BG Reads | News You Need to Know (October 12, 2018)



Convention center fate looms as Tourism Commission scrutinizes Visit Austin budgets (Austin Monitor)

The most recent meeting of the city’s still-new Tourism Commission followed what could become a regular dynamic for the group: detailed “in the weeds” parsing of budgets and policies related to Austin’s tourism industry, with the proposed expansion of the Austin Convention Center looming over everything.

Monday’s meeting bore that out during an hour-plus analysis of the $15 million marketing budget for Visit Austin – formerly known as the Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau – that veered into debate on the city’s expenditures to market creative communities, how the convention center markets itself to large meetings and conventions, and what to expect from the recent plateauing of the city’s Hotel Occupancy Tax.

The debate exists between a cohort of commission members who are critical of the possible $600 million expansion of the convention center and another group of appointed members who are employed or well-versed in the travel and tourism industry and argue Austin is starting to fall behind in attracting both conventions and leisure travelers to fill the 13,000 hotel rooms downtown…

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Housing crisis strategies separate Central Austin’s District 9 City Council candidates (Community Impact)

Austin’s housing and affordability crises are acutely felt in Central Austin, where housing demand continues to grow, and on Thursday three candidates actively campaigning to represent District 9 on City Council separated themselves on how to address the housing crisis.

Incumbent Kathie Tovo and challengers Linda O’Neal and Danielle Skidmore ran through their platforms on various issues during Thursday’s League of Women Voters candidate forum, from traffic and policing to cultural diversity and homelessness; however, when it came to following up on CodeNEXT, the city’s failed attempt to rewrite its land development code, and addressing the city’s housing problem—arguably the district and the city’s most pressing issue—the candidates provided contrasting answers.

Tovo said Austin needs to focus on sticking with the direction of Imagine Austin—the city’s 30-year comprehensive plan—which focused on compact and connected development while respecting the character of Austin’s existing neighborhoods…

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Oracle picks 6 promising Austin startups for first U.S. accelerator (Austin Business Journal)

The six startups composing the inaugural cohort of Oracle Corp.’s first U.S. accelerator likely are familiar to those in Austin’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Each of the companies announced by California-based Oracle (NYSE: ORCL) on Thursday are based in the Texas capital. They are:

•, a kind of social network for data that enables users to link disparate data sets to improve decision-making. It boasts an open-data community with access to more than 100,000 data sets.

• Eventador Labs Inc., which helps software developers manage real-time data pipelines on the Apache Kafka platform.

• Pilosa, an Umbel spin-out focused on improving the speed, portability and security of data.

• Roikoi Inc., which has created an app for job referrals.

• Senseye Inc., which focuses on molecular computing and harnessing connections between brains and computers.

• Transmute, which develops distributed ledger technology in the form of an app engine so companies may configure decentralized apps to work with both public and private clouds.

“We have a lot of things to test out, so we decided to keep the inaugural cohort in Austin,” said JD Weinstein, head of the accelerator. “Next year, we plan to work with companies throughout the U.S.”

Oracle has startup accelerators in other countries but this is its first in the United States. It will be based at the downtown Capital Factory…

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See also: BG Podcast - Episode 16: JD Weinstein Head of Startup Ecosystem (Austin) Oracle Startup Cloud Accelerator


Homeland Security issues another Texas border wall waiver (Washington Post)

The Department of Homeland Security has issued another waiver of environmental laws to build new border barriers in South Texas, this time for roughly 17 miles (27 kilometers) cutting through the National Butterfly Center and other sensitive areas.

DHS posted a waiver Wednesday that lists six sections where it plans to build “physical barriers and roads” in the Rio Grande Valley at the southernmost point of Texas. It follows another waiver posted Tuesday to build new gates to seal gaps in existing fencing, as the government moves forward with plans to fulfill President Donald Trump’s signature campaign pledge to build a border wall.

DHS has the authority under existing laws to waive reviews and regulations under the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, and other laws that might otherwise delay or prevent wall construction…

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Study says to fix Harvey-related housing damage, Houston needs $2 billion more in federal funds (Texas Tribune)

An estimated 130,000 Houstonians affected by Harvey were overlooked in the city’s original housing needs assessment, according to the Houston Housing and Community Development Department.

To fix the previously neglected damage, the city needs an extra $2 billion in federal resources, the agency said in an Oct. 5 report.

The $3 billion in federal relief money the city already received from the National Flood Insurance Program, FEMA individual assistance and loans from the Small Business Administration mostly went to wealthier neighborhoods, according to the report. The extra funding the report requests would have to come from additional congressional appropriations, said Sarah Labowitz, the communications and policy director for the housing and community development department…

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Made and Distributed in the U.S.A.: Online Disinformation (New York Times)

When Christine Blasey Ford testified before Congress last month about Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh’s alleged sexual assault, an online news site called Right Wing News sprang into action on Facebook. The conservative site, run by the blogger John Hawkins, had created a series of new Facebook pages and accounts over the last year under many different names, according to Facebook.

After Dr. Blasey testified, Right Wing News posted several false stories about her — including the suggestion that her lawyers were being bribed by Democrats — and then used the network of Facebook pages and accounts to share the pieces so that they proliferated online quickly, social media researchers said. The result was a real-time spreading of disinformation started by Americans, for Americans. What Right Wing News did was part of a shift in the flow of online disinformation, falsehoods meant to mislead and inflame. In 2016, before the presidential election, state-backed Russian operatives exploited Facebook and Twitter to sway voters in the United States with divisive messages. Now, weeks before the midterm elections on Nov. 6, such influence campaigns are increasingly a domestic phenomenon fomented by Americans on the left and the right…

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Republicans abandon vulnerable lawmakers, striving to keep House (New York Times)

Vice President Mike Pence laid out a hopeful vision for the midterm elections this week as he campaigned for Representative Pete Sessions of Texas, telling Republican donors that candidates like Mr. Sessions could stop Democrats from winning the House in November.

“The road, they know, to their majority comes right through Pete’s district,” Mr. Pence said. Referring to this city’s vote-rich suburbs of undecided moderates, he added, “Make sure the red wave starts here.” Mr. Pence was deploying a favorite image of both Republicans and Democrats this fall: An electoral tidal wave of voters carrying their party to power in Congress. But the point of his trip was not to stir a wave. It was to build a wall. As they brace for losses in the House of Representatives, Republican Party leaders are racing to reinforce their candidates in about two-dozen districts, trying to create a barricade around their imperiled majority…

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Percentage of young U.S. children who don’t receive any vaccines has quadrupled since 2001 (Washington Post)

A small but increasing number of children in the United States are not getting some or all of their recommended vaccinations. The percentage of children under two years old who haven’t received any vaccinations has quadrupled in the last 17 years, according to federal health data released Thursday.

Overall, immunization rates remain high and haven’t changed much at the national level. But a pair of reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about immunizations for preschoolers and kindergartners highlights a growing concern among health officials and clinicians about children who aren’t getting the necessary protection against vaccine-preventable diseases, such as measles, whooping cough and other pediatric infectious diseases…

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Episode 18: Talking Scooter Share with Jason JonMichael, Assistant Director, Smart Mobility, Austin Transportation

Bingham Group CEO A.J. Bingham and BG Advisor Andy Cates discuss dark money, funds given to nonprofit organizations, including 501(c)(4) and 501(c)(6) groups, that can receive unlimited donations from corporations, individuals and unions.

The issue of dark money is a current topic of interest at Austin’s City Hall, related to the November 6th bond election. In particular, Proposition K.

That measure would require the city of Austin to hire an outside firm to do an “efficiency study” of the city’s operations and finances. The city already has its own internal auditing office and uses outside auditors, as well. This measure calls for a brand-new audit — done by someone the city does not currently work with…

Link to Episode 18

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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