BG Reads | News You Need to Know (February 28, 2019)



Protesters show up late to protest postponed Riverside project (Austin Monitor)

Although there was additional security at Tuesday’s Planning Commission meeting, the commission discussed the case without incident, voting to indefinitely postpone action in order to allow city staff to continue evaluating Project Catalyst, a major mixed-use development proposed near East Riverside Drive and Pleasant Valley Road.

It wasn’t until two hours after conversation on the case concluded that demonstrators associated with Defend Our Hoodz, an anti-gentrification group, disrupted the meeting, forcing Commission Chair James Shieh to recess the panel and ask security to escort the protesters out of the room.

The protesters were escorted out of Council chambers without issue, chanting, “No Domain on Riverside,” referencing Project Catalyst’s frequent description as a “new Domain.”

It’s not clear why the demonstrators did not take action during the discussion over Catalyst. Many of them were in the audience from the beginning of the meeting.

Defend Our Hoodz has gained notoriety for vociferous protests, often featuring masked demonstrators and incendiary social media posts targeting east side businesses and public figures they judge complicit in gentrification. Two participants in a recent protest were charged with assault relating to an altercation with Larry Sunderland, president of the Friends of Riverside, a neighborhood group.

The group is protesting Catalyst, pointing out that it will come at the expense of existing apartment buildings, including the Ballpark Apartments, which largely caters to students…

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Austin’s homeless population still growing (Austin Monitor)

Despite the expenditure of millions of city and federal dollars, and the fact that Austin’s efforts are frequently cited as best practices in other cities, homelessness is still on the rise here.

Ann Howard, executive director of the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition, told the Austin Monitor on Wednesday that she does not yet have the final count of people experiencing homelessness in 2019. However, she said she expects the number to be about 100 more than 2,147 – last year’s total, which was a 5 percent increase from the 2017 count.

Howard believes the reason for the increase is not related to the fact that more people are moving to Austin, but because “crisis happens and housing is expensive.” She added, “What creates homelessness is a lack of affordable housing.”

Howard was one of a number of representatives of homeless advocacy organizations who attended Wednesday’s meeting of the Council Audit & Finance Committee to discuss the results of a special report from the city auditor’s office. The report was the culmination of a project started in 2017 to analyze the city’s response to homelessness and how well service providers are doing in meeting their performance goals…

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Scooters to be banned from Sixth Street during SXSW (Austin American-Statesman)

Thousands of visitors create crowded sidewalks, long lines and congested streets during the South by Southwest festivals every March, but Austin is about to find out what happens when you add hundreds of electric stand-up scooters to that mix.

Scooters will be banned from pedestrian zones along Sixth Street, Red River Street and Rainey Street, which will be barricaded off during the festivals that run March 8-17, Austin Transportation Director Robert Spillar said Wednesday.

Austin police officers in patrol cars will be stationed at those barricades and will control access for emergency vehicles, Police Chief Brian Manley said. But scooter users should not leave devices piled up outside the barricades, he said.

Bicycle and skateboard riders will be told to pick up their wheels and walk through the pedestrian zones, but scooters are not allowed to be dragged through those areas, Spillar said…

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After demolition breeds mistrust, Govalle neighbors seek to protect orchard (Austin American-Statesman)

East Austinite Diane Gonzales spent many afternoons as a girl playing across the street in her neighbors’ sprawling pecan tree grove. Over the years, her family grew close with the neighbors and together they collected, bagged and sold pecans throughout her childhood.

“The pecan trees have been there as long as I’ve been here,” said Gonzales, who has lived on Tillery Street for more than 30 years.

Govalle neighborhood residents and other community groups are concerned about the preservation of the generations-old pecan grove and said they don’t trust the city’s housing corporation, which owns the property, to protect it after the public nonprofit prematurely demolished an adjacent house without a permit in violation of city code. They now want the city of Austin to take extra precautions to safeguard the orchard.

Housing officials have said that a miscommunication between the contractor and city staff led to the demolition snafu in December, a month before the Historic Landmark Commission was scheduled to hold a public hearing about the 1930s home, which was built by truck farmers-turned-flower growers Rudy and Pearl Henninger. Although the Austin Housing Finance Corporation wants to eventually redevelop the property for affordable housing, the organization said there are currently no specific plans for the site.

“To be clear, we support affordable housing,” wrote Jessica Eley, Govalle Neighborhood Association co-chair in a letter to City Council members that addressed its concerns and was signed by nearly 60 neighbors. Affordable housing projects including the Guadalupe-Saldaña Net Zero Subdivision and the Jeremiah Apartments sit across the street from the pecan tree grove.

But the neighborhood association would like to see the orchard — a community gathering space for picnics, dog walking and pecan harvesting — to become a park. And neighbors want a formal plan in writing…

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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott reappoints Education Commissioner Mike Morath (Texas Tribune)

Gov. Greg Abbott announced Wednesday that he has reappointed Mike Morath as Texas' education commissioner, leaving it up to the state Senate to confirm Morath for a new four-year term.

Morath, a former Dallas ISD board member with a background in finance, has headed the Texas Education Agency since Jan. 4, 2016, overseeing Texas' schools through a federal investigation on special education, the switch to a new school rating system, a massive natural disaster and deadly school shootings. If confirmed, he would serve until Jan. 16, 2023.

His most high-profile challenge has been cleaning up a past administration's mess on educating students with disabilities. After a lengthy investigation, federal officials found last January the state had effectively been capping the number of students eligible for special education, violating federal law. In a hasty attempt to fix the problem, the TEA issued a no-bid contract for a data mining project, which it pulled after loud protests from parents — losing the state millions of dollars…

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Texas' highest criminal court strikes down provision of Open Meetings Act as "unconstitutionally vague" (Texas Tribune)

In a major blow to the state’s government transparency laws, Texas’ highest criminal court has struck down a significant provision of the Texas Open Meetings Act, calling it “unconstitutionally vague.”

That law, which imposes basic requirements providing for public access to and information about governmental meetings, makes it a crime for public officials to “knowingly [conspire] to circumvent this chapter by meeting in numbers less than a quorum for the purpose of secret deliberations.” That provision aims to keep public officials from convening smaller meetings — without an official quorum present — to discuss public business outside the view of the taxpayers and the media.

Craig Doyal, the Montgomery County judge, was indicted under that statute for allegedly conducting “secret deliberations” — without a quorum of the commissioners court present — about a November 2015 county road bond. Doyal filed to have the charges dismissed, claiming the statute was unconstitutional. The case eventually made it to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which handed him a victory Wednesday. Two judges on the nine-member, all-Republican court dissented…

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Tesla tries again to sell directly to Texas consumers (Austin American-Statesman)

Tesla Inc. plans to take another crack at clearing a legal roadblock in Texas that prevents it from selling its electric cars directly to customers in the state.

The company is promoting a March 6 event at the Capitol, encouraging Tesla car owners and other advocates to turn out to lobby lawmakers for modifications to a Texas law prohibiting automobile manufacturers from also operating retail dealerships. Legislation to make the change has yet to be filed in the ongoing legislative session, but a Tesla spokesman said it’s anticipated that it will be prior to next week’s event. He said the effort in Texas is a priority for Tesla because the state constitutes a major market for the company…

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Michael Cohen Calls Trump A 'Racist' And A 'Con Man' In Scathing Testimony (KUT)

Donald Trump apparently blessed the meeting his son held with a Russian delegation to get dirt on opponents in 2016 and welcomed advance word of efforts by WikiLeaks to disrupt the election, his former lawyer told Congress.

Those were only a few of the politically incendiary allegations Michael Cohen made in a landmark hearing before the House oversight committee on Wednesday. But he stopped short of accusing Trump and his campaign of a full-on conspiracy with the Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Cohen did, however, allege that GOP political consultant Roger Stone phoned Trump to tell him that WikiLeaks intended to release a batch of emails that would embarrass the Democratic National Committee.

Cohen described being in Trump's office when Stone called to say he had just talked with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange about the release. Stone has denied that, but he too is facing charges of lying to Congress, in a federal case in Washington, D.C…

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Texas Republicans suggest Michael Cohen lacks credibility in congressional hearing (Texas Tribune)

Two junior members of the Texas congressional delegation were in the national spotlight Wednesday as they questioned the integrity of President Donald Trump's former personal attorney in a highly charged hearing on Capitol Hill.

During his appearance Wednesday before the U.S. House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform, Michael Cohen repeatedly expressed contrition for his professional relationship with Trump over the last 10 years and for lying before Congress in prior closed-door testimony. Last year, Cohen pleaded guilty in federal court to lying to Congress, and he has cooperated with special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

The Cohen testimony marked the first opportunity for newly empowered House Democrats to probe current or former associates of Trump on the president's business practices, alleged payoffs to mistresses, and the hack and release of internal Democratic emails in 2016. The committee is the lead investigative arm of the U.S. House…

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Episode 36: The Austin Strategic Mobility Plan

(Run time - 22:53)

“A good land use plan is also a good transportation plan, and so they have to work hand in hand.” - Annick Beaudet

On today’s episode we speak with Annick Beaudet, A.I.C.P. - Assistant Director at the Austin Transportation Department (ATD) over Transportation Engineering, Transportation Systems Development Division, Special Events and the Active Transportation Division.

Annick and Bingham Group CEO A.J. Bingham discuss the Austin Strategic Mobility Plan (ASMP), Austin’s new city-wide transportation plan.

ASMP is the city’s transportation appendix to the 2012 Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan, which outlines a vision of sustainable growth through 2039 (Austin’s 200th anniversary). It is a compilation of policies and actions to reach the city’s transportation targets with accompanying transportation network maps and tables. If adopted, ASMP will take the place of the outdated 2025 Austin Metropolitan Area Transportation Plan.

The city of Austin is asking for public comment on the ASMP final draft (see link below) through March, as well as providing staff presentations before the various city boards and commissions. 

Annick also updates on ATD’s progress towards a new street impact fee policy, an implementation tool integral to the ASMP.

Link to Episode 36

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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