Tag Archive for: Harris County

“The Lady Doth Protest Too Much, Methinks”

Wayne Dolcefino, investigative journalist extraordinaire, has released another video about his and Jim McIngvale’s attempts to force Harris County to release public records pertaining to the 2020 election. Lina Hidalgo plays a starring role. And her performance reminds one of Shakespeare’s famous line from Hamlet, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” The line implies that someone who denies something too strongly may be hiding the truth.

Fighting Disclosure Before an Accusation Has Been Made

Neither Dolcefino nor McIngvale have accused Hidalgo of trying to unfairly alter the outcome of the election. They’re just trying to learn what happened.

Yet Hidalgo and her cronies have steadfastly refused to produce public records – records that could easily prove their innocence. Instead:

  • Hidalgo and her team use encrypted apps to communicate, a practice outlawed elsewhere.
  • They tried to charge tens of thousands of dollars to copy emails that should only take seconds.
  • They have redacted the records they do produce so heavily as to make them incomprehensible.
  • For instance, in a list of phone calls, they blacked out EVERY phone number.
Lina Hidalgo, Harris County Judge and star of “What’s wrong with Sunshine?”, Dolcefino’s new video about his quest for public records. Click image to see video.

The video’s title borrow’s from a saying by Louis Brandeis more than a hundred years ago, “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.”

Downward Spiral of Suspicion, Distrust, More Investigation

The loss of trust seems to have resulted in a downward spiral. No telling yet where it will end. But for those old enough to remember, the spectacle is like a rerun of the waning days of Watergate. The shriller President Richard Nixon’s denials became, the more journalists investigated his denials.

And like Nixon, Hidalgo and her courtiers now resort to lame ad hominem attacks, calling those seeking the truth “losers.”

It took two years to uncover the truth in the Watergate scandal. Ultimately, the relentless exposes and investigations ended with Nixon’s impeachment, resignation, and long, slow slide into irrelevance.

From Transparency Advocate to Stonewaller

Ironically, when first out of college, Hidalgo worked for a group called Internews, according to her Wikipedia page. Internews advocates for press freedom around the world. One of its main missions: “Holding governments accountable by supporting investigative journalism…”

Make sure you watch Dolcefino’s 10-minute video. The denials are revealing…methinks.

(Update: 2/18/2023) And lest you think this post is politically motivated by an election denier, check out this editorial in the Houston Chronicle. “Hidalgo has concluded that Mattress Mack’s request for records is hurting democracy,” they say. “The presumption of the Texas Public Information Act has long been that public records are public property and most should be accessible to the owners.”

The editorial continues, “Harris County had the option of transparency and chose obfuscation.” The Chronicle concludes, “Texans have a right to know what their government is doing, how their tax dollars are being spent, and yes, how their elections are being run. That right is under assault…”

Posted by Bob Rehak on 2/16/2023

1997 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.

County Outlines Plan for $750 Million in Flood-Mitigation Funds

Harris County Community Services Department (CSD) has finally shared a high-level summary of how it would spend $750 million in Hurricane Harvey Flood Mitigation Funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The plan, called a Method of Delivery (MOD), was submitted to the Texas General Land Office (GLO) in December for preliminary approval, but returned to the county in January for tweaks to make it HUD-compliant.

CSD’s presentation is informational; the Department is not yet seeking approval from Commissioner’s Court. But this will be the public’s first peak at CSD’s direction.

While the presentation predictably emphasizes support for low-to-moderate income and socially vulnerable groups, it also contains some surprises. For instance, it mentions supporting activist groups, but fails to mention protecting bridges, hospitals and schools.

I-69 repairs
Damage to I-69 bridge disrupted areas to the north for 11 months after Harvey.
Lone Star College
Harvey flooded 6 of 9 buildings at Lone Star College/Kingwood. Repairs cost $60 million and disrupted classes for more than a year.


George P. Bush, former GLO Commissioner, requested a $750 million allocation for Harris County from HUD in May of 2021. HUD formally approved that amount in March of 2022. But Harris County Commissioner’s Court didn’t approve the grant agreement until August 31, 2022. And CSD didn’t submit its plan to the GLO for review until late December 2022.

The CSD plan reflects both HUD’s mission and the requirements spelled out in the State’s Action Plan. However, the GLO required CSD to make some tweaks to the initial plan to make it HUD compliant. During the tweaking process, Commissioners replaced CSD Director Dr. Adrienne Holloway with a new Interim Director, Thao Costis, the department’s SIXTH leader under County Judge Lina Hidalgo in four years. Costis previously led a non-profit group in Houston that provided services to homeless people.

“These funds intend to mitigate and build resiliency against flood risks in the region.”

Harris County Community Services Department

The Department claims it conducted ample data analysis and public input on the MOD. It says constituents lobbied for prioritizing “(1) low- and moderate-income population, (2) social vulnerability, (3) total population, and (4) National Flood Insurance Program repetitive loss properties.”

However, the presentation does not specify whether:

  • Repetitive losses will be weighed against previous mitigation investments. Will an area that once had high repetitive losses, but which already received hundreds of millions of mitigation dollars, still be prioritized over other areas that have received no flood-mitigation money?
  • Severity of flooding will be considered. Will one inch of flooding in a low-income home count for more than ten feet of flooding in a middle-income home?
  • Threats to infrastructure will be addressed. For instance, the loss of interstate highway bridges, hospitals and schools.

There’s no measure of “current risk,” nothing that addresses “threats to life,” and nothing that balances impacts to the community vs. impacts to individuals…at least in the summary that CSD is now sharing.

Plagued by “Vague”

CSD claims it prioritizes flood control and drainage improvements, natural or green infrastructure, water and sewer facilities, provision of generators, buyouts, and planning activities. I say “claims” because CSD did not provide a list of projects with the presentation. Nor did it provide a matrix for scoring projects.

However, CSD did allude to the April 2020 Harris County Multi-Hazard Mitigation Action Plan which contained 834 action items. As of August 13, 2022, the County reported 9% of those completed.

The CSD presentation also referenced 2018-Flood-Bond Projects. But it’s not clear at this time if a potential project list goes beyond Hazard-Mitigation-Action-Plan Projects and Flood-Bond Projects … or even if there is a list. Nor does the presentation hint at which Haz Mit and Bond Projects would be included.

Finally, the summary makes no mention of any effort to ensure transparency and accountability. The public deserves to know where its money goes!

CSD says it would administer the $750 million grant and work with Harris County Flood Control District to “reduce flood risk and increase resiliency to future natural disasters for Harris County’s nearly 5 million residents.”

But we still don’t know who will get how much for what. Nor do we know what the expected benefits will be.


Though only Harris County and the Flood Control District are eligible to receive HUD’s $750 million, CSD states it will partner with other entities, including cities, within Harris County, that have “shovel-ready” flood mitigation projects. “Additionally, Harris County could sign [emphasis added] a Memorandum of Understanding with the Flood Control District to increase the amount of funding devoted to the 2018 Flood Control Bond,” says CSD. In other words, the County might send some of its share to HCFCD. But there’s no guarantee.

Extension Requested

CSD’s current agreement with GLO requires expending all grant funds by August 2027. But CSD says it will request a 3-year extension.

Splitting $750 Million

The CSD presentation shows that Harris County Flood Control will get only $326.25 million from the $750 million. The rest will go to Harris County. Out of the other $423.75 million, the county plans to spend $97.5 million on administration and planning. That would leave both Flood Control and Harris County with $326.25 million for actual mitigation work.

Word on the street in the engineering community is that the Harris County Engineer’s Office will handle the County’s portion of the money. Adrian Garcia appointees lead the Engineering Department and that would help Garcia influence where the money goes.

Inconsistencies, Typos Raise Questions

CSD’s presentation boils over with contradictions and typos that don’t speak well for “attention to detail” in a grant where $750 million is at stake. For instance, the plan says:

  • Projects will help the county’s entire population, but it prioritizes projects in low- and moderate-income, socially vulnerable areas. 
  • CSD needs a 3-year extension … for shovel-ready projects.
  • The County will partner with other entities within Harris County, but cities and towns get $0.

I can’t wait to hear the explanations…especially how the money will help neighborhoods outside the Beltway given inside-the-Beltway priorities.

Nor can I wait to hear whether the cities in Harris County rebel against a plan that seemingly guarantees them nothing.

The presentation literally underscores CSD’s priorities:

“Once the MOD is approved by GLO, Harris County MOD entities reserve the right to partner with local governmental entities and special districts in the county to perform eligible projects, including but not limited to cities and Flood Control District. Harris County may also partner with local non-profit agency [sic] regarding public service activities that support mitigation and resiliency, particularly in areas were [sic] drainage or other mitigation activities are affecting low-to-moderate income households [sic] stability.”

Yikes! Three typos in one sentence!

Next Steps

This presentation only informs Commissioner’s Court and the Public about the grant’s status. CSD will not ask for approval of any projects on Tuesday. That will come later. The next steps include:

  • Public comments
  • Determining how to partner with other entities (Still, after almost 2 years)
  • Preparation of final MOD that incorporates public comments and responses
  • Approval of final MOD by County Commissioners (2/21/23)
  • GLO review and approval (March/April)
  • After GLO approval:
    • “Call for information of projects” (whatever that is)
    • Submit project packets to Commissioners Court
    • Submit project packets to GLO
    • Start projects (Fall 2023) six years after Hurricane Harvey!

It’s item 381 on the agenda.

Commissioner’s Court begins at 10AM on Tuesday. If you wish to make a public comment, here’s how to sign up to speak.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 1/28/2023

1978 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.

So Far, Early Voting Turnout Dismal

Early voting turnout this year rates a D for “dismal.” At the close of polls on Wednesday 11/2/22, only 566,006 of the 2.57 million registered voters in Harris County had voted. That’s 22% with just Thursday and Friday left for early voting. By comparison, during the 2018 mid-terms (the last comparable election), 63% of Harris County voters voted early. With two days left in early voting, we can make up some ground, but not that much.

Kingwood Slightly Better than Rest of Harris County

The nightly totals show that the Kingwood Community Center has had the fourth highest turnout in Harris County so far this year.

Yet Kingwood has had only 14,000 residents vote out of the 44,000 registered in 77339 and 77345. That’s 31.8 percent so far, and much better than this year’s county-wide average of 22%. However, Kingwood’s 31.8% is still only half of the county’s 63% early-voting rate in the 2018 mid-terms.

Total 2018 Turnout Doubled Countywide Turnout to Date

During all 13 days of voting in the 2018 mid-terms (early and Election Day), 1,219,871 voted compared to 566,006 so far this year. So, 2018 turnout more than doubled turnout to date in this election.

To equal 2018 turnout, we need as many people to vote in the three days left as have already voted in the last ten!

And don’t think we’ll make it all up on Election Day. In the last mid-term, almost 63% of those who voted voted early.

So far this year, we’re about 250,000 votes short of 2018 early-voting totals. We only have two days of early voting left and the County is averaging a little more than 50,000 votes per day so far. So, even if we get another 100,000 in the last two days, we’ll still be about 150,000 early votes short of 2018.

To put that in perspective, Ed Emmett lost to Lina Hidalgo in 2018 by 20,000 votes county wide. And 30,000 people have yet to vote in Kingwood alone.

And that doesn’t even include Huffman, Spring, Humble, Atascocita, or Crosby.

A Chance to Regain Fairness on Commissioners Court

If you vote in one race in this election, vote for Republican Alexandra Mealer instead of Lina Hidalgo. Mealer offers a chance to get better balance on Commissioners Court and some measure of fairness in flood-mitigation expenditures. Right now, Democrats have a 3-2 majority and consistently vote as a block in favor of their own constituents.

Since Harvey, Harris County has spent $1.6 billion on flood mitigation projects. As of today, Harris County Flood Control District shows $234 million in capital improvement construction projects underway. NOT ONE is in the Lake Houston Area. Of the 20 active projects, 18 have gone to Democrat Commissioners Garcia and Ellis. The two Republican-leaning precincts have one each.

Screen capture from HCFCD.

Yet we had the highest flooding in the county during Harvey.

worst first
Chart showing feet above flood stage of 33 gages of misc. bayous in Harris County during Harvey.

And we’ve been one of the most heavily flood-damaged areas in Harris County dating back more than 40 years.

From MAAPnext.org. Cumulative flood losses since 1979.

Yet under Hidalgo all the money goes elsewhere in the name of “worst first.”

To All Who Flooded – Three More Days Left

Ten days of voting are behind us. Three are left: the rest of today, Friday and next Tuesday.

Get out the vote, folks! Walk your block. Knock on doors. Forward this link to everyone you know. And remember this dismal turnout the next time you flood. This election is the best chance you have to reduce flood risk to your family and property.

The Mealer/Hidalgo County Judge race is buried halfway down the ballot in the middle of judicial races – between family and civil court judges.

While you’re at it, remember the three county bond issues totaling $1.2 billion also on the ballot. And remember that the Dems already voted to distribute this money unequally, favoring Precincts One and Two by a wide margin. But you won’t see that on the ballot language. So much for transparency!

To find your sample ballot and the nearest voting location, go to HarrisVotes.com.

Yes, you will have to wait in line. But while you’re waiting, remember how long you’ve waited for flood mitigation help that has yet to arrive!

Looking east from the south side of the West Fork of the San Jacinto during Harvey

Posted on Bob Rehak on 11/3/22

1892 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.

Lessons from Florida and Ian for Harris County

Best-selling Florida author/journalist Craig Pittman penned a poignant post for the Florida Phoenix about the state’s problems evacuating coastal communities before hurricanes. While the article uses evacuation to make a point, it’s really about a political culture that permits developments that put people’s lives at risk. It’s a cautionary tale for Texas, especially Harris County where flooding is such a huge issue and where the current leadership seems to have lost interest in mitigating it.

Ignoring Evacuation Standards

The title of Pittman’s article is “Development on Florida’s barrier islands made Ian evacuation virtually impossible.”

The story traces the approval of a high-rise development on a Florida barrier island that sought building permits, despite warnings that population density would lead to a 96-hour evacuation time.

Florida has a 16-hour evacuation standard. But only 9 of the state’s 45 counties can meet it. 

Florida Phoenix article by Craig Pittman

A loophole in Florida law lets developers mitigate evacuation delays with storm shelters. “They can do that by building new storm shelters, donating land for storm shelters, or donating money for storm shelters. In other words, it’s all about shelters, not about making it any easier to get off the island,” says Pittman.

“Dial a Prayer” for Buyers after Rebuilding

Then along came a hurricane named Ian – almost a Category 5 storm. Lee County (three barrier islands) didn’t issue evacuation orders until 24-hours in advance and at least 119 people died. 

Pittman ends with this sage advice regarding rebuilding in the same place. “You know the elected officials will be bowing to whatever those developers want. So, here’s my suggestion. They should approve building in those areas that Ian destroyed, but with one requirement. Every single would-be buyer should get a photo showing exactly what that spot looked like after Ian hit.”

“Then, if they still want to buy there, give them the phone number for Dial-A-Prayer. They’re going to need it, because if another Ian hits, the only one who can help them is Jesus.”

Similarities with Texas: Ill-Advised Political Decisions

Houston had a disastrous experience with evacuation during 180 mph Hurricane Rita. Evacuation attempts were tied to 107 deaths of Houston-area residents alone. Now, we don’t even try to evacuate from wind anymore. But as I read Pittman’s article, I thought of posts I have written about our ill-advised development practices that put people in harm’s way or that contribute to flooding. Some of the highlights include:

Light pole along evacuation route for Hurricane Harvey. A proposed high-rise development (that failed) would have had thousands trying to evacuate through this area. Photo by Jim Balcom.

How soon we forget!

Lessons for Harris County

Five years after Harvey, we’ve squandered an opportunity. Articles like those above are becoming more common, not less. As fear of flooding has receded, so has the zeal to hold developers to higher standards. And the pace of flood-mitigation efforts has slowed. We’ve squandered our best chance – perhaps ever – to address flooding.

For example, fourteen months after the Texas General Land Office notified Harris County that it would get $750 million to mitigate flooding, the County has yet to submit a plan for how it would spend the money. 

In fact, the county has yet to identify a single project in the plan. Lina Hidalgo, the Harris County judge, gave the project to her Community Services department instead of Flood Control. So far, Community Services has only identified a process for determining the plan. The department is still waiting on “direction from leadership” to identify projects that add up to $750 million. 

Duh! Did someone think of listing all the unfunded flood-bond projects? This is what I mean about the loss of zeal on the part of the county leader. 

The Public-Safety Threat and What to Do About It

Potential flooding is as much of a public-safety threat as crime. Harvey stole $125 billion from people and businesses. That’s more than $30,000 for every person in Harris County. It’s time we took flooding seriously again. We need to regain our sense of urgency about flood-reduction efforts. That’s why ReduceFlooding has endorsed Alexandra del Moral Mealer for County Judge. She is laser-focused on the issues that matter most in Harris County.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/18/22

1876 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.

Response to Concerns About Flood Mitigation Benefits Index (Part II)

The letter below expresses disagreement with two recent ReduceFlooding.com posts about a proposed Flood Mitigation Benefits Index. It is from Michael Bloom, P.E. While I disagree with almost all of his claims, I am reprinting his letter verbatim because I encourage healthy debate. Compare the posts and draw your own conclusions. – Bob Rehak, Host, ReduceFlooding.com.

This is Part II of my two-part article providing responses to concerns raised by my colleague on the Community Flood Resilience Task Force (CFRTF)Mr. Bob Rehak about the FMBI. If you missed Part I, you can read it here.

Why are we Using the Index When it Produces Inconsistent Results that are Not Intuitive? Mr. Rehak provides an example that holds the current population and current risk the same, but changes the total prior investment amounts, as illustrated in the table below:

(% Annual Chance)
Area A100,0005,000102
Area B1,000,0005,0001020

Mr. Rehak looks at these results and writes: “So, spending more money to get the same results increases benefits? Shouldn’t it be the opposite? That’s both depressing and confusing. You spend 10X the money; flood risk remains the same; and the “benefit” increases!!!??? You would think spending less money to achieve identical results would be more beneficial. It certainly is for taxpayers.”

Everyone should be depressed and confused by this result if the FMBI was illustrating the results for the same location. Mr. Rehak appears to make that inference when he writes: “spending more money to get the same results increases benefits.”

But Area A and Area B are two different locations. The FMBI is just telling us what the current conditions are at two different locations in the county. One location had 10 times the prior investment than the other – but both locations still have the same current risk.

Worse, in this case, BOTH locations have risks that are ten times the current standard of care for new developments – which require structures to have less than a 1% annual chance of inundation. Clearly, both locations need more flood risk investment. The FMBIs of 2 and 20 both are extremely low, meaning they need help, regardless of the prior investments. A high FMBI indicates that no additional help is needed in that location. A low FMBI indicates that additional help is needed in that location.

The table included in the middle of my February 17, 2022, post entitled “How Should We Decide Where to Invest in Flood Risk Reduction?” presents additional examples showing how the FMBI changes from location to location with only one changed variable. It also provides narrative explanations of each sequence. Notice how the index values are greater than 3,000 (sometimes greater than 20,000 or 100,000) in locations where the current annual chance of inundation is less than 1%? Again, a high FMBI means we don’t need to make more investments in that location. A low FMBI means that location needs more help.

Isn’t the FMBI Trying to Prove Inequitable Investments in Flood Risk Reduction? To some extent, partially, yes, it is. This was always an important aspect of the FMBI, when it was originally proposed as the “Flood Benefits Index (FBI)” by Dr. Erthea Nance and Iris Gonzalez in May 2021. I have continued to advocate for its use as one of four input variables we should use to create our county-wide “heat map.” This is explained in more detail in my other article. Mr. Rehak is concerned about the taxpayer. I am also. I don’t think the taxpayers of Harris County should pay for flood risk reduction projects in areas that already have a high FMBI. Said another way, it is a waste of taxpayer money to invest in additional flood risk reduction projects in areas currently with less than a 1% annual chance of inundation.

Isn’t the FMBI Measuring per capita Investment Associated with a Certain Level of Flood Risk and Mistakenly Calling that a “Benefit?” Mr. Rehak writes: “The more people you help with any given sum, the more the benefit goes down. Voila! That makes it look as though the highly populated watersheds (that have received the overwhelming majority of prior investments) have received little benefit. And that may be the point of this formula. It will send even more money to those same areas.”

This interpretation again seems to stem, I think, from Mr. Rehak’s belief that the index will be used to compare the same location at different times – before and after various investments. This is not the proposed use of the index. The proposal is to use the index to describe the current conditions at all locations in the county at the same time.

I’m not sure I understand Mr. Rehak’s concern about the index being a per capita value. The more people in an area who benefit from prior investments the better. Wouldn’t we want to invest in areas that help the most people?

The blue-shaded area of the table in my earlier post illustrates how population differences between locations will change the index value among those locations. For convenience I’ve repeated the table below:

Hypothetical examples.

Mr. Rehak accurately notes that the index goes up in locations with fewer people and down in locations with more people; this will incentivize planners to direct future investments in those higher population areas. He writes: “The more people you help with any given sum, the more the benefit goes down.” This is true, but Mr. Rehak’s statement doesn’t connect it to the past and it omits how the index will be normalized by area size. Index values will be calculated for similarly sized areas. This will allow an apples-to-apples comparison of per capita investments. The index is intended to incentivize future investments in areas with more people in cases where risk and prior investments are equal because we want to help as many people as possible.

By Michael Bloom, P.E.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/10/2022

1776 Days since Hurricane Harvey

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Response to Concerns About Flood Mitigation Benefits Index (Part I)

The letter below expresses disagreement with two recent ReduceFlooding.com posts about a proposed Flood Mitigation Benefits Index. It is from Michael Bloom, P.E. While I don’t agree with all of his claims, I am reprinting his letter verbatim because I encourage healthy debate. Compare the posts and draw your own conclusions. – Bob Rehak, Host, ReduceFlooding.com.

One of my colleagues on the Harris County Community Flood Resilience Task Force (CFRTF) – Mr. Bob Rehak, as well as Commissioner Tom Ramsey, P.E., and others have asked me about the proposed Flood Mitigation Benefits Index (FMBI). After hearing some of the questions, and reading two recent blog posts by Mr. Rehak at Reduce Flooding, one on July 2, 2022 – Questionable Validity of Flood-Mitigation Equity Formula and on July 6, 2022 – Formula for Allocating Future Flood-Mitigation Funding Deceives, I figured I should provide a more detailed explanation of the index and directly address some of Mr. Rehak’s concerns.

In addition to getting to know Mr. Rehak while attending CFRTF meetings, Mr. Rehak and I have sat down, in person, a few times since both being appointed to the Task Force in order to discuss difficult issues, in particular the FMBI. I appreciate his candor and our ability to respectfully debate things – one might say – politely argue. This post (and Part II) are extensions of those discussions so others can benefit from the exchange.

I first described the FMBI in an article I published on February 17, 2022, entitled “How Should We Decide Where to Invest in Flood Risk Reduction?” The FMBI is explained about halfway down the post. To recap, the index is equal to:

Variation on formula presented to Commissioners Court on 6/28/22. It omits the word “Density” after population. See discussion below.

The index is intended to be calculated for all locations in the county at one particular time to help define the baseline conditions. The index will be used to help plan where additional flood risk reduction investments should be made. An area with a high FMBI has already received higher per capita investments, has a low risk, and therefore doesn’t need additional help. An area with a low FMBI has received little per capita prior investments, has a high risk, and therefore does need additional help.

Responses to Specific Concerns

Which Type of Project Costs Are Included? Does including construction costs, but excluding design, right-of-way acquisition, and operational costs skew the data? Since this is an index that will be calculated for all areas of our county, costs included or excluded will not adversely impact the results.  Using the index to compare conditions in various areas within our 1,700 square mile county will still be valid if the index is calculated in all areas of the county the same way. This is an example of “normalizing” the data. It allows for an apples-to-apples comparison among and between locations. It will help us pick where to invest in the future. Since land acquisition, design, and other non-construction costs are often a similar percentage of the construction costs, their exclusion from all index calculations will keep things consistent and unskewed.

Which Agency Investments are Included? Will excluding investments from Harris County Commissioner Precincts, cities, municipal utility districts, and other entities skew the data. I actually agree with this, the investment dollars will be slightly low, but only by a little bit. I anticipate that the total amount of flood risk reduction investment dollars made by these entities will be very, very, very small compared to those made by the Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) and the Civil Works program of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). Because of this difference in the size of these investments, I anticipate that the impact on the index calculation will be negligible. HCFCD has agreed to provide their investments from 2000 to 2020. Dr. Denae King and I have submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) to identify all flood risk reduction investments going back to 1937 – the year the HCFCD was created to serve as the “local partner” to help secure federal investments through the USACE. These requests exclude repair and recovery dollars since those expenditures don’t permanently reduce flood risks.

What Risk is Included in the Index? Does the risk used in the calculation reflect the risk before or after mitigation efforts? The risk value used is the current risk. It is the risk remaining after accounting for all risk reduction investments “counted” in the numerator. The index reflects one point in time and should be recalculated every five years or ten years, much like the Social Vulnerability Index published by the Centers for Disease Control. The population and risk values will be based on the same snapshot in time. The investment value will be based on the sum of all investments made prior to that moment in time (adjusted for inflation).

Why Include Investments Back to 1937? Why consider investments made in areas of the county that were undeveloped back then? Won’t this radically skew the comparisons? Including all investments back to 1937 is vitally important because the vast majority of the flood risk reduction investments made in the county were made by the federal government through the Civil Works program of the USACE. HCFCD was CREATED in 1937 to be the local sponsor for USACE projects. Addicks, Barker, Buffalo Bayou, Brays, White Oak, Sims, Clear Creek, and many other projects, many of them initiated prior to 2000, all significantly reduced flood risks for structures that exist today. Even if the project was initially constructed in an undeveloped area, it still benefits structures that were built later and that exist today. That’s why the investment amount is a cumulative value (inflation-adjusted) and the risk value is today’s value. This approach won’t radically skew comparisons because all three of the values will be determined for all parts of the county in the same way.

Why only Consider Mitigation Investments? Doesn’t flood risk depend on many factors – not just mitigation investments? Yes, current flood risk depends on many factors, including development rules, building codes, finished floor elevations, development locations, and improvements to our understanding of rainfall statistics. The risk value in the index is not intended to measure the risk reduction obtained from prior investments. The risk value in the index is intended to present the current risk. The current risk reflects all factors, including prior mitigation investments, development, rainfall, and everything else. The risk value is not a measure of the change in risk, it is a statement of the current risk, no matter the cause or the contributing factors.

Why Use US Census Tracts? Don’t they change over time? US Census Tracts do periodically change, however, that will not diminish the value of the index. US Census Tracts are areas that can more closely match the scale of typical flood risk reduction projects; watersheds are too large to be informative; and smaller areas would be too complex for our planning work.

Harris County outlined in red, census tracts in blue. Map supplied by Michael Bloom.

The originally proposed FMBI used the population density in the denominator. This, admittedly, would cause issues when comparing index values between large US Census Tracts and small US Census Tracts. To address this issue, the CFRTF and the Infrastructure Resilience Team (IRT) have agreed to proceed with the calculation using just population. This will make the index a per capita value. Prorating investment amounts and risk to each Census Tract can be reasonably accomplished using area ratios or other methods. This will be useful as the CFRTF and IRT work together to prepare the 2050 Flood Resilience Plan.

How Can We Use Information From 1937 When the County is So Different Now? How can this approach work without considering the construction of Lake Houston in 1954, the interstate system, Beltway 8, and the conversion of farmland and prairies into entire communities? The risk value captures all of this. The risk value used in the index reflects the current risk of any part of the county. It will be based on state-of-the-art modeling being conducted as part of the MAAPNext project. The current risk is the current risk, regardless of past changes in the watershed.

Why are we Using the FMBI Formula to Reduce Flood Damage when it Doesn’t Measure Flood Damage? The FMBI is not a tool to directly reduce flood damage and it’s not designed to measure flood damage. The FMBI is a tool to better understand past investment patterns and current risk. The FMBI is proposed to be one of four datasets used to create a baseline conditions heat map. The other three under consideration include current inundation risk, social vulnerability index, and community resources. The baseline conditions heat map will then be used to figure out WHERE flood risk reduction and flood damage reduction projects should be located. 

How Can the FMBI Compare Benefits  without Using Before and After Comparisons? The index is not intended to compare the flood mitigation benefits of the same location at different times. The index is intended to show how different locations across the county at the same time vary when compared to each other. This will help us identify WHERE we have neighborhoods that desperately need help and WHERE we have neighborhoods that don’t.

By Michael Bloom, P.E.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/9/22

1775 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Part II will be posted tomorrow. If you have thoughts you would like to share on this subject, please send them via the contact form on this website.

RV Resort Still Leaking Stormwater into County Park

The detention basin at the Laurel Springs RV Resort was supposed to have been a dry-bottom pond. Despite one of the driest springs on record, it’s still holding water. And it’s still leaking into Harris County Precinct 3’s Edgewater Park. Despite:

History of Discharges

The leak in question is in the exact place where contractors dug a trench through the south wall of the detention pond. They discharged silt that spread out for hundreds of feet into the wetlands of the park. Then they laid pipes in the trench and covered them up.

But somehow silty, oily stormwater still seems to be escaping into the wetlands from where the pipes were.

Photo taken 5/15/22. Leak in same area where trench and pipes were.
Close up cropped from shot above. Note ripples on rushing water.
Same area photographed again on 5/22/22.
Close up cropped from 5/22/22 shot. Again note running water and oily film on it.

One wonders why the pumps in the approved drains are still not working. See bottom center in photo below.

Laurel Springs RV leaking pond
Wide shot taken from over Laurel Springs Lane on 5/22/22 showing location of approved drain (bottom center) and extent of construction.
Forms being laid for next concrete pour. Will there be enough space between RV slots to open doors? Picture taken from over railroad tracks.

Obviously, from all the standing water, they still have a little work left to do on drainage.

Still No Replacement Trees Planted

Photo taken on 5/18/2022 showing swath of trees that contractors cut in county park (left).

The developer also has a lot of work to do replanting trees. Note the wide swath outside the fence in the photo above that stretches for approximately 750 feet. That’s where the contractor destroyed trees in the county park.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/22/2022

1727 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.

Editorial: “Chaos” in Harris County Government

Two weeks ago, I wrote a post about the brain drain at the highest levels in Harris County government, and its impact on productivity and service delivery. Sixteen departments have had a total of 34 leaders under Lina Hidalgo.

Since then, dozens of people have contacted me describing the impact of turnover on programs and service.

One manager used the word “chaos” to describe the environment since Lina Hidalgo took office. All of the sources for this post have requested anonymity because they fear reprisals – a chilling comment in itself.

No doubt, many good, talented, hard-working people remain in Harris County government, but the problems described below make it harder for them to do their jobs.

Unexplained Changes in Direction

One person told me about a new Harris County juvenile center that was being planned, due to overcrowding and substandard living conditions at the old center. Then one day, “…like out of nowhere, we got a sense that the whole project was canceled. We tried to explain how far along the project was and why it was necessary. And they didn’t care. It was just like, ‘Well, we [the judge’s office] are not going in that direction.’” The source added, “We had a lot of things in motion that just came to a halt.”

The new center never did get built. It had reportedly gone all the way through the design phase, so the unexplained cancellation was costly.

Not So Resilient Resiliency Plan

Another person mentioned a county-wide resiliency plan. The heads of multiple Harris County departments had worked on it for months. At the eleventh hour, people in Hidalgo’s office with no experience rewrote everything that people with experience had developed. “It just changed completely,” said one person involved.

Transportation Plan Stalled

Yet another person told me, “In Hidalgo’s mind, if you’re building a road, you’re doing taxpayers a disservice. Philosophically, she’s into multi-modal transportation. But a lot of times, she misses the point that the county is only allowed to do what the state of Texas allows it to do. That’s where they’ve had more problems. Their thought process a lot of times was, ‘Well, if they want to sue us for that, then they can.’ We’ve seen that play out several times.” 

Other sources told me about progress on various components of Harris County’s Transportation Plan. 

  • There has also been little to no movement on the county’s Multimodal, Major Thoroughfare plan to improve connectivity.
  • The Equity Study has stalled. So has a framework to implement it. There has been no movement on equity in transportation.
  • Likewise, there has been little to no movement on Vision Zero, the county’s effort to eliminate traffic fatalities
  • Nothing notable has happened lately on Low Impact Development, Green Infrastructure, or other environmentally-friendly projects.

Lack of Clarity, Direction

Another major problem contributing to the chaotic work environment: lack of clarity and direction. One mid-level manager told me, “We would often be moving in a direction when everything kind of went on pause because we were waiting to see which direction to go. But we couldn’t ever narrow down a direction. It felt as if, in every single Commissioners Court meeting, we spent all day watching mommy and daddy fight. Even among the Democrats.”

Lack of Attention to Operational Details

Former managers of various Harris County departments also complained about lack of attention to operational details. 

“Ellis’ office and the Judge’s office would work together to develop these big picture concepts of where we were going. But it was never clear how we would get there,” said one person.

“We’d sit there and go, ‘Well, that’s great. But you didn’t set up any funding for it. For example, we talked about big sweeping programs like MWBE – the Minority/Women-owned Business Enterprise program. That was four years ago and it’s still not off the ground.”

Hiring People Without Relevant Experience

They hired Pamela Chan to set up the new Harris County Department of Economic Equity and Opportunity. According to one person I talked to, Chan was a “a great academic,” but had no real-world, operational MWBE experience. Another said, “the guidance and support that Chan got was like almost nil and then she’d get beat up at court.” She soon left. That department has had two executive directors in a little more than a year. 

Universal Services, the County’s information technology (IT) department, has the same problem. Its leader, Major General Rick Noriega has no IT background. Think what would happen if you put a computer programmer with no military experience in charge of a tank battalion. You’d probably have a high casualty rate. And that’s exactly what happened in Universal Services. 

100% of Group Heads Leave Within 17 Months

According to many of his employees, Noriega’s lack of IT understanding contributed to high turnover beneath him at multiple levels. And that rapidly compromised the integrity of systems. 

Noriega also pushed out people with excellent professional credentials and replaced them with political appointees in many cases.

Not long after Noriega took over the department, he lost his Chief Administrative Officer, Chief Operating Officer, Chief Technology Officer, and Chief of Cybersecurity (twice). 

The department also lost 100% of its group directors beneath them and approximately one third of its employees in 17 months. 

So many employees have left that the department doesn’t even put names on org charts anymore. 

Incomprehensible Org Chart Without Names Revised More than 30 Times

In fact, the department doesn’t even call organization charts ‘org charts’ anymore. It refers to them as its “ecosystem.” See below.

Harris County Universal Services Ecosystem Chart, Revision #25. For a high resolution, full-size PDF click here.

At this point, the chart above has reportedly gone through more than 30 revisions under Noriega. Yet multiple sources told me, “No one understands it.”

Toxic Work Environment Accelerates Already High Turnover

The work environment in Universal Services has become so toxic according to sources that approximately one third of the department has left in 17 months and the rate of attrition is reportedly accelerating. 

Universal Services org charts updated the day before Commissioners Court appointed Noriega the permanent department head show everyone who left since his arrival. The source told me that some positions have turned over more than once. So this 12-page chart understates the numbers involved. It shows that at least 134 people have left since Noriega assumed command. That’s out of approximately 400 to 450 total employees. The highlighted names represent people who left the organization in the last 17 months.

One third of a workforce turning over would not be surprising in fast food. But these are professional jobs with highly skilled people doing complex work that few understand.

Noriega reportedly tried to dismiss the turnover. But significantly, 100% of his group directors left, leaving much of the department rudderless, especially since Noriega did not have an IT background himself.

Page 2 of 12-page Harris County Universal Services Org Chart as of 9/21/22. Highlighted group directors have left. To see turnover at lower levels, click here.

Most employers, especially in government, try to hold attrition to 10% or less. High turnover disrupts service. It also costs time and money. This survey found that replacing workers costs an average of 33% of their yearly salaries.

If that percentage holds true in IT, losing one third of your workforce would cost one third of your payroll. 

Self-Inflicted Damage

Some damage has been self-inflicted. While most IT companies let employees work remotely, Noriega forces managers to come into the office. This policy goes against the industry norm and has reportedly contributed to several of the departures at the managerial level. 

“It’s Scary.”

One former IT employee told me Universal Services has refilled so many positions with inexperienced people that “They can’t even support the simple stuff. It’s scary.” This person called the replacements “Garcia’s puppets.” 

Commissioner Adrian Garcia recommended Noriega for the job. Another Garcia loyalist, James Henderson, is Universal Services new Deputy Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer. They have reportedly replaced many departing employees with people loyal to Garcia.

Can It Be Saved?

When the department’s crucial JWEB program went down recently, IT staff reportedly worked 8 hours on and 4 hours off around the clock trying to restore the system. But they couldn’t get it back up. So, hundreds of criminal suspects didn’t receive probable cause hearings in time and had to be released.

A former manager in the department told me, “I don’t think enough meat is left on the bone to fix what’s going on there.”

Harris County’s annual budget next year will exceed $3.5 billion. We’re one third of the way through a $5 billion flood bond. And these are the custodians of our tax dollars.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/1/2022

1706 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 Making Another Attempt to Shift Flood Mitigation Funds

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

Key Concerns About Proposal

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

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

Proposal #1:

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


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

Proposal #2:

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


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

Proposal #3:

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


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

How To Be Heard

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

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

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

Posted by Bob Rehak on 1/19/2022

1604 Days since Hurricane Harvey

GLO Extends Deadline for Harvey Homeowner Assistance Applications

The original deadline for Hurricane Harvey Homeowner Assistance applications has been extended from this Friday to New Year’s Eve at 5 P.M. Applications do not have to be completed by then, just started by then. So if you still hope to receive aid, move quickly. Money is running out and eligible applications will be prioritized based on who applied first.

The process involves a large number of documents and complex rules that govern eligibility. Here is the full text of this morning’s press release from the GLO. It includes information on where to apply.

What remained of a home washed downstream during Harvey. Photo by Dan Monks.

AUSTIN — The Texas General Land Office (GLO) has extended the deadline to submit applications for the Homeowner Assistance Program (HAP) to 5 p.m. Dec. 31, 2021. All potential applicants must submit draft applications by the deadline to be considered for eligibility so long as funding is available.

We encourage the community to remember that applications do not need to be fully complete to be submitted. Once application intake concludes, additional program resources will be dedicated to processing applicants for eligibility, through the permitting process and into construction. Applications can be submitted even if documentation is missing as HAP applicant coordinators continue to help applicants who are missing documentation.

The HAP regional offices will remain open, and processing of applications will continue indefinitely until program funds are fully expended. Applications will be considered for award on a first-come, first-served basis, according to the priorities outlined in the Regional Housing Guidelines.

Submitting a complete application does not guarantee eligibility nor funding availability, but applicants must submit a complete application by the deadline to be potentially considered for assistance.

Those residing inside the Houston city limits should apply at recovery.texas.gov/hap/houston, while non-Houston residents of Harris County should apply at recovery.texas.gov/hap/harriscounty. New applicants can also call the toll-free intake center line at 1-866-317-1998.

Harris County and the City of Houston received direct allocations of funding for residents in their jurisdictions. Applicants who previously applied to and are receiving assistance from Harris County and the City of Houston directly should continue to work with their program representatives.

In the City of Houston, applications being processed for eligibility already outnumber available funds, but funds remain available in non-Houston Harris County areas. HAP continues to take waitlist applications in Houston in case additional funding becomes available.

Waitlisted applications will be reviewed for eligibility in the order received based on their submission date, should additional funding be approved. Applications that are started, but not yet submitted by 5 p.m. on Dec. 31, 2021, cannot be considered for assistance.

Thus far, in all 49 counties eligible for Community Development Block Grants for Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) funding from U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the GLO has approved nearly 6,900 applications for construction, with about 850 homes currently under construction and more than 4,000 completed with keys in the hands of homeowners.

The GLO continues processing completed applications with the expectation of rebuilding up to 10,000 homes total for those needing assistance with available funds, with approximately 3,000 of those homes expected to be rebuilt in Harris County and the City of Houston.

Individuals affected by Hurricane Harvey may qualify for assistance through the Homeowner Assistance Program if:

  • They owned their home
  • It was damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Harvey
  • It was their primary residence at the time of the storm
  • Other eligibility factors also apply.

The program offers qualified homeowners assistance to repair, rehabilitate or rebuild homes damaged by Hurricane Harvey. Potential applicants should review the Homeowner Assistance Program Checklist to have all applicable documents ready prior to applying.

Interested homeowners can visit recovery.texas.gov/hap/houston or recovery.texas.gov/hap/harriscounty to find more information.

– End of Release –

For More Information About Homeowner Assistance Applications

The GLO’s main Homeowner Assistance Program website – https://recovery.texas.gov/hap – also provides links to these important documents:

Applications, including all necessary documentation, must be completed and submitted BEFORE the GLO and its partners will begin processing it for eligibility. Each application submitted must be individually evaluated to determine eligibility. If applicants or potential applicants have questions, please contact 346-222-4686 or 1-866-317-1998 (toll free).

Posted by Bob Rehak on 11/15/2021 based on a Texas GLO press release.

1539 Days since Hurricane Harvey