BG Reads | News - What We're Reading (August 21, 2018)



Despite progress, builders complain of long waits for permits (Austin Monitor)

Among the many factors blamed for Austin’s affordability crisis are the city’s notoriously complicated development regulations.
The development review process is so cumbersome, critics say, that builders have to hire agents to get their permits approved, creating a cost that is invariably passed on to those purchasing or renting the housing that gets built. For people who are just trying to get permits for individual projects – e.g., a garage apartment in their backyard – the process is even more daunting if they can’t afford to hire an agent.
On Friday, the Development Services Department released its annual customer satisfaction survey. The results, suggested department Director Rodney Gonzales, showed that things were gradually improving.
The survey, which includes 71 questions (not all of which apply to all customers), was emailed to 3,500 people who sought permits from the city in 2017, and 753 responded.
On most measures, the DSD’s reviews from its customers improved between 2016 and 2017. On 40 of the 71 questions, there was at least a 4 percent increase in customers who said they were either “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with the city process in question.
Unfortunately, on the measures that DSD acknowledges are the most important, customers are still largely unhappy, despite signs of improvement. Notably, very few customers are satisfied with the amount of time it takes to get things done.
A majority of those who had to get a residential building plan reviewed said that time was the most important issue for them, but only 29 percent said they were satisfied with how quickly the review process was completed. That’s still an improvement over the previous year, when only 23 percent reported satisfaction...
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Austin city election filing draws large field, last-minute surprises (Austin American-Statesman)

More than two dozen candidates filed by Monday’s deadline to run in mayoral and other Austin City Council elections Nov. 6, including some last-minute surprises.
Lewis Conway Jr., a City Council candidate with a criminal record, might not see his name on November’s ballot after all. On Friday, he received a notice from the city clerk that he needs to prove his eligibility as a candidate.
Conway killed a man in 1991, served his prison sentence and is now a community organizer. He is testing a Texas law that says a felon cannot hold public office unless he has been “otherwise released from the resulting disabilities.”
City Clerk Jannette Goodall said Conway must prove by Tuesday that he meets that criterion, which has never been tested in court. She will have to determine whether completing parole and having his voting rights restored counts.
As expected, Mayor Steve Adler, 62, will try to hold his seat against former Council Member Laura Morrison, 63, in the city’s top race. The candidates have primarily diverged on development issues...
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Austin city clerk challenges convicted felon’s eligibility to run for City Council (Austin Monitor)

Lewis Conway Jr., a candidate for Austin City Council who has a felony record, may not be able to run after all.
Austin City Clerk Jannette Goodall sent Conway an email Friday challenging his eligibility and asking for documents showing that he had been pardoned or “otherwise released from the disabilities” resulting from his conviction.
Conway served eight years in prison after fatally stabbing a man during an altercation in 1991. After completing 12 years of probation, he had his voting rights restored.
Conway filed papers to run for the District 1 City Council seat last month. Council Member Ora Houston, who currently represents the East Austin district, announced in June that she is not seeking re-election.
Citing Texas election code, the state has said Conway is ineligible to run for public office...
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Opponents turn up political heat on Austin’s paid sick leave mandate (Austin American-Statesman)

Six weeks shy of its scheduled implementation, Austin’s paid sick leave ordinance — the first of its kind in Texas — might be on the ropes as attacks on it ramp up.
Oct. 1 was to be the day it took effect, mandating that nearly all employers in Austin provide paid sick days to their employees. However, a state appeals court ruling placed the ordinance on hold Friday, as Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and a conservative think tank recorded their first victory in ongoing legal challenges.
The ruling came just one day after those cheering paid sick leave mandates celebrated the passage of an ordinance in San Antonio similar to the one the Austin City Council approved in February.
In response to both Friday’s ruling and the action of San Antonio’s City Council, State Rep. Paul Workman, R-Austin, renewed his vow to create legislation to undo such ordinances...
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How desperate can Texas get for construction labor? Look at Houston after Hurricane Harvey (Dallas Morning News)

"A punishing construction labor shortage that has plagued builders in fast-growing Texas for years and has sent industry leaders scrambling for fixes, including pleading for immigration reform to quickly replenish an aging workforce. Thanks to Harvey, observers said, builders across the state are feeling an even tighter squeeze. And post-storm Houston has become a kind of case study on the effects of a construction labor shortage in its most extreme form. “After Hurricane Harvey hit, a lot of our builders and remodelers were contacted by customers and had to turn away work,” said Casey Morgan, CEO of the Greater Houston Builders Association. “The storm just exacerbated the problem we were already experiencing.”...
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Farenthold tried to steer federal contract to Calhoun port chairman (Victoria Advocate)

Blake Farenthold, while serving in Congress, tried to steer a federal contract to a business owned by the chairman of the Calhoun Port Authority, which later hired the former congressman after he resigned in disgrace. Legal experts and a political watchdog group described Farenthold’s business favor as ethically questionable. In March 2015, Farenthold’s office arranged a meeting between the port’s board chairman, Randy Boyd, with two top Army Corps of Engineer Galveston District officials. In that meeting, Boyd told the Corps that his dredging business, RLB Contracting Inc., should work for them on the Houston Ship Channel. The federal officials declined his offer, citing ethical and environmental rules that they had to abide by. After receiving a follow-up message from Farenthold’s office, they repeated this to the former congressman."...
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On top of food deserts, Dallas' Hispanic and black populations also flooded with food swamps (Dallas Morning News)

Amaya said she knows that she’s one of the lucky parents with the time to do this at the predominantly Hispanic school in Far East Dallas, an area that, on top of being identified as a food desert, is littered with what researchers have recently coined food swamps — areas where fast-food options and convenience stores outnumber healthy food options. Researchers at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut released a study in November 2017 that proposed the idea that the prevalence of food swamps may have a stronger impact on a community’s health than the oft-discussed phenomenon of food deserts...
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In Trump's Washington, Rick Perry lays low (Houston Chronicle)

For a member of the Trump administration, Rick Perry generates a paltry amount of media coverage.
While other cabinet members are constantly in the spotlight, publicly feuding with the president – Jeff Sessions, Rex Tillerson and Gary Cohn – or spending taxpayer funds lavishly on travel and office decor – Scott Pruitt, Tom Price and Ben Carson – Perry’s worst stumble arguably came when a leaked photo showed him hugging coal baron Robert Murray not long after he proposed a federal bailout for that sector. The story was in and out of the media cycle within days.
Perry, more than 18 months into his tenure as energy secretary, has maintained that rarest of things in Washington these days, a low-key, under the radar persona, happy to play the role of likeable sidekick to President Donald Trump. As he promotes Trump’s policies on controversial issues such as reviving the coal and nuclear sectors and trade tariffs, he has managed to do so in a manner that avoids the uproar that regularly engulfs the president and his advisers...
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