Endorsement watch: For Fair For Houston

The Chron endorses the other city ballot proposition, the Fair For Houston item.

Floodwaters, as we know, don’t care about arbitrary county lines. Neither do homeowners having to muck out their living rooms because politicians can’t work out a fair regional plan to balance development with downstream flooding risks.

But somebody’s got to care about these vital issues and how they affect individual communities as well as the sweeping swath of 13 counties whose fates are intertwined by nature’s whim and public policy. That’s why the Houston-Galveston Area Council exists. You may not have heard of it, or its acronym H-GAC, but the regional planning body has considerable influence in many issues that affect our daily lives.

Trouble is, the influence of those of us who live in Houston and Harris County — by far the most populous jurisdictions represented on the council — hasn’t kept pace with our growth — or our shifting priorities.

Consider that, after Hurricane Harvey, H-GAC approved a plan that designated just 2 percent of $488 million in federal funds to the city of Houston. In another ordeal, the council’s transportation committee OK’d an I-45 highway expansion plan over the concerns of Houston and Harris County and it took a lawsuit and months of bitter back-and-forth with the TxDOT to work out a compromise.

It’s clear that Houston and Harris County need more representation on the council and on the eight-county transportation policy committee, where Houston has just three of 28 votes. Yet, when H-GAC agreed to reconsider the voting structure back in 2021, the council, against the urging of Houston and Harris County leadership, ultimately decided to keep the status quo.

They don’t get the last word, though. Houston voters do, thanks to a scrappy grassroots campaign that has put fairness and regional governance on the ballot in November.

Proposition B, a charter amendment, would require Houston’s representatives on the board to either get H-GAC to renegotiate the voting structure to make it more proportional for everyone involved or leave the organization, an option that pretty much all parties agree isn’t desirable and at least some feel isn’t likely, either.

“At the core of our push is that we really believe in democracy and we want to empower our elected officials,” said Ally Smither, communications director with the Yes on Prop B campaign.

All of this may seem wonky or like petty squabbling over a few contentious decisions but the truth is that as the region shifts, the very question of how it should grow is at stake. Does endless highway expansion serve us well? Has development led to downstream flooding? What kinds of walkable infrastructure projects deserve funding? Sure, the bulk of what H-GAC does is workforce training but these sorts of planning decisions are critical to our future and this proposition gives the city important leverage to have a real say in that future.

See here for previous related blogging. The Chron is now all in on the city of Houston ballot items. This endorsement is a pretty good overview of the issue, so read the whole thing. If you have any specific questions you’d like me to ask when I interview someone from Fair For Houston, leave it in the comments.

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