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February 25th, 2023:

Sidney Powell beats State Bar charges

I’m upset about this on two levels.

A state district judge dismissed a Texas state bar disciplinary case against Dallas attorney Sidney Powell for her role in disputing the 2020 election results as a lawyer for former President Donald Trump.

The State Bar of Texas filed a petition last March accusing Powell of professional misconduct by filing “frivolous” voter fraud lawsuits in four states, making false statements to a court and knowingly presenting false evidence. Powell filed lawsuits in Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin and Arizona accusing election companies of vote manipulation.

The petition asked the court to decide the appropriate sanction, which could have ranged from reprimand to disbarment.

In the decision signed Wednesday, Andrea Bouressa, a Collin County district judge who heard the case filed in Dallas County, found “defects” with filings from Powell’s accuser, the Commission for Lawyer Discipline.

The commission, she ruled, mislabeled exhibits of evidence and failed to correct the errors when pointed out. That left two exhibits and those failed to meet the burden of the case, the judge said in granting Powell’s motion to dismiss the complaint.

[…]

Although the Texas court handed Powell a victory, her reputation continues to take a beating as evidence emerges in a $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit against Fox News from Dominion Voting Systems.

Last week, the company revealed that Powell’s “evidence” for allegations of fraud in the 2020 presidential election stemmed from a bizarre email by an unidentified author who attributed her insight to an ability to “time travel in a semi-conscious state.”

Dominion said Fox executives harmed its business by knowingly allowing hosts and guests to voice baseless and false assertions linking it to nonexistent vote fraud.

In depositions, Fox host Maria Bartiromo called the email that Powell had provided “nonsense,” according to Dominion’s filing.

And David Clark, then Fox’s senior executive over weekend shows, said that — had he known that Powell’s “crazy” theories were based on that email — he “would not have allowed that claim to be aired.”

See here for the background, and be sure to read the judge’s decision, it’s short and to the point. I’m upset that Powell won’t be sanctioned for all the obvious reasons – it really seems impossible to hold terrible people to account for their terrible actions these days – but if the weight of the evidence did not support a finding of guilt, then so be it. What really chaps me is that the State Bar appears to have completely bungled this, by not including all the evidence they said they had, mislabeling the evidence they did include, and not taking the opportunity to fix their clearly flawed exhibits when given the chance. I’m trying to think of a reason for this that isn’t rank incompetence on their part, and I’m having a hard time doing so. Whatever the reason was, we the people deserved a hell of a lot better than this. Any remaining optimism I may have had for their case against Ken Paxton took a beating with this outcome. Reuters and Forbes have more.

Here come the new floodplain maps

Coming soon to tell you if you are now in the floodplain.

When Harris County debuts a massive overhaul of its floodplain maps later this year, the Houston area will be the first in the country to rely on a more accurate assessment of homes and businesses at risk. The update is a direct response to Hurricane Harvey, a storm so ferocious it forced the region to change its understanding of how much rainfall to plan for and which neighborhoods could flood.

Harvey — the third 500-year storm in three years — overwhelmed Harris County with up to 47 inches of rain, exposing serious flaws in communicating flood risk. A county analysis found half of the 204,000 homes and apartments that flooded were outside the boundaries of the official flood risk zones mapped by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

More than half of the damaged homes in the Tax Day storm in 2016 were outside the mapped floodplains, as were more than one-third of those during the Memorial Day flood in 2015.

On the new maps, most of Harris County’s floodplains will expand, reflecting a major effort to capture a more comprehensive understanding of flood risk.

FEMA’s existing floodplain maps show communities their risk of fluvial, or river flooding, when a bayou, creek or lake overflows its banks and floods nearby structures. What they do not show is the risk of urban flooding, when intense rainfall overwhelms stormwater systems regardless of proximity to a bayou or other channel.

The new floodplain maps for Harris County — originally set to be released in late 2022, but now expected in late this summer at the earliest — will be FEMA’s first maps to depict urban flooding. They also will reflect updated rainfall estimates from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that better reflect the reality that storms have intensified in recent decades, data that had not been updated since the 1960s.

“This update is really a transformational way of thinking about floodplains,” said Tina Petersen, executive director at the Harris County Flood Control District. “This is the first program that FEMA has done with a partner like Harris County Flood Control District that’s really looking at innovative mapping tools trying to develop what is a much more comprehensive understanding of flood risk, beyond what has been done in the past.”

Communities across the United States are going through the process of updating their floodplain maps to align with NOAA’s higher rainfall estimates.

Harris County’s effort to map urban flood risk is its own innovation in response to Harvey, which demonstrated the limitations of the existing models, said Ataul Hannan, planning division director at the Harris County Flood Control District.

“That is a new approach,” Hannan said. “They have never done it anywhere in the United States.”

There’s a lot more to the story so go read the rest, or read the companion story that summarizes the main points. Lots of things change – the amount of rainfall needed to be called a 100-year or 500-year flood, changes to individual watersheds, future updates to include new flood mitigation projects – with a big one being that inclusion of urban flooding risk. Some number of people who are not now in a defined floodplain will be in the new maps, and some of them will not be happy about it. There will be a lot of discussion to be had afterwards.

On a related note.

Harris County Commissioners Court is expected next week to consider a plan for spending $750 million in flood mitigation funds, all or part of which could be earmarked for closing a funding gap in the county’s flood bond program.

A year after a calamitous 2017 storm inundated more than 200,000 homes and businesses, voters approved a $2.5 billion bond proposal to tackle more than 180 flood control projects across the county.

County officials expected to receive additional billions of dollars from state and federal governments to undertake those projects, but the money failed to materialize. The county two years ago said that had resulted in a $1.4 billion shortfall in the flood bond program.

The Harris County Flood Control District said it has been able to keep the flood bond projects on schedule thanks to the Flood Resilience Trust the county created in June 2021 to address the funding gap. The county budget office estimated that if no other federal or state aid comes through, the trust would be able to make up bond project shortfalls until about 2026.

The trust is funded by Harris County Toll Road Authority revenues.

Now, county officials could spend part of the $750 million allotment to close what remains of that funding gap.

That’s from last week, I was waiting to see what the post-approval story looked like but then decided to add this in to this post. You know the background here, if I start thinking about it too much my head will explode, so I’ll just leave this here. The county is allowed to do this as long as the projects in question are HUD-compliant since this is HUD money, and there seems to be unanimous support for it.

The Houston coyotes

No, not another sports team. A bit of wildlife that has found a home in the big city.

As the Houston region continues to develop over the next few years, wildlife removal experts say that interactions between coyotes and humans will steadily increase until their encounters are a more common occurrence.

Coyote sightings in Houston used to be rare and could be the subject of viral moments, like the video last year of a coyote scaling a fence and roof in a Richmond backyard.

Mark Browning from Houston’s Elite Wildlife Services said that years ago coyotes would normally only be seen on the outskirts of undeveloped properties. But as more areas get developed, there has been an uptick in calls for coyote removal services in more urbanized zones.

For instance, a few weeks ago Browning said that his company received a call about a coyote on the top floor of a downtown parking garage, calling the ordeal a “spectacle” with people afraid the coyote was going to bite someone. There were also recent reports of coyote sightings near Memorial Park in Houston.

“They are absolutely increasing, and they’ve become very urbanized,” Browning said. “They learn our habits, like when we take our trash out. And they really don’t have any natural enemies so there’s really nothing to control the population.”

Brad Gurrerra from Quality Pest & Wildlife also says he’s been hearing a lot more concerns from residents living in the Heights and the Woodlands about coyote sightings.

“Even myself, I’ve had two outdoor cats that have been killed by a coyote,” Gurrerra said. “And we live in a suburban neighborhood. They’re pretty much everywhere.”

[…]

The Humane Society recommends hazing to attempt to change coyote behavior, such as yelling and waving your arms while approaching coyotes and using noisemakers, projectiles and other repellents to attempt to keep coyotes afraid of humans. TPW also urges people to not feed coyotes, keep pet food and water inside, secure garbage and compost piles, keep fruit trees fenced or pick up fallen fruit and not feed feral cats that coyotes can prey upon.

You can click on the embedded image to go to the Texas Parks and Wildlife page on coyotes. While your odds of encountering one of these critters has increased as the urban landscape has overtaken their original habitat, they’re not likely to be much bother. As a smug urban elitist I would of course prefer to not have to think about wildlife at all, but this is the world we live in now. Learn to cohabitate, our space is going to get more crowded as we go forward.