100% Austin news, info, and entertainment, straight to your inbox at 6 a.m. every morning.
In five minutes, you're fully informed and ready to start another great day in our city.
On Nov. 3, Austin residents will vote on Proposition A. If approved, it will increase the city's property tax rate by around 20% to help pay for Project Connect, a $7.1 billion overhaul of the local transit system.
Proponents say the plan will help make Austin a more equitable city by ensuring residents have access to an affordable and comprehensive transit system.
But past transit initiatives suggest that the project could deepen the fault lines it hopes to address, which is why Austin City Council has allocated $300 million for anti-displacement initiatives under the Project Connect proposal.
The broken spoke
District 1 Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison told Austonia that the pandemic has magnified infrastructural failures and exposed disparities in health care, education and transit access.
"Multiple generations of disinvestment have to be reconciled," she said.
Although Project Connect provides a chance for the city to catch up, it could also lead to some unintended consequences.
In other U.S. cities, transit investment has accelerated gentrification and displacement.
Researchers at the Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy at Northeastern University found that the "predominant pattern" of neighborhood change following transit investment was "one in which housing becomes more expensive, neighborhood residents become wealthier and vehicle ownership becomes more common," according to a 2010 report.
Some Austinites have seen this happen in their own backyards.
The construction of MoPac in 1971 led to the destruction of nearly one-third of the homes in Clarksville, one of the earliest freedmen's communities established west of the Mississippi and, during segregation, one of the few remaining Black neighborhoods west of Interstate-35.
Similarly, the building of I-35 in the 1960s "both displaced existing Black communities and reinforced the de facto and de jure segregation of Austin" codified in the city's 1928 master plan, according to the Austin Justice Coalition.
As a result, there is concern that, if implemented, Project Connect could worsen Austin's affordability crisis and deepen the inequities it aims to rectify.
"Once this is approved in November … the speculation of real estate is going to happen instantaneously, almost over night," said Steven Pedigo, director of the LBJ Urban Lab at the University of Texas at Austin.
The alternate route
Aware of this likelihood and the precedent of past transit investment, Austin City Council worked to ensure the Project Connect budget includes $300 million in anti-displacement funds to be spent over the next 10 to 13 years on things such as:
- The construction or development of new affordable housing,
- Preservation, repair and rehabilitation of existing affordable housing,
- Financial assistance for homeowners,
- Home repair,
- Rental subsidies
- And right to return assistance.
"If it's after the fact, we've missed the boat," District 5 Council Member and Capital Metro Board Member Ann Kitchen said at an Aug. 7 meeting.
Dr. Yingling Fan is a professor at the University of Minnesota who has researched the effects of light rail development in Minnesota's Twin Cities. In 2012, she co-authored a report that looked at neighborhood change induced by new transit corridors, including gentrification and displacement.
"My opinion is we need to be aware of the potential impacts," Fan said, "but there is a lot of opportunity for government agencies to work with neighborhood organizations to ensure affordable housing supply is protected."
Austin Mayor Steve Adler and others have stressed that no city has done as much as Austin proposes to with Project Connect to offset displacement.
Harper-Madison pointed to the city of Denver, which established its Transit-Oriented Development Fund in 2010 with an initial investment of $15 million—or 5% of what Austin plans to allocate.
"We're going to be the gold standard," she told Austonia.
The next stop
But some community members have raised concerns that the funding will not come through or, if it does, not achieve its stated aim.
David King, speaking as a long-time resident of the Zilker neighborhood, worries that Project Connect is "a perfect storm for displacement" and that $300 million is inadequate to prevent what is coming down the tracks. (He is also a member of the city's zoning and platting commission.)
"I don't think the city is as committed to preventing displacement as it could be," King told Austonia, adding that he would like to see more concrete parameters for how such funding will be allocated and demands on developers who build near transit stations.
In response to such concerns, council members established a "contract with voters" that ensures the city will create neighborhood-level strategies with community members, develop an equity assessment tool and publicly track the progress of its anti-displacement initiatives.
Yasmine Smith is a co-chair of the local nonprofit People United for Mobility Action, which works to ensure every Austinite has access to safe, affordable and convenient transit options. She has been heartened by the city's commitment to equity in developing Project Connect and believes the contract with voters will ensure the anti-displacement funding is put to best use.
"I like to analogize it to gumbo," Smith said. "Right now, we're in the roux stage. We've made a good roux, a great base, with the legal binding documents."
If Proposition A is approved by voters, it will take a long time "to get the tenderness of the meat just right," but Smith said she will be at the stovetop, stirring away.
More on Project Connect:
- Voting guide: local mobility propositions on the November ballot ... ›
- Project Connect transit plan to be decided by Austin voters - austonia ›
- Austin City Council discusses next steps on Project Connect bond ... ›
- Zoning laws, long a concern of Austin politics, go national - austonia ›
- Austin Public Library vandalized with anti-voting sentiments - austonia ›
- Austin leaders urge residents to support Prop A - austonia ›
- Early voters green light city of Austin's Props A & B - austonia ›
- City takes next steps on Project Connect after Prop A passes - austonia ›
- City of Austin launches searchable map for low-income housing - austonia ›
- Capital Metro maps out next steps for Project Connect - austonia ›
- Biden noms Pete Buttigieg, welcome news for Project Connect - austonia ›
- Project Connect begins scoping phase, officially hitting the road - austonia ›
- Here's how to live in Austin with only make $1,000 per month - austonia ›
- 5 ways Project Connect is moving forward in Austin - austonia ›
Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced a record-setting second quarter during an earnings call broadcasted from the Giga Texas construction site in Southeast Travis County on Monday.
The electric carmaker reported more than $1 billion in quarterly net income and the production of more than 200,000 vehicles for the first time despite challenges such as a global semiconductor shortage.
"It … seems that public sentiment towards electric vehicles is at an inflection point, and at this point, I think, almost everyone agrees electric vehicles are the only way forward," Musk said.
Exterior shots taken just a while ago of Giga Texas (while @elonmusk is reportedly at the Gigafactory!) during today's earnings call!
Hope @peterdog15 got to catch the technoking in his video! #fastestinhistory #Tesla pic.twitter.com/WqeDlb5wU3
— Austin Tesla Club (@AustinTeslaClub) July 26, 2021
Despite rising consumer demand and adequate factory capacity, Tesla faces what Musk described as a "quite serious" global semiconductor shortage, which will determine the company's growth rate for the rest of the year.
With increased revenue and production, Tesla is investing in new factories, Chief Financial Officer Zachary Kirkhorn said. These include Giga Texas, the $1.1 billion manufacturing plant that broke ground last summer and is slated to open later this year.
The Giga Texas factory in Southeast Travis County has rapidly increased in size since ground broke last August. (Tesla)
Musk commended the construction team for "incredible progress," transforming what was basically a vacant site into "a mostly complete large factory a year later."
I was at Giga Texas yesterday. Team is making excellent progress. Building will be almost a mile long when complete.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 25, 2021
Giga Texas will produce the highly anticipated Cybertruck, along with other models, but Musk said scaling its production will be difficult, especially given the supply chain delays caused by the pandemic. "It's going to move as fast as the slowest of its up to 10,000 unique parts," he said.
In other news, Musk said Monday's earnings call would likely be his last regular appearance, only jumping on future quarterly calls when big announcements warrant it.
Tesla Solar recently made news when it announced plans to build the nation's most sustainable residential community in Southeast Austin earlier this month. The newly built homes will feature Tesla solar roof tiles and Powerwall battery storage as well as electric vehicle charging stations.
- How Elon Musk has spent the last 10 days since turning 50 - austonia ›
- Tesla's Elon Musk says Austin factory could hire 10k jobs - austonia ›
- Elon Musk announces Austin Gigafactory will open in 2021 - austonia ›
The city of Austin released a shortlist of seven candidates for the police chief position left vacant when Brian Manley retired in March.
City Manager Spencer Cronk hopes to announce an appointment by the end of August, which will require City Council approval.
The finalists, chosen from a field of 46 applicants, include:
- APD Interim Chief Joseph Chacon, who previously served as an assistant chief in the department for almost five years
- Anne Kirkpatrick, former police chief in Oakland, California, who was fired last year after a federal monitor criticized her handling of a fatal 2018 police shooting of a homeless man
- Dallas Police Department Assistant Chief Avery L. Moore, who is a 30-year veteran of the department
- Atlanta Police Department Deputy Chief Celeste Murphy, who manages the department's community services division
- Dekalb County Police Chief Mirtha V. Ramos, who previously served as division chief in the Miami-Dade Police Department
- Wichita Police Department Chief Gordon Ramsay, who is a former president of the Minnesota Police Chief's Association as well as one of the first police chiefs of a major U.S. City to call George Floyd's death a murder, as reported by the Wichita Eagle
- Los Angeles Police Department Deputy Chief Emada E. Tingirides, who is also commanding officer of the department's newly formed Community Safety Partnership Bureau, which serves L.A.'s underserved communities
City staff will interview the finalists in the coming weeks, with several community input opportunities to come, according to a Monday press release.
The city conducted a public survey in March and hosted community input meetings in April to learn more about what residents are looking for in their next police chief, which helped shape the selection criteria for the position.
"They want to see the Chief be reform-minded and transparent and have a track record of fostering community involvement and accountability," Cronk said in the release. "The candidates selected show these characteristics in various ways."
- Police Chief Brian Manley stepping down amid police protest ... ›
- Austin city manager names interim police chief, starts search ... ›
- Austin searches for new police chief amid reform process - austonia ›
Days after Austin began once again recommending masks in public spaces, Austin ISD announced Monday that kindergarten through sixth-grade classes will have virtual options this fall.
The district will discuss the move in a special board meeting Monday evening starting at 5 p.m., while full details will be released Friday.
Teachers will not have to fret about the new option—no educators will have to juggle both virtual and in-person learning. Instead, certain teachers will specialize in virtual education, according to a press release.
The news comes after a recent spike in COVID cases in Travis County and across the nation. Children typically suffer fewer symptoms of COVID when contracted, but they are now catching the virus more often than their older counterparts without a vaccine available to them and as the more contagious Delta variant is quickly being spread.
While local health officials are recommending everyone wear masks, public school districts are unable to mandate masks due to an executive order issued by Gov. Greg Abbott in May.
Parents have expressed concern about classrooms with masks unenforceable and children under the age of 12 ineligible for a vaccine. Some have even said they would look for alternative schooling if AISD did not offer a virtual option for students.
- Austin ISD reports enrollment drop due to virtual learning - austonia ›
- Austin ISD goes fully in-person for 2021-22 school year - austonia ›
- Austin ISD receives COVID-19 vaccine for eligible staff - austonia ›
- AISD considers temporary remote learning amid holiday surge ... ›
- Austin ISD sees enrollment fall amid COVID, raising funding ... ›
- Austin private schools see continued COVID enrollment bump ... ›
- Austin ISD enrollment decline may lead to layoffs amid COVID ... ›