During 7 days in May 2003, a well-connected developer, Endeavor Real Estate, cut a rush deal with the City of Austin for $65 million in tax incentives to build a high-end shopping mall in north Austin called the Domain, comprised of 670,000 square feet of luxury retail plus 390 apartments and office space. With scant public scrutiny and through a series of false assumptions and misrepresentations, the developer cloaked the true taxpayer cost and convinced City of Austin officials to rebate public sales tax and property tax money back to the developer until the year 2028. Shortly thereafter Endeavor flipped the deal to Simon Properties, a $49 billion company and the largest mall developer in the US. In addition to bilking the taxpayers, the deal has forced local merchants to compete with a shopping mall subsidized by public tax money; an unfair disadvantage for the unique local businesses that give Austin its character.
The developers made several key misrepresentations to the city in order to get their subsidy:
* The developer showed projected sales levels that were well below what they knew would be generated by luxury stores, so as to hide their actual expected compensation from the tax incentives ($65 million instead of $37 million!).
* The developers claimed the project would not be feasible without city help, when in fact it was in the black by $28 million before the taxpayer incentive package.
* Many of the 1,100 permanent new jobs the project was to create were actually old jobs brought over from existing shopping centers such as JCrew, Borders, Tommy Bahama, Banana Republic, Victoria Secret, Luxe Apothetique, and St. Thomas Boutique.
* The wage levels for these retail jobs were promised at $35,000 but the reality is closer to $22,000. The 644 restaurant jobs average only $17,500.
* The developer promised the city tax revenue for the year 2005, though they knew this goal would be impossible to meet. (The actual opening was 27 months after they promised.)
* The developer promised to provide four acres of public open space but only provided 1.4 acres unless you count the sidewalks.
Local Business v. Corporate Chains
Many in the small business community in Austin have asked ‘why fund the Domain, to compete with our local home grown businesses”? They argue:
* Locals hire more people than corporate chains, including local accountants, attorneys, ad agencies, etc.
* Locals spend their profits in the city, effectively multiplying its effect on the city’s economy. Chains send their profits out to corporate headquarters.
* Locally owned stores provide far more tax revenue.
* Locally owned stores provide far more entrepreneurship.
* Locals give more to charity, and are more involved in the community.
* Locals understand and contribute to the unique character of Austin, while chain stores bring homogeneous style and feeling to an area, making our city less distinct and a less pleasant place to live. (In fact, our tourism is geared towards these home grown Austin businesses, including our local bus tours!)
For more information, refer to the Stop Domain Subsidies campaign Website. Also, the following short films tell much of the story:
Stop Domain Subsidies Documentary Preview
Public Money, Private Profit: Part One
Public Money, Private Profits: Part Two
Public Money, Private Profits: Part Three
Stop Domain Subsidies – “Not One Red Cent”
We hear tell that the growth machine, some of Austin’s biggest advocates of unbridled growth, subsidized by your tax dollars, are claiming that you don’t give a hoot about lobby reform.
The Ethics Review Commission is hosting a public comment session this Wednesday at 6:30 pm at City Hall on some basic lobby reforms needed at City Hall. (Free parking.)
It wouldn’t surprise us to see the Chamber, RECA and other assorted special interest hogs at the public trough, packing this hearing. At the least, their arguments about this will be entertaining.
Folks, the new law is based on what the state requires for state lobbyists. Nuff said?
Can you show up at this, please? If you want to testify, please do or sign a card that you support these basic reforms.
Click here to see City Councilwoman, Leslie Pool’s, resolution for lobby reform.
Click here to see the FAQs about these reforms (written by reform attorney friend, Fred Lewis).
If you can’t make it, please call or email your council member and Mayor Adler here. Tell them you care about lobby reform and you support the Pool resolution.
Please share this message (see the buttons below?)
and contribute to our efforts!
PS BTW, we think lobby reform is just one of many reasons Austinites finally passed a new district voting system now called “10-1”. Prove us right, please.
Let’s say your city council unwisely decides to subsidize a shopping mall and you try to overturn it by petition. The mall developer can sue to stop your petition drive under House Bill 2595, now pending in the legislature, because it hurts the mall developers private property rights if you strip away the subsidies!
In fact, House Bill 2595 kills all petition drives if someone’s private property gain is affected. This foolish bill cuts both ways. It stops citizens from enacting their own legislation if their city government is unresponsive – as long as the city can trot out someone who claims “waaaah, I’m hurt!”
The problem is that every damned thing has that potential. This is just bad policy yet it was just unanimously passed the House Urban Affairs Committee. The bill is now in the House Calendars Committee and could go to the floor of the Texas House at any moment.
We can also use your hard earned dollars to run a campaign
to stop this attack on citizens petition rights.
See the donate button on the right? ===>
MORE GORY DETAILS, IF YOU REALLY WANT TO KNOW: The only reason we can figure that HB 2595 was introduced is that it is — purely — a retribution bill by the oil and gas lobby. They are out to do great harm to the over 100 year legacy of citizens petition rights because they’re still upset about the Denton “frack ban” passed by Denton voters –who are, by the way, largely Republicans. Even despite the passage of HB 40 last week that may well undo Denton’s frack ban.
HB 2595 is a tricky little bill that says that no city can accept, certify or otherwise approve of any petition that, “would restrict the right of any person to use or access the person’s private property for economic gain.”
City of Austin Attorney, John Steiner (with whom we’ve been on opposite sides for years), to his credit, pointed out that because HB 2595 requires the city to stop petitions before a public vote, virtually guarantees that the city will be sued by someone — either the proponents or the opponents. Historically, and properly so, it is the courts that have dealt with these disputes if and when they happen after passage.
Two more examples of why HB 2595 is really bad for ALL citizens:
Your city council decides to use $100 million in tax dollars to support a sports stadium. Once you’ve spent enumerable hours and money getting your signatures, and then submit it to your city clerk’s office, your city council can keep it off the ballot if they believe that the property owner’s “right” to use his or her property for “economic gain” would be impeded. And, if they don’t keep it off the ballot, the property owner who feels harmed could sue the city!
Example 2: (the cake-taker)
Let’s say you want to reform eminent domain in your city to stop private entities (like a privatitized toll road vendor) from taking your property for their own economic gain. It’s a coin toss as to whose property rights trumps in this situation, eh?
Don’t let them get away with taking away our rights, as citizens, to petition and reign in our city government.
We never would have passed 10-1 without it!
By Roger Baker
Just when we might have imagined that CAMPO’s history of generating developer-centered transportation planning couldn’t possibly produce a result worse than their previous plan, they have managed to pulled it off.
CAMPO has just gotten the results of its latest planning, and it predicts nightmarish peak hour congestion throughout Travis, Williamson, and Hays Counties in 2040, even if we spend $32 billion on roads and transit by then. And now this vision is likely to become Austin’s legally binding growth blueprint. How did this happen?
To review the current planning situation, CAMPO is the regional, federally sanctioned, transportation planning body for Austin and the surrounding six county metropolitan area. Every five years, CAMPO is required to come up with a new long range plan to get federal and state (mostly gas tax) money for regional road and transit projects. The new 2040 Long Range CAMPO Plan now being debated, modified, and must be approved in time to take effect in May 2015, replacing the CAMPO 2035 Long Range plan that is currently in effect.
CAMPO of course outranks the City of Austin in its bureaucratic pecking order, since it is a federally sanctioned planning body that controls the local spending of federal gas tax money. Given Congressional gridlock, and the fact that federal supervision of both the FHWA and the FTA are weak and chronically starved for money. There isn’t much federal planning supervision except that the local MPOs, the federally assigned planning bodies, have to follow the very explicit rules and deadlines in the federal code which govern the allocation of the shrinking federal money. Meanwhile TxDOT, controlled by Rick Perry’s road-centric appointees, is in a strong position to control CAMPO and other MPOs because of their control of the local allocation of Texas fuel tax revenues for roads.
Get this! The Travis County Sheriffs Law Enforcement Association is attacking Sarah Eckhardt with a $10K donation from Gary Farmer! Why? Because Sarah Eckhardt tried to rein them in from a whopping 11% pay increase -- when they're the highest paid force in the state! Farmer is a Republican "heavy hitter" who gave Greg Abbott $50K, Andy Brown $2500, and is a Formula 1 Booster, and a big cheese at the Chamber of Commerce and Real Estate Council. We butted heads with Farmer in 2008 when he played a pivotal role in ensuring the Domain luxury mall continued to receive lavish taxpayer subsidies. (Farmer also personally testified against prevailing wages as a requirement for another city subsidy, the Marriott Hotel). Now get this! The ungrateful Sheriffs are putting out false claims that Sarah Eckhardt should be rejected because she "voted for her own pay raise." This is...pardon the phrase...a bunch of hogwash! The truth is: Eckhardt not only tried to ratchet back the Sheriff's demands for 11%, but she also refused to take her own pay increases repeatedly, and even when the County made an accounting error sending her too much, she sent it back! Get your friends out, folks. In a small turnout election...it counts a whole helluva lot! Early voting ends this Friday. Here's where you can go to vote. Thanks to many of you who gave to Sarah, she's running this ad now on TV. Watch & share! [youtuber vimeo='http://vimeo.com/87482382'] Sarah Eckhardt Campaign Commercial, Vote for Sarah in the Democratic Primary for Travis County Judge! Come on now Austin, we've done a lot of the work for YOU. Use our YOU DECIDE page here. page to get the job done! * Help voters check their voter information. * Send out our videos and ask 10 friends to vote for Sarah and Brigid Shea. * Print out our "Wonder Woman" flier for Sarah. * Volunteer! Let's trim a little fat off the hogs y'all, including the highest paid Sheriffs in the state!