Monthly Archives: April 2016

Conservative Group Seeks Legislative Path Around Austin Voters on Prop 1

BY Bill Oakey – May 2, 2016

The Prop 1 election battle just took a stunning turn towards the one place where many of us expected it to wind up. Under the big dome on Congress, overlooking downtown. But were we prepared to see it happen so soon?

This past Friday, KXAN News teported that the Texas Public Policy Foundation is already courting State Legislators. Their goal is to get bills written and pre-filed for next January’s Legislative session. If Austin voters turn down Prop One next Saturday, the plan is to overturn their wishes with the Big Hand of State Government.

For the record, this blog is non-partisan, and affordability is a bipartisan issue. It would be helpful in this situation if the folks who support local control of education policy would advocate local control of City Government. There is no contradiction in that reasoning. Our official City Organization Chart clearly lists the Citizens at the very top. The City Council and the City Manager are beneath us. And that’s where the buck should stop when the local voters speak.

You can see and read Friday’s KXAN News report here: http://kxan.com/2016/04/28/city-ridesharing-regulations-could-be-trumped-by-state-law/

If Prop 1 Passes on May 7th, Look Out For What Comes Next!

By Bill Oakey – April 27, 2016

Austin is well-known for its highly educated work force. We have a population that reads more books than in a lot of other cities. For that reason, George Orwell would draw a good crowd at Book People if he could time travel over there in a few weeks. What’s happening now in the Prop One election campaign is like something straight out of Orwell’s classic, “Animal Farm.” My favorite line was the big message that appeared on the side of the barn one day, “All Animals Are Created Equal, But Some Are More Equal Than Others.”

You could pick any number of taglines from the deceptive Pro-Prop 1 ad campaign, and see the eerie similarities between the messaging laid out in George Orwell’s novels, and the real-life future that he predicted so well. But this time there is one big difference. You have a chance to change the ending of the story. You can get out there and VOTE AGAINST PROP 1 before it’s too late. Early voting is already underway. And in case you were wondering if this would happen…well, sure enough it did! Lyft is now offering free rides to and from the polls. Travis County officials apparently believe that it’s legal. Drivers will receive $10 credits for each ride.

Vote Against Prop 1 and Click Here to Donate to “Our City, Our Safety, Our Choice”

After my last blog piece on this subject, one commenter wondered what this issue has to do with affordability. Well, for one thing, the City estimates that running the election will cost between $500,000 and $800,000. Not only that, I scratch my head every time I read about a less- than-sober Uber rider who wakes up alive the next morning…minus upwards of $150 to $200 against his credit card for a “surge pricing” Uber tab. (Sometime next year, we can all look forward to “surge pricing” on toll roads, starting with the new lanes on North MoPac. The CTRMA calls them “managed toll lanes.” More on that at another time).

So, What Comes Next If the Voters Fall for the Misleading Ads and Vote for Prop 1?

We would have to wait two years for the next eligible time for a petition-initiated election. But just imagine what is probably already being cooked up in some conference rooms around Austin. Who knows which corporations will be first in line for the next referendum ballot. Maybe it will go something like this. The large industrial and other big business electric customers could write a new City policy for the management and control of Austin Energy. In the new policy, these corporations would hand-pick the board of directors for Austin Energy. Then they could set their own electric rates and build the least environmentally friendly power plants.

Your mailboxes, your radios and your TV’s would be filled with positive, cheerful Orwellian messages:

“Vote Yes for clean, affordable and reliable energy in Austin”

“Keep the high tech Job engine roaring in Austin. Vote Yes!”

“I want the lowest electric rates in the State of Texas. That’s why I’m voting yes.”
“I’m voting yes too, Sally. Let’s ask our friends to join us. We all need to vote yes.”
“Yes! Yes!…Ohhh…Yes!

restaurant scene from "When Harry Met Sally"

Meg Ryan in the restaurant scene from “When Harry Met Sally”

Austin’s Prop 1 Ridesharing Debate – Who’s Telling The Truth?

By Bill Oakey – April 25, 2016

With early voting already underway for the May 7th election, some of you might still be asking, “Which way should I vote?” Well, in times past I might have suggested that you keep an eye out for good information in your mailboxes. Or, you might have been able to listen to some passionate statements from former Austin officials, and have confidence that you could believe them. But not this time…not even close!

Let’s Get One Thing Out of the Way First – We Should Vote “No,” As In “Against” Prop 1

We should support the position of our current mayor, Steve Adler, who came out against Prop 1 on Monday. Mr. Adler, who has consistently pushed for compromise in the contentious battle, stated that a vote against Prop 1 would be “” The ordinance offered by Uber and Lyft in Prop One would block the City from mandating fingerprint-based background checks for at least two years. Adler called a vote for Prop One “a false choice.” Then he made this comment,

Watch Out for Your Mailboxes, Your Radios and Your TV’s

The $2 million plus special-interest ad campaign in favor of Prop 1 marks the lowest level of deceit and outright falsehoods in any Austin political campaign that we’ve seen in decades. It is well beneath our dignity and our values as a community. That alone is reason enough to vote against the proposition. To heap a mountain of false claims upon the unsuspecting voters in the manner that has been done in this campaign is simply appalling. The oft-repeated drivel consists of bogus statements like, “If Prop 1 Fails, Taxpayers Pay.” Or, “Vote for Prop 1 – Uber and Lyft Keep Paying. Vote No – Taxpayers Pay.” The truth is that the ordinance adopted by the old City Council specified that administrative fees for Uber and Lyft would be spelled out in a separate ordinance. Then they left office without passing such an ordinance. So, if the ridesharing companies were to continue paying what they are currently paying, that amount would be zero.

What About the Issue of Public Safety?

It is not true, as Prop 1 supporters have claimed, that the ridesharing companies have been operating here “without incident.” Multiple sexual assaults have occurred, which has prompted the victims’ shelter organization, SafePlace, to come out in opposition to Prop 1.

How Can We Find Out What We Are Really Voting On?

Austin American-Statesman transportation writer, Ben Wear, really distinguished himself for informative, balanced, and accurate reporting in an article over the weekend entitled, “Q&A: What Austin Voters Need to Know About the Prop 1 Election.” If you are not a subscriber, it would be well worth your while to seek out this piece and read it carefully. You can also watch the video online to the recent KUT-Radio debate over the issue. Just do a Google search for “KUT Watch our debate.” The number of sparks seen flying back and forth is almost breathtaking.

Both the Statesman and Chronicle Have Endorsed Voting Against Prop 1

Both publications make compelling and convincing arguments. But to save space in this blog piece, I will only repeat 3 brief sentences from the Austin Chronicle, “First, defy the laws. Second, rewrite the laws. Finally, buy the elections.”

What Happens to Good People Who Don’t Tell the Truth? And Is There Anything We Can Do About It?

Besides voting against Prop 1, there is something else we can do. We may wonder how they can look themselves in the mirror. Or how they can sleep at night. But, it isn’t up to us to judge other people, especially some of our political friends who have been swept up in the Pro-Prop 1 campaign. Perhaps we can all join together in a great big circle and offer support to those folks who slipped up on one of the Ten Commandments. And as we join together, we can all sing along to this fine song.

circle

Make a Donation to Our City, Our Safety, Our Choice!

Do it right now, using this link.

Further musical accompaniment for this blog posting (dancing is permitted):

  1. “Lies” – The Knickerbockers, 1965
  2. “It’s the Truth Ruth” – The Big Bopper, 1959
  3. “Liar, Liar” – The Castaways, 1965
  4. “Your Nose Is Gonna Grow” – Johnny Crawford, 1962
  5. “Mama Didn’t Lie” – Jan Bradley, 1962
  6. “Tossin’ and Turnin'” – Bobby Lewis, #1 song, 1961
  7. “You’re the Reason” – Bobby Edwards, 1961, or British Invasion version by Gerry & the Pacemakers, 1964
  8. “Another Sleepless Night” – Jimmy Clanton, 1960
  9. “I Never Go Around Mirrors” – Merle Haggard, 1976
  10. “Man In the Mirror” – Michael Jackson, at the Grammy Awards (remastered), 1988
  11. “It Isn’t Fair” – Sammy Kaye, featuring Don Cornell, 1950
  12. “Why Don’t You Believe Me?” – Patti Page, 1952

TV clips for your viewing pleasure:

  1. “To Tell the Truth” – Dr. Seuss appearance, 1959
  2. “Truth Or Consequences” – Daytime show debut, introducing Bob Barker, 1956

Records

KEYE-TV News Story On Taxpayer Wage Subsidies – Can We Close Pandora’s Box?

By Bill Oakey – April 21, 2016

Huge thanks to KEYE’s investigative reporter, Walt Maciborski, for prying open this disturbing chapter in Austin’s taxpayer battle against special-interest fee waivers. The story was aired on the 10:00 PM edition of the KEYE news on Wednesday evening. You can watch the video here. The text of the story appears below. But first, one small bit of conjecture. How did this little gem of an issue slide by all of the members of Capital Metro’s Board of Directors? The original contract had called for a construction workers’ wage of $11.39 per hour. But a resolution passed at the Travis County Democratic Convention sparked them to reconsider the living wage portion of the contract. The wage went up to $13.03, to be paid for in part by you and me. While some of us were probably in bed asleep, the new contract was hammered out with lots of special-interest spin. That’s just an educated guess. It sets a bad precedent. But boxes can be opened and boxes can be closed. Pandora’s is no exception.

Close Pandora's_box

Activist says taxpayers paying $500K to get East Austin mixed-use project done

The Plaza Saltillo development project in East Austin is finally on track to be a reality. But are taxpayers picking up part of the bill?

Capital Metro and Endeavor Real Estate Group hammered out a last-minute deal for a 10 acre mixed use housing complex at 5th and Comal streets.

A key part of the deal was to get the workers a living wage of at least $13.03 an hour, a jump from the original plan to pay workers $11.39 an hour.

“The problem is that this new agreement specifies that 50 percent of this difference between $11 and $13 is going to be subsidized by the taxpayers,” AustinAffordabilty.com blogger Bill Oakey said.

That difference is about $500,000.

Oakey says this is a great project for the city and East Austin but he thinks it’s a bad deal for taxpayers.

“And I call that a wage waiver which is a lot like a fee waiver that is commonly given to developers,” Oakey said.

We called Capital Metro to go on camera so we could ask them to explain the costs of this new deal and if this is a fee waiver for the developer. They refused to go on camera. But they gave us a statement.

They say, “Capital Metro’s 50 percent cost share for the living wage increase to $13.03 will be funded only from rent increases on the additional height in the office building over 99 years.”

Capital Metro also says this is new revenue it “will receive from office space (which) is new, un-projected revenue. In the end, it is revenue that Capital Metro didn’t have before, to be applied to transportation costs.”

“Right now we’re headed for trouble,” Oakey said.

He isn’t buying it. He says it’s still money that’s coming from the taxpayer pool to make this project happen and he fears it could get worse.

“To me it’s the precedent that is the most alarming,” Oakey said. “It’s opening Pandora’s Box. And I’m afraid that other taxing entities like the city and the county might follow this dangerous precedent. I’m asking our local officials to please close Pandora’s Box and do not continue this wage waiver subsidy with taxpayer money.”

Musical accompaniment (plus a comedy recording) for this blog posting:

  1. “Bus Driver’s School” – Bob Newhart, from the album, “The Button-Down Mind Strikes Back,” 1960
  2. “Bus Stop,” – The Hollies, 1966
  3. “Magic Bus” – The Who (rare long version), 1968

Ethics Complaint Filed Against Pro-Uber Campaign

By Bill Oakey – April 20, 2016

News Exclusive From AustinAffordability.com

All of us would probably agree on the need for safe, affordable transportation options here in Austin. But the heated debate between the “Pro” and “Con” folks fighting for your support in the upcoming May 7th Proposition One election has gotten a bit ugly. Regardless of which way you happen to be leaning, you have probably heard the shouting about the need for honesty, integrity and fairness. Today, this blog has obtained an exclusive advance copy of a formal ethics complaint soon to be filed against the Pro-Uber, Pro-Prop One campaign. That complaint appears in its entirety below:

Formal Ethics Complaint
Filed in the Umpteenth District of Travis County, Texas
In the Court of Public Opinion

On This Date Henceforth, April 20, 2016

The factual basis for this complaint arises from Against Prop One handing of Ethics Complaint #1 vs. Pro Prop One, and relies in part upon current information as well as ongoing cases of a similar nature.

The case at hand being on the matter of certain transportation network companies seeking to avoid specific regulations imposed by the City of Austin. To wit or without wit, be so however, the requirement of fingerprint-based criminal background checks. As well as other requirements set forth by City Ordinance.

We hereby accuse For Prop One of violating the basic standards of truthfulness, misleading the public, and committing acts of fraud and misrepresentation. The allegations regarding Pro Prop One’s conduct are summarized as follows:

  1. Numerous, multiple and repeated instances of unprofessional and unethical behavior
  2. Willful deception
  3. Unethical appropriation of Against Prop One’s main political action committee, “Our City, Our Safety, Our Choice,” by creating a copycat Facebook page labeled, “Our City, Our Safety, Your Choice.”
  4. Daring to place a prominent logo on the copycat page that says, “Don’t Believe the Lies.”
  5. Stating in public commentary that voting for Prop One will “keep transportation network companies in Austin,” and that those companies have “operated without incident” since they started here.
  6. Repeatedly and falsely claiming that a vote against Prop One will cause great harm and expense to Austin taxpayers.
  7. Other fraudulent, willful and contrived misrepresentations.

We dutifully wish to thank The Court for your consideration and anticipated cooperation.

———————————————————————————————————————————-

The views expressed in the ethics complaint above may or may not represent the views of this blog’s sponsors or its advertisers (of which there are none). Voters are encouraged to study the issues in the May 7th proposition election very carefully. Accepting the accuracy of any verbiage – in audio, print or video format without careful verification is not recommended. Regardless of your own personal viewpoints for or against Prop One, let’s keep in mind that the City of Austin maintained a proud public slogan for several decades, “Austin the Friendly City.” To those who support or condone highly negative and divisive discourse, on either side of a political issue, we would suggest that Austin is simply better than that. We should encourage proposition supporters and opponents to offer up clear and unambiguous facts to the public. And in the spirit of our great democracy, “may the best side win.”

What Will Happen If Uber Leaves Austin?

Thankfully, there is an innovative invention that solves that disturbing dilemma. Even before the results are announced for the national “Smart City Challenge,” Austinites can rejoice as we look forward to our single, united transportation and housing solution. In a rare cooperative effort by the City’s Transportation and Housing Departments, plans have been announced (but not publicly yet) to revive a 1925 invention by the Studebaker Automobile Company.

A modern version of the 1929 model of the Studebaker House Car is envisioned to be ready to roll on Austin streets and toll roads by 2021. City officials are even considering allowing them on free highway lanes as well. In its first year on the market, Studebaker sold 2,225 units. By 1928 an eight-cylinder model was introduced. By sometime in 2021, Austinites will no longer have to fret over sitting in traffic. Or having to pay high rent or high property taxes. The new fleet of house-cars will allow everyone plenty of time to enjoy themselves, no matter which road they are stuck on. We will have total gridlock by 2021 on most of our roads. So, why not just put people in these innovative house-cars, so they can live out their lives blissfully? Even if they are permanently stranded in traffic. While the average price for these vehicle-houses has not been determined yet, it will be a small price to pay for peace and comfort.

1929 Studebaker House Car

1929 Studebaker House Car

Musical accompaniment for this blog posting:

  1. “Riding In My Car (Car Song)” – Woody Guthrie
  2. “Cab Driver” – The Mills Brothers, 1968 or Hank Thompson version, 1972
  3. “Taxi” – Harry Chapin, 1972
  4. “This Ole House” – Stuart Hamblen, 1954
  5. “In the Middle of the House” – Vaughn Monroe, 1956
  6. “Come On-A My House” – Rosemary Clooney, number one song, 1951

Epic Highway Land Swindle Costs Taxpayers $13 Million

By Bill Oakey – April 17, 2016

As Austin and Central Texas await potential downpours and the return of hazardous flooding, at least we can be thankful for one thing. The shower of State taxpayers’ money that has been raining down on two alleged North Texas swindlers has been cut short by Federal indictments. This past Friday, the Dallas Morning News reported the indictments of two developers who have “conspired to defraud the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) by purchasing property and then selling it to TxDOT at an inflated price.” The scheme allegedly took place over the span of seven years, from June 2008 through July 2015.  The total taxpayer tab comes out to $12,948,321.

The former property owners caught up in this web had faced excruciating wait times for their land to be condemned and purchased. Then, like a scene from an old western movie, the alleged outlaws galloped to their doorsteps with checks in hand. Not more than a few months later, they flipped the properties to TxDOT for handsome profits.

The backstory to this still-unfolding saga raises disturbing questions about the State transportation agency charged with overseeing a massive highway network. In the highlighted news story, a lawyer for the accused states that the land transactions “followed TxDOT’s well-established and transparent guidelines.” Really? We can’t help be reminded of the similarity between this situation and the giant high-tech contracting scandal that engulfed State officials not so long ago.

All kinds of questions can and should be raised. Did other private parties engage in this type of scheme? If so, how much taxpayer money did we lose in total? Who amongst our State officials knew about it, and when did they know it? If in fact, such transactions were standard operating practice, who authorized that practice? And who should have been responsible for the oversight of those transactions, on behalf of the taxpayers? Can we expect another shoe or shoes to drop?

the-other-shoe

From Bandoleros to the Badlands of Austin

Mobility, traffic and affordability are a big deal here in Austin. Of course we depend on TxDOT to run efficiently and provide us with effective solutions. As for highways, we used to call those things “freeways.” That is until somebody flipped a switch and decided that nearly all new interstate road construction in our area would be for toll roads. Not only that, but we can brace ourselves for the pending launch of Austin’s very first “managed toll lanes” on North MoPac. TxDOT does not play a role in the MoPac deal, but get ready for “the heavier the traffic, the higher the toll.” That’s a sweet deal for our wealthiest residents, since even at a modest $4 per one-way trip as once suggested on the toll agency’s website, the monthly bill would be $168 per month for 21 working days.

Sorry for the Digression. Now Back to the Main Topic

Some of you may remember that land-flipping was quite the rage in Texas in the 1980’s. In those days, it was not unheard of for someone to buy a piece of land in the morning and have it flipped by the close of business that same day. Austin was in the throes of a big boom. But what came afterwards was not a pretty sight. The Savings and Loan Crash wiped out a lot of profiteers and speculators, but also took down too many good, hard-working people. History has a nasty way of repeating itself. In the meantime, If it turns out that the North Texas flipper-frenzy with TxDOT was not above-board, then everyone responsible should be held to account.

1920's silent film star, Buster Keaton

1920’s silent film star, Buster Keaton

Musical accompaniment for this blog posting:

  1. Angels Love Bad Men” – The Highwaymen, 1990
  2. This Land Is Your Land” – Pete Seeger (live version of Woody Guthrie’s 1940 classic)
  3. “In the Jailhouse Now” – The Soggy Bottom Boys, from the movie, “O Brother, Where Art Thou,” 2000
  4. “Highway 40 Blues” – Ricky Skaggs, from the album, “Highways and Heartaches,” 1982

1943 “Welcome To Austin” Video, Plus A 1960 Shocker From Cactus Pryor

By Bill Oakey – April 14, 2016

Congress Avenue in 1943

Congress Avenue in 1943

Somewhere amongst the boxes tucked away in my closet are a few legal-sized envelopes from City officials, containing documents from the 1980’s era of my consumer activism. On the back of each envelope was the City of Austin slogan, “Austin, the Friendly City.” Today on the blog, let’s take a trip much further back, all the way to 1943. (When Austin was…affordable)! From the archives of the Austin History Center comes a Chamber of Commerce video about our friendly city. The opening scenes may cause you to howl with laughter. (My, how times have changed)! Enjoy the tour of the State Capitol, Barton Springs, U.T., etc. Then, take a long pause before even considering viewing the second video. I don’t have the words to describe it. Both of them will stay with you for a good long while afterwards…

“Austin, the Friendly City” – 1943

No search for parking is necessary here. Just sit back right where you are and enjoy this video.

Television Special Narrated by Cactus Pryor – 1960

Those of us who knew Cactus Pryor and remember him fondly from his days at KTBC / KLBJ radio and TV may not remember this stunning presentation. Cactus was a nationally known Austin humorist, who went on national speaking tours, authored books and kept the local citizens entertained for many decades. I never knew this video existed until recently. As mentioned above, I do not have the words to describe it.

R.I.P Cactus. I know that you’re up there smiling down on us! Despite this eerie video…

Musical accompaniment for this blog posting:

For the First Video

  1. “Remember Then,” scratchy original by the Earls, 1962
  2. “Remember Then,” great cover by Sha Na Na from their 1969 album, “Rock and Roll Is Here to Stay.”
  3. “Pistol Packin’ Mama,” Al Dexter, number one song, 1943
  4. “Paper Doll,” the Mills Brothers, number one song, 1943, covered by Hank Thompson, 1971 (stay with it till it swings)!

For the Second Video

  1. “Duck and Cover,” Bert the Turtle, 1951 Civil Defense Film
  2. “Hydrogen Bomb,” Al Rex, 1959
  3. “Eve of Destruction,” Barry McGuire, number one song, 1965 (stereo version)
  4. “Cry of the Dying Duck in a Thunder-Storm,” Cactus Pryor novelty song, 1950

Tax Appraisal Spike Proves Need For Homeowner Retention Initiative

By Bill Oakey – April 12, 2016

The Travis Central Appraisal District has released the data on 2016 property tax appraisals. As you can see from the map below, some of the most worrisome geographic areas in terms of gentrification are being clobbered again. Look at the dark-colored areas marked W, E and F and note that these Northeast and East Austin neighborhoods are seeing 16%, 17% and 18% appraisal increases. Beyond that, the map is dotted with other assorted double-digit increases.

 

 

IMG_0618

Click the map to enlarge it.

Austin Should Consider the Homeowner Retention Initiative

As mentioned in my previous blog posting, I have launched a comprehensive set of ideas for the City and the County to consider. The Homeowner Retention Initiative lays out a range of options to help make home ownership more affordable for both longterm residents and first-time homebuyers. The main focus however, is on our longterm residents who are consistently being priced out of their neighborhoods. The cost squeeze affects both low income and middle class homeowners and renters. So far in my discussions with City Council offices, the response has been very welcoming and encouraging. The issues are very complex and challenging. But I believe strongly that now is the time for a meeting of the minds, within both public and private civic quarters to attack and solve this critical affordability problem.

In the ongoing discussions of the initiative with City Council staff, some interesting perspectives have been raised. I would like to thank Ken Craig in Council Member Ann Kitchen’s office for suggesting that landlords could participate in some of the programs, and thereby be able to offer more affordable rents. When I met with Ashley Richardson in Council Member Renteria’s office, I was impressed with the stack of printed reports that she was prepared to study. And Michael Searle In Council Member Troxclair’s office, along with the other two policy aides, dug into the discussion with lots of detailed questions and insights. Because of some of the complexities, there will be tall mountains to climb. And we may not be able to surmount all of them. But if we can plow through some of the obstacles and achieve a measure of success, then it will have been worth the effort. On Wednesday of this week at 2:00, the initiative will be presented to the City’s Housing and Community Development Committee.

As for the Sting of the Tax Appraisals

We should not blame TCAD for the high appraisal increases. The year-after-year “clobbering” of the taxpayers is caused by the boom in Austin’s economy. Along with planning and zoning decisions. Even more importantly, the Texas Legislature maintains a steadfast insistence on relying more heavily on local property taxes to fund public services than any other large state in the country. I often hear people say, “Oh but this issue of skyrocketing property values is nothing new. California went through all that back in the 70’s and 80’s.” Well, here’s the big difference. Even back in those days, California paid its workers a living wage. And not only that, California voters passed Proposition 13, which froze taxable values at the purchase price of a home. Only after that home went back on the market did it gain a new taxable “market value.” It was an imperfect and controversial solution. But at least California had some kind of solution, along with much better salaries and wages.

We should also note that when the City of Austin, Travis County or any of the other taxing entities set their budgets, they would have to lower their tax rate in order to maintain an even level of spending from the previous year. If they actually did that, then the steep appraisal increases wouldn’t matter as much. But, unfortunately, we gaze at the Austin skyline every year and marvel at the sleek new highrises. Then we see all of the huge multifamily developments along every thoroughfare. And we ask and we wonder…

Where is all the new revenue from all of that new “tax base” going? How much new tax money is being generated each year? And why in the world are they spending it as fast as they can?

If anyone reading this can answer those questions, please drop a comment into this blog post! (And I haven’t given up on asking the City and the County for an itemized list of all of their “plans,” with a grand total of the costs and a public participation process to prioritize all of those plans).

money-flying-away1

Musical accompaniment for this blog posting:

  1. “Taxman,” – the Beatles, Revolver album, 1966
  2. “I Got Stung,” Elvis Presley, 1958

Grocery Stores Go Missing From Austin Neighborhoods – What Gives?

By Bill Oakey – April 10, 2016

As the days, weeks and years tick by in “Progressive Austin,” there is one simple basic need that seems to elude the public officials, paid consultants and public engagement document and pamphlet designers. It’s something called a grocery store. Probably most of you reading this can get to a grocery store without too much time or trouble. Even I can do it, despite not being able to drive. And the walk got easier after City Public Works finally fixed a huge pothole on Possum Trot after five attempts last year. 

But it is no secret that some of Austin’s economically challenged neighborhoods have few grocery stores or none at all. Some of these communities are located in Northeast Austin, Southeast Austin and far South Austin. The Colony Park neighborhood is one example. In nearby Walter E. Long Park, the height of the weeds is surpassed only by the number of years of master planning and official lip service. Those efforts have failed to produce anything beyond a failed November 2000 bond election for a golf course and hotel. Then came the 2014 proposal to put in two privately owned luxury golf courses without a public vote, in apparent violation of the City Charter.

One thing that the Colony Park Neighborhood and probably most other neighborhood associations would agree on is the need for access to grocery stores. We have heard all the arguments about high construction costs and whether the disposable income in some deprived areas could support grocery stores. And after all, it is largely a decision that has to be made by the private owners of such stores. But here’s a suggestion. How about looking into how other cities, counties and various researchers have approached this problem? What potential solutions are out there, and could some of them be successfully applied here?

This Picture Is Worth at Least a Thousand Words, If Not More

Perhaps this picture and the link beneath it will point somebody down at City Hall or at Travis County in the proper direction. It’s a screenshot of one page of Google search results. Feast your eyes on what the search revealed. It should certainly give us some food for thought (pun fully intended). Click here to see the picture.

To do the Google search illustrated above, click here.

For Those In Colony Park Who Want to Spin the Public Engagement Wheel…

There is a brand new set of City-sponsored public process documents here.

Mayhem

Heartwarming movie about a 1960’s housewife and her affordability problems. The grocery store scene is one of the many highlights:

“The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio” – Julianne Moore, Woody Harrelson, 2005

Musical accompaniment for this blog posting:

  1. Grocery store love song, “Same Old Lang Syne” – Dan Fogelberg, 1980
  2. Silly grocery store song, “Supermarket Song,” – Jewel, 2011
  3. Even sillier grocery store song, “The Grocery Store Song,” – created in Moorhead State University (Minnesota) dorm room, 2008
  4. Mind-numbing, newfangled headbanger rock, “The Grocery Store Song,” – Boy Kicks Girl (???), 2008 (remastered version)

City Council Should Support Afforable Housing Resolution

April 6, 2016

To Our Blog Readers,

This is a guest posting from David King, a longtime volunteer neighborhood advocate. David sent this message to Mayor Steve Adler and all City Council members. I encourage everyone to join in this effort and contact the Mayor and Council as well.

Dear Mayor Adler and Council Members:

Please support Council Member Ora Houston’s request to include preservation of existing affordable housing in the resolution (item #24 on this Thursday’s agenda). It directs the City Manager to develop recommendations to use bond funds for permanently affordable housing. Please include in the resolution the use of bond funding for low- and middle-income homeowners to make repairs to their homes.

The City’s strategies to generate new permanently affordable housing units through upzoning and density bonus programs have fueled gentrification in Central Austin neighborhoods. These programs incentivize higher density housing specifically in Central Austin; thereby increasing demand for a finite amount of land. As a result, land prices have skyrocketed in Central Austin and the new housing units are unaffordable to low- and middle-income families.

Gentrification has pushed thousands of low- and middle-income families out of our Central Austin neighborhoods while upzoning and density bonus programs have generated relatively few permanently affordable housing units in Central Austin. Why do we keep utilizing strategies that worsen gentrification while producing so little permanently affordable housing?

Please enact an affordable housing monitoring fee for development projects that are required to provide onsite affordable housing or pay a fee-in-lieu. Austin has various affordable housing programs that require developers to provide affordable housing but does not have the resources to effectively monitor and enforce all affordable housing agreements and requirements. As a result, the effectiveness of Austin’s affordable housing programs is uncertain and most likely diminished. A monitoring fee paid by developers will provide the City with resources to verify compliance with the affordable housing agreements and requirements.

Please enact an affordable housing impact analysis requirement for demolition permits for existing residential housing. Existing housing is more affordable to low- and middle-income families than new high-density housing. We should do more to help preserve existing affordable housing.
Respectfully,

David King

Click on this link to get to the City Council agenda. Then click Item #24 and click again on “Draft Resolution.”