Making growth pay for itself!

Category Archives: News

Legal Heat Turned Up on Pilot Knob Fee Waivers. Up Next, The Grove!

Attorneys Bill Aleshire and Roger Borgelt, on behalf of their client Brian Rodgers, filed an amended turkey_md_clrpetition to a lawsuit against the City of Austin on the Pilot Knob deal.

Bill Aleshire, former Travis County Judge said, “The Mayor and Council are about to do the same thing this Thursday with the Grove as they did with Pilot Knob — hide its actions with agenda wording that just says it’s a zoning case.  Brian Rodgers sued them over Pilot Knob, and we’ll be adding The Grove to the suit and asking a court to declare their action void.”

When Rodgers blew the whistle back in February on how Austin Mayor Steve Adler and City Manager Marc Ott misled Council with an improper posting of the Pilot Knob PUD (Public Utility District) as only a “zoning” item, it contained tens of millions in undisclosed fee waivers and no fiscal note — plus exemptions from other city ordinances without proper notice.  Rodgers’ attorneys, Bill Aleshire and Roger Borgelt have now amended the suit to challenge the legality of water and wastewater impact fee waivers under state law to:

  • divert $81 million from the water utility budget (that would have helped growth pay for itself) what amounts to a slush fund to be used for anything under the guise of a fund for “affordable “ housing,
  • get only 10% “affordable” rental units in the development, when state and federal law requires at least 20% be provided to quality for fee waivers,
  • calculate the fee diversion or waivers based on every unit in the development instead of only on those “affordable” units, and
  • provide exemptions from important City ordinances, including one that prohibits giving affordable housing fee waivers for developments such as Pilot Knob, which is outside the City limits of Austin.”

The Mayor has stated his wish to amass $300 million from impact fees as a discretionary source of funding for affordable housing.  Not only do we claim that this is illegal, it’s just plain wrong to divert money from the Austin Water Utility and its ratepayers.  Even if you can stomach the open government violations Adler and Ott pulled on this “deal” – to raid the water utility of $81M in impact fees it needs to pay down its debt and to keep water rates reasonable – Pilot Knob is a ripoff of affordable housing. The feds and, even the miserly state of Texas, require far more of developers than this Mayor dealt the developers.

Read the Amended Petition here.

Read the Austin Monitor’s story here.

Put Ott on Standby, Save $10-15 million on Tasers

Did you see yesterday’s Statesman coverage that City Manager Marc Ott is a finalist for a new position in Washington

Austin City Manager, Marc Ott, receives a present from Formula 1
Austin City Manager, Marc Ott, receives a present from Formula 1

DC?

We wish him luck and hope he gets the job.

Importantly, Council is scheduled to vote on his annual compensation and contract this coming Thursday. Common sense tells us that they should push that decision out one Council meeting to August 4th, to see if Mr. Ott has been chosen for the new position.

You also have a chance to save Austin a cool $10-15 million tomorrow by asking Council to deny an overpriced contract for tasers in Item 54 tomorrow. Ask them to find another company – very helpful background here by Deb Russell.

Ask the Council to delay Items 74 and 54 right here:  http://austintexas.gov/email/all-council-members

That’s all you gotta do for now, Austin.

Get after it y’all!

PS There’s an informal online poll about Ott’s performance by Austin Business Journal. Check it out here.

No news is good news…

No news is good news. That’s our reading on the continuing saga of City Manager Marc  Ott’s performance evaluation. We have been urging the new 10-1 council to hand pick their own new city manager and replace Mr. Ott, whose record of costly mistakes, poor management and mad pursuit of growth at any cost is wrecking our quality of life — that’s the sad truth. We need a paradigm shift in thinking at the top which is not possible with Ott in charge.

What we do know is this. The Council has been intensely debating the issue of Ott’s performance, thanks in large part to the ruckus you’ve helped us raise with your emails and phone calls. We know that support for Mr. Ott has weakened substantially That’s why, for weeks and weeks now, you haven’t heard anything about it. Even the media has been mute. These discussions continue in Executive Sessions and the Council has yet to schedule a “retreat” to finish their performance review, leaving Mr. Ott’s future hanging in the balance for months.

As rumor has it (and we underscore the word rumor), the Council is considering giving Ott a six month extension for him to find another job. IF this is true, this is a big win for you, for Austin and gives us faith in what we all worked so hard for — geographic representation and the 10-1 Council.

Did you see this recent Statesman article about the latest on the Pilot Knob fiasco?

The Council is continuing to follow the advice of their law department that advised them to fight Brian’s lawsuit. Remember, all Brian was asking for was for Council to go back and do a proper posting of the Pilot Knob deal, followed by an open debate of its fiscal impact, especially for the water utility and its ratepayers.

Keep in touch with Mayor Adler and your Council member and remind them you are counting on them to fulfill the promise of 10-1.

Please share this message!

Ott to Go Update – Action Please!

The good news is that – because of YOUR efforts — the Council spent many hours at last Tuesday’s work session

Austin City Manager, Marc Ott, receives a present from Formula 1
Austin City Manager, Marc Ott, receives a present from Formula 1

evaluating the performance of City Manager Marc Ott. Their discussions will continue in this Tuesday’s work session.

Unfortunately, their entire discussion was behind closed doors in executive session. So far, Councilman Zimmerman (District 6) is the only member who has promised to make his review public.

Why is the review of the city’s top executive being held behind closed doors? Our best guess is the “growth at any cost” culture at City Hall remains unbroken. Witness, The Grove – in Rosedale (Council Districts 7 and 10):

1.  This is how Marc Ott lost $18 million and a beautiful park — he sat on this City of Austin Offer Letter.

2.  The Grove appears to be another Pilot Knob in the making. The terms are even worse for Austin’s current residents. Watch for a 100% waiver of all development fees if only
5% of the housing is “reasonably priced”, according to city affordable housing guidelines for a land trust.

3. Rosedale resident and architect, Chris Allen, wrote about The Grove’s abuse of the public process:

“By perverting the public process, cutting back-room deals and withholding public documents, Milestone/Topfer and its allies, along with person(s) at the top of our City Government have declared an all-out WAR on our neighborhoods, folks.” Read Allen’s full statement here.
With negotiations like this, who needs a City Manager? Why not rid us of all pretense and just let developers directly run the city?
Do this, please!
  1. Reach your Council member and the Mayor before Tuesday and tell them to replace Marc Ott and to put their review into writing or to just release it.
  2. If you haven’t yet, please review our last email with videos, then fill out your own performance review at Manage Austin Better here.
We’ll say it again. 10-1 is in real danger. Geographic representation only opened the door for Austinites to take back our city. Don’t let the door be slammed shut because we didn’t go the distance. If we have to reboot 10-1, we will.

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 ChangeAustin.org, 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.

Couldn’t make it last night?

For y’all who couldn’t make it last night — more on Monday — it was rich! 

Here’s one big reason for Ott to go — just sent to the Council and Mayor.

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Here’s Brian Rodgers’ message this morning to the Mayor and Council — one big reason Ott should go.

Click here to send your message to replace Ott — Council deliberates on Tuesday!  

Mayor and Council,

Marc Ott and his staff team of privateers colluded with Gary Farmer and the Austin Chamber of Commerce to put Athena into Seaholm at taxpayer’s expense and heartbreak. It’s unforgivable. “Marc, please explain in detail why you gave away a crown jewel of Austin?”

Brian Rodgers

The original plan for Seaholm was public space just like just like Boston’s Faneuil Hall — a public market place for local business treasured by Boston residents and a major tourist attraction. Instead, Ott and the previous Council slapped a corporate logo on Seaholm and fattened the giveaway with public money.
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PS Yes, we need a political revolution, but don’t expect it to be televised. Share and stay tuned.