has called a local election on tax hikes. BLACKS, chicanos, anglos, men, women, poor, affluent, liberal, conservative, young and old all joined Castillo to build a united front against HARTA. SMART was chaired by John J. Moran, president of Hyce, Inc., and a vigorous Republican Party supporter and fundraiser. Opposition labors were expended not on slick advertising or broadcast time, but on leaflets, phone campaigns and volunteer canvass work. It worked superbly. Many individuals felt flattered that efforts were being made to reach them personally instead of through mass communications. Several state legislators who had voted for the proposal in May joined the resistance. Reps. Anthony Hall, Mickey Leland, Ben Reyes, Senfronia Thompson and Craig Washington said that they were unaware of the possible ramifications in May and had then decided to let the public resolve the proposal. They urged the public to vote against the proposal since, in retrospect, they said it was an unwise piece of legislation. SMART’s objections to the proposition were many. In addition to the protests aforementioned, they pointed out that HARTA had released no contemplative plans. Voters were being asked to decide on a board that had not even a proposed course of action. HARTA, in fact, had something of a planning document. The Voorhees study, commissioned earlier by the city at a cost