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Renew Houston submits petitions

Renew Houston has submitted signatures to get its drainage improvement proposition on the ballot this November.

Renew Houston, a group of influential local engineers, has collected more than 30,000 signatures in a push to seek voter approval for an $8 billion initiative — and a monthly drainage fee – to better prevent flooding across the city.

For an average Houston homeowner with a 5,000-square-foot lot and a 2,500-square-foot home, the fee would be about $5 a month.

Here’s the Renew Houston press release on this. For background and details about what Renew Houston is proposing, see John, Perry, Tory, Neil, and me. My impression of this idea and plan is a favorable one, and as things stand now I would vote for it. But of course many people are not so inclined – I expect this to be a tough campaign for them, especially if there is an organized and funded opposition. What are these people going to say?

“On days like today, I think it’s obvious why we need some improvements,” said Allen Watson, an engineer and board member of the Metropolitan Transit Authority who is involved in the campaign. He was referring to the street flooding that has enveloped various parts of the city amid heavy rainfall in the past week. “It’s obvious why we need some improvements. The drainage systems are old.”

Critics point out that engineers involved in educating voters and bankrolling the drainage campaign stand to make money on projects that the referendum would pay for if it passes. Engineers have countered that they are best suited to educate the public about the problem, just as doctors may educate people about a problem they can make money treating.

Norman Adams, an activist who was among the leaders of a successful fight against a scuttled drainage fee plan during the Lee Brown administration, said voters are likely to reject such a “rain tax” in this political climate.

“Voters will see this as an additional property tax, and voters are so upset with property taxes now that it will be absolutely opposed,” he said.

My understanding is that Renew Houston’s plan differs significantly from the Brown plan, mostly because of its pay-as-you-go nature, but I’ll need to do a deeper review to be able to fully explain that. Be that as it may, it seems to me that if you oppose Renew Houston’s proposal, then you must either think the status quo is fine – that is, that Houston’s drainage system is adequate as is, and that the CIP process is sufficient to make needed repairs and improvements – or that there’s a better way of funding drainage improvement projects than Renew Houston’s plan. So let me ask that question directly to Norman Adams or anyone else who opposes the Renew Houston plan: Do you believe Houston’s drainage system is adequate, and that the mechanism we have now for maintenance of it is sufficient? If not, what is your preferred alternative? I would hope that in any future coverage of this campaign, those questions are asked of the opposition.

Anyway. The story notes that both the anti-red light camera forces and the Mayor White term limits commission are planning to submit their petition signatures as well, so depending on what the City Secretary has to say, we may have an even more crowded ballot this November. Mayor Parker has also indicated her support for the Renew Houston plan, which is the first time she has done so – see this KUHF story from earlier in the week for an example of what she had been saying previously, before the petition signatures were submitted. Finally, the Ultimate Memorial blog discusses how Renew Houston is making its pitch to neighborhoods.

Several area Super Neighborhood councils have discussed the issue. And though none have given their full support, they do find the interesting enough to ask for more information and more time to discuss.

Ed Browne, a Memorial City District Drainage Coalition founder, recommends that all super neighborhoods and organizations raise three issues when RENEW representatives come speak to their groups so that the political action committee endorsing the proposed fee understands the need for fundamental changes in the way business is done in Houston.

There must be no more unwarranted variances given to developers by the city of Houston, he said. The city must enforce its ordinance that requires detention. And there needs to be an end to “grandfathering.”

Good questions all. That’s a discussion worth having, and one I look forward to.

UPDATE: John Coby has more.

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4 Comments

  1. Steve Smith says:

    I don’t think the red light camera forces will have the signatures since people are starting to realize that they will also be going against police dashboard cameras if they sign the petition.

  2. Ron in Houston says:

    Well, we do need better flood control and I guess it would be the engineers who would appreciate that the most. Still, it seems a bit unseemly to be trying to get something on the ballot where obviously you stand to profit handsomely.

  3. Anne says:

    I have three big problems with this plan. First, there is no transpearancy about which engineering firms are supporting/funding this campaign. Are any of these engineers willing to pass on doing work funded by this plan to avoid any conflict of interest? Second, the plan does not hold the same engineers who will be doing the work responsible if the changes they propose do not help the situation. Third, there are other ways to fund infrastructure projects that will give the city a better chance of getting what they want at a reasonable fee (private public partnerships). On first glance, this plan looks like a group of engineers trying to secure funding that will lead to work for themselves. I can see contractors and suppliers who work in related industries supporting this for purely self-serving reasons…not because they care about Houston’s flooding issues. And, when one thinks about it more, there is nothing innovative about this plan. If the engineers and contractors supporting this idea were required to put their own money upfront, meet certain standards or pay some type of penalty for poor performance, it may deflect the claims of “making work for themselves”. And my final point, has anyone thought to ask the engineers supporting this plan, if they would take any responsibility for the current state of the drainage conditions in Houston? It would seem logical that since engineers designed the current system and enforced the current drainage codes, they should be held responsbile for the current state of things. Do we have any assurance that the drainage design coming from this new drainage tax will be any better than what was done before?

  4. […] where does that leave us? I’m going to go back to what I said before. Either you believe this is a problem that needs to be addressed or you don’t. If you do […]