BG Reads | News You Need to Know (April 15, 2019)
Public weighs in, Austin City Council calls for civility as land code rewrite discussions progress (Community Impact)
Nearly a month after City Manager Spencer Cronk laid out his plan for the new land code rewrite process, asking City Council members to first parse out five of what he considered to be the most polarizing policy questions, Austinites had their first chance to weigh in since council members killed the previous rewrite attempt last summer.
Earlier [last] week, Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza, admittedly already growing frustrated with the process, lambasted the view that City Council needed to hear much more from the public before moving forward with what she called “incredibly hard” decisions. The Southeast Austin representative said she’d be “very surprised” if she and her colleagues hear anything different from what has been said since land code rewrite conversations began around 2012.
“I will listen, but … I’m ready to make the necessary changes,” Garza said April 9. “It’s going to be incredibly difficult, but we have to do it. And I’m ready.”
After 90 minutes of public testimony that stretched past 9:30 p.m. at the April 11 City Council meeting, Garza’s assumption was correct; the public voices sang a familiar motif—verses warning of affordability and displacement concerns related to upzoning existing neighborhoods, choruses calling for greater housing supply and housing types, and speakers advocating for responsible environmental stewardship.
Garza, leaning on her experience from sitting through similar public comments sessions since she took office in 2015, concluded there was more overlap than the divisive rhetoric often used in these land use discussions might lead one to believe… (LINK TO STORY)
Despite neighborhood objections Planning Commission approves increasing density for East Austin project (Austin Monitor)
On the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Tillery Street, single-family homes meet higher-density residential developments. Although this tenuous balance between property usage has been negotiated for decades, there remains a line between the two districts.
Finding that fine line was the challenge at the April 8 meeting of the Planning Commission. City staffers were in support of changing the zoning at 3300 and 3302 East Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard from SF-3 to SF-5, thereby allowing for a higher density of housing on the 0.47-acre property.
SF-3 zoning allows for a maximum of four structures on the property. However, because this property does span the line between single-family homes and high-density residential properties, staff worked with the applicant to compromise and cap the density at six homes.
Still, local residents did not support the zoning change and came before the commission with a valid petition request to clarify their reasoning. If 20 percent or more of landowners within 200 feet of a property oppose a rezoning, a supermajority (or nine members) of Council must approve the rezoning for it to take effect. The petition against the zoning change on these properties stands at 20.95 percent. Residents explained that rezoning the corner property was going to bring increased density and more traffic to an already dangerous intersection… (LINK TO STORY)
Bill targets tax-exempt status of planned MLS stadium (Austin American-Statesman)
A bill set for a hearing Tuesday could undermine efforts to construct a stadium for the Major League Soccer team headed to Austin. Senate Bill 1771 would allow government entities like Travis County and the Austin school district to collect property taxes on the proposed 20,000-seat stadium, which is set to be built on city-owned land in North Austin.
Detractors of the stadium deal have focused on the city’s decision to make the venue exempt from property taxes, which was a central negotiating point in wooing Precourt Sports Ventures to locate its MLS franchise, Austin FC, in the Capital City. “They shouldn’t have that authority,” said Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, the author of SB 1771. “To me, that was what caught my eye on this (deal). That accountability has to stay with each taxing jurisdiction. ... It is what I consider the bad public policy of one making a deal for others that don’t have any input.”… (LINK TO STORY)
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's endorsements in Plano council races stir local political scene (Dallas Morning News)
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has endorsed two candidates in Plano council contests — an extraordinary move that injects a partisan voice in the city's growing debate over development and taxes.
Last week, Abbott backed Shelby Williams over incumbent Ron Kelley and challenger Byron Bradford. He also endorsed former 2017 mayoral candidate Lily Bao in race for an open seat over Ann Bacchus and LaShon Ross. "It's the first time I've seen it," said Collin County Republican Party Executive Director Neal Katz of Abbott's endorsements, but without judgment. "It's a new one on me."… (LINK TO STORY)
Texas defies congressional request for information on voter roll review (Texas Tribune)
Facing an investigation over the state’s botched efforts to screen its voter rolls for noncitizens, the Texas Attorney General’s Office is declining congressional leaders’ request for information about the review.
In a Thursday letter to top officials with the U.S. House’s main investigative committee, Jeffrey Mateer, the state’s first assistant attorney general, indicated the state was brushing off a request for documents and communications from the Texas secretary of state and attorney general because the committee lacks “oversight jurisdiction.”
Instead, Mateer wrote, the state will treat the congressional inquiry as a public information request under state law, which grants the Texas attorney general’s office broad control over what information can be withheld from the public… (LINK TO STORY)
Houston nixes Austin lobbying firm over cable fee bill (Houston Chronicle)
The city of Houston has ended its relationship with a well-known lobbying firm in Austin after learning that it also represents cable and telecommunications companies pushing the Texas Legislature to eliminate millions of dollars in fees they pay to cities for using their right of way.
The decision to stop using HillCo Partners to lobby on Houston’s behalf comes amid Mayor Sylvester Turner’s increasingly vocal calls for state lawmakers to reject a bill that would limit the fees companies pay cities to lay cable and telephone lines. HillCo lobbyists represent the Texas Cable Association and Charter Communications, Texas Ethics Commission records show… (LINK TO STORY)
Health-care law more popular despite Trump’s repeated attempts to destroy it (Washington Post)
President Trump has begun a fresh assault on the Affordable Care Act, declaring his intent to come up with a new health-care plan and backing a state-led lawsuit to eliminate the entire law.
But Trump and Republicans face a major problem: The 2010 law known as Obamacare has become more popular and enmeshed in the country’s health-care system over time. Thirty-six states and the District of Columbia have expanded Medicaid — including more than a dozen run by Republicans — and 25 million more Americans are insured, with millions more enjoying coverage that is more comprehensive because of the law… (LINK TO STORY)
Energy Dept. investing $100 million in near zero emissions coal plants (Houston Chronicle)
The U.S. Department of Energy announced Friday it is investing $100 million in federal research funding into developing coal power plants with "near zero emissions." Coal power has been on the fast decline in the United States, as it struggles to compete with cleaner forms of electricity like natural gas plants and wind and solar farms.
"Coal is an abundant, affordable, and reliable energy source that, through innovation, will continue to be an important part of the U.S. portfolio for decades to come," Under Secretary of Energy Mark W. Menezes said in a statement. "The Department's Coal FIRST initiative is helping the nation secure its domestic power supply by developing plants that are not only more reliable, efficient, and near zero emissions, but that can adapt to the changing electrical grid."… (LINK TO STORY)
On April 10th, 2019 the Bingham Group team marked its Two Year Anniversary!
Public Affairs Associate Intern Julie Potrykus spoke with Bingham Group CEO A.J. Bingham about the start of the firm, reflecting on the past two years, and what’s ahead. She also speaks with Bingham Group Senior Consultant Paul Saldaña who recently joined the firm about his experience in the Austin market.