San Diego produces a fine parade, and our city council produces a fine ordinance.
If you travel around the world watching GLBT Pride events, you’ll probably come away with a distinct impression about the cities, their GLBT communities, and the relationship between them.
In late July, I was invited to speak at a Victory Fund brunch during Pride Week in San Diego. This was my second time in this beautiful California coastal city, but my first chance to really explore. The first visit, also sponsored by the Victory Fund, lasted little more than 15 hours. This time I added a few vacation days, and Kathy, my partner, joined me.
We were able to walk the Gaslamp District, check out the Padres home in Petco Park (and I thought our baseball stadium was downtown!), and ride the light rail back to the neighborhood where we were staying. We attended a very funny musical at Diversionary Theatre, a GLBT theater that owns its own space, thanks to some generous bequests. (I’m thinking of you, Joe and Stewart.)
Although my San Diego hosts warned me that their July 21 parade (their 33rd) was more freewheeling than Houston’s, I found its 200+ floats and 100,000 fans about the same as Houston as far as size and clothing (or lack thereof) is concerned. Their parade and huge two-day festival in Balboa Park is supposedly San Diego’s largest civic event, drawing both GLBT and straight tourists.
Like ours, about a dozen white male protestors showed up and were placed in the designated protest zone. In an amusing touch, a mounted patrol unit was stationed in front of them. Like ours, the parade winds through the heart of the GLBT business and club district, but it was clear that all the businesses and residents were in the spirit of the day. Unlike ours, it takes place in the daytime.
There really is a magic about a night parade, although I still don’t believe we have fully captured it in Houston. The uniforms made the difference: dozens of police officers marching behind the police chief, firefighters led by the openly lesbian fire chief. The San Diego Police Department even boasts an openly GLBT public liaison, Lt. Margy Schaufelberger. (I continue to salute the brave women of the Houston Police Department who march in our parade, but Houston has yet to see its police chief marching in the parade in front of a full complement of gay and nongay officers.) Interestingly, as a show of unity, the members of the city council marched together.
On the San Diego political scene, two openly gay men are running against each other for a seat on the San Diego City Council. What can I say? The same thing has happened here. It’s definitely not good politics to divide a community and its resources in an important election, but it is a sign of the political maturity of a community when it can field multiple qualified candidates.
What better way to spend a lazy morning than watching seals dive or meerkats frolic at the Houston Zoo? We have a very good zoo. And with the $75 million expansion plan, our zoo will someday rival just about any zoo in the country. With its large, lush exotic habitats, San Diego certainly sets the standard to which we compare ourselves.
It benefits from interesting topography-a luxury we don’t have-but I was stunned at how well one can escape from a literal mass of humanity by following a bend in a trail or hiking down into a canyon. It’s a worthy destination in its own right, set in the jewel of Balboa Park.
The words “Historic Preservation” finally mean something in Houston. Long considered the home of the country’s weakest historic preservation ordinance—out of 2,000+ such ordinances—we can finally celebrate an historic ordinance that will truly protect many of the city’s few remaining Victorian homes. The largest concentration of late 19th-century homes stand in the Old Sixth Ward near downtown. The new ordinance, which passed 12-1, gives contributing structures in the Old Sixth Ward protection from demolition. We can only hope that council will have the wisdom, and fortitude, to create more such districts.
This new ordinance protects more than 200 structures from possible destruction by establishing the city’s first protected historic district. Houston already has six other city historic districts, such as Westmoreland, Avondale, East, and Courtlandt Place, but those historic homes can be demolished after a 90-day waiting period. The city also has 11 National Register historic districts, but that designation offers little protection. Just drive through Freedmen’s Town (Fourth Ward), built by newly freed slaves, and see how many of the hundreds of historic homes remain standing. You can just about count them on your hands.
Under the new ordinance, historic homes cannot be demolished unless an appeal is successful and new construction must be compatible with neighborhood character.
Homeowners can apply for protected landmark designation, which triggers tax benefits and remains after the property is sold. According to the city Planning Department, the Old Sixth Ward lost more than 10 historic structures since 1998; 51 were inappropriately altered, four relocated, and 12 replaced with new construction incompatible with neighborhood character.
The Old Sixth Ward ordinance is near and dear to my heart since I co-own a dozen rental units in the neighborhood that I helped painstakingly restore. And as a council member, I spent months trying to pass a stronger historic preservation—although not this comprehensive—that had been fine-tuned by a city commission for more than a year. I couldn’t even get it out of committee.
Obviously, this City Council is far more progressive and understands that great cities preserve their history.
Annise Parker is the second-term city controller and the highest-ranking openly GLBT-elected municipal official in any of the 10 largest U.S. cities. Her website is www.houstoncontroller.org. Parker’s television program, Money Matters, airs Monday on the Municipal Channel (Comcast) at 2 and 8 a.m. and 2 and 8 p.m. The City Controller’s webpage is www.houston tx.gov/controller/index.html. To receive the controller’s newsletter, send an email to [email protected].