March 11, 2013
Announcement of the Fourth Annual Meeting of the Memorial City District Drainage Coalition Meeting:
Collusion or Incompetence: Flooding in West Houston
On March 20th, at the Fourth Annual Meeting of the Memorial City District Drainage Coalition (dba Residents Against Flooding), well-known Environmental Attorney Jim Blackburn will present Collusion or Incompetence: Flooding in West Houston, his assessment of the current state of drainage in West Houston which he believes is a microcosm of problems occurring throughout the City of Houston.
Per Mr. Blackburn, “From Addicks and Barker reservoirs to more general issues on Buffalo Bayou to the flooding associated with TIRZ 17, a pattern of governmental and private sector involvement in human generated flooding is becoming more and more apparent and troubling.”
Please join us for this important discussion:
March 20th @ 7:00 p.m.
Memorial Middle School Auditorium
June 1, 2011
Clear Lake residents are outraged that they have to pay the new drainage fees but not for the same reasons that other Houstonians are upset. Clear Lake was annexed byHoustonin 1977, but its sewers and drainage facilities are still maintained and operated by the Clear Lake Water Authority, created by the state legislature in 1963. ClearLakeresidents don’t receive water benefits from the city, so they want to be exempt from paying this fee.
Council Members Mike Sullivan and C.O. Bradford don’t believe those in Clear Lake should have to pay, and I agree; however, it’s not as simple as it may appear. If ClearLakeresidents are exempt because they don’t benefit from Houston drainage services, can Houstonians who live in areas that don’t flood be exempt too? Even with the additional $125 million a year for flooding/infrastructure projects, there are certain areas of Houstonthat will be last on the list to receive updated drainage equipment because they don’t flood as much as other areas. So if it will be years before they see any benefit to this money, will they get to be exempt too?
You pay money to your city, state, and federal government for a variety of services you may never use. Does that mean you don’t have to pay the tax portion of your money that goes towards those areas? We don’t get to pick and choose which items we want to pay for based on which services we use.
My point is not to say that Clear Lake residents should have to pay because I actually think they have a valid point for being exempt. Rather, I think this speaks to why this tax is not ideal. When the city added this fee as a separate tax, it opened itself up to these types of problems and questions. We do need a dedicated fund for infrastructure and drainage, but it needs to come out of the general fund or problems like these will continue to appear.
April 6, 2011
Today Houston City Council voted on the controversial drainage fee and took a look at redistricting. The drainage fee, voted on by Houstonians in the last election (Proposition 1), will now exempt current non-profit buildings such as public and charter schools, places of religious worship, and county owned properties – with the exception of county owned revenue generating venues (such as stadiums). They also decided to keep the fee at roughly $5 a month/household as was originally proposed. Interestingly, Mayor Parker said that not exempting buildings would have lowered the fee by more than 7%, which has me wondering if the original fee was calculated as if these buildings were going to be exempt in the first place.
Council members Jarvis Johnson, Mike Sullivan, and C.O. Bradford voted against this ordinance. CM Bradford said that there are many unanswered questions, such as penalties for unpaid fees, and what to do about specific, pending infrastructure projects.
Council members also took a look at redistricting. Here is a map of the current council boundaries and a map of proposed boundaries:
More information to come with this map. One thing to note right now is that supposedly Ellen Cohen will not be in District C if this map is adopted. My guess is that she will run at large instead.
June 10, 2010
Council Member Stephen Costello unveiled a new group called Renew Houston. This group aims to “bridge the gap between what the city can afford and the infrastructure construction, repair and replacement needed on an ever-growing basis” (see article in the River Oaks Examiner here). This group’s mission is “establishing a designated fund that would be disbursed through the city to shore up Houston’s aging streets, drainage and water and sewer systems.”
Renew Houston would like to charge a monthly fee proportional to the amount of land you own (probably around $5/month for the average homeowner). This money will go into a dedicated fund for infrastructure projects and to pay down existing debts on issued bonds. They also want to charge a developer impact fee for all new developments in Houston. We could sit here all day and argue the pros and cons of the monthly fee and developer impact fee, but before raising any taxes, we should ask two questions: 1 – are we handling Houston tax dollars to the best of our ability? 2 – Are there any unnecessary items that we can cut from the budget before raising taxes/fees? My answers: 1 – no, 2 – yes.
So is this program necessary? That is for us to decide. Consider this: it is likely that if we cut every unnecessary item out of the budget that we still wouldn’t have enough money to fix our infrastructure problems. Even if we devoted a whole year of taxes to infrastructure alone, it still wouldn’t be enough. With HPD and HFD taking roughly 70% of our budget already, we will never have the money to complete necessary infrastructure projects without issuing bonds.
Houston elected officials should have been fixing our infrastructure problems all along, but they haven’t, and now we’re stuck with a huge and costly problem. Renew Houston is not a program up for consideration by City Council. This group is working hard to get enough signatures to put the proposal on the November ballot. So if you agree with it, sign up at http://renewhouston.org/. I think there is still a lot to consider with this program, but it is up to you to decide.
May 27, 2010
According to a Rice University think tank, a hurricane in Houston/Galveston could endanger tens of thousands of lives and economically devastate the area. See the article here. The Severe Storm Prediction, Education, and Evacuation from Disasters Center (SSPEED) Director Phil Bedient said “‘Ike was a Category 2 hurricane, and it caused $30 billion in damage. Had that same storm struck 30 miles farther south, it could easily have caused $100 billion in damage. Had it struck that location as a Category 4 storm, like Carla, the results would have been catastrophic'”.
SSPEED’s purpose is to “propose policy options to decision makers at the state, local and federal level with an unbiased assessment of the economic and environmental costs and benefits of all approaches so that an informed decision on the future of the region can be made”. I think that is a great idea. We have to rely on unbiased research groups for which to base our ordinances. Otherwise, we are just guessing. Let’s take the guessing out of government.
Mayor Parker is proposing to do away with our rainy day fund to balance the budget. I hope SSPEED meets with her, and I hope that she takes this report seriously. We have to save money. The fact of the matter is that Houston will have more hurricanes and more storms that will cost us money. Sure, we need to balance our budget now, but that shouldn’t mean that we forget about tomorrow and years to come.
March 10, 2010
Council Member Oliver Pennington (District G) recently asked TIRZ 17 to wait on drainage projects within the TIRZ until the regional drainage study is complete. (See article here). I don’t want this blog to just be about what Houston is doing wrong. Houston is great. I love living here, and I want to point out when our elected officials are doing right by us. I think Council Member Pennington did just that by asking TIRZ to wait.
Our drainage systems and pipes are old (as I pointed out in a previous blog here). Updating these are projects that can and should be worked on as soon as possible. However, other projects that entail new methods or new construction should be done prudently. The TIRZ’s consulting engineers, Derek St. John and Rafael Ortega, said that their drainage projects “were preliminary and could accommodate any changes made necessary by the regional drainage study”. The study will be complete this summer, so why not wait? Why go ahead a with a project and then possibly have to spend more of our money later redoing parts to accommodate the study?
I know that there will come a time when we need action. We can’t always wait for the next new study, or nothing will ever get done. As I have pointed out before, there are a lot of studies out there. I think the key here is to know which studies to wait for and which ones to trust because at the end of the day, we can’t just blindly create new projects and hope for the best.
With that being said, there is a reason why I want to point out Council Member Pennington. Too often we see elected officials who want to look good and do “something” to fix a problem. Often that “something” is hasty because they need to get votes in the next election. Council Member Pennington seems to want to do the right projects in his area. I said this over and over again in the last City election that flooding does not start and stop at district boundaries. What one council member approves for his or her district will cause an effect the next district over. While we have at-large members who are supposed to look at issues as a whole, it is nice to see district council members who seem to get it too.
Want to congratulate your city council member for a job well done? Post your comment about that below.
March 10, 2010
I mentioned in the last blog that our flooding infrastructure is old and that I have seen several reports about how old it might be. I guess it doesn’t really matter how old it is because in the end, it is failing us. Here is a better way of looking at it:
According to the Houston Contractors Association’s (HCA) most recent newsletter (Bulletin Volume XXII, Issue 2), Council Member Costello said that over 70% of the city’s underground infrastructure is past its useful life.