BG Reads | News You Need to Know (August 7, 2019)
Denise Lucas Appointed Director of Development Services Department (City of Austin)
On Tuesday Denise Lucas was appointed as the new Director of the City of Austin’s Services Department (DSD). She had recently served in the role on an interim basis.
DSD is responsible for issuing building permits, handling site plan and land use reviews for proposed development. It is the primary city department that homeowners, business owners, developers and contractors interact with when they build, demolish or remodel in Austin… (LINK TO POST)
Showdown over hotel tax increases could put city and county at odds (Austin Monitor)
A week after the Travis County Commissioners Court voted to explore tapping a 2 percent increase in the local Hotel Occupancy Tax for its own uses, Austin City Council appears set to claim the same tax increase to fund an expansion of the Austin Convention Center.
Late Monday, an emergency resolution was added to the agenda of Thursday’s Council meeting, approving a capital improvement plan for the convention center and increasing the city’s share of the hotel tax by 2 percent. That increase would bump the total tax rate on local hotel room stays to 17 percent, the maximum allowed by state law, meaning Travis County wouldn’t have access to an estimated $20 million per year that had been suggested as a funding source to make improvements to the Travis County Exposition Center.
In May, Council voted unanimously to move forward with plans for a $1.2 billion expansion of the downtown convention center. Those improvements will be paid for solely by hotel tax revenues, though a recent petition effort seeks to require voter approval for any improvements to the facility costing more than $20 million… (LINK TO STORY)
Council to delay vote on street impact fees (Austin Monitor)
City Council has decided to allow two more weeks for dialogue before the Austin Transportation Department begins crafting details of its street impact fee program.
With Council expected to adopt street impact fees in January 2020, Council Member Ann Kitchen said during Tuesday’s work session that she doesn’t believe the delay will disrupt the proposed schedule. Transportation Director Rob Spillar said the postponement would not be an issue as long as the vote is not pushed back any further. He also requested that Council leave the public hearing open until Aug. 22 to make sure they comply with the state law’s intention that the hearing and vote are conducted in quick succession.
Completion of the street impact fee program is one of several key action items listed in the Austin Strategic Mobility Plan as near-term goals and part of the document’s overall objective to partner with private development to achieve transportation outcomes. While developers sometimes contribute to transportation infrastructure without such a program, the document describes impact fees as a more equitable and predictable way to pay for capital improvements like vehicle lanes, bridges, sidewalks or bike lanes… (LINK TO STORY)
Austin's Budget Proposal Puts More Money Toward Transportation, But Advocates Question Priorities (KUT)
Austin City Manager Spencer Cronk’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2019-2020 includes more than $500 million for transportation-related items, including projects aimed at improving infrastructure and reducing congestion.
“We are all aware of the challenges Austin faces in regard to mobility,” Cronk said when he announced the proposed budget Monday. “We have again targeted these dollars to spur improvement in ensuring the accessibility and equity of multimodal transportation choices.”
The proposal includes $50 million in capital spending for the Public Works Department to upgrade streets, bridges and sidewalks. The Austin Transportation Department would get $3.2 million for bicycle safety and bikeway improvements in several corridors, in addition to other projects designed to increase mobility and safety on roads like East 51st Street… (LINK TO STORY)
Austin FC Makes Ticket Sales Pitch With Virtual Tour Of Its Future Pitch (KUT)
Austin’s soon-to-be Major League Soccer team is stepping up its marketing efforts with the launch of the Austin FC Experience Center. Prospective ticket buyers will get a front row seat to the $200 million-plus stadium that is yet to be built near the Domain.
“We’re going to show a scale model of what the stadium is going to look like, and we have this amazing VR experience which takes people right into the stadium itself,” said Tom Webb, vice president of public relations and broadcast for Austin FC… (LINK TO STORY)
"I said terrible things": Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen apologizes for Michael Quinn Sullivan meeting (Texas Tribune)
Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen apologized Tuesday to members for taking a meeting with hardline conservative activist Michael Quinn Sullivan that has since thrown the lower chamber into chaos — but he's already facing pushback from at least one Republican who does not appear ready to accept the speaker's apology.
“I was stupid to take a meeting with an individual who has worked hard to divide our House,” Bonnen, an Angleton Republican, wrote to House members in an email. “I said terrible things that are embarrassing to the members, to the House, and to me personally.”… (LINK TO STORY)
Trump plans visits to El Paso and Dayton on Wednesday, despite some local officials' opposition (Texas Tribune)
President Trump is preparing to visit El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, on Wednesday, appearances that will not be universally welcome as the two cities grieve from weekend mass shootings that left 31 dead and many injured and rattled.
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway confirmed Trump’s plans while speaking to reporters Tuesday, saying he “has wanted to go there since he learned of these tragedies.”
Conway suggested that Trump’s itinerary would be similar to other visits in the wake of mass shootings or natural disasters, which have included meetings with those affected and with law enforcement and first responders… (LINK TO STORY)
Prompted by mass shootings, Texas poured $5M into unproven mental health program (San Antonio Express-News)
Texas lawmakers reacted to a rash of mass shootings, including one at Santa Fe High School, by pouring $5 million this year into expanding a small telemedicine project out of the Panhandle that screens students at risk of hurting themselves or others and refers them to help. But records obtained by the San Antonio Express-News and Houston Chronicle show that the project housed at Texas Tech University hasn’t lived up to its own targets.
Despite screening more than 200 students since mid-2013, almost none of those children followed through with their aftercare plans for counseling or medication, according to the project’s grant filings and interviews with school districts. What’s more, the virtual referrals have come at a steep average cost of roughly $11,600 per student — more than what the state pays school districts to educate a child for a full year… (LINK TO STORY)
Rep. Joaquin Castro tweets names of top Trump donors from Texas (AXIOS)
Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), the manager of the Democratic presidential campaign of twin brother Julián Castro, dismissed calls from the Trump campaign and other Republicans Tuesday to delete a tweet identifying some of President Trump’s biggest Texas donors.
Why it matters: Castro posted the names and occupations of 44 Trump donors from San Antonio ahead of the president's planned visit Wednesday to El Paso following Saturday's mass shooting there… (LINK TO STORY)
We’re taking a summer hiatus, so please enjoy some our favorite past episodes in the interim:
BG Podcast Episode 28: Rodney Gonzales, Director of Austin’s Development Services Department, on department initiatives
Today's BG Podcast features a conversation with Rodney Gonzales, then Director of Austin’s Development Services Department (DSD). The department was created in 2015 to handle residential and commercial permitting issues separately from zoning issues.
Rodney discusses his background and path to DSD, and current department initiatives with Bingham Group CEO A.J. Bingham… (LINK TO SHOW)