BG Reads | News You Need to Know (March 8, 2019)
City Council approves $151 million in bond appropriations (Austin American-Statesman)
The Austin City Council followed through on appropriating $151 million to city departments during its regular meeting Thursday, getting the ball rolling on spending money available through a 2018 bond package.
The action will allow many departments to begin the process of seeking contracts and hiring staffers in advance of the city issuing debt from the $925 million bond package voters approved in November.
City staffers landed on the $151 million figure by finding projects that Austin’s Chief Financial Officer, Elaine Hart, described as “shovel ready” and “early out” in a recent memo. The full scope of many of those projects has not yet settled, and the council will need to approve them before staffers can move forward.
One project, though, is ready to go.
The city’s Watershed Department is set to buy 251 acres of land in Hays County that lies in the Barton Springs recharge zone. The land, priced at about $9.8 million, will be preserved to prevent development that could have polluted Barton Creek…
Flood plain variance a conundrum for Council (Austin Monitor)
After hearing from the city’s flood plain expert, Council voted 6-5 Thursday to grant a variance to allow a property owner to replace an older, smaller home in the flood plain of Waller Creek at 4515 Avenue D with a larger home that would sit above the flood plain.
Kevin Shunk, Austin’s flood plain administrator, explained that the owner wants to replace the existing 912-square-foot building, which was built in 1935, with a single-family house of 3,253 square feet and an 87-square-foot covered patio. The current building is 1.7 feet below the 100-year flood plain and 2.4 feet below the 500-year flood plain.
The developer wants to replace the existing home and raise the new building so it is three feet above the 100-year flood plain and 2.3 feet above the 500-year flood plain, which is safer than the current residence.
The problem, however, is that in case of flooding a family living in the house might still have a hard time getting out. The depth of water at the curb in front of the property will be 2.9 feet during a 100-year flood event and first responders would not have safe access to the house.
Voting in favor of the variance were Mayor Steve Adler and Council members Natasha Harper-Madison, Pio Renteria, Greg Casar, Jimmy Flannigan and Paige Ellis. Voting against the variance were Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza and Council members Alison Alter, Leslie Pool, Ann Kitchen and Kathie Tovo…
Council signals support for row houses over staff objection (Austin Monitor)
City Council signaled support for a project that will bring five row houses to the Blackland neighborhood in East Austin, over the objections of city staff and a vocal contingent of neighborhood residents.
Council approved “on first reading” rezoning the property at 2107 Alamo St. from single-family (SF-3) to multifamily, allowing the developer to replace the existing duplex with five units, one of which will be dedicated to the Blackland Community Development Corporation to be sold or leased to a family at 60 percent of the area median income, or $51,600 for a family of four.
Council must approve the rezoning on second and third readings before it is official.
The proposed rezoning was not recommended by the Planning and Zoning Department, which cited the Upper Boggy Creek Neighborhood Plan’s stated goal of preserving the single-family character of the interior of the neighborhood. However, the project was narrowly endorsed by the Blackland Neighborhood Association and overwhelmingly endorsed by the Upper Boggy Creek Neighborhood Plan Contact Team.
The rezoning was recommended 8-3 by the Planning Commission last week, with several supportive commissioners expressing disappointment with staff’s focus on neighborhood character over other priorities, notably affordable housing and transit access.
The tenor at Council was similar on Thursday, with Council members applauding a project that will bring a permanently affordable unit to an area that is now heavily gentrified.
Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison, who represents the area, said that the proposed two-bedroom homes are the kind of “missing middle housing” that the city needs more of to address its housing shortage and prevent sprawl…
Texas lawmaker whose bill allowed medical cannabis oil wants to expand its use in 2019 (Texas Tribune)
Four years after she authored legislation that legalized the sale of medical cannabis oil to Texans suffering from a small number of conditions, Republican state Rep. Stephanie Klick plans to push to expand the list of eligible patients in 2019.
On Thursday, the Fort Worth representative filed House Bill 3703, which would give Texans with multiple sclerosis, epilepsy and spasticity access to medical cannabis oil containing low levels of tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive element in marijuana known as THC.
Klick’s 2015 Compassionate Use Act legalized the sale of a specific medical cannabis oil for Texans with intractable epilepsy if they’ve tried two FDA-approved drugs and found them to be ineffective. Patients also must be permanent state residents and get approval from two doctors listed on the Compassionate Use Registry of Texas. Roughly 160,000 Texans have intractable epilepsy — less than one percent of the state’s total population…
Abbott nominates 4 to serve as UT regents (Austin American-Statesman)
Gov. Greg Abbott has nominated four people to serve on the University of Texas System Board of Regents, including Jodie Jiles, a business executive from Houston who would be the first black person on the board in six years. Some lawmakers and activists had criticized Abbott for a lack of diversity in previous appointments to the board.
The appointments, announced Thursday, are subject to Senate confirmation.
Jiles, director of business development for Transwestern, a real estate company, would replace Sara Martinez Tucker, who stepped down as chairwoman and as a regent. Her term, and therefore Jiles’ term, assuming he is confirmed, expires Feb. 1, 2021. Jiles would be the first black UT regent since Printice Gary, whose term ended in February 2013.
Nominated for terms expiring Feb. 1, 2015: Nolan Perez of Harlingen, a physician and CEO of Gastroenterology Consultants of South Texas; Christina Melton Crain of Dallas, a lawyer and founder, president and CEO of Unlocking DOORS, a nonprofit that helps former prisoners reintegrate into society; and Kelcy Warren of Dallas, chairman and CEO of Energy Transfer Partners, a pipeline and terminal company…
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner's first term as mayor has "been a tale of two terms" (Governing)
Before becoming mayor, Sylvester Turner, a lifelong Democrat, spent 27 years in the Texas Legislature, remaining in a position of influence even after it started tilting toward Republicans early in the last decade. But being Houston’s mayor was his dream job.
But the last 18 months have been tougher for Turner, who faces reelection later this year. The mayor’s first three years in office, says Texas Southern University political scientist Jay Aiyer, “has kind of been a tale of two terms.” The issues Turner faces are familiar ones for a big city these days. In addition to pension problems, the tax base isn’t growing to meet the increases in population. Natural disasters have forced a conversation about development choices. And the political climate has grown more partisan. But Houston, arguably, is dealing with some of these problems at their most extreme…
Paul Manafort, Former Trump Campaign Chairman, Sentenced To Just Under 4 Years (KUT)
President Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort was sentenced to just under four years in prison on Thursday after being convicted last year of tax and bank fraud.
The 47-month sentence by federal Judge T.S. Ellis III was the culmination of the only case so far brought to trial by the office of Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller.
The judge also ordered Manafort to pay $24.8 million in restitution and a $50,000 fine.
Prosecutors laid out their arguments against Manafort last August, charging that he defrauded banks and the U.S. government by skirting millions of dollars in federal taxes…
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…