Making growth pay for itself!

Author Archives: Linda Curtis

Get a piece of the pie – Yes on Item 60 on today at City Council

The battle for the HOT tax is ON at City Hall today in Item 60. Please contact the City hot_deals_md_clrCouncil, especially the Mayor to tell them you support Item 60 and oppose the Mayor’s Item 101.

You might have already seen this flier produced by Save Our Springs Alliance. SOS is part of a growing movement of Austinites who want the $90 million per year, and growing, revenue from Hotel Occupancy Taxes (taxes which can only be spent on tourism) to be spent on things that make Austin so attractive to tourists – Barton Springs, parks, live music, local art…rather than a grandiose and hugely expensive expansion of the city’s convention center as desired by some members of the Austin City Council.

Our convention center already loses $25 million annually but only drives 2% of local tourism. That’s right, 98% of the tourists visit Austin for the same reasons we love the place, yet the convention center sucks up all of the money like a Hoover.

You can help score a win for the Austin community —and what makes Austin unique —- by winning approval of Item 60 on 1he council meeting agenda sponsored by Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo (District 9),and Council Members Leslie Pool (District 7), Ann Kitchen (District 5), and Ellen Troxclair (District 8).

Go down to City Hall today anytime after 4 pm OR contact your Councilmember and the Mayor – Austin residents only, please. Tell them you support Item 60 and you DON’T support the Mayor’s Item 101 (on the addendum). Read Item 60 right here.

Here’s where you can reach the Mayor and Council.

Want the deep dive on this issue, keep reading…

Mayor Steve Adler has posted a counter-attack on Item 60 to which Council members Troxclair, Kitchen and Pool have responded. It’s interesting for those of you who are following battles over HOT funds. It appears to us that the Mayor is using the homeless problem in Austin to advocate for the Convention Center – an amenity that truthfully benefits the downtown hotels far more than Austin’s local businesses and community, and most assuredly does not benefit homeless people.

The mayor’s main argument is that the resolution doesn’t address homelessness.  He is correct that it does not directly address homelessness. It does fund important and urgent community needs, thereby freeing up general funds to address homelessness and other community needs.

It appears to us that the only “homeless solution” the resolution threatens is the one the Mayor is trying to sell: the unlikely promise that committing $1.5 to $2 billion in HOT funds over the next 25 years to expand the convention center will result in the creation of a “Tourism Public Improvement District”, whose members “might” vote to dedicate $4 million per year to homelessness through 2021.

Bottom line is that the City is prohibited by law from dedicating funds to homeless needs from the HOT tax, regardless of whether we expand the convention center or not.  The Mayor’s “what if’s” are seriously misleading on this issue. It should not be tolerated by Austinites — including and especially homeless folks!

The Mayor also argues that the Item 60 resolution, if approved, would threaten funds for the MACC (Emma Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center), the Red River District, etc.  This is nonsense on its face. If Austin doesn’t throw $1.5 to $2 billion into a black hole of convention center expansion, MORE funds will be available to do all of these historic preservation, arts, culture, parks projects…not LESS.

You can read the back and forth here on the Council forum page.

Grove Decision Thanks to Brian Rodgers’ Litigation

The following article is from the Austin Monitor:
Grove affordable housing plan explainedchristmas tree copy

If approved on third reading, the new plan for affordable housing for the Grove at Shoal Creek will not only increase the amount of affordable housing available but will also save Austin Water more than $5.3 million over 20 years. These changes are due in large part to a lawsuit filed by local activist Brian Rodgers related to the Pilot Knob planned unit development. Read the rest here.

Merry Christmas, Austin!

What does Reboot 10-1 Mean? A full debate, for starters.

We’ve had some media inquiries about the Independent Texans’ event on Thursday, September 29 at 7 pm at Austin Energy. They want to know how we’re planning to “reboot 10-1”. We’re keeping that discussion close to our vest right now because we like surprises as much as the Mayor does. Screen Shot 2016-09-14 at 12.06.55 PM

It was a real big ($81M) surprise when Adler misled his own council last December on the Pilot Knob fiasco, diverting the newly implemented water impact fees to what amounts to a slush fund to be used for anything under the guise of a fund for “affordable housing”. The Mayor’s message was clear — ‘you can forget about growth paying for itself.’

Now we have a rushed “Go Big” $720 million transportation bond that is really $1.5 billion, according to city management. What’s more, no one is talking about what these bonds mean for the third rail in Austin politics — the SOS initiative — mentioned on page 19 of this Memo to Marc Ott from Robert Goode, Assistant City Manager.

We will also hold one of the few debates on the “Go Big” $720 million transportation bonds in Austin with or without the bond proponents who are refusing to attend this debate with Roger Falk. You can contact the proponents at Move Austin Forward, though no phone is listed, to ask them to debate.

Who is Roger Falk? He’s a local business guy who grew up in Austin and is sick about what is happening to Austin — especially to musicians and small businesses. Falk knows his stuff, has done a deep dive into the documents for the bonds, and is willing to face off with anyone. 

If you know anyone from any of the groups that are supporting the bonds who’s willing to debate, have them contact Linda Curtis at 512-657-2089 or info@indytexans.org.

After 6 failures of geographic representation plans put on the ballot by Council, Austin’s civic activists used the petition process that finally brought a great plan to the voters — for 10 geographic districts (with the Mayor elected at-large) — and first independent citizens redistricting commission in Texas to draw the lines.

The 10-1 system has brought substantial change to Austin, but it’s clear that we’re not done yet. At critical junctures, the City is still not following the Texas Open Meetings Act. The City continues with rush deals — like this massive transportation bond. And the City is still not moving to de-incentivize growth as the only genuine starting point to address affordability.

Councilwoman Ora Houston will be moderating the debate. Longtime Democratic former consultant, Peck Young, and longtime independent Linda Curtis, will share a proposal with you on how Austin can reboot 10-1.

Be there — 10-1 folks and many of you newbies to Austin wondering where’s the love in a city that some think is getting just a tad too big for its britches.

FREE PARKING IN THE BACK.

Independent Texans…it’s redundant!

Reboot 10-1

ChangeAustin.org – together with a lot of great people from all persuasions across the city — passed 10-1 in 2012.

Find out what Reboot 10-1 means on September 29th
Find out what Reboot 10-1 means on September 29th

It resulted in a hotly contested 2014 Council election and a geographically and otherwise diverse new council that gave us hope. But we know the real deal on 10-1. It was only a matter of time for the dust to settle in and it has. The real estate lobby – we call them “The Growth Machine” – is still very much in control of Austin.

We wrote to you on August 6th here about an important lawsuit initiated by Brian challenging Mayor Steve Adler’s lead on the Pilot Knob fee fiasco. We will soon see what a court of law thinks about the legality of diverting $80M in water impact fees away from their designated purpose – to help pay for growth – plus the brazen violations of the Texas Open Meetings Act.

Mayor Adler has been meeting from day one with San Antonio Mayor Ivy Taylor to discuss what they can do together to “build a megalopolis” between the two cities. Austinites, San Antonians, Hays Countians and hundreds of thousands who live along the IH-35 growth corridor and still more to our east in Lee, Bastrop, Milam and Burleson counties have a real problem with that. It’s a huge drain on our water and our collective wallets.

There is a gold rush on the aquifer to our east – a slow (very) recharge aquifer called the Simsboro formation of the Carrizo-Wilcox aquifer. Water wars continue about a plan to pipe it to help pave over Hays County and the fast-recharge and sensitive zones of the mighty Edwards Aquifer. (Have you watched the 17-minute “I Oppose the San Antone Hose” video here?)

What Can You DO?

  • Join the picket in San Marcos this Friday (Sept. 16th) 11-1 at the Growth Summit: Landowners and residents from the region are planning on picketing this event and are holding a press conference. More here about the event.

  • Mark your calendars! Linda is also organizing an Austin event called, “Reboot 10-1” on Thursday, September 29th from 7 to 8:30 pm at Austin Energy (721 Barton Springs Road). Austin City Councilwoman Ora Houston will moderate a debate on the “Go-Big” transportation bonds. What does “Reboot 10-1” mean? You’re about to find out. Don’t miss it!

ChangeAustin and Independent Texans are both political action committees that welcome folks of all party persuasions. Please consider signing up at Independent Texans to receive their email alerts too. You can do that with a simple reply with “add me” in the subject line or the email itself or go here to sign up.

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.