Monday, July 2, 2018

#atxcouncil: Several thoughts following a DEEPLY Alarming meeting last Thursday

"A ruler who lacks understanding is a great oppressor,
But he who hates covetousness will prolong his days."
Proverbs 28:16

We attended the late night/early morning portion of last Thursday's SUPER-marathon council meeting.  Several disturbing things occurred.  In chronological order.


The Bond:

Troxclair says it best:

[Note: Ora Houston also gave strong remarks against the Bond, but she didn't pull the video.]

  • Regular people can't show up to testify at city hall.
  • Putting $$$ into subsidized government housing, at the expense of street repair, is a "strategic mistake."
  • "This bond is going to have a tough time in my district."
  • "The more bonds we pass, the more we raise taxes, the more people can't afford to stay in homes the already have."
  • "The best way to help to reduce the tax burden."
  • Robin Hood arguments about school taxes are irrelevant as long as the city refuses to hold up its end of the bargain.
  • Voting No.
Obviously, she's right.  Subsidized government housing raises housing costs for anyone who doesn't receive a subsidized unit.  The mechanisms might vary, but it's an undeniable fact that this bond will lead to higher housing costs AND higher taxes for the average Austinite.

Unfortunately, that reality doesn't matter to advocates of this bond.  This is part of their national agendaLocal consequences be damned.

Worse still: The other side has a deep bench of socialist patsies to blockwalk and canvass.

In other words: This bond is going to be VERY difficult to defeat.  It can be done.  But it's going to take a lot more work, and require much more creative messaging, than previous bond campaigns.


Eminent Domain for the Montopolis Negro School:

This is a land use/historic preservation case that's been percolating in this author's neighborhood for the past year.  We haven't been following it super-closely, but we were in the council chambers when they decided to move forward with eminient domain on Thursday night.  From the Statesman:
Unable to agree to a purchase price for the site of the former Montopolis Negro School, Austin will move forward with plans to take it through eminent domain proceedings.

Shortly before 1 a.m. Friday — in the 13th hour of a 16-hour City Council meeting — council members unanimously voted to file an eminent domain lawsuit against the owner of the former school’s property at 500 Montopolis Drive. The city has proposed paying $362,000 for the 0.85-acre tract of land.


Austin Stowell of KEEP Real Estate was unaware of the property’s historic significance when he bought it in 2015 and first proposed demolishing the building. He changed those plans to include preserving the schoolhouse as part of a mixed-use development.

“Should a building that’s being offered for private preservation be on the taxpayer’s budget list?” his wife, Stephanie Stowell, asked the council Friday. “Not only for renovation of the structure, but maintenance and future programming. If the city feels it appropriate to take our property away via eminent domain, we deserve market compensation.”

To seize property through eminent domain, the city must show that the property is for public use, that no other property could fulfill the desired use and that it will provide adequate compensation to the owner.

The city’s effort to acquire the Montopolis tract likely easily meets the first two requirements, said Bill Peacock, an eminent domain expert at the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation. The argument will be whether the city’s proposed $362,000 compensation, based on an appraisal, qualifies as a fair estimate of the property’s value.

“The problem with eminent domain overall is government agencies that don’t like the price someone wants for something in market negotiations just go to the fallback of eminent domain,” Peacock said.


The former Montopolis school is one of the last surviving structures among 42 segregated, rural schools that Travis County operated for black children when Austin schools refused to enroll them. Built in 1935 on land donated from St. Edward’s Baptist Church, the Montopolis school replaced one on Bastrop Highway that dated to 1891.
In other words, the city didn't want to pay what the property was worth, so they've decided to take it instead.


Props to Caleb Pritchard of the Austin Monitor:

LOL, pretty epic:


Economic protectionism in Medical Transportation Services:

This was a seemingly minor item that anyone who wasn't in the council chamber over another issue would have missed.

Item 113:
Conduct a public hearing and consider an ordinance on first reading regarding the application submitted by Republic EMS, LTD. for a non-emergency medical transfer franchise under City Code Chapter 10-2.
This was an opportunity to expand consumer choices in this sector; it would have made this heavily regulated sector modestly more free-market.

Unfortunately, council voted no.

Of course, all of the incumbent transportation providers supported and applauded council's actions.



Soccer Stadium:

They finally got to about 1:20 in the morning.

There are plenty of reasons to oppose the current proposal.  But the biggest one is that Austin shouldn't allow itself to be used as leverage to play the stadium extortion racket against another city.  Yet, that's exactly what's happening with Columbus Ohio and the Crew.

We testified to such:

  • Against fast tracking stadium/for open bidding process.
  • Standard arguments about corporate welfare being bad.
  • Two really bad aspects of current proposal are deal-breakers just on the impact on Austin alone.
    • 80 year lease term
    • Long term property tax abatement.
  • "What really disappoints me, and what really leaves me just saddened by this entire process, is that Austin is being that scumbag city that is trying to steal someone else's team."
  • "What has Columbus Ohio ever done to us that we are trying to steal their Crew?!?"
  • The Columbus Crew are one of the iconic franchises of MLS and their fans don't want them to leave.
  • "I don't see why we should stab Columbus Ohio in the back."
  • The "business model" [Note: if you can even call it that] of MLS is a ponzi scheme.
  • There is a very good chance Major League Soccer will cease to exist over the next decade.
    • Note: Having had another chance to research it after Thursday's meeting, our suspicion is that the league will be in A LOT of trouble once its current TV deal expires in 2024.

Bottom Line: Thank goodness they're not meeting for six weeks....

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