This Week at City Hall

Jan. 10, 2014Office of Council Member Ellen Cohen

Food Deserts Targeted by Council

A distance prohibition on the sale of alcohol has acted as a partial barrier for large grocery stores to enter many Houston neighborhoods, resulting in ‘food deserts,’ across the city. To make affordable and healthy food easier to obtain, Council amended the ordinance that creates ‘alcohol-free zones’ surrounding churches and schools so that large grocery stores – stores that typically include beer and wine sections, which experts assert are necessary for these businesses to remain profitable – may locate in these zones. To ensure that affected neighborhoods remain protected from unwanted bars and liquor stores, only grocery stores that are over 10,000 square feet, for whom alcohol represents less than 25% of sales receipts, are applicable. In addition, stores that sell liquor or provide for on-premises consumption are expressly barred from participating. University of Houston researchers found that up to 26% of Harris County residents are afflicted by food deserts and that residents in low income areas with limited access to transportation are disproportionately affected.

Council Members Discuss ‘Women in Politics’

Council Member Cohen and District A Council Member Brenda Stardig were invited to participate in a live radio discussion on KUHF’s Houston Matters, a show that focuses on local current events. The segment aired this week, during which Houston’s only female council members examined issues facing women in politics in our city and whether female elected officials encounter unique obstacles. Also weighing in on the lively discussion were public relations executive Cindy Clifford, political scientist Mark Jones, and political consultant Kathryn McNeil.

On the Agenda

For the third consecutive year, Council has approved a 5% increase in local minimum efficiency requirements for many types of new construction throughout Houston. The updated Houston Residential Energy Conservation Code is now 15% more efficient than statewide requirements, providing both health and monetary benefits for Houstonians. Due to these and other green efforts, the City of Houston has achieved a 26% decrease in greenhouse gas emissions since 2007.