State Sen. Mayes Middleton on March 10 introduced a bill that would abolish the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association and force private-market property insurers to offer such coverage to consumers at no increased cost.
Senate Bill 2556, which would affect more than 70,000 policyholders in the Galveston County area, had no co-sponsors Friday and hadn’t moved past the filing phase.
Middleton failed to respond to calls seeking comment Friday at 9:47 a.m., 10:46 a.m., 2:42 p.m. and 4:09 p.m., as well as an email sent at 9:31 a.m.
Industry insiders who typically comment about the association also were mute about the bill Friday.
As a condition of doing business in Texas, each insurer must include coverage for windstorm and hail in each policy written in a 14-county swath of land adjacent to the Gulf of Mexico, according to the bill’s text.
“Coverage provided must be provided at no additional cost to the insured,” according to the bill. “Costs incurred by insurers under this section shall not be recouped through a premium surcharge.”
The state Legislature established the association in 1971 to provide windstorm insurance on the Texas coast when no one else would, David Durden, general manager of the association, said Friday.
“TWIA serves to implement the Texas Legislature’s determination of the best structure to ensure a functioning property insurance market in Texas,” he said.
“Whether TWIA or the private insurance market provides it, coastal property owners must have access to insurance coverage for catastrophic hurricanes. Without it, people will be unable to live, work, and do business in our coastal communities, with economic effects throughout the state. The Association is committed to working with lawmakers as they consider how to best protect Texans on the coast.”
Middleton’s bill would abolish the association on Sept. 1, 2024, according to the bill.
That would affect 70,774 policyholders in Galveston County covered by 2,242 commercial policies, 236 manufactured home policies and 68,296 residential policies, said Aaron Taylor, senior legislative and external affairs specialist at the association. The association has 222,480 total policies for its coverage area, he said
This act would take effect immediately if it receives a vote of two-thirds of all the members elected to each chamber.
In 2018, the association was out of money and in debt, facing a shrinking revenue pool, according to the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission report.
Most private insurers left the windstorm market on the upper Texas coast long ago. In 2017, the windstorm association had about 240,000 policies covering more than $60 billion in property value, which includes residential, commercial and government-owned properties.
The association is funded by the premiums it collects from policyholders.
After Hurricane Harvey passed over the Texas coast in August 2017, the association’s reserve took a massive hit. More than 76,000 policyholders made claims after the storm, to which the association paid $1.7 billion. The association had to use $743 million of its $750 million reserve for catastrophes to pay off the claims, officials said.
The association in 2018 attempted to raise its premiums by 10 percent for both commercial and residential policyholders. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in October blocked that attempt and said legislators should be allowed to try to reform the association before rate went up again.
The association voted to rescind that rate-increase proposal in 2019.
In August 2022, the association voted against another rate increase for policyholders.
The decision came after members of the public and local and state representatives asked the board not to raise rates, citing skyrocketing living costs for coastal communities and concerns about affordability.
A cold, rainy Friday can ruin the day for thousands of spring breakers on the island for fun and sun. But for some people living within a quarter-mile of one Texas Department of Transportation project, it’s a day of comfort and peace because it means a respite from construction.
Every day for the past two months, Vinod Patel, 76, has been awakened about 7 a.m. to pounding and earthquake-like tremors in his house, he said.
He’s not alone.
The department of transportation since December has been building a $10.9 million, two-story parking garage at the end of Ferry Road to accommodate vehicles of people walking on to the Galveston-Port Bolivar ferries.
The garage at 1000 Ferry Road will be 470 feet long, 210 feet wide, 23 feet tall and have parking spaces for 120 vehicles, department spokesman Danny Perez said.
The project is expected to last into late 2023, at least, Perez said.
Water in glasses ripples and windows shake while construction is underway, Patel said. He has documented the ripples with video and recorded the heavy thuds of pilings being driven into the ground.
During an interview with The Daily News, Patel jumped up and down and stomped on his floor to demonstrate what it takes to shake a glass of water in his house. There was nary a ripple.
Patel lives with his partially-blind 88-year-old wife, Mirla Suayan, who said she feels tremors in her bed.
“Elderly people like her and me cannot sleep right at night because you’re still dreaming about those thumps,” Patel said.
Patel’s house is supported by wooden pilings, he said. He argues it’s slowly sinking into the ground because of the heavy poundings.
“I can’t even open my garage door anymore because the structure has sunk down,” Patel said. “They knew very well that if they did pilings it would damage the foundations of the houses around the project.
“It’s made people very unhappy. For six to seven hours a day, people should be relaxing in their house, but instead they hear the constant thumping of the construction.”
Although several nearby residents also voiced concern about the project, the department hasn’t heard from them, Perez said.
“We have not received direct complaints from residents living near the ferry landing regarding this issue,” Perez said. “Currently, the contractor is working on the concrete pilings for the foundation of the new parking garage.
“We will continue to monitor conditions at the project site including noise and vibration levels and work with the contractor to address any concerns that may arise,” Perez said.
The work is only being done during the day and the department is trying to finish the project as quickly as possible, Perez said.
Margo Schindler, who lives across from Patel, also is annoyed, she said.
“I’m deaf,” Schindler said. “I have Cochlear implants. So, when I take them off I don’t hear anything,” Schindler said. “But during the day I hear them. I find it very annoying.”
When construction began, her house shook to the point she thought it was haunted, she said. She soon learned the nearby construction, not ghosts, was the problem, however, she said.
“I know it needs to be done, but it is annoying,” Schindler said. “We want the improvements to be done, but I wish they would just hurry up and get it done.”
Neighbor Tracy Fulford said the problem for her isn’t noise or shaking, but her lights flickering on and off.
“It took us a long time to figure out what it was, and then I saw the crane at the construction site,” Fulford said.
James Howard, a contractor who lives a block closer to the project, said the impacts have jolted him off the couch from time to time.
“When they start pounding at the project, it starts vibrating the foundation of my house,” Howard said. “My windows rattle. When I sit on my couch, I can feel it move from the impact from the construction site.”
Howard has been taking photos of his swimming pool to document it wasn’t cracked when the work started, he said.
“It vibrates my house so much that the light bulbs unscrew themselves almost daily,” Howard said. “I feel sorry for some of the neighbors who live even closer to the construction site.”
If you can feel the vibration in your house, damage is bound to happen, he said.
Damage worried Mary Scott, especially for her china display, she said.
“All of my china in here just rattles and rattles from the construction,” Scott said. “I have to rearrange them because they’ll start clacking on each other.”
Scott worries decorative plates displayed on her wall will fall off because of the impact of the construction, she said.
“When you’re sitting here in the living room, you can just feel the impact of the construction,” Scott said. “It’s just constant. There’s just constant rattling of the dishes in my house.”
People can report concerns at https://www.txdot.gov/about/contact-us/report-an-issue.html, Perez said.
Advocates hope a newly completed master plan will help make arts and culture as much a part of the island experience as beaches and historic architecture, and attract a class of tourists that stays longer and spends more.
“The purpose of this is to create a connective tissue between different arts organizations and entities and interests,” said Councilman David Collins, member of the master plan’s project steering committee.
The master plan evolved from an effort to create a cultural arts events calendar. But assembling the calendar led planners to see an opportunity to do more for the island’s art scene, Collins said.
The calendar was meant simply to create a reference for public art, but the discussion grew into ways to support artists by providing a platform and funding for their projects, he said.
The master plan envisions the arts and culture as central parts of Galveston’s identity and economy — on par with assets such as beaches, historic architecture, cruises and fishing — and as quality of life benefits for residents, according to the plan.
“In this way, the arts are not only something one seeks out for a particular experience,” according to the plan. “Instead, the arts are intentionally baked into Galveston’s identity and its daily life.”
The city in 2021 hired consultant The Lakota Group for almost $90,000 to oversee development of the plan, according to city documents.
The Park Board of Trustees contributed $50,000 to help pay for the plan and a $50,000 The National Endowment for the Arts grant, originally earmarked for the cultural calendar, also was used, according to city documents.
The yearlong project planning was completed November.
The plan is much like a city charter for a municipality, outlining a framework for which artists can apply for money to contribute to the public cultural arts scene, Collins said.
Island artists often don’t know how to bring their vision to the public and the plan aims to clear the murk, Antoinette Lynch, project coordinator for the master plan, said.
“‘I had this crazy idea, but who do I talk to about this?’ I get a lot of those text messages,” Lynch said.
There isn’t an ideal organization artists can go to with public art project ideas, Collins said. One major goal of the master plan is to create a nonprofit connected to the city and hire an employee dedicated to implementing the master plan’s vision.
“If you called the city with a crazy idea, I’m not sure what their answer would be,” Collins said. “If you call the CVB, they might be a lot closer to knowing, but their job is to promote what there is — not develop what there isn’t.
“Then, we have a cultural arts commission whose job it is to develop what is not yet there, but those two entities don’t talk to each other any more than the art community does.”
The master plan, and eventual employee assigned to implement it, will offer artists a central point of contact for answers about art and culture in Galveston.
“What opened my eyes the most in this experience was, because the Lakota Group would bring us other examples in other cities, we have wonderful things — but we don’t have nearly enough diversity of those things,” said Trey Click, executive director of the Historic Downtown Partnership and steering committee member, said.
The master plan refers to art projects throughout the United States as general examples of what might be accomplished in Galveston. Those include the “fairy doors” of Ann Arbor, Michigan, where homes and businesses are adorned with tiny, intricately decorated door frames, often replete with fairy-sized furniture and trinkets.
This type of attraction could be a cheap, do-it-yourself project for businesses in Galveston, Collins said. It’s a fun, creative way to lure tourists to places on the island they might not otherwise visit, and might result in visitors staying longer and spending more, he said.
“The doors are great because they can give the kids something to do downtown during boring shopping,” Lynch said. “And it gets movement around the island. Anything that moves that traffic is phenomenal.”
The master plan might soon fall under the umbrella of the Cultural Arts Commission, with the proposed employee designated to be the point of contact.
Planners hope to attract “cultural travelers,” who typically stay two-and-a-half days longer than the average visitor and spend almost twice as much money than an average tourist, Lynch said.
Visitors in town for a show at the East End Theatre Company, 2317 Mechanic St., might stop at The Tremont House, 2300 Ship’s Mechanic Row, for drinks, Lynch said.
“Even if they’re not paying for drinks, they’re paying for parking,” she said. “They might go out to eat afterward. They are spending more money than people just coming down to the beach.”
This is something that will show the visitor and resident that Galveston believes in a better island product, not just for the tourists, but for the residents, as well, Click said.
Clear Creek Independent School District will begin allowing challenges to library and instructional books through a committee charged with deciding whether the material stays on shelves and in the curriculum, or goes.
The new policies are meant to strengthen an existing procedure for considering removal of instructional and library materials, officials said.
The committee will deal with complaints made under two similar policies, one for library material and one for instructional material, providing parents and community members more influence over what children in district schools learn, officials said.
The board unanimously approved the new policies Feb. 27.
With the vote, parents and community members can challenge any instructional or library book they believe violates a new set guidelines, which include examples such as promoting or endorsing race or sex stereotyping or race or sex scapegoating.
The committee, which is to be empaneled on a case-by-case basis, will include a librarian and at least one member of the instructional staff who has experience using the challenged material.
Other members can include district-level staff, secondary-level students, parents and any other appropriate people, according to the policy.
“These are two sound policies to make sure children have instructional materials that they need,” Trustee Jonathan Cottrell said during the Feb. 27 meeting.
The new policies create a mechanism for handling complaints such as children having access to inappropriate websites through the district’s electronic library resources, Trustee Scott Bowen said Thursday.
The policy also makes clear what types of material are open to challenge, Bowen said during the Feb. 27 meeting.
“The controversial issues section of the policy makes it clear where we stand on racial stereotyping, racial scapegoating and sex stereotyping and other issues like that where the district should not be taking a side,” Bowen said.
District resources for student instruction, employee training and professional learning cannot promote or endorse race or sex stereotyping or race or sex scapegoating, according to the new policy on instructional materials.
The policy defines sex and race scapegoating as assigning fault, blame or bias to a race or sex, or to members of a race or sex because of their race or sex.
In 2021, a Texas law came into effect stating schools cannot “require or make part of a course” a series of race-related concepts, including the ideas that “one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex,” or that someone is “inherently racist, sexist or oppressive” based on their race or sex.
Gov. Greg Abbott that year signed into law the bill that restricts how current events and America’s history of racism can be taught in Texas schools. It’s been commonly referred to as the “critical race theory” bill, though the term “critical race theory” never appears in it.
Clear Creek iSD’s new guidelines have been in the works since the fall semester of 2021, officials said, which was about the time the district began evaluating its library policies after a complaint about a book related to human sexuality available through the district’s digital library. A parent complained her elementary-school aged child had used an app to access the book “Sex is a Funny Word,” which covers topics such as masturbation and gender identity and includes cartoon images of naked bodies.
The district’s new library policy states library materials about human sexuality will not be made directly available to elementary school students, but will remain in a secure location and be checked out only to students with prior parental permission.
To make a formal challenge of instructional or library material, people will be provided with a copy of the policy and a request form. The material will be reviewed and considered for removal by a committee appointed by the assistant superintendent of Teaching and Learning on a case-by-case basis, according to the district.
That committee will be tasked with deciding whether a challenged book or material will stay in the library or curriculum, or be removed.
The changes come as libraries across the country have seen an increase in challenges to books, primarily ones telling the stories of people of color or gay and transgender people, Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom, previously told The Daily News.
Similarly, state Senate Bill 8, supported by state Sen. Mays Middleton, and set for a public hearing March 22, establishes policies giving parents the opportunity to review and give input on instructional and library materials in school districts.
The dilapidated Stewart Beach Pavilion, 201 Seawall Blvd., once was the focal point of a park where tourists flocked en masse. City officials in a workshop Thursday will hear from companies hoping to redevelop the entire park and build a new beach patrol headquarters, making it again a visitor destination.
Such efforts to improve public amenities at Stewart Beach have started and stalled for years, largely over the costs. Most island officials agree Stewart Beach — in a high-profile location where Broadway meets Seawall Boulevard — could and should be so much more than it is now. But consensus on how to get there and what to spend has been elusive.
“It’s the most iconic park on the island,” Mayor Craig Brown said. “Council is anxious to get a report on what park board recommendations would be to develop the Stewart Beach Park. This has been ongoing for a number of years, with the park board and city discussing how we move forward with the redevelopment of Stewart and Seawolf beach parks.”
The pavilion, surrounded Friday by a moat of rainwater and littered with rusted metal, was built in 1984 with a life-expectancy of 30 years. The newest feature appeared to be a yellow-and-blue coat of paint that covered the building’s crumbling facades.
It’s almost a decade older than it was intended to last, said Beach Patrol Chief Peter Davis, whose department works out of the structure. It’s time to replace the pavilion, not renovate it, Davis said.
“If you fix this thing up and put a bunch of money in it, what are you buying yourself — an extra 10, 15 years?” Davis said of the pavilion. “All we’re doing is kicking the can down the road again. Galveston doesn’t need another Band-Aid, it needs stuff that lasts.”
Efforts to address the aging building’s condition go back at least a decade. According to a 2014 report, the building had aging infrastructure that resulted in increased maintenance costs of about $200,000 a year, Caitlin Carnes, park board spokeswoman, said.
The park board held several meetings in 2017 with residents and stakeholders at the pavilion to define the desired amenities. An amphitheater, playground, concessions, restrooms and showers, a venue for events, space for the Beach Patrol and park administration, a rooftop restaurant and terrace, shaded seating and a covered market space were on the list, she said.
In 2018, the park board worked with Rogers Partners on a $24 million design for the pavilion that eventually was voted down by city council, Carnes said.
“The wish list for the concept included a waterfront restaurant, shops, event space, community room, concession services and offices for Beach Patrol and park staff,” Carnes said.
The design would have increased the square footage to 72,000, compared with 51,000 of the existing structure. The cost to implement all aspects of the design could have reached up to $24 million. The project never made it to the next phase, which would determine a more accurate construction cost estimate and fully developed plans and specifications.
The park board in 2019 allocated $102,000 for engineering needed for drainage work requested by city officials. Park board trustees at the time proposed to city council members doing drainage work in tandem with moving forward with a new pavilion design, as both would take time to develop and implement.
“The park board stated they wouldn’t be able to move ahead with drainage improvements until 2020, when it could get on the city’s street improvement schedule to elevate the road at Stewart Beach,” Carnes said.
After initially denying the funding request in 2019, the Texas General Land Office awarded the park board almost $1.2 million for flood mitigation at Stewart Beach, she said. Park board officials received another $440,240 from the city’s Industrial Development Corp. for flooding mitigation.
The drainage project was completed in 2022, with the park board debuting mobile amenities to provide services, restrooms and shade closer to the beach front during pavilion closure. The park board then proposed a request for qualifications to hire a master developer to offer complete overhaul of the park.
“Stewart Beach is Galveston’s premier beach park, and its success is important to our spring and summer tourism season,” Vince Lorefice, general manager of parks at the park board, said.
“This process has been a collaborative effort among trustees, council members, city and park board staff who have all been very engaged and thoughtful in this process,” he said. “We are excited to share the results of the request for qualifications with the city council with the hope of moving this project forward.”
The Galveston Beach Patrol can trace its roots back to 1875. Entering the Beach Patrol scene about 108 years later, Chief Peter Davis’ tenure predates the 1984-constructed pavilion by a year, and he recalls working as a lifeguard out of a trailer in the early ’80s, he said.
That was a time when about 15 lifeguards was sufficient to cover Galveston beaches — that number has risen to more than 100, which Davis said isn’t adequate during peak seasons.
Trailers have made their way back to the beach, carrying bathrooms and a small beach shop as a temporary solution to the pavilion’s facilities slowly becoming defunct.
The need for those and other amenities could be answered by companies who’ve submitted their qualifications to revamp the space. Since their bids are sealed, information regarding the companies and submissions wasn’t available, but will be revealed at the city council’s Thursday workshop.
“Ultimately, what you want is a huge hub here at Stewart like there was before,” Davis said. “To do that, you’re going to have to put some infrastructure here that’s going to make people come here. This building isn’t going to attract anybody — neither are our mobile amenities. I’m hoping this latest plan will address that.”
He hopes the plans for a new Beach Patrol headquarters, for which the organization saved about $4 million in hotel occupancy tax money, will be part of the master plan city officials are discussing.
The new headquarters would provide space for increasing staff, a new training facility, a new gym and potentially be a tourist attraction and educational center for the public, Davis said.
Beach Patrol is 100 percent funded by hotel occupancy tax money, which is collected from people who rent lodging such as hotel rooms and beach houses, and uses no ad valorem tax dollars to fund its operation, Davis said.
It’s vital that everyone supports this building because it’s being funded with public money, Davis said.
The park board is spending about $200,000 a year to maintain a building that’s a safety hazard, Davis said.
Construction of the building would take six to 12 months, said Sheryl Rozier, project manager with the park board.
“In a perfect world, it would take a two-year process,” Rozier said. “But because of the bureaucracies, it will take longer. It’s different when you have to work with the government.”
Considering the quality of modern building materials, the structure should last 70 years, Davis said. And funding a new headquarters for the Beach Patrol would show Galveston’s ever-important lifeguards the city loves them, he said.
“I tell them the city loves them, but they don’t see it,” he said.