BG Reads | News You Need to Know (March 7, 2019)



Eckhardt delivers State of the County address (Austin Monitor)

Like the Wonder Woman mug of tea sitting on the podium before her, County Judge Sarah Eckhardt says Travis County is filled to the brim.

With an unprecedented number of infrastructure projects in line for construction, a contentious array of criminal justice reforms on the horizon, a quickly unraveling climate crisis, and an aggressively spartan environment at the Texas Legislature, Eckhardt admitted the difficulty of preparing her speech during Wednesday afternoon’s State of the County address.

She praised the county for braving its challenges and for being a refuge of decency and respect in the midst of a broader cultural collapse of productive communication. “Our world is divided, our country is divided, our state is divided, but Travis County is not divided,” she said.

That’s not to say there isn’t a robust diversity of opinion fueling most of the county’s projects. Criminal justice, for example, the county’s single greatest expense, featured prominently in Eckhardt’s speech…

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Planning Commission rebukes city staff in Blackland rezoning (Austin Monitor)

The Planning Commission voted to endorse five townhouses just south of Manor Road despite a recommendation from city staff against the development.

The property at 2107 Alamo St. is currently occupied by an aging duplex. The owner, Anmol Mehra, wants to demolish the existing structure and replace it with five townhouses. He has promised to dedicate one of the townhouses to the Blackland Community Development Corporation, a neighborhood group that oversees a portfolio of 47 income-restricted units that account for 20 percent of the homes in the Blackland neighborhood, which is located just east of Interstate 35, west of Chestnut Street, north of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, and south of Manor Road.

To move forward with the project, the developer needed the property rezoned from single-family use (SF-3) to multifamily (MF-4). The project also required a change to the Upper Boggy Creek Neighborhood Plan, which was adopted in 2002 and cited the preservation of single-family character as one of its chief objectives.

In a memo, staffers from the Planning and Zoning Department wrote that the new development would help further affordable housing, a top priority in the neighborhood plan that city leaders regularly trumpet as Austin’s most pressing need. Nevertheless, staff decided against a recommendation, citing the neighborhood plan’s goal of preserving the single-family character of the neighborhood. This was despite the fact that the Upper Boggy Creek Neighborhood Plan contact team voted 9-0 (with one abstention) to approve the rezoning.

“I think the neighborhood has spoken,” said Lottie Dailey, president of the Blackland Neighborhood Association, which voted 18-14 to support the rezoning.

A handful of neighbors attended the meeting in opposition, decrying the increase in density and arguing that the small lot could not handle so much housing and that surrounding streets were already overburdened with traffic…

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Arboretum Crossing shopping center sold to Austin investment firm (Austin American-Statesman)

The Arboretum Crossing shopping center in Northwest Austin has a new owner.

Austin-based World Class Property Co. purchased the 191,760-square-foot retail center at 9333 Research Blvd. from Kimco Realty Corp., a real estate investment trust based in New Hyde Park, N.Y. The purchase price was not disclosed. The site is valued at about $30 million, according to the Travis Central Appraisal District.

“Arboretum Crossing is a flagship asset in a prime Austin location with significant barriers to entry,” said Nate Paul, president and CEO of World Class Property, one of the nation’s largest privately owned real estate investment firms. “This is a unique opportunity to reposition a significant shopping center in a highly visible location.”

Arboretum Crossing is on 20 acres at the northwest corner of three of Austin’s busiest highways: MoPac Boulevard (Loop 1), U.S. 183 and Capital of Texas Highway (Loop 360). Current tenants include Bed Bath & Beyond, World Market, Mattress Firm and and Ferguson Enterprises.

World Class’ immediate plans are to upgrade the shopping center and recruit new tenants, Paul said. There is about 80,000 square feet of contiguous vacant space, a rare opportunity in the Arboretum/Domain market area, Paul said.

“This asset has tremendous potential due to its recent vacancy, which allows us to attract the right tenants in a supply-constrained market,” Paul said…

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List of Texas Democrats scrambling to challenge John Cornyn in 2020 grows (Texas Tribune)

Call it the other "Beto effect".

Just months after Democrat Beto O'Rourke outperformed expectations by coming within three points of defeating Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Democrats are lining up to run against the state's other U.S. senator, John Cornyn, in 2020.

The latest possible contender is veteran and 2018 congressional candidate Joseph Kopser, who lost to Republican Chip Roy for an open seat previously held by U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio.

"Everything's on the table for me," Kopser said in a Wednesday phone interview with the Tribune…

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Is Airbnb Violating Texas' Ban On Doing Business With Companies That Boycott Israel? (KUT)

As we reported several months ago, Texas has a policy that makes it illegal for state government entities to contract with companies that boycott Israel. A speech pathologist in Pflugerville ran afoul of the law because she refused to sign a pledge not to boycott Israel. Now, short-term rental company Airbnb has run into a similar conflict with the state's law.

In November, the company said it would remove 200 listings for rentals that are located in the Israeli-occupied West Bank – territory whose ownership is disputed by Palestinians.

Rocky Rhodes, professor of law at South Texas College of Law in Houston, says the law's language is broad.

"It does prohibit boycotts or refusals to do business in Israel, or any part, thereof," Rhodes says. "So, technically, the law could apply here if you use an aggressive interpretation of it."

Rhodes says Airbnb has yet to remove the West Bank listings. He says announcing their plans should be "wholly-protected speech." It's how the Texas boycott law would apply once the company removes the listings that's unclear, he says…

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Texas Senate leaders unveil $1.8 billion package of disaster relief bills (Texas Tribune)

More than a year and a half after Hurricane Harvey ravaged the state, Texas Senate leaders announced a $1.8 billion trio of disaster relief bills on Wednesday that they said would create "a roadmap to prepare our state for future hurricanes and natural disasters."

The legislation — Senate Bill 6, Senate Bill 7 and Senate Bill 8 — would require the Texas Department of Emergency Management to create a disaster response plan for local officials, direct the state's water planning agency to devise a statewide flood plan and create a "resiliency fund" to support flood projects.

Flanked by senators who represent Harvey-impacted districts, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick acknowledged at a Capitol news conference that storm-ravaged communities have been waiting for a long time to see what the state might do to help them recover. But Patrick and the senators who authored the bills emphasized in their Wednesday remarks that the result was the product of "a lot of thought and input" and is the best possible outcome…

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After Facebook’s Scandals, Mark Zuckerberg says he’ll shift focus to private sharing (New York Times)

Social networking has long been predicated on people sharing their status updates, photos and messages with the world. Now Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive of Facebook, plans to shift people toward private conversations and away from such public broadcasting.

Mr. Zuckerberg, who runs Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger, on Wednesday detailed how he intended to change the essential nature of social media. Instead of encouraging users to publicly post material, he said he would focus on private and encrypted communications, in which users message mostly smaller groups of people they know. Unlike publicly shared posts that are kept as users’ permanent records, the communications could also be deleted after a certain period of time…

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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

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