By Gilbert Hoffman
Speaking last week at a North Channel Chamber luncheon, Harris County Pct. 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia covered a wide range of topics related to his concepts of improving conditions for all the residents.
Garcia said that his focus at all times is on Precinct 2, and what he can do to better conditions there. He said a fundamental change in how the precinct is run is his emphasis on spending county money to hire companies and workers that are located in the precinct. He introduced his purchasing director, Jose Jimenez, saying he was they key to implementing the new plan.
Garcia reflected on his first seven months in office, and how it seemed like an unending string of catastrophes. He noted that his term started the first week with an ExxonMobil fire in the refinery in Baytown, and currently was ending the period the same way with the same disaster. He noted that the refineries in Precinct 2 have a history of violations of air and water pollution, and vowed that the county would implement new procedures to minimize these. Because of the large number of petrochemical plants in his district, he said that environmental concerns and safety would be a primary concern that he would focus on.
Garcia noted that his precinct has the lowest household income in the county, and related to that is the lowest home ownership percentage. He noted how important this is, related to other problems of educational achievement and crime rates.
He said a priority is to raise the level of educational achievement, and as a start he has partnered with HCDE, the Harris County Department of Education, to provide free SAT college preparation for about 200 motivated students that need help to pass the college entrance tests. This is a four week course for high school students, and if successful will be repeated for more. Garcia noted that passing the SAT will open more educational opportunities, and result in more job and career choices and opportunities.
Garcia told the students, “Go on to succeed, but come back to Precinct 2 and Give Back.”
Garcia said that healthcare was a major concern, and noted that he had started the first “food pantry” at a Clinic in the district, to provide more healthy food to clients. He noted that other factors affecting access to good healthcare included transportation, which is being provided.
Noting that his precinct has the highest rate of cancer in Texas, probably due to proximity to refineries and other polluting sources, he was putting an accent on providing park space of a high quality, knowing that it affects our health. He is also working with a local healthcare company and the City of Houston to provide more park space.
A significant new type of park, known as an “inclusive” park designed for users with special needs as well as the general public, has been designated for development at James Drive Park in Northeast Houston. When finished, he sees it as a prototype for extension to other parks, in part or in whole through the county.
Another major concern, for Garcia as well as many residents of the precinct, is extreme flooding and the prospect of continued high water in the future. Garcia noted that although the voters approved $2.5 Billion in drainage improvements last year, nevertheless it would be spread through the whole county, and would only be a partial solution to the problem.
He said that more planning and expenditures would be required to solve the flooding problem, and he and his staff were working on a comprehensive engineering analysis of the infrastructure of the precinct, to see where improvements would be the most effective use of the money. This will result in a Master Plan for work in the future.
Garcia noted that in this budget year, $30 million will be spent on flood improvement projects in the North Shore area.
He discussed other problems including pervasive homelessness that results in some living on the streets and under highway overpasses. He thought that instead of incarcerating these persons, intervention to provide counseling, good, and housing would be required. He noted that the Harris County Jail is the largest psychiatric facility in the county, and could be useful to deal with this homeless problem, and slow down the return of these people to life on the streets. He said that many people were suffering from trauma caused by the string of natural disasters, and needed access to psychiatric resources to help them cope.
Another area that Garcia is addressing is affordable housing, and he said that he is working on a new approach with the Harris County Appraisal District, where the Precinct would take delinquent or foreclosed properties and make a land trust, for building new homes in a partnership between the Precinct and private builders. He said that they have already assembled a land trust of 150 lots, and are working to get the sale price of homes down to $120,000. One way to do this is for homeowners to own the house, but the county retain ownership of the property, he said.
About 100 persons attended the luncheon, and his presentation was met with universal approval.