Category Archives: Action Alerts

The School Property Tax Double Whammy – Please Spread The Word On This!

By Bill Oakey – February 21, 2018

I have said this before, and I’ll say it again. AISD’s property taxes are the single biggest threat to Austin affordability. Nothing else even comes close. But if you thought the Robin Hood funding disparity was the only issue, guess what…That is only half of the problem. Each half of the problem is pretty scary, but taken together it’s a disaster. So, as soon as you finish reading this, please share it with as many people as you can. Our only hope in surviving the disaster is if enough people get motivated to speak out against it.

The State of Texas Is Double-Dipping on Your School Property Taxes…Here’s How It Works

Several years ago, the total State share of public school funding was 50%. The rest came from local property tax dollars. And as you know, big cities like Austin have to send back hundreds of millions of dollars each year in Robin Hood “recapture” payments. ($533 million this year). Those funds go to “property poor” school districts.

Every year for the past several years, our property appraisals have been going up. This is happening in all of the big cities that contribute to the Robin Hood system. That has caused school property taxes to skyrocket. And that’s where the double whammy comes in. The State is siphoning off this windfall of extra revenue, and spending it for non-educational items in the budget.

Here’s how it works. Technically, all of the Robin Hood revenue does flow to the property-poor school districts. But each year, as the pot of recapture money increases, the State decreases its share of public school funding. The “leftover money” from reducing public school funding gets spent on other items in the budget. This is a backdoor method of enacting a full-blown statewide property tax! That type of tax is unconstitutional, and it was ruled unconstitutional by the lower court. Then, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that it is constitutional, but “badly flawed.”

Let’s Take a Look At the Seismic Shift In State School Funding

State Representative Donna Howard’s office prepared this graphic that illustrates the problem. Here are the highlights:

  1. The State contribution to public school funding sinks from 45.3% to 31.7% from 2011 to the projection for 2019.
  2. The local property tax share shoots up from 54.7% to a projected 68.3% in the same period
  3. School property taxes make up 54% of your property tax bill.

Here’s how that looks in actual dollars for the same 8-year period:

  1. Local property tax share increases by $7 billion
  2. State share decreases by $3 billion

If you think all over those numbers look scary, just consider this – Every single one of them will get worse every single year unless we organize and mobilize to push for reforms!

Is the Robin Hood System Bad, Or Is It REALLY Bad?

These figures come from the AISD website. And remember, Robin Hood is only half of the double whammy…

  1. AISD is projected to send nearly $2.6 billion in recapture payments to the State between 2016 and 2020.
  2. By 2019, more than half of AISD’s local school property tax dollars will be sent back to the State

How Does Texas Public School Funding Compare With Other States?

On a national basis, Texas looks pitiful. You would think that business leaders would be the first to demand better educated candidates to fill critical jobs. But in Texas, “business-friendly” means lower taxes and less regulation. I would encourage these folks to take a hard, sobering look at some of these numbers. The U.S. Census Bureau’s latest report shows these rankings for per-student public school spending in fiscal year 2015. (Imagine how bad it must be now!)

  1. State funding per student: Texas ranked #47, with $4,189
  2. Local property tax funding per student: Texas ranked #19, with $5,716

What Are Our State Politicians Doing About This?

Some would like to spend more money on charter schools and less on public schools. And some want to restore the State share of public school funding to at least 50%. That’s where it was before the real estate boom caused the annual explosion of our property appraisals. But there is a cruel irony in all of this.

Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick are blaming your high property taxes on cities and counties. They are running their reelection campaigns on a promise to put a cap on the revenue that cities and counties can raise through property taxes.  This is a slick political trick that takes the growing public frustration over high property taxes and spins it upside down and backwards.

The State school financing system is the problem! And if it continues on its current path, Austin taxpayers will indeed face a true disaster. I contend that it is simply not sustainable. Unless enough wealthy people move here to completely displace nearly everyone who has lived in Austin for more than ten years or so. And after a while, even those newcomers would start to fume over the property taxes. The projected numbers are staggering.

Here’s What You Can Do to Help

  1. If you get a flier in the mail from anybody running for office that promises property tax reform by blaming it on city or county taxes, stick it right here:
  2. Send this blog post to every pertinent organization that you belong to. Encourage them to distribute it to all of their members. If they have regular meetings, ask them to put it on their upcoming agenda for discussion. Invite good speakers to make a presentation.
  3. Make sure that you and your family and friends vote for candidates that recognize and admit the true cause of high property taxes!

Finally, Here Are Two Things That We Need to Fight For

  1. The Robin Hood recapture system needs to be reformed to make it fairer for Austin and the other big cities. Austin has a huge number of students living in poverty.
  2. The State needs to stop double-dipping on our local school property taxes. They need to increase the State share of funding for public schools back to at least 50%, if not more.
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Seniors Get Shafted On Social Security Cost of Living Increase!

By Bill Oakey – January 8, 2018

Austinites who receive a monthly Social Security check may have heard the news reports that they will finally be getting a cost of living adjustment, starting this month. The 2018 cost of living increase will be 2%. This was very welcome news to hear, since the annual adjustment was a big fat zero in 2016.

Then it was a paltry .3% in 2017. In this chart, the Social Security Administration lists the annual cost of living (COLA) increases announced at the end of each year. They take effect beginning in January of the following year. So, it would appear that for 2018 we will be getting a 2% raise, starting “on or about January 24th,” according to the notice they sent out by mail.

But Instead Of a 2% Raise, We Will Be Getting the Royal Shaft!

The Social Security notice that came in the mail includes a nasty little surprise. They are hiking the Medicare deduction! So, using mine as an example, the Social Security cost of living increase is $27.00. But the Medicare deduction got jacked up by $25.00. That leaves me with a whole, great big $2.00 monthly increase. The best advice that I can give to everyone else out there is this: Don’t spend it all in one place! In fact, I’ve been told that I may be one of the lucky ones. Three people close to me got no net increase at all – zero, zip, nada!

Last October, the Chicago Tribune warned that the 2018 Medicare increases “would hit large numbers of low-income individuals who struggle to make ends meet.” The article cites a new study by the Senior Citizens League. The study revealed that seniors have lost one-third of their buying power since 2000, as Social Security cost-of-living adjustments have flattened and health care and housing costs have soared. Check out this blistering op-ed in the L.A. Times. The screws are tightening in several areas, with perhaps little hope from Congress.

You Should Contact Your Central Texas Congress Person

Take a stand and ask that Congress act now to provide a meaningful Social Security increase. Here are the names and phone numbers to call:

Rep. Lloyd Doggett: 512-916-5921

Rep. Roger Williams: 512-473-8910

Rep. Lamar Smith: 512-912-7508

Rep. Michael McCall: 512-473-2357

What Is Your Cost of Living Increase If You Are a Retired Teacher or a Retired State Employee?

The answer to that question does not require any math skills at all. You don’t need a calculator, and you don’t even have to count on your fingers. Those of us who worked all our adult lives as Texas teachers or State employees have not received any annual cost of living increase since 2001!

Musical Accompaniment for This Blog Piece:

  1. “Theme From Shaft” – Isaac Hayes
  2. “Love Minus Zero / No Limit” – Joan Baez (written by Bob Dylan)
  3. “Zero Zero” – Bent Fabric
  4. “Down to Zero” – Joan Armatrading
  5. “Less Than Zero” – Elvis Costello

City Council Rejects Police Contract – But Will They Trim The Cost?

By Bill Oakey – December 14, 2017

The late-night vote to send the contract back to negotiations was unanimous. And unprecedented. It came after seven hours of heated public testimony from both sides in the debate. This is the first time a City Council has ever rejected a police contract. Here’s the bottom line…

We Have Until March 22 to Implore the City Council Not to Let the New Contract Double Our Property Taxes Every 9 Years!

This issue is also about improved public oversight of the police. But for hundreds of thousands of taxpayers who are struggling with the taxes we already pay, we face a very real danger. The police negotiators will continue to demand higher pay in exchange for the reforms in citizen oversight.

What Is Wrong With This Picture?

I ask everyone reading this to please grab a pen and write down eight critical words – How do they do it in other cities? Put that scrap of paper in your wallet or purse. Then, every time you meet a City Council member, pull out that note and read the critical question out loud – How do they do it in other cities? What’s wrong with the picture in the police contract discussions is this:

1. Austin already has the highest police salaries in the State of Texas.

2. Our standards for public oversight of police are among the lowest in the country.

What Were the Scariest Moments in Last Night’s Meeting?

Over and over again, I kept hearing the same line of talk. Look at these variations on a single theme, straight from the Council dais and from the lips of the speakers:

1. “If we add X number of officers over the next five years, how much money will be left in the General fund for other programs?”

2. “If these new benefits are kept in the contract, will we end up with more or less money to spend in the General Fund than we were able to spend this year?”

Every time I heard a question like that, I knew something scary that is fundamental for every taxpayer to know…

City Officials Are Assuming That Raising Property Taxes to the 8% Legal Maximum Is the New Normal!

When Council members asked, “Can we afford this in the police contract, or can we afford that,” here’s what they meant by “afford.” They wanted to know if the “leftover money” after the contract was paid would be enough to cover the other services that the City normally provides. Plus all the new spending items from goals that the Council has set. All of this assumes the same chilling fact. The City expects to hit the maximum allowed 8% property tax rate every year going forward. And if that happens, your City taxes will double every 9 years.

How Can We As Taxpayers Stop This Cost Spiral?

1. Email and call City Council members. Ask them to reduce the unaffordable pay raises in the police contract.

2. Ask them to establish more reasonable boundaries for the pay raises.

3. Ask them to communicate those boundaries to the police and the City negotiating staff BEFORE the negotiations even begin.

4. Above all, ask the City Council to let the negotiators know that bringing our police accountability standards up to the nationally accepted level DOES NOT require granting unaffordable pay raises!

5. Don’t ask the City Counci…Tell them…That there is no such thing as “leftover money” in the City Budget. They need to overhaul their thinking and adopt a whole new set of goals. Doubling our property taxes every 9 years MUST NOT be an option. Would everyone please pause and take a look at the subtitle of my blog at the top of this page. It says this…

Let’s Put the Public’s Ability to Pay Into Austin’s Planning Process

Every City Council member should ask themselves one little question before they tuck themselves into bed tonight…When was the last time period that most of their constituents got annual pay raises, year after year, equal to what they as taxpayers are giving to City employees? Then, let them drift peacefully off to sleep and have pleasant dreams.

Can Someone Step Forward and Save the Pump Project?

Follow on Twitter – @AAffordability

By Bill Oakey – November 20, 2017

The highly acclaimed East Austin Studio Tour (EAST) got a nasty jolt this past weekend when the large group of artists at the Pump Project were greeted with devastating news. They may have to pack up and leave their coveted studios by sometime in April. A sale of the property is in the works. This comes on the heels of a very expensive remodeling of the facility just a couple of years ago.

This is an opportunity for the City and local business leaders to come together quickly and find a solution, before it’s too late. Does the City have any tools available that can be put into action soon enough to help? Fortunately, I have several affordability meetings, starting tomorrow with the Mayor’s Office and several other Council members. I will be asking that question. One thing I plan to suggest is that they utilize their business contacts to see if a philanthropic art supporter or group could step forward and help. I would also hope that they would reach out to the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce. The worst-case scenario would be a domino effect that would threaten the survival of the EAST festival.

Below is the front page notice on the Pump Project’s website:

Pump No More
11/17/2017

DONATE TO OUR RELOCATION FUND

For over a decade, Pump Project Art Complex has been proud to call the bright yellow warehouse on Shady Lane home. This big, old building has been our place for community and creativity for 12 years.

Our plan was to raise money for the needed CODE improvements – but the landlord has now decided against renewing our lease.

While we are still seeking a way in which we might be able to stay in our iconic big bright yellow building, it’s a longshot, so we have decided to refocus our efforts on relocating.

Over the next few months, we will be looking for a new home – we are asking all those who support the artist community here in Austin to donate whatever you can to help Pump Project in this effort.

Donate

WHO WE ARE
We are a group of over 40 artists and craftspeople who call Pump Project Art Complex home. Pump Project Art Complex is a 501(c)3 non-profit, East Austin art space that provides working studios and gallery facilities to emerging and established artists.
Our story began in in 2005 as Shady Tree Studios with a few artists, an old empty warehouse, and a substantial amount of initiative. In the past twelve years Pump Project has become a staple of the Austin art community. We serve the community with year-round art exhibition programming in our 1,000 sq. ft. gallery space. We are also a major stop on the East Austin Studio Tour each year, a testament to the great work of our members and the encouraging culture that Austin has for its artists.
Over the last 12 years, we have provided exhibition facilities and affordable studio space for hundreds of artists in the Austin community, and we are very proud of the work we have done. Your donation, in any amount, will help us in our efforts to relocate and to keep our community going.

Musical Accompaniment for This Blog Piece:

  1. “The Naughty Lady of Shady Lane” – The Ames Brothers, or the Archie Bleyer version
  2. “(I’ll Be There) Before the Next Teardrop Falls” – Freddy Fender
  3. “Help” – The Beatles
  4. “Pictures and Paintings” – Charlie Rich
  5. “Just In Time” – Frank Sinatra
  6. “Wrecking Ball” – Emmylou Harris
  7. “25 Minutes to Go” – Johnny Cash (In honor of Threadgill’s on Riverside for getting a stay of execution from their landlord)

Are You Ready For Only Two Car Lanes On South Lamar?

Follow on Twitter – @AAffordability

By Bill Oakey – November 19, 2017

Update: I have been advised by a top City official that the elements described in the City report cited here are recommendations, rather than a final plan. However, the recommendations may carry a significant amount of weight. It will be up to folks in the community to stay actively engaged. We have an important opportunity to discuss our feelings about the recommendations and to let our voices be heard.

Unless people organize and speak out really fast, we will end up with ONLY ONE CAR LANE IN EACH DIRECTION ON SOUTH LAMAR, from Riverside Dr. to Ben White. This is one of the City’s corridor plans, to be funded by the 2016 mobility bonds approved by voters. These plans were originally based on the assumption that Austin would get a citywide rail system, which now would probably cost at least $15-$20 billion.

The South Lamar Plan includes:

– A loss of 3.3 miles of travel lanes.

– One bike lane in each direction.

– One BUS-ONLY lane in each direction. The official project report states that these lanes would be transit-only “during peak hours, when supported by ridership (See Page 6-17 of the report). Capital Metro just eliminated 13 bus routes. So, good luck taking the bus to work.

– Not one, not two, but THREE medians in some places, with pretty trees (taxpayer cost to maintain the trees not disclosed).

– The medians will replace the continuous turn lanes and will CUT OFF ACCESS TO BUSINESSES!

– The number of medians varies on different stretches of the road.

– Most intersections will have separate turn lanes.

– Oh, and one last “improvement” – ONE LANE IN EACH DIRECTION LEFT FOR CARS! (Except during peak hours – maybe).

And you thought you voted for those mobility bonds to relieve traffic congestion?

If you want to avoid total gridlock, perhaps you could quit your job and drive on S. Lamar during the middle of the day. Hey, Lamar is the busiest non-highway, north-south roadway in the City. It is simply NOT WIDE ENOUGH to give up traffic lanes. In addition:

1. South Lamar can barely handle the traffic it has now!

2. Rapid-speed buses may help some, but future growth will obviously create increased congestion. If a dam were about to burst, would you spend millions of dollars to REDUCE the structural supports on that dam?

3. The idea that most of the throngs of new people moving here won’t be using cars is either:
a. Poppycock b. Horsefeathers or, for our British friends, c. Tommyrot.

But Wait – There’s a Study That Explains Everything…

A university study, cited below this section, offers a somewhat comical response to business concerns over the raised medians. My favorite quote: “The typical business may be able to overcome some reduction of access if it offers good, reliable service.” Hmm! Clearly, such a massive road overhaul would demand good coordination between City officials and concerned businesses.

Homeowners have the option of surrendering their houses to the bulldozers and moving into a new high-rise on South Lamar. Right next to the traffic noise. The rent will cost two or three times your mortgage. But you will be able to walk, skateboard or bike your way up to the hoity-toity shops that sell designer ice cream for $15 a scoop and $1,500 women’s handbags.

To learn more about all of the City’s corridor bond projects, sign up for newsletters, or to provide feedback, click here. To read the official recommendations for South Lamar, click here. Below is an Austin American-Statesman summary of all the corridor plans. It shows that 15 lane-miles will be eliminated.

Austin Bond Plan Includes Both More and Fewer Car Lanes
By Ben Wear, Austin American-Statesman, Saturday, October 01, 2016

Paul Counter has heard what the city has in mind for South Lamar Boulevard, about how the center “chicken lane” his customers use to get into and out of Matt’s El Rancho’s parking lot would be replaced with a raised median that would cut off left turns. He’s not happy about it.

“I’m confused as to how taking out the center turn lane is a good thing,” said Counter, the restaurant’s general manager. “It’s really frustrating when you’re trying to operate a business and this sort of stuff is going on.”

If the city of Austin’s $720 million transportation bond passes Nov. 8, that sort of stuff, and a lot of other changes to major Austin roads, would go on over the next six to eight years. At least 14 miles of travel lanes would be added in various places, while roughly 15 lane-miles would be lost to through traffic in other spots, mostly to make way for buses.

Another 20 lane-miles of continuous center turn lanes — like the one on South Lamar — would be replaced with center medians that would limit where traffic can turn. The city and its engineers see this change as a beneficial trade-off, speeding traffic and cutting accidents even as it reduces access to businesses along the road.

Mayor Steve Adler, whose staff shepherded the bond proposal through a gantlet of community groups and then the City Council, said the proposed “smart corridor” changes, even with the lost lanes, would improve traffic congestion and safety.

In at least one case, East Riverside Drive, Adler said the proposed elimination of two lanes to make way for bus-only lanes would be subject to review to make sure that it reduces traffic congestion rather than exacerbates it.

“There is a choice and a trade-off with all things that government does,” Adler said last week in an interview with the American-Statesman. “Sometimes, there’s a prioritization that has to be made between congestion relief and the wishes of some businesses along the road.”

What goes where

The bond proposal has three major elements: a $482 million piece that would provide money for overhauls of major roads like South Lamar; $137 million for bike, sidewalk, trail, safety and repair projects on streets throughout the city; and $101 million for expansions of several highways and major roads in West and Northwest Austin.

That last piece would actually add length to the local road system, perhaps as much as 15 lane-miles on Parmer Lane, Spicewood Springs Road, RM 620 and RM 2222.

Those projects include construction of a short bypass road from RM 620 to RM 2222 to the east, along with added lanes on both roads. Engineers believe this project could significantly reduce a miles-long morning backup for commuters and those headed to Vandegrift High School.

On the other side of the coin, the corridor program would dedicate some travel lanes to buses and replace the continuous center turn lanes with those limited-access medians. Adler argues the turn lane changes would allow traffic to flow faster, smoother and with fewer fender-benders, as people getting in and out of the center turn lanes cause constant minor slowdowns that add up to significant congestion.

Findings on delays, safety

A 1997 University of Nebraska study, commissioned by the federal Transportation Research Board, provides some backup to the mayor’s assertions, at least on safety.

The researchers compared the traffic and safety conditions of four-lane roads, five-lane roads with a two-way turn lane and four-lane roads with center medians. The undivided four-lane roads, with people backing up traffic in the inner lane to make lefts, were both much slower and more dangerous than the other alternatives.

But between the two choices at play in the bond proposition — a road with a center turn lane or with a median — the two designs “yield similar delays,” the 143-page study says. The raised medians, however, have “slightly higher delays” in areas with heavy traffic volumes or an unusual volume of left-turns.

Those delays can become significant if the left turn bays cut into that median are not sufficiently long to allow turners to queue up, University of Texas transportation professor Randy Machemehl told the Statesman. If the bays are too short, he said, “it takes a lane out of service.”

The study also said streets with the medians “appear to be associated with fewer accidents” than those with center turn lanes, particularly when traffic volume tops 20,000 vehicles a day. All four of the affected Austin corridors are well above that traffic level, according to 2014 counts. The study acknowledges adding raised medians can hurt businesses, but it said “the typical business may be able to overcome some reduction of access if it offers good, reliable service.”

Inconvenient but beneficial

Roger Falk with the Travis County Taxpayers Union, which opposes the bond proposition, called it “a heartless plan with regard to those businesses” along the corridors. People will need to make U-turns to reach restaurants and stores on the opposite side of the road, he said, either increasing traffic use or discouraging people from visiting the businesses.

But Ward Tisdale, president of the Real Estate Council of Austin, one of several business groups to endorse the bond proposition, said updating city arterials, including with added bike lanes and wider sidewalks, will encourage dense development in the central city. The city needs the housing and the property taxes growing from the development, he said.

“On the whole, it’s going to be beneficial in getting people from point A to point B in Austin, and it is long overdue,” Tisdale said. “We’ve got to take the blinders off. People move to Austin, Texas. They always have. So we have to plan for them this time, and stop pretending this city isn’t changing.”

But that change will take a toll for some, including during the inevitably disruptive construction phase. Counter, with Matt’s El Rancho, said the iconic Tex-Mex restaurant would be able to weather the change. “It’ll be inconvenient for our guests, but I don’t think it’s going to hurt us that much because people are willing to wait an hour for a table,” he said. “People will find a way to get here. But I feel bad for some of the mom-and-pop businesses.”

CHANGING LANES

The road proposals in Austin’s $720 million bond would in some cases replace traffic lanes with bus-only lanes, parking or bikeways. In several of the “smart corridor” plans, continuous center turn lanes would be replaced with raised, vegetated medians. The bond proposals also include lane additions in a few cases.

Lost travel lanes (approximately 15 lane-miles)

East Riverside Drive (I-35 to Texas 71, 3 miles): One travel lane each way replaced by bus-only lanes.

South Lamar Boulevard (Riverside Drive to Ben White Boulevard, 3.3 miles): One lane in each direction becomes bus-only during rush hours.

Guadalupe Street (MLK Jr. Boulevard to West 29th Street, 1 mile): One lane each direction replaced by bus-only lanes.

Lost center turn lanes, replaced by medians (approximately 20 lane miles)

South Lamar Boulevard (3.3 miles)

North Lamar Boulevard (U.S. 183 to Parmer Lane, 5 miles)

Airport Boulevard (Lamar Boulevard to U.S 183, 6.5 miles)

Burnet Road (Koenig Lane to MoPac Boulevard, 5 miles)

Added lanes (at least 14 lane-miles)

Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard (U.S. 183 to east of Decker Lane, 2 miles): One added lane each direction.

Parmer Lane (Texas 45 North tollway to RM 1431, 3 miles): Added third lane in each direction.

RM 620 to RM 2222 bypass (half-mile): A new four-lane road from RM 620 to RM 2222, plus added northbound lane on RM 620 from Steiner Ranch Boulevard to the bypass, and an added eastbound lane on RM 2222 from the bypass to McNeil Road.

Spicewood Springs Road (west of Mesa Drive to Loop 360, ¾ of a mile): Added lane in each direction.

Loop 360 and Westlake Drive: Build overpass and associated frontage roads.

Source: City of Austin

Musical Accompaniment for This Blog Piece:

  1. “Traffic Jam” – James Taylor
  2. “Another Day of Sun” – From “La La Land”
  3. “Summer In the City” – The Lovin’ Spoonful
  4. “The Road Goes On Forever” – The Highwaymen
  5. “Road Hog” – John D. Loudermilk

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”

City Council Should Obey City Charter In Planning Commission Disupute

By Bill Oakey – November 1, 2017

Should it take action by our district attorney or a nasty, expensive lawsuit to entice our grassroots City Council to obey the City Charter? After all 11 of them swore to uphold the law when they took their oath of office, shouldn’t we be able to trust them to keep that oath?

This week the NAACP and the citizens’ group, Community Not Commodity filed a complaint with the District Attorney, asking her to investigate the City Council’s failure to appoint members of the Planning Commission in accordance with the requirements of the City Charter. Today the Planning Commission is heavily stacked with special interests who have ties to developers and real estate. They comprise seven of the thirteen seats, which is a majority.

Article X, Section 2 of the City Charter requires that two-thirds of the Planning Commission “shall be lay members not directly or indirectly connected with real estate and land development.” That language was part of a Charter amendment ballot proposition approved by the voters in 1994. Here we are in 2017, and there’s no telling how many Planning Commission decisions have been made over the past 23 years by unlawfully constituted commissions.

Speaking of elections, several members of the City Council will be up for reelection next year. Some of them are already gearing up for their campaigns. Right now they have a couple of choices. They could fight against the City Charter with the District Attorney or later on in a courtroom. Or, they could avoid that whole mess by simply contacting District Attorney, Margaret Moore and telling her that they will abide by the City Charter and change the membership of the Planning Commission.

Does the City Have Lawyers Lurking in the Shadows?

To most of you reading this, the language in the Charter probably seems pretty clear. What part of the two-thirds membership requirement is there not to understand? What part of the spirit of that requirement is there not to understand? Well, back in the 90’s when that Charter Amendment was adopted, Bill Clinton was President. One of his many talents was his lawyer-ly ability to parse words. Wasn’t he the one who argued that “It depends upon what the meaning of the word “is” is?” (Here it “is” on YouTube).

I suppose the City could have a gang of lawyers, lying awake at night trying to parse their way out of our voter-approved City Charter amendment. I looked it over carefully, and the word “is” does not appear in that section. But I found another word that could be just as vexing, if not more so. Maybe those lawyers have stumbled upon it too. If so, let’s try to head them off at the pass.

Notice the word “shall” in the all-important phrase, “shall be lay members not directly or indirectly connected with real estate and land development.” Could “shall” be the word being groomed for creative parsing? If that’s the case folks, then I have some pretty bad news. But let’s take the good news first. Here is the definition of “shall” in the Merriam-Webster dictionary:

shall

2b. used in laws, regulations, or directives to express what is mandatory

That looks pretty solid. But are you ready for the bad news? In lawyer-land, words can be stretched, bent, twisted and parsed. So in the not-too-distant future, our tax dollars could be paying for a courtroom drama centered around the planning commission composition contention. And, yes, it could all come down to that terribly intimidating and confusing word, “shall.” Check out this definition from Black’s Law Dictionary, 2nd Edition:

shall

As used in statutes and similar instruments, this word is generally imperative or mandatory; but it may be construed as merely permissive or directory, (as equivalent to “may,”) to carry out the legislative intention and In cases where no right or benefit to any one depends on its being taken in the imperative sense, and where no public or private right is impaired by its interpretation in the other sense. Also, as against the government, “shall” is to be construed as “may,” unless a contrary intention is manifest. See Wheeler v. Chicago, 24 111. 105, 76 Am. Dec. 736; People v. Chicago Sanitary Dist., 184 111. 597, 56 N. E. 9.”.:;: Madison v. Daley (C. C.) 58 Fed. 753; Cairo & F. R. Co. v. Ilecht, 95 U. S. 170, 24 L. Ed. 423. SHAM PLEA. See PLEA. SHARE 1082 SHERIFF

Here’s What You Can Do to Stop the Foolishness and Support the Voter-Approved Charter Amendment

You can send an email to the Mayor and all of the City Council members with a single click. Just click here. Ask them to settle the case now, accept the literal word and the spirit of the City Charter and appoint some new and appropriate members to the Planning Commission.

Musical Accompaniment for This Blog Piece:

  1. “We Shall Overcome” – Mahalia Jackson
  2. “Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby” – Louis Jordan or Dinah Washington
  3. “I Fought the Law” – The Bobby Fuller Four or The Crickets (without Buddy Holly)
  4. “Bend Me, Shape Me” – The American Breed
  5. “Twistin’ the Night Away” – Sam Cooke
  6. “Words” – The Bee Gees