Strong-mayor supporters believe Prop F empowers voters, while a diverse coalition of opponents thinks otherwise
Austin voters will find five propositions on the May 1 ballot that stem from a citizen-led petition organized by Austinites for Progressive Reform, a political action committee. The quintet is intended to increase voter turnout, according to the group, and includes four mostly uncontroversial proposals. Proposition F, however, prompted swift pushback from an odd bedfellows coalition that includes local unions, business interests and most council members. The proposal? To change the city of Austin's government from a strong-manager system to a strong-mayor one.
Austin currently operates like a business, according to Terrell Blodgett, a professor emeritus at the LBJ School of Public Affairs and a proponent of the current system. An elected board of directors, the City Council, is led by a chairperson, the mayor, who works together to set policies. The city manager, whom they appoint, functions like a CEO, implementing those policies and managing staff. Under a strong-mayor system, the city manager position would be eliminated and replaced by the mayor, who would not vote on items brought to council but could veto legislation approved by its members.
APR and Prop F supporters say the switch would empower voters, correct the Jim Crow-era origins of the city's strong-manager system and better position the city to address critical issues such as policing and homelessness. Opponents argue that a strong mayor would wield too much power, erode the gains of the 10-1 system and minimize the role of council.
Strong mayor, strong policy
Nelson Linder, APR co-chair and NAACP president, sees the five propositions as working in tandem to empower voters at a moment when voter suppression efforts are resurgent in Texas and around the country. "If we're going to be democratic, then let the voters decide (who runs this city)," he told Austonia.
In addition to possibly driving up turnout, Linder believes a strong-mayor system will be better suited to address the city's intractable issues. Opponents worry that a strong mayor will emerge as a "semi-dictator," but he thinks the role's increased authority will enable sweeping policy change and encourage consensus-building on council so as to preempt a veto. "I don't have any fear about somebody being out of control," he said, but rather city leadership not doing enough and then pointing fingers.
With the rapid changes happening in our city, we must choose to claim political power now. If we don't, the power structure will be more entrenched by those who oppose progress. We need a strong mayor, we need a strong council. We don't need an unelected city manager.
— keithkreeger (@keithkreeger) April 13, 2021
APR also stresses the Jim Crow-era origins of the city's strong-manager system, which was the result of a 1924 campaign led by Monroe Shipe, who developed Hyde Park as a whites-only neighborhood. This switch to a council-manager form of government reduced the influence of Black, Latino and low-income white Austinites "by building a wall between the voters and decision-makers," according to the PAC's website. Opponents say this is disingenuous, but Linder pushes back. "The origins of the council-management form of government, even today, are anti-democratic," he said.
If it ain't broke…
Jesús Garza, co-chair of the anti-Prop F organization Austin for All People and former city manager, believes a strong-manager system encourages collaboration. Under a strong mayor, council members may not bring up policy ideas that the mayor disagrees with for fear that they will be a non-starter and city management staff may refrain from making recommendations that are politically unpopular, but necessary, like an airport expansion, for the same reasons.
Garza disputes APR's claims that a strong mayor will increase accountability to voters. Under a strong-manager system, the city manager reports directly to council. If voters approve Prop F, a strong mayor could slow-roll the implementation of or veto policy approved by council members, who would have little recourse. "For me, that's lack of accountability," he said.
Selena Xie, president of the Austin EMS Association, participated in APR's steering committee efforts because she supports ranked-choice voting and a public campaign finance program. But she opposes Prop F, fearing it will make a gatekeeper of the mayor and flood future mayoral races with so much money that unions like hers will be priced out. "It's just scary for everybody," she said.
David Foster, Texas Director of Clean Water Action, worries that the city could elect a strong mayor in the future who opposes environmental protections and walks them back once in office. "This is our constitution," he said. "So this isn't something that we should only be thinking about in terms of what happens in 2022 or 2024. We need to think about 2032 and 2042."
The following organizations agree a Strong Mayor form of government is NOT right for Austin. Make your voice heard and join us in voting NO on Prop F.
Early voting begins Monday, April 19, and ends Tuesday, April 27. The last day to vote is Election Day on Saturday, May 1. pic.twitter.com/jhKDtYW5wl
— Austin for All People (@Austin4AllPpl) April 14, 2021
In addition to labor and environmental organizations, A4AP has recruited a diverse mix of Prop F opponents who rarely find themselves on the same side of political issues, including eight council members, local CEOs, the Austin Chamber, Austin Young Republicans, Liberal Austin Democrats, the Real Estate Council of Austin and criminal justice reform advocates. Garza sees this is a testament to the efficacy of a strong-manager system: "You can't argue with the success that Austin has had under this system."
- Austin PAC submits signatures favoring strong mayor system ... ›
- Austonia's guide to the May 1 local election - austonia ›
- Austin City Clerk validates strong mayor petition - austonia ›
- Early voting total fors May 2021 city of Austin election - austonia ›
Tesla has officially moved its headquarters from Silicon Valley to its under-construction Gigafactory in southeast Travis County.
In October, CEO Elon Musk had announced plans to uproot the HQ from California during a company shareholder meeting. The company’s filing with U.S. securities regulators on Wednesday locked down the move.
It’s unclear whether the 10,000 employees in Palo Alto will be required to move. An analyst told the Associated Press that while many may be given the option of staying, up to 50% could make the move with some motivated by a lower cost of living in Austin.
“It’s tough for people to afford houses, and people have to come in from far away… there’s a limit to how big you can scale in the Bay Area,” Musk had previously said. Regardless of the HQ move, the company plans to increase production at its California plant.
The HQ swap is the latest development on Giga Texas, the approximately 1,700-acre factory that Tesla received at least $14.7 million in tax breaks for. The factory is on track to start production of its Model Y vehicles by year’s end.
Musk has hinted at making the move for some time. Last year, while California health officials were concerned with the spread of COVID-19, Tesla’s push to reopen the factory in Fremont set off a spat. During an earnings call in April 2020, he’d described the state’s health orders as “fascist.” Recently, Musk relocated his own residence from Los Angeles to Texas, bringing almost each one of his companies along with him, including the Boring Company, Neuralink and his foundation.
- Elon Musk will build a solar neighborhood in Austin, Texas - austonia ›
- Elon Musk seeks to fast-track $1.1 billion Tesla factory in Austin ... ›
- Tesla to build new showroom in south Austin - austonia ›
- Elon Musk to open Tesla restaurant after living in austin - austonia ›
- Tesla files site plan for Austin Gigafactory - austonia ›
- 5 updates on Elon Musk's Texas ventures from Tesla to SpaceX ... ›
At the cutting edge of tech, music and business are many successful leaders who not too long ago weren't old enough to drive or vote.
These wunderkinds were honored in Forbes' prestigious "30 under 30" lists, which highlights hundreds of top young entrepreneurs in categories from social media to science, in the 2022 rendition of the list on Wednesday. Some of the Class of '22 were as young as 14, while the average honoree was around 28 years old. Ten of these burgeoning business moguls were from Austin, which has seen such distinguished 30 under 30 alumni as former UT basketball player Kevin Durant get top spots on the 10-year-old list.
Here's a look at the 10 Austinites who made the cut:
Science—Celine Halioua, Loyal founder, 27
Celine Halioua, founder of Loyal and #ForbesUnder30 honoree, discusses how she created a company which helps prevent undue aging and cancer in dogs, and whose research could also potentially help humans. https://t.co/rfbFS4dq72 pic.twitter.com/3MaBGnE4Eb— Forbes (@Forbes) December 1, 2021
Earning the top spot in the science category was Celine Halioua, a former University of Texas student and founder of biotech company Cellular Longevity. The company, normally called Loyal, was founded by Halioua in 2019 and aims at finding compounds that can prevent undue aging and cancer in dogs, something that Halioua hopes will one day translate into human benefits.
As the frontrunner for the Science category's Class of '22, Halioua earned a photoshoot and video interview. Like many others on the list, Halioua's youth may give her an edge up in creating new ideas and technologies.
"It's been very fun learning how to modernize an old industry," Halioua said in the interview.
Halioua, who grew up in Austin around 15 cats, rescue dogs and even pet squirrels, said her company looks to extend the lifespan of dogs, but more broadly she hopes to combat the issue of "not having free will," an opinion she formed when talking to brain cancer patients at a neuro-oncology clinic at 18.
She also said creating anti-aging medicines for dogs can be a "proving ground" for creating the first explicit anti-aging drug cleared for humans because veterinary medicines are much more likely to be approved.
There's never been a drug approved for aging for any species, dog or human," Halioua said. "My core goal in life is to get the first drug approved."
The Bay Area-based company is pre-revenue, but it's already generated over $38 million in venture capital and has its first anti-aging drug poised to reach clinical trials next year.
Science—William Gilpin, UT Austin professor, 29
Is chaos actually hard to predict? For NeurIPS this year I made a database of 131 known strange attractors, and trained state-of-the-art forecasting models on each one, to try to figure this out (1/N):— William Gilpin (@wgilpin0) October 12, 2021
Dataset + Code: https://t.co/EpK4ZfWTEF pic.twitter.com/ehvPCBhDm3
University of Texas' incoming physics professor William Gilpin knows how to find beauty—and practicality—in chaos.
Using "chaos theory to understand biological complexity," Gilpin, who was inspired by ocean waves and fluids, has revolutionized a machine learning technique for neuroscience recordings.
"Is chaos really hard to predict?" Gilpin asks in a recent viral Tweet, as he showcases his methods that have helped analyze fitness trackers and predict prices of stocks and ponds.
Sports—Megan Lindon, Austin FC marketer, 29
Ever seen Austin FC's signature Verde Van rolling around town? The mobile one-stop shop for Austin FC merchandise is the brainchild of Lindon, the senior manager of marketing who helped make the team the top-selling hub for merch across the MLS in its first year.
Lindon oversaw brand campaigns and retail partnerships, such as its jersey sponsor YETI, for the new team. Although she might not be responsible for all the hype, it's tough to tell whether Austin FC would be as recognizable nationwide without Lindon's efforts.
Really thrilled to be named a part of @Forbes 30 Under 30 Games Class of 2022, alongside some other very young talented esports folks — @scump, @onfireScarlett, and @TSMWalter, to name a few.https://t.co/3v2Wqq8hz1— Jacob Wolf (@JacobWolf) December 1, 2021
Move over, sports commentators—esports reporting is entering its golden era, and the self-proclaimed "world leader" in esports coverage is based in Austin with Jacob Wolf at the helm.
At 24, Wolf, the company's chief reporter, has already been compared to "ESPN's NBA news king Adrian Wojnarowski," according to the Forbes report. He's also won the Esports Awards Journalist of the Year title in 2018 and has been nominated five times, leads the company's news team with hard-hitting investigative pieces and has founded a production company that will co-produce a podcast set to release in 2022.
Wolf sits on the list now, but he was criticized by a Forbes reporter in the past for having "zero corner" in the esports market—a notion that was quickly shut down by Wolf and longtime esports fans alike.
Manufacturing & Industry—Topher Haddad and Winston Tri, Albedo co-founders
Good Morning Twitter! This year for Thanksgiving we've made some 10cm synthetic imagery. Let us know what you think. pic.twitter.com/MPmh93tctW— Albedo (@Albedo) November 24, 2021
"The next generation of Earth observation is coming soon," satellite imagery company Albedo's website boldly reads over a crystal-clear aerial view of an alpine forest.
Two under-30 entrepreneurs—Topher Haddad and Winston Tri—set out to create commercially-available satellite imagery that has nine times better resolution than what's out now. From that, Austin-based Albedo was born.
After raising $10 million in a seed round by Initialized Capital, the company is gearing up to launch its first satellites in 2023.
Venture Capital—Brandon Allen and Marcus Stroud, TXV Partners co-founders
Austin can't have its startup-savvy culture without its venture capitalists, something Princeton graduates Brandon Allen and Marcus Stroud know all too well.
Now 27 and 28, the former Princeton roommates formed TXV Partners in 2019 and haven't looked back since, investing over $20 million into businesses including fitness app Future Fit and the similarly-named fitness startup Future as well as Data.World, Oura, Kambr and Trax. The duo, which has since tacked on another partner, has been focused on local businesses for years and will continue to do so as they boost Texas' best exercise startups.
Retail and eCommerce—Benjamin Smith, Disco founder, 28
Everything is better in a set. 🎁 — Disco™ (@letsDiscoskin) November 27, 2021
If you're not shopping our biggest sale of the year, you're missing out. Get 30% off site-wide + free shipping on all orders. pic.twitter.com/kBmI56ZjMu
Men need skincare, too—even if they sometimes aren't comfortable enough to address it.
That's the issue that Austinite Benjamin Smith hopes to tackle with his skincare line Disco, which provides sets and products from anti-aging cream to cleansers to help men feel their most "dapper."
Smith, who struggled with acne throughout early adulthood, strayed from the overly-masculine packaging of many men's beauty products and instead opted for a sleek, simple look that can be seen online and at Nordstrom. The company has been featured in GQ and the Wall Street Journal and is expected to see $10 million in revenue at the end of 2021 after an original $5 million in funding.
Finance—Jeron Davis, RLJ Equity Partners, 28
Forbes 30 under 30 in Finance should be renamed Forbes 30 under 30 in Blockchain!— nicola 💾 (@iamnotnicola) December 1, 2021
Although he's based in Maryland, Jeron Davis has found success as a senior associate at RLJ Equity Partners, a firm founded by Austin billionaire Robert L. Johnson.
Davis is a former investment banker at Citigroup Global Markets, Inc., where he made a$4.6 billion leveraged buyout of Petco and a $2.2 billion sale with CenturyLink. With RLJ, Davis made a $60 million LBO of Pro-Vac and $31 million TechMedia buyout.
Education—Chandler Bolt, Self Publishing School founder, 28
Investor and Self Publishing School founder Chandler Bolt holds a five-year company and has helped 6,000+ writers publish their own books—and he's just 28.
His company, which helps writers work—from creating a writing timeline to arranging speaking engagements after publishing—charges $6,000 to bring writer's works into fruition.
The Austin-based Self Publishing School has been an INC 5000 company for three years in a row among the fastest-growing private companies in the U.S. But Bolt's not stopping there, he's also published six books of his own, hosts two podcasts, and has a YouTube channel about the self-publishing process.
Energy—Thomas Sherman and Daniel Vassallo, CRCL Solutions co-founders
💡ATI Company Spotlight: CRCL Solutions💡— ATX Tech Incubator (@ATI_UT) September 9, 2021
Congrats to CRCL Solutions for winning a National Science Foundation SBIR award! CRCL will investigate how AI can be used to improve atmospheric modeling for the renewable energy industry.
For more, visit: https://t.co/SVKzscHxL4
Texas' renewable energies are growing fast—but when the wind turbines aren't turning, it can hard to predict how much the state will be able to use.
Using artificial intelligence, CRCL Solutions founders Thomas Sherman and Daniel Vassallo are helping power traders reduce risk and increase profitability by forecasting usage of ERCOT's solar and wind energies. Eventually, the duo hopes to help create carbon neutrality by erasing some risks from the fluctuating renewable energy market.
And their efforts are gaining national attention: so far, they've received funding from the National Science Foundation and the Austin Energy Incubator.
Downtown may be recovering from the pandemic but the priorities residents want in their city center are changing, according to the City Pulse Survey done by design firm Gensler.
After studying 7,500 people in 15 global markets, including Austin, Gensler found that life in COVID has pushed city-dwellers to want more outdoor activities, social spaces and entertainment venues in bustling business districts.
Post-pandemic, the highest-rated downtown activities were shopping, visiting parks and just “hanging out.” The need for more public spaces like parks jumped from sixth on the list to second this year.
Although globally people view downtown as a business district for task-based activities, across the U.S., downtown districts are viewed more as a vehicle for entertainment. This is especially true for Austinites, where people surveyed said they would rather see more entertainment and cultural venues than shopping or public transit downtown.
For Melanie Gartman, a manager at construction software company Levelset who has been living in Austin for most of her life, the needs and wants of the average resident closely align with her own.
Austin clocked in second-most desirable downtown, tied with Charlotte, North Carolina. Like the 78% of Austinites in the survey, Gartman said she thinks Downtown Austin is hanging on to its lovable charm.
“Even now with fewer people out and about it's still very vibrant and lively. I feel like I saw life come back to downtown a lot sooner than I expected it to,” Gartman said. “It's still holding on a bit that Austin vibe and with the high rises coming in, it's scary that we could lose that. I think it's holding on better than I would have expected, especially within the last two years of everything that happened.”
As Austinites eased back into downtown, the first stop Gartman made was to go see music again. Since venues opened back up, Gartman and her loved ones have seen live music at their favorite venues: Moody Amphitheatre, Mohawk, The Parish and Empire Control Room.
Blackillac opened for Gary Clark Jr. at the Moody Amphitheater's first show back in August. (Laura Figi/Austonia)
Entertainment is most important for Gartman’s life in Austin—seeing Gary Clark Jr. in August brought normalcy back into her routine—and said our local downtown is the ideal out of other cities in Texas.
“I've always noticed that between Houston’s downtown and Austin’s, Houston's is so Monday to Friday, eight to five, maybe a post-work happy hour,” Gartman said. “Growing up, downtown (Austin) was always the place to go. It has always been the hub and I think Austin is unique in that way.”
Traffic in downtown areas is way down overall, even though concern over pandemic safety has taken a backseat. Shopping traffic has decreased by 28%, dining out and entertainment attendance dropped by 33% in the post-pandemic sphere.
Even though her office is located downtown, Gartman usually works from home. Her downtown visits tend to be for the purpose of entertainment and she said the lack of parking sometimes becomes problematic.
“I feel like all these high rises are taking over all the parking,” Gartman said. “It used to be for go-to parking, I would just park under I-35. No big deal. But now, that’s kind of scary, especially if you're by yourself. The party parking is a barrier to actually making it down there.”
But with the rise of the hybrid work model, it’s likely that the downtown sphere is going to change all across the U.S. For now, survey participants said they would like to see their downtown reduce traffic, add more green space, improve the cityscape and increase parking capacity as we shape the future of cities.