Making growth pay for itself!

Category Archives: Cost of Growth

Cost of Growth in Central Texas

Barrientos at Hearing on City Manager Performance

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On Austin City Management: Right Hand Not Knowing What Left Hand is Doing,
says Barrientos at Citizen Hearing on City Manager Performance

Last Thursday night, as the City Council met at City Hall, some of Austin’s leading civic activists in neighborhood, housing, affordability, environment and fiscal accountability efforts held their own citizen’s hearing decrying city management’s failure to effectively address major problems. One of those testifying led the Austin Charter Revision Committee and the 10-1 movement, former State Senator Gonzalo Barrientos. Barrientos, pointing to the City’s wasteful Circuit of Americas subsidies for Formula 1 racing and the mismanagement of the costly Waller Creek development said,

“Who is the boss? The people are supposed to be the boss…I’m amazed at the maze of bureaucracy…and the culture of [city] government.

Brian Rodgers, a whistle-blowing commercial real estate developer and founder of, called the city manager “Gentrifier-in-Chief,” explaining how the city manager “promoted a growth at any cost” agenda causing rapid housing inflation and a virtual collapse in affordability for existing residents. He noted that Austinites are paying $54 million a year for an unused biomass plant – a no-bid, no analysis, last minute rush deal on the council. On the Seaholm Power Plant conversion, Rodgers said,

“Ott’s economic development team pushed a software company, subsidized with city tax dollars, to come and take one of Austin’s crown jewels. It was heart breaking.” Rodgers reviewed $4 billion of bad decisions under Marc Ott. Video here.

Brandon Reed of the Black Improvement Association denounced the lack of economic development and employment opportunities in East Austin. He condemned the Ott’s African-American Quality of Life Initiative, which so far, has,

 “Utterly failed to address the city’s mass exodus of African-Americans and needs of those still here.” Further, Reed stated, “as a felon who has turned my life around, I’m here to tell you that there is nothing for felons to find a better way.” Video here, third speaker.

Fred Lewis, an attorney and organizer of Manage Austin Better, discussed the Zucker Report. Lewis said,

“The City paid for this report last year. Zucker is highly paid and highly respected. He said the city’s planning and zoning department was the worst managed in the country, with the worst performance metrics, worst stakeholder dissatisfaction, and worst employee morale. Yet the city manager placed the rewriting of the city’s new Land Development Code under this department’s staff; the result, Code Next process is months overdue, grossly over budget, and still has produced no draft code after 3 years.” Video here, second speaker.

Other speakers and topics discussed:

Jane Hayman on the failure to reform Austin’s historic landmark program, resulting in continued giveaways to million dollar mansion owners. Video here – second speaker.

Jeff Jack, architect, former Council aide (a founder of the Austin Neighborhoods Council — for identification purposes only) on failure to address affordability, environment and the push for growth by not providing the Council with the information they need to make good decisions. Video here, first speaker.

Ed English, Audit Austin, on the need for an independent audit of Austin’s budget.

Bill Bunch, Save Our Springs Alliance (for identification purposes only), on failure to provide metrics and studies related to major capital projects such as Water Treatment Plant Number 4, transportation planning and more..

Karen Kreps, on Barton Springs (second speaker).

Larry Akers, on the redevelopment of Auditoruim Shores (third speaker).

Mike Hebert, Manage Austin Better, on the plan to rezone Austin with little concern for protection of neighborhoods.

Debbie Russell on the bloated Austin Police budget while continued failure to curb racial profiling. See here.

Mike Levy, who was unable to attend, but shared these written comments on Austin EMS and Fire.

City Sued on Pilot Knob Open Meetings Violation

Brian Rodgers filed this lawsuit against the city yesterday for clear violations of the Texas Open Meetings art_bailing_water_from_boat_md_clrAct on Pilot Knob.

The city failed spectacularly on the Pilot Knob agenda posting in what former County Judge Bill Aleshire calls,

“One of the grossest examples of failure to give sufficient notice – when they say they’re doing zoning and buried inside is an $81 million fee transfer from a struggling utility.”

The heart and soul of the Texas Open Meeting Act meeting notice requirement is that the notice itself must “sufficiently alert the general public to the topic to be considered.”

Meanwhile, the Mayor is quadrupling down on the ‘righteousness’ of his cause by calling for $400 million to be hijacked from the Austin Water Utility while the City Manager is busy practicing “management by hindsight”.

We are fairly stunned at the magnitude of this sophomoric mess.

The Mayor and City Manager should protect, not raid, the all-important impact fees designed to plug a hole in the sinking boat of affordability in Austin.

One way or another, we will not let the Pilot Knob $106 million diversion deal stand.

Let’s see what the Council does today.

If you want to help, send the Mayor a message that you don’t agree with his senseless plan to expand the hole in the boat, nor do you appreciate the Open Meetings violation.

PS Stay tuned for City Manager Ott’s review. It’s time for him — and some other senior management people to go.

The Mayor has an uber problem alright – Pilot Knob

The Mayor and City Manager have an “uber” problem — Pilot Knob. The Mayors chief of staff is in the paper

Cortez: We made mistakes, but Pilot Knob deal is still good for Austin
Cortez: We made mistakes, but Pilot Knob deal is still good for Austin

today admitting they made a mistake but expressing little intention of correcting it.
Brian Rodgers’ letter to the Council below explains why this is a bad deal for Austin. Call it affordable housing if you wish. It takes us down the same road of the previous Council by incentivizing growth that has dug the hole out of the bottom of Austin’s affordability.
The Mayor talked about making growth pay for itself when they ran for office.
Please call and write your Council member, especially the Mayor, and urge them to:

  • Nullify Pilot Knob and instruct the city manager, Marc Ott, to do his job and follow the law — post the fiscal notes so the Council can really look at this deal.
  • Give Ott his walking papers — he’s up for review in a few weeks.
  • Sign the petition at Manage Austin Better — ask your friends too!

Get to work, Austin! Call ’em and write ’em now.

Austin City Council Members,
The dramatic increase in impact fee revenues to AWU shown below is the result of hard won efforts by various city committees and individuals over 5+ years against substantial pushback from RECA, the Chamber, the DAA, and even upper city management itself. The maximum fee was approved unanimously by the previous council. The result of this rare success to make growth pay for itself is that hundreds of millions additional dollars will become available over the next 10 years to help AWU right itself as a utility which currently has negative ratings with Fitch and Moody. (See CM Gallo’s CBQ link below.)
Unfortunately, the Mayor has “discovered” this income stream and has decided to make it his golden goose to fund affordable housing on the backs of the ratepayers for Pilot Knob and future PUDs. He even wants to revisit old agreements.  Don’t allow this.  Please roll back the Pilot Knob PUD to the deal presented at first reading.  I imagine Richard Suttle’s client won’t care a bit. Please end city management’s sloppy practice of RCA’s without fiscal notes when clearly that would have made all the difference last December 17th.
How good is this “big new idea”? The annual $2 million in impact fees diverted can buy only 44 lots at the $45,000 lot price used in the Mayor’s documents. All of this for 44 lots per year? Beginning some time in the future and running for the next 20-30 years through at least one or two full blown recessions? It’s practically meaningless.
Thank you,
Brian Rodgers
Impact Fee Advisory Committee – 5 years
Joint Committee on Austin Water Utility’s Financial Plan
Impact Fee Collections

Stop this sneaky deal, Austin.

Screen Shot 2016-02-03 at 11.03.51 PMFront page news — Housing Deal Could Cost the City $50M!

While it appears Austin Mayor Steve Adler was hoodwinking his trusting Council by diverting $50 to 80 million from the struggling water utility to subsidize 650 houses outside of the Austin city limits, one wonders where the hell the City Manager was.

The City Manager, Marc Ott, is required by law to prepare a “fiscal note” on each reading of a proposed ordinance stating its economic impact on the City’s budget before submitting it to the council. Ott failed to do so on all three readings — leaving the fiscal notes completely blank every time. This misled the Council to think there was no fiscal impact.

After a 22% water rate increase last year alone to cover costs, you would think Mr. Ott would lift a finger to protect the utility and its customers from this latest looting which will cause further rate increases. Not so.

Enough is enough. City Manager Marc Ott needs to be replaced and the 10-1 Council members deserve their own handpicked city manager who will respect their authority and shoot straight.

Ott’s performance review is in the next few weeks. Tell the Mayor and City Council you want this Pilot Knob deal nullified and to have the ordinance process repeated legally with the true costs discussed openly.

Read and don’t weep — share it with others and contact the Mayor and your Council member.

Get to work Austin. Stop this sneaky deal.

Growth machine says you don’t care about lobby reform

Since the 2008 fight to stop the Domain shopping mall subsidies, we’ve seen enough dog and pony shows at City Hall to choke a horse.

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.

Make 1 phone call before Thursday

Every Texas House Representative is expected to vote on House Bill 3298 — a $2 million study for a water grid (aka “Gridzilla) of pipelines across Texas — as early as Thursday.

WaterGridMapSimply make 1 phone call before Thursday, to your Texas House Member. Ask her or him to vote NO on HB 3298.

Here’s where you can find your rep.

The stated purpose of HB 3298 by its author, Rep. Lyle Larson (R-San Antonio), is to bring masses water from across Texas to the “triangle” — DFW, Austin and San Antonio — to “meet the needs of population growth”, projected out to 2040. In other words, this is to enable developers to continue building out in areas that don’t have local water supply.

The water will come from the mining of nearby rural area aquifers — Lee and Bastrop counties in our case. We will also see long opposed projects for costly and wasteful reservoirs flooding prime farm and ranch land in NE Texas. Food and timber will be sacrificed for more rooftops for the real estate lobby.

Rural and urban citizens put up a road block in the Senate last week by making 1 phone call to their Senators. Consequently, Rep. Larson is pushing the bill to the House floor as early as this Thursday.

Are you fed up with the off-loaded costs of unbridled growth (roads, public safety, schools, etc.) for all the newcomers, while you get priced out of your homes and apartments? We are!

Don’t bring the “California model” to Texas — it’s a proven disaster.

More facts on HB 3298  

Thank you Austin!

PS While you’re at it, you can also call your State Senator, just in case it gets back to the Senate.