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Drainage madness

I have three things to say about this.

A year ago, Taxpayers for Financial Accountability campaigned against Houston’s Proposition 1, which called for a pay-as-you-go fund to shore up the city’s drainage infrastructure in part through a monthly fee on homes and businesses.

They lost. The measure narrowly passed and the first bills went out in July.

This year the committee is still campaigning against the measure, this time by endorsing a slate of city candidates who opposed Proposition 1.

The problem is, according to a complaint filed with the Texas Ethics Commission, you can’t do both. Taxpayers for Financial Accountability was formed as a specific purpose committee, which means it can spend money on a cause or on candidates it names at the time of its formation. General purpose committees can change their focus each election, but there’s more paperwork and rules and donors required to form them.

A campaign manager for a candidate who didn’t get the endorsement of Taxpayers for Financial Accountability says the group is violating the law by acting outside its specific purpose in promoting eight candidates in a mailer being distributed this weekend.

“I believe we’re staying in our purpose by promoting the idea that the rain tax is regressive and a huge tax increase,” said Robert Glaser, the committee’s treasurer. “We’re recognizing folks who have the same point of view that we do.”


But even Paul Bettencourt, a leading figure of a separate committee that opposed Prop. 1, has distanced himself from the mailer and called it “stupid” because of the apparent violation of the election code.

1. When even a shameless opportunist like Paul Bettencourt says you’ve crossed a line, you’ve probably crossed a line. I can’t find the exact statute that’s relevant here, but it seems to that this isn’t isn’t a particularly subtle distinction. If this is allowable, then I don’t see what the point of being a special purpose committee is. Hope you guys have some money put aside for the fine you’re going to be levied, fellas.

2. I continue to be mystified by the level of animosity some people have towards the drainage fee, and I continue to wait for these opponents to tell me what their alternate solution for Houston’s drainage and flooding problems would be. If you don’t think we have a problem that needs to be solved, be honest enough to say so. If you believe you have a better solution than the one we voted on last year, tell me what it is. Prop 1 opponents did neither last year, and they’re still doing neither now.

3. Speaking of voting, I’m quite sure that every candidate on this slate has said something about the need to “respect the will of the voters” in regard to the red light camera referendum. Why isn’t there the same need to respect the will of the voters on Prop 1?

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  1. Mainstream says:

    The slate includes unlikely bedfellows like Fernando Herrera, Karen Derr, and Jolanda Jones. It is hard for me to envision westside conservatives supporting Jones, or Heights liberals backing Herrera, or blacks in the Third Ward supporting Herrera, so my sense is that this slate hurts rather than helps the linked candidates.

  2. Joshua bullard says:

    The drainage fee or the collection there of has to be distributed even-ly and fair,historically in sunnyside ,southpark,third ward,fifth ward and sub divisions like blueridge reedwood have been over looked time and time again.take sunnyside for example,heres an entire area of town that was annexed in 1956 by then mayor holcombe(he is our longest serving mayor of houston)his bussiness model was”if i need something changed with the city charter,i will just be mayor for a few years” he served as our mayor from 1929 threw 1956-on and off of course.sunnyside was annexed for one reason and one reason only”money”revenue,mayor holcombe took sunnysides money and gave sunnyside nothing in return,now you have a new bunch of people asking sunnyside to pay the city more for improvments to “the city” known as the drainage fee that most likely will never see a return on the money that will continue to be taken from go ask the people of sunnyside why they dont want to pay the drainage fee-becuase there tired of the take game with no return and so am i.
    stay out of sunnysides pocket
    joshua ben bullard

  3. Eric Weinmann says:

    I filed the complaint based upon advice from attorneys at the TEC. Indeed the slate was paid for by Scott Boates, and is a hail marry pass by third-tier candidates. The mailing is a blatant violation of elections law. It is interesting that the first people to cry ethics violations are very quick to act unethically themselves.

  4. J.J.P. says:

    The problem with the drainage fee is that it is not designed to actually fix our drainage problem. It was set up as a slush fund with no actual plan in place, no coordination with existing entities like Harris County Flood Control and no requirements or incentives to build proper retention in the future.

    From a progressive perspective and someone who is worried about how low-income families will fare, I think it’s safe to say that Parker and Costello did nothing to consider the impact on them when they levied this REGRESSIVE fee that calculates based only on square footage. Let’s use Costello’s house to demonstrate this example- Costello’s lot size is 2300 sq feet and 1930 sq feet is impermeable according to ReBuild Houston and is worth 330,000. It’s part of one of those townhome developments that tore down trees, overbuilt on a lot and paved over most PERMEABLE greenspace– this type of development is one of the big contributors to our drainage problem. Costello pays 2.50 a month and brags about it at Pachyderm Club meetings. How does he get away with it? Well after he spearheaded the campaign touting that the drainage fee would be 5.00 per month and that turned out to be so very wrong– the city just blindly reduced everything by 1000 sq feet meaning that Costello pays for only 930 sq feet of impermeable space when he lives in paved over, flood causing building. 83% of his lot is impermeable and the greenspace he maintains is negligible.

    Let’s compare to a random house in Aldine that is valued at 76,000, sits on a 6000 sq foot lot, the home is only 1300 sq ft but they’ve calculated the impermeable space to be 3026. That still means that nearly 50% of their lot is permeable greenspace and has trees that they maintain which offsets their supposed 3026 impermeable space. (Remember Costello’s building does not provide for an offset). So this family before 1000 sq foot adjustment was going to pay 8.55 a month and after the adjustment they pay 5.88– still double what Costello pays.

    Now which neighborhood is going to see improvements sooner if ever? Aldine or Montrose?

    You’re probably thinking so what? $5 isn’t a lot of money. Well lets consider low income seniors living in Acres Homes where the only asset they have is the home that’s been in their family for decades and they live on fixed income. Do you know what it’s like to live off of $500 a month– do you want to meet the people who do? Do you want to tell them that $5, $8 or $10 isn’t a lot of money. Do you want to ask them how they decide pay a fee or pay for meds?

    The problem then gets worse, because the ReNew Houston effort lied to voters (Parker even said she was misled so there’s no question about them lying) about the actual costs and the city had to do that 1000 sq foot adjustment, they had to get the money elsewhere and made the airport enterprise system pay two years in advance– which isn’t sustainable in the long run which means as long as the regressive structure is in place the burden placed on lower income families in outlying Houston neighborhoods will continue to increase.

    But you counter with none of this would be a problem if churches and schools paid their fair share. Churches– I agree. However, our school districts were forced to lay off teachers, cut staff and afterschool programs and now are suing the state of Texas for equitable funding. So in one of the most devastating years for our schools, they should have an additional fee placed on them that will come from taxpayers who are already paying for drainage.

    Did the Mayor and Costello ever consider the impact to renters in low income apartments? The apartment management will pass that cost on to the renters (40% of which already live below the affordability standard in Houston) meaning that they may face a $40 or $50 increase in rent which would be financially devastating, lead to even more mobility, instability and even crime.

    None of these issues were ever seriously discussed or evaluated by Mayor “We build the plane as we fly it” Parker or Costello and any opposition to it was firmly silenced. Costello’s campaign treasurer at the time and biggest financial backer of ReNew Houston went so far as to race bait African American members of city council in an email from Bob Jones to Wanda Adams,“Listening to your press conference last week and reading the editorial below confirms my concern that we do not have any leadership from our African American council members…Hopefully, your community and your district will be able to find some leadership. It is certainly lacking right now.” Interestingly enough Bob Jones didn’t send any emails to the white council members opposing or raising questions about Prop 1.

    And for someone who continues to echo the refrain of everyone pay their fair share, I never hear you write critically about the new development and 380 agreements for Wal-mart and Krogers that are allowed to grandfather in retention, meaning they won’t even have to meet current drainage standards. How can anyone believe that the Mayor and Costello are really interested in a comprehensive plan to reduce flooding and improve drainage while they’re cutting deals like this that will cause flooding?

    Yes, we need to fix our drainage but I’d like to turn the tables and ask you to explain why we should have any faith that this is the way to do it considering that:

    1. Funds are already being diverted from the drainage lockbox.
    2. It’s regressive and disproportionate
    3. They lied about the initiative when it was up for a vote.
    4. Disastrous implementation
    5. There is a lack of transparency and accountability (can you tell me who sits on the ReBuild Board, can you easily find it on

    P.S. The only reason why Bettencourt is criticizing it is because his endorsed candidate isn’t on it. If he were, Bettencourt wouldn’t have said boo on this because you did get one thing right, he’s a shameless opportunist.

  5. Hobby says:

    If you think there is a certain irony in the slate of candidates who claim to be the ones respecting “the will of the people” then going against anything resembling the voter approved rebuild Houston fee, wait until tomorrow night. When a slew of them lose, it will be for every lame excuse under the sun, (they stole my sign, if I had gotten in the race earlier, they had more ill-gotten money, etc.) Their loss(es) will be blamed on everything except the true reason, the “will of the people” was to have their opponent over them. Let’s see which ones will be gracious in accepting that and which ones will (in some cases continue to) play the bitter, bitter victim role.

  6. paul kubosh says:

    Hobby…….I hope you are wrong. We shall see.

  7. Scott Boates says:

    I got beat, fair and square. Congratulations to CM Costello on his re-election, and Mssrs. Cook and Partsch-Galvan for their passion and showings in this race. Sorry if Paul owes Hobby anything.

  8. […] – Brenda Stardig trailed Helena Brown in District A by 479 votes. She and Jolanda Jones, who led Jack Christie by about 6700 votes, will be headed to a runoff. All other incumbents won majorities, with CM Stephen Costello having the closest race but winning with 51.2%. So much for the anti-Renew Houston slate. […]

  9. Jules says:

    J.J.P. – you are absolutely right on every count. And the implementation is disastrous.

    The software does not work. It does not correctly identify the property lines or the impermeable surface. It might be good for finding an oasis in a desert, but it can’t tell a shadow from a driveway. It has the property lines off by several feet on my block – so we get to pay for shadows on our neighbor’s property.

    from this article:

    “Costello said he was told relatively few owners are appealing their bills.

    “We’re actually pretty excited,” he said. “Over 600,000 bills went out. During the appeals process right now we’ve only processed about 4,000. That’s truly incredible.””

    One reason might be is that the appeals process is too burdensome. You must have a sketch of your property – I don’t know if this has to be a survey or if you can draw this yourself, either way it is burdensome – the burden of proof lies with the person who pays the water bill, not with the City. The burden is unfair to people unfamiliar with technology. You have to determine – and basically swear to – the impermeable square footage (the measuring and math is difficult if your home and impervious surface isn’t a nice, single rectangle).

    One of my neighbors and I were concerned about another neighbor – limited income, elderly – living in the house her grandparents built so unlikely to have a survey. Fortunately, for now, she’s not being billed the drainage fee. The City and it’s awesome software have bypassed her for now.