By Bill Oakey – March 21, 2016
In a February blog posting, I discussed the need for the City to compile a list of all their expensive project plans, publish them for public input and discussion, and then set some realistic and affordable priorities on them. What I did not happen to mention is that obviously Travis County needs to do the same thing. In fact, the City and the County need to work together and then bring the community into this discussion.
Just try to imagine Amy’s Ice Cream, Whole Foods, Dell Computer or any other business of any size trying to operate without knowing the cost of all of their plans. Publicly held companies’ shareholders would never stand for it. If anyone reading this blog can find a single City or County office holder or staff member who can identify all of their master plans and project plans and tell us the total cost, I would be very surprised.
Are You Ready for This?
There is a Britney Spears slot machine in Las Vegas where she struts across the screen offering a bonus prize and asks, “Are you ready for this?” Well, ready or not, here comes something that is not nearly as much fun. In fact, I’d say this is the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Yes, you read that right – a price tag that is over twice as high as the failed bond proposition for a new civil and family courthouse! You can see the high cost estimate that totals up to $620 million in this PDF from Page 33 of the County’s draft report. There may be some lower estimates out there in Consultant-ville, but why not factor in the highest estimate and assume that the routine cost overruns will hit that amount in the long run?
Are You Ready for Some More?
Oh, and just when you thought that the plan for two commercial golf courses at Walter E. Long Park had been put to rest, guess what. They’…rrre…back!! The same developer who brought up the original proposal has launched an expanded version that includes a host of other grand ideas. And the Austin Parks Department is about to start…here we go again…a brand new master plan for the park. So, the awesomely expensive new Expo Center would only be one piece of a much bigger package. The neighborhoods near the park have waited for over 30 years for some well-deserved improvements. But a grand scheme for luxury development would only bring on more California-style gentrification. (Quick note on the golf courses – Keep in mind that the Austin City Charter clearly states that no City parkland can be leased or “otherwise alienated” without voter approval).
Last year I addressed the big picture planning cost issue in another blog posting that conjured up images of the multiplying brooms in “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.” Today I am still haunted by those images of a hapless office apprentice carrying two buckets full of planning reports. As the music gradually rises to a crescendo, the brooms take over his duties and they begin to multiply. A dozen buckets full of plans morphs into hundreds. Our only hope is to wake up the City Council and the Commissioners Court before it’s too late.