BG Reads | News You Need to Know (September 20, 2018)



Figures show Austinites love and hate scooters (Austin Monitor)

Members of Austin City Council have plenty of concerns about the operation of dockless vehicles, particularly electric scooters. But they all appear to agree that the vehicles are here to stay, if for no other reason than they have proved wildly popular.

In July, people in Austin took 137,000 trips on dockless vehicles. The vast majority (129,200) were on scooters, with the remaining 8,400 on dockless bikes, both regular and electric.

There are now over 3,500 licensed scooters in the city. According to data collected in July, the average scooter trip lasted 16 minutes and was 1.29 miles long.

“It’s safe to say that these are very, very, very popular,” said Jason JonMichael, an assistant director for Austin Transportation Department in charge of smart mobility, at the Tuesday Council work session.

In contrast, Austin B-cycle, the nonprofit bike-sharing service with 76 stations around downtown, generated about 10,000 trips in July…

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More: The road ahead for scooters? City weighs safety concerns, new rules (Austin American-Statesman)

Rising rent pushes local businesses from South Congress strip (CommunityImpact)

South Congress Massage relocated to 1512 1/2 S. Congress Ave., Austin, from its previous location at 1210 S. Congress Ave., Austin, on Aug. 1 after the business owner says her rent was tripled.

The relocation is the second on the strip that includes 1200-1210 S. Congress Ave. in as many months.

The Turquoise Door II, which opened in 1989 and sold American Indian jewelry and Latin American folk art, closed its storefront at 1208 S. Congress Ave. in July, when its lease expired. The owner said he would have preferred to remain in the location but high rent and unfavorable terms made it untenable.

The other tenants, which include Heritage Boot Co.; noir boutique Blackmail; home, gift and clothes boutique Favor the Kind; and Creatures Boutique, remain open. Blackmail celebrated its 20th anniversary last October, and Heritage Boot Co. opened in 2007.

According to the Travis County Appraisal District, the strip is owned by Greenfield Partners LLC, a Connecticut-based private equity real estate investment firm. The company also owns the Austin Motel, which it purchased at the same time as the strip in 2016…

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An update on the Fayette Power Plant reveals no news, inspires working group (Austin Monitor)

Almost five years ago, Council recommended that Austin Energy retire its portion of the Fayette Power Plant, which is run on coal, by 2022. Despite intense pressure from environmentalists to move that date up, the city utility is sticking to their plans for retirement on that date.

However, the path forward toward retirement remains clear. “We don’t believe there is a significant impediment there,” Pat Sweeney, the vice president of Power Production at Austin Energy, informed the Electric Utility Commission at its Sept. 17 meeting.

Predictably, the commissioners began asking why the utility doesn’t just shut down now. Commissioner Marty Hopkins suggested defaulting on the shared contract that the city holds with the Lower Colorado River Authority at the power plant. Although Sweeney explained that he could not “speak to that as an option,” Chair Cary Ferchill noted that Austin Energy does not operate the plant in a day-to-day capacity. “If we just quit answering their phone calls, they’re going to continue operating it,” he said.

Furthermore the city, which holds the contract jointly with LCRA, still owes $160 million of outstanding debt on the facility. There are also no provisions for retirement or exit outside of a sale written into the contract…

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How Texas Democrats lost a state Senate seat amid talk of a blue wave (Texas Tribune)

Republican Pete Flores' upset victory in a Democratic-friendly Texas Senate district Tuesday night has spurred GOP jubilation and Democratic soul-searching with less than two months until the November elections.

"All this talk about a 'blue wave'? Well, the tide is out," Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick proclaimed at Flores' election night party in San Antonio.

Flores beat Democrat Pete Gallego, a former U.S. representative, by 6 percentage points in the special election runoff for Senate District 19, where state Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, resigned earlier this year after 11 felony convictions. The win made Flores the first Hispanic Republican in the Texas Senate and grew the GOP majority there to 21 members, a key addition as the caucus heads toward November looking to retain its supermajority.

Democrats moved quickly Tuesday night to blame Gov. Greg Abbott for scheduling the special election at a time when turnout was expected to be low and would favor his party. But they were nonetheless demoralized Wednesday, trying to figure out how they let a valuable seat flip in a district where Uresti repeatedly won re-election by double digits and that Hillary Clinton carried by 12 in 2016…

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Beto O’Rourke leads Ted Cruz by 2 among likely voters in U.S. Senate race, new poll finds (Texas Tribune)

U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, leads Republican incumbent Ted Cruz by 2 percentage points among likely voters, according to an Ipsos online poll released Wednesday in conjunction with Reuters and the University of Virginia. O’Rourke has been closing the gap over the last several months, but this is the first poll that puts him ahead of Cruz.

Forty-seven percent of likely voters told Reuters they would vote for O'Rourke, while 45 percent said they would cast their ballot for Cruz. Three percent said they would vote for "Other," and 5 percent said "None." The margin of error on that portion of the poll was 3.5 percentage points.

A Quinnipiac poll released Tuesday put Cruz 9 percentage points ahead of O’Rourke among likely voters. That poll was based on phone interviews, while the Ipsos poll used an online survey. But it’s trying to predict who will show up on Election Day that shifts the numbers, said Ipsos Vice President Chris Jackson…

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3D-printed gun designer Cody Wilson is wanted on charge of sexually assaulting an underage girl (Texas Tribune)

Cody Wilson, an Austin man who gained national attention for his push to make blueprints for 3D-printed guns publicly available on the internet, has been charged with sexually assaulting an underage girl, according to an arrest affidavit filed Wednesday in Travis County District Court.

The affidavit said Wilson, 30, had sex with a girl under the age of 17 on Aug. 15 at the Archer Hotel in Austin and paid her $500. Commander Troy Officer of the Austin Police Department's Organized Crime Unit confirmed at a Wednesday afternoon press conference that the girl was 16. Wilson is not currently in custody, and his last known location is Taipei, Taiwan. The girl told her story to a counselor on Aug. 22, and the counselor called the Austin Police Department.

The girl told authorities she created an account on and began talking to a man who used the screen name “Sanjuro,” the affidavit said. The two exchanged cell phone numbers and began texting and exchanging explicit photos, the affidavit said.

“Sanjuro” eventually identified himself to the girl as “Cody Wilson” and told her he was a “big deal,” according to the affidavit. Police compared Wilson’s driver’s license photo with the profile image for “Sanjuro” and found a match…

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Still Smarting from Uber, Cities Wise Up About Scooter Data (Wired)

From the airy SOMA office of Remix, it all feels very calm. Things usually move sort of slowly here, employees say. The company creates planning software for cities, which means its workers spend their time going back and forth with the 300 government agencies—cough, bureaucracies—that they call clients. Recently, though, the work has picked up speed.

Over the past eight months, cities have started asking for a new kind of software: digital tools to deal with the dockless electric bikes and scooters that have suddenly swarmed their sidewalks. From Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chattanooga, Philadelphia, and Boston have come the tales: of monied startups dropping their new, zippy devices onto public land—and into loud public debate.

“We’ve hit a critical inflection point with cities and micromobility, and cities are really overwhelmed,” says Paul Supawanich, Remix’s head of mobility policy.

So this week, the company announced the rollout of a new product that it believes will help cities organize new sorts of transportation data. Using Remix for New Mobility, public officials should be able to see exactly how many scooters and bikes are parked across their fiefdoms, and where they are at any moment. They should be able to see where trips start and where they end, down to the census tract…

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Republicans seem to have the votes to move forward with Brett Kavanaugh (Washington Post)

Republicans haven’t officially made the decision to press forward with federal judge Brett M. Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination, but they appear likely to have the votes to do so. Three key GOP senators have fallen in line with the arguments put forward by their colleagues. They said that Christine Blasey Ford has been given a chance to share the story of her accusation against Kavanaugh in a hearing setting, and encouraged her to testify — even without the FBI investigation she says must come first. “Republicans extended a hand in good faith,” said Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who was among the first senators to call for a pause in Kavanaugh’s confirmation when Ford came forward. “If we don’t hear from both sides on Monday, let’s vote.”

The first senator to issue such a call was Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.). Late Tuesday, he encouraged Ford to testify and noted that the GOP-controlled committee has offered her a private session. “When Dr. Ford came forward, I said that her voice should be heard and asked the Judiciary Committee to delay its vote on Judge Kavanaugh. It did so,” Flake wrote on Twitter. “I now implore Dr. Ford to accept the invitation for Monday, in a public or private setting. The committee should hear her voice.” Flake doesn’t explicitly say that the committee should vote even if Ford still won’t testify without an FBI investigation, but CNN’s Jim Acosta reported that Flake agrees with Corker on that point…

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‘I don’t have an attorney general’: Trump escalates his attacks on Jeff Sessions (Washington Post)

President Trump escalated his attacks on Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday, offering a scathing assessment of his performance on the job and in his confirmation hearing. “I don’t have an attorney general. It’s very sad,” Trump said in an interview with Hill.TV, in which he also said the former senator from Alabama came off as “mixed up and confused” when he appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee in January 2017. Trump has long been publicly critical of Sessions’s decision to recuse himself from the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and said that he has regretted nominating him to lead the Justice Department. But in the Hill.TV interview, Trump offered broader criticism, including on Sessions’s handling of immigration issues, which has been cheered by Trump allies. “I’m not happy at the border, I’m not happy with numerous things, not just this,” Trump said, referring to the Russia investigation…

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