BG Reads | News - What We're Reading (July 18, 2018)



Austin council challengers match incumbents in campaign fundraising (Austin American-Statesman) LINK TO STORY

Five City Council seats and the mayor’s seat are up for election in November. District 5 Council Member Ann Kitchen does not have a declared opponent so far. Two incumbents, Ora Houston and Ellen Troxclair, have decided not to run again. The reports filed Monday cover spending from January through the end of June.
Monday “was the first day that incumbents and challengers got to size each other up,” Littlefield said. “How much money did you raise? Who gave it to you? Some challengers and some incumbents probably breathed a sigh of relief and some said, ‘I’ve got more work to do.’”

Board of Adjustment fights over North Loop parking space (Austin Monitor) LINK TO STORY

Parking was a major sticking point at the July 9 Board of Adjustment meeting, where board members tackled the lack of parking at one particular North Loop property, exposing a rift in Austin’s current transportation thinking.
Lauren and Joe Cunningham are seeking to turn a derelict building at 101 E. North Loop into a cooperative space for artists, musicians and architects called The Commune. According to Lauren Cunningham, the site was home to Mrs. Johnson’s Bakery until 1975, after which it has been on-again, off-again occupied by various owners. Currently, the graffiti-covered building is disused, serving as shelter for the homeless and parking for broken-down cars.
But there is a major issue with the Cunninghams’ vision. Their property has five parking spaces – one of which is designated for disabled users – while current city codes require at least seven general-purpose spaces. So Lauren Cunningham got up in front of the Board of Adjustment to ask for a variance that would allow her rehabilitated space to open with just four.

Appellate court ends fight over Texas 45 Southwest, MoPac (Austin American-Statesman) LINK TO STORY

A several-year legal fight to stop construction of two highway projects in Southwest Austin came to an end Tuesday when a federal appellate court ruled against the challenge from environmental activists.
Texas 45 Southwest and the “MoPac intersections” project, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled, received proper environmental clearance from the two agencies building them, the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority and the Texas Department of Transportation. The 5th Circuit upheld the August 2017 ruling of Austin-based U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel rejecting the lawsuit by the SOS Alliance, Save Barton Creek Association, Clean Water Action and nine other plaintiffs, including two former Austin mayors and country singer Jerry Jeff Walker.

Do historic districts help or hurt affordability? (Austin Monitor) LINK TO STORY

There is a wide range of views about how historic preservation rules relate to Austin’s housing affordability problems.
Some argue that actions taken to prevent the demolition of old homes advance affordability because, in general, older homes are cheaper than new ones. When a home is torn down, it is almost always replaced by one that is larger and more expensive.
Others argue that historic preservation rules, particularly if they are geared toward preserving older single-family homes, contribute to the city’s shortage of affordable housing.
The July 10 meeting of the Planning Commission put both perspectives on display.

Pflugerville calls for $21M November bond election (Austin American-Statesman) LINK TO STORY

The city of Pflugerville is preparing a $21.1 million November bond package to fund what several City Council members said is a dire need to reconstruct and widen several city roads. Council members last week directed interim City Manager Trey Fletcher to prepare ballot language to add four transportation projects to a special election ballot. Councilman Mike Heath cast the sole vote against the project. If approved by voters, general obligation bonds would fund design and construction costs for the projects, while certificates of obligation would be used for design-only costs. 


Angela Paxton, Phillip Huffines spent $12M in Collin County Senate race, priciest in state history (Dallas Morning News) LINK TO STORY

The Republican primary for state Senate District 8 between Angela Paxton and Phillip Huffines was one of the most bitter in recent memory — and now the state's most expensive. The two candidates spent more than $12 million in the Collin County race. According to reports filed Monday, McKinney educator Paxton, wife of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, spent $3.7 million in her campaign against Huffines, a Richardson real estate developer who spent $8.4 million.
Paxton's campaign included a $2 million bank loan secured by her husband's campaign. Despite being outspent by more than 2-1, Paxton secured her party's nomination in March, with 54.4 percent of the vote. That race previously held the record for the most expensive legislative primary campaign in Texas history, totaling more than $6 million, with Don Huffines spending $2.3 million before ousting Carona, who spent nearly $4 million. Don Huffines won the seat with 50.6 percent of the vote to Carona's 49.4 percent, a 635-vote margin denying the longtime legislator a seventh term in office.

State audit finds billion-dollar errors in Texas health agency's contracting process (Texas Tribune) LINK TO STORY

A new state audit has found that Texas’ health agency may have awarded more than $3.4 billion in contracts erroneously — another scandal at an agency that has lost six of its top leaders over the last several months in a wave of contracting disasters.
The Texas State Auditor’s Office said Tuesday it had identified errors in the procurement formulas used by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission in all 28 procurements it examined — and in five of the biggest contracts it looked at, totaling over $3 billion, it could not confirm that the agency had awarded contracts to the best applicants.

Activists demand recount of signatures for failed paid sick leave petition (Dallas Morning News) LINK TO STORY

Activists have demanded that the city recount signatures for a paid sick leave petition a day after Dallas' city secretary announced that the effort fell short by 871 valid signatures. The Texas Civil Rights Project sent a letter Tuesday to Bilierae Johnson, the city's secretary, and said that her office's "process for verifying signatures resulted in the rejection of signatures that are valid and should have been counted." Johnson could not be reached for comment.
The petition, which was submitted to the city in April, is part of a larger political effort to require private employers across the state to offer paid sick time, particularly for workers in service industries like restaurants and day cares. According to the letter, which was sent on behalf of Working Texans for Paid Sick Leave, there are 31,473 petition signatures that Johnson rejected that should be re-reviewed.
The letter says that Johnson and her team previously reviewed 36,000 signatures that they had rejected and found 1,100 that were actually valid. But the letter claims that the same process was not used for the rest of the rejected signatures. The letter also says that 2,841 signatures were rejected because they did not include a date of birth and voter registration number and that the city made no attempt to match those signatures to voter files. Texas Civil Rights Project asked that Johnson re-examined the signatures by July 24.

Houston company plans massive offshore terminal to export Permian oil (Houston Chronicle) LINK TO STORY

As more of the nation’s oil production flows to the Texas Gulf Coast, one Houston firm aims to build a massive offshore terminal to ship much of the nation’s record crude volumes overseas. Enterprise Products Partners said Tuesday it plans to construct an oil export terminal and dock miles off the Texas coastline that can accommodate the world’s largest crude-carrying vessels.
Energy analysts estimated the project cost at $1 billion to $2 billion. Putting the terminal out to sea solves a critical problem for very large crude carriers, or VLCCs, more of which have been heading to Texas since the recent widening of the Panama Canal.
Despite ongoing dredging efforts, water depths at Texas ports aren’t deep enough for these giant ships to fill to capacity. So Enterprise plans to build pipelines to run about 80 miles from its Houston-area network to the offshore terminal where the water is naturally deeper.


Trump Walks Back Controversial Comments On Russian Election Interference (KUT) LINK TO STORY

A day after his much-criticized news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin, President Trump attempted some damage control Tuesday, saying "I accept" the findings of the U.S. intelligence community that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential campaign.
But he again repeated his claim that there was no collusion between his presidential campaign and Russia and suggested that others may have interfered in the election.
During his news conference along side Putin in Helsinki on Monday, Trump stated he didn't see "any reason" why Russia was responsible for hacking the 2016 election, as U.S. intelligence agencies have found.

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