BG Reads | News You Need to Know (April 9, 2019)



City Council majority wants land use rewrite to go further than CodeNext (Austin Business Journal)

City Manager Spencer Cronk teed up three basic approaches for Austin City Council on the next land development code rewrite: keep the status quo, adopt rules similar to the final draft of CodeNext or pursue more aggressive reforms to aid housing and transit.

Most Council members appear ready to go with door number three.

A majority of Austin City Council has voiced support in recent days and weeks for a comprehensive rewrite of Austin's land use rules that pursues substantial boosts in housing capacity, reductions in compatibility standards, more opportunities for missing middle housing and relaxed parking requirements.

Council members could give formal direction to city staff later this month on what they want out of a new code, which would govern what can be built where throughout the city. The previous attempt, called CodeNext, stalled out last summer.

In a March 27 letter posted on the Council's message board, Council Member Greg Casar and Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza said a rewritten land development code should encourage development patterns with a more equitable mode share between solo-commuting and other forms of transportation.

"We need a code that allows us to be flexible and creative when addressing the diverse needs of our growing population," they wrote. "Concrete code and map changes should be made in 2019 to make the city more affordable, transit-friendly and environmentally sustainable."

Casar and Garza want the next rewrite to go further than CodeNext's third draft in boosting housing capacity, which they said placed "the majority of housing capacity in lower opportunity areas and the vast majority outside the urban core."

"Housing capacity changes should be mapped to reduce sprawl and displacement, not accelerate either," they wrote.

Casar and Garza also urged Council to go further than CodeNext in boosting missing middle housing and reducing parking requirements. But they said they were open to reducing compatibility standards, which govern the height and setbacks of properties based on their distance from adjacent properties, either in line with CodeNext's third draft or beyond it.

"We need to vote to change our overall policies so that our corridors, centers, transition zones, missing middle housing, and ADU [accessory dwelling unit] policies put us on track to meet our housing and transportation goals," they wrote.

In an April 5 letter, Council Members Jimmy Flannigan, Natasha Harper-Madison, Ann Kitchen and Sabino "Pio" Renteria said the city should explore eliminating minimum lot sizes in some cases and expanding density bonus programs like the Affordability Unlocked initiative green-lit in February for developments near schools, transit, grocery stores, health care, open space, job centers and walkable commercial areas... (LINK TO STORY)

Getting everyone together for city’s first high-capacity transit line (Austin Monitor)

Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority has only just begun its initial yearlong leg of conducting preliminary engineering and studying possible modes and alignments for Project Connect’s Orange Line, the city’s first high-capacity regional transit route, but transportation officials are ready for the community to get on board.

As the first of more public outreach efforts to come, Capital Metro hosted an open-house meeting at the Austin Central Library Monday afternoon. Community members were invited to get acquainted with the Orange Line and talk with representatives from Capital Metro and AECOM, the multinational engineering firm tasked with studying the route and advising the agency on which types of vehicles would work best given geographical constraints. AECOM engineers will also make a determination on where those vehicles may need to go, whether above or below ground, to avoid conflicts with other vehicles at street level.

The Orange Line will run through Central Austin with stops at several activity centers like St. Edward’s University, South Congress Avenue, Auditorium Shores, Republic Square, the Texas Capitol, and the University of Texas… (LINK TO STORY)

Austin ISD discusses preliminary 2019-20 budget, House Bill 3 impacts (Community Impact)

Austin ISD will not adopt its official fiscal year 2019-20 budget until June, but trustees had a discussion about the preliminary budget at a workshop April 8.

About $29.4 million in cost cutting and savings outlined in the 2019-20 budget are to make up an anticipated budget shortfall of $65 million and to help support increased spending towards district priorities, according to AISD Chief of Business and Operations Nicole Conley Johnson.

“We all know we’ve been experiencing declining enrollment, we’ve lost over 6,000 kids in the last five years; increasing recapture is putting enormous budgetary pressures on the district; and we were utilizing our reserves as a means to balance our budget,” she said.

The district continues to plan its budget despite uncertain legislative actions that could impact it in the future. House Bill 3 was approved by the Texas House on April 3, and while it is likely to help district funding, is can undergo further changes as it is evaluated by the senate, Conley Johnson said. The district is creating the budget assuming no changes in funding, she said.

“HB3 presents us with an opportunity to pick up a substantial amount of new revenue across the district,” she said. “We have hopes that it will reach the governor for signing but we don’t know. There are still a lot of things that aren’t certain.”… (LINK TO STORY)

See also:

BG Episode 38: Texas School Finance with Austin ISD CFO Nicole Conley

Former UT tennis coach to plead guilty in admissions fraud case (Texas Tribune)

Former University of Texas at Austin men’s tennis coach Michael Center has agreed to plead guilty of taking a $100,000 bribe in 2015 to admit a student into the university, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the District of Massachusetts announced Monday.

Center was fired by the university last month just one day after he was implicated in the college admissions scandal, which spans six states and involves potentially millions of dollars. Center has agreed to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud, according to the release.

Thirteen parents, including actress Felicity Huffman, involved in the admissions scandal are also expected to plead guilty

Center and the other defendants were charged with conspiring with William “Rick” Singer, who helped bribe SAT and ACT exam administrators to take college entrances exams in place of students, as well as bribe university coaches and administrators to facilitates students’ entrance into universities across the country… (LINK TO STORY)


Proposed labor rule would mean gig economy workers in Texas can’t get unemployment benefits (Austin Monitor)

The state’s labor regulator will meet this morning for a final vote on a controversial new rule on gig economy workers that opponents say will have far-reaching implications for workers going forward.

The proposed rule from the Texas Workforce Commission would eliminate a requirement that app-based companies – like Uber or DoorDash – that hire contractors pay unemployment taxes for those workers. The three-member commission gave initial approval for the rule in December.

Labor unions and worker advocates say the new rules were tailor-made by lobbyists from a firm called Handy. The Workers Defense Project filed a public information request for communications between Commissioner Ruth Hughs and the firm, which showed she sought advice and was briefed by two lobbyists working for Handy… (LINK TO STORY)

House votes to extend tax relief for new industry (Austin American-Statesman)

The Texas House gave initial approval Monday for 10-year extensions to two property tax abatement programs for new industrial development, both designed to attract capital investment to the state.

Rep. Jim Murphy, R-Houston, who authored both bills, told the American-Statesman that the expiring Chapters 312 and 313 of the state tax code essentially create a lower introductory tax rate for new industrial projects that last up to 10 years.

Texas has some of the highest state property tax rates in the nation. In 2001, the year the Legislature established the incentives, advocates for the programs said Texas’ steep property taxes made it difficult to attract new industry.

“We just want to be in the game,” Murphy said. “We don’t have to win on every avenue, but we want to be able to compete.”

Chapter 312, which would be extended by House Bill 360, allows cities and counties to exclude new development from rising property taxes for up to 10 years, while Chapter 313, extended by House Bill 2129, allows school districts to offer limited taxes in exchange for property improvements and job creation. HB 360 passed its provisional vote 119 to 23; HB 2129 did so 114 to 27. Both bills will go to a final House vote Tuesday.

Chapter 312 agreements have been important in the energy sector, which has boomed in Texas in recent years. Past agreements have included new oil refineries and alternative energy sources, including wind farms… (LINK TO STORY)

U.S. House Democratic campaign arm to open Austin office, boosting focus on Texas in 2020 (Texas Tribune)

National Democrats are ratcheting up their Texas offensive yet again ahead of 2020.

The chairwoman of U.S. House Democratic campaign arm announced Tuesday morning that her committee will open a new satellite office in Austin. The move replicates the committee's 2018 California playbook, when the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had a substantive, on-the-ground presence in the Golden State and flipped seven U.S. House seats there.

“When it comes to places where House Democrats can go on offense, it doesn’t get any bigger than Texas,” said U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., the chairwoman of the DCCC. “In 2018, Texas Democrats proved that they can win in competitive districts. That’s why we are continuing our investments in the Lone Star State by opening a new DCCC:Texas Headquarters."… (LINK TO STORY)


Federal Judge Blocks Trump Administration From Sending Asylum Seekers To Mexico (KUT)

A federal judge has temporarily blocked the Trump administration’s policy of returning some asylum seekers to Mexico as they wait for their hearings in an American immigration court.

The Migrant Protection Protocols, also known as “Remain in Mexico,” were expanded to include El Paso's ports of entry last month after beginning in California’s San Ysidiro Port of Entry in January.

It was immediately met with a backlash from immigrant rights groups and attorneys who said migrants could be in danger in violent Mexican cities and that being in Mexico makes communicating with their U.S.-based attorneys more challenging.

California-based U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg ordered the Trump administration to halt the program by the end of the week… (LINK TO STORY)

U.S. government says it could take two years to identify families separated at border (Reuters)

It could take the U.S. government up to two years to identify potentially thousands of additional children separated from their parents by the authorities at the southern border, the government said in a court filing.

The filing late on Friday outlined for the first time the Trump administration’s plan for identifying which family members might have been separated by assessing thousands of records using a combination of data analysis, statistical science, and manual review.

Last month, a federal judge in San Diego expanded the number of migrant families that the government may be required to reunite as part of a class-action lawsuit brought last year by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)… (LINK TO STORY)


Heartbeat of the City by Jan Buchholz - A BG Media Group Production

Check out the first feature from BG Media Group: Heartbeat of the City, a three episode pilot podcast from Austin real estate insider Jan Buchholz, an award-winning reporter known for her journalism in the Austin Business Journal and her website, ATX Real Estate News.

All three episodes are up and we’d love your review and comments. You can find them here.

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