BG Reads | News You Need to Know (December 13, 2018)



New-look City Council figures to alter approach to land-use reform (Austin American-Statesman)

Tuesday’s runoff elections for the Austin City Council brought two new names and outlooks to the body in Natasha Harper-Madison and Paige Ellis, but the results also bring what some are calling a mandate for council members to stop talking and start doing when it comes to Austin’s biggest issues.

The main issue that appears to have gained momentum for future action is housing development. Both Harper-Madison and Ellis have been labeled “urbanists” — people who favor increased housing density to tackle Austin’s sustained population growth and ongoing economic boom.

Overhauling land-use regulations and zoning codes will come before council members again in 2019, when they will pick up the pieces of CodeNext, the ill-fated comprehensive rewrite of Austin’s land-use codes. The revamped council likely will get its first peek at what comes next in February, when City Manager Spencer Cronk is expected to offer a new plan for tackling the issue.

Before CodeNext’s demise, the council had taken several proxy votes regarding the controversial land-use rewrite, and four council members typically formed a bloc in opposition to CodeNext. When District 1 representative Ora Houston leaves the dais at the end of the year — to be replaced by Harper-Madison — that bloc will shrink to three votes…

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Council ponders ways to make meetings shorter, less confusing (Austin Monitor)

As part of its ongoing efforts to make government more efficient and productive, City Council is discussing potential changes to how meetings are run.

The conversation was kicked off by the city’s CFO Elaine Hart, who highlighted a number of ways Council could make things easier for the city employees who staff Council meetings.

The heads of city departments and other staff who may be called upon by Council during a meeting often don’t know when an item related to their department will be taken up. As a result, staffers may spend hours waiting – sometimes late into the night – while Council deals with other business. Citizens who come to Council meetings to speak on items also languish in the audience for hours.

“If we could get a heads-up during the meetings, that would help staff and the citizens who are there and maybe signed up for items,” suggested Hart.

Hart also recommended Council develop a clear policy about what to do about meetings that run past 10 p.m. While the meetings are scheduled to end at that time, Council members often vote to extend the meeting to get through a lengthy agenda…

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Austin ISD budget document suggests consolidating 12 schools to cut costs (Austin Monitor)

Facing a shortfall and declining enrollment, the Austin Independent School District is considering consolidating schools, among other options, to cut its deficit by as much as $55 million over the next few years.

A budget document sent to the Austin school board shows the district is considering two possible options. One would consolidate 12 under-enrolled campuses, saving the district $12 million over the next three years.

News of the draft was first reported by the Austin American-Statesman.

The district also suggests less drastic options to cut costs, like reducing its secondary staff, charging fees for students to attend magnet programs, increasing the student-to-teacher ratio, and reducing spending at the central office. The list of more than 90 cost-saving measures is not final and is subject to change…

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Apple plans new $1 billion Austin campus, 5,000 more jobs (Austin American-Statesman)

Apple Inc. is planning to spend $1 billion to build a new 133-acre corporate campus in North Austin that initially will employ up to 5,000 people, cementing Austin’s status as the high-tech company’s largest hub outside of its California headquarters.

The facility — which will be less than a mile from Apple’s existing main Austin campus on Parmer Lane — eventually could expand to accommodate up to 15,000 workers, the company said. Apple employs about 6,200 people in Austin now. Counting contractors, its current Austin workforce numbers about 7,000.

The new Austin campus is part of a wider Apple expansion that will see the tech giant build new facilities in Seattle, San Diego and Los Angeles with “over 1,000 employees” each, and add “hundreds of new jobs” in New York, Pittsburgh, Boulder, Colo., Boston and Portland, Ore., the company said. None of those facilities will be as big as the new Austin campus.

“Apple is proud to bring new investment, jobs and opportunity to cities across the United States and to significantly deepen our quarter century partnership with the city and people of Austin,” Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, said in a written statement. “Talent, creativity, and tomorrow’s breakthrough ideas aren’t limited by region or zip code, and, with this new expansion, we’re redoubling our commitment to cultivating the high-tech sector and workforce nationwide.”

Apple is in line to receive as much as $25 million in taxpayer-funded grants for the new Austin campus from the state’s deal-closing Texas Enterprise Fund, based on investment and job creation at the site. It also is seeking a 15-year property tax abatement from Williamson County, where the project is located just over the line from Travis County, that could be worth tens of millions of dollars over the life of the deal, although specific numbers weren’t available Wednesday…

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Dallas-Houston bullet train critics want Texas to oversee eminent domain use (Texas Tribune)

Cliff Waters couldn’t have been happier when a representative for the private company developing a high-speed rail line between Dallas and Houston offered to buy his Freestone County land. With power lines slicing his property in two, he had already been itching to get rid of the land before Texas Central Partners LLC approached him.

“The people were very professional,” said Waters, who also owns land in Mexia and Galveston. “It was a good thing for me for sure.”

But 100 miles away, Liz Machac has been adamant about holding on to her 235 acres of Grimes County property in the path of the proposed bullet train. Texas Central asserts that state law gives it the right to use eminent domain and force unwilling owners to sell their land, but Machac isn't so convinced. As legal battles and bureaucratic processes that could resolve such key disagreements play out, Texas Central is holding off from condemning anything — and Machac is holding on to her property…

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State Rep. Carol Alvarado wins special election to replace Sylvia Garcia in Texas Senate (Texas Tribune)

State Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, won a four-way special election to succeed former state Sen. Sylvia Garcia, narrowly avoiding a runoff against House colleague Ana Hernandez, according to unofficial results late Tuesday.

With all precincts reporting, Alvarado received 50.4 percent of the vote to 24.3 percent for Hernandez. Alvarado averted an overtime round by 59 votes out of 15,084 total.

Hernandez conceded shortly after all precincts came in, according to her campaign…

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Dan Patrick endorses John Cornyn after speculation he’d challenge him (Austin American-Statesman)

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick on Tuesday endorsed U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, in his bid for re-election after speculation that Patrick might challenge Cornyn in the 2020 Republican primary.

“Senator John Cornyn and I have been working together for Texas for many years,” Patrick said in a written statement. “I told him months ago that I would be proud to endorse his re-election in 2020 and today, I am making that endorsement official. John is a principled leader who has been a great U.S. senator for Texas.” Online news site Capitol Inside reported Thursday that Patrick was considering a run for the seat. A representative for Patrick, though, called the report “fake news.” The next day, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, endorsed Cornyn. Patrick added in his statement Tuesday that Cornyn defends Texans against “left-wing forces that are determined to destroy our country and state,” is an ally of President Donald Trump and fights to confirm conservative jurists to the federal bench…

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Amazon picks Alliance for regional air hub, bringing hundreds of jobs to DFW (Fort Worth Star-Telegram)

Amazon may not be bringing HQ2 to North Texas but it is bringing its fleet of planes. Amazon announced plans Tuesday to open a regional air hub at Alliance Airport and bring hundreds of jobs to the region.

The announcement said the regional hub “will include a brand new facility that will be built to suit Amazon Air’s needs.” Construction is already underway, “which will create hundreds of new jobs,” Amazon said in a news release. This is the first airport project of its kind for Amazon Air. “Unlike other gateways and facilities within Amazon Air’s network, the Regional Air Hub will be tailored specifically to Amazon Air’s larger scale regional needs,” Amazon said. “The Regional Air Hub will be constructed with the future in mind to include sortation capability and infrastructure to handle multiple flights daily.” The new hub should be up and running next year with daily flights planned. “We are excited to build a brand new facility from the ground up at the Fort Worth Alliance Airport,” said Sarah Rhoads, director of Amazon Air. “The new facility is the first of its kind for us and we’re thrilled to ensure we have the capacity to continue to delight our customers.”…

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As Trump threatens shutdown, Sen. Ted Cruz pitches $25B border wall funding bill (San Antonio Express-News)

While President Donald Trump and top Hill Democrats hurtle toward a potential holiday shutdown over his long-promised border wall, Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz is backing a longshot plan to cover the $25 billion cost by tightening rules so as to deny food stamps, tax credits and other federal benefits to people living in the country illegally.

The proposal, a fixture of conservative immigration policy, comes amid a standoff over Trump’s bid to win more wall funding from Congress before a Dec. 21 deadline for averting a government shutdown. Cruz and his allies say that further restricting welfare and tax benefits - most are already barred for undocumented immigrants — would solve the White House funding dilemma. Democrats argue it would shift the costs of an unneeded wall onto children, many of them living legally or born in America…

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BG Podcast - Episode 26: Law Enforcement Responses to Mental Health

Episode 26 t features a conversation with Dr. Elizabeth Truong, MD. She is the co-Founder & Chief Clinical Officer at Cloud 9, a telehealth platform for mental healthcare.

Dr. Troung and Bingham Group CEO A.J. Bingham discuss the City of Austin’s September 2018 police department audit, which found the city had one of the highest rates of fatal police shootings of people suffering from mental health issues nationally.

The two also discuss how municipalities can better approach police interactions involving mental health and Cloud9’s technology solution to assist them.

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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