BG Reads | News You Need to Know (October 10, 2019)



NEW -> Episode 56: Catching up with Chris Shorter, Austin Assistant City Manager (LINK TO SHOW)


Austin's New Land Code Could Provide Hundreds Of Thousands More Homes. Here Are Some Other Numbers. (KUT)

The latest iteration of the city’s new land development code could allow builders to put up as many as 397,000 new housing units in Austin, according to a presentation city staff made to Council members Tuesday.

That falls just short of Council’s goal of passing new rules that could yield up to 405,000 new places to live. But that doesn’t mean that’s how many new housing units Austin will be getting over the next few decades.

“Is it accurate to be able to say, even though something is zoned something, the market would probably not allow that to be built out to the full zoning capacity?” Council Member Delia Garza asked…


Report gives Council options for equity in funding for chambers of commerce (Austin Monitor)

An analysis of city funding of four minority-based chambers of commerce has offered recommendations for City Council and staff on how to adjust those annual contributions in the coming years to make them more equitable.

report released last week by Economic Development Department Director Veronica Briseño includes the full study and findings from the consulting group Sabre Development that was commissioned in response to Council wanting to look at new ways to determine funding amounts for the Austin LGBT Chamber of Commerce, Greater Austin Black Chamber of Commerce, Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and the Greater Austin Asian Chamber of Commerce.

Those groups – collectively known as the Multi-Ethnic Chamber Alliance, or MECA – have for years received differing contract payments for performing similar services as part of their eligibility for city funding. That disparity prompted the Economic Prosperity Commission to request the creation of a standard formula for determining funding for the groups, which have differing membership levels and represent different-sized portions of the city’s population.

The study offered five recommendations for the city to consider: 1) Add a new equity factor, such as decreasing population, to the funding model or remove one from the model; 2) change the equity qualifications such as race or population; 3) add a new equity-based organization such as the Disability Chamber of Commerce to the model; 4) decrease by a set amount the city’s funding to non-MECA chambers to add more equity funding; or 5) increase the proportion of total chamber funding directed toward equity… (LINK TO STORY)

UT Professor Who Helped Develop Lithium Ion Battery Wins Nobel Prize (KUT)

If you have a cellphone or a laptop or an electric car, you have UT Austin professor John Goodenough to thank for helping create the lightweight, rechargeable battery that makes it work.

Goodenough was awarded the 2019 Nobel Prize in chemistry Wednesday for his part in the creation of the lithium-ion battery, almost 35 years after it became commercially viable.

Goodenough shares the Nobel — and its 9 million kronor (or $981,000) in prize money — with co-creators M. Stanley Whittingham of Binghamton University in New York and Akira Yoshino of the Asahi Kasei Corporation in Tokyo… (LINK TO STORY)


Texas is first state to ban political ‘deepfake’ videos (San Antonio Express News)

A candidate for office makes a startling admission in an online video. But is it real? As fears over potential election meddling grow, Texas has become the first state to ban the spread of manipulative deepfake videos designed to sway the vote or hurt a candidate.

Deepfakes use artificial intelligence to alter videos — in a realistic way — to make it appear people said or did things they haven’t. Their proliferation online is worrying Texas lawmakers, who approved a law this year to ban the spread of politically motivated deepfakes within 30 days of an election. “Putting any type of limitation on speech is serious, we approached that cautiously,” said the bill’s sponsor Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola. “Because a deepfake video has such power, we realize it could be used for real harm in an election context.” There’s no example of a deepfake being used to sway an election in the U.S., but states are beginning to crack down on the spread of such videos, said Matthew F. Ferraro, a Washington D.C.-based attorney with WilmerHale LLP who focuses on disinformation… (LINK TO STORY)

Texas is spending millions to bring the "portfolio model" to its schools. The strategy has led to teacher strikes in other states. (Texas Tribune)

Texas is encouraging its school districts to drastically change how they manage their campuses — an effort to quickly cut down the number that are low-performing.

It is spending more than $20 million a year in state and federal dollars on districts and outside consultants working to give individual schools more freedom from state and local regulations, with mixed results: Some schools are performing better in state ratings; others are continuing to struggle.

The controversial national approach is especially unpopular with teacher groups, and has led to strikes in cities like Denver and Los Angeles.

In a traditional school district, an elected school board chooses a superintendent, who runs a central office responsible for budgeting, hiring and curriculum for a set of schools. Under the new approach, leaders at individual campuses have much more power and flexibility to make their own decisions, and are released from some of the constraints of state and local regulations — much like publicly funded, privately managed charter schools are. The elected school board and central office determine which schools open where, but play a much smaller role in managing them… (LINK TO STORY)

Texas halts permit process for new medical pot dispensaries (Austin American-Statesman)

An effort aimed at increasing the number of companies allowed to sell a nonpsychoactive form of medical marijuana in Texas apparently has fallen victim to a temporary case of cold feet.

The Texas Department of Public Safety, which regulates the state’s restrictive medical marijuana program, said Wednesday that it isn’t accepting any applications for new permits -- even though it announced three weeks ago that an application window would be open from Oct. 1 through Nov. 1. Currently, only three companies have licenses under the state’s so-called Compassionate Use Program.

The agency offered little public explanation for its policy change. But state Rep. Stephanie Klick, R-Fort Worth, said she has been told that DPS is still trying to determine how many new licenses might be needed because of recent changes to the program that has increased the pool of potential patients.

“I think it is just probably going to be delayed,” Klick said of the permitting process. She said she heard about the cancellation Wednesday morning and subsequently sought an explanation from DPS officials… (LINK TO STORY)


Sweeping study raises questions about who benefits from buyouts of flood-prone homes (NPR)

The White House declared war on the House impeachment inquiry on Tuesday, announcing that it would not cooperate with what it called an illegitimate and partisan effort “to overturn the results of the 2016 election” of Donald J. Trump.

In a letter to House Democratic leaders, the White House said the inquiry violated precedent and President Trump’s due process rights in such an egregious way that neither he nor the executive branch would willingly provide testimony or documents, a daring move that sets the stage for a constitutional clash. The letter came hours after the White House blocked the interview of a key witness, Gordon D. Sondland, the United States ambassador to the European Union, just hours before he was to appear on Capitol Hill… (LINK TO STORY)


Proposed Changes to the 2020 COA Calendar and FY21 Budget Timeline

Changes could be coming to the Austin City Council’s 2020 meeting calendar. Such was the discussion last week at Council’s October 1 work session. City staff’s goal is to have a version prepared for Council vote at their October 17 meeting... (LINK TO STORY)

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