BG Reads + BG Podcast | News You Need to Know (September 19, 2018)

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[BG PODCAST]

BG Podcast - Episode 15: Patrick Howard, Executive Director and CEO, Housing Authority of Travis County

Today's BG Podcast features a discussion with Patrick Howard Executive Director and CEO, Housing Authority of Travis County (HATC), an independent, government funded agency charged with the responsibility to provide access to safe, decent, low-income housing to help meet the housing needs of the residents of Travis County, Texas.

Mr. Howard provides overall leadership for the administration and management of HATC, which consists of a professional staff of 13, 105 Public Housing units, 568 Housing Choice Vouchers, 76 Housing Choice Vouchers, 102 Continuum of Care rental assistance vouchers, and 49 affordable housing rental units.

Originally recorded on August 24th, 2018, we discuss proposed rule changes to the the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, and it’s potential impact on Austinities. We also discuss the proposed affordable housing bond (Proposition A) on the November 6th ballot.

Link to BG Podcast Episode 15


[AUSTIN METRO]

Austin’s economy topped U.S. metro areas in growth in 2017 (Austin American-Statesman)

If it hasn’t been obvious from the construction cranes, real estate prices and traffic congestion, some new federal data illustrates the magnitude of the Austin area’s economic boom.

The local economy grew by 6.9 percent in 2017, making the Austin-Round Rock region the fastest-growing large metro area in the country last year in terms of inflation-adjusted gross domestic product, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

The region’s output of goods and services totaled $148.75 billion, according to federal data. That’s up from $135.98 billion in 2016 and from about $103.5 billion in 2012. Adjusting for inflation, the federal agency pegged growth in the Austin-Round Rock metro’s economic output since 2012 at about 36 percent.

The rate of the local expansion sped up last year, after coming in at 5.5 percent in 2016, according to the new figures. In addition, the region’s 2017 growth substantially outpaced the second-place finisher for metros with over 2 million people — the Seattle area in Washington state — which logged a 5.2 percent increase in its gross domestic product.

Austin’s expansion “is really, really impressive — not only is it No. 1, but it is more than three times the average” growth rate of 2.1 percent for U.S. metro areas overall, said Bernard Weinstein, a Southern Methodist University economist…

Link to story


EUC recommends code amendment to expand electric vehicle use(Austin Monitor)

Soon Austin may have as many electric charging stations as gas stations.

Currently, city code does not allow for the resale of city energy by third-party entities. However, the code was written before there was any inkling that electric vehicles would one day be rolling down the streets as everyday transportation.

Now, seeing the possibilities to expand the number of electric vehicles in the city, the Electric Utility Commission voted at its Sept. 17 meeting to recommend that City Council amend the code “to state that restrictions on the remetering and resale of energy do not apply to the provision of retail electric-vehicle charging service at the point of remetering or resale.”

“We’re not trying to outsource everything to third-party investments,” Karl Popham, the electric vehicles and emerging technologies manager at Austin Energy, told the commission. “(We) don’t want the burden entirely on the city either.”…

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City estimate: Preserving Montopolis Negro School would cost $5.7M (Austin Monitor)

The city of Austin is beginning the process of using eminent domain to seize the 1-acre plot at 500 Montopolis Ave., home of an 83-year-old building that was once the Montopolis Negro School. The structure is a rare vestige of the system of “Rural Negro Schools” operated by Travis County prior to desegregation.

In June, City Council approved a resolution authorizing city staff to bring an eminent domain suit to acquire the land for $362,000. In a memo to Council last week, the Office of Real Estate Services said that a “Special Commissioners Hearing will be convened in the next few months” to decide whether that is a fair figure.

The owner of the property is Austin Stowell, founder of KEEP Real Estate, who bought the parcel in 2015 with the intention of developing the land, adding six single-family homes, a restaurant or retail space, and an office building…

Link to story


Zebra mussels found in Austin Water intake pipes (Austin Monitor)

Divers have found large amounts of invasive zebra mussels at intake pipes that feed Austin’s water supply, opening up a costly new challenge for the city’s water utility.

Austin Water had seen evidence of the small, rectangular mussels in water samples and around intake pipes earlier this summer, but that was nothing compared to what they found when they sent divers down to take a closer look this month.

Mehrdad Morabbi, an operations manager for Austin Water, says one of the screens protecting the intake pipe for the Handcox Water Treatment Plant in Lake Travis was 50 percent covered with mussels, and another was around 30 percent covered. For reference, these screens are 24 feet tall and 30 feet in diameter. Divers removed the mussels from the screens with a pressure washer.

Morabbi says there’s evidence of the mussels at intake pipes for Austin’s other two main water treatment plants, but Handcox is likely the first to see major infestation because it’s upstream from the mussel infestation in Lake Travis…

Link to story


[TEXAS]

Republican Pete Flores upsets Democrat Pete Gallego in race for Uresti seat (Texas Tribune)

Republican Pete Flores defeated Democrat Pete Gallego on Tuesday night in the special election runoff for Senate District 19, a major upset in a Democratic-friendly seat with implications for the balance of power in the upper chamber.

With all precincts reporting, Flores beat Gallego by 6 percentage points in the race to replace convicted former state Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio. Flores had 53 percent of the vote and Gallego 47 percent in unofficial returns.

Gallego conceded to Flores around 9 p.m., according to both campaigns. With the victory, Flores will become the first Hispanic Republican to serve in the Texas Senate…

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UTSA plans downtown growth on city and county land (San Antonio Express-News)

The University of Texas at San Antonio is planning a major downtown expansion on city and county land fueled by millions of dollars in state funding - some already committed, some dependent on future action by the Legislature — and gifts. Mayor Ron Nirenberg, City Manager Sheryl Sculley and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff were set to announce Tuesday their commitment to transfer to the university more than five acres bounded by South Santa Rosa Avenue and Dolorosa, South Flores and West Nueva streets. “This represents a partnership that you rarely ever find in public higher education, where governmental entities like this are behaving in a bold way to do something big and audacious in concert with the university to help realize the opportunity that is before us,” UTSA President Taylor Eighmy told the San Antonio Express-News Editorial Board in a briefing Monday. The parcels belonging to the city will become the locations of the university’s $33 million National Security Collaboration Center and $57 million School of Data Science. The UT System Board of Regents committed $70 million from the state’s Permanent University Fund at its Sept. 6 meeting for both projects. Businessman Graham Weston has pledged $15 million toward the School of Data Science, the largest one-time personal donation he’s ever given to a single project and the university’s largest cash gift in its history, Eighmy said. Weston has been devoted to rehabilitating downtown and his real estate development firm, Weston Urban, is working with Frost Bank to build its new headquarters downtown, about two blocks north of the proposed UTSA expansion…

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As solicitor general, Kyle Hawkins will lead Texas fights against the federal government (Texas Tribune)

As solicitor general, Kyle Hawkins will lead Texas fights against the federal government (Texas Tribune)

A top position in the Texas attorney general’s office changed hands this month, and with it went a row of bobbleheads.

Sitting on the north windowsill in state solicitor general's office is a small army of conservative “jurists of the year,” named by the Texas Review of Law & Politics. The group includes some all stars: Clarence Thomas, considered one of the Supreme Court’s most conservative justices; Leonard Leo, the mastermind behind President Donald Trump’s transformation of the federal appeals courts; and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, the hardline Texas Republican who occupied this office a decade ago.

Their new owner is Kyle Hawkins, who was promoted last week from assistant solicitor general to the corner office…

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Rival of Texas bullet-train company blasts Japanese investment, says high-speed rail's private funding plan is 'just a dream' (Dallas Morning News)

A competitor of the company trying to build a Dallas-to-Houston bullet-train connection has blasted the notion that a high-speed rail line can be built without public money. "The whole thing is just a dream," said Alain Leray, president of SNCF America, the Maryland-based arm of the French national railway company. "It's not going to happen on private financing." Those remarks came after Texas Central Partners announced last week it had secured a loan of up to $300 million from Japan Overseas Infrastructure Investment Corp. for Transport & Urban Development and the Japan Bank for International Cooperation. Both institutions are backed by the Japanese government. That drew the ire of SNCF, which has a rival plan to bring speedy rail service to the state. The Texas Central "project is right for Japanese companies subsidized by Japanese taxpayers and wrong for Texas," said Scott Dunaway, spokesperson for SNCF America, in a statement Tuesday…

Link to story


[NATION]

George W. Bush stands by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh amid sexual misconduct allegation (Dallas Morning News)

Former president George W. Bush said he will stand by his former employee and Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh amid an allegation of sexual misconduct, Politico reported Tuesday. "Laura and I have known and respected Brett Kavanaugh for decades, and we stand by our comments the night Judge Kavanaugh was nominated," Bush said in a statement to Politico. Bush previously said Kavanaugh "is a fine husband, father, and friend — and a man of the highest integrity. He will make a superb Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States." Palo Alto University professor Christine Blasey Ford revealed her identity as the author of an anonymous letter this weekend. She told theWashington Post that Kavanaugh attempted to sexually assault her when both of them were in high school more than 30 years ago. Kavanaugh has denied the allegation, and is scheduled to testify publicly about the alleged incident on Monday Sept. 24. Ford has said she is willing to testify, but not said whether she will participate in Monday's hearing…

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