Tag Archive for: Harris County Commissioners Court

At Least Seven Investigations Launched into Colony Ridge

Today, Harris County joined the growing list of governmental agencies looking into Colony Ridge.

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) have already concluded their investigations and filed Federal lawsuits against the troubled developer.

On December 29, 2023, the New York Post reported that the Internal Revenue Service, Army Corps of Engineers, and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality have all launched their own Colony Ridge investigations. Word on the street has it that even more investigations by other Federal agencies are underway.

Then on January 5, 2024, the Daily Wire reported that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has opened an investigation into Colony Ridge.

Finally, just today (1/9/24), Harris County Commissioners Court discussed investigating the flooding, housing and environmental impacts of Colony Ridge on Harris County. The County Administrators Office and Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey agreed to discuss forming a task force. They would then return to Commissioners Court for final approval of their task force recommendations.

Thrust of Many Investigations Still Uncertain

However, with the exception of the DOJ and CFPB, the direction of many of these investigations remains unknown.

For instance, the EPA could be investigating any of several different allegations, including wetlands, endangered species, and pollution violations.

Colony Ridge, which has grown at least 50% larger than Manhattan in a decade, has filled in ponds and wetlands. While the Army Corps bears initial responsibility for investigating wetlands violations, ultimately the EPA reviews permit applications under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act.

Recently, the developer has been pushing into wetlands near Tarkington Bayou. I took the three photos below during in October 2023 while flying over the bayou. Despite a punishing drought, you can still see evidence of ponding.

A University of Waterloo (Ontario) study found that small isolated wetlands that are full for only part of the year are often the first to be removed for development. They enjoy fewer legal protections due to their apparent isolation from jurisdictional waters.

However, the study found that they can be twice as effective in protecting downstream lake or river ecosystems than those directly connected to them. The study labeled them “pollution-catching powerhouses.” Their disconnectedness makes them more effective pollution traps.

Previously, I reported that the TCEQ found raw sewage leaking from a lift station and sewers in Colony Ridge. TCEQ estimated that 48,000 gallons escaped into the Lake Houston watershed, which supplies drinking water for two million people.

To report environmental violations to the EPA, see this page.

Another possibility: EPA may also be looking into whether Colony Ridge displaced any threatened or endangered species. Texas Parks and Wildlife and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service say twelve threatened and endangered species live in Liberty County. Some reportedly live in the Colony Ridge Area.

For More Information

Since 2020, I have created more than 75 posts about different aspects of Colony Ridge – from missing drainage studies to sewage spills, rivers of mud, and more. To see links to all the posts, visit this page.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 1/9/2024

2324 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Editorial: What Happens When Leaders Become Misleaders

Misleading statements. Broken promises. Redefining commonly accepted meanings of words. Math that doesn’t add up. Gobbledygook explanations. These practices have all become “business as usual” in Harris County Commissioners Court. And they come with a high price tag.

Bait-and-Switch Bonds

To get the 2022 Road and Parks Bond approved, County Judge Lina Hidalgo, Commissioner Adrian Garcia, and Commissioner Rodney Ellis voted to allocate a minimum of $220 million to each precinct. They heavily promoted the guaranteed minimum in pre-referendum advertising, online and in community meetings.

Screen capture from County bond web site shows two promises were broken.

A short while after voters approved the bond, the Democrats voted to shortchange Precinct 3 by $32.5 million – even though P3 has 47% of the county’s roads and 35% of the county’s parks. They also voted to give $110 million to Harris County Engineering for administration.

It was a blatant bait-and-switch scheme

Commissioner Ramsey has been trying to win back the amount P3 voters were shortchanged. But in a 10/31/2023 meeting, Commissioners Garcia and Ellis implied that their portions of funding were already spent, so they couldn’t be reallocated.

Said Garcia, “Right now, of the allocation that I’ve got, my guys have already let that out the door. Yeah.”

Ellis replied, “Yeah, we’ve already committed our funds as well.”

However, when I asked the Harris County Engineering Department for a list of projects funded by the 2022 Road and Parks Bond, they could find no records responsive to my request.

Reviewing bids approved by Harris County’s Commissioners Court between January 1 and November 6 of this year showed that Ellis has spent less than a million dollars on road improvements. Ellis and Garcia together spent less than $7.7 million on road projects. So how did $562 million get “out the door”?

They may have “plans” for spending $562 million, but so far, they’ve only actually spent somewhere between $0.00 and $7.7 million from the bond. 

Their choice of words implied that even if they wanted to achieve a fairer balance, it was too late. Did they chose those words accidentally or intentionally?

Welcome to the semantic rubber room.

Harris County Commissioners Court on 10/31/2023. Discussion of Road and Parks Bond begins at 2 hours and 30 minutes into the meeting.

Explanation For Unequal Minimum Distribution

In the same meeting, Judge Hidalgo and Budget Director Daniel Ramos tried to explain why they shortchanged Precinct 3 in the first place.

Lina Hidalgo’s Explanation 

Hidalgo said, “What I have here, and maybe Ramos can jump in, is that we approved 220 to each precinct and the remaining balance according to SVI, because we hadn’t thought about … there’s overhead costs of 110 million. And I think that just literally nobody thought about it. I asked my team, ‘Go back at the notes and see if you know anybody had that anywhere and just hit it or whatever.’ Well, it’s not anywhere. So then by the time January rolled around, the budget folks or whomever came back and said, you know, we actually have to shave 110 off the top. And so, then we changed it from 220 to 175, given that we shaved 110 off the top. So, it’s 175 minimum for each precinct and the rest according to SVI.”

SVI refers to the CDC’s Social Vulnerability Index.

Issues with Hidalgo Explanation

First, she broke a promise to voters. But there are several other problems:

  1. If overhead costs were really $110 million, you would reduce the minimum for each precinct by $27.5 million, not $45 million. Said another way, $45 million per precinct adds up to $180 million, not $110.
  2. Why are we paying current employee salaries out of bonds that will require interest payments for a decade or more? Especially when the County said it wouldn’t use any bond money to fund day-to-day operations. (See screen capture above.)
  3. The much larger flood bond in 2018 had zero for administrative overhead (although admittedly there were $10 million worth of legal and accounting fees associated with buying the bonds).
Ramos Explanation

Budget Director Daniel Ramos then said to Hidalgo, “You’re correct. So, I believe in January, sorry, the first or second quarter, this new constituted body came back and changed the formula. One: to carve off 110% or, sorry, 10% off of the 900 million for roads and parks to allocate to the county engineer and then precinct 2 put up a motion to do 70, a little over 70%, which is the 175 number plus, and the remainder, which is 29.8%, give or take, for SVI. And that’s where we are today. And that vote passed four zero …”

Problems with Ramos’ Explanation

While purporting to support Hidalgo, Ramos’ explanation contradicts hers. Seventy percent of 220 is 154, not 175. The bond was for $1.1 billion, not $900 million. And his explanation has the feel of a major-league curve ball.

The 2022 Road and Parks Bond was a classic bait-and-switch scheme. And it’s not the first time such deception happened.

Flood-Bond Deception

The same leaders did the same thing after the 2018 flood bond passed. Ellis even bragged openly in commissioners court about how he tricked voters.

The three Democrats promised to focus flood control spending on the hardest hit areas first. But they have not. They defined “worst first” to mean the “poorest” watersheds, not those that had the “most severe flooding.”

Even though language in the bond promised an “equitable distribution” of funds, the Democrats adopted a formula based largely on income and social vulnerability, without regard to flood risk or damage. That heavily skewed distribution of bond money. As a result, 65% of the flood bond projects that lost funding this year were in Precinct 3.

Such explanations and actions undermine the credibility of elected officials and trust in government.

These are not little, white lies. They are whoppers involving billions of dollars. 

Worse, because of inflation, affluent areas that desperately need flood mitigation may get none. Twenty-percent inflation since 2020 has trimmed $1 billion off the purchasing power of the 2018 flood bond.

So areas that ranked low on the Democrat’s Equity Prioritization Framework may get little or no help from the tax dollars they approved.

Consequences of Loss of Trust

Declining trust in government reduces support for government action to address a range of policy concerns, including flooding. Distrust makes it harder to make collective decisions that advance the common good. It fosters polarization in politics. And undermines faith in elections.

Loss of trust could jeopardize future bonds. After the bait and switch with the 2018 Flood Bond, the 2022 Road and Parks bond received far less support, even with the guaranteed minimum per precinct.

To come together, leaders must stop misleading. They must promise what they will deliver and deliver what they promise. Or we’ll all wind up in the semantic rubber room wondering what’s real and what’s not.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 12/7/23

2291 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Four Dems Take No Action to Honor Pre-Election Bond Promise

On Tuesday, 10/31/23, Harris County Commissioner’s court took no action on a request from Commissioner Tom Ramsey PE to abide by a pre-election promise to voters re: the 2022 Road and Parks Bonds. Ramsey could not even find a second for his motion on Agenda Item #418, which would guarantee the promised minimum of $220 million for Precinct 3.

During debate on the topic:

  • Only one of the four Democrats on Commissioners Court agreed with the idea that “we need to deliver on what we say.”
  • One confused the 2022 road and parks bond for the 2018 flood bond.
  • Two claimed they had already spent their allocation; so they couldn’t re-allocate the money even if they wanted to (which they didn’t).
  • One claimed “everybody” lost track of $110 million.
  • Two claimed that allocating the money to poor areas was more important than an equal split or honoring promises.
Screen capture from 10/31/2023 Commissioners Court Meeting at start of debate on Item #418.

When they talked about allocations to poor areas, they did not mention the percentage of county-maintained parks or roads in their precincts. Nor did they take into account the percentage of their precincts inside incorporated areas, such as the City of Houston. Municipalities are already responsible for maintaining roads and parks within their boundaries.

Bait-and-Switch Tactics

BEFORE the 2022 election, commissioners voted to allocate a minimum $220 million from the 2022 Road and Parks Bonds to each precinct. The county then trumpeted that promise in:

  • Pre-election publicity
  • Postings on county websites
  • Speeches and handouts at community meetings.

Voters approved the bonds on the basis of that promise.

Then, in January 2023. shortly AFTER the election, the Democrats on commissioners court broke that promise. They voted to adopt a different formula that resulted in drastically less money than promised for Precinct 3, the only Republican-led precinct remaining in Harris County.

Precinct 3 received $187.5 million – $32.5 million less than promised.

Meanwhile, the Democrats voted to award themselves far more than Ramsey’s Precinct 3 which contains the highest percentage of unincorporated areas in the county.

PrecinctMinimum Promised 
Before Election
After Election
Difference% of Allocated $
One$220 million$269 million$49 million MORE27%
Two$220 million$293 million$73 million MORE30%
Three$220 million$188 million$32 million LESS19%
Four$220 million$239 million$19 million MORE24%
Promised vs. Actual funding from 2022 Road & Parks Bonds

The FTC calls this “bait-and-switch” advertising. It’s illegal. In a commercial context, intentionally advertising a product or service with the intent to lure customers in, only to then provide a different, less desirable offering is considered a deceptive trade practice and fraudulent. The FTC often forces companies caught in bait-and-switch schemes to refund money.

Ironically, had Precinct 3 voters realized the bait and switch, they could have defeated the bonds.

Was There Intent to Break the Promise?

In my opinion, it would be easy to prove intent in this case. Before the election, Commissioners Ellis and Garcia talked for months about how they wanted to apply so-called “equity” and “social vulnerability” factors to the distribution of proposed bond funds…without identifying projects or nailing down a formula.

Then on August 2, 2022, they relented and consented to a $220 million per precinct minimum. After voters approved the bonds and Lina Hidalgo won re-election, the Democrats changed the deal back. We got exactly what Ellis and Garcia argued for all along – an SVI-based formula that radically skewed the distribution of bond funds.

So, in the end, after redistricting (which packed more roads and parks into Precinct 3 than any other precinct), and after an election in which voters were deceived…

Precinct 3 gets 19% of the funding, yet has 47% of the County’s roads and 35% of its parks to maintain.

Some would say Democrats planned that all along.

What Democrats Said During Debate on Ramsey Motion

Precinct 4 Commissioner Leslie Briones

The newly elected Briones, a lawyer by trade, was not part of the pre-election promises. She said, “I agree fundamentally that we need to deliver on what we say and need to be transparent in doing so.” However, she later added that rectifying such situations is important … on a ‘go forward’ basis.

Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia

Garcia said, “In terms of Precinct 2, I’ll say that our projects have already been lit. So we’re already, you know, our funding is already committed. We got our project partnership commitments already out. And so the funding is already allocated and you know … I absolutely love leveraging equity. Otherwise I wouldn’t have the 30%, uh, the precinct to, uh, needs it because we’re down to the downstream side of five counties, not just Harris County. Um, and but I am open to seeing if there’s another way of, of getting there, because flooding is flooding regardless of its downstream side or wherever. But right now, of the allocation that I’ve got, my guys have already let that out the door. Yeah.”

Commissioner Garcia evidently confused the 2022 Road and Parks Bonds being discussed with the 2018 Flood Bond.

Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis

Ellis said, “Yeah, we’ve already committed our funds as well. And I would say that I’m strongly committed to SVI.” SVI means the CDC’s race-based Social Vulnerability Index as a means of allocating dollars.

County Judge Hidalgo

Judge Lina Hidalgo argued that the $220 million promise was based on faulty math. She said, “We hadn’t thought about … there’s overhead costs of $110 million. And I think that just literally nobody thought about it.”

Hidalgo narrowly won a hotly contested re-election bid on the same ballot as the bond, based in part on her assertion that she represented ALL the people of the county.

Could You Really Spend $562 Million in 10 Months?

With all of the County’s purchasing procedures, could you really spend (or at least commit) $562 million in ten months? That’s the total of Ellis’ and Garcia’s split.

Democrats didn’t approve the SVI-based allocation formula until earlier this year. Then you would have to study projects, rank them, advertise the projects, review qualifications of potential bidders, bid the projects, pick a winner, acquire right of way, sell bonds, and mobilize the projects.

That can take years. For instance, the Northpark Drive expansion project in Kingwood began in 2015 and won’t finish for another 2 or 3 years. And two miles of Loop 494 renovations have taken 4.5 years.

And, perhaps more important, how do you just forget about $110 million in overhead costs? I couldn’t follow the Budget Director’s attempted explanation on that one! Forgetting about $110 million in the private sector would get most people fired.

Think about these issues as you go to the polls and vote on new bond projects next Tuesday.

To see the entire Commissioners Court debate on Item #418, start at 2:30:21 into the video of Departments Part II of IV. The discussion lasts 20 minutes.

In the end, Ramsey, the only Republican, couldn’t even get a second for his motion, so the court took no action.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 11/4/2023

2258 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Commissioners Discuss Colony Ridge, But Take No Position Yet

As the state legislature takes up what to do about Colony Ridge, Harris County Commissioner Tom Ramsey, PE, brought the issue up in the 10/10/23 session of Commissioners Court.

Screen capture of Ramsey starting discussion.

Ramsey Leads Off Discussion with Photos of Dramatic Erosion, Impacts

Ramsey presented dramatic photos of erosion coming from Colony Ridge. He also discussed how rampant erosion impacts areas downstream. He referred to:

Ramsey also reminded everyone that Lake Houston supplies drinking water to roughly 2.2 million people, about half the population of Harris County.

Next, Ramsey introduced a motion to determine how much a study would cost to learn how Colony Ridge drainage has impacted Harris County. Ramsey, an engineer by trade, limited his remarks to drainage and infrastructure issues, even though the state legislature is examining a much broader range of issues.

You can see slides from Ramsey’s presentation here.

Commissioners and HCFCD Director React to Ramsey

Ramsey asked Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) to come back to the next Commissioners Court meeting with an outline and cost for a study that would determine the downstream impacts from Colony Ridge.

Dr. Tina Petersen, HCFCD executive director, said they hadn’t studied Colony Ridge but would do everything she could to come back to the next Commissioners Court meeting with a proposal for a study.

Then the scope of the task started expanding. Other commissioners, including Rodney Ellis, pointed out that Liberty County wasn’t the only upstream county impacting Harris County.

Commissioner Adrian Garcia asked whether Director Petersen could expand the scope to consider impacts from other counties. But Petersen said that would be impossible by the next meeting.

Because other upstream areas have similar issues, commissioners felt a regional approach might make more sense and funding might be available from the Texas Water Development Board to study the problem.

So, Commissioner Ellis suggested having Intergovernmental Affairs look into what other counties, including Liberty, are doing.

Judge Hidalgo called the other Colony Ridge issues being investigated by the legislature and Attorney General Ken Paxton “conspiracy theories.”

No Action Taken in Meeting, but Unanimous Agreement to Revisit Issue

In the end, the Commissioners voted to take “no action” on Ramsey’s motion in yesterday’s meeting. However, they also agreed to reconsider it at a future date when Commissioners have more information about the scope and costs of a study.

In the meantime, I’m not sure how much cooperation Harris County will get from upstream counties. In my opinion, other counties sometimes see lax enforcement of regulations as tools to attract development.

See the entire discussion. It lasted about 18.5 minutes from 5:04:25 to 5:23, and ended with unanimous agreement to revisit the issue at an unspecified future date.

If nothing else, this raises the profile of Colony Ridge issues in the state legislature. The bi-partisan nature of the meeting’s outcome and the focus on infrastructure issues may make Colony Ridge’s charges of racism much more difficult for the legislature to ignore.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/11/2023

2234 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.

Harris County Approves $825 Million Flood-Mitigation Project List For HUD/GLO Funds

On June 6, 2023, Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) recommended to Commissioners Court a flood-mitigation and disaster-relief project list totaling $825 million. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) allocated the funds to Harris County via the Texas General Land Office (GLO). The projects will require another $145 million in local-match funds from the 2018 Flood Bond. Thus, the projects are worth close to a billion dollars.

Commissioners Court unanimously approved the project list with little discussion. Each precinct will receive a relatively equal amount of projects and funding, according to Commissioner Ramsey.

Two Buckets of Money

The money comes in two buckets: Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery funds totaling $322.5 million and hazard mitigation funds totaling $502.5 million. HCFCD intends to use both primarily for channel improvements and stormwater-detention-basin projects.

Further, HCFCD has divided its project list into primary and backup recommendations.

Factors Used to Determine Recommendations

HCFCD developed the project list with the following factors in mind:

HUD normally gives priority to projects that help minority and low-income areas. However, the two major buckets have different LMI requirements. They also have different deadlines.

HCFCD must spend 100% of the Disaster-Relief (DR) funds by August 2026. And they must benefit areas where 70% of the residents qualify as LMI (below the average income for the region).

The Mitigation funds have more time and a 50% LMI requirement. No less than 50% of the $750,000,000 – from which the $502.5 is carved – must be expended by January 12, 2027, with the full balance expended by January 12, 2032.

So the DR funds have more urgency attached to them and that list includes projects closest to “construction ready.”

Reason for Backup Projects

According to HCFCD, the project list will likely evolve based on review by GLO, project schedules and project costs. Budgets are estimates based upon today’s dollars. They will change as projects advance. 

Fatal flaws may also become visible as projects advance toward construction. So, HCFCD requested and received permission to substitute alternate projects as needed if the intended projects become non-viable.  

1 Recommended, 1 Alternate Project in Lake Houston Area

The “recommended” list includes one primary project in the Lake Houston Area: Taylor Gully Improvements.

It also includes one project on the alternate list: the Woodridge Village Stormwater Detention Basin, part of which is already under construction.

Locations of HCFCD Mitigation and Disaster-Relief project recommendations

9 Upstream Projects

HCFCD is also recommending nine upstream projects on tributaries that feed into Lake Houston.

Primary recommendations include:

  • Upper Cypress Creek Floodplain Preservation
  • Part 3 of the Kluge Stormwater Detention Basin on Little Cypress Creek
  • Rehabilitation of the Kickerillo Mischer Preserve Channel on Cypress Creek
  • Boudreaux Stormwater Detention Basin Part 1 on Willow Creek
  • Channel Rehabilitation, Batch 5 on the Main Stem of Cypress Creek
  • East and West TC Jester Detention Basins on the Main Stem of Cypress Creek
  • Detention for Channel Rehabilitation on the Main Stem of Cypress Creek, Batch 5

Alternate recommendations include:

  • Boudreaux Stormwater Detention Basin Phase II on Willow Creek
  • Mercer Stormwater Detention Basin on Cypress Creek

Click here to see the full list of projects.

Project-Specific Data Available Soon

The project list does not include information on how much these projects would contribute to flood reduction – either locally or downstream. However, HCFCD expects to post that information to its website before the projects go to the GLO for approval in the coming months.

Partnership-Funding Gap Affected

Likewise, HCFCD did not include with this list an estimate of how much it would affect the partner-funding gap.

Some time ago, HCFCD projected that it could finish all the projects in the flood bond using a combination of:

  • Taxpayer approved funds
  • Partner funds already committed
  • Harris County Toll Road Authority money allocated to the Flood Resilience Trust.

But to finish all the projects in the Flood Bond, HCFCD “phased” some projects. It knew it wouldn’t have enough money to complete 100% of some large projects. So, several phases might have been included and others deferred.

It appears that several projects on today’s list include some deferred phases. So the “partner-funding gap” may not be reduced as much as originally thought. Net: HCFCD may or may not have to look for additional funds. The District expects it will know more after GLO approves the list.

HCFCD must also come back to Commissioners Court by July 18 with an estimate for ongoing maintenance and land management costs for all the projects.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 6/6/2023

2107 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Dems Deprive Republican Precincts of Services

Late in the afternoon on 9/13/22, my phone started blowing up. Frantic callers asked, “Are you watching Commissioners Court?” I wasn’t unfortunately. I was working on a post about the completion of a flood-mitigation project. But my priorities quickly changed when I learned that the three Democrats (Garcia, Ellis and Hidalgo) voted – as a block – to take take “no action” on 32 separate projects. Each will deprive residents of Precincts 3 and 4 of services.

Adrian Garcia, Rodney Ellis and Lina Hidalgo removed 32 items from the 8/13/22 Harris County Commissioners Court Agenda that would have helped residents of Precincts 3 and 4.

The brazen no-action votes, led by Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia, were in retaliation for Republican commissioners walking out of a vote that would have allowed Democrats to increase taxes at a time when rising inflation makes larger tax bills doubly difficult.

A quarter of the no-action votes directly targeted residents. The other three-quarters target companies that provide services that benefit residents, such as engineering companies that improve drainage.

Targeted items included residents’ community center wellness classes, maintenance, flood-rescue equipment, roadway improvements and drainage projects.

Violating Historical Norms

By agreement and tradition, historically, Harris County Commissioners do not interfere with each others’ business. So this sets a dangerous precedent in which one party weaponizes its majority to punish the opposition’s constituents. Here’s what happened.

Ramsey and Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle boycotted the meeting so that the Court would not have sufficient votes to raise taxes. In retaliation, Commissioner Adrian Garcia, aided by Commissioner Rodney Ellis and County Judge Lina Hidalgo, pulled dozens of Precinct 3 and 4 items from the agenda.

Commissioner Ramsey said in a press release that, “This is retaliation against Harris County residents at its lowest level. It punishes residents because they disagree about having a responsible fiscal budget. It’s childish and embarrassing for the Court and Harris County.”

Ramsey and Cagle have tried for several months to engage their Democratic counterparts in substantive budget discussions with little luck. The Democrats even rammed through a $1.2 billion bond proposal with no details except for a lopsided allocation plan that gave about 40% more to Democratic precincts.

Previously, Commissioners have agreed to respect the boundaries of one another’s precincts. “Today’s action is the latest example of Precinct 3 residents being stripped of services by the current Court,” said Ramsey.

Ramsey’s allusion to “latest” referred to a redistricting plan that left Ramsey with 47% of the county’s unincorporated area to maintain with only 25% of the budget.

During redistricting, Garcia also tried to shift $191 million from Precinct 3’s Cedar Bayou flood-bond budget to areas within his newly redrawn precinct.

Ramsey’s Rebuttal to Dire Dem Predictions

At one point Lina Hidalgo threatened a government shutdown. “If we don’t adopt a budget today, there would be government shutdown in essence,” she said at 35:40 into the 5-hour video.

Said Ramsey, “Judge Hidalgo and others would have you believe that since there was not a quorum at today’s Commissioners Court, the budget will fail. In reality, the lack of a quorum simply means that the maximum tax rate allowed by law – without voter consent – cannot be implemented. Instead, a smaller budget will be adopted.”

The difference between the two budgets is $100 million. Out of a $2.2 billion budget, that’s 4.5%.

Hidalgo counters that the extra money is needed for more “officers.” According to Ramsey, she referenced investigators and detention officers, “yet didn’t mention adding one patrol officer” who could combat street crime.

Hidalgo also threatened that if the maximum budget and tax rate aren’t passed, 180 flood projects that “…affect the lives of every single resident in Harris County” will be jeopardized. But the bond pays for those projects, and the difference between the two budgets for flood control is only $14 million. That’s .6% of the HCFCD’s budget. And Commissioners Ramsey and Cagle volunteered $7 million each from their precinct budgets to make up the difference.

Finally, Judge Hidalgo asserted that not passing the Voter-Approved-Rate budget instead of the No-New-Revenue budget would dramatically affect the Harris Health System. The difference between the two budgets is less than 2%. And Ramsey points out that many of the Health System’s requests are for capital investments which are not even a part of these budgets at all.

On-Call Engineering Contracts Delayed by Dems

So which projects did Dems pull from the agenda? Let’s start with retainer fees for on-call engineering in Precincts 3 and 4. The numbers below refer to agenda items. See full descriptions here.

  • #43 Pape-Dawson Consulting Engineers, Inc. for Precinct 3
  • #44 Volkert, Inc. for Precinct 3
  • #45 Cascade Civil Services, LLC for Precinct 3
  • #49 HVJ Associates, Inc. for Precinct 4
  • #52 Eneval, LLC for Precinct 4
  • #53 Volkert, Inc. for Precinct 4

Engineering Contracts for Specific Projects Also Delayed

In addition, the Dems agreed to delay approval of engineering contracts or contract amendments for specific projects in Precincts 3 and 4..

  • #51 Request to amend a contract Isani Consultants, L.P. for Professional Engineering Services relating to Stuebner Airline Road Segment C in Precinct 3.
  • #55 Approval of a contract with Edminster, Hinshaw, Russ and Associates, Inc. d/b/a EHRA to develop a Master Plan for improvements to Burnett Bayland Park in Precinct 4.
  • #67 Approval of an amendment to a contract with Huitt-Zollars, Inc. for improvements to Atascocita Area Trails Phase 2 in Precinct 3.
  • #76 Approval of Interlocal Agreement with City of Tomball to construct improvements to Nabors Parkway between Highway 249 and Holderrieth Road in Precinct 4.
  • #114 Approval of a contract with HNTB Corporation for engineering and landscape architecture services for a Road and Drainage Master Plan, Precinct 4.

Bizarre Delay

For unknown reasons, the Dems also voted to pull the following from the agenda:

  • #119 Request for approval to change the names of several projects in Precinct 3.

Delaying Release or Retention of Financial Surety

The following motions relating to approval of the release or retention of financial surety from developers were also taken off the agenda.

  • #123 Grand Oaks Section 9 in Precinct 4.
  • #124 Breckenridge West Section 7 in Precinct 3.
  • #125 Breckenridge West Section 10 in Precinct 3.
  • #126 Bridge Creek Section 2 in Precinct 3.
  • #127 Bridgeland Creek Parkway in Precinct 4.
  • #128 Bridgeland Sec 44 in Precinct 3.
  • #129 Bridgeland streets in Precinct 4.
  • #131 Groves Section 35 in Precinct 3.
  • #132 Groves Section 36 in Precinct 3.
  • #133 Newport Section 7 Partial Replat #3 in Precinct 3.
  • #134 Newport Section 7 Partial Replat #4 in Precinct 3.
  • #135 Windrow Section 3 in Precinct 4.

Delaying/Denying Services Directly Affecting Public

The items that most directly and immediately affect residents include the following. Garcia, Hidalgo and Ellis took each off the agenda.

  • #155 Approval to negotiate an agreement for surveying as needed in Precinct 3.
  • #160 Approval to convert Sam Houston Tollway Segment #3 in Precincts 3 and 4 to an all-electronic roadway.
  • #278 Approval to construct pedestrian trails along a drainage ditch of Brays Bayou under Addicks Clodine Road Bridge in Precinct 3.
  • #291 Renewal of 1-year contract for exercise classes in Precinct 3.
  • #342 Approval to bid reinforced concrete pipe, saddle inlets and related items for Precinct 4.
  • #343 Approval to bid asphalt roadway rehabilitation for the Western Trails Subdivision in Precinct 3.
  • #351 Approval to bid airboat and trailer purchases for Precinct 3.
  • #352 Approval to bid passenger buses for Precinct 3.

Most Troubling Item Cancelled, Not Just Delayed

#351 is especially concerning because the airboats would presumably be used for rescue operations during flooding…something the Lake Houston Area remembers all too well. The Dems outright cancelled that; they didn’t just delay it.

Watch the meeting and form your own opinions. Apocalyptic predictions take up the first three hours and fifty minutes. Garcia then starts listing the agenda items he wants to kill or take off the agenda.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 9/14/22

1842 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Harris County Commissioners Will Hold Special Meeting on Redistricting Thursday

There are political changes afoot that could radically affect county services including flood-mitigation, just as the equity prioritization framework did. Perhaps the most important meeting of Harris County Commissioners Court in a decade will take place during rush hour on Thursday afternoon when few people can watch. With only three days of public notice, commissioners will consider redistricting proposals, including one by Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis dubbed the “Ellis Plan.” The changes could be profound, long-lasting and far-reaching.

The Ellis Plan being put forward by Democrats would massively shift precinct boundaries to create another Democratic precinct. Democrats now hold a 3-2 majority on Commissioners Court. That means Ellis’ plan will likely be adopted and create a 4-1 majority.

The plan could also herald massive shifts in county spending, including infrastructure, flood control, community services and more.

Inner city neighborhoods would likely benefit at the expense of outlying unincorporated areas that make up the county’s primary service area. Municipalities, such as the City of Houston are supposed to take care of their own infrastructure and services.

Changes Recommended by Ellis and Democrats

Ellis’ Plan would increase the Democratic majority on Commissioners Court. Democratic Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia barely won a hotly contested election last time by only 4,000 votes and is up for re-election next year. Republicans considered his seat the most vulnerable to recapture.

But Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis who won election by a wide margin last time appears to be “giving” part of his surplus to Garcia to shore up Garcia’s re-election chances.

The Ellis Plan also shrinks Republican Tom Ramsey’s Precinct 3 to leave him largely with Democratic voters. The rest of Ramsey’s precinct would go to Republican Jack Cagle’s Precinct 4, which would approximately double in size – and go deeper red – but leave Republicans with one less seat on Commissioners Court.

Thus, even if Judge Lina Hidalgo loses her next election, Democrats would still likely command a majority of Commissioners Court.

This is “packing and cracking” in practice – two time-tested gerrymandering techniques designed to amplify partisan advantage.

Current and Proposed Maps

Here is the current map.

Current precinct boundaries

Below is Ellis’ proposed map.

Black lines show existing precinct boundaries; colors show proposed boundaries. Only commissioners get to vote on the plan, not ordinary citizens.

Whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, if you live in the Precinct 4 that Ellis has redrawn, you will be penalized. Developers and homebuilders in outlying areas will also suffer.

That’s because earlier this year, Commissioners Court voted unanimously to distribute Road and Bridge funds equally to each precinct. But if Precinct 4 virtually doubles in geographic size – as it apparently will – that leaves Commissioner Cagle with half the dollars per square mile…in the fastest developing parts of the county.

Cutting Humble in Half

The Ellis Plan would also cut the City of Humble in half. That would make it harder for Humble to coordinate its drainage efforts with the county because Humble would have to work with two county commissioners, not just one. It would also give Cagle responsibility for the flood-prone areas near the San Jacinto River while Ellis would take areas on higher ground that need fewer drainage dollars.

Reaction by Garcia Challenger

John Manlove, former mayor of Pasadena, who has already announced a run against Garcia in Precinct 2, believes that the proposed redistricting loses sight of the county’s core mission – to provide services and infrastructure in unincorporated areas.

Said Manlove, “Under the proposed redistricting plan, Commissioner Cagle’s equal share of the Road and Bridge Fund would have to cover twice as much territory. Cagle’s constituents would, in essence, be underfunded, while those in other precincts would be overfunded relative to Precinct 4.”

It is not yet clear whether the Ellis plan meets constitutional requirements. Nor is it clear whether any of the plans under consideration would survive a legal challenge. Detail in the published maps is insufficient to tell. Nor does the surprise meeting give the public sufficient time to absorb and analyze impacts of the proposed changes.

For More Information

To learn more about the redistricting plans and process, visit the Harris County Attorney’s website.

To review census and voting data compiled for Harris County Commissioner’s Court, click here.

To Attend/View Meeting or Make Public Comment

Members of the public may attend, participate and/or address Commissioners Court in-person or online.

Those who attend the meeting in-person may make comments by signing up to speak in the Commissioners Courtroom before 4 p.m. on Thursday, October 21, 2021, when the meeting begins.

Those who attend virtually may comment by signing up to speak no later than 2:00 p.m. on Thursday, October 21, 2021, at https://appearancerequest.harriscountytx.gov/.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/18/2021

1511 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

Harris County Commissioners Approve Two Projects That Could Benefit Humble-Kingwood Area

Harris County Commissioners Court unanimously approved two items on today’s agenda that could eventually benefit the Humble/Kingwood Area.

  • #60 Recommendation to execute a Partnership Agreement with TXDoT for preliminary engineering and environmental review for a railroad grade separation on Hamblen Road, from Loop 494 to Laurel Springs Lane.
  • #83 Authorization to negotiate an interlocal agreement for a partnership project with the SJRA, Humble, and five utility districts for a feasibility study and conceptual design on the Spring Creek Watershed Flood Control Reservoirs.

Consideration of the projects was originally scheduled for last Friday. But visits by President Biden and Governor Abbott delayed that part of the meeting until today.

More About the Projects

The first item will formally establish a partnership with TXDoT to study the feasibility of rerouting Hamblen Road north to meet up with a bridge over US59 at Sorters-McClellan Road. The project, is key to managing traffic in Harris County’s new 90-acre Precinct 4 Edgewater Park. The preliminary engineering study will also look at building a bridge over the Union Pacific Railroad tracks. The latter is important because UP has announced its intention to start running longer trains. If one derailed, it could theoretically block every exit to Kingwood.

Site of Precinct 4’s new Edgewater Park. Hamblen Road (center) could be re-routed north to connect with the bridge over 59 at Sorters-McClellan road (top center). The project could also create a railroad bridge over the Union Pacific tracks (right).

The second item will further explore the feasibility of one or more Flood Control Reservoirs upstream from the Lake Houston Area along Spring Creek. This could reduce the amount of inbound water during future floods. In that regard, it is worth noting that the amount of water coming down Spring Creek during Harvey almost exactly equaled the amount of the SJRA’s release from Lake Conroe. Thus, such a project could partially offset future Lake Conroe releases during floods.

San Jacinto River Watershed Flow Rates
Where Water Came From During Harvey. Source: SJRA.

Next Steps

Neither of these projects involves approval to begin construction. They simply will study the feasibility, locations, costs, and nature of construction. Commissioners would have to approve construction after studying the results of the studies. But first the engineering department and Flood Control District must solicit bidders to conduct the studies.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 3/1/2021

1280 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Bridge over Tracks, Upstream Detention on Friday’s Commissioners Court Agenda

Two Kingwood-related items are on Harris County Commissioner’s Court agenda for this Friday.

#60 Recommendation to execute a Partnership Agreement with TXDoT for preliminary engineering and environmental review for a railroad grade separation on Hamblen Road, from Loop 494 to Laurel Springs Lane.

#83 Authorization to negotiate an interlocal agreement for a partnership project with the SJRA, Humble, and five utility districts for a feasibility study and conceptual design on the Spring Creek Watershed Flood Control Reservoirs.

Bridge over UP Tracks

The first item relates to the development of Precinct 4’s new Edgewater Park at 59 and the West Fork. Hamblen Road will be re-routed during park construction so that it connects with the first bridge over US59 north of the West Fork and Sorters-McClellan Road.

This would improve traffic flow and expand the development area of the 90-acre park that will serve as a key anchor park along the Spring Creek Greenway trail.
The current two-lane asphalt segment of Hamblen Road runs across the Union Pacific Railroad track through the middle of the proposed park. Plans include rerouting the new segment diagonally from Loop 494 at Sorters-McClellan Road to Laurel Springs Lane and upgrading it to a four-lane concrete with a bridge over the railroad track. The previous Hamblen Road segment could then be repurposed to serve park visitors. If approved, construction will not affect the park’s cypress ponds.

Tentative plans for a new Edgewater Park at Hamblen Road and Loop 494. The proposed bridge across the railroad would be part of the diagonal segment.

The bridge would also provide an evacuation route from Kingwood in the event of a railroad accident. UP plans to increase the length of its trains making a bridge more important than ever. In the event of a derailment, the longer trains (without the bridge) could block all Kingwood exits to US59.

Also, the current intersection is one of the most dangerous in Kingwood. Danny Sullivan, of Sullivan’s Automotive, says he tows vehicles almost daily from this stretch of road. There are a number of blind turns with people trying to cut across multiple lanes as traffic zooms north off the San Jacinto bridge.

Spring Creek Reservoirs: Feasibility Study, Conceptual Design

The second item arose out of the San Jacinto River Basin Master Drainage Study and a Spring Creek Siting Study conducted in parallel. This current project would study the feasibility of alternative locations and provide conceptual designs for one or more reservoirs.

Additional upstream detention is one of the three main legs of the Lake Houston Areas flood-reduction strategy. Upstream detention would reduce the inbound flow; dredging is restoring conveyance of the West Fork; and additional gates on the Lake Houston Dam will help eliminate backups.

Peak flows from various tributaries during Hurricane Harvey. Source: SJRA.

During Harvey, Spring Creek provided one third of the flow coming down the West Fork between Humble and Kingwood. To put that in perspective, that was as much as the peak release from Lake Conroe. Retaining even a portion of Spring Creek’s floodwater upstream would benefit people in Precinct 3 and Precinct 4 all across northern Harris County.

So even though this would be far upstream and not in our area, it still has the potential to reduce flooding significantly in the Lake Houston Area. And that’s very good news.

Thanks to Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle, Harris County Flood Control and their partners for pushing this project forward.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 2/24/2021

1275 Days since Hurricane Harvey