Joint press conference between GLO and Harris County Commissioners

$750 Million May Be Swirling the Drain

Yesterday morning at a joint press conference, the Texas General Land Office and Harris County Commissioners pledged to work more closely together to speed up flood mitigation. But four hours later, a chaotic 90-minute discussion in Commissioners Court made me wonder whether the rapprochement would ever bear fruit. At risk: $750 million.

Almost 22 months after the Texas General Land Office (GLO) requested $750 million from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for Harris County Harvey flood mitigation, County Commissioners still haven’t agreed among themselves on which projects to support.

That’s important because GLO must determine that any proposed plan meets HUD requirements before the County can begin spending money…half of which must be spent in the next 33 months.

Harris County must spend all funds by August 31, 2027 and 50% by December 31, 2025.

Harris County Community Services Department

Given how things have gone so far, I’m beginning to wonder about those deadlines. However, hope remains. Read on.

County, GLO Pledge Cooperation

At a joint press conference early on 3/14/23 that featured four Harris County Commissioners and the new GLO Commissioner Dawn Buckingham, Buckingham emphasized the need for speed. In an effort to mend the GLO’s relationship with Harris County, Buckingham also pledged to work more closely with the county to help speed things up. To hear the entire 15-minute press conference, click here.

One of Buckingham’s top priorities is improving communication with local leaders to expedite funds available to benefit local residents.

Joint press conference between GLO and Harris County Commissioners
Joint Press Conference: Thao Costis, Interim Executive Director of CSD; Dr. Tina Petersen, Executive Director HCFCD; Lesley Briones, Precinct 4; Dawn Buckingham MD, GLO Commissioner; Adrian Garcia, Precinct 2; Tom Ramsey PE, Precinct 3; Rodney Ellis, Precinct 1; and Christian Menefee, County Attorney.

History of Grant

The Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) had projects that met the current HUD criteria for hazard mitigation funds back in 2020.

Most just weren’t competitive with other areas’ requests given the rules in the first round of statewide competition. But we’re in a different situation now. After getting so little in Round One, the GLO requested a $750 million allocation to Harris County in May 2021.

Shortly after that, Judge Hidalgo, Commissioner Adrian Garcia and Commissioner Rodney Ellis assigned planning responsibilities to the County’s Community Services Department (CSD) instead of HCFCD. But both organizations have had several changes in leadership since then. CSD has had a total of six different directors under Hidalgo so far.

It’s hard to get up much speed in a revolving door. So instead of a plan, we’ve gotten excuses.

“We’re working on it.” “We’ll have that for you in September.” “…in October.” “Before the end of the year.” “Definitely in February.” “Final plan in March.” Now it’s April!

Outline of Plan Approved Without Projects

Yesterday, Commissioners Court actually agreed on a high-level outline of the plan – but without any projects or partners defined.

CSD Interim Director Thao Costis proposed a confusing scoring matrix for potential projects and a spending breakdown that included:

  • $97.5 million for administration and planning
  • $502.5 million for 2018 Flood Control Bond Projects
  • $100 million for Partnership Projects
  • $50 million for Other County Flood Mitigation Projects.

That increased HCFCD’s allocation compared to her last presentation.

And as soon as discussion on the outline began, Commissioners started peppering it with amendments – for almost 90 minutes. In the end, it finally passed, but it was difficult to tell exactly what commissioners were voting on.

So they sent staff away to compile a marked up version of one section – partnership requirements – that reflected numerous changes requested by all commissioners. They brought the marked up version back several hours later and commissioners voted to replace the original partner section they had just approved with the marked up version. But as of this instant, the County Clerk still has not published the text of the final approved version. Good luck to the County Clerk.

Partnership Criteria Refined in Meeting

Re: partnerships, at Commissioner Ramsey’s request, the Court expanded the list of eligible entities beyond municipalities. It now includes MUDs, Public Improvement Districts, School Districts, Public Transit Providers, Economic Development Corporations, TIRZs, Management Districts and Public Ports located within Harris County.

Commissioners also preliminarily approved an amended list of draft criteria for partnership projects. According to Commissioner Ramsey’s staff, they include:

  • Preliminary engineering must be complete or almost so.
  • If right of way is needed, the applicant must already own it.
  • Applicants must adopt the minimum standards for communities in Harris County.
  • Projects can range in size from $3 – $20 million.
  • Partners must agree to cover all cost overruns.
  • Projects will be graded on:
    • Readiness
    • Percent of low-to-moderate income population
    • Efficiency (a combination of cost per person and cost per structure benefitted)
    • Ancillary benefits, i.e., protection of hospitals, schools, etc.
    • Partner’s contribution as percent of total project cost.

Next Steps

CSD will develop an application form for partners. Then:

  • CSD will invite potential partners to a workshop outlining requirements for any deal.
  • Potential partners must submit applications.
  • A consultant will score all applications and develop partnership recommendations.
  • CSD must publish the results and invite public comment.
  • Commissioners, GLO and HUD must approve projects before work can begin.

All that could take years that we don’t have.

Given the uncertainty surrounding the partner application process (which hasn’t even started yet), it’s hard to see how anyone could develop a definitive project list by April 4th, the next commissioner’s court meeting. Hats off to CSD’s Interim Director Costis if she can do it.

Frankly, the chaotic discussion surrounding the $750 million yesterday bewildered me. It was a civics lesson in the value of Robert’s Rules of Order.

The free-for-all starts at about 2:47:09 into the meeting video and goes for almost 90 minutes. Given how long it has taken to get this far and all the steps still ahead, one wonders about the county’s ability to make the final deadline.

Rays of Hope

At the press conference Tuesday morning, GLO offered to work more closely with CSD to compress timelines. Commissioners appeared to welcome the idea.

The GLO also mentioned that more funding might be possible for flood mitigation. However, Commissioner Buckingham could not give a specific figure.

As Harvey disaster relief efforts wind down, the GLO will roll any unused money into flood mitigation, so that it doesn’t have to return to Washington.

The difference between the two buckets? Disaster relief funds go to individuals for repairing damage from past floods. Flood mitigation funds go to government entities for reducing future flooding.

More about the status of disaster relief in a future post. The GLO will hold another press conference in Harris County Thursday on disaster relief efforts.

Posted by Bob Rehak on March 15, 2023

2024 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.

New commercial building going up near expanding floodplain, a danger zone.

Into the Danger Zone

Five and a half years after Hurricane Harvey, I see people investing and building in areas near floodplains that will soon expand. I call this the “danger zone” because it’s not quite clear yet what their flood risk is or how to mitigate it.

I came across one such property last week on Townsen Blvd. in Humble, east of US59. The owners bought it 3.5 months after Harvey.

The USGS National Map shows the elevation of the site to be a little more than 63 feet. But the nearby gage at the West Fork and US59 exceeded that in 1994 (66.7 feet) and 2017 (69.6 feet).

Red dot shows location of new construction in photo below. Cross-hatched = floodway. Aqua = 100-year floodplain. Brown = 500-year. Map from FEMA. Note date: 2006.

Post-Flood Fear Can Drive Down Prices

After a flood, fear can drive down land prices near rivers and streams. Bargain hunters may then step in and snap up property. That may be what happened in this case.

As I drove past this area on 3/5/23, I saw a new commercial structure going up next to some mostly empty condos and took several pictures.

The new construction has been elevated slightly. Note the fill and angle of the driveway. Also note the abandoned building in the background.
The new building appears to be at the same elevation as these derelict condos.

Company Expansion

Harris County Appraisal District (HCAD) estimates that the new commercial structure will be a 28,000 SF building, though a company blog post claims 35,722 SF. It will be owned by a limited liability company, managed by a Kingwood-based couple. They also own the Humble Sign Company on a second, adjoining parcel to the west.

That currently has a smaller 20,000 SF building with a “for sale” sign in front. So it appears that the company has outgrown its current space. That’s not surprising. Their website shows that they do excellent work.

The company hopes to be in its new space by mid 2023.

Property Bought Within Months After Harvey

The same couple bought both parcels of land in mid-December 2017, according to appraisal district records. And within a year after that, Google Earth shows that they had built the Humble Sign building.

God bless small-business people. They provide almost half of all the jobs in America.

It takes guts to bet your life savings when you start a small business. So who can blame entrepreneurs trying to save some money on land?

Humble Sign is elevating the new building slightly. (Note the fill in the construction photo above.) That’s good news. It should give them a small margin of extra safety.

Building Next to the Danger Zone

Still, building next to a floodplain that will soon expand is risky business. FEMA developed that map above in response to Tropical Storm Allison in 2001 and made it official in 2006. But Harvey triggered another update that will expand floodplains significantly.

FEMA could soon reclassify this property from the 500- to the 100-year floodplain.

FEMA has said that the new 100-year floodplain will expand into the old 500-year floodplain in most places throughout the Houston region. Not only were our rainfall assumptions off after Allison, rampant new development continues unabated and often unmitigated upstream.

So let’s pray the owners added enough fill.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 3/12/23

2021 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.

Heat map showing republican areas and locations that ran out of ballots.

Nearly All Voting Problems in Republican Strongholds

A new 10-minute video by investigative reporter Wayne Dolcefino shows heat maps of Republican-leaning areas in Harris County and where voting problems occurred in the November 2022 elections. Superimposing one on top of the other shows that virtually all of the areas running out of ballot paper occurred in Republican strongholds.

Experts estimate the chances of that happening by accident at less than 1%.


County Officials Still Stonewalling Document Requests

Dolcefino filed a lawsuit earlier this year because of Harris County’s refusal to provide public records relating to the election. Gallery-Furniture-owner Jim McIngvale is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

A computer expert named Russ Long from the oil and gas industry painstakingly pieced together the maps using data from other sources. Long began by sorting out the addresses of people who voted in Republican, but not Democratic primaries in 1150 voting precincts in Harris County. From that he identified the Republican-leaning precincts.

Red areas show clusters of Republican voters.

Paper Galore, But Not Evenly Distributed

Long is also a precinct captain in Cypress, TX. When he picked up ballot paper, he could immediately see that it wasn’t enough. Long told them he needed double the amount, but was told no more was available – despite the county having ordered 4 million sheets, far more than the number of registered voters in the county. shows that approximately 830,000 people voted early in person or by mail. About another 1.1 million voted on Election Day. Only the race for governor had more than 1.1 million ballots cast on Election Day and that total was 1,102,418. So there should have been two million extra sheets of paper.

Yet 121 polling places ran out of paper. And look where virtually all of them were!

Voter suppression in action.

Despite the problems, County Judge Lina Hidalgo, who chairs the Elections Commission, has not called a meeting of the commission since November, according to Dolcefino. Nor has the county released election records requested by Dolcefino under the Texas Public Information Act.

“The release of this information related to our election is way past due,” said Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey.

“What’s wrong with sunshine? Shine the light on it,” said McIngvale.

Early Voting Starts Next Month for Next Election

It will take months to resolve these issues in the courts or the legislature. Dolcefino emphasizes the need for full disclosure now. We have another election in May. Early voting starts on April 24th, in a little more than a month. And we’ve had five months of stonewalling since the last election.

“None of the Democratic-leaning precincts came close to running out of ballots,” said Dolcefino.

Long added, “There would have been riots in the streets if they had.”

The problems may be worse than Dolcefino is reporting. For instance, the map above shows only one polling place in Kingwood that ran out of ballot paper. But I personally know of at least two.

And Dolcefino has not yet even reported on the problems with handicapped voting. Reliable sources tell me of technology problems countywide associated with curbside voting for handicapped people. Again, I personally witnessed those at multiple locations.

Elections Administrator Hired Despite Reported Problems on Last Job

According to Dolcefino’s video, Clifford Tatum, the Elections Administrator, reportedly ran into problems with a similar job he held in Washington D.C.

Previously, the people who ran Harris County elections were elected themselves. Hidalgo changed that, however. She created an office of Elections Administration with an appointed head. Tatum is Hidalgo’s second head of that office. The first resigned after problems with an earlier election.

Many races on last November’s ballot were decided by just a few hundred votes. Without actual records, it’s impossible to tell whether ballot issues skewed election results.

We need to get to the bottom of these problems sooner rather than later. If Hidalgo has nothing to hide, why hide it?

Posted by Bob Rehak on 3/10/2023

2019 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.