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On Nov. 3, Austin residents will choose whether to approve Proposition A, which would increase the city property tax by around 20% to help fund Project Connect, a 15-year, $7.1 billion overhaul of he city's transit system.
Although it has been in development since 2013, the plan is still opaque to some residents, who have questions about what it might mean for their neighborhoods—and their wallets.
This week, Austonia will be answering some questions, ranging from the cost of the plan to the projected ridership. Each day, we'll tackle a new one. So far, we've answered: How much will Proposition A raise my taxes if approved? and How feasible is Project Connect's $7.1 billion price tag? Now, for today's question, a two-parter:
How much has Capital Metro spent on advertising Project Connect? And who is funding the groups that oppose and support the plan?
Sponsored content, paid for by Capital Metro and providing a "quick snapshot" of Project Connect, has appeared on The Daily Texan, the Austin Business Journal, on radio stations and billboards—even in Instagram feeds.
Jenna Maxfield, a spokesperson for Capital Metro, wrote in an email to Austonia that the agency is required by the Federal Transit Administration to advertise public meetings and "create educational messages," which it does by paying for sponsored content on area news sites. In FY 2020, which ended Oct. 1, Capital Metro anticipates it spent $1.1 million on such messaging; the agency is still tallying its September expenses.
The sponsored content varies, but one thing is always missing: the cost of the project.
Jeffery Bowen has lived in Austin since 1989 and is a member of the Project Connect ambassador network, where he represents the Austin Neighborhood Council. The experience, he said, has left him concerned about transparency.
"There's a lot of confusion by the general voters," he told Austonia. "There's still some that think this is a bond. It's not."
Instead Proposition A would raise the city's property tax rate permanently, creating a revenue stream that would go toward the construction and maintenance of Project Connect.
A New Transit Plan for Austin | Project Connect by Capital Metro www.youtube.com
These placements have fueled opposition groups, such as the political action committee Our Mobility Our Future and the recently formed nonprofit Voices of Austin, both of which have characterized Project Connect as something akin to smoke and mirrors.
Roger Falk, an Our Mobility Our Future analyst and Travis County Taxpayers Union volunteer, said Capital Metro would be better served spending that money on engineering studies. "They haven't done the planning," he said. "What they've done is spent all the money on marketing."
Our Mobility Our Future is a political action committee that is opposed to Project Connect.(Our Mobility Our Future)
On the other hand, some Austinites may have questions about the opposition groups.
Our Mobility Our Future is the latest iteration of a small group of motivated and monied conservatives who have bedeviled Capital Metro since the 1990s and helped defeat two previous light rail plans.
The political action committee has raised nearly $375,000, according to its July 15 and Oct. 5 campaign finance reports, with the majority coming from four donors: real estate investor John Lewis, Mercedes-Benz dealer Bryan Hardeman, Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty and Aminez Therapeutics chairperson Jim Skaggs.
Voices of Austin is a 501(c)(4) organization, which means its financials are not public record. It describes itself as a bipartisan and diverse group with a goal "to change what is happening now at City Hall." It supports increasing police funding and a land use policy that continues to preserve neighborhoods.
Executive Director Peck Young said it is funded by locals and unaffiliated with police unions or Michael Levy, the founder and former publisher of Texas Monthly. "None of us know the surviving Koch brother either," he said, referring to the role of the billionaire Republican mega-donors in defeating a recent transit referendum in Nashville.
Mobility for All, a pro-Project Connect PAC, recently filed its first campaign finance report, which reports it has raised $969,941. Its biggest individual donor, Impossible Ventures CEO Jonathan Coon, gave $50,000. Other top contributors include Silicon Labs Chairman Nav Sooch and CEO Tyson Tuttle, Fairway Real Estate Management President Timothy Horan Jr. and Enoctech Engineering Consultants CEO Ali Khataw.
Organizations that contributed at least $100,000 include the transportation engineering firm HNTB, Major League Soccer club Austin FC and developers Brandywine Realty Trust and Endeavor Real Estate.
This story has been updated to include details from Oct. 5 campaign finance filings and an update from Capital Metro regarding its paid media costs.
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17 years and three medals later, Osterman's last ride with USA softball is over. What's next for Cat?
Nearly two decades after her debut with the University of Texas and 17 years after her first Olympic gold, softball icon Cat Osterman stepped off the Olympic pitcher's mound for the last time with a silver medal to take back home.
Osterman, a three-time Olympian who has been called the "Michael Jordan of softball," will officially retire from the international realm at 38 after a decorated career that included Olympic golds, years of retirement and plenty of adversity—from a worldwide pandemic to dashed gold-medal dreams.
Osterman and her crew left Tokyo on a bittersweet note on Tuesday with a silver medal in hand.
Osterman with Team USA in 2008. (Antoni Majewski/Twitter)
Osterman in the final in 2021. (Antoni Majewski/Twitter)
After a year of sparse in-person training and over a decadelong hiatus, Team USA and Osterman flew to the finals. In five games, the team beat Italy (2-0), Canada (1-0), Mexico (2-0), Australia (2-1), and Japan (2-1).
Deja vu struck in the final match. On one side, Osterman and fellow 2008 Olympic teammate Monica Abbott took the mound; on the other was the 39-year-old Yukiko Ueno, a familiar foe who helped the team beat Team USA last go-round.
"Just like 13 years ago," Ueno said in a press conference, "we were facing each other in the final."
Ueno, who had lost hopes at gold to Osterman in '04, outpitched her longtime opponent with six scoreless innings as Team USA was held to just three hits. The same team that squandered their gold-medal hopes 13 years before had done it once again.
Your Tokyo 2020 Olympic Silver Medalists 🇺🇸#TokyoOlympics | @TeamUSA pic.twitter.com/MOMNOedHUd
— USA Softball Women's National Team 🇺🇸 (@USASoftballWNT) July 27, 2021
"There's a little bit of disappointment in not bringing home the gold since that's the eye on the prize when you go over there and you know you have a shot at it," Osterman told Austonia. "But more than anything, I'm very proud of the way our team handled everything that was part of this journey and not just the six games."
It's that very loss at the 2008 Olympics that partially motivated Osterman to get back on the mound. She officially put down the glove in 2015 after six seasons with the USSSA Pride, took time with family and began coaching at Texas State University.
Osterman helped ace Randi Rupp to greatness while a coach at Texas State University. (Active Voice Health/Twitter)
She thought her Olympic endeavors were well over—until talks of reinstating softball into the Games reentered the conversation.
"It wasn't until 2016 or 2017, that it ever crossed my mind to possibly put the USA uniform on again," Osterman said. "After the World Championships in 2010, I walked away, and I thought that my career on the international stage was done. So this was a pleasant kind of new opportunity."
Three years after facing any competition, Osterman was on the field once more with world-class athletes. Some, like Osterman and Abbott, had been playing together long enough to form a formidable "Fire and Ice" duo on the mound. Others had just graduated college.
Osterman said playing with a younger generation of athletes was one of the most rewarding aspects of this year's Games.
"It can be very different when you have 24- and 38-year-olds on the same field," Osterman said. "The adversity put us in some challenging positions and we came through with flying colors. And this group will forever be special just because what we had to go through is so different."
While on the mound, Osterman's job was to give the team a calm start. Off of the field, she felt her role had much of the same effect: she knew that new Olympic feeling, and she served as a deep breath to her first-time teammates.
"There's no words to explain how nervous and excited you get knowing that the whole world can be watching," Osterman. "I think using those emotions and figuring out how to get all our butterflies lined up and going in the right direction, so that way we were all moving together, was kind of my role outside of pitching."
We've heard her retire once before, but this time Osterman said she's gone for good—even from coaching. After her final time with Team USA on Sept. 27, she plans on returning to Austin, where she'll look to work for a nonprofit.
A gold and two silvers will have to do for one of the most decorated athletes in U.S. softball history.
"To be able to say you're a three-time Olympic medalist is a pretty special deal, right?" Osterman. "I played for a long time. But those are the pinnacle, in my mind, and kind of what elicits the dream to keep playing."
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Hospitals are facing a "significant" increase in admissions of pregnant women due to COVID-19 complications, Austin-Travis County health officials say, revealing what could be a long-term side effect of the virus.
Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes met with three maternal medicine specialists on Monday morning to warn of yet another COVID-19 Delta variant concern: severe cases of the disease affecting unvaccinated mothers-to-be.
The doctors said unvaccinated pregnant women face an increased risk of preterm births, long-term effects, preeclampsia, ICU stays, stillbirths, being put on life support and even death if they are unvaccinated.
"We are really concerned that we are not getting that population of folks to hear this message of the safety of vaccines, so today we're assembled, one and all to say, wear a mask and please get vaccinated," Walkes said. "Vaccinations are the way to prevent severe disease and hospitalizations and death."
Medical Director of Maternal Fetal Medicine at St. David's Women's Center of Texas Dr. Kimberly DeStefano said 95% of pregnant women admitted with COVID-19 are unvaccinated, stressing that all pregnant and lactating women should get the vaccine not only to protect themselves but to protect their babies from infection, which can be passed through breastmilk or birth.
"We know that the earlier in pregnancy you are vaccinated, the more antibodies are present at the time of birth for the infant," DeStefano said. "This is something that's very important, both during the pregnancy and postpartum."
Catching COVID-19 while pregnant can cause adverse effects on the baby, particularly because it increases the risk of preterm births. Baylor Scott & White Maternal Obstetrics Chief of Maternal Medicine Dr. Jessica Ehrig, said that preterm births are one of the "biggest impacts" on childhood development.
"We know that (preterm births) can have long-term effects depending on how early a baby's born," Ehrig said. "It increases the risk for long term respiratory issues, for blindness sometimes (and) for neurologic development delays."
Since mid-July, COVID-19 hospitalizations have been on a steep rise that sent the city back to recommending Stage 4 guidelines. As the seven-day rolling average of hospitalizations surpassed 50 admissions, Stage 5 guidelines could be on the horizon. The city reported 54 new admissions and 546 total new cases on Friday.
Delta is more contagious than chickenpox, Walkes said, and even vaccinated individuals can catch and spread the virus without symptoms. The group of doctors asked everyone, especially pregnant women, to mask while in public as local hospitals pass the Stage 5 threshold.
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