The forum was sponsored by a collection of Houston-area environmental groups, including Air Alliance Houston, the Bayou Land Conservancy and the Houston Sierra Club. Candidates Diana Martinez Alexander and Michael Moore were asked questions on a variety of issues, including how they would address air pollution, future flood mitigation needs and improving water quality in Houston-area streams.
When it comes to flood mitigation, both candidates emphasized the importance of conserving what little undeveloped land remains in Harris County, much of which can be found in Precinct 3 in the Katy Prairie area. Martinez Alexander said she would work with stakeholders to get buy-in on conservation and green growth strategies and with conservation groups to educate residents and homeowners associations on ways they can help protect land.
"It’s really critical to understand the importance of keeping as much grassland and natural land in tact as possible," she said. "Precinct 3 is growing. The capacity for new housing developments is very tempting, but the thing is to preserve those areas and incorporate bio-retention strategies to increase flood mitigation wherever possible."
Moore said he believed in saving the Katy Prairie no matter what, and the county should be a partner in helping increasing its footprint. He said the county's $2.5 billion bond referendum passed in 2018 was a start in addressing flooding, but he said a lot of that money has gone to fixing old infrastructure and cleaning out unmaintained creeks.
"We’re going to have to come back and do another $2.5 billion," Moore said. "That should be spent on nature-based infrastructure."
Moore said he feared the concept of a third reservoir in upper Cypress Creek could end up getting shot down by the Army Corps of Engineers, which would mean the county would have to focus on other solutions. He championed the increased use of bioswales, or channels designed to convey stormwater runoff while removing debris and pollution.
Both candidates also called for slowing down road construction and being more discerning about where new roads are built. Moore said he thinks the county should revisit its Major Thoroughfare Plan and that he opposed building new thoroughfares west of the Grand Parkway.
"We need to increase density closer in," Moore said. "You’re seeing density inside [Loop] 610. We need to create that density between Beltway 8 and 610."
Martinez Alexander said the county needs to change its mindset when it comes to roads, instead focusing on encouraging residential concepts that provide opportunities for walkability and biking in more compact areas. Pointing to I-10, she said new roads often do not solve congestion issues.
"Research tells us whenever we build more roads, we have more cars [and] more traffic," she said. "It doesn’t do anything to alleviate congestion. It just adds more of it. We have to change our mindset and move toward different types of infrastructure."
On the topic of air quality, Martinez Alexander called for the establishment of a climate crisis plan and strengthening the county's Pollution Control Department so it can better help with issues such as air monitoring and partnering with the county attorney's office to hold companies accountable.
Moore said he would establish an outreach team to develop community participation in Precinct 3 to create an action plan for climate change. He said every community that believes it needs an air monitor should have one. He also pointed to his experience at chief of staff to former Houston Mayor Bill White in reducing toxic chemicals such as benzene and butadiene in Houston's air.
Both candidates pushed for environmental equity, acknowledging how air quality and climate issues tend to more heavily affect more disadvantaged communities. Moore pointed to a 2019 study by the Harris County Public Health Department that found life expectancy in underserved parts of the county to be as much as 24 years shorter than more affluent areas.
The winner of the Democratic primary will face Republican Tom Ramsey for the Precinct 3 commissioner seat in the November general election. Mary Van Kerrebrook, who moderated the forum and serves on the National Wildlife Federation's Texas affiliate, said Ramsey would be invited to a future forum along with the Democratic nominee.