With early voting underway, Austin residents are already casting their ballots for or against Proposition A, a city property tax rate increase that, if approved, would help pay for Project Connect, a $7.1 billion overhaul of the city's transit system.
The measure has prompted the formation of two political action committees, countless op-eds and our own guide, which answered questions such as: How much will Prop A raise my property tax bill? And: How likely is it that the federal government will help pay for Project Connect?
Today, we are publishing a short argument from both sides of the debate.
Chas Moore, Nora Linares-Moeller, David Foster and Jeremy Hendricks write in support of Prop A. Moore is the executive director of the Austin Justice Coalition. Linares-Moeller is executive director of HousingWorks Austin; she donated $263.47 to the Mobility for All PAC, according to campaign finance reports. Foster is the Texas director of Clean Water Action. Hendricks is a member of the executive board of the Laborers International Union of North America.
Jim Skaggs and Roger Falk write in opposition. Skaggs is the chairperson and CEO of the Seattle-based pharmaceutical company Aminex Therapeutics and has donated $14,000 to the anti-Project Connect PAC Our Mobility Our Future, according to campaign finance reports. Falk is an analyst with OMOF and volunteers with the Travis County Taxpayers Union, which was founded by former Austin City Council member Don Zimmerman.
Disclaimer: These submissions are the unedited views of both sides of the argument. Claims made have not been fact-checked to give the proponents and opponents a chance to speak their minds freely.
Pro: Prop A is a progressive step toward traffic relief, job creation and a greener planet
For such a proudly progressive city, Austin has been spinning its wheels with a transportation system stuck in the past.
Our roads-only approach to mobility has resulted in crushing congestion, exacerbated racial and economic inequities, and it keeps paving the way for environmental catastrophe.
Congestion-proof light rail will tie together UT, the Capitol, Downtown, South Congress, and the airport, and be supported by rapid bus citywide, new passenger rail in the Eastern Crescent, and more options for suburban commuters. Along with more than a dozen new on-demand neighborhood circulator zones, this complete network will finally provide a viable, scalable, and comprehensive alternative to crammed highways and parking headaches.
For Austin's transit-dependent riders — a group that is disproportionately Black, Latino, lower-income, or disabled — Project Connect slashes travel times and expands access to work, school, grocery stores, and health care.
Like other vital infrastructure projects, Project Connect will create thousands of jobs and drive billions into our local economy. But Prop A is a distinct departure from the failed model of road-building. This plan preserves neighborhoods and includes a historic $300 million anti-displacement investment that will create and preserve affordable housing so people who rely on transit will still be able to use it. Greater access to high-quality transit will give more households the option to save thousands each year by reducing the number of cars they own.
Finally, Prop A represents one of the most consequential steps we can collectively take to prevent climate change. Our transportation system is the largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions in our community. By electrifying our bus fleet and getting more people to take transit, we can leave a cleaner, greener planet for our children and grandchildren.
Remember: Project Connect is a long-term investment in Austin's future. Despite misleading exaggerations, it will only increase your total tax bill by about 4 percent. For most residents, that's less than 80 cents per day.
Austin's population will grow by 2 million additional people by 2040. We can't afford not to vote for Prop A. It's finally time to move Austin in the right direction.
Con: Project Connect is too expensive, especially during a pandemic, and serves too few
PropA proposes the greatest city tax increase in history for ineffective, obsolete trains in Austin; where less than 2% use transit. Transit ridership has not increased in 30 years with spending $8 billion (today$) and population doubling.
PropA's $144 million/year will not fund Project Connect (PC); many billions in bonds are needed in the next eight years, increasing taxes again. Federal funding is unsubstantiated and doubtful. The Red Line had massive cost overruns, false ridership promises and no federal funding.
PropA results in a twenty-five percent city tax increase, that grows with appraisals. Promoted as "Regional" transit, this cost is exclusively paid by city property owners/renters.
80% of this Prop funds $250 million/mile, light rail. At full capacity, this rail's exaggerated ridership serves well less than 1% of regional mobility. All bus elements can be funded without record tax increases.
This is not a time for useless higher taxes, penalizing struggling businesses, homeowners, and renters. We need to reach a stable economic condition, with COVID-19 under control.
This pandemic and the possibility of more have placed transit systems in crisis and ridership is down more than 50%. Until transit's future design and capacity is established, investment in contagion vulnerable infrastructure is irresponsible.
Expansion of work-from-home substantially reduced commuting demand Project Connect hoped to serve. Reduction in traffic and vehicle emissions due to reduced commuting creates many times, 10-15 years earlier, the Project Connect benefits. NO COST TO PROPERTY OWNERS OR RENTERS.
Mobility is evolving, rail's old technology, will be obsolete before complete. A 17-mph trolley, stopping every other block, isn't "rapid/mass" transit.
Most growth isn't near trains. Unless you live near trains, access is challenging and time consuming. People won't abandon convenience and utility of personal vehicles for public transit's lost time and inconvenience.
It shouldn't take millions in propaganda and deceptive promises of congestion relief, jobs, social justice and climate change to sell a good plan.
This is a taxpayer funded, multi-billion-dollar jackpot for rail special interests and developers. Transit policy should be driven by logistics and need, not politics and greed.
This rail is an inequitable displacement machine, penalizing low income, working families. The "displacement" $300 million does not exist.
Some say past neglect justifies action, but this is a disaster plan and would be the most destructive project in Austin's history with years of disruption and pollution; digging up downtown with major impacts on businesses and mobility.
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It may not come as a surprise that dating app use surged during the pandemic when many had to swap the benefits of in-person dating for on-screen connections. Bumble revenue swelled to $337.2 million in 2020 compared to $275.5 million, Hinge revenue tripled in the same period and Tinder users broke two records from January to March of 2021.
What may be more intriguing, however, is that many apps anticipate more growth into 2022. Hinge expects to double its revenue by the end of 2021, while Tinder has announced several new features to meet new demands in time for what some are calling a "third surge" of COVID-19.
Vaccinated Austinites who had been eager for "Shot Girl Summer"—a season of in-person dating, going out and making up for time lost—may have to get back on the apps, at least partially, as cases rise higher than they've been since February and mask recommendations reenter the picture.
Austin-area resident Chloe Mohr, a 22-year-old recent college graduate, had sometimes used Tinder before the pandemic. While the app wasn't a supplemental replacement for deeper connections during stay-at-home orders, it did help her stay in the dating game and continue meeting new people.
"Using dating apps during the pandemic was easy when wanting something casual or entertaining," Mohr, who now works in marketing, said.
Chloe Mohr turned to Tinder more during the pandemic to stay connected to people. (Chloe Mohr)
Sixty percent of members came to Tinder because they felt lonely and wanted to connect with people, a Tinder study revealed, and chats were 32% longer during the pandemic.
But dating during a pandemic is no walk in the park when there's fear about contracting COVID, Mohr said. She had fears at the beginning
Tinder, Bumble, Hinge and OkCupid have responded to the new dating criteria, adding vaccination badges to profiles in partnership with U.S. and British governments.
In order to meet the demand for a stricter screening process and the superficial nature of swiping, Tinder has also introduced new features that allow users to add videos to their profiles and chat with others before they've even matched.
The new add-ons could be beneficial for the app as interest continues to swell—Google searches for "dating" have hit a five-year high, according to NPR.
But the future of dating could be vastly different—and stay different—even well into the next decade.
According to a Ypulse study, 43% of dating app users said the apps made them feel less lonely in the pandemic. Even post-pandemic, 40% of Tinder users say they plan on video-chatting with their matches before they meet, and being honest, authentic and respecting boundaries have become big talk on the app in the past year.
While it's unclear how the pandemic will shape dating for good, signs show that Austin residents and those nationwide may lean on dating apps once again if social distancing returns to the norm.
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With more research done on the COVID-19 Delta variant, Austin Public Health is upping its goal of 70% vaccinated to at least 80% due to the extreme virality of the strain.
As more Delta cases are identified—up to 29 cases are confirmed in Travis County—health officials are urging the unvaccinated to get their shots to contain the spread and relieve hospitals from reaching full capacity.
Austin-Travis County surpassed the Stage 5 threshold on Friday and has reached a seven-day average of 61 hospital admissions. However, Austin health leaders have yet to make an official shift as the Delta variant calls for new guidance, APH Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes said at a joint Travis County Commissioners Court meeting on Tuesday morning.
The new guidance has yet to be released, but Walkes said it will take into account the viral load of Delta on both unvaccinated and vaccinated people.
Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed the Delta variant was as contagious as chickenpox, which has a herd immunity threshold of at least 90% vaccinated.
Although 63.42% of those eligible in Travis County are fully vaccinated, breakthrough cases—where vaccinated people are contracting COVID-19—are being identified. APH has identified 1,496 breakthrough cases of the roughly 800,000 vaccinated. Most breakthrough cases are showing less severe symptoms or are asymptomatic, according to APH.
Health officials are still asking residents to wear masks, although the city cannot mandate any masking orders due to an executive order by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.
"Our challenge is going to be whether we're going to stand as a community and everyone who can get vaccinated, get vaccinated, and everyone wear a mask—that's what it's going to take," Walkes said.
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Save Austin Now police petition will reach November ballot after county clerk certifies 25,000 signatures
Save Austin Now is now 2-0 over Austin City Council after its petition to add more staffed police officers to the Austin Police Department was certified, garnering over the 20,000 votes needed to make it on an election ballot.
The petition calls for more police staffing per city resident, quicker response times and more training for city police officers in the wake of increasing violent crime rates nationwide and a year of limited APD staffing. The City Council will now decide whether to implement the ordinance outright or add it to the November election ballot; it will likely do the latter.
Over 25,000 of the 27,778 signatures racked up by the public safety petition were certified as valid, well over the 20,000-vote threshold required to be certified with the City Clerk. City Clerk Jannette Goodall placed the city's seal of approval on the petition on Tuesday morning.
The petition, by the same political group that got the camping ban reinstated through a petition in May, seeks to:
- Require minimum staffing of two officers per 1,000 residents
- Require a minimum standard of 35% community response time
- Add 40 hours of training
- Require city council members, Mayor Steve Adler and other city staff to enroll in the Citizens Police Academy
- Facilitate minority officer hiring through foreign language proficiency metrics
Austin's 160 patrol vacancies have dropped its staffing rate to 1.2 officers per 1,000 residents, according to the department. APD's response time has increased by about one minute and 50 seconds in a year.
The petition comes nearly a year after APD's budgets were slashed by city council following the summer's Black Lives Matter protests, which saw several demonstrators severely injured as millions called for justice in the police-related deaths of George Floyd and locally Mike Ramos, an unarmed Black man killed by APD officer Christopher Taylor, in April 2020.
Austin and the U.S. have experienced a widespread uptick in violent crime rates in 2021. The city has reached 49 homicides in 2021, higher than the total number of murders in all of 2020 and the 38 homicides in the city in 2019. Austin police officers have seen response times rise as the department suffers increased vacancies and fewer newcomers while cadet classes are being readjusted.
Opponents argue the ordinance would ramp up a policing budget while taking away from other departments including Fire, EMS, violence prevention, and mental health care. City Council Member Greg Casar, the Travis County Democratic Party and the Austin Justice Coalition have spoken out against the organization's latest public safety move, calling out the campaign as a "right-wing petition" that misleads those who sign.
🔥 PANTS ON FIRE: Republican-front group Save Austin Now is lying about their petition!
They say their measure is about police reform, when it's really about devastating our city budget - all for the benefit of the police union. Watch the video here ⬇️ #ATX pic.twitter.com/Z6QQSfhHfH
— Gregorio Casar (@GregCasar) August 2, 2021
The latest battle between city council and Save Austin Now will be decided by Austin residents in the Nov. 2 election.
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