BG Reads | News You Need to Know (March 6, 2019)



Episode 37: Patrick Howard, Austin Planning Commissioner (District 1)

(Run time - 9:53)

On today’s episode we speak with returning guest Patrick Howard, recently appointed to Austin’s Planning Commission by Council Membership Natasha Harper Madison (District 1). Outside of the commission Patrick serves Executive Director and CEO of the Housing Authority of Travis County…

Link to Episode 37


City begins process of spending $925 million in bonds (Austin Monitor)

Spending money is not always easy. Four months after voters approved $925 million in bonds to fund housing, parks, transportation, fire stations and a wide assortment of other municipal priorities, city staff and City Council are beginning the process of appropriating the money to various departments.

To kick off the process, staffers are asking Council to approve $151 million of appropriations:

  • $41 million for affordable housing

  • $3.7 million for library improvements

  • $28.1 million for museum and parks improvements

  • $61.7 million for flood mitigation and water quality protection

  • $2.5 million for transportation improvements

  • $600,000 for a new public health facility in Dove Springs

  • $7.8 million for emergency medical services improvements

  • $1.6 million for fire station improvements

  • $500,000 for creative spaces

Council Member Ann Kitchen said that she would like to see the full $12 million allocated in the bond for creative spaces to be included in the first appropriation.

It’s important, she said, to send a message to the creative community that the city is ready to act to acquire space for artists and musicians to work. Kitchen suggested that not having the money on hand might inhibit the city’s ability to solicit requests for proposals on space.

Kitchen said she planned to support the rest of the $151 million appropriation, but would ask for the creative space measure to be delayed until the following Council meeting on March 28.

“Because of the urgency of what’s going on in the creative community … I want to reassure them that it’s the intention of Council to approve the $12 million,” she said.

Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza pushed back, saying that appeared to be “prioritizing” the creative space initiative over other projects and other departments.

Asked to explain the pros and cons of appropriating more money right away, Chief Financial Officer Elaine Hart said that the best practice is to appropriate in gradual chunks in order to “maintain systems controls” over department spending. The danger is that departments spend the money too quickly, forcing the city to issue too much debt at once and increasing the tax rate…

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Travis County bond projects mostly on schedule to be completed by 2022 (Community Impact)

Of the 60 projects funded by a $302.1 million bond program approved by Travis County voters and commissioners in 2017, 50 are on schedule, eight are on schedule to be mostly completed by the December 2022 deadline, and two are behind schedule and will not be completed until after the December 2022 deadline, said Jesse Milner, chief operating officer of Frontline Consulting, in a presentation to Travis County commissioners March 5.

The bond program includes nearly $185 million for roadway and parks projects approved by voters in November 2017, nearly $95 million for critical safety projects approved by commissioners, and $22 million to address additional costs associated with updated rainfall and flood plain data released as part of a study called Atlas 14.

In order to reach what Public Works Director Morgan Cotten called “an aggressive deadline” of Dec. 31, 2022, the county has hired program manager consultant Frontline Consulting and general engineering consultant Travis Transportation Partners…

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After civil rights and Vietnam War forums, LBJ Library announces Summit on Race in America (Austin American-Statesman)

After presenting closely watched summits on the 1964 Civil Rights Act and other legal advances in that field in 2014 and the Vietnam War in 2016, the LBJ Presidential Library plans a major forum on race for April 8-10.

Among the celebrated speakers at the upcoming Summit on Race in America will be former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young, pioneer activist Dolores Huerta, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, musician and actor Wyclef Jean, and civil rights leader Vernon Jordan Jr. as well as LBJ’s daughters, Luci Baines Johnson and Lynda Johnson Robb. A wide range of scholars, activists, journalists and performers will join them. Oftentimes at these forums, the appearance of significant dignitaries is not confirmed until closer to the events.

Organizer Mark Updegrove, president and CEO of the LBJ Foundation and developer of the past big library forums, considers this convocation a direct follow-up on the Civil Rights Summit five years ago…

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Abbott blasts DPS for flawed check of noncitizen voters, 'despicable' handling of driver's licenses (Dallas Morning News)

Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday sharply chided the Department of Public Safety, which he blames for the flubbed handling of a recent inquiry into possible noncitizen voting.

Abbott threw a flurry of punches at DPS, tying its performance on an error-plagued check of whether ineligible foreigners are registered voters in Texas to a more commonly known vexation for residents — long waits at state driver's license offices. "The way DPS has handled driver's licenses in the state of Texas is despicable, and it has been nonresponsive," Abbott said…

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Amid Dallas bribery scandal, legislator takes aim at Texas law addressing some low-income housing projects (Texas Tribune)

A Dallas lawmaker says he plans to file a bill this week that would take away elected officials’ power to influence whether low-income housing is built in their cities or Texas House districts. That vow comes after officials there have faced criminal charges for their involvement in such projects.

The coming legislation is expected to take aim at how the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs determines whether a low-income housing development qualifies for crucial federal tax credits. Under current state law, one criterium that’s considered is letters from elected officials representing the area where the development would be built. A positive letter adds points and a negative letter subtracts points, with city and state officials able to affect different amounts of points.

Democratic State Rep. Eric Johnson said the system has created a temptation for elected officials to accept bribes from development companies that seek to secure tax credits. His predecessor in the House district, Terri Hodge, went to prison for tax evasion related to bribes she received from a development company for, among other things, supporting an affordable housing development…

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Democrat Christina Morales wins Texas House seat formerly held by Alvarado (Texas Tribune)

Democrat Christina Morales has handily won the special election runoff to fill the former Texas House seat of state Sen. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston.

With all precincts reporting Tuesday night, Morales had 61 percent of the vote to 39 percent for fellow Democrat Melissa Noriega, according to unofficial returns. Morales is the president of her family's funeral home in Houston's East End, while Noriega is a former Houston City Council member who temporarily held the House seat over a decade ago.

Alvarado gave up the seat in House District 145 when she won a promotion to the upper chamber in December.

Morales and Noriega were the top two finishers in the initial eight-way contest for HD-145, which was held Jan. 29. Morales got 36 percent of that vote, while Noriega received 31 percent in the initial contest…

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Border at ‘breaking point’ as more than 76,000 migrants cross in a month (New York Times)

For the fourth time in five months, the number of migrant families crossing the southwest border has broken records, border enforcement authorities said Tuesday, warning that government facilities are full and agents are overwhelmed.

More than 76,000 migrants crossed the border without authorization in February, more than double the levels from the same period last year and approaching the largest numbers seen in any February in the last 12 years. “The system is well beyond capacity, and remains at the breaking point,” Kevin K. McAleenan, commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, told reporters in announcing the new data…

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FDA Commissioner Gottlieb, who raised alarms about teen vaping, resigns (Washington Post)

Food and Drug Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, who used his post to tackle difficult public health issues from youth vaping to opioid addiction – surprising early skeptics worried about his drug industry ties – resigned Tuesday, effective in about a month.

Gottlieb, who has been commuting weekly to Washington from his home in Connecticut, said he wants to spend more time with his family. The 46-year-old physician, millionaire and cancer survivor known for a self-assured, sometimes brash, manner lives in Westport, with his wife and three daughters – 9-year-old twins and a 5-year-old.

“It was a very hard decision,” Gottlieb said in an interview. “This is the best job I will ever have. I’m leaving because I need to spend time with my family. I get home late Friday, work on weekends and come back to Washington on Sunday. I did the job 100 percent.”…

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