Tag Archive for: Community Resilience Task Force

You’re Invited: Flood Task Force Meeting Tonight

The Harris County Community Resilience Flood Task Force will meet tonight (4/28/22) from 5:30 to 7:30 via Zoom. You’re invited. Register to attend by visiting the Task Force website.


The agenda will cover:

  • Recap of first year’s activity
  • Reports by committee chairs
  • Status updates from Harris County Community Services, Flood Control District and Infrastructure Resilience Team on:
    • CDBG-MIT Funding Update
    • 2018 Bond Finances and next steps
    • Resilience Actions Inventory
  • Public comments will come at the end of the meeting.

The Community Flood Resilience Task Force (CFRTF) is a multidisciplinary, community-driven body. Harris County’s Commissioners Court established it to ensure the County develops and implements equitable flood resilience projects that reflect community needs. 

The meeting will also give you a chance to watch Dr. Tina Petersen in action. Petersen is the new executive director of flood control. She started last month.

Public Comment Period

CFRTF meetings are designed to help Task Force members accomplish their objectives. Therefore public participation is limited. However, members of the public may observe meetings and this meeting will have time available for public comment. If you cannot attend, you may also submit written comments in advance to cfrtf@hcfcd.hctx.net

For more information on the CFRTF, visit https://cfrtf.harriscountytx.gov/.

Recently, the group has debated retooling the county’s equity guidelines for flood-mitigation funds to favor densely populated neighborhoods, such as those inside Beltway 8. If you feel left out, make sure you attend. Voice your opinion.

The map below shows historical flood losses in the county.

historical flood loss map of Harris County after Hurricane Harvey
Historical flood loss map of Harris County after Hurricane Harvey

Lake Houston is in the upper right. Darker colors represent more damage. Lighter colors represent less.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/28/22

1703 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Harris County Making Another Attempt to Shift Flood Mitigation Funds

Harris County is making another attempt to shift flood mitigation funds from outlying neighborhoods toward the city center. Here’s the latest proposal that will be considered by the Community Resilience Flood Task Force at a noon meeting today.

Key Concerns About Proposal

This proposal attempts to establish new rules for the Equity Prioritization Framework adopted by commissioners in 2019 and changed several times since. These new rules were provided to Task Force members only within the last few days even though the document is dated December 14, 2021, more than a month ago.

The rule changes apply mostly to the distribution of Trust Fund money established to supplement the flood bond if partner funding did not materialize as expected. However, the proposed changes could affect the distribution of flood bond funds that voters approved by 86% in 2018.

Proposal #1:

Place more emphasis on number of people, using structures as a proxy for people. Benefit = efficiency. 


This may disadvantage LMI neighborhoods as those projects tend to cost more and the neighborhoods have more apartments. They also have large numbers of homes crowding channels and floodplains. So, buyout costs will be higher.  And historically, buyouts cost almost as much as construction. Also, apartments cost far more than single family homes. We need time to look at data on this.

Proposal #2:

Potential partner funding should not be considered in prioritization for use of trust funds.


What if you could make trust fund dollars go nine times further? Typically, HUD grants require only a 10% match.

Proposal #3:

Use trust funds for projects, like street flooding, not even mentioned in the bond.


  1. The County proposes using FEMA damage data back to 1977 to determine “Existing Level of Service.” This is a blatant attempt to tilt the playing field toward the inner city. In 1977, Beltway 8 and Intercontinental airport were still under construction. US59 was a 2-lane blacktop road. Outlying neighborhoods like Kingwood barely existed. This makes it impossible for any outlying neighborhoods to qualify for help with Trust Funds.
  2. Choosing 1977 as the starting point ignores 45 years of flood mitigation spending totaling approximately $5 billion.
  3. We don’t have enough money in the trust fund to complete all the bond projects. So, if we spend trust fund money on projects not in the bond – without partner help – it will mean cancelling bond projects somewhere else.
  4. Implementing this proposal will make it very difficult to get voters to approve future flood bonds.
street flooding
Street flooding is often caused by blocked drains. Rains can’t get to channels and streams. Fixing ditches has historically been the job of cities and precincts. HCFCD funds have focused on channels and streams. Street ditches were never mentioned in the bond.

How To Be Heard

Here is a presentation that the Community Resilience Flood Task Force will review at noon today. It provides a little more detail than the County Administrator’s description.

If this proposal concerns you, please send your comments to: CFRTFpubliccomment@gmail.com.

To view the meeting online, register at Cfrtf.harriscountytx.gov. It goes from 12-2 today.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 1/19/2022

1604 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Harris County Commissioners Approve Final Members and Coordinator for Community Flood Resilience Task Force

At the 3/9/2021 meeting, Harris County Commissioners Court approved the final members and a coordinator for the Community Flood Resilience Task Force. Commissioners established the Task Force last October to ensure “equity” in flood bond spending after months of debate. At the time, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and the four commissioners each appointed one member. Those five members then advertised the twelve remaining positions on the task force. More than 120 applications poured in during November and December. During January, the five core members reviewed applications and extended invitations to new members.

Resilience and ingenuity in the face of flooding. Photo courtesy of Denise Faulkner.

The pool of candidates was exceptionally strong and diverse, making selection difficult. The five core members debated candidates for weeks. They moved candidates in and out of the final group based on credentials, geography, and whom they represented. Ensuring gender, racial, and professional diversity was also a top priority.

Inaugural Task Force Members

Below is a list of the 17 inaugural Task Force representatives approved today in commissioner’s court. Commissioners unanimously approved them. In alphabetical order, including the original five:

Marissa Aho

As the City of Houston representative on the CFRTF, Marissa Aho is the Chief Resilience Officer (CRO) for the City of Houston. She leads the city’s partnership with 100 Resilient Cities, as well as city-wide resilience-building efforts to help Houston prepare for, withstand, and bounce back from the “shocks” –catastrophic events like hurricanes, floods, and cyberattacks – and “stresses” – slow-moving disasters like aging infrastructure, homelessness, and economic inequality, which are increasingly part of 21st century life.

Michael Bloom

Michael F. Bloom, P.E., ENV SP, CFM, directs the sustainability practice of R. G. Miller Engineers, Inc. and is Vice President – Technical of the Houston Branch of the American Society of Civil Engineers. He is a nationally recognized expert in resilient and sustainable infrastructure planning and design with 29 years of professional experience.

Bill Callegari

Bill Callegari is a long-time citizen of Harris County, including 40 years residence on the Katy Prairie. He is a Licensed Professional Engineer, and also served as the Texas State Representative representing Katy and Cypress for fourteen years, from 2001 to 2015.

Dr. Joseph Colaco

Dr. Joseph Colaco holds a Ph.D. in Engineering from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and is President of Colaco Engineers and Professor of Architecture at the University of Houston. Dr. Colaco brings over 50 years of engineering experience related to flood resilience and mitigation and was a founding member of the Hurricane Research Center at Texas A&M. Most recently he served as an expert panelist for the webinar on Hurricanes and Tornadoes through Florida International University.

Yasmeen Dávila

Yasmeen Dávila is a multi-diciplinary non-binary queer artist and organizer in Houston, Texas. Having lived through various hurricanes that passed through Houston, they have set their pursuits to advocate for the neglected neighborhoods that experience floods and chemical exposures before, during, and after hurricane season.

Iris Gonzalez

Iris Gonzalez is the founding Coalition Director for The Coalition for Environment, Equity and Resilience (CEER), an advocacy collaborative working on environmental justice policy solutions in the greater Houston region. She has over 10 years experience in program development, program management, coalition building, grant-making, fundraising, and community engagement.

Lisa Gonzalez

Lisa Gonzalez is President of the Houston Advanced Research Center (HARC), a nonprofit sustainability research organization. Lisa is a longtime resident of East Harris County and as a coastal scientist, focuses on climate resilience and intersections between natural ecosystems and the built environment.

Billy Guevara

Billy Guevara is a member of the Northeast Action Collective, a community organizer, and twice-over flood survivor. He is totally blind and represents the interests of the neighborhoods in Northeast Houston.

Denae King

Dr. Denae King is a native Houstonian and an environmental justice researcher at Texas Southern University. She earned a Ph.D. in environmental science/toxicology from the University of Texas Health Science Center – Houston, School of Public Health and works on environmental health projects in Houston’s underserved communities plagued with cumulative environmental exposures and recurring flooding.

Elaine Morales-Díaz

Elaine Morales-Díaz is a Community Development Officer at LISC Houston, where she manages the GO Neighborhoods and Capacity Building Programs. With a background in Architecture and Community Design, Elaine has worked on equity building initiatives that address affordable housing, disaster recovery and community development issues through participatory design and planning.

Jimmy Morales

Jimmy Morale has long lived in North Harris County. He has worked in the insurance industry for over 10 years, handling a variety of insurance policies which includes flood insurance. He has earned a Bachelor of Business Administration degree with a concentration in Insurance and Risk Management from the University of Houston-Downtown.

Earthea Nance

Dr. Earthea Nance is a published author, scholar, registered civil engineer, and certified floodplain manager with over 30 years of experience. She earned her PhD from Stanford University, and after Hurricane Harvey she served on the Greater Houston Flood Mitigation Consortium.

Mary Anne Piacentini

Mary Anne Piacentini, President and CEO, Katy Prairie Conservancy, coordinates its land protection programs and conservation assistance to landowners, establishes community partnerships and relationships with diverse stakeholders, and oversees the operations and programs of the agency. She has a master’s degree in planning from Harvard University and is currently a board member of the Partnership for Gulf Coast Land Conservation, a member of the steering committee of the Coalition for Environment, Equity and Resilience,a member of the Land Trust Alliance’s Leadership Council, the chairperson of the Stream Corridor Restoration Committee of the Bayou Preservation Association, and previously served on the steering committee for Harris County Flood Control District’s Cypress Creek Overflow Management Plan.

Bob Rehak

Bob Rehak has more than 50 years of experience in communications. After seeing thousands in his area flooded during Harvey, he launched ReduceFlooding.com, a website dedicated to helping people understand the causes of flooding as well as mitigation possibilities.

Tracy Stephens

Tracy Stephens is the President of Sunnyside Civic Club, Gulfgate TIRZ Board Vice Chairman, Infrastructure Rehab and Development Chairman for South Park Community, ACTS Board Research Coordinator, and worked for the City of Houston Public Works and Engineering Specialized Maintenance District Supervisor for Streets, Drainage Construction and Rehab.

Adriana Tamez

Adriana Tamez is a Houston Community College Trustee, and President and CEO for the Tejano Center for Community Concerns (TCCC) providing overall management of the non-profit organization and its nine service programs. Essential to this work has been nurturing and creating partnerships at all levels to meet the needs of our most vulnerable populations in our county.

Kenneth Williams

Ken Williams is a founding director of the Northeast Houston Redevelopment Council, Vice-President of Super Neighborhood 48 Trinity-Houston Gardens, and a community servant/activist/resident.

Congratulations to all. Now the hard work begins.

Task Force Coordinator Also Approved

Commissioner’s Court also unanimously approved the appointment of Holloway Environmental and Communications Services as the task force facilitator. Holloway is a frequent contractor with Harris County Flood Control and helped develop the massive San Jacinto River Basin Master Drainage Study. The facilitator’s responsibilities will include coordination of the task force and public outreach.

Guiding Values

Work of the task force should now begin in earnest.

The Guiding Values developed by the first five members of the Task Force include:

  • Diverse Collaboration
  • Holistic Solutions
  • Paradigm Shifting
  • Inclusive Community Engagement
  • Ethical Foundation
  • Commitment and Accountability
  • Social Understanding
  • Nature and Environment 
  • Emphasis on Action and Momentum

Posted by Bob Rehak on March 10, 2021

1289 Days since Hurricane Harvey

First Members of Harris County Community Flood Resilience Task Force Appointed, Rehak Among Them

On 8/11/2020, Harris County Commissioners Court approved creation of a new Community Flood Resilience Task Force (CFRTF). The first five of 17 appointments to the Task Force have been made by the County Judge and each of the four Commissioners. The first five will select the remaining members.

I seldom insert myself in a story. But it will be impossible not to in this case. Read on.

Purpose of Community Flood Resilience Task Force

According to the bylaws approved in commissioners court, the purpose of the CFRTF is to serve in an advisory capacity to the County’s Infrastructure Resilience Team and the Harris County Commissioners Court. The CFRTF will promote collaboration among stakeholders. The Task Force will also encourage equitable resilience planning and flood resilience projects that:

  • Support holistic, innovative, and nature-based solutions to building flood resilience and mitigating flood risks;
  • Achieve multiple short- and long-term benefits for as many Harris County communities as possible;
  • Take into account the needs and priorities of the community and promote equitable community-level outcomes in the face of flooding; and
  • Protect communities, homes, and businesses across Harris County from flood-related hazards.
US59 during Harvey. Photo by Melinda Ray.

Task Force Objectives

CFRTF objectives include:

  • Provide feedback on the development and implementation of flood resilience planning efforts.
  • Strengthen flood resilience.
  • Evaluate implementation of the existing flood-bond project prioritization framework and schedule.
  • Identify and develop funding strategies for flood resilience efforts.
  • Provide oversight and encourage transparency in the development and implementation of Harris County’s future flood-resilience planning efforts.
  • Improve community engagement. Obtain feedback from the community on flood resilience planning efforts and projects.

Rundown on Five Initial Members

The five members appointed by the Judge and Commissioners include:

Remaining Members Will Be Selected by the End of the Year

The remaining 12 members of the Task Force will be selected by the five members above. To date, there have been no official meetings as the final member, Rehak, was approved today.

Composition of the final 17 member task force must include at least:

  • Two members from low-income, flood-prone communities
  • Two members from communities of color impacted by flooding
  • Three members with scientific and/or technical expertise related to environmentally sustainable flood resilience or flood-risk mitigation
  • One City-of-Houston employee with responsibility for flood resilience
  • One member from each of eight competency areas below (who may also represent categories above)

Competency Areas

  1. Public Housing
  2. Public Health
  3. Engineering/Construction
  4. Urban Design/Planning
  5. Flood-Risk Mitigation
  6. Environmental Sustainability
  7. Grassroots Community Organization
  8. Equity and Social Justice

Remaining members should be selected by the end of this calendar year.

A Personal Note

I didn’t seek this position. Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle nominated me. I accepted his nomination and feel honored. I promise to make the proceedings of this group as open and transparent as possible. That is one of the core objectives. And ReduceFlooding.com provides an ideal platform to help achieve that. If you have input that could help the task force, please feel free to email me through the Contact Page on this web site. In the meantime, I will continue posting as I have since Harvey about the causes of flooding and ways to mitigate it.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/13/2020

1141 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Hidalgo, Ellis and Garcia Approve Community Flood Resilience Task Force Even As Supporters Turn Against It

Tuesday, 8/11/2020, Harris County Commissioners Court approved creation of a new Community Flood Resilience Task Force by a 3-2 vote along party lines.

Three Vote FOR Despite Protests from Supporters

Judge Lina Hidalgo, Commissioner Adrian Garcia and Commissioner Rodney Ellis voted FOR the measure despite every speaker complaining about some aspect of it. Even those who had lobbied for a year to create the task force spoke against the final bylaws.

Two Vote AGAINST; Cite Timing, Procedural Issues

Commissioner Radack voted against it, citing a soon-to-be-released Army Corps study that could make the task force obsolete.

Commissioner Cagle also voted against it. He cited some troubling procedural issues having to do with public notice. The motion was placed on an emergency agenda late in the day on Friday – without backup. That meant the public could not see what it was about.

Then the task force bylaws changed several times over the weekend. And even during the meeting. This gave commissioners no time to review the measure they were voting on or to consult affected constituents.  

Ambush Agendas Undermine Transparency

Cagle’s concern highlights a growing trend in Commissioner’s Court these days: ambush agendas.

The emergency agenda is posted late in the day on Friday. This increases the chances that people will miss it and reduces their time to respond or request explanation before the court takes action. Some might say that it’s being used as a tactic to minimize opposition.

Likewise, this administration uses supplemental meetings the same way. Hidalgo called a meeting on August 3rd at 4 pm to consider changing the election process. Without posting any explanation.

Such meetings also catch opponents off-guard. Between special meetings and emergency agendas, the public had only ten days for comment on the task force proposal that will guide $2.5 billion in spending. That is not enough to study an idea, understand it, and mobilize protests (if called for).

During testimony on the measure, it became apparent that those who favored the motion received revised bylaws over the weekend. However, those speaking against did not. 

Such steamroller tactics make a mockery of transparency. Especially when there is no need to rush the measure through after so long.

A New Form of “Co-Government”

During the discussion, Judge Hidalgo’s comments made it clear that she sees the task force as a:

  • New form of “co-government”
  • Tool to oversee and overrule professionals in her own Flood Control District
  • Way to identify “the next big thing” in flood control.
  • Pattern for similar task forces in other departments, such as Transportation and Elections.

Avoiding Geographic Representation When Solving Geographic Problem

I previously posted about this subject more than a year ago. I spoke against the measure based on the fact that it represents only some people, not all. It excludes representatives from each watershed in Harris County, in favor of poor communities and communities of color – regardless of how much floods have damaged other communities.

Also, instead of having flood experts, the task force has equity and resilience experts.

Only three of the 17 people on the task force would have scientific or technical expertise, but they would be overseeing scientists, engineers and technical experts.

Both equity and resilience have been redefined to favor the “socially vulnerable.”

Index to Meeting Video

Video of the meeting shows how this went down. I urge you to look at it instead of simply accepting my summary. However, for easy reference, here is a recap of key thoughts with approximate time codes. 

In the left hand window, click on: on II. Emergency/Supplemental items (Part 3 of 3). Then scroll to 5:16:35 where you should hear Judge Hidalgo announce “Item 8: Task Force Bylaws.”

5:16: 53. Hidalgo summarizes the process, which started a year ago. She mentions other cities with similar task forces, and describes this one as a “best practice.”

15:17:31 Hidalgo describes the function of the group as oversight – to ensure that projects go according to the prioritization schedule approved by the three Democrats.

15:17:40 “Most importantly,” she says, “It will help the county look forward and tell us what the next big thing is going to be.” She claims they had multiple comments from hundreds of people and distilled their input.

County Judge Lina Hidalgo conducting discussion in online meeting.

5:18:07. She tells commissioners they got an edited version of the task force bylaws because she still doesn’t know which department the group will go in.

5:18:28. She says, “But I don’t want to hold this any longer just because we haven’t settled on the place.” (That’s the closest explanation we have as to why this appeared on the emergency agenda.)

5:18:40 Garcia congratulates Hidalgo for “engineering” the proposal.

“Which Version Are We Voting On?”

5:19:43 Cagle interrupts to ensure “we’re voting on the right version.” He complains about getting material over the weekend, which was then revised during the meeting they are now in.

CEER Calls Proposal “A Step Backward”

5:20:30. First speaker, Iris Gonzalez of CEER (Coalition for Environment Equity and Resilience) says the proposal addresses “communities that have been left behind.” But then she says, “We’re really disappointed in the language.”  She also asserts that other groups in her coalition are also disappointed. She concludes by stating the bylaws fail to implement the full intent of the resolution passed a year ago. “This seems like a step backward,” she says.

Katie Prairie Conservancy Voices Multiple Complaints

5:23:18: The President of Katie Prairie Conservancy complains about one issue after another. She wants:

  • “Direct access to commissioners court on a regular basis” 
  • “Supervision of flood management activities.” 
  • “Membership of task force to represent the diverse communities that make up Harris County.”
  • Nature-based solutions for generations to come. 

She says, the task force could be effective, but only if it has authority.

5:26:25 Radack thanks the Conservancy for its work.

5:29. Garcia does, too. 

Residents Against Flooding Says Task Force Needs More Specialists

5:32:30 Cynthia Neely, from Residents Against Flooding, said she got copy of the revised bylaws Sunday afternoon. (Even though people speaking against the proposal, like me, did not). The task force, she says, needs more members of groups like Residents Against Flooding. She also demands specialists representing green infrastructure, natural sciences, soil, wildlife, etc.

Sierra Club Voices “Deep Concerns”

5:56 The Houston Sierra Club said it “…has very deep concerns about the Infrastructure Resilience Team and Task Force.” Specifically, it has no one with a  background in green infrastructure, green space, natural sciences, or wildlife. The speaker proposes amendments to the language.

ReduceFlooding Complaints

5:38:55 Bob Rehak (me) speaks for ReduceFlooding.com. I complain that the task force bylaws:

  • Represent some, but not all people
  • Allow diversions of bond money to non-flood issues
  • Define the words resilience and equity in a self-serving way that’s contrary to common understanding.

I also request that the measure be killed or put on the ballot in to November to give voters a chance to confirm that they agree with the new, unconventional definitions of resilience and equity that skew distribution of flood bond dollars unequally.

Cypress Creek Complains About Representation, Balance

5:42:31 Jim Robertson, Cypress Creek Flood Coalition, wanted representatives for each watershed and better balance between community and technical representation. He also wanted more than ten days of public comment and input.

Radack Complains about Timing

5:45:31. Commissioner Radack expresses concern about what a new Army Corps report coming out soon will say. He worries that it could “devastate” some members of  the task, so he advocated not doing anything at this time.

Historical Discrimination Against Lake Houston Area

5:49:48 Rehak (who was cut off before commissioners could ask questions) comes back to answer one from Cagle. Cagle asks why I felt the Lake Houston area has historically been discriminated against in the allocation of flood dollars.

5:50:15 Rehak replies that in the entire history of the flood control district, the Humble/Kingwood area has never received one federally funded HCFCD project. Also, “The Greater Houston Flood Mitigation Consortium reported that the San Jacinto River Watershed has 3% of the region’s population, historically has received 0% of the region’s flood mitigation funding, and yet sustained 14% of the region’s damages during Harvey. We received 4 to 5 times more damage per person than other parts of Harris County, in large part, because of this historical neglect. That’s why the Humble/Kingwood area voted overwhelmingly for the flood bond when we saw the equity language in it. In fact, we had five of the top eight precincts in the county in terms of turnout. Now we’re being neglected again with these bylaws because of very unusual definitions of equity and resilience that help only a few, not everybody.”

Hidalgo Wants Model for “Co-Governing”

5:51:45 Hidalgo thanks everyone and says, “We’re trying to create a model for co-governing which everyone can see is like being passed around like a hot potato a little bit. I don’t want to keep holding this up.”

5:52:24 Hidalgo runs through comments received during the process because there “are so many different perspectives.” 

“We wanted this to be a community task force.” But then, “We decided against including someone from each of the 22 watersheds because it would have become too large.” 

“We have this huge charge to reimagine our flood future.” 

“We need to move away from piecemeal approaches and be able to answer the question “What is success?” (Editorial Comment: To me, success is NOT flooding.) 

Hidalgo Planning for Next Bond Election, Transforming Government

“We need people to help us PLAN for the NEXT bond election and the next big thing, she says.

“We could keep debating this forever, so I propose we vote on this today. It’s impossible to make everybody happy.” 

“We also need to create community groups like this for Elections and Transportation.”  

“This is the best shot we’ve got,” she says.

5:58:23. Ellis asks which department will house the task force?

5:58:30 Hidalgo talks about the options, but concludes it “doesn’t need to be decided today.”

Ellis Takes Credit for Equity Bias

6:00:16 Ellis says he favors the proposal. He claims he put the equity language on the bond ballet because of FEMA’s cost/benefit language. It supposedly favors rich neighborhoods (though statistics don’t back that up). “We know which neighborhoods have been neglected historically,” he says. Meaning HIS.

Precinct One Commissioner Rodney Ellis taking credit for redefining equity.

6:01 Ellis says, “There are some who would advocate just dividing 2.5 billion equally among the four precincts. Well, that’s not equity.”

“So I was glad to put that language on the ballot.”

“This was a worst/first strategy. I’m proud to implement it.”

6:02 Ellis seconds Garcia’s motion to adopt the Task Force Bylaws.

Final Wrangling

6:02:15 Hidalgo restates the motion on the agenda.

6:03:20 Hidalgo calls for a vote.

Garcia, Hidalgo and Ellis vote YES.

Cagle and Radack vote NO.

Cagle again complains about not getting enough notice.

Hidalgo says “We sent an email Sunday with the backup. So it’s just not accurate to say it was a surprise.”

6:04: Motion to create task force is approved.

Re-Purposing Government On the Fly

If you care to watch the entire meeting you will witness county government being re-purposed before your eyes. And it’s a real eye opener.

Remember this when they try to push the tax increase through. It will come up again in September. Will it be on an emergency agenda over the weekend with little public notice and no backup? Will we have more non-elected representatives determining how public funds are spent?

Forget Shakespeare. THIS is high drama.

For a complete copy of the final task force bylaws, click here.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 8/13/2020

1080 Days after Hurricane Harvey

Your Last Chance to Register Your Opinion on Disparity in Flood-Bond Spending

County Judge Lina Hidalgo has asked for your opinion on the composition and by-laws of a new Community Resilience Task Force. The purpose of the task force is to make recommendations on how to allocate flood-bond spending to help minorities, low income households, and other socially vulnerable groups … even more.

Argument for Social Vulnerability

The Judge argues that low income households have a harder time recovering from floods. For instance, the inability to repair a flood-damaged home can create health consequences as mold multiplies. The loss of a vehicle can mean the loss of a job and subsequent eviction.

Data Shows Spending Favors Vulnerable Segments 4:1 So Far

Active HCFCD projects in neighborhoods that rank above and below .5 on the CDC’s social vulnerability index. The blue segment represents less affluent, minority neighborhoods, which current have 79% of the active bond projects.
HCFCD buyouts in neighborhoods that rank above and below .5 on the CDC’s social vulnerability index. The blue segment represents less affluent, minority neighborhoods. They have 80% of all the buyouts.

Whether you are looking at mitigation projects or buyouts, the most socially vulnerable neighborhoods tend to get FOUR TIMES more than less socially vulnerable neighborhoods.

Yet Judge Hidalgo, Commissioner Ellis and Commissioner Garcia want to increase that percentage even more … for the next 30 years … with their Community Resilience Task Force.

Questions Posed by Lopsided Emphasis

The questions are:

  • What happens to everyone ELSE who floods?
  • Will they get NO help?
  • What is a FAIR and EQUITABLE distribution?
  • Does the NUMBER of damaged structures not merit consideration?
  • Will the DISPARITY in spending discourage middle class flood victims and motivate them to leave the county if they flood again?
  • Why are certain commissioners using the word “equity” to describe “disparity”?

The language in the flood bond promised an equitable distribution of projects, not a lopsided one.

Speak Now or Live with Consequences of Silence

Today is the end of the month and the last day to submit comments to the Judge if you want them to be considered.

Below is a poignant letter written by Jennifer Coulter, a mother with two young children. She and her husband had just started a company before Harvey. So they didn’t have the credit history to qualify for an SBA loan. And their income from the previous year threw them into the lowest category for a Homeowner Assistance Grant. Two years after applying, they’re still waiting for a call-back.

And because they lived outside the 500-year flood plain, they didn’t have flood insurance. Nevertheless, they managed to restore their home by cashing in retirement accounts. They worry now about whether they can afford college for their kids.

Jennifer Coulter’s Letter to Judge

Dear Judge Hidalgo and members of the CRTF,

Please find my public comments and questions below as they relate to the proposed draft bylaws for the Community Resiliency Task Force and the inclusion of social vulnerability guidelines in flood mitigation project considerations.

My family lives in Kingwood. We flooded in Kingwood following Hurricane Harvey, and chose to reinvest in our community by rebuilding our home. We did not have flood insurance at the time of the flood.  We also did not quality for an SBA loan. We used retirement savings to fund the rebuild. As a result, our personal financial security has changed dramatically. 

The Kingwood and Lake Houston area has historically received a disproportionate amount of flood mitigation project investment related to the greater Houston and Harris County area.  Meaning, we have received far less.  The proposed social vulnerability guidelines would continue that trend, perhaps even worsening it for this area.  

As a family, we have made the difficult decision that if flooded again, we will not rebuild and again reinvest in this community.  Without a fair investment in flood mitigation projects based upon flood vulnerability rather than social vulnerability, we are almost certain to flood again.  

We are not alone.  There are many homeowners, who if able, will relocate out of Harris County if flooded again. My questions to the task force are:  

  1. How do you intend to fund this 30-year plan if your tax base leaves?  
  2. Is making this vital tax base expendable a wise long-term solution to improve flood mitigation in ANY community within Harris County?
  3. If you are not choosing project allocation based upon engineering and likeliness to flood, how do you intend to redirect flood waters to areas chosen to receive flood mitigation improvements? Do you have a means to tell rising flood waters to only go to those areas that received improvements and not to those that didn’t qualify for improvements because they weren’t socially vulnerable enough? 

Thank you for your time,
Jennifer Coulter

I know many people like the Coulters. The prospect of more flooding with no mitigation has them at the end of their tethers. Especially after they voted for the flood bond and its promise of equity. One has already moved to Montgomery County.

Contact the Judge NOW

Please email the Judge and tell her that we need more balance in flood bond spending. Do it now! Tomorrow is too late.

Email CRTF@cjo.hctx.net to submit comments. Please be polite and succinct.

For Additional Information

Here are links to:

Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/30/2020

1066 Days after Hurricane Harvey

Harris County Changing How It Will Choose Which Flood Projects to Support; Welcome to the “Equity Bias”

Imagine you pull up to a stoplight and two needy people approach you for a handout. You want to help, but have only $1 in your pocket.

Do you give the dollar to the person who has not eaten for the longest time? Or to the person from the zip code with the highest percentage of minorities and lowest average household income?

As you may have guessed, the people at the stoplight are a metaphor for flood victims.

More Needs than Dollars

Harris County doesn’t have enough dollars to build every flood mitigation project that everyone needs. Flood mitigation requires tough choices.

So the County is setting up a supposedly unbiased task force to decide whom to help. But its composition will be biased toward people who believe flood bond money should favor low income, minority neighborhoods, i.e., the constituents of the three politicians pushing the task force (Judge Lina Hidalgo, Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis, and Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia).

Stacking the Jury

Look at the proposed overview and bylaws for the Community Resilience Task Force. You will see that they embed the concepts of equity, social justice, and social vulnerability into every recommendation the task force will make. For flood mitigation. Housing. Health. Construction. Urban planning. And more. For the next 30 years!

Proposed bylaws for the task force explicitly state that the members MUST demonstrate:

  • An interest in “equitable” flood mitigation.
  • Interest in socioeconomic and demographic factors that affect resilience.

So they are baking “equitable” into the job descriptions.

Difference Between Equitable and Equal

“Equitable” treatment sounds like “equal” treatment. But it’s not.

Treating people equally means treating them identically. Treating people equitably means treating them differently, but fairly.

For instance, handicapped people get to park closer to the door. That’s fair…based on need.

But what happens when you start making flood mitigation decisions on the basis of race, income, and social vulnerability? Is that fair to more affluent communities destroyed by flooding?

Flood Spending Based on Race and Income?

Ms. Hidalgo, Mr. Ellis, and Mr. Garcia define “equitable” so preference goes to the “socially vulnerable.” Their argument goes like so.

Because poor people have a harder time recovering from floods, they should get more protection from flooding. They can’t afford to flood (…as if anyone can).

Hidalgo, Ellis and Garcia all advocate the use of a CDC social-vulnerability index and LMI (low-to-moderate-income) data to prioritize flood projects.

They argue in meeting after meeting that FEMA bases grant decisions on a benefit/cost ratio (BCR) that favors neighborhoods with more expensive homes. That’s true, but…

Socially Vulnerable Neighborhoods Already Receive Preferential Treatment

They never mention that Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Community Development Block Grants for mitigation (CDBG-MIT) and disaster recovery (CDBG-DR) already favor poorer (LMI) neighborhoods.

Nor do they mention that the County has already received a BILLION dollars in CDBG-DR funds. Or that the Texas General Land Office is sitting on top of approximately $4.2 billion in CDBG-MIT funds that it’s trying to distribute. The vast majority of those funds must go toward LMI/socially vulnerable neighborhoods. (The exact percentages vary by storm and type of grant. But they often range up to 70%.)

Problems With Basing Flood-Mitigation Decisions on LMI Data

There are two more problems with basing flood-mitigation decisions on racial and LMI data.

  • First, it ignores need. Shouldn’t projects that help the largest numbers of people or the worst flooding be mitigated first?
  • Second, LMI data only comes by zip code. Zip codes can mask huge disparities in wealth. So even if you feel poor people deserve more flood protection than the middle class, it’s hard to ensure that result with zip code data. Elm Grove, for instance, is an LMI neighborhood embedded within an affluent zip code.

Mr. Ellis argued that his Precinct One constituents, who are 76% African-American and Hispanic, would not get their projects because money they deserved more was being spent in affluent Kingwood.

He did not mention Army Corps of Engineers grants to HCFCD for work on four bayous in his precinct. Nor did he mention that in the entire history of Harris County Flood Control (which dates back to 1937), not one federal dollar has ever been funneled through HCFCD by the Corps for work in the Lake Houston Area.

4 Out of 5 Flood Bond Projects in SVI Neighborhoods

How much have Ellis, Hidalgo and Garcia skewed flood bond spending to date?

During the Commissioners Court meeting on June 30, 2020, Harris County Flood Control was asked to prepare a report to document the status of flood bond risk reduction projects in socially vulnerable neighborhoods. See Item 2E on Tuesday’s Commissioners Court Agenda. It shows a startling fact.

Out of the 145 active bond projects, 79% are located in high or moderately high SVI areas.

Letter from HCFCD to Commissioners Court

The distribution looks like this.

79% of Flood Bond Projects are located in the most socially vulnerable neighborhoods; only 21% in the least socially vulnerable neighborhoods. Source: Memo to Commissioners Court from HCFCD.

If you live in a “socially vulnerable” neighborhood, you’re 4X more likely to have a flood bond project near you.

And those are just the projects based on Flood Bond money. The Flood Control District is also pursuing additional CDBG grants and Army Corps funding to help fund even more projects in socially vulnerable areas. Those projects are not reflected in these percentages.

Rushing Through Public Comment Period

One measure of how much Ellis, Hidalgo and Garcia want to institutionalize their own definitions of equity is that they’re giving only six more days for public comment with little public warning.

You can bet that the commissioners court meeting on the 28th will be packed with surrogate speakers for Ellis, Hidalgo and Garcia who favor the “equity bias.” They’ve shown up in Commissioners Court for months.

Why wouldn’t they? It’s worked. They now have 4 out of every 5 flood bond projects going into their neighborhoods and they could get even more if this task force goes through in its current form.

Meanwhile, the San Jacinto watershed, says the Greater Houston Flood Mitigation Consortium, received 0% of the mitigation budget prior to Harvey, yet had 14% of the region’s damages during Harvey. 

How Do We Decide What’s Fair?

So, should projects go to neighborhoods that:

  • Had the fewest flood mitigation projects?
  • Flooded the worst?
  • Help the greatest number of people for the dollars invested?
  • Are the poorest?

Or should the money be split equally or on some other basis?

Personally, I think decisions like these should be left in the hands of engineers, not partisan politicians.

Register Your Opinion

The County Judge’s office is inviting the public to share their thoughts and ideas on the proposed draft bylaws of the Task Force. You can register your opinion from now until July 30th, 2020, via one of the following methods:

  • Email CRTF@cjo.hctx.net and submit comments digitally, beginning July 21
  • Join a virtual focus group via Zoom. After registering, participants will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.
  • Offer input during the July 28th Commissioner’s Court

Posted by Bob Rehak on July 24, 2020

1060 Days since Hurricane Harvey

For more information on the “equity bias,” see this series on “Where Flood Mitigation Dollars Have Really Gone”

Or this series on “The Equity Flap”