BG Reads | News You Need to Know (July 16, 2019)



Palm School property subject of swap proposal, intent to purchase offer from Fairmont financier (Community Impact)

Amid a proposal from Travis County commissioners to swap ownership of the Palm School site with the city of Austin, Fairmont Austin Hotel financier Douglas Manchester announced plans to offer an intent to purchase the land surrounding the school—not including the adjacent Palm Park—for potential commercial development.

“The Palm School is included in the vibrant history of this land marked area,” Manchester said in a news release updated July 15. “We are determined not to lose the school or the priceless value of our legacy.”

Manchester is president of the Manchester Texas Financial Group, which developed the Fairmont Austin Hotel; it neighbors the Palm School site. Manchester is being represented by attorney and state Rep. Sheryl Cole, D-Austin.

In addition to announcing his plans to offer an intent to purchase—a nonbinding real estate letter used to document progress toward a sale and to help secure financing—Manchester also pledged to donate $5 million to Travis County to help the local government entity maintain ownership of Palm School… (LINK TO STORY)

Save Our Springs backers among major supporters of anti-convention center PAC (Austin Monitor)

Campaign finance reports filed Monday showed that longtime members and financial supporters of the Save Our Springs Alliance have pledged the bulk of the funding that is supporting a political action committee attempting to force a public vote on the proposed expansion of the Austin Convention Center.

The report for Unconventional Austin, the PAC that last week turned in 30,000 signatures on its petition for the convention center ballot proposal, showed the recently formed group has gathered more than $147,000 in contributions, loans and pledged support. Much of that came from longtime SOS member and PAC organizer Bill Bunch, who contributed $22,625.50 in donations and loans, with SOS Alliance itself contributing $33,343 to the political group.

In a move to deflect claims that “dark money” was behind the opposition to the convention center proposal, SOS Alliance filed a separate finance report Monday that showed one-time City Council candidate John Kirk Mitchell contributed $20,000 to the springs group, in addition to separate $10,000 donations from civic activist Brian Rodgers and retired videographer Jenny Clark… (LINK TO STORY)

How Lance Armstrong's new VC firm plans to invest millions (Austin Business Journal)

Lance Armstrong's career as a venture capitalist is off to a fast start.

Armstrong, a former professional cyclist, and Lionel Conacher, a private equity veteran, disclosed July 5 they had raised $24.5 million of a planned $75 million debut fund for Next Ventures LP.

Armstrong now lives in Aspen, Colorado. Conacher, a native of Canada, lives in California. Yet according to securities filings, their VC firm is headquartered in Austin, where Armstrong lived for many years and where he still has a handful of business dealings, including as owner of Mellow Johnny's Bike Shop.

Conacher recently provided some extra insight into how the firm operates.

The firm focuses on startups in the late-seed and series A and B stages. Portfolio companies should have a product or service in the sports, fitness, nutrition or wellness industries, and be generating revenue… (LINK TO STORY)


Dennis Bonnen launches political action committee to keep House GOP majority in 2020 (Texas Tribune)

Republican Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen has launched a political action committee to help defend the GOP majority as Democrats push to take the lower chamber in 2020.

Bonnen, an Angleton Republican, has started the group, Texas Leads, with $3 million from his campaign account, his team announced Monday. The political action committee will focus exclusively on reelecting GOP members to the House — a move consistent with Bonnen's insistence that incumbents do not campaign against one another.

"The 86th legislative session was hailed as one of the most successful sessions in modern history," Bonnen said in a news release. "What we accomplished would not have been possible without the Republican members of the Texas House who fought tirelessly to get smart, conservative policies over the finish line. If we are to continue building upon these successes in future legislative sessions, we must do everything in our power to reelect the Republican legislators who made them a reality."… (LINK TO STORY)

Hemp law has most big-city prosecutors in Texas stepping back from marijuana charges. But not in El Paso. (Texas Tribune)

Most prosecutors in Texas’ largest counties are either tossing low-level marijuana cases or holding off on pursuing criminal charges. Their reasoning: The Legislature and Gov. Greg Abbott redefined marijuana when they legalized hemp earlier this year — and a lack of testing resources to distinguish between the two casts too much reasonable doubt over criminal proceedings.

But that’s not the case in El Paso, where the district attorney says his office will continue to pursue pot cases. He said there is usually enough circumstantial evidence with marijuana arrests — like if police find a joint or anything capable of being smoked — to convict someone of possession charges without lab testing.

“For unique drugs, we truly rely on the lab report,” Jaime Esparza told the Texas Tribune Thursday, noting that it can be hard to tell if a white powder is cocaine. “But when we talk about marijuana … we weren’t even using lab reports [before].”… (LINK TO STORY)

Business groups sue San Antonio to end paid sick leave ordinance (Texas Tribune)

Nearly a year ago, San Antonio became the second city in Texas to pass an ordinance forcing employers to provide paid sick leave to employees.

On Monday, it became the second city in Texas to get sued for doing it.

A coalition of business groups, including the Associated Builders & Contractors of South Texas and the city’s restaurant and manufacturers associations, has filed a lawsuit against San Antonio, claiming the ordinance is an unconstitutional violation of the state’s minimum wage act. The ordinance was to take effect Aug. 1, but the litigation may delay that. The coalition has asked a court in Bexar County to block the law’s implementation.… (LINK TO STORY)

See also:

BG Podcast Episode 20: State Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio)

BG Podcast - Episode 11: Meet James Hines, SVP of Advocacy and In-House Counsel, Texas Association of Business

BG Podcast - Episode 10: Policy Discussion Rob Henneke on Paid Sick Leave and Local Control


Three GOP Texans In Congress Condemn Trump's Racist Tweets, While Others Remain Silent (NPR)

U.S. Rep. Will Hurd called Donald Trump’s tweets “racist and xenophobic.” Pete Olson and Chip Roy were also critical, with Olson saying the president should “disavow his comments.”

But the bulk of the Texas GOP delegation has remained silent on the matter after Trump said that four Democratic women of color in Congress should “go back” to the “broken and crime infested places from which they came.” But they will likely be called to weigh in soon, with Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announcing she’ll call a vote on a resolution condemning the president’s racist words… (LINK TO STORY)


We’re taking a summer hiatus, so please enjoy some our favorite past episodes in the interim:

Episode 28: Rodney Gonzales- Director of Austin’s Development Services Department (DSD)

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)



As reported previously here, the City of Austin is exploring potential requirements that would mandate that 

  1. New developments submit water balance applications;

  2. Developments over 250,000 square feet use alternative and onsite waters to meet indoor and outdoor non-potable water demands. 

The timeline is particularly quick as City staff is working to develop proposed ordinance language by this fall… (LINK TO BLOG)

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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