Tag Archive for: Harris County Commissioners Court

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

Woodridge Village Purchase and Two More Kingwood Flood Control Measures APPROVED by Harris County Commissioners Today

Today, at 5:52PM, Harris County Commissioners Court unanimously approved three flood-control measures affecting Kingwood. The measures included approval to negotiate engineering contracts for improvements to the Kingwood Diversion Ditch and Taylor Gully. The third approval involved purchase of Woodridge Village from Perry Homes to build a regional floodwater detention facility in Montgomery County.

Woodridge Village Purchase Finally Approved

The latter has ranked high on the community’s agenda ever since sheet flow from Woodridge Village contributed to flooding hundreds of homes in Elm Grove and North Kingwood Villages twice in 2019.

Woodridge Village photographed one year after Imelda, when sheet flow flooded approximately 600 homes at the top of the frame.

Since then, Perry has completed the planned detention ponds on the property. However, the amount of detention still falls 40% of that needed under the new Atlas-14 standards.

The City of Houston will purchase 77 acres of the property outright for a wastewater treatment facility. The City will then pay for its half of the remaining Woodridge property by trading land that the Flood Control District can use to reduce the cost of flood mitigation projects elsewhere.

Neither the City nor County have yet announced a closing date for the Woodridge purchase.

The City and HCFCD will work with the community as plans for the property and Taylor Gully are developed by IDCUS Inc.

Kudos to County and City

Seventeen months after Imelda, families in Elm Grove and North Kingwood Village will sleep easier tonight, knowing they are one HUGE step closer to safety.

Thanks to all four Harris County Commissioners, especially Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle, and Harris County Judge Lina Hildaldo. Thanks also to Houston Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin who helped overcome objections raised at several stages in the Woodridge purchase process.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 2/9/2021

1260 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Woodridge Village Purchase on Wednesday’s Houston City Council Agenda

Houston City Council will consider two items Wednesday that could ultimately pave the way for the purchase of Woodridge Village from Perry Homes. Woodridge Village twice contributed to the flooding of hundreds of homes in Kingwood’s Elm Grove Village last year. For more than a year, the City, Harris County Flood Control and Perry Homes’ subsidiary Figure Four Partners, LTD have discussed purchasing the property and turning it into a regional flood-control detention basin.

268 acres currently owned by Perry Homes could be turned into a regional floodwater detention basin if the purchase is approved by Houston City Council tomorrow and Harris County Commissioners Court on December 15.

If successful, the City and HCFCD would work together to reduce the volume of water flowing out of the headwaters of Taylor Gully.

$4 Million in Cash from City Plus Land

The two agenda items are #59 and #65. They call for an interlocal agreement between the City and HCFCD to jointly purchase the property. According to an article in the Houston Chronicle, the purchase price would total approximately $14 million. The City would pay approximately $4 million of that in cash. However, in the past, the City has also discussed the contribution of land to make up its 50% of the purchase price.

The City has also said in the past that it hopes to acquire a portion of the site outright in order to consolidate several wastewater treatment facilities in Kingwood outside of the San Jacinto floodplain. Presumably, the City’s cash would go toward the purchase of that part of the site. Both sides previously agreed to share equally in the purchase, operation, development, and maintenance of the rest of the 268 acres.

Requirements Imposed by Draft ILA from May

Earlier this year, I obtained a draft copy of the interlocal agreement by a FOIA request, which the State Attorney General partially redacted. In May, the City provisionally agreed to:

  • Adopt Atlas-14 precipitation frequency tables
  • Require a minimum detention rate of 0.55 acre-feet per acre of detention for any new development on tracts one acre or larger in size
  • Prohibit the use of hydrographic timing (flood-routing studies) as a substitute for any detention requirements, unless the project emptied directly into Galveston Bay.
  • Enforce these provisions both within the City and its extraterritorial jurisdiction.

The volume of detention ponds currently on Woodridge Village is about 40% short of what the new higher Atlas-14 requirements dictate. The current detention was approved and construction started before Atlas 14 became effective in Montgomery County.

The use of flood-routing studies in Montgomery County to avoid building detention ponds has long been a controversial practice that downstream residents have fought.

Next Steps in Terms of Flood Mitigation

If Council approves the money and ILA tomorrow for the Woodridge Village purchase, Harris County Commissioners would take up the issue at their next meeting on December 15. Approval by both bodies certainly would make Christmas much merrier and more hopeful for hundreds of Kingwood families devastated by flooding last year.

Kudos to Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin for pushing this forward.

The outcome of the votes could affect projects considered in the Kingwood Area Drainage Analysis. If the purchase goes through, it could reduce or eliminate the need for widening and deepening Taylor Gully itself. It is not immediately clear whether the City and County have set deadlines for the design and construction of the detention basin.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 12/8/2020

1197 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 446 since Imelda

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.

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

Harris County Could Shift Billions of Flood-Bond Dollars Tuesday without Public Vote

Tuesday, Harris County Commissioners Court could vote on a proposal to create a Community Flood Resilience Task Force (CFRTF). The Task Force has the potential to shift billions of flood-bond dollars from Republican-controlled Precincts 3 and 4 to Democratic-controlled Precincts 1 and 2. It should be noted that resilience appears nowhere in the flood bond language that voters approved, so this may not even be legal.

County Judge Lina Hidalgo, Commissioner Rodney Ellis and Commissioner Adrian Garcia are using the committee and unusual definitions of “equity,” “equitably,” and “resilience” to justify the shift. Their efforts could kill much-needed flood-mitigation projects in areas such as Elm Grove and the wider Lake Houston Area. Mr. Ellis especially has been openly hostile toward helping Elm Grove.

Secrecy Surrounds Creation of Task Force

The CFRTF proposal has been placed on the Emergency/Supplemental portion of the agenda with no public explanation of what commissioners would actually vote on. See Item #8. It reads only: “Request by the County Judge for discussion and possible action on reconstituting the Harris County Flood Control Task Force as the Harris County Community Flood Resilience Task Force and amending the bylaws accordingly.”

The current version of the Task Force by-laws is not posted online, but I have obtained a copy via a FOIA request. The wording of the bylaws has changed from the version posted on July 24. A distinctive bias runs through the wording that’s contrary to the wording approved by Harris County voters in 2018.

2018 Flood-Bond Election Called for Equity

Because not one joint USACE/HCFCD project had ever been conducted in the area, Lake Houston Area leaders actually argued to include this language in the flood bond. It is now being turned against the area.

Harris County voters approved the flood bond in 2018 with the understanding that flood-bond dollars would be distributed “equitably.” The approved language specifically required that. Since then, however, Commissioner Rodney Ellis has led a concerted effort to redefine the word equitably so that flood-bond dollars can be shifted disproportionately to low-income “communities of color.”

Recognized Definitions of Equitable and Equitably

Most people likely define equitably as fairly or impartially.

  • Webster’s Third International Dictionary defines it as equality – “without prejudice or favoritism.”
  • The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “unbiased, impartial.”
  • Roget’s Thesaurus lists two pages of synonyms, most centered around the idea of “a level playing field.”
  • Black’s Law Dictionary has pages of definitions, most centered around the idea of “fairness.”

Ellis’ Definition of Equity

Mr. Ellis defines equity as righting the wrongs of the past, especially in regard to racial injustice. His definition relates to fairness only if you define equity, not in terms of the present, but of the past. He talks a lot about reparations for slavery. However, he ignores:

I doubt this is what voters had in mind two years ago when 88% voted for the flood bond.

They more likely felt they would see their fair share of flood-bond projects going to their neighborhoods, not making up for social injustices.

Making up for for social injustices is NOT how the bond was sold. HCFCD identified projects in every watershed based on 22 community input meetings.

Task Force To Ensure “Equitable Resilience”

Judge Hidalgo, Commissioner Ellis and Commissioner Garcia intend to use this supposedly impartial task force to advise them on flood-control decisions. However, the flood-control experts and engineers don’t get to vote. They will only advise 17 political appointees. The appointees must have, according to the proposed bylaws, “a demonstrated knowledge of or interest in equitable approaches to flood resilience and the socioeconomic, demographic, and environmental factors that affect the relative resilience of communities in response to flooding.”

Of the 17 members:

  • At least two must represent low-income communities.
  • At least two must represent communities of color.
  • At least three must have expertise in flood resilience.
  • At least one will be a City of Houston representative with responsibilities related to resilience.

The task force will also include at least one person from each of eight competency areas, six of which are based on the idea of equity (See appendix A, page 12):

  1. Housing equity
  2. Health equity
  3. Equitable infrastructure
  4. Equitable urban planning and transportation
  5. Environmental equity
  6. Equity and social justice

The other two competencies are:

  1. Flood risk mitigation
  2. Authentic connections to local communities with “lived experience” (whatever that means).

A minimum 14 out of the 17 positions on the task force will ensure Hidalgo’s, Garcia’s and Ellis’ definitions of equity and resilience based on “social justice” are implemented.

Note that resilience, like equity, has become political code for programs that benefit primarily the socially vulnerable. (See the resilience study produced by the City of Houston.)

Double-Speak Definitions Enshrined in Bylaws

Article II (Definitions) Paragraph 3 even spells out what’s meant by the term “equitable resilience.” It “takes into account issues of social vulnerability,” say the bylaws.

The bylaws then go on to say equitable resilience “…starts from people’s own perception of their position within their human-environmental system and accounts for their realities and their need for a change of circumstance to avoid imbalances of power into the future.”

Talk about political double speak! What does that even mean?

I think they’re saying that decisions will be made on subjective, not objective, criteria.

Also note Definition #6 – Flood Resilience Projects. The word mitigation (as in flood mitigation) appears nowhere in the definition.

In fact, the phrase “flood mitigation” appears nowhere in the entire 12-page document. Neither does the word “equal.” However, resilience appears 63 times. But “resilience” never appears once in the bond language that voters approved.

Resilience, like equity, does not apply to the entire county. Most people probably see resilience as a positive word that helps everyone. It doesn’t. The Ellis/Hidalgo/Garcia definition helps only a subset of people.

More Double Speak

A footnote on page 3 says “It is not within the scope of the CFRTF to alter or re-prioritize 2018 flood bond projects, except that the CFRTF should evaluate and provide feedback on whether those projects are being implemented in accordance with the [Harris County Commissioners] court-approved equitable prioritization framework and schedule.”

In other words, the task force can only make sure the equity priorities that Ellis, Hidalgo and Garcia approved are being implemented. These aren’t advisors; they’re enforcers.

Troubling Questions

  • Why are technical experts on flood mitigation being replaced by “equity” experts?
  • Why is the judgment of experts on flood mitigation being replaced by political appointees who don’t represent the spectrum of views in Harris County?
  • Why are changes that could fundamentally alter the nature of government and the allocation of tax dollars being considered on an “emergency” agenda?
  • Why has the voter-approved definition of “equitable” been replaced by one that’s inequitable?
  • Why are hundreds of millions of tax dollars moving to Precincts One and Two, denying other precincts their fair share?
  • If the Community Flood Resilience Task Force is so important, why is it not being put on the ballot for November?

Of all these questions, perhaps the last is the most critical. Voters deserve a say in how their $2.5 billion is spent. Not just a subset of voters. All voters.

Please email the county judge (CRTF@cjo.hctx.net) before Tuesday’s meeting and demand that creation of the resilience task force be put on the ballot for November. We need to clear up any confusion about what we approved in the flood-bond referendum of 2018 and how voters want bond dollars allocated.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 8/9/2020

1076 Days after Hurricane Harvey

County Commissioners Add New Condition to Purchase of Perry Homes’ Woodridge Village

In Tuesday’s Harris County Commissioners Court meeting, while HCFCD Executive Director Russ Poppe was talking about buyouts, Precinct One Commissioner Rodney Ellis used the opportunity to go off on a rant about the County’s proposal to buy Woodridge Village from Perry Homes. The result: yet another condition added to the purchase.

City Must Now Cover Portion of Construction Cost, Too

The City of Houston now must come up with land or cash for part of the construction costs for any additional detention ponds built on Perry Homes’ property – not just the purchase price.

The actual amount would equal whatever the County contributes. For instance, if developing the property into a regional detention basin costs $20 million, and the county puts in $10 million, the City would need to put in $10 million also. But if either partner can find Federal or State funding to pay for part of the project, that amount would go down. For instance, if the the Feds or State put in 80% then the City and County would each pay 10%.

Other Conditions Remain the Same

The first two conditions remain the same:

  1. City must contribute land or cash worth half the purchase price.
  2. City must adopt County’s Atlas-14 provisions. Those would apply to the City’s Extra Territorial Jurisdiction (ETJ) as well as the City itself.

Raddick Predicts City Won’t Meet Conditions

Commissioner Raddick predicted there was no way the City would adopt the Atlas-14 requirements.

He also observed that the County would be forcing the City to commit to an expenditure of an unknown size. And that the City wouldn’t know the size for several months because the County has not yet drawn up plans for improvements.

For Elm Grove residents, this is especially worrisome. That’s because, by law, the City Council must approve every City expenditure over $50,000.

So basically, the County is asking for an unknown commitment. Meanwhile, the City cannot make such a commitment until it knows the exact amount. However, Commissioners did not discuss this dilemma in their debate.

Unanimous Vote to Add Extra Condition

The vote by commissioners on the three conditions was unanimous. The motion carried 5-0.

This hill becomes steeper to climb every week.

Perry Site Quiet for Last Two Days

Meanwhile, Jeff Miller reported today that no dump trucks were moving on the Perry Homes’ site. That may have been due to the rains last weekend that are still filling at least the one detention pond and likely filling the others too.

Video of the Commissioners Court meeting won’t be posted until tomorrow. I will link the relevant sections when video becomes available.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/20/2020

995 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 244 since Imelda