BG Reads | News You Need to Know (December 10, 2018)



Four Big Plans Aim To Make Austin More Affordable. Here's What They Would Do. (KUT)

The bureaucratic stars over City Hall may just align in 2019.

Next year, the city will weigh four ambitious plans that aim to achieve the long-sought goal of making Austin more affordable.

"Going into 2019 the mandate is pretty clear," said Council Member Jimmy Flannigan. "Get to work."

And the city seems well positioned to do that. In addition to those plans, voters approved in November $250 million in bond money to actually fund those efforts to expand affordable housing. And if the Council finalizes a new land development code, the city could maximize any new affordable housing built going forward…

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Old mine to become new town center (Austin Monitor)

A decades-old sand and gravel mine just east of Austin city limits may be about to get a face-lift as a new Mueller-esque planned unit development (PUD).

The proposal for the 2,122-acre property includes 12,000 residential units, 2.25 million square feet of commercial space, 700 acres of parkland, and a three-acre fire station. According to Wendy Rhoades, a principal planner with the Planning and Zoning Department, the developer is also contemplating an elementary school with Del Valle ISD.

“The applicant desires to file the formal PUD application before the end of this year,” she told the Environmental Commission at its Dec. 5 meeting…

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Vision Zero advocates look to Legislature to help reduce traffic deaths (Austin Monitor)

In 2015, Austin hit a record high in road deaths: 102. In the two subsequent years, things have improved, with 79 and 76 people perishing in 2016 and 2017, respectively. By the beginning of December, 69 had died this year on Austin’s highways and roads.

The improvement is not nearly good enough, said Laura Dierenfield, director of active transportation for the Austin Transportation Department. At a Dec. 3 presentation to the Public Safety Commission, Dierenfield and others involved with Vision Zero, a city traffic safety initiative, discussed ways that the city can shift transportation behavior to achieve their ultimate goal: zero traffic deaths.

“No death is acceptable,” said Dierenfield.

Reducing traffic deaths involves a number of changes – legal, political, and perhaps above all, cultural…

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Austin Energy’s new chief operations officer ‘proud’ of first-year results (Austin Monitor)

At Austin Energy, successful operations begin with safety. With a growing city and a growing need for electric services, Austin Energy has begun to internally push its “Safety Starts With Me” campaign in an effort to reduce the number of injuries on the job and simultaneously increase the productivity of employees.

“We are requiring each person not only to be their own keeper but the keeper of their co-workers,” Charles Dickerson, the four-month veteran chief operating officer at Austin Energy explained to the Electric Utility Oversight Committee at its Dec. 6 meeting.

Austin’s burgeoning population is creating more demand on city utilities, which can cause employees to work longer shifts. The problem with that equation is, according to Dickerson, “the more hours you work, the more exposure you have to risk.” Fortunately, Austin Energy statistics from this year show that despite an increase in hours worked, there has also been an increase in the number of hours worked safely.

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Texas should end the ban on hemp to help farmers, not potheads, says Ag Commissioner Sid Miller (Dallas Morning News)

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller is calling on Congress to lift the ban on hemp production. In a press release Thursday afternoon, Miller urged Congress to pass the 2018 Farm Bill, which negotiators have revealed includes a provision to remove hemp from the federal list of controlled substances.

"This is all about taking the shackles off the American farmer," Miller said in a statement. "It is time to finally end the ban on industrial hemp and free Texas farmers to produce this valuable commodity. In today's economy, our farmers need maximum flexibility to diversify their production and thrive. When our farmers do well, they can provide for their families, grow our rural communities and ensure we have the food, clothing and medicine we all need." Support for lifting the ban on hemp, a fast-growing form of cannabis with low or untraceable amounts of the psychoactive compound found in marijuana, has enjoyed growing support among conservatives in recent years. The Republican Party of Texas included it in this year's convention platform, which also backed decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana…

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In Texas universities' football suites, booze, catering — and politicians of all stripes (Texas Tribune)

In this time of divisive rhetoric and bitter partisanship, there is still a place where Texas officials of all political stripes can come together.

It's not the pink-domed Capitol nor the Governor's Mansion. It's not the decorous Senate floor. And, though it too features a kind of scoreboard that lights up, it's not the House chamber, either.

It's kickoff time at a college football game. Location: The exclusive stadium suites where chancellors and university presidents play host.

On certain fall Saturdays, the invitation-only boxes set aside for Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp and his peers often become small political hotspots, drawing a cast of area politicians, state officials, alumni and big-money donors…

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Millions spent on incentives failed to get better teachers in high-need HISD schools (Houston Chronicle)

Houston ISD has spent millions of dollars on incentive pay and bonuses during the last two years to recruit and retain more high-quality teachers at it longest-struggling campuses. It has not worked.

The salary incentives have had virtually no impact on shifting highly-rated teachers to schools covered under HISD’s Achieve 180 campus turnaround initiative, where students historically have performed worse academically under the tutelage of lower-scoring educators, according to staffing data provided by HISD. As a result, students in HISD’s 40-plus Achieve 180 schools remain twice as likely as peers in non-Achieve 180 campuses to have teachers rated “ineffective” or “needs improvement.” They also are half as likely to have a teacher rated “highly effective.” HISD spent $6.87 million on teacher incentives tied to Achieve 180 in 2017-18, and it is expected to spend a similar amount this year. “Whatever we’re doing, teachers are not biting,” said HISD Trustee Wanda Adams, one of six school board members who has approved budgets with dedicated funding for Achieve 180. “I think we need to revisit those incentives…

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John Kelly to Step Down as Trump, Facing New Perils, Shakes Up Staff (New York Times)

President Trump said on Saturday that his chief of staff, John F. Kelly, would step down by the end of the year, the latest move in a long-planned staff shake-up as the president heads into the 2020 campaign facing growing peril from the special counsel and newly empowered Democrats.

The departure of Mr. Kelly, who had been brought in last year to impose order on the West Wing but found managing Mr. Trump an impossible task, had been rumored for months, and Mr. Trump announced it to reporters before departing for the Army-Navy football game in Philadelphia. He said a replacement would be named in the next day or two…

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BG Podcast - Episode 25: Austin Police Department's New Labor Agreement feat. Chas Moore, Austin Justice Coalition

Today's BG Podcast features a conversation with with return guest, Chas Moore, President and Founder, Austin Justice Coalition (AJC).

He and Bingham Group CEO A.J. Bingham discuss the Austin Council’s November approval of a labor contract for the Austin Police Department.

Negotiations over the contract took nearly a year, involving not only the city and Austin Police Association, but community stakeholders like AJC.

Why Austinities should care?

The new contract provides greater level of transparency and public accountability.
Link to BG Podcast Episode 25


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