BG Reads | News You Need to Know (January 4, 2019)



Large majority of voters in Austin’s urban core neighborhoods rejected CodeNEXT petition in November, precinct data shows (Community Impact)

Among the biggest questions heading into last November’s general election was whether Austinites would vote in favor of a citizen-initiated ordinance that aimed to give residents final say on comprehensive revisions of the city’s land development code.

They did not. Proposition J, as it was listed on November’s ballot, was defeated 52 to 48 percent. But recently released precinct data shows the heaviest rejection came from Austin’s urban core neighborhoods, the areas of town where the Austin Neighborhoods Council–a group that strongly supported the proposition-is entrenched. With only a couple exceptions, a significant majority of voters in nearly all Austin’s urban core neighborhoods voted against the proposition, while the strongest support came from the city’s outskirts and extraterritorial jurisdiction. The “urban core” is bound by Mopac to the west, Route 183 to north and east, and Route 71 to the south.

The question of citizen voting rights was inspired by controversies over CodeNEXT, the city’s recently failed attempt at such a code revision. Opponents of CodeNEXT formed PACs, campaigned on what they considered neighborhood interests and garnered over 30,000 signatures of support on a petition to give citizens the final say on code rewrites. They argued that CodeNEXT’s push for housing density would threaten the character of the mostly single-family residential neighborhoods they long called home, The petition eventually made its way to November’s ballot as Proposition J.

The ANC, a group that represents nearly all neighborhood associations in the city’s urban core, was among the proposition’s staunchest supporters; however, that failed to translate at the ballot box. President Jeff Jack blamed the results on the city’s changing demographics…

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Eckhardt welcomes wave of political momentum in Travis County (Austin Monitor)

For years, when County Judge Sarah Eckhardt would try to talk to the community about the justice system, someone would quickly change the subject to transportation or other unrelated issues. Although it accounts for 50 percent of the overall county budget, Eckhardt said only recently are people beginning to see the relevance of the justice system to their lives.

“Looking back over the last year, I am very gratified that there has been a lot of attention paid to both the criminal and the civil justice systems. That’s not to say we haven’t been concentrating on it, literally, for decades. We did a lot of our criminal justice reform efforts in the absence of political will, just because we knew it was the right thing to do. Now that we have political will we can push it even further.”

Justice, Eckhardt said, is a four-legged table comprising prosecution, defense, judiciary and law enforcement. Travis County is currently re-examining each of those legs in an effort to reduce costs and maximize efficiency. Eckhardt is confident that 2019 will bring a merging of misdemeanor and felony jurisdiction and thinks the county will move forward to work in conjunction with Capital Area Private Defender Service to improve indigent defense. She is also proud of a publicly accessible dashboard at Travis County’s website used to track overall justice efficiency…

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Group Seeks To Stop McKalla Place Soccer Stadium, Hopes To Force A Public Vote (KUT)

The City of Austin received a petition Thursday essentially seeking to bring the Major League Soccer stadium deal to a public vote.  

The petition calls for "a public vote on an 'ordinance by initiative [that would require] any sale, lease conveyance, mortgage or alienation of City owned land for a sports facility, sports arena, and/or concert stadium' to be approved by voters before giving a private, for-profit business tax-free use of public land.”

It was delivered to the city clerk's office by a representative of the political action committees Friends of McKalla Place and Fair Play Austin. The groups want to get the petition on the ballot in May…

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Southwest Airlines co-founder Herb Kelleher dies at 87 (Fort Worth Star-Telegram)

Herb Kelleher, a co-founder and former CEO of the Dallas-based Southwest Airlines, has died, the company announced. Kelleher was 87.

In a statement, Southwest Airlines said: “We are deeply saddened to share that Southwest Airlines Founder and Chairman Emeritus Herbert D. Kelleher passed away today at the age of 87.” “Herb was a pioneer, a maverick, and an innovator,” the statement said. “His vision revolutionized commercial aviation and democratized the skies. Herb’s passion, zest for life, and insatiable investment in relationships made lasting and immeasurable impressions on all who knew him and will forever be the bedrock and espirit de corps of Southwest Airlines.” Kelleher is survived by his wife, Joan, three of their four children, many grandchildren. He moved to Texas after receiving a law degree from New York University. He planned to open his own law firm. In 1967, Herb and client Rollin King incorporated Air Southwest, Inc., with the idea of offering low-fare, intra-Texas airline service. “After a name change and many legal battles valiantly fought and won by Herb, Southwest Airlines took to the skies on June 18, 1971 — a date that would change each of our lives forever,” the company said. “Anyone in the world who has set foot on an airplane in the past 50 years has been touched by the life of Herb Kelleher.”

Southwest CEO Gary Kelly said, “One of the greatest joys of my life has been working alongside Herb for more than 30 years.” “His stamp on the airline industry cannot be overstated,” Kelly continued. “His vision for making air travel affordable for all revolutionized the industry, and you can still see that transformation taking place today. But his legacy extends far beyond our industry and far beyond the world of entrepreneurship. His true impact can only be accurately measured by the hearts and minds of the people who he inspired, motivated, and engaged on a daily basis.” Kelleher served as Southwest Airlines executive chairman from March 1978 to May 2008 and as president and CEO from September 1981 through June 2001…

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8 file in special election to replace Carol Alvarado; 3 sign up for Joe Pickett's seat (Texas Tribune)

Eight candidates have filed for the Jan. 29 special election to replace former state Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, while three have signed up for a separate special election — on the same day —to succeed state Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, according to the Texas secretary of state's office.

The deadline was 5 p.m. Thursday to file to run in the two reliably Democratic districts.

In House District 145, the crowded field is competing for the seat once held by Alvarado, who won a promotion to the upper chamber last month. The candidates include six Democrats, a Republican and Libertarian…

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Gov. Greg Abbott advocates for state takeover of Houston ISD’s school board in scathing tweet (Texas Tribune)

In a scathing tweet Thursday, Gov. Greg Abbott slammed Houston Independent School District leaders for "self-centered ineptitude" and rallied for the state to take over the district's school board.

The social media post came after more than a year of massive upheaval for the state's largest school district, with Hurricane Harvey's floods causing major financial hemorrhages and long-term school closures in August 2017 and a superintendent leaving for New York City's schools soon after. The district has not had a permanent superintendent since March.

In 2015, Texas passed a strict law that allowed the state to impose sanctions on school districts with schools that consistently failed to meet state academic standards. Now, Houston ISD must boost the performance of four of its chronically low-performing schools in 2019, or it will be taken over by the state or be forced to shut down those schools…

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Pelosi Retakes Gavel As House Speaker With New Session Of Congress (KUT)

Nancy Pelosi is again speaker of the House, as Democrats retook control of the chamber for the first time in eight years, bringing divided government back to Washington.

The first woman to hold the position, Pelosi is now the first person to reclaim the speaker's gavel in more than six decades.

The California Democrat was elected with 220 votes over California Republican Kevin McCarthy, the new minority leader.

After accepting the speaker's gavel from McCarthy, Pelosi said the nation is at "an historic moment." And while not mentioning President Trump by name, Pelosi said voters spoke last November, calling on "the beauty of our Constitution, our system of checks and balances that protects our democracy."…

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Canada says, ‘Give me Your MBAs, your entrepreneurs’ amidst Trump's anti-immigrant pushback (Bloomberg)

Ayesha Chokhani, who grew up in Kolkata, has no love of the cold. Yet when she went to study for her master’s degree, the 29-year-old student chose the University of Toronto, where winter temperatures can fall well below freezing.

Chokhani had her pick of elite schools. She turned down Cornell and Duke in the U.S. Her reasons were clear: The anti-immigrant rhetoric from the Trump administration made her nervous. And Canada had an additional draw: She can stay up to three years after she graduates and doesn’t need a job offer to apply for a work permit. “I wanted to be sure that wherever I go to study, I have the opportunity to stay and work for a bit,” she says. In August, there were about 570,000 international students in Canada, a 60 percent jump from three years ago. That surge is helping power the biggest increase in international immigration in more than a century. The country took in 425,000 people in the 12 months through September, boosting population growth to a three-decade high of 1.4 percent, the fastest pace in the Group of Seven club of industrialized nations. Canada’s immigration system has long targeted the highly skilled. More than 65 percent of foreign-born adults had a post-secondary degree in 2017, the highest share tracked by members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. “We are the biggest talent poachers in the OECD,” says Stéfane Marion, chief economist of the National Bank of Canada. As a result, he says, the country is better equipped to deal with globalization and technological change—“it’s a massive, massive advantage.”…

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White House struggles to explain Trump’s Texas border wall boast (Houston Chronicle)

On Christmas Eve, the third day of the ongoing government shutdown, President Donald Trump launched a flurry of tweets, one of them announcing that he was in the Oval Office “and just gave out a 115 mile long contract for another large section of the Wall in Texas.”

On Thursday, Day 13 of the wall showdown, administration officials and allies still were struggling to explain any new border wall construction that Trump said he contracted amid his standoff with Democratic leaders in Congress. The uncertainty was compounded by Thursday’s expected vote by House Democrats to reopen the government without addressing Trump’s demand for more than $5 billion for a wall, which he has recently taken to calling a “steel slat barrier.” Disputed border wall legislation for 2019 - now at the center of the partial government shutdown - calls for 64 miles of new border wall construction and one mile of replacement wall in the Rio Grande Valley. But that funding - currently set at $1.6 billion - has yet to be approved by Congress, much less doled out in contracts. Asked about Trump’s new contract claims, the White House pointed to existing - and possible future - border construction awards using money that already has been approved by Congress but not yet spent by the administration over the past two years. An administration official requiring anonymity said only that the government had “obligated” - or authorized - money from the 2017 and 2018 budget years to cover 115 miles of wall, “most of which will be completed by the end of the year.”

“The money is being spent and the wall is being built,” the official added, “quickly and efficiently.” Obligating money includes placing orders and awarding contracts, though it can also entail simply transferring funds between government agencies to cover upcoming projects. Moreover, the 2017 and 2018 spending bills specifically barred Trump from using the money on the sort of concrete slabs pictured in the CBP’s highly-publicized wall prototypes. Pressed for further clarification on the specifics behind Trump’s tweet, the White House referred inquiries to the Department of Homeland Security, which did not respond to requests for information about any new wall contracts…

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Episode 28: Development Conversation with Rodney Gonzales

Today's BG Podcast features a conversation with Rodney Gonzales, then Director of Austin’s Development Services Department (DSD). The department was created in 2015 to handle residential and commercial permitting issues separately from zoning issues.

Rodney discusses his background and path to DSD, and current department initiatives with Bingham Group CEO A.J. Bingham.

Recorded on December 18, 2018, it was announced on December 21 that Rodney was promoted to Assistant City Manager for Economic Opportunity and Affordability.

This role will expand his coverage beyond development services to include a range of issues such as: resources for small and minority-owned businesses; neighborhood housing and community development; telecommunications; regulatory affairs; and the Austin Convention Center.

We wish him good luck in the new role!

Link to Episode 28

The Bingham Group, LLC is an Austin-based full service lobbying firm representing and advising clients on municipal, legislative, and regulatory matters throughout Texas.


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