BG Reads | News You Need to Know (September 11, 2018)



Council endorsement dances have begun (Austin Monitor)

Political season has truly begun, with groups large and small hosting candidate forums and making endorsements.

Last Friday, enough supporters of both incumbent District 3 Council Member Pio Renteria and his sister, Susana Almanza, came out to vote at the Austin Environmental Democrats meeting to force a dual endorsement of the pair. The group also easily endorsed District 5 Council Member Ann Kitchen, but she has no opponent.

The group could not arrive at a consensus on a choice for District 1 in Northeast Austin or District 8 in Southwest Austin. However, for District 8, candidate Bobby Levinski got 52 percent of its vote and Rich DePalma got 37 percent of its vote. The group requires a candidate to receive 60 percent of the vote before it will endorse, but if two candidates get at least 40 percent of the vote, there is a dual endorsement…

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Activists push anti-displacement earmark on eve of city budget talks (Austin American-Statesman)

As budget week kicked off Monday at Austin City Hall, a group of activists called for the City Council to fund their plan to fight off gentrification in the eastern part of the city.

Despite its proposed $58.3 million sticker price, the People’s Anti-Displacement Program would add no new spending to the city’s budget or take away any money from the general fund, the plan’s backers said.

Instead, it would earmark roughly $28 million from the proposed $250 million affordable housing bond to a list of items proposed by such East Austin activist leaders as Nelson Linder, the local NAACP president, and Susana Almanza, a City Council candidate for District 3 and the head of PODER. The plan also calls for the sale of the city-owned HealthSouth building near 12th and Red River streets for $30 million to pay for the rest of the program.

The group’s push for an earmark comes just as the City Council is set to approve a municipal budget this week. The sprint toward budget approval begins publicly Tuesday with a council meeting at 10 a.m. at City Hall.

The meeting likely will be the first of three back-to-back meetings this week, concluding with the budget’s final approval on Thursday. The council could approve the budget in its entirety Tuesday, though all previous 10-1 councils have used the full three days to complete the process…

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Plans for Colony District Park permit move forward (Austin Monitor)

The Zoning and Platting Commission had a few questions before unanimously approving a conditional use permit for additional amenities to Colony District Park last Tuesday.

The park, which is located at 7201 Colony Loop Drive, is home to Overton Elementary School, and the community is eager to make improvements to the public spot. Plans include addition of a multiuse field, a baseball field, a playground and open play area, two open-air pavilions, a multiuse trail, and a pedestrian bridge.

The original master plan included plans for an aquatics facility, but the first phase of funding does not include that amenity…

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With hotel tax money in play, Tourism Commission meetings grow heated (Austin Monitor)

The second meeting of the city’s new Tourism Commission saw the group vote down a possible $3 million marketing campaign for local live music, while also dusting off the long-running debate about public safety expenses for the South by Southwest festival and again failing to elect a chair.

Last Tuesday’s meeting saw a brief reprise of a stalemate started at the group’s first meeting, between 10 members of the 11-member body vying to elect either Michael Searle or Catlin Whitington as chair. One round of voting saw commissioners John Riedie, Bill Bunch, Vanessa Fuentes, Kate Singleton and Searle tying with Whitington, Mary Stout, Ed Bailey, Rachel Magee and Scott Joslove, with appointee Michael Cannatti still not officially seated as a commissioner. The debate on Sept. 4 included concerns from Riedie and others that Whitington, who is in a leadership role with SXSW, could have undue influence over decisions regarding the Austin Convention Center, which counts the festival as its single biggest event client…

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Lt. Gov. Patrick made pitch to Trump to campaign for Cruz (Politico)

With a string of polls showing GOP Sen. Ted Cruz’s lead slipping, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick showed up in Washington on July 25 to deliver an urgent plea to White House officials: Send President Donald Trump. Patrick, who chaired Trump’s 2016 campaign in the state, made the case that a Trump visit was needed to boost turnout for Cruz and the rest of the Texas Republican ticket. The lieutenant governor soon got his wish: Trump announced on Twitter late last month that he was planning a blowout October rally for Cruz, his former GOP rival. The previously unreported meeting comes as senior Republicans grow increasingly concerned about the senator’s prospects in the reliably red state, with some expressing fear that an underperformance could threaten GOP candidates running further down the ballot. Cruz’s Democratic opponent, Rep. Beto O’Rourke, has raised barrels of cash, closed the polling gap and emerged as a cause célèbre of liberals nationwide…

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Gov. Greg Abbott says it’s time to turn off red light cameras in Texas (Fort Worth Star Telegram)

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said it’s time to turn off red light cameras across Texas. Many believe the cameras violate the U.S. Constitution and lead to more rear-end accidents at intersections with cameras. Others say they make streets safer and generate needed revenue for cities across the state. But Monday, in McAllen, Abbott issued a 21-page report — Safeguarding, Securing, Serving — calling for policies he would support if he’s re-elected to a second term in November. Among his proposals: cracking down on gangs, disrupting human trafficking and smuggling, keeping peace officers safe and “strengthening the rights of Texas drivers.” “Red light cameras are automated devices for red light traffic enforcement,” according to Abbott’s report summary. “They are expensive, studies indicate that they may increase accidents where deployed, and they pose constitutional issues. “Texas should ban the use of these devices by preempting local authority to utilize them.”…

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Texas criteria for polluted site cleanup 'significantly weaker' than neighboring states (Texas Tribune)

The criteria Texas uses to determine how much — and whether — to clean up abandoned industrial facilities, waste dumps and other polluted sites are so lax that they may allow residential homes to be built in areas that neighboring states wouldn’t even consider safe for factories or oil refineries.

That’s according to a report by the Texas Campaign for the Environment Fund set to be released on Tuesday that compares benchmarks for more than 80 different pollutants that Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Mississippi and Oklahoma use to determine whether a site is contaminated enough to warrant cleanup and how much pollution should be removed from the soil or water there before it can be re-developed.

The overarching conclusion of the report: Texas’ formulas are “substantially weaker” than those used by almost every nearby state, in part because it tolerates a greater risk of cancer. That means that some polluted Texas sites that would be eligible for cleanup in other states may not be eligible here — and if the state does decide to clean them up, it may not remove as much pollution as its neighbors…

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Google’s ‘no-show’ in Congress adds to its political headache (Washington Post)

Google is a powerhouse in Washington with deep pockets and close ties to the government regulators who oversee the company’s ambitions from advertising to artificial intelligence. But the search giant's political savvy hasn't spared the company in recent weeks from stinging attacks from Democrats and Republicans, including President Trump -- a turn of fate that now threatens to saddle Google with months of continued scrutiny and new threats of regulation. In August, Trump accused Google of manipulating search results to show negative stories about him. A week later, congressional lawmakers rebuked the company for failing to send one of its top executives to testify at a hearing alongside Facebook and Twitter. The Senate Intelligence Committee even left an open chair to highlight Google's absence, which lawmakers like Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) called an "outrage.”…

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Viral videos are replacing pricey political ads. They’re cheaper, and they work. (New York Times)

These are not the stories that candidates usually turn to the camera and open up about in ads. One talked about her father’s violent temper and how she once watched him throw her mother through a plate glass door. Another recalled watching his brothers struggle to find steady work because of their criminal records. A third spoke of suffering a decade of sexual abuse as a child. The wave of female, minority and outsider candidates that is breaking cultural barriers and toppling incumbents in the Democratic Party is also sweeping aside a longstanding norm in campaigns: That the public image of politicians — especially women — should be upbeat, uncontroversial and utterly conventional. For many of these Democrats who were running against better-financed rivals, the breakthrough moment came after they got personal in relatively low-cost videos that went viral, reaching millions of people. Using documentary-style storytelling, which can last for several minutes, candidates have found a successful alternative to the traditional model of raising huge sums of money that get spent on expensive, 30-second television commercials. The videos are chiefly intended as ads, but they also served a fund-raising purpose. For a fraction of the cost of those ad buys, these videos can be a force multiplier for candidates, helping to spread their stories in a way that is easily shareable and can inspire donations…

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The Bingham Group, LLC is an Austin-based full service lobbying firm representing and advising clients on municipal, legislative, and regulatory matters throughout Texas.


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