Before Hurricane Harvey, we had two “500-year floods” in two years. Scientists predict that, with climate change, we are likely to see something like Harvey again. We need to shift the paradigm that has governed Harris County for years. Rather than always cleaning up after the fact, we must prepare, with real long-term planning and commitment. That is the only way we will protect our community and our economic future. For that, we need new leadership.
Harvey was a terrible natural tragedy, but its impact was worsened by a lack of preparation, management, and leadership--especially from our County leaders.
This is what inspired Lina to run. She launched her campaign before Harvey, alarmed that County leaders were not talking about the fact that we had had two 500-year floods in a row. As a resident of Harris County, she knows that this community deserves leaders who plan for a safe future, implement innovative solutions, and keep the needs of the most vulnerable in mind. And as Harris County Judge, Lina will be able to make this a reality.
Our government must take proactive responsibility. We cannot prevent heavy rains, but we can manage their impact on our community. Despite repeated warnings, officials have allowed unchecked development to eliminate the prairie lands we rely upon to absorb storm water--adding more pavement in the last 20 years than the entire city of Philadelphia. It’s not the growth that’s a problem--we understand why so many would want to move to our area! Rather, the lack of management, regulation or forward-thinking development has given rise to the issues we now face. They put people directly in harm’s way --right in the floodplain. Local officials allowed people to buy homes near the release zones of Addicks and Barker reservoirs--and there has never been an effort to inform or compensate these people. Harris County floodplain development standards have only this year been updated to regulate 500-year floodplains. Thousands of homes have been built inside those floodplains.
Harris County has two federal dams, Barker and Addicks, and they have needed repairs and upgrades for years. In 2009, the federal government labeled them as at “extremely high risk of catastrophic failure.”
The Houston ship channel at the Port of Houston is home to largest petrochemical complex in the United States and is vulnerable to the release of dangerous petrochemicals into Galveston Bay, not to mention billions in economic losses. In 2008, Hurricane Ike inflicted $25 billion in losses and spilled hundreds of thousands of gallons of crude oil, warning us of the need to protect our coastal areas from storm surge.
Lina will make sure County government is not making the problem worse. She will work to adopt adequate and transparent development, building, and planning standards. She will work to update the standards and floodplain designations with the best science, to reflect rainfall increase projections. Lina will direct the County’s legal team to enforce the County’s subdivision plat authority and drainage authority to ensure our standards for drainage and detention are being respected. She will create incentives to retrofit properties to protect from flooding and to build in less dangerous areas.
Lina will fight to ensure County government takes responsibility and proactively implements real solutions, instead of passing the buck. Lina will make a coastal protection project an urgent priority. She will work with the community and experts in a transparent process to identify a project that protects our coastal communities while being mindful of environmental impacts and budgetary constraints. She will be making plans right now for the next storm; fighting to make sure we have money on hand to help people move if they wish, rather than forcing them to rebuild in a flood-prone area.
Lina will fully leverage the state and federal governments. Harris County is the size of Colorado in population - the third largest in our nation. She will be a proactive, visible and tireless voice - making sure Harris County is known nationally for seeking federal funding for the larger infrastructure projects. Lina will work to empower and equip the Houston-Galveston Area Council (HGAC)’s Flood Management Council to coordinate limited funding for flood projects within our broader region.
Government must be transparent. We must do what’s best for our community, not just the next election. County leaders knew the Thursday of Harvey that the flood gates in Addicks and Barker were going to be released, yet they did not inform residents for days. Residents were never informed of dangerous chemical spills during the storm, like thousands of pounds of gasoline, lye, benzene, biosolids, and others, including known carcinogens that were released at dangerous levels. The County government sat on the sidelines as the state government turned off air quality monitors. In the face of Tropical Storm Allison, Hurricane Ike, the Memorial Day Flood and the Tax Day Flood, the region’s future flood resilience was not seriously and publicly discussed by County leadership. After Harvey, Harris County residents are left to wonder whether leaders will only respond as long as the spotlight is on them.
Lina will champion a clear vision for the County’s future. She recognizes that protection from flooding is a multi-year process, but it is one that must begin now and that must be led by a clear, broadly-known, community-centered goal. Lina’s vision is a county in which we protect wetlands, forests, prairies, and natural floodplains all across our County as living sponges; in which residents know whether they live in an area at risk of failure and government helps people get out of the floodplains and onto higher ground if they so wish; in which infrastructure investments are made transparently and with the interests of the community in mind; in which government strives to find solutions specific to each community’s needs. Lina will convene a discussion to identify our vision for the future of our county. The discussion will include communities and experts, engineers and academics, environmentalists and industry leaders.
Lina will ensure there is comprehensive information about known danger. She will make sure there is clear information about floodplains, so people know if there is a flood hazard when they are deciding where to live. People will know loud, early, and clear if dams are at risk of catastrophic failure or if the dams are going to be released. She will work so there is comprehensive information of chemical facilities in the county that have potential to harm families in the event of a release. Lina will ensure the County has the capability to monitor toxic chemical releases and warn residents.
Lina will make policy decisions based on the best modeling available, with community and expert input, and in front of the eyes of the community. Lina will convene a citizens advisory board with meaningful power and systems for robust public input to ensure that funding coming in for Harvey recovery is spent where it is most needed. There will be transparency in the decision-making for which projects are prioritized over others.
We must look out for everyone in Harris County in the event of a disaster. Despite the fact that in 2005, a botched evacuation from Hurricane Rita led to 107 deaths, officials have still not implemented a modern evacuation and shelter plan. Seven months before Harvey, Harris County approved a plan “in the event of an emergency that requires evacuation of all or any part of the Harris County population.” It was never implemented. Schools were not sure whether they could opened their doors as shelters, folks did not know where the shelters were, and the most impacted neighborhoods relied on a notification system that required residents to sign up in advance. On July 4th, 2018 - almost a year after Harvey - there was still no early warning system for high water and residents and businesses again lost vehicles to flood waters.
Lina will make sure there is a county plan for what to do if the county floods - or faces another mass disaster. Lina’s first order of business will be to work with experts and the community to implement a transparent and effective plan for evacuation and shelter in the event a hurricane - or any other disaster - displaces part of our community. We know which neighborhoods are at highest risk. She will make sure people know if they are in a hazard zone deep in the floodplains and know to be paying attention when danger looms. She will work with schools, faith leaders, and community leaders to develop clear partnerships in the event of an emergency, and will develop and publicize a world-class early warning system for high water to avoid damage to vehicles and lost lives. We will use the latest technology and best practices to everyone in our community safe.
As Harris County Judge, Lina can turn the tide and make a difference for our future.
In the wake of Harvey, it has never been more important to bring fresh ideas and spirit into this critical role -- or more feasible. Lina received almost 10,000 more votes and a higher percentage of the vote in the primary than the 10-year incumbent County Judge did. With your help, we can carry this momentum forward and win on election day.