Higher Ground

Adrian Garcia’s Plan to Protect Our Families and Homes from Flooding in Precinct 2

Harris County politicians are making big promises in the wake of Hurricane Harvey — but they won’t commit to accountability measures to make sure those promises are kept.

“Trust us” isn’t good enough anymore – not after our current Precinct 2 commissioner failed to act after two 500-year floods in the two years leading up to Harvey. It’s too little, too late and too self-serving.

There is a better way to get to higher ground.

Precinct 2 residents are among the most humble and hardworking people in Harris County. But too many are among the most challenged by flooding and their long-delayed recovery.

That’s why Precinct 2 needs a new commissioner who is on our side, who is in our community every day and fighting every day in county government to protect our families from flooding.

The first step is to take the politics out of flood protection and make decisions that are equitable, informed by our region’s leading experts and stand up to public scrutiny.

Adrian Garcia’s plan for flood protection will:

  • Require equity and fairness in county decisions that impact Precinct 2
  • Ensure transparency and accountability through citizen oversight and public input
  • Use the most advanced approaches — and guidance from our region’s best experts — to inform project selection, policy decisions and resource allocation
  • Prioritize basic hurricane preparedness actions that Precinct 2 should be taking now for both current and future hurricane seasons

A Big Problem: No one at the county is fighting for us

Precinct 2 has the greatest need:

  • Waters from every major Harris County watershed drain through Precinct 2 on the way to Galveston Bay and the Gulf.
  • Precinct 2 is the home of the Houston Ship Channel, the second-largest petrochemical complex in the world — where flooding events inundate our neighborhoods in a toxic stew
    of deadly chemicals and poisonous air.
  • Too many in Precinct 2 are the most challenged by disasters: Precinct 2 has among the county’s lowest median income, lowest homeownership levels, highest number of children and families without health insurance and highest number of cancer clusters.

Yet our current commissioner failed to act even in the wake of two 500-year floods in the two years leading up to Hurricane Harvey.

Adrian’s Plan:

I. EQUITY
Require Equity and Fairness in County Decisions that Impact Precinct 2

Let’s start from the principle that every life is valuable, regardless of your income level. Right now, the federal government — responsible for a huge part of flood protection funds — discriminates against people living in lower income neighborhoods.

As the Houston Chronicle Editorial Board so clearly put it, “When deciding where to spend flood control dollars, the federal government uses a cost-benefit ratio based on economics, not the impact on human lives. So a family living in a $1 million home is basically considered 10 times more important than a family flooded out of a $100,000 house.”

That’s unacceptable — and Adrian will fight for a more equitable distribution of county-controlled funds for people living in lower income neighborhoods.

A. Hurricane Harvey Recovery Funds

Harvey recovery funds must be used to help those who suffered the worst impacts from flooding to get their lives back in order. Housing must be the highest priority.  Greater consideration must be given to low- and moderate-income families who are least able to recover without assistance.

B. County Flood Bond

Commissioners played politics with the flood bond by rushing it to the ballot in August without proper input, without sufficient time for public education, without enough time to ensure broad voter participation  and, significantly, without accountability measures.

Because our county needs the funds, Adrian supports the bond — but he will fight to make sure that spending decisions are made equitably, with meaningful public input and with the visibility necessary to hold officials accountable.

The initial project list released by the county show a number of projects that benefit Precinct 2. Yet, they are simply unenforceable promises made by politicians. Even county leadership admits the project mix will change.

That’s why, in a big shift from the way Commissioners Court typically operates, Adrian’s plan requires spending decisions to be made with full visibility, including public hearings with both expert and community testimony. No decisions should be made by Commissioner’s Court in executive session. All debate and decisions by commissioners must be made in public.

C. Industry

The petrochemical industries lining the Ship Channel make billions of dollars in profit from refining, manufacturing, sale and distribution of toxic substances.

That’s all well and good. But they should also be responsible for significantly reducing risks that their activities create in our communities.

Specifically, when it comes to flooding, Adrian will fight to require industry to fund and perform its fair share of flood and storm surge mitigation.

Adrian will also fight to stop the practice of suspending pollution regulations during hurricanes and for more than six months later, as they were during and after Harvey.

Local industries’ failure to independently reinstate controls immediately after the hurricanes and for many months after is not acceptable. The TCEQ and local industries need to step up to protect Precinct 2 and all Harris County residents from storm-related pollution.

D. Building the Resiliency of Precinct 2 Residents

Spending decisions on county flood dollars must also work to make our residents better able to withstand major flooding events.

  • Precinct 2 must undertake a public education campaign to increase the number of residents who buy flood insurance. The Houston Chronicle reported that the average flood insurance payout to homeowners who flooded in Harvey was $120,000. The average payout from FEMA to homeowners without insurance was $4,000 – $7,000. Adrian will also explore options to provide assistance to low- and moderate-income homeowners to obtain flood insurance.
  • Victims of flooding should not be required to pay more in property taxes than their damaged homes  and decreased value justify; yet, the Appraisal District is not able to re-assess property values on a timely basis after a flooding disaster. And most homeowners struggling to recover are not able to engage in the lengthy and often expensive process to file appeals of their property’s pre-Harvey assessed value. Adrian will work with the appraisal district and our local legislative delegation to develop an automatic appeal process that won’t require a personal appearance by the homeowner or his or her representative. Flood victims would be granted a standard percentage reduction based on their property’s flooding or proximity to flooding.
  • Adrian will also fight for broader, more accessible and equitable grants for residents eligible for the home buyout program. Grant amounts are often not adequate to keep residents in or near the neighborhoods where they have lived and raised their families.
  • Adrian will push to make sure the economic benefits of the work done in Precinct 2 flow to Precinct 2 residents. With billions of dollars slated to be spent in our county and in Precinct 2, flood protection projects will provide an economic lift to the county. Adrian will explore options to require or incentivize selection of local businesses and local hiring on Precinct 2 projects.
  • Adrian supports Commissioner Rodney Ellis’ plan for a Minority, Women and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (MWDBE) program that would help address disparities in county contracting. Flood infrastructure spending should be required to consider MWDBE goals. While on the Houston City Council, Adrian chaired Houston City Council’s MWDBE Committee, where he saw first-hand the success of these programs.

II. ACCOUNTABILITY
Open up the backrooms and require transparency and citizen oversight over flood protection decisions

Adrian will push for accountability measures that govern all county flood protection decisions, including decisions on spending county flood bond funds.

A. County Drainage and Flooding Committee

As a Houston City Councilmember, Adrian served as vice chair of the city’s Drainage and Flooding Committee.

The committee provided a forum for community and expert input and for holding the local government accountable for decisions on drainage and flooding.

The county should create its own Drainage and Flooding Committee and require regular, open meetings at least once per month. Among the committee’s charges would be to ensure projects in the four county precincts are being coordinated across the county and with neighboring counties.

Precinct 2, for example, should not suffer adverse downstream impacts from projects in other precincts. Watershed projects across boundaries should be coordinated to maximize overall drainage.

B. Annual PublicHearings on Progress and Plans

Commissioners should hold annual public hearings across the county where they report on the overall progress of flood protection projects, report on changes or additions to previously reported plans, receive community input and answer questions.

III. MOST ADVANCED APPROACHES
Use the best data and the best minds, not politics, to guide project selection, policy decisions and resource allocation

Many of the best minds, best researchers and best community-based organizations in the world are located right here in Harris County. Smart flood protection programs and projects should incorporate their input.

A. Community Stakeholders Steering Committee

That’s why Adrian will push to create a county-wide Community Stakeholders Steering Committee on Flooding to bring these people and organizations into the process to benefit from their knowledge.

For example, the Greater Houston Flood Mitigation Consortium and Rice University’s SSPEED Center provide excellent guidance into flood protection projects across the Harris County region and specifically for Precinct 2. Our planning and recommendations for Harris County communities are strongly guided and aligned with published guidance from these key organizations. Adrian will continue to gather input and guidance from these and other experts in making decisions on project selection, policy and resource allocation.

B. CEER Principles

For decisions on how and where to allocate flood protection resources, Adrian endorses the eight principles outlined by CEER, the Coalition for Environment, Equity, and Resilience.

CEER’s principles can be viewed here.

CEER is a collaboration of 24 community-based organizations focused on environmental protection, environmental justice, parks and greenspace, civil rights, workers’ rights and housing.

CEER’s eight principles require elected leaders, industry and other decision makers to focus on equity, air, land, water, displaced people, and resource recovery and recycling, and to embrace transparency and resiliency when selecting projects, making policy and allocating resources.

For additional information, see:

IV. PRIORITIZE
Prepare NOW for the 2018 hurricane season and every hurricane season thereafter

We always know that the next hurricane to hit the Houston area is right around the corner. The 2018 hurricane season started June 1, yet much of the basic repair and preparation has not been done.

On Day 1 as our new commissioner, Adrian will assess, prioritize and take action on the following ten commonsense tasks that will help protect us from future flooding:

  1. Expedite drainage maintenance for roads, ditches and storm sewers and initiate an accelerated program to clean debris in streets and waterways.
  2. Undertake a public education campaign to increase the number of residents who buy flood insurance. Explore options to provide assistance to low- and moderate-income homeowners.
  3. Identify and assess all flooding hot spots and threats in Precinct 2, including using precise elevation lidar mapping and assessing downstream impacts of proposed upstream mitigation (e.g., the proposed North Canal Bypass where White Oak Bayou meets Buffalo Bayou). Recommend small mitigation projects not currently identified by the county (e.g.,  projects in areas not near bayous that have ponding or sheet-flow flooding).
  4. Test Ship Channel industrial areas and begin remediation actions for Harvey pollution impacts and remaining toxics. Focus on impacts to nearby residential areas.
  5. Engage and inform residents about flooding issues in their neighborhoods and gather input from residents. Immediately begin town hall meetings to inform the public and receive public input.
  6. Assess Precinct 2 community health, especially impacts by Harvey flooding and aftermath, and include public hearings to make the assessment.
  7. Intensify Emergency Management planning and readiness for hurricane season.
  8. Develop an approach for buyout options adjusted for low-value properties and ensure the county buy-out program includes extensive outreach to low-income communities.
  9. Develop and deploy an RFP to implement an advanced flood warning system that predicts flooding and alerts decision makers and the public in harm’s way.
  10. Put more pressure on the Army Corps of Engineers to accelerate coastal storm surge protection outreach and studies. Join as a plaintiff in Ft. Bend County’s lawsuit against the Corps regarding the flooding of 9,000 homes behind Addicks and Barker Reservoirs during Harvey.
  11. Engage the legislature to: (a) reform the process for property tax appraisal values to account for flooded property; (b) reduce and control flood and homeowner insurance costs; and (c) allow high population counties to adopt and enforce building and development codes to create sustainable communities.
  12. Develop stormwater detention basins that serve as green spaces and parks in key locations along bayou watersheds flowing through Precinct 2 and areas where ponding and sheet flow create less recognized flooding hazards. Prioritize projects that can provide needed amenities for residents who live in at risk communities.