My home did not flood during Tropical Storm Allison, but the homes of many friends and neighbors did. In the aftermath, I spent days stripping carpets, flooring, and drywall from homes in Braeswood Place. Many friends and neighbors were displaced for long periods of time. Flooding is hard on families, kids, and neighborhoods. Allison did have a long term impact of how I think about flooding and storms. I now live in a high rise on the tenth floor, and my cars are parked on upper floors. There are other reasons I live where I do but Allison, Ike, and Alicia influenced my decision. My heart goes out to everyone whose homes were flooded.
The idea of charging City of Houston (COH) residents a tax for water runoff is ludicrous. Yet, this is exactly what the city did to its residents a few years ago with the Renew Houston charter amendment and Prop1 campaign. Houston streets were always designed to hold water during storms, and our taxes were used for such purposes before Renew Houston. Streets and storm drains are the first line of defense against flooding. Streets have always acted as conduits for runoff during rain events. For many years, Houston residents paid for this protection through their City of Houston taxes. In 2010, Stephen Costello and Annise Parker worked hard to pass Prop 1/Renew Houston/drainage fee/rain tax. Even though residents had already paid for these services via city taxes our elected officials thought a new double tax was necessary.
Robert Glaser and I set up a PAC to fight the proposed Charter Amendment. The most disingenuous part about the Prop1/Renew Houston/drainage fee/rain tax were the commercials. The rain tax disinformation campaign centered around scaring voters into believing that their homes would flood if they did not support Prop1. Their target: voters who experienced home flooding as a result of Allison.
Remember this guy:
The Charter Amendment centered on creating a new revenue source for the city. An enterprise fund was an appropriate name for the Prop1 fund because, in relatively short time, these funds were used to build bike trails and pay city employees. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been diverted from the stated purpose of building flood improvements or new roads. In other words, it was all a scam.
Prior to the election, I debated Jeff Ross, one of the Prop1/Renew Houston/drainage fee/rain tax proponents, on Channel 26. Jeff Ross, owner of a local engineering company, told viewers that the new tax would cost nothing more than the cup of Starbucks coffee that I was drinking prior to the segment. I made it clear that his math was way off and I estimated the true costs were, on average, triple what the proponents promised. I was correct in my math and the engineering community was wrong. The final cost to residents was closer to a really expensive bottle of wine. I guess it is relative if you are a wealthy engineering company owner set to benefit from the new charter amendment. Annise Parker later appointed Jeff Ross to be the watchdog over how the Prop1 money was spent. Watch the debate.
One of the big issues and fears is that, once the tax was passed, the COH would simply reshuffle the deck chairs on the Titanic. The money would be used for things other than the stated purpose, flood control and street improvements. Of course, like all things financial with the COH salaries, benefits, and overtime are the true diversion. The COH has now moved over 500 public employees from public works to the Renew Houston Enterprise Fund. So the money you once paid for streets and drainage is now being used to pay for salaries, pensions, and overtime, just as we predicted. Very few if any flood improvements have been done at all with Prop1 funds and it is hard to tell for sure because the COH refuses to release hard data. The whole thing is a joke and now is the time to hold the bad actors responsible. First, accurate information:
There is one authority on the Brays Bayou who I listen to and follow: Dr. Phil Bedient is the Herman Professor of Engineering at Rice University. Currently, Dr. Bedient directs the SSPEED Center
“The Center for Severe Storm Prediction, Education and Evacuation from Disasters (SSPEED) Center was established in 2007 as a university-based research and education organization. Led by Rice University, the SSPEED Center organizes leading universities, researchers, emergency managers, and private and public entities to better address severe storm prediction and its impact on the Gulf Coast area.”
When I met Dr. Bedient he had already finished the preliminary work on the Brays watershed. This was done because of the work he was doing for the Texas Medical Center in relation to flooding. The Brays watershed drains into Brays Bayou and has a finite capacity. Once this capacity is reached and contributing streams and storm drains are full, streets and homes will begin to flood. It is counterintuitive to think that the faster you can place runoff water into the bayou, the slower you will flood. The opposite is true and the faster you drain water into the bayou the quicker homes flood when the bayou is at capacity.
I served as the President of the Braeswood Place Homeowners Association and wanted to make sure a flood like Allison never happened again, and so my flooding education began. My motivation was nothing more than never wanting to see my friends and neighbors lives devastated by flooding. I sought answers and there were few good ones. I quickly realized you cannot prevent flooding in low lying areas. The best you can do is to build above the flood plain, which will move with each storm depending on the base flood level elevation.
Rainfall amounts over a particular area is the determining factor on flood levels. Each area is different with natural and manmade elements that trap and hold water, which also causes flooding. If you live in an area that floods it is important to know where and how these systems work together. Let me give you a few examples.
The railroad tracks running North and South through Bellaire act as a man made barrier preventing water from entering Brays Bayou itself. Flooding will occur on the west side of the tract as flood waters try to enter the bayou. 288 acts as a barrier to Brays Bayou because the bridge was built too low where 288 crosses the bayou. You will notice this is one of the first places it floods during a rain event over the Brays watershed. The bridge spanning Brays on 288 has often been cited as one of the contributing factors as to why the Texas Medical Center flooded so badly during Allison causing billions in damage. These are examples of manmade impediments that cause flooding.
Natural examples include Kilmornack and Poor Farm ditches (great names), which run through West University and Braeswood Place and also contribute to flooding. There have been improvements to channel flow by West University and Southside Place over the years since Allison. The residents of Braeswood Place hate the idea of West U water flooding their homes. The reality is that all of the improved channelization just makes Brays Bayou flood faster and backs up Poor Farm and Kilmornack into West University and Southside Place; but, hey, politicians feel better and engineering companies make money.
The politics of flooding are always interesting to me because you have the federal government and local government at cross purposes. Let me explain, the Feds operate and control FEMA, they dole out the money during flood events for people to rebuild. Therein lies the rub. FEMA does not want you to rebuild knowing your home will flood again. With you as the owner or a subsequent owner, FEMA will have to write more checks. The cost to the American taxpayer is enormous as this happens throughout the country. The City wants you to rebuild because they want the tax base. It is always fun watching the City and Feds doing this weird kabuki dance with each other as they try not to tell the residents why they keep getting conflicting information.
This is why you read Big Jolly, so we can explain the stuff your government officials won’t tell you, right?
The reason I thought Costello and his merry band of engineers and contractors were way out of line with the rain tax was because they were preying on fears. The pro Prop1 mailers targeted those that flooded during Allison and other rain events. I also knew the day would come when a storm hit and people would say, “Hey, you told me my home wouldn’t flood if I voted for this charter amendment.”
The Prop1 folks were snake bit because I am sure they wanted a storm to hit before the Prop 1 vote. The funny thing was, we went into a very long drought. Now, we have a storm right in front of the Mayor’s election so I can hold the responsible parties’ feet to the fire, that’s what I am here for, right? Live by the flood, die by the flood.
Did I mention Costello the charlatan is running for Mayor? Brenda Stardig is also running for re-election. Stardig made the motion at council to put Prop1 on the ballot. Yesterday, I watched City Council and listened to Stardig tell the council that if she can just get her Renew Houston projects done, her constituents would be moved out of the flood plain. You really can’t make it up. The Mayor asked Brenda not to hold any meetings without people from the City present. Stardig was still clueless and will probably never understand Renew Houston was designed to loot and plunder taxpayers, not to fix flooding issues. I am picking on Brenda but Ellen Cohen does not understand it either based on her comments at council. I hope every resident who flooded asks for their Prop1 fees/taxes back.
The reality is that it rains in Texas and we should be happy for it because, one day, it will stop and we will declare a drought. Another group of engineers will then declare we need more water reservoirs and treatment facilities because the world is going to end. See how it works?