Tag Archives: Austin bond election

Vote Against Proposition A, But For Props J And K

By Bill Oakey, November 1, 2018

It has been a long while since I updated this blog. But I wanted to get the word out about the propositions on the ballot. There is one day left for early voting, and if you miss that, be sure to vote on Tuesday.

Vote Against A Quarter Billion Dollars For Affordable Housing!

The City Council really went over the edge on this one. Remember when affordable housing bonds were in the $50 to $75 million range? Or at the most, not much over $100 million? If this quarter-billion bonanza passes, you can be sure that it will become the new standard. If it doesn’t, then it would be going even higher! We simply cannot afford to allow that kind of precedent to get started.

I don’t even know what the City Council was thinking! We had a $720 million mobility bond election in 2016. Then, just last year AISD hit us over the head with $1 billion in bonds. And they did that during a period of rapid declines in enrollment. It’s as if our local officials have decided that money is no longer an issue for taxpayers. We all have so much money, that we hardly know what to do with it. If that’s the case, I wish somebody would show me what rock to look under to find my extra pile of cash.

Here’s the problem with spending a quarter-billion on affordable housing. The City has tried for years to set up “density bonus” programs and so-called Smart Housing initiatives. But none of them have ever been very successful. So, now it appears that they have simply thrown in the towel. Just let the taxpayers pay for it. We need to encourage all of our family and friends to reject that notion with an exuberant, resounding NO vote on Proposition A.

Vote Yes on Prop J – Let the Public Decide on Our Next Major Building Code

The whole CodeNext debacle was a developer-led effort to turn Austin into San Francisco or Portland. It stands as one of the most colossal boondoggles in the City’s history. Across the city, various groups of citizens spent weeks, months and years hovered over maps and charts as they worked with City officials to develop their individual neighborhood plans. The developers made no secret of the fact that they wanted CodeNext to completely obliterate those neighbored plans.

The hodgepodge of a report that finally emerged from CodeNext was so confusing and marred by lack of trust, that the City Council abandoned it in time to keep it from ruining some of their re-election plans. This was unquestionably the fact with our mayor. There is also little doubt that whatever the City Staff does with CodeNext, it will probably come back to the Council as merely an attempt to dress up what the consultants tried to foist upon us to begin with.

Our best solution is to vote for Prop J, to require voter approval of all major updates to the Land Development Code. This would ensure that the City Council recognizes that it isn’t just the real estate industry and the developers who matter when it comes to such a major change. It is the well-being of current residents in their cherished neighborhoods that matters most.

Don’t Listen to the Fear-Mongers – Vote For Prop K!

Think real hard when you ask yourself this question. When has efficiency ever caused calamity in a City? Who has ever been chased down and attacked by a menacing creature, threatening to make the City most efficient and cheaper for the taxpayers? You have heard the fear-mongers wail about “dark money” and raise the evil specter of the Koch Brothers. I seriously doubt is those guys have ever heard of Prop K. And even if they have, it doesn’t matter. The independent efficiency audit will be completely under the control of the City Council. They get to decide who gets hired to run the audit. They get to decide what elements of the recommendations get adopted. And all of us will get a chance to provide our input throughout the entire process.

There are both prominent liberals and conservatives backing Prop K, including David King and Ed English. Should there be better transparency with regard to contributions to these PAC’s? Absolutely! If dark money was used and somebody wants to tighten the transparency requirements, or even challenge the lack of disclosure in this case, we should be all for that. But it has nothing to do with the validity of the audit.

Citywide efficiency audits are not carried out by internal audit staff. They do not have the time or the specialized skills. That’s why numerous cities and states across the country have had positive results from these types of audits. The usual crowd of go-along-to-get-along naysayers are opposing Prop K. They are using whatever fear tactics they can conjure up. Of course the City employee unions are scared to death of it. They are worried about layoffs. It may well be that Austin needs to do some serious streamlining of operations. But that doesn’t mean that employees couldn’t be transferred. And positions could be eliminated by attrition rather than layoffs. And the cost of the audit? It would be made up probably ten times over by the good efficiency recommendations.

Don’t be scared of efficiency. There is no evil monster hiding in the closet! Bogeymen do not lurk in the shadows for the pursuit of saving money for taxpayers. Lon Chaney would never have even considered it.

 

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Taxpayers Rejoice! Rail Bonds Trounced By 14 Points!

By Bill Oakey – November 5, 2014

We did it! The people have spoken and now we can celebrate! We just defeated the largest tax increase in Austin history! Congratulations to all of you who voted and thanks for all of your efforts…

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The final tally was 57.2% against and 42.8% for. That is a difference of 14.4 percentage points, a resounding victory by any measure! If you would like to see a breakdown by precinct of how the rail bond votes were cast, check out this report:

Travis County Results By Precinct

Click on the image below to see a City-generated map of the precincts and their percentage of support for the rail bonds:

Urban Rail Precinct Map

Notice the numerous bright red areas where the bonds failed by over 65%. The highest margin that I have found so far is in Southwest Precinct 363, where the bonds failed by 76.36%. There are many lessons that our civic leaders and a long list of insiders from various organizations can learn from this experience. First among them could not be more basic…

Listen to the people!

When over 70 candidates for the City Council precincts began talking with their constituents early in the campaign, most of them learned quickly that public sentiment was against the cost and against the route for this rail plan. However, community involvement was never considered to be a major part of the planning process by the City Council, Capital Metro, or Project Connect. Instead, they relied on the strong arm tactics of developers and other downtown special interests to tell them what was best for all of us. But coming on the heals of a massive tax increase to allow U.T. to build the only tax supported medical school in the history of the nation, voters have made their position abundantly clear – Enough is enough!

Now What’s Next for Project Connect?

That is a very good question. The gang that couldn’t shoot straight never did connect with the public. Hordes of people were not clamoring to take a train ride from East Riverside to Highland Mall. So, now what will happen to all of the staff bureaucrats who have been planning, reporting, compiling and otherwise pontificating on the future of light rail in Austin? Will they disband their operations and turn off the spending spigot? Or will they simply take a break and then get back down to business?

After all, we had the ROMA consultant report on rail almost a decade ago. I shudder to think how many tens of millions of dollars have already been poured down the rat hole for this failed route for a rail system. It was 9.5 miles to be a “first phase” of a citywide system. We would have exhausted our City bonding capacity to pay for it. And yet no one ever publicly talked about how much it would cost to build and maintain a citywide system. It would probably be safe to assume that the planning and building cost alone would be at least $10 billion and possibly much more. The Portland rail system that is so often highly touted got its start in the 1980’s when building costs were infinitely less expensive.

And We Have One More Taxpayer Victory to Celebrate!

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The ACC proposition to raise the cap on the tax rate went down to defeat last night! This is wonderful news. It is helpful to recognize that ACC has been raising taxes above the rollback rate on a regular basis. Now they should get the message that taxpayers have reached their limit. Remember that little thing called affordability? And besides, property appraisals will continue to increase until the inevitable bust at the end of the boom. So, ACC will have plenty of tax revenue coming in.

For the rest of the City Council members heading into a runoff on December 16th, please remember this. The people have let their voices ring loud and clear. Affordability is the number one issue. You will not be able to sit back and coast along on the time-worn mantras and cliches that have paved the path to victory in earlier elections. Let the debates begin, and may the best affordability candidate win in each of the remaining districts!

Watch KVUE Urban Rail Town Hall Online – We Easily Won The Debate!

By Bill Oakey – October 21, 2014

At the KVUE Town Hall this morning, the format was very informal. It was a rousing and lively discussion, and I’m happy to report that our side crushed the pro-bond folks! Many thanks go out to the management and staff of KVUE for hosting this critically important public event. It was a real pleasure to have the opportunity to participate.

And now you can share the excitement and the facts with all of your friends, neighbors and fellow voters. Please forward this blog posting to everyone you know and ask them to do the same. Tweet it, Facebook it and revel in it. And by all means go out and vote early against the Austin Proposition. It is listed right after the City Council races on the ballot.

Here is a link to the KVUE videos online. The Urban Rail Town Hall is split into 4 parts. Scroll down the page to get to the four videos:

http://www.kvue.com/story/news/local/2014/10/17/kvue-urban-rail-town-hall/17444765/

Vote Against The Austin Rail Bonds – Largest Tax Increase In Austin History!

By Bill Oakey – October 20, 2014

Early voting starts this week, so be sure to head to the polls and snuff out the “Austin Proposition.” This item was originally publicized to be called Proposition One. But you will find it in the Austin section of the ballot, listed as simply the Austin Proposition.

First, a bit of good news about the ballot. Yes, it is long. But if you vote straight party in the County and State candidate races, you will be able to fly through the ballot very quickly. You will not get stuck in a long line, and if there is a line it should move fairly fast. I voted today and was very pleased with quickly it went.

The rail proposition may be an even bigger draw to the polls for some voters than any of the candidates. Despite the efforts of some news organizations and political groups, the overwhelming number of City Council candidates have come out quite vocally against the bonds. That’s because they have been going door to door for months, talking to their constituents. Voters in all corners of the City are fed up with a City Council that raises taxes every chance they get and then spends whatever budget surplus becomes available with no public input or formal process.

There is little credibility left for Mayor Lee Leffingwell to claim in the closing months of his tenure. As the leader of the so-called “Project Connect” group that was concocted to promote the rail package, he and his colleagues at the City and Capital Metro never had any interest in listening to the public for their views. Instead they sought only to appease the downtown business crowd and the real estate developers. Their preferred route has been in the planning stages for over a decade. East Riverside emerged as the special interest choice as soon as the developers started bulldozing low cost student housing and displacing those residents to build massive big box apartment structures. in the early 2000’s the Mueller neighborhood was included in the northern section of the route. But after the Red Line was built and Highland Mall rose from the ashes to become an ACC campus, Highland became the new northern destination for “urban rail.”

The problem is that there is not nearly enough population density along the entire corridor to justify rail along that route. How many people do you know personally who are clamoring for a train that they could jump on every 10 to 15 minutes to go from East Riverside to Highland Mall? If you flew in a helicopter over Austin during rush hour, you would not see the East Riverside to Highland Mall traffic backed up and congested at anywhere near the levels that you would see in U.T.’s West Campus area, or anywhere along North Lamar.

So, how does Project Connect and the proponents of this flawed route justify their choice? They claim first and foremost that it will “take cars off the road” and “relieve traffic congestion.” Well, guess what? in order to come up with the ridership numbers needed to qualify for Federal funding, the developers would have to attract many thousands of new residents to the East Riverside and Airport Boulevard corridors. All those cars hitting the roads would far exceed any supposed gains from building a rail line.

The throngs of employees who work at U.T. and the Capital Complex live all over town and many have been priced out of Austin completely. So, only a small percentage of them would be wanting to hop on that train every 10 to 15 minutes. Many of the arguments against the rail bonds that you are reading here were expressed by the editorial staff of the U.T. student newspaper, the Daily Texan. In a historic move last week, they retracted their previous endorsement of the bonds and printed a well-articulated appeal to vote against them.

Now For the Worst Part – The Devastating Price Tag

We have all heard about the $1.3 billion total cost of the rail project. When it was first announced, we were told that the Feds would put up half the cost. Just today the Statesman reported that the best we can hope for is a Federal match of 30% to 40%. There are problems with the cost in every direction you would care to look. Nobody talks about the interest on the debt. And the subject of the annual operating costs has been conspicuously absent from this election campaign. That’s because even Project Connect cannot say with any certainty how much the operating costs would be. What they have said is that they would have to go into to debt to pay for new buses. That’s a sure sign that the already declining quality of Capital Metro’s bus service will only get worse if the rail bonds are approved.

The 6 cent tax rate increase over five years for this bond package is most likely the highest property tax increase in Austin history. Keep in mind that each year in the budget cycle, the City Council routinely haggles over raising the tax rate by a fraction of one penny. The six cent increase for this bond package includes the assumption that property values will keep going up every year. So, even though affordability has risen to become the number one issue in this election cycle, Mr. Leffingwell and his right hand voting companion, Mike Martinez, would like to stick you with the highest tax increase in Austin history.

Go to the polls this week and vote no. Tell your neighbors to vote no and tell your friends to vote no. And if you run into to anybody that is not totally convinced, ask them this handy little question. If we double our bond debt to pay for this package with the largest tax increase in Austin history, how would we ever afford to expand the system and build rail extensions to take people where they really want to go? And how would we be able to afford future bonds for the City, AISD, Travis County or ACC? If we “have to start somewhere,” let’s not start in the wrong place for the wrong price.

A much better choice would be to vote no and let the new grass roots City Council build true consensus by listening to the people and formulating a transportation plan that the entire community can support.

Why You Should Vote Against The Rail Bonds On Nov. 4th

By Bill Oakey – August 29, 2014

  1. This bond project is so expensive that it would double our general obligation bond debt from $1 billion to $2 billion. Far too many Austinites are being priced out of their homes with our current level of taxes. If we stretch our existing bond capacity for this one project, it will stifle our ability to fund other capital needs. Keep in mind that there will be other bond elections for AISD, Travis County, ACC and other City projects.
  1. To put the tax impact into perspective, consider this. For the last few years during the budget cycle, the City Council has only had to modify the tax rate by a fraction of one penny. When property appraisals are escalating, tax rates often go down. But even with projected annual increases to property valuations, this bond package would raise the tax rate by 6 cents over 5 years, making it one of the largest tax increases in Austin history.
  1. The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) claims in their 2040 growth plan that we will need $32.4 billion over the next 25 years for transportation projects. That comes out to a whopping $1.3 billion per year. Their report states that 80% of that money must come from local funding sources. So, every time you hear someone say, “We have to start somewhere” on this rail plan, hang onto your wallet! Does anyone really think we can afford to spend anything close to that amount of money every year for 25 years in a row?
  1. The selected route for the rail line is based on highly speculative growth projections and density aspirations for an eastern alignment from East Riverside to Highland Mall. In order for these lofty growth projections to be met, we would have to attract so many cars to future developments along that corridors that they would easily wipe out any potential traffic relief provided by the rail system. Not only is this self-defeating, congestion-generating scenario possible, it is essential to achieving the rail ridership numbers required to obtain Federal matching funds.
  1. We have all heard about the marvelous light rail system in Portland. But did you know that even with their 75-mile light rail network, the percentage of mass transit ridership has actually decreased from 9.8% to 7.0% between 1980 and 2012? We simply can’t afford to double our bond debt and impose crippling taxes upon our residents to serve a tiny fraction of the population.

Tracing Austin’s Urban Rail Plan Back to 2007

By Bill Oakey – August 22, 2014

In case there are any folks out there who thought Austin’s East Riverside urban rail plan was something new dreamed up by Project Connect, you are in for an interesting trip through time. While it’s true that some form of light rail has been bandied about since at least the 1970’s, the current incarnation that includes East Riverside Drive starting coming into focus in the fall of 2007.

We can thank the Austin Chronicle for keeping its handy archives online to help with this type of warm and fuzzy nostalgia. Before we begin the journey, let me point out a few unmistakable factors that underpin all things related to urban rail – growth, developers and high density housing. And we might as well throw in gentrification. Once you frame that picture in your mind, everything else falls neatly into place.

October 2007 – Mayor Will Wynn Calls for 2008 Bond Election

In 2007 Mayor Will Wynn and Council Member Brewster McCracken were the two big urban rail advocates. At his State of Downtown Speech, Wynn laid out a vision for a “modern ultra-light-rail streetcar” system. The Chronicle described it this way. “Its route would take riders Downtown, to multiple Central Austin locations (such as Mueller and Zilker Park), serve the UT and state office buildings, and connect major work-live-play nodes.” The next sentence mentions “a crucial link to Bergstrom Airport.” It just so happens that East Riverside Drive is between downtown and the airport. You can read the article here.

Despite proclaiming that he was “hellbent on calling an election in one year,” Mayor Wynn did not put the rail plan on the ballot in 2008. Perhaps it was slowed down by the collapse of Lehman Brothers and that event commonly referred to as the Great Recession.

May 2008 – A Consultant And A “Transit Working Group” Come Together

The ROMA Design Group, based in San Francisco, and the Transit Working Group of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) began to hold public meetings on the light rail plan beginning in April 2008. The highlight of this article is a bold move by Brewster McCracken to pull away from everyone else and announce his own rail plan, in an apparent move to position himself to run for mayor. He ultimately lost to Lee Leffingwell in the 2009 election.

August 2008 – The Council Gets the Final ROMA Plan

The ROMA design team presented the City Council with a $550 million to $614 million plan for a 15.3 mile system. They estimated that the train would carry 32,000 riders per day by 2030, and that the cost per mile to build the system would be $36 million to $40 million. You should read this article to see how the four-phase construction layout compares with today’s plan proposed by Project Connect.

October 2009 – Austin Seizes Control and Rebrands The Train System As “Urban Rail”

Because of Capital Metro’s repeated delays and problems launching the commuter Red Line, the City of Austin decided to cut them out of the loop for the new local rail system. At the same time they coined a new non-standard label to describe the system – “urban rail.” Management of the project was turned over to the City’s Transportation Department.

Now for the first time we see East Riverside Drive brought into the conversation. Here is the Chronicle’s description of the route. “The first stage would serve Downtown, the Capitol complex, and the University of Texas area; it would also probably cross the river to Riverside, later going all the way out to the airport.”  You can read the article here.

March 2010 – City Council Adopts East Riverside Corridor Master Plan, Rejects Planning Commission’s Plea for Compatibility Standards

Well before the genesis of CodeNEXT, East Riverside received the official blessing of the City Council to become one of the first “activity centers” envisioned in the Imagine Austin Plan. This would soon lead to the bulldozing of affordable apartments for U.T. students and low-income residents, many of whom were Hispanic.

Included in this article is a one of the most significant and most telling statements in the entire history of Austin’s urban rail saga. Here it is verbatim from the Chronicle. It speaks for itself. “The mayor and council members rebuffed a last-minute recommendation from the Planning Commission to apply the usual compatibility standards (which limit height near houses) in the master plan; that could have gutted the density necessary for the new rail transit line at the heart of the plan.” Notice that it identifies the new rail transit line as being “at the heart of the plan.” Why the ROMA plan eventually fell apart would be an interesting matter to explore.

Now Comes the Big Question That Everyone Should Be Asking

I’m almost afraid to blurt this out, but I’m going to do it anyway.  Just close your eyes and try to imagine how much the City, Capital Metro, CAMPO and Project Connect have spent on this rail plan in the seven years since 2007. It would have to include the staff expenses and consultant fees paid by all of the public entities during that entire span of time. And every penny of it was spent without any of the officials having a clue as to whether the public would ultimately vote to approve the East Riverside to Highland Mall rail plan. What we now know is that it is shaping up to be one of the most unpopular bond propositions ever to come down the pike. City Council candidates are coming out in droves to openly oppose it. Voters in their districts are telling them that they don’t want it.

The saddest part of all is that a large segment of the Austin population does stand firmly in support of rail. They just want a route that will take them where they need to go. They don’t want rail in a location designed to attract the heavy high density development needed to garner the required ridership to qualify for Federal funding. Most everyone understands that development of that magnitude would bring in enough additional cars to more than offset any potential traffic relief that we could ever hope to gain by building the rail line. In fact the resulting congestion would probably be worse than it is today.

Hold On To Your Wallets – Here Comes ACC!

By Bill Oakey – May 28th, 2014

When it comes to local entities that impact your property taxes, Austin Community College often flies under the radar.  They do not garner nearly the publicity nor the public scrutiny that Central Health, Travis County, or the City of Austin gets.

But now the cat is out of the bag and all of that is about to change.

Richard Rhodes, the President and CEO of ACC is calling for a November bond election to the tune of just under a half billion dollars – $475 million, to be exact.  This article in today’s Austin American-Statesman tells the story.

It’s as if all of the dictionaries in all of the libraries at ACC somehow had the word “affordability” stripped out of them.  Even if that were the case, where has Mr. Rhodes, the advisory panel that recommended the huge bond package, and the ACC Board of Trustees been lately?  If they have been anywhere near the City of Austin, they must know that taxpayer here are tapped out.

In the laid back days of the 70’s and 80’s, the governmental entities had a standard process for bond proposals.  They would appoint a citizens advisory panel and ask for suggestions on what would make a good bond package.  The wish list items would quickly pile up, and the committee would recommend nearly all of them.  Why not, they figured.  Austinites always approve bond elections.

The tide began to turn last year.  AISD was shocked into reality when half of their bonds failed at the polls.  This year, the public’s appetite for big spending projects is even less than it was a year ago.  Affordability has risen to the top tier for virtually every candidate running in the new 10-1 district City Council races.

The smartest thing ACC could do is cut their construction and renovation wish list by half or two-thirds.  Then it might have some chance of passage.  Otherwise, they will be set back by another year or longer, causing their most critical needs to be delayed.

What ACC is up against is the very simplest of all economic realities.  People can only afford what their incomes and their budgets will allow.  In a local environment where realtors are telling their neighbors that far too many Austinites are having to sell their homes because they can no longer afford to live here, everyone needs to sit up and take notice.

Since ACC, for whatever reason, has not gotten the message, you can help with that right now.  Send an email message to Richard Rhodes, their President and CEO, using the link below:

mailto:rrhodes@austincc.edu