Turner has Hired At Least 269 New Employees Since His “Hiring Freeze”

by Bill King | Apr 8, 2019 | City Of Houston Finances | 1 comment

As you probably know, Sylvester Turner sent layoff notices to 67 fire fighter cadets to help pay for the implementation of Proposition B.  Those layoffs will save the City $1.6 million.

What you probably don’t know is that Turner has quietly hired, at least, 269 people since he instituted a so-called “hiring freeze” immediately after Proposition B passed in November.  The salary costs for these new employees alone is nearly $12 million.

We uncovered this hypocrisy recently when we obtained payroll data for the City of Houston through the end of January. This data set included each employee’s hire date, allowing us to filter for the employees hired after Turner announced his “hiring freeze.”

The cost of the new employees Turner hired after his “freeze” is nearly eight times what the City will save from laying off the cadets.

Most of the new hires were routine, but several caught my eye, to-wit:

Mayor’s Communication Staff – Turner added three people to his communication staff; a deputy assistant director (executive level), a division manager (executive level) and senior communications specialist.  The first two were hired in at $85,000 and the third at $70,000.  These salaries would have covered the cost of ten firefighter cadets.  I am sure that the fact that Turner will be facing an election in a few months had nothing to do with his decision prioritize hiring more personal communication staff.

Health & Human Services – Turner added a Deputy Director (executive level) at a salary of $130,000.  This would have paid for six more firefighter cadets.  A total of 21 new employees were added to the HHS Department. Six were hired at salaries in excess of $85,000.

Legal Department – Turner added two more attorneys to the City’s legal staff.  Their combined starting salaries equal $240,000 and would have covered an additional ten firefighter cadets.  Of course, given Turner is the most litigious mayor in the City’s history, it is not surprising he would prioritize hiring more lawyers over firefighters.

Parks Department – Turner added a park naturalist at a salary of $52,000.

This data is now more than 60 days old, so we have no idea how many more employees Turner has added since January 31.  But this report clearly shows that the “hiring freeze” was a lie from the day Turner announced it.  The City continued to hire about 100 employees per month just like it had done prior to the supposed “hiring freeze”.

In one of the most disgusting political moves I have ever seen, the day before Turner announced the layoff of the fire cadets, his campaign sent out a “petition” on social media.  The title of the petition was “No Cuts, No Layoffs.”  If you clicked on the link it took you to a form to donate to Turner’s campaign.

Houston deserves better.

 

Link to Mueller Report

https://www.justice.gov/storage/report.pdf

City Council approves ambulance fee hike, new EMS charges

Jasper Scherer March 20, 2019

The cost of taking a city ambulance to the hospital will go up nearly 70 percent under a measure approved by City Council Wednesday that fire department leaders hope will help Houston keep pace with rising costs.

Additionally, council approved three new emergency services fees aimed in part at dissuading repeat callers from using ambulance service as a convenience.

The ambulance transport fee will rise to $1,876.40 from $1,104.65, in the first substantial hike since 2012, aside from annual adjustments to account for inflation. Since then, officials said, ambulance transport expenses have climbed, leaving taxpayers to foot more of the bill because HFD is not billing enough to cover its own costs.

The city levies an additional ambulance charge of $14.36 per mile that remains unchanged.

Fire Chief Sam Peña hopes the transport fee increase will enable the city to collect additional revenue from Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements, which are based on the average EMS rates in each region. Around Houston, Peña noted, HFD has an outsized influence on the reimbursement rate because it provides the region’s largest ambulance service.

By keeping the rates arbitrarily low, Peña said, “there’s been no incentive for Medicare and Medicaid to revisit the formula and adjust their rates upward.”

Meanwhile, the package of new charges includes a $365 fee when a patient dies at the scene after paramedics arrive, a $175 fee when a caller is treated at the scene but not transported to the hospital, and a $175 fee when a caller requests to be moved, such as after a fall.

For the latter scenario, Peña said, residents will be allowed four such calls before they are charged the new fee.

“I just want to make sure that it’s not about discouraging people to call 911 if they need the service,” he said.

In the 2017 fiscal year, Houston collected about 39 percent of its $110 million in annual bills for EMS transport, according to fire department records.

The new ambulance fee matches what the city’s finance department found to be the average cost of providing EMS transport.

At-Large Councilman Mike Knox registered the lone opposition vote Wednesday, arguing that a hike in ambulance rates is the wrong way to seek larger Medicaid reimbursements.

“By raising ambulance fees, we’re going to unduly impact people who don’t have insurance,” he said.

Instead, Knox said, “we need to negotiate with the federal government to get Medicaid realistic about their reimbursement, which they’re not.”

In 2016, the city’s finance department found that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ payment rate is far lower than the average cost of providing service.

Still, fire department officials expect to collect tens of millions of dollars in additional revenue if Medicare, Medicaid and private insurers increase their reimbursements based on the fee hike. About half of Houston residents who call 911 have federally funded health care, according to city data, while about 13 percent have private insurance.

The city collects about a third of what it bills the CMS, and recoups about 70 percent of bills for those with private insurance. The remaining one-third of callers are uninsured, and the city collects less than two percent of those bills.

The new charges, meanwhile, fall well short of the $1,405 average cost of responses in which paramedics do not transport callers to the hospital. The fire department responded to nearly 30,000 such calls in the 2018 fiscal year, city data show, and recouped about 15 percent of the total amount billed.

Rather than covering the full cost, the new charges are intended to stop repeat callers from using the fire department because it is the most convenient option, even in a non-emergency situation. For instance, a caller might ask paramedics for help moving from bed to a wheelchair, then call hours later asking to be moved back, Assistant Chief Justin Wells said.

The changes came at the recommendation of a city-commissioned study conducted by the financial advisory firm PFM Group. It is the same study Mayor Sylvester Turner has cited in his plan to lay off hundreds of firefighters to help fund raises required by Proposition B, the pay partity measure approved by voters last November. The study, Turner has said, recommends reducing the number of city firefighter positions. The firefighters union disputes that recommendation.

 

The Daily Wire’s Long-Form Interview With Republican Rep. Dan Crenshaw

In November, 34-year-old Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) was elected to represent the 2nd congressional district of Texas with 52.8% of the vote.

Crenshaw is a former Navy Seal. In 2012, during his third tour, which was in Helmand province, Afghanistan, Crenshaw lost his right eye in an IED explosion, and he’s worn an eyepatch ever since. Shortly before Crenshaw won the election, comedian Pete Davidson mocked his appearance on "Saturday Night Live." A week later, Crenshaw appeared on "SNL," where Davidson apologized.

Due in part to the media coverage surrounding Crenshaw’s late-night comedy appearence, his articulate messaging for conservative causes, and his outspoken nature, the congressman has amassed a large social media following.

As of publication, Crenshaw’s two Twitter accounts have a combined following of over half a million (although some of those are surely overlap). Approximately 391,000 people follow the representative on Instangram, and his Facebook page boasts 114,000 followers.

Some in the Republican Party have dubbed Crenshaw a "rising star."

On Thursday, The Daily Wire had the chance to speak with Rep. Crenshaw on a wide range of topics. Below, we discuss border security, the American military presence in Syria, criticism of the president, and much more.

DW: You seem to have outsized power as an elected official to shape the narrative for Republicans due to your social media following, and the SNL moment, among other things. How would you like the Party to be perceived, and in what ways are other political leaders failing to get the message across to voters?

CRENSHAW: I want the party to be perceived as a party that simultaneously appreciates traditional principles and founding principles – like limited government, individual freedom, and personal responsibility, federalism, appreciation for our Constitution, and the prosperity it has given us – while also being a forward-looking and innovative party that prioritizes creativity and entrepreneurship and the ability to make your own way.

I think a lot of people are looking for that. Then we have to take that optimistic message and apply it better to policies in particular. I think where we fail is that we start with the policy instead of starting with the culture. Republicans often just go straight to the policy, and then become really frustrated when people didn't get it. They didn't get it because you didn't explain the foundational reasons why that policy is better. So that's where you have to start – you have to tell people "why" before you tell them "what."

DW: So would you say the Republican Party has a messaging problem?

CRENSHAW: Yeah, but we're getting better, hopefully.

DW: You’ve been very clear about the way in which you criticize other politicians (dissect ideas, but don’t disrespect the person). Why do you believe it’s harmful to question or impugn motives?

CRENSHAW: Well it's just harmful and juvenile; it's the way a child argues. Let's just be honest, this happens a lot more coming from the Left toward the Right than the other way around. We're immediately called racists, bigots, whatever you want. I see Senators doing this often.

But like I said, it's harmful, divisive, and juvenile. It's divisive because it just riles people up. Even if a voter doesn't necessarily think that way, when you question someone's character, it's influential to the people listening to you. Over time, it creates a real animosity toward the other side, and you come to believe it because it's been repeated over and over again.

It also creates a shortcut to avoid arguments, a mental shortcut in order to avoid a real conversation because you're discrediting somebody before you've even challenged their idea. It's a very weak way to argue.

DW: Part of your appeal as an elected official is your intellectual consistency. There are many politicians in both parties that will flatly refuse to criticize the ideas of their leaders. You have disagreed with and called out the president on multiple occasions, including when he criticized the media. Has that led to any blowback from within the Party?

CRENSHAW: You do have to have some limits. I think a lot of politicians right now are in an interesting place. They're not afraid of getting called out by the president for disagreeing with him, they're afraid of getting called out by the voters. So, in the end, all politicians are very susceptible to what their constituents think. I realize that not a lot of people believe that, but it’s true.

That's unfortunate, and the reason it happens is because politicians forgot how to explain things to people. It goes back to my messaging issue about putting the why behind the what, and just being bold enough to help people understand why you might disagree with them.

I think what they'll find is that voters are more willing to forgive you and listen to you if you're just honest with them in your conviction and understand why you believe what you believe, and you understand it so well that you can help them understand it.

In the end, being a conservative means that we have to set up principles that we can adhere to and fall back on in times of difficult decisions. The things I've called out the president for are disagreements that have been related to some foreign policy issues and trade policy because they don't line up with the principles that I ran on, and I know why I disagree, and I can do it respectfully. The president respects that actually and so do his followers.

What they don't respect is when you're just taking shots at the president in a seemingly partisan way. I think that's where some conservatives have gone, kind of the never-Trump crowd or whatever you want to call them. Maybe they've gone too far where they only repeat the latest talking points. It really takes away from your argument. It also takes away from your argument if you just support everything the president says. We don't have to do that. We can respectfully disagree with him and still be on his side in a broader sense.

DW: There is a contingent of people in the Republican Party that back the president no matter what he says or does. While Trump has governed fairly conservatively, much of his behavior, and some of his policies (tariffs for example), have led many conservatives to despair that the Republican Party has lost its way, that it’s no longer a constitutionally Conservative party, but a populist one, driven by a charismatic leader rather than principles. What would you say to those people?

CRENSHAW: Yeah, we shouldn't deny that there's been a little bit of a populism-creep into the party. I still think the populism is far worse on the Left. I think it's far more pervasive – the Medicare for all, gonna give everything away for free type of message is really inherently impossible. That being said, let's let them do their thing and we'll criticize them as necessary, but more importantly, let's fix our own rhetoric.

So I think there's something to that, but I'm not so sure we have to be so worried about it. I'm also not so sure that the Republican Party is just gone in lock-step with the trade wars and the trade policy and the practice of using tariffs as sort of a blunt force tool to influence trade policy. There are actually quite a few Republicans who disagree with that.

There's legislation coming up or being discussed in which we would take some of that power back and require Congress to approve additional tariffs and possibly even roll back some of the steel tariffs. So it's not as if the party's just changed radically, at least the representatives that is.

Now the counter argument to what I just said is, you do see polling among Republicans – and this depends on the state – you see polling among Republican voters where they have switched their mind on trade, so that's interesting.

It's just an indication that we need to explain our ideas a little bit better, to to talk about them in terms that people can understand and be a little bit stronger about our messaging.

Again, and the counter argument to all that is at least what the president is saying is that his goal is to have more free trade. So that's still the goal, he just has a very different way of getting to that goal, which is, again, using a blunt force tool.

It’s not black or white. It's a nuanced discussion, especially with respect to trade. That's often something that changes based on your geography, what part of the country you're in, how you're respected by trade. It's never been a black and white issue and ideologically, I think, sometimes we've oversold it as an ideological black and white issue, which it's not.

DW: Many of the announced Democratic presidential candidates adhere to ideas that many see as radical – the Green New Deal, centralized healthcare, the abolition of ICE. What is the best way to counter the growing extremism in the Democratic Party and actually have American voters hear it?

CRENSHAW: Well, first of all, we can only criticize so much before voters turn around and say, "Well, what's your plan?" So we have to have our own plan, and we've got to have a plan that we can articulate as quickly as they can articulate their plan. "Medicare for all" is deceivingly simple. It's easy to understand what it means as soon as you hear it. We don't have that advantage with our healthcare plan. Our healthcare plans are far more complex than that. That was made pretty clear when we failed to repeal and replace Obamacare because what we were replacing it with wasn't clear to voters.

That's one thing we need to fix, and that's a difficult thing to fix, something like healthcare, because it’s complex. "Medicare for all" sounds simple, but it's not. It creates an enormous bureaucracy and really dire consequences that people don't understand. But by the time we've explained those consequences, voters have either stopped listening or they're saying, "Fine, but what's your plan?," and that's problematic.

The Green New Deal, again, I think we need our own approach to it. We can make fun of how costly it is and how unrealistic it is. I mean, it's a really minuscule effect for an enormous, enormous cost that's not based on any technology we currently have.

It calls for the banning of nuclear power – really interesting for a deal that wants to reduce carbon emissions. That being said, we should talk about the environment, too. I actually just tweeted about this. What I was saying is, we need to be for new technology; we need to be for some of the up-and-coming technology and carbon capture; we need to be for preserving our lakes and our rivers and our oceans and our forests; we need to be for exporting natural gas because that's a cleaner form of energy. If we can be for that in greater quantities, and build our pipeline infrastructure here in the United States, then export that gas in greater quantities to developing countries, that provides cleaner air for the entire globe.

Your hardcore environmentalists don't want to hear that kind of stuff, but your independents will. They’ll say, "Wow, that's actually a realistic talking point here. That’s a realistic policy. Yeah, it's not as drastic as the Green New Deal, but it's also not as costly, and it sounds like my heating and air conditioning bills aren't gonna go way up, my gas prices aren't gonna go way up, and it's gonna help those taxes on the poor and the middle class. The rest will do just fine." So those are the kinds of things we need to be talking about.

DW: What is the best way to show the American people that barriers are a necessary component of our border security?

CRENSHAW: The best way to show them is to go down there like I did, take videos, and tell the story in a very visual way. Have experts on the air talking about why this works, why this matters, and just keep explaining it in a way that is coherent, not based on fear, which is, I think, the biggest problem with the messaging that we've had so far.

What we’re effectively talking about is, how do you limit movement across a territory? Well, you need three things – personnel, technology, and barriers. There is no arguing with that. Anybody who tries to argue with that is being wholly dishonest, and the Left has actually convinced themselves of this truth simply because they hate Donald Trump.

So your question is, "How do we reverse that because our messaging hasn't worked?" The problem with the messaging so far is that it's been based on the drugs and the crime, and how much we can't stand illegal immigration. The problem with arguing in that way is that the Left immediately questions your motives. You get into a different discussion, you get into a tit-for-tat on how many drugs, etc. It’s not where we want to be.

The conversation has to be about the rule of law, respecting our sovereignty, the hundreds of thousands of people crossing illegally, dragging kids across because our laws incentivize that, and the humanitarian crisis that creates. So, that has to be the conversation because I think it's an irrefutable problem; you can't refute what I just said. There is no counter argument, there is no tit-for-tat, that's the right way to argue about this, and continue messaging the way I've done, which is visually.

I've actually gone down to the border. I wrote a piece in the Wall Street Journal that lays it out for people in a simpler way. I didn't poll the American public, but a lot of people on the Left, because of their hatred for Trump, will cling to any talking point that refutes his basic stance. Those talking points tend to be very shallow. "Walls are medieval and are a 14th century solution!" That's not an argument, but they think it is, and there're happy to stick to it because it sticks it to Trump.

DW: According to The New York Times, 200 troops are being left in Syria. Is that enough?

CRENSHAW: Well, I'd like more, but it's definitely better than zero. Also, those troops are separated in addition to the U.S. forces that are going to remain at Al-Tanf, the southern Syria base near Iraq and Jordan. So that should be noted.

It's enough as long as our European allies also assist with their own troops. This needs to be a multi-lateral operation, and right now it's looking like we're making some progress on ensuring that will be the case. Our goal there is to keep eyes and ears on the ground, plus intelligence, maintain relationships with our partner forces there so that we can continue to assist and advise them, as well as build their capacity via training and equipment. You can do that with a pretty small number of troops. Those troops act as a tripwire, too, in a sense. Their presence effectively prevents Turkey from rolling over our Kurdish allies. It most likely prevents Hezbollah from coming in and taking over as well. So you don't need that many American troops there to do the jobs that we're going to be asking of them.

I would actually like to keep what we have right there for now, but if that's off the table, then I'm pretty happy to see that we're not taking all of them out.

DW: What can be done to bring power back to the legislative branch? So much power has been accrued by the courts and the executive.

CRENSHAW: Well, there are a lot of different aspects to that. First, the power that’s given away from the legislature is given away on purpose, via statutes. So it's as simple as taking back that statute. If we don't like a national emergency act, we just don't have one. I mean, it took Congress to do that, but we gave that power away.

It’s the same thing with trade. Maybe it was the right thing to do at the time because we wanted the President to have the ability to negotiate free trade agreements without the conversation becoming political as it was within Congress.

I think a big problem is statutes that end up with very complex sets of rules that could just never be reversed. Then the judiciary gives those regulatory agencies the power to maintain those rules despite what anybody else is saying, and I think that's really problematic.

It's not clear how to reverse that at this point except by putting in friendly, Article I type administrations to roll back regulations, and this President is doing that, but it's a slow process, and it can be difficult. So when we pass statutes, especially significant statutes that have to do with commerce or the environment, we need to have more exact language that doesn't allow the regulatory agencies to take so much liberty with how they write those rules and continue to write those rules.

DW: What’s the best counter to the identity politics of the Left?

CRENSHAW: Call it out for what it is. I think Jordan Peterson has probably done the best job of describing the dangers of identity politics. Call it out for what it is and then provide an alternative. The alternative is that we're a united people, and we're all individuals, and what matters is the content of our character.

Point out to people that identity politics is essentially going back in time; point out to people that identity politics is how humankind stayed in misery and suffering and poverty for tens of thousands of years because the natural state of ourselves is to be tribal and at each other's throats, and the unnatural state is to be individuals and to respect each other as individuals and not categorize each other into a race, gender, and class categories. When you do that, you inevitably create massive amounts of resentment and discontent. Our political divisiveness in this country is really a consequence of that.

Identity politics is a cultural issue, and politics is downstream of culture. So, I think it's pretty safe to say that the political divisiveness we're feeling is a result of, somewhat at least, the cultural divisiveness which is caused by identity politics.

DW: What’s your response to Democratic Party’s extreme abortion positions, and refusal to vote for the Born Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act?

CRENSHAW: It’s partisanship gone mad. I can't think of any other explanation because I don't want to believe that they're so evil that they really want these babies dead. I honestly think it's partisanship gone mad, and partisanship to such an extreme that you would actually vote this way just because you don't wanna give the pro-life movement any kind of win. I can't think of anything else except that they're just so morally vacant that they would want something like this.

We shouldn't be surprised, on the other hand. We shouldn't be surprised because once you start evaluating life and you do it by saying, "Well, it's a woman's choice. Well, it's safe, legal, and rare." All right, let's just assume that those are well-intentioned liberals who feel for women who wanna make that choice. But we have to understand, and this is the case with a lot of issues, well-intentioned liberalism always leads to totalitarian progressivism. When you're devaluing life, even just a little bit, I think that will always build upon itself. Because the left is always going to be one-upping themselves.

Progressivism is progress, which means you always have to be moving forward. You can't just be happy with that one win, you have to keep going, you have to keep getting to more extremes. This is just a natural sequence of things when you're a progressive. Conservatives don't have that problem necessarily because their ideology is sort of boxed in. Progressivism is inherently dangerous because it will always lead to more extreme measures, and this is what we're seeing. This is the manifestation of that.

DW: Do you think it’s valid to criticize the Republican Party for failing to legislatively secure the border despite having two years of a Republican-controlled House, Senate, and presidency?

CRENSHAW: Yep. Although it's not as simple as people think. You need 60 votes in the Senate and a lot of people don't know that when we pass these bills.

DW: You criticized President Trump when he slammed NBC and SNL, calling the First Amendment the "backbone of American exceptionalism." Do you think the president takes it too far in his broad criticism of the media?

CRENSHAW: Well, he did that time. He usually doesn't. I mean, his rhetoric is certainly overheated and unnecessary, but it's not necessarily wrong either, except that one time. It was that time and he crossed the line there. He said what Obama actually did – and Obama was never held accountable for it. You should never question the legality of free speech, especially from the president.

There's another question there, which is, "Generally speaking, does he go too far?" I would say generally speaking, no. I've defended him on this when people say, "Attacking the press." I say, "How? How is he attacking or undermining the freedom of the press?" In no way, shape, or form has he actually done that. The hyperbolic statements from the Left on this are really disingenuous and highly dishonest, especially when you compare it to what President Obama did in actually investigating journalists.

It's not the rhetoric that I would use. I don't like the term "fake news." I like to say "deliberately misleading news" because that's what they do constantly. So, it's more a matter of style for me. I mean, the president and I do not have the same style. The president is very unique in his style. That being said, he's pointing out flaws in the media in his own way, but he's pointing out flaws that we all, I think, intrinsically agree with.

The Daily Wire would like to thank Rep. Crenshaw for taking the time to speak with us.

 

The Flood Discussion Continues

Two important documents were recently released on flooding in our region.

 

By Bill King
  
The first is the Harris County Flood Control District's (HCFCD) report on Hurricane Harvey written by Jeff Lindner and Scott Fitzgerald, the HCFCD's chief meteorologist and engineer, respectively. The 32-page report is chock-full of statistics, tables and maps that detail Harvey's rainfall and flooding.http://www.hcfcd.org/media/2678/immediate-flood-report-final-hurricane-harvey-2017.pdf A more digestible version of the data is Lindner's PowerPoint presentation. ​http://www.billkingblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Brays_Bayou_Association-Harvey-1Jeff-Linder-presentation-abridged.pdf
  
I have asked HCFCD some questions about the report and I will have more to say about it later. But here are a few things that jumped out at me.

Over 70,000 structures that are not in any floodplain were flooded. As I discussed in my previous posts  to review) there were also many areas in the 500-year floodplain that did not flood. This finding further calls into question the utility of the floodplain maps in predicting future flooding.

Over 6,000 homes flooded in the Sims Bayou watershed even though Sims Bayou never came out of its banks. This indicates a failure of the City's systems that convey the floodwater to the bayou. Flooding that results from water attempting to get to the riverine is not shown on the HCFCD inundation mapping tool and is often not reflected on the FEMA flood maps.

Fewer than 500 homes that were constructed pursuant to the County's 2009 guidelines were flooded. 

The Brays Bayou watershed once again suffered the brunt of the flooding, with nearly 24,000 homes flooded. The Buffalo Bayou watershed was second with 17,000 homes flooded.

 

The second document is a report by the engineering firm, Freese & Nichols, on alternatives to reduce flooding around Lake Houston. Most of the report is devoted to the efficacy of adding floodgates to the Lake Houston dam. http://reduceflooding.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Final-Lake-Houston-Drawdown-Memo_-02052018.pdfto 

  
First, the cost of the additional floodgate is estimated at $47 million. The City has said that it has asked (or will ask) for a grant from FEMA to add the floodgates. But the gates could have been paid for more than 20 times from the drainage fees collected by the City since it started collecting them in 2012. City Council just approved another budget which diverts most of the drainage fees to uses other than reducing flooding. The question must be asked of the Mayor and the City Councilmen why is the Rain Tax not being used to take care of Drainage problems as promised.
  
Second, I am becoming increasingly convinced that the I-10 bridges over the San Jacinto River are a critical piece of the flooding in that watershed. The inundation map from the HCFCD below and the satellite photos sure make it look like those bridges are basically functioning like a dam in flooding events. I talked to one person who was in the area during the flood. He said that the water was rushing through underpasses to the west of the bridges with such velocity that it washed out the service road and scored deep trenches.
  
Adding floodgate capacity at the Lake Houston dam will do little good upstream and could cause even more problems downstream if the water cannot get to Galveston Bay because of these bridges. The HCFCD told me there is a comprehensive study currently underway for the entire San Jacinto River watershed. I am not sure when the report is supposed to be finished, but whatever we do in that watershed needs to be coordinated with all of the jurisdictions and entities.
  
These reports highlight the incredible complexity of the flooding problems in our region. We cannot allow that complexity to paralyze us into inaction, but we also need to make sure that the projects we undertake are cost-effective and do not simply move the flooding to a different area.
  
They also highlight that there are no simple, quick fixes to our flooding problems. Flooding in our region is the result of living on a flat coastal, subtropical plain and years of lax regulation and underinvestment in flood control infrastructure. It is going to take years, perhaps decades, of better regulation and increased investment to make a meaningful difference.

 

SAN JACINTO RIVER - BOND PROGRAM

AN INFORMATIONAL PUBLIC MEETING FOR THE SAN JACINTO RIVER WATERSHED RESCHEDULED for June 14th in Kingwood will be rescheduled. PLEASE CHECK BACK FOR THE NEW DATE AND LOCATION.
 The map below shows the approximate location of proposed flood risk reduction projects in this watershed that could be eligible for bond funding. Click on the link below to find you Watershed area and what projects will be done.

​San Jacinto River Watershed Facts

AREA (SQ MILES) POPULATION* STRUCTURE COUNT** HARVEY DAMAGED STRUCTURES***

                                                                                    Area      Population   Structures      Harvey Damage
Inside the 1% (100-year) FEMA floodplain       88.2        14,522          7,543                      2,452
Inside the 0.2% (500-year) FEMA floodplain    17.7        15,676          10,579                    3,641
Outside the 0.2% (500-year) FEMA floodplain 111.3      168,582        90,485                   2,986
TOTAL                                                                          17.2        198,780        108,607                 9,079

*Census 2010, **HCAD 2016, ***HCFCD preliminary count estimates as of January 2018

MEDIAN FAMILY INCOME* $71,000 MEDIAN HOUSE VALUE* $149,000

* 2016 Census Data

If the bond election is successful, projects would be authorized individually for funding by Harris County Commissioners Court. The actual timing of individual projects will depend on a variety of factors including environmental permitting and right-of-way acquisition. Projects will be authorized individually for funding by Commissioners Court, based on recommendations by the Flood Control District.

POTENTIAL PROJECT TYPES
FOR BOND FUNDING


The Harris County Flood Control District accomplishes its mission by working with our partners and local stakeholders to evaluate, develop, and implement flood damage reduction plans and then perform long-term maintenance of drainage infrastructure.

Flood damage reduction plans and projects can include modifications to our streams and bayous to increase the amount of stormwater that they can carry, the implementation of detention basins to store excess stormwater, nonstructural flood mitigation tools such as voluntary home buyouts, and any combination of these methods to address local and regional flooding issues.

Here are several types of projects that may be supported by bond funding:

Voluntary Home Buyouts – The purchase of flood-prone structures from willing sellers in areas that are too deep in the floodplain to benefit from structural flood risk reduction projects, or in areas where flood risk reduction projects are not feasible.  This process includes the demolition of the structure and relocation of the seller to higher ground.

Storm Repair – Major maintenance projects that restore the designed function and capacity of a channel or stormwater detention basin.

Subdivision Drainage Improvement – Partnership projects with the Harris County Engineering Department and a Municipal Utility District to provide drainage improvements to subdivisions in unincorporated Harris County.

Partnership Projects – Flood risk reduction projects such as channel modifications or stormwater detention basin construction using a combination of Harris County Flood Control District funding and funding from local, state, or federal partners such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Local Projects – Flood risk reduction projects such as channel modifications or stormwater detention basin construction using ONLY Harris County Flood Control District funds.

 

Houston City Council adopts stricter flood plain development rules

By Rebecca Elliott

Houston City Council agreed Wednesday to require new homes built in the flood plain be elevated higher off the ground, the Bayou City’s first major regulatory response to the widespread flooding Hurricane Harvey unleashed last August.

The vote marks a shift away from Houston’s longtime aversion to constraining development, and means all new construction in the city’s flood plains will have to be built two feet above the projected water level in a 500-year storm.

More than three hours of contentious debate preceded the unusually tight 9-7 vote, which largely fell along party lines.

“This is a defining moment,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said in his final pitch to council. “Can we undo what was done with Harvey? No. But can we build looking forward? Yes. Does it mean it may cost more financially? Yes. But if it has the probability of saving lives, and if it has the probability of letting people know in our city and those who are looking to come to our city that we are taking measures to be stronger to be more resilient, then that’s positive for the city of Houston.”

Council members Karla Cisneros, David Robinson, Dwight Boykins, Ellen Cohen, Jerry Davis, Robert Gallegos, Amanda Edwards and Dave Martin joined Turner in backing the changes. Council members Mike Knox, Jack Christie, Brenda Stardig, Michael Kubosh, Steve Le, Greg Travis and Mike Laster opposed the regulations.

The new rules take effect Sept. 1 and apply to all new buildings within the 500-year flood plain, which is deemed to have a 0.2 percent chance of being inundated in any given year.

Current regulation mandates that buildings be constructed one foot above the flood level in a less severe 100-year storm and apply only within the 100-year flood plain, where properties are considered to have a 1 percent annual chance of being inundated. This will be the first time Houston is imposing minimum elevation requirements within the 500-year flood plain.

 

City report backs flood plan
Council to weigh building rules sought by Turner
 

No decision was made as to Building Codes last week at the meeting. Supposedly they will make a decision this week. Decisions need to be made and be made soon or all construction in the city will come to a halt.


By Mike Morris

Mayor Sylvester Turner says thousands of homes would have been spared flooding during Harvey under his new proposed building rules. Builders say those changes would be too costly.

More than 80 percent of the homes in Houston’s flood plains that were damaged by Hurricane Harvey would have been spared if they were at the higher elevation that Mayor Sylvester Turner has proposed for future development in those flood-prone areas.

That figure was among the data contained in a new Houston Public Works analysis of Harvey’s wreckage as council members weigh a rewrite of the ordinance governing the city’s flood plains. City Council is expected to consider the new rules next week and to discuss them at a committee hearing Wednesday.

The 73-page report’s release to council members and the public comes seven weeks after Turner first outlined his proposal and more than a week after the end of the city’s announced period for public feedback.

Among the report’s key findings:

•Of the 31,822 flooded single-family homes Public Works examined in city flood plains, about half would not have flooded during Harvey if they had been built to the city’s current elevation standard, which requires new or redeveloped homes to sit at least 1 foot above the projected water level in a 100-year storm. Placing the homes 2 feet above the projected 500-year flood level — the standard Turner is proposing — would have spared 84 percent of the homes.

Although more than 47,000 single-family houses located in the city’s flood plains took on water during Harvey, the city left about a third of them out of that analysis because it did not have complete data on water or elevation levels for those properties.

A 100-year storm is one that has a 1 percent chance of occurring in any given year; a 500-year storm has a 0.02 percent chance in any year.

•Of the more than 101,000 structures in the 100-year flood plain, 30 percent were damaged during Harvey, as were a third of the more than 86,000 buildings in the 500-year flood plain. Of the roughly 469,600 structures outside of a mapped flood plain, 19 percent were damaged.

•More than 13,000 homes meet the current elevation standard, which applies only within the 100-year flood plain. About a third of them flooded during Harvey.

•About 8,500 of the 38,000 new home permits in Houston in the past decade were for homes in flood plains. Those properties, on average, are valued at $388,144, about a tenth less than the citywide average for homes built at that period.

Builders, developers, civic leaders and council members said the study provided helpful context, but few said its findings swayed their views. In general, industry groups said the data did not address their concerns that the city’s proposal is too strict, while neighborhood groups questioned why the city is not moving more quickly to bolster all of its flooding regulations, not just those in risky areas.

Councilman David Robinson, who chairs the infrastructure committee, said the data made him more comfortable with the proposed changes, particularly the elevation requirement.

“No one at all that I know is questioning that things have to be adjusted. That’s easy. The challenge is figuring out what is the right threshold,” Robinson said. The report, he said, shows that anything over the proposed elevation of 2 feet above the 500-year flood plain “emerges as the point at which there’s a significant diminishing return, and for that reason I find it quite satisfying that we are apparently paying attention to our numbers.”

Greater Houston Builders Association CEO Casey Morgan said the changes essentially would mandate pier-and-beam foundations in flood plains, adding $32,000 to the cost of a home, according to GHBA estimates.

That price jump would price out thousands of families, Morgan said, and preclude builders from producing cheaper housing in transitional areas.

Houston Real Estate Council representative Suzy Hartgrove said the changes also would complicate commercial developers’ decisions on whether to rebuild “obsolete” retail centers. Rather than paying to rebuild higher and risk steeper rents driving away tenants, she said, owners simply will repaint or replace the facade.

“We’re trying to find a balance between more stringent regulations — because we agree homes need to be built higher — but so it’s not sort of this one-size-fits-all standard across the flood plain, and maybe even across the city,” Morgan said.

City officials countered with estimates showing a pier-and-beam foundation would cost $11,000 more than a slab-on-grade.

Ed Wolff, a Houston Association of Realtors leader, said council should force homes in the 100-year flood plain to be built an additional 1 foot higher immediately, then further study what to do within the 500-year flood plain.

“It’s easy to say, ‘We want to make a change.’ It’s hard to understand what that impact would be in each individual location,” he said. “Our goal is just not to have to revisit the ordinance 18 months from now because we’ve completely put a stop to development in the flood plains and have properties being built at 15 feet high.”

One fix, industry groups said, would be for the city to alter its proposal to force builders to remove a shovel of dirt for every shovel of dirt they bring to a site. This “no net fill” rule already applies within the 100-year flood plain, and the proposal would extend it to the 500-year flood plain.

Allowing builders to add a limited amount of dirt to properties in the 500-year flood plain, builders said, would increase the portion of homes that could be built on elevated slabs instead of piers.

The local American Council of Engineering Companies, in a letter to council members, said fill dirt should be allowed in the 500-year flood plain because the stormwater it would displace would be “very small in relation to the overall storage volume” within that area.

Turner, at a west side community meeting Monday, touched on elevation and fill in defending the proposal to some skeptical residents. “For future construction, I think it’s critically important that we use the 500-year flood plain as our guide and we go (2 feet above that)” he said. “It’s important to build higher and to do it in such a way that you do not flood your neighbor, and that’s why we do not allow fill.”

Neighborhood leaders also disagree with industry groups on the issue of fill.

The Super Neighborhood Alliance, a coalition of civic clubs, supports the decision to extend regulations from the 100-year to the 500-year flood plain, but said the city should explicitly mandate pier-and-beam construction because the city will not effectively enforce the “no net fill” rule.

The alliance, in a statement its members adopted last week, also said the rules should be changed in concert with other sections of the code related to drainage.

Jim Blackburn, founder of the Bayou City Initiative, a collection of civic groups focused on flooding and drainage issues, echoed that point. Blackburn said the response he has heard from his members is that the mayor’s proposal is not broad enough.

“I’ve had email after email complaining about the fact that this is really such a low bar for the city to start with,” he said. “It’s absolutely crystal clear our 100-year flood plain is obsolete. It’s important for them to do it, but I think they could have gone much further, and should have.”

Half of all Harvey damage occurred outside mapped flood plains, he noted, which the proposed changes do not address. City officials have said they plan to advance regulatory updates on that issue and others to council in the coming months.

“It’s time for the industry groups to get on board with what it’s going to take to make Houston resilient in the 21st century,” Blackburn said.

“If the industry groups end up being the impediment to progress, that’s no way to go forward.”

In addition to not being swayed by the report’s findings, however, some industry representatives questioned the validity of the data.

The release of the data two months after the proposal was announced also bred suspicion.

“The mayor started with 500-plus-2 and he said, ‘Y’all go figure out how we make that make sense,’” Wolff said.

The report states that data analysis began in September and preliminary conclusions were reached in December. Additional data “continued to be collected and analyzed through early March,” the report states.

Turner has said city leaders “suspected” their chosen standard was the right one based on preliminary work, an assumption that was “confirmed by the data. And as we continue to crunch the numbers, we’ll continue to make that data available.”

The city identified almost 59,000 buildings in some way damaged by Harvey in city flood plains, homebuilder Mike Dish-berger said, but studied the depth of flooding in just 31,822 single-family homes to estimate what effect the proposed elevation rules would have had.

“You can manipulate the data any way you want,” he said. “If you know the outcome needs to be this, I’ll pick 31,000 homes and not 35,000 homes to investigate.”

Public Works officials pushed back on that characterization.

A third of the 47,745 single-family homes flooded in city flood plains were not studied, they said, because there was no recorded water line showing the depth of flooding, the Harris County Flood Control District did not have data on the elevation of the home’s first floor, or both.

“No homes were excluded that had both recorded high-water marks and finished floor elevation data,” said Public Works spokeswoman Alanna Reed. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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