Author Archives: Bill Oakey

About Bill Oakey

I am retired from the State of Texas as an accountant. I am now an artist in Austin, doing photographic art. I'm also a lifelong music fan and a computer geek.

Bombshell – Gov. Abbott & Lt. Gov. Patrick Quash I-35 Toll Lane Plan!

By Bill Oakey – November 18, 2017

The plot thickens in one of the wildest and most twisted tales in Texas transportation history. In a recent blog posting, I lamented the fact that most of our local officials were kept in the dark about the massive $8 billion plan to put 4 new “managed toll lanes” on I-35.  The press release announcing the project caught Travis County Commissioners completely off guard, including the “Road Warriar,” Commissioner Gerald Daugherty. I submitted a detailed list of questions to  quite a few local officials, only to be told that they had not been included in the process. And that they had just as many questions of their own. Really? Yes, really.

Now the whole plan has been blown to bits by both Gov. Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. In a revealing report, the Texas Tribune explains that in 2014 and 2015, statewide voters approved two Constitutional amendments for highway funding. Each of them authorized the State to send billions of tax dollars to the Texas Department of Transportation, specifically for non-tolled roadway projects. The State’s two top leaders said they acted on behalf of Legislators and their constituents. These folks have complained loudly about road-building plans across the State that contain mostly managed toll lanes. The bombshell hit late Thursday, when State transportation officials announced that they are dropping several of the major toll lane plans, including the one for I-35.

But the drama doesn’t end there. The State Attorney General has been asked to issue an opinion on the legality of an accounting trick that was built into the toll lane plans. The Transportation Dept. had sought to use funds from the voter-approved tax dollars to build or upgrade free lanes. And then use a mixture of Federal money and other funds to build toll lanes next to the free lanes. While you are reading this, heads are rolling and a battle rages over who gets to do what with a limited amount of transportation dollars.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick released this statement:

AUSTIN – Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick issued the following statement today in response to recent reports that the latest Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) Unified Transportation Plan (UTP) includes the addition of 15 managed toll lanes:

“I oppose adding any additional toll lanes to TxDOT’s UTP. I fought against increasing the state’s reliance on toll roads as a state senator and I have continued that fight as lieutenant governor. The Texas Legislature worked hard to pass Proposition 7 in 2015 to provide billions in funding for transportation infrastructure to help eliminate the state’s need for additional toll roads. Eliminating the need for tolls was one of the primary reasons the Texas Legislature passed Prop 7 and why Texas voters approved it. No new toll roads have been approved by the Senate or the House in the last two sessions and legislators I have spoken with are very unhappy that the Commission seems now to be going in a direction that opposes the will of the legislature and the majority of Texans.

“I spoke with TxDOT Commissioner Bruce Bugg yesterday and reminded him of the legislature’s commitment to reducing tolls. I sent a letter to the Commissioner today asking him to revise the UTP and develop a plan that contains no additional toll lanes.”

To view Lt. Gov. Patrick’s letter to Commissioner Bugg click here.

 What Are the Pros and Cons of Managed Toll Lanes?

I remain both fascinated and befuddled by the theory for managed toll lanes. Advocates claim that they reduce congestion better than free lanes. Why? Because, they say, newly added free lanes would fill up quickly. Therefore, high-priced tolls serve as a wedge to keep too many drivers from clogging up the roads. But let’s step back from that argument for a moment. What if people absolutely need to use that road to get somewhere? Increased population drives up the demand. Keep pouring water into a bucket, and sooner or later, it will overflow. Managed toll lanes reduce the capacity, while year after year the demand keeps rising. Gosh, you don’t suppose that a City like Austin could get so crowded that we can’t accommodate any more people. Of course not. Never! We need to recruit more people to come here as fast as they can…More! More!

With managed toll lanes, the big winners are the wealthy folks who can past everybody else in the faster moving lanes. What many Texans may not know is that managed toll lanes in countless other cities started out with “manageable” rates. Then over time, as congestion increased, they jacked up the rates. Google it and you will see $14 and higher peak toll rates popping up all over the country. Try doing the math on a daily commute with $14 times 2, times 21 workdays per month. Ka-Ching, that’s $588.00! And that assumes that you can get there without using more than one toll road. (See another Texas Tribune article, “Texans Driven Mad As Tolls Burn Holes In Their Wallets.”)

So, What Happens Next?

Lucky us! We’re going to get a citywide rail system. That won’t cost more than $15 or $20 billion. And if you believe that, I’ve got another promise for you. Some sweet day, the Legislature will wake up and realize that balancing State budgets on the backs of residential property taxpayers has reached its sustainable limit. All they have to do is project it out on a chart for the next five years and the next ten years. Or else they can ignore the problem and wait for the public backlash.

Gosh, you don’t suppose businesses could pay their fair share of taxes? You don’t suppose they could pay sustainable wages? Sorry, I just get crazy ideas once in a while. Please don’t hold it against me.

Musical Accompaniment for This Blog Piece:

  1. “If I Said You Had a Beautiful Body (Would You Hold It Against Me)” – The Bellamy Brothers
  2. “Life In the Fast Lane” – The Desperado Dreamers (Eagles Tribute)
  3. “On the Road Again” – Willie Nelson
  4. “Hot Rod Lincoln” – Johnny Bond
  5. “Lost Highway” – Johnny Horton
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Do What??? $3 Billion in City Bonds Over the Next 5 Years?

By Bill Oakey – November 16, 2017, 7:30 AM

It’s way too early to swallow this. Haven’t even had a sip of coffee yet…

For immediate release:
Nov. 9, 2017
Contact: Aly Van Dyke, Communications and Public Information Office, (512) 974-2969

2018 Bond Task Force seeking public input
The Bond Election Advisory Task Force, established by the Austin City Council in 2016, is seeking public input in advance of offering its recommendations to Council for a bond package to go to voters in 2018.

The Council specifically directed City staff and the Task Force to focus on funding efforts to address flooding, affordable housing, mobility, high-capacity transit, parks, libraries, and existing infrastructure. City departments identified more than $3 billion in needs during the next five years. From that list, City staff developed a $640 million bond package to serve as a starting point for the Task Force to consider.

While the Task Force develops its Council recommendations for the bond package, its 13 appointed members want to better understand what City infrastructure needs are most important to Austin residents.

Toward that end, the Task Force has scheduled seven town halls throughout the city.

6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 13, Dove Springs Recreation Center, 5801 Ainez Drive
6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 16, Little Walnut Creek Library, 835 W. Rundberg Lane
6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 28, University Hills Branch Library, 4721 Loyola Lane
6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 29, ACC South Campus, 1820 W. Stassney Lane
6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 30, Carver Museum, 1165 Angelina St.
6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 4, Spicewood Springs Library, 8637 Spicewood Springs Road
6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 7, Hampton Branch Library at Oak Hill, 5125 Convict Hill Road
Additionally, the Task Force and City staff are working to launch an online survey and a bond simulator by Nov. 15. Residents also will be able to call Austin 3-1-1 to provide their feedback.

The City currently is developing a language access plan to ensure non-English proficient speakers can provide input into this process as well.

More information about the Task Force can be found on the City’s website at https://www.austintexas.gov/content/bond-election-advisory-task-force.

To learn more about the Task Force’s five working groups and their meeting schedules, visit http://www.austintexas.gov/department/city-austin-2018-bond-development.

 

Let’s Clear The Air On Soccer Stadium / Election Requirement Issue

Follow on Twitter – @AAffordability

By Bill Oakey – November 13, 2017

Above All, This Is an Issue of Transparency

Soccer is a popular sport for people of all ages. Many folks would love to see a major league (MLS) team come here. The last thing we need is another messy, expensive legal battle over whether a stadium on City parkland would require a public vote. Supporters of bringing a soccer team here should embrace an election and rally people to support it. Under the right circumstances, a public-private partnership can be a valuable tool in our affordability arsenal.

In early 2015 I was in the City Council chambers when a local attorney threatened to sue the City if the Decker Lake golf course proposal were not put to a public vote. This followed many months of frustration over why City legal staff insisted that a license agreement with the developer would not trigger an election. Both the Colony Park Neighborhood Association and the Austin American-Statesman endorsed the call for an election. Finally, on April 29, 2015 City Manager Marc Ott reversed course and recommended that the City Council consider putting the proposal on the ballot. Today we should expect the same standard for the proposed soccer stadium.

Let’s Take a Deep Dive Into the Details

My blog posting from last week delves into the history of the City Charter requirement, dating back to 1952. Over the weekend, I finally uncovered the City staff’s reasons for initially not supporting an election on the Decker Lake golf courses. Buried in the digital equivalent of mothballs is this official question and answer document, dated March 5, 2015. Here is a portion of the relevant text:

Council Question and Answer

Related To

Item#28

Meeting Date

March 5, 2015

Additional Answer Information

QUESTION 1: In 2000, voters rejected a ballot proposal to create a golf course at Walter E. Long Park. (The City Charter requires Council to get voter approval before selling, conveying, leasing, mortgaging, or alienating parkland). Please provide specific details about that 2000 ballot measure, including the acreage that would have been allocated for the course and whether that proposal was to sell or to lease the parkland.

ANSWER 1: The ballot proposal in 2000 included a golf course development with a hotel on parkland which required a referendum as the contract was for a lease of the parkland. The hotel would trigger a Chapter 26 due to the change of use of the parkland. The referendum did fail by approximately 49-51%. The approximate acreage is the same being considered today, approximately 735 acres; however, the current contract will be a license agreement for public recreational facility with commercial elements similar to those found on other municipal golf courses (green fees, event space rental, food and beverage, equipment rental, limited retail, etc).

QUESTION 2: Please explain why converting 735 acres of parkland to use as a private golf course does not require voter approval.

ANSWER 2: The proposed development is for a public golf course, not a private golf course as stated in the question. Voter approval is not required because the land will remain open to the public as a park use and will be owned by the City of Austin. The City will not sell, convey, lease, mortgage, or alienate parkland by entering into a license agreement for the finance, design, construction and operation with Decker Lake Golf of a public golf course. The course will be operated by a private contractor similar to other PARD concessions. Supplemental information will be provided to Council from the Law Department as an attorney-client privileged communication.

A Look at the State Code That Protects Public Parkland

Notice that Answer 1 above mentions that the 2000 election for a hotel and golf course was necessary because the project would “trigger a Chapter 26 due to the change of use of the parkland.” That refers to Title 3, Chapter 26 of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Code. For a historical  perspective on the application of this law, check out “Pitfalls In the Use Or Taking of Park Land,” presented to the Texas City Attorneys Association in 2014. Attempting to decipher these will make your eyes glaze over. That’s why we have lawyers. Suffice it to say that both the Austin City Charter and State law aim to protect parkland from unauthorized changes of use.

The Bottom Line – When Does a License Agreement Cross the Line Into “Alienation of Parkland?”

It all comes down to the scale of the enterprise. It appears that only small operations and concessions are permissible. Former City Manager Marc Ott perhaps said it best in his April 29, 2015 memo to the City Council. In it he stated, “While we have a variety of license agreements for the use of parkland, I have to acknowledge that none of them may approach the scale of the one currently in front of you for consideration. With that in mind, giving our residents an opportunity to directly vote to either sell or lease the land may be an equally viable option.” (This quote appears in an Austin American Statesman “Viewpoints” piece, dated June 10, 2015).

Can the Community Come Together On Golf and Soccer Facilities?

Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone could put past disagreements aside, and approach these opportunities with a positive spirit. Perhaps our park system could benefit financially with revenue from a limited number of public-private partnerships. But we need an open and transparent process, followed by a public vote.

One Final Tidbit – ESPN’s Take On an Austin Soccer Team

Last month, the sports network asked some probing questions about whether Austin would be a good fit for an MLS franchise. It’s always fascinating to read what the outside world thinks about major goings-on here in the Capital City. The article is highly recommended.

Musical Accompaniment for This Blog Piece

  1. “One Million Lawyers” – Tom Paxton
  2. “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” – The Beach Boys
  3. “Get Together” – The Youngbloods

Soccer Stadium On City Parkland Would Require Public Vote

By Bill Oakey – November 9, 2017

A resolution at today’s City Council meeting seeks to identify sites, including City parkland, that could be used for a major league soccer stadium. We should hope they are aware that the City Charter requires a public vote before City parkland could be put to such a commercial use.

This topic came up a few years ago when two commercial golf courses were being seriously considered for Walter E. Long Metropolitan Park. A contract was prepared and the City still has a webpage describing that contract. But entering into that contract would have been a clear violation of the Charter, without a public vote. And there is a new golf course proposal in the latest Colony Park master planned community project.

Here is the section of the City Charter that applies:

Article II, Section 7

All powers and authority which are expressly or impliedly conferred on or possessed by the city shall be vested in and exercised by the council; provided, however, that the council shall have no power to, and shall not:

(A) Sell, convey, lease, mortgage, or otherwise alienate any land which is now, or shall hereafter be, dedicated for park purposes, unless:

(1) the qualified voters of the city shall authorize such act by adopting in a general or special election a proposition submitting the question and setting forth the terms and conditions under which such sale, conveyance, lease, mortgage, or other alienation is to be made

The 2015 golf course contract was described as a “license agreement.” Using that language is a lawyer-ly trick to try to get around the Charter. If the term “license agreement” was used to circumvent the prohibition against leases, surely it falls within “otherwise alienate” and would be clearly prohibited under both the letter and the intent of the Charter.

In November 2000, the City did hold a required election to decide whether to put a hotel and golf course at Walter E. Long Park. See the two articles below:

1. Austin Chronicle – March 24, 2000: https://www.austinchronicle.com/news/2000-03-24/76535/

2. 2000 Election Results, Austin Chronicle – November 10, 2000: https://www.austinchronicle.com/news/2000-11-10/79348/

The Charter Provision Dates Back to December 9, 1952

At 10:00 AM on that date, Mayor Bill Drake and the City Council held a meeting and voted to put Proposition 6 on the ballot. The parkland provision was included as Article II, Section 4. (a). In the election on January 31, 1953, it passed by a 61% margin  (Click to enlarge picture).

The history archives show that there was plenty of lively debate throughout the city surrounding this round of charter amendments. It was a complete overhaul. Emma Long, Austin’s first female council member, was a major force behind the charter revisions. Today a huge precedent is at stake.  A new 2018 Charter Review Commission is hard at work planning for an election next year. If you served on that commission, you might get stars in your eyes thinking of your contribution to the City. But what if your efforts got approved by the voters, only to be tossed aside by City officials in the future?  We should respect our legacy and vigorously defend our Charter.

Quick Musical Note:

The number one song on the day of the 1953 election was “Don’t Let the Stars Get In Your Eyes” by Perry Como.

Austin Mayor Bill Drake dressed as Santa Claus – From The Portal to Texas History

Music Community Needs Access To City’s “Secret List”

By Bill Oakey – November 8, 2017

Where is The List? Who has it, and why are they hiding it?

On Wednesday the Austin Monitor reported that the Austin Music Commission is seeking a list of the City’s unused publicly owned properties. The commissioners are looking for help in relocating Austin’s music venues, which have been falling like dominoes in recent years, due to gentrification. Folks in creative arts groups like Music People and the Austin Creative Alliance have been asking for the elusive list since at least 2011. But their repeated requests through City staff at public meetings and other avenues have gone unanswered.

The arts organizations, music venue owners and local musicians are all hoping that their City, which calls itself the “Live Music Capital of the World” will open up some unused public land. They would like access to some of it for music events and other creative arts activities. Austin has an office called the Music and Entertainment Division, which has been trying since this past February to get The List from the Real Estate Services Division. After a recent followup request, the real estate office said that their inventory of City property, does not contain a breakdown of which parcels are unused or idle.

This is another one of those cases where citizens, commission members, City staff and even City Council members have been kept in the dark on access to public information. Since the buck needs to stop somewhere, whaddaya say we try to stop it right here on this blog! I will fill out a public information request. I’ll take it to City Hall and plop it down on the desk in whichever office I am directed to. Then we’ll see what happens.

The timing for the unmasking of The List is actually pretty good right now. Just two days ago, the  City’s Economic Development Dept. held a press event announcing that the Governor’s Texas Music Office has designated Austin as an official “Music Friendly City.” Mayor Steve Adler summed up the affordability situation quite eloquently by saying, “The Live Music Capital of the World should be a city where the local music industry thrives and expands, and a city where artists and musicians can afford to live and create. But we’re not going to be the Live Music Capital of the World for much longer if we keep losing musicians and live music venues. That’s the challenge we face, and it’s the challenge we will meet.”

Mayor Adler Receives “Music Friendly City” certificate

If you would like the City to finally compile and release The List, please click here. You can send a single email to all 11 City Council members. If I or anyone else I hear about lands a copy of it, I will be pleased to publish it on this blog.

I moved to Austin in 1971 in large part because of the live music scene. Back in the old days of the mid-1970’s I booked bands into nightclubs part-time. One of them was a western swing band with a funny name called Asleep at the Wheel. I booked their first Austin gig at the Cherry Street Inn on Guadalupe in November 1973 (Now the Clay Pit Restaurant). To experience the best that Austin has to offer these days, check out Sarah Sharp at the Elephant Room at 315 Congress Ave. every Tuesday evening from 6:00 – 8:00.

Musical Accompaniment for This Blog Piece:

“The List” – Album by Rosanne Cash. Classic songs handed down to her by her dad, Johnny Cash

  1. “Miss the Mississippi and You”
  2. “Motherless Children”
  3. “Sea of Heartbreak”
  4. “Take These Chains From My Heart”
  5. “I’m Movin’ On”
  6. “Heartaches By the Number”
  7. “500 Miles”
  8. “Long Black Veil”
  9. “She’s Got You”
  10. “Girl From the North Country”
  11. “Silver Wings”
  12. “Bury Me Under the Weeping Willow”
  13. Rosanne Cash talks about “The List”

County Judge Sarah Eckhardt Steps Forward To “Go Big” On Affordability

By Bill Oakey – November 6, 2017

What a difference a day makes! Last Thursday was like any other day for the last several months. I had begun to wonder what happened to affordability. Nobody at City Hall or Travis County seemed to be talking about it any more. Was it even worth it to keep this blog going?

Then I walked into my Friday morning appointment with County Judge Sarah Eckhardt, who was joined by her chief of staff, Peter Einhorn. I made a really bold suggestion, thinking at the very least that it couldn’t hurt to try. I told her that the numbers are there to prove that we are facing an “affordability perfect storm” And that the only way to stop it would be to launch a major initiative. We would have to go big!

My recommendation is a joint effort by the City and the County, every bit as ambitious as the City’s highly publicized “Year of Mobility” last year.  In my presentation to Judge Eckhardt, I suggested that the issue could be approached on two basic fronts:

  1. Conduct a “Pre-Mortem.” We need to assemble the data to show that we are on a cost spiral that is absolutely unsustainable. Our local taxes, spending and debt are accelerating at a dizzying pace. Because of our dubious distinction as the most economically segregated region in the United States, we need to shift course before it’s too late. A pre-mortem is simply the opposite of a post-modem. Let’s be proactive and solve the problem now, instead of asking what went wrong after the fact. Think of a chart in front of you that shows what your taxes might look like in five years and again in ten years, at the current rate of acceleration. How much debt would our local governments have? How bad would AISD taxes be without any reform of the Robin Hood funding formulas? What would average home appraisals be? What would our median family income look like with our current mix of jobs and wages? I contend that this analysis would show that we are headed for an affordability cliff. Unless steps are taken to turn the situation around.
  2. Now for the next step. A lot of very competent people have studied and spoken about affordability. In the last few years, we have heard many great speeches, attended lots of meetings and forums, and walked away with fancy reports tucked under our arms. But after the presenters turn out the lights and send us home, what happens to those reports? Far too often, nothing much. They languish on shelves like lazy cats…

The challenge to Judge Eckhardt last Friday was to see if she would spearhead an effort to turn those affordability reports and committee proposals into concrete action. With a formalized plan and timeline. I suggested that if she would take the lead, others would follow. The exciting news is that she enthusiastically embraced the challenge. “We will get the reports off the shelves,” she insisted. “There will be rules of engagement that will not only look good, they will do good.” We talked about forging ahead with a can-do spirit. And now she is ready to try to make it happen.

Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt

Sarah Eckhardt possesses the tenacity and the smarts to tackle a big project by focusing on the broad objectives, and then drilling down to the finest details. In our meeting, she rattled off several examples of ways to implement cost-saving and efficiency measures. Her approach includes protecting seniors, workforce development, affordable housing and many other areas. She would like to exchange ideas, not only with the City of Austin, but with other cities and counties. And she’s willing to confront the State Legislature about what they need to do to help. Here’s hoping that Austin city officials will come on board and allocate the time and resources necessary to deliver some solid results on affordability. It is time for everyone to wake up and spring into action!
    

    

Musical Accompaniment for This Blog Piece

  1. “What a Difference a Day Makes” – Dinah Washington
  2. “A Little Less Conversation” – Elvis Presley (selected by Sarah Eckhardt)
  3. “Where the Action Is” – Freddy Cannon
  4. “Cat’s In the Cradle” – Harry Chapin
  5. “All the Cats Join In” – Teresa Doyle
  6. “Where You Lead” – Carole King
  7. “I Will Follow You” – Ricky Nelson
  8. “Stand and Deliver” – Adam & the Ants

New Central Library Has Highest Parking Fees In Texas

By Bill Oakey – November 3, 2017

You owe it to yourself to check out the new Central Library. It is a fabulous showcase, so much more than just a library. There is an art gallery, gift shop, restaurant and rooftop garden. Plus several event spaces available for rent. The views from the building are stunning, and the atmosphere is unlike any library you’ve  ever seen in a library.

But there is just one problem…It’s that horribly ugly thing called parking. Fortunately, the first 30 minutes are free. So, it won’t cost you anything to drop off some books or pick up books that you placed on hold. But the clock will be ticking and here’s how the parking fees will add up:

From 31 minute up to an hour – $3.00
Over 1 hour, up to 2 hours = $5.00
Over 2 hours, up to 7 hours = $7.00
Over 7 hours, up to 10 hours = $9.00
The peak is $30.00 for over 12 hours. If you fall asleep for that long, you probably deserve to be charged that much!

How Much Do Other Cities Charge for Central Library Parking?

  1. In San Antonio, parking is free for up to 3 hours.
  2. In Dallas, parking is free for the first 15 minutes, then it’s $.75 per hour for the next two hours.
  3. Houston charges $2.00 per hour, but surely we can do anything better than Houston!
  4. Even Los Angeles only charges $1.00 for the first hour and a flat rate of $1.00 after 3:00 PM on weekdays and all day Saturday and Sunday.

Stay Tuned…

I have been in touch with library officials and several members of the City Council. This battle looks like it might be winnable. Keep your fingers crossed! In the meantime, you should go down there and check out this amazing facility.

Read Kylie McGivern’s KXAN news report on Central Library parking here.

Musical Accompaniment for This Blog Piece:

  1. “My Heart Is An Open Book” – Carl Dobkins, Jr.
  2. “You Can’t Judge a Book By Its Cover” – Bo Diddley
  3. “Book of Love” – The Monotones
  4. “I Could Write a Book” – Peggy Lee
  5. “Fun Fun Fun” – The Beach Boys (rare stereo version)