The devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey was easily Houston’s No. 1 story of 2017 and one of the biggest national stories. Countless Houstonians were impacted by the storm, which changed lives for years to come. There were other significant events in areas such as politics, justice and education. Here are the top 10 local stories.
Hurricane Harvey hits Houston
Harvey made landfall in Texas as a Category 4 hurricane on Aug. 25, and over the next few days, rainfall reached over 45 inches in some parts of Houston. The hurricane caused catastrophic flooding across the city, affecting residences, businesses, schools and other structures.
Image after image showed Houstonians wading in high water or being rescued in boats, some with only the clothes on their backs. Heroes ranged from first responders and members of the military to ordinary citizens determined to save lives. In the end, 88 Texans lost their lives due to Harvey. In addition…
- Harvey caused $126 billion worth of damage
- 185,149 homes were damaged or destroyed
- 72,000 people were rescued
- 43,000 people sought temporary shelter
- 555,000 FEMA disaster assistance applications were submitted
Mayor Sylvester Turner was at the forefront of the crisis, and one national news outlet dubbed him “the hardest working mayor in America” during Harvey’s wrath and aftermath. Turner stood by his decision not to order an evacuation of the city, and advised residents to hunker down.
Once Harvey subsided, Houston began its long recovery and rebuilding process. Various relief efforts were established to help.
Gov. Greg Abbott presented Turner with a $50 million check for Harvey relief, prompting Turner to withdraw a proposed property tax hike for the city. J.J. Watt raised $37 million, of which $30 million is designated for four non-profits. The Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund announced its first round of grants totaling $7.55 million to 28 local non-profits to assist storm victims, followed by the distribution of $28.9 million in funds to 90 local non-profits.
Thousands of Harvey survivors remain in limbo, however, waiting for disaster assistance from FEMA and other sources.
Turner said his short-term goals for Harvey recovery include “housing, housing, housing.”
Concerning long-tern goals, Turner said: “We won’t have a successful recovery without having taken measures to prevent the need for the next recovery. We need to take flooding mitigation plans off the shelf, fully fund the ones that were already underway before the storm, and consider new projects designed to prevent or minimize future floods. There will be another storm.”
Texas Legislature meets
Texas held its 85th Legislative Session and state lawmakers addressed such pressing issues as criminal justice reform, education, healthcare, child welfare and voter ID. Legislation included passage of the Sandra Bland Act, which calls for law enforcement de-escalation training and outside investigation of jail deaths. The bill also addresses inmate safety in jails and
improvements for people suffering from mental illness in the criminal justice system.
Bail system in court battle
Harris County became involved in a complicated fight over its bail procedures. A federal judge declared that the county’s cash bail system is unconstitutional because it’s fundamentally unfair to the poor. Judge Lee H. Rosenthal ordered the country to stop keeping people who have been arrested on misdemeanor charges in jail because they cannot pay bail. The county appealed the ruling and is waiting to see if it will be overturned or sent back to the lower court.
Pension reform achieved
Pension reform, Mayor Turner’s primary focus since taking office, became a reality. The bill was signed into law by Gov. Abbott, and legislative approval was necessary because control of the pension systems is housed in state statute. The plan addressed a 16-year financial issue and will let the City pay down its $8.2 billion liability in 30 years through future benefit reductions. The plan utilizes a “more realistic” 7 percent rate of return on investments.
HISD recapture payment approved
Voters authorized HISD to pay its recapture obligation by writing a check to the state using local property tax dollars. Under state law, HISD is considered property-wealthy, meaning the district exceeds a wealth per student set by the Texas Legislature and is required to send a portion of local property tax dollars to the state – a process called recapture. It is part of the state’s school finance system known as the “Robin Hood” plan.
Green receives death threats
Houston Congressman Al Green received racist threats from alleged supporters of President Donald Trump, days after Green called for Trump’s impeachment. “Try it,” a caller threatened, referring to impeaching Trump, “and we’ll lynch all you f*****g n****rs, you’ll be hanging from a tree…” Green said Trump should be impeached due to “the obstruction of a lawful investigation” of his campaign’s ties to Russian influence in the 2016 presidential election.
PVAMU names new president
Dr. Ruth Simmons was named president of Prairie View A&M University after serving as interim president. Simmons was president of Brown University from 2001 to 2012 and was the first African-American to lead an Ivy League institution. Prior to joining Brown Simmons served as president of Smith College. She grew up in Fifth Ward. Simmons succeeded Dr. George Wright, who resigned to “focus on other things.”
Elected officials under fire
Harris County Justice of the Peace Hilary Green was suspended by the Texas Supreme Court based on allegations that she illegally abused prescription drugs, sent sexually explicit texts to a bailiff while on the bench and paid for sex. In another case, the Houston Community College Board of Trustees voted to publicly censure Vice Chairman Chris Oliver after he pleaded guilty to federal bribery charges. Oliver admitted that he accepted cash payments and gift cards totaling $12,000 for promises to help another person secure contracts with HCC. He is awaiting sentencing.
Bob McNair blasted
Comments by Texans’ owner Bob McNair, in which he referred to NFL players as “inmates,” drew criticism from African-Americans. Local elected officials and other community leaders requested a meeting for McNair to clarify the meaning of his comments and to voice their rejection of a McNair statue in front of NRG Stadium. In response to the comments, more than 30 Texans’ players took a knee during the national anthem at a game against Seattle. McNair apologized for the remarks.
Emancipation Park rededicated
Houston celebrated the renovation of one of its most important landmarks when historic Emancipation Park was rededicated following a $33 million makeover. Located in Third Ward, it is the oldest public park in Texas and a symbol of freedom for African-Americans. Improvements included a new 16,000-square feet recreation center with a gymnasium, weight room, classroom, lobby and reception area, and office and storage space.