BG Reads | News You Need to Know (August 1, 2019)



Commission proposes code change to get housing in opportunity zones (Austin Monitor)

Federal opportunity zones were designed to spur growth in economically disadvantaged areas, but the Planning Commission says the incentives are driving commercial development to the detriment of the city’s housing supply.

Economic Development Department staff will give an overview and update on opportunity zones at the commission’s next meeting on Aug. 13. The commission will then consider an initiative that would amend city code – with a couple of exceptions – so that any opportunity zone property with General Commercial Services (CS) zoning could add a vertical mixed-use designation if desired.

The city’s vertical mixed-use overlay is used to encourage housing density and commercial activity along transit corridors by reducing site requirements and allowing for a mix of uses in exchange for a percentage of affordable housing units… (LINK TO STORY)

Austin eyes a city corporation to fight homelessness (Austin American-Statesman)

Add another idea to the list to Austin’s possible homelessness solutions: A local government corporation that could act as a city-affiliated nonprofit. City Council members will vote next week on the proposal from member Kathie Tovo directing staff members to create such a corporation dedicated to homelessness. The aim is to create an entity through which the city can receive private donations.

Austin has been in the throes of intense community debate over homelessness in the city and how to respond to it. In June, council members rescinded an ordinance banning camping in most public places, a move that prompted fierce disagreement. Council members have also moved forward on building new shelters, saying they will eventually put one in each council district, and instructing staff members to look broadly at other ideas.


City Manager Announces Deputy City Manager (City of Austin)

TAustin City Manager Spencer Cronk has selected Nuria Rivera-Vandermyde as Deputy City Manager, completing his final step in reorganizing his executive team to align with Austin’s Strategic Direction.

Rivera-Vandermyde will oversee departments and projects focused on Government that Works for All and will advise the City Manager in carrying out City Council policies.

Rivera-Vandermyde currently serves as the City Coordinator for the City of Minneapolis, after serving previously as the City’s Deputy City Coordinator. In her role, she helps ensure major citywide projects are aligned across the organization and reflect the business needs of all City departments. Key highlights of her accomplishments during her tenure in Minneapolis include leading the City’s Minimum Wage and Safe & Sick Leave ordinances, creation of a Division of Race and Equity for the City of Minneapolis, passage of the City’s first Strategic and Racial Equity Action Plan, overhaul of the City’s performance management program, development of the City’s comprehensive tiered licensing system, establishment of the Transgender Equity Council, and successful transition of homeless encampment to a service-rich Navigation Center… (LINK TO STORY)

Austin City Council to weigh petitions opposed to MLS, Convention Center development pushes (Austin Business Journal)

Austin voters will soon know what citizen-initiated ordinances are headed to the November ballot.

Austin City Council is scheduled to take up two petitions that aim to require voter approval for expansions of the Austin Convention Center and deals for sports and entertainment facilities on public land.

A group called Unconventional Austin gathered signatures for a petition that would require voter approval of any Convention Center expansion. The proposed ordinance would limit the amount of hotel tax revenue that would go toward expanding the 500 E. Cesar Chavez St. facility to 34%, down from its current level around 70%… (LINK TO STORY)


Two GOP lawmakers describe recording of House Speaker Dennis Bonnen (Texas Tribune)

Two members of the Texas House who listened Wednesday night to a recording of a meeting that has shaken up the Legislature refuted House Speaker Dennis Bonnen's denials that he offered a list of 10 GOP representatives for a hardline conservative group to politically target.

“What I derived from the audio tape — it’s very clear — is that Speaker Bonnen was not truthful about a list not being provided," state Rep. Steve Toth, a Republican from The Woodlands, told The Texas Tribune after he listened to a recording of Michael Quinn Sullivan, CEO of Empower Texans, visiting Bonnen's office June 12… (LINK TO STORY)

Is Royce West the top Democrat in the Senate race? That might be what John Cornyn wants you to think (Dallas Morning News)

Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn has set his sights on Dallas Democrat Royce West as the candidate to beat in 2020. Never mind that the Democratic primary election is more than seven months away, with four declared candidates. Never mind that Air Force veteran MJ Hegar raised $1 million before West even announced his intentions to run.

On Tuesday, Cornyn's camp aired a 30-second commercial in Austin and Dallas during the Democratic presidential debate on CNN, warning that West is a "liberal politician" who is associated with the likes of abortion rights crusader Wendy Davis and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. The attack ad mimicked a website, called, that was launched the day West announced his campaign… (LINK TO STORY)

State Rep. John Zerwas to step down in September (Texas Tribune)

Powerful state Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, is stepping down at the end of September.

Zerwas, chairman of the budget-writing House Appropriations Committee, announced his decision Wednesday afternoon. His resignation is effective Sept. 30.

"It has been an absolute honor to represent House District 28, and I am proud of what we have been able to accomplish over the last 12 years," Zerwas said in a news release. "I have served under three speakers, and each of them gave me incredible opportunities to lead for which I am grateful."… (LINK TO STORY)

A rule requiring paid sick leave for workers takes effect Thursday in Dallas. Activists are watching. (Texas Tribune)

Texas businesses are not required to offer their employees paid sick time, which led Austin to approve an ordinance mandating it last year. Since then, San Antonio and Dallas have followed in the capital city’s footsteps. Each has faced pushback — and legal challenges — for adopting the rules, which have led to most getting delayed.

But on Thursday, Dallas will be the first of three major metropolitan areas to see its proposal come to fruition. Supporters and advocates of the proposal across the state are watching closely to measure its impact.

Dallas’ ordinance — which is similar to the ones fighting for survival in Austin and San Antonio — requires one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours an employee works. Workers would be able to accrue up to 64 hours of paid sick leave each year… (LINK TO STORY)

See also:

BG Podcast - Episode 20: State Rep. Diego Bernal, District 123 (D-San Antonio), on local control by cities

BG Podcast - Episode 10: Policy Discussion Rob Henneke on Paid Sick Leave and Local Control


How Amazon will take over your house (Axios)

n recent years, Amazon has made a series of investments, acquisitions and R&D moves in the smart home industry. None seemed particularly consequential on its own, but with a real estate deal last week, Amazon appears to have captured first-mover advantage in one of the most important new industries on the planet.

Why it matters: With the deals, Amazon has taken a pioneering lead in what has come to be called "surveillance capitalism," which includes some of the biggest businesses of the future, like 5G, autonomous vehicles and smart cities. Now, the behemoth, with its edge in this new economy, is positioned to explode its revenue… (LINK TO STORY)


We’re taking a summer hiatus, so please enjoy some our favorite past episodes in the interim:

BG Podcast Episode 13: Dr. Colette Pierce Burnette, Ed.D., President/CEO at Huston-Tillotson University, on Community Engagement in East Austin

Today's podcast was originally recorded on August 27, 2018 and features a discussion Dr. Colette Pierce Burnette, Ed.D., President and Chief Executive Officer of Huston-Tillotson University (HT), a private historically black university located in Austin’s East Side.

The East Side is one of the most active areas for commercial and residential development in Austin. Our conversation covers Dr. Burnette’s vision for how HT (which owns several blocks) will navigate the wave, as well as connections to the Austin community overall.(LINK TO SHOW)

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