Grand Parkway extension near Cedar Bayou

Broken Promise: Garcia Trying to Divert $191 Million in Cedar Bayou Flood-Bond Funds

Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia is trying to move $191 million designated for Cedar Bayou in the flood bond, but has not yet said where. Commissioners will vote on the measure Tuesday before they hold another special redistricting meeting on Thursday. My guess is that Garcia will try to move the money within the boundaries of a newly redrawn Precinct 2. That would give him a better chance at re-election.

After Hurricane Harvey, voters approved this flood-bond project list and budget. When Democrats reprioritized the order of projects in 2019…

…they promised no flood-bond projects would be cancelled. That could now change.

Earlier this year, the Northeast Action Collective (NAC) demanded the cancellation of projects in affluent neighborhoods so money could be redeployed to their area. Cedar Bayou could form the opening volley in that war.

Seven Items to Watch in Tuesday’s Commissioners Court

Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia has posted seven items relating to Cedar Bayou on next Tuesday’s Commissioners Court Agenda. If successful, Garcia will divert $191 million from the flood-prone watershed – at a time when Democrats are attempting to hand the area off to Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle, a Republican.

See agenda items 136 and 323. #136 calls for discussion of the diversion; #323 calls for a vote on it. Garcia added #323 to the “Emergency” agenda at 6 PM Friday without any explanation as to where the money will go.

But that’s not all. The other five items on Tuesday’s agenda call for approving preliminary engineering reviews (PERs) on proposed Cedar Bayou projects. (See highlighted items 124, 125, 126, 127, and 128.) These studies could easily cost $5 million.

Diversion Likely Tied to Ellis’ Redistricting Recommendation

The attempted diversion likely ties into the Democratic redistricting plan proposed last Thursday. Democrat Rodney Ellis’ plan calls for putting the Cedar Bayou watershed in Republican Jack Cagle’s precinct. So Garcia would no longer have responsibility for Cedar Bayou and Cagle would have no money to build improvements.

Yet Garcia could spend the money now within the boundaries of a newly redrawn Precinct 2 (see blue area below) to help his re-election chances.

Proposed new Harris County Precinct Boundaries in Ellis Plan
Proposed new Harris County Precinct Boundaries in Ellis Plan. Lines represent existing precinct boundaries. Colors represent boundaries proposed by Democrats. Most of the blue area is already incorporated. Purple area on upper right contains Cedar Bayou and would shift from Garcia’s Precinct 2 to Cagle’s Precinct 4. That area is already largely Republican and hurts Garcia’s election chances.

Garcia’s seat was widely regarded as the most vulnerable on Commissioners Court. Losing it could cost Democrats a majority and they are loathe to let that happen.

Political Payback?

But another question remains. Why even conduct the preliminary engineering studies if there would not be enough money to implement the recommendations? The rationale could relate to political payback.

Campaign finance reports show that the principals of one recommended company (Item 124), Binkley and Barfield, Inc., donated tens of thousands of dollars to Garcia.

  • Barfield $3,400 on 5/25/2021
  • Binkley $3,300 on 5/25/2021
  • Barfield $3,300 on 6/24/20
  • Binkley $3,300 on 6/23/20
  • Barfield $10,000 on 1/28/2019
  • Binkley $10,000 on 1/28/2019

That totals $33,300 dollars – long after one election and even longer before another.

The political action committee for another recommended company (Item 126), HR Green, donated $20,000:

  • HR Green Texas PAC $5,000 on 5/11/21
  • HR Green Texas PAC $5,000 on 12/09/20
  • HR Green Texas PAC $4,000 on 12/17/19
  • HR Green Texas PAC $1,000 on 2/1/19
  • HR Green Texas PAC $5,000 on 12/6/18

Very curious timing! Again, long after one election and even longer before another. It certainly merits further investigation. So do links to the other engineering companies on Tuesday’s agenda. But that will take more time.

I am not implying that Binkley and Barfield are not qualified. I’m not implying they “bought” the job. And I’m not suggesting a quid pro quo exists between their donations and Garcia’s recommendation. I have no proof that any promises were made between Binkley, Barfield and Garcia. However…

It’s bizarre that a Commissioner would recommend an expensive study that will likely never be acted on – especially when better uses for the money exist. shows that such studies can easily cost a million dollars. A quick search turned up six ranging from $650,000 to $1.2 million. (Note: In fairness, some of that would have to go to subcontractors for things such as surveying and soil testing.)

But $5 million in wasted studies could easily repair a drainage ditch somewhere and give people some real help instead of false hope.

Separating Facts from Speculation

Most of what I’m talking about in this post is fact. But some thoughts admittedly cross into speculation when I discuss decisions that have not yet been made.

Flood Mitigation Less Expensive Before Development

The Cedar Bayou watershed is largely rural now, but will develop rapidly as construction of the Grand Parkway moves south to I-10.

After the watershed develops, flood mitigation costs will escalate exponentially. We have seen this along Halls, Greens and Brays Bayous. Without buyouts, there simply isn’t enough room to implement flood mitigation projects in those areas.

HCFCD’s Frontier Program buys up land in developing areas, such as the Cedar Bayou watershed, so flood-mitigation projects can be located in optimal areas before land prices skyrocket. After developing floodwater detention capacity that would mitigate future development, the Flood Control District then sells capacity back to developers to recoup its costs.

Grand Parkway extension near Cedar Bayou shows vast new areas opening up for development.

One Pro Vs Multiple Cons

On the other hand, the wording of Cedar-Bayou-related motions shows how the three Democrats will attempt to justify transferring the money. They are saying it can help more people sooner in other locations. That could be true, but without knowing where the money will go, we can’t verify it.

What they aren’t telling you is that:

  • If these motions are successful, Cedar Bayou will be left without money to implement PER recommendations.
  • There’s very little unincorporated area in the new Precinct 2 recommended in the Ellis Plan. And the county’s primary mission is to help unincorporated areas. Cities are supposed to fund their own flood mitigation.
  • Garcia will gain political favor during his re-election campaign if he can bring $191 million to the mayors within his newly redrawn precinct.
  • Voters did not approve eliminating Cedar Bayou projects.

So much for transparency in county government!

The Big Lebowski

As Lebowski said, “This is a very complicated case, Maude. You know, a lotta ins, lotta outs, lotta what-have-you’s.”

Only two things are certain:

First, the Democrats are breaking a promise. They are going against the will of voters.

Second, if this all comes to pass, someone will have to tell angry Cedar Bayou residents what happened to their flood-bond allocation. And right now, that someone will likely be Jack Cagle or an HCFCD employee. Not Adrian Garcia.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/23/2021, updated with more campaign spending data on 10/25/21

1516 Days since Hurricane Harvey

The thoughts expressed in this post represent opinions on matters of public concern and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.