With decisive victory, next steps are to appoint Project Connect oversight board and secure federal funding
By a nearly 19% margin, Austinites approved Proposition A, a permanent increase to the city's property tax rate that will help pay for Project Connect, a 15-year, $7.1 billion overhaul of the local transit system.
With victory declared, the city and Capital Metro have their work cut out. Next steps include appointing an oversight board and starting the process to secure more than $3 billion in federal funding.
A long road
Prop A's passage comes after two failed light rail initiatives, which were voted down by Austin voters in 2014 and 2000.
Six years ago, Austin, we asked you to reject a transit proposal. That one truly did too little, and for that littl… https://t.co/CVx71Pjep6— AURA: An Austin for Everyone (@AURA: An Austin for Everyone)1604506897.0
"It has been a long road, but we now have a data driven, community designed plan that voters are telling us that they want us to build," Capital Metro CEO Randy Clarke said at a press conference late Tuesday evening.
Historic in scope, the transit plan includes two light rail lines—Austin's first ever—as well as an underground tunnel and a $300 million fund for anti-displacement initiatives. Proponents argue it will improve the city's traffic woes, mitigate climate change and improve mobility equity.
Austin is getting mass transit and a record $300 million for affordable housing! The passage of Prop A ensures the… https://t.co/ajNDUcjc78— Ethan Tenison (He, Él) 🏳️🌈 (@Ethan Tenison (He, Él) 🏳️🌈)1604506243.0
Victory was not guaranteed, however.
Proposition A endured a contentious campaign period, with political action committees on either side of the issue spending heavily to convince voters of their arguments.
Opponents, including those at the PAC Our Mobility Our Future and the nonprofit Voices of Austin, said Project Connect was too expensive, especially given the financial hardships of the pandemic, and depended on federal funding that is not guaranteed.
"I understand people being skeptical," Capital Metro Chairperson Wade Cooper said at the same event. "We asked people to impose a tax upon themselves in the middle of one of the worst recessions that we've seen in a generation."
But Austinites voted decisively in favor of Prop A, which Cooper attributed to multiple factors: a collaborative development process that involved more than 60,000 residents and included regular meetings between the transit agency's board and Austin City Council; a transformational plan; and turnout among young voters.
Still, Capital Metro leadership assured the 129,232 voters who opposed Prop A that Project Connect will be a community asset—for everyone.
"Tonight we should celebrate this accomplishment, but tomorrow let's come together as one community and start building a better future," Clarke said.
Now that Proposition A has a voter mandate, city officials plan to unveil more information about the Austin Transportation Partnership, a local government corporation that will oversee the implementation of Project Connect.
"Our immediately next steps are to recruit and appoint the first ATP board, craft its first budget, and begin the environmental process for individual projects," said Gina Fiandaca, assistant manager for mobility, in a statement issued on Tuesday evening.
The board will include five members. For its first two years, it will include a member of council who will later be replaced by a council appointee, such as an Austin resident or Capital Metro customer. It will also include a member of the Capital Metro board and three community experts, from fields such as capital project management, sustainability and community engagement.
Capital Metro will share more information about the partnership appointment process in the coming weeks, Clarke said.
Peck Young, executive director of the anti-Project Connect nonprofit Voices of Austin, said he hopes the ATP is vigilant in its oversight, working to ensure Capital Metro hews close to its stated budget, and that residents hold them accountable.
"This unelected board is like putting foxes and weasels in charge of the henhouse," he said.
Others are more hopeful.
Yasmine Smith, co-chair of the local nonprofit People United for Mobility Action, believes the city will make good on its promises to address equity issues because of the community input it sought out and the contracts it has put in place.
"There are legal binding documents—that was important to me—making sure they keep their feet to the fire," Smith told Austonia last month.
The transit agency will also begin working on securing federal funding, which it budgeted to cover 45% of Project Connect's $7.1 billion price tag.
Opponents were vocal about their concerns on this point, arguing that federal funding is not guaranteed and worrying that taxpayers would be on the hook to make up the difference.
"Voters want this, but I don't think they want to pay for it twice," Young said.
In his view, funding depends on the outcome of the presidential election, which hinges on a few key states that are still tallying their results.
"If (Joe) Biden wins, I think he will make a good faith effort to raise taxes on the richest Americans to have money for things like infrastructure, which includes stuff like Project Connect," Young said. "If (President Donald) Trump wins again, there's not going to be a dime for that kind of stuff."
In a statement to Austonia in early October, U.S. House Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, agreed, saying federal funding for Project Connect "is almost all dependent" on who is in office.
Congress appropriates federal transit dollars, in legislation that must be signed by the president. Since entering office, Trump has consistently tried to cut funding for the U.S. Department of Transportation, according to a report by Bloomberg City Lab.
But Capital Metro leadership is more optimistic that the federal funds will be approved.
"One of the most important things is the local community saying they are putting money forward for the local match," Clarke said. "Tonight, the community has spoken, and that goes a long way to getting the procurement of the federal funding."
Clarke added that each of Project Connect's component projects will go through the federal funding process separately, meaning that it is not an all-or-nothing situation.
As the agency works to secure dollars for some of the core components of Project Connect, such as the two light rail lines, other projects will soon get underway, such as the implementation of four new MetroRapid routes and enhancements to the commuter rail red line, which runs from Leander to downtown Austin.
"It's go time," Clarke said.
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With two weeks of rest, a dream team lineup and nearly 20 scoring attempts in the match, Austin FC could have come away with a three-match home win streak against Minnesota United on Saturday.
Instead, missed opportunities and an equally boisterous opponent forced Austin to leave Q2 with a 1-0 loss to Minnesota.
Austin FC brought what appeared to be their strongest lineup to date to the pitch after their two-week break, including breakout stars Sebastian Driussi and Moussa Djitte. But even with dozens of shots between the two teams, the home team couldn't find their footing in the back-and-forth match.
After landing a brace in the team's 2-1 win against Real Salt Lake, Austin's Cecilio Dominguez struck first in the match with a shot on goal in the eighth minute of play. The scoring attempt opened the floodgates—in just three minutes, teammates Moussa Djitte and Sebastian Driussi would follow suit with their own looks at goal.
Just seconds later, Minnesota bounced back with a shot that forced Austin keeper Brad Stuver to jump for his first save, but a bad sendoff from the Verde and Black left Stuver unable to block another as the Loons' Franco Fragapone scored from close range in the 16th minute.
Despite a wide array of scoring attempts—from Djitte's blocked high-fliers to Tomas Pochettino's many near misses— Minnesota would stay on top for the remainder of the match.
A few flops from Minnesota, including a poorly-acted fall from the Loons' Emmanuel Arriaga (which was unrewarded and resulted in an Arriaga yellow card) and a controversial foul given to Moussa Djitte as he nearly made a solo drive to goal added to Austin's woes.
The Verde and Black's final attempt came as Austin center back Julio Cascante placed a close-range header in the final seconds of regulation, but the home team was unable to capitalize on their many attempts.
Both teams shared over 30 shots in the match, with Austin making eight shots on target. Austin FC held over 65% possession and received 12 fouls to Minnesota's nine.
It could soon be impossible for Austin FC to reach the playoffs, but Verde fans still have two chances to catch their team at home. Austin's first season will wrap up with five final matches, including a 4 p.m. Sunday game against the Houston Dynamo on October 24 and an 8 p.m. Wednesday match against Sporting KC on November 4.
80' Austin makes first subs
With just over 10 minutes left in regulation ,Austin FC made some late-game subs, swapping Diego Fagundez for Austinite McKinze Gaines and Sebastian Driussi for forward Jon Gallagher. Both have a history of clutch performances for the team: Gaines scored just 10 minutes in to his first match of the game back in September, while Gallagher was Austin's first scorer at Q2 Stadium.
It's looking more like a draw at best for Austin as the time continues to tick down on the match.
61' Djitte loses chance after controversial call
In the 61st minute of a less-cohesive half for Austin, Moussa Djitte found himself alone near the goal with a good chance at making the home team's first goal. But referees had another ideas, making another controversial call on the Senegalese striker.Refs stopped Djitte's menacing drive after Minnesota's Michael Boxall appeared to flop in a run-in with the striker, curbing Djitte's attempt to boos from the crowd. It's Djitte's second foul of the night and the team's ninth foul in the match. Both clubs host a yellow card, with center back Julio Cascante holding the home team's sole warning call. Minnesota's Emmanuel Reynoso holds the away team's yellow after an obvious flop that left him rolling on the ground for minutes, waiting on a call.
Blown whistles for both sides have slowed the match's tempo and left both clubs reeling as Austin looks for its first goal.
At the half: Austin still can't finish
45' still left to play. pic.twitter.com/39J1XnvvOc— Austin FC (@AustinFC) October 17, 2021
With minutes-long shooting sprees and more shots on goal than Minnesota, Austin could easily have the lead in the match. But each crowd-raising attempt has still been slightly skewed as the home team ends the half with nothing on the board.
In just 45 minutes, both Austin and Minnesota have reached the double-digits in scoring attempts, but Minnesota's ability to infiltrate Austin's penalty box has given them the leg up in the match. The Loons have sometimes found themselves nearly alone alarmingly close to goal, and they've capitalized on their chances with a 16thb minute goal by Franco Fragapane.
Austin FC, however, has not. The club has seen close calls from Dominguez and Driussi, headers from Djitte and near-misses from Tomas Pochettino, but missed opportunities and a few strokes of bad luck have left them scoreless. The team will need to shake their age-old scoring issues if they hope to get back into tonight's game.
16' Minnesota nabs 1-0 lead
Austin may have struck first, but Minnesota won the first points on the board as Franco Fragapane got one past keeper Brad Stuver from a close range in the 16th minute to make it 1-0. The Loons tested Stuver just as Austin did Miller, making two anxiety-inducing shots before Fragapane struck gold.
This goalie-vs.-goalie match has already seen three shots on goal from each team and a relatively quiet midfield as each team dukes it out in the box.
11' Austin tests Minnesota first
Austin FC has taken no time to threaten goal. In a three-minute span, the home team has racked up three shots, two of which are on goal, as the ball bounces between Austin attackers but can't quite find the net.
Dominguez strikes first as he looks to find his third goal in three matches in the eights minute, but Minnesota's Tyler Miller fights back with a clutch save. Djitte then tests Miller just seconds later, while Driussi takes a final shot from farther back that just misses the top left corner.
Austin's Fagundez and Pochettino were the playmakers of the three-minute shooting spree, but the club still came out scoreless. Minnesota soon rebounded with a shot of their own that was blocked by keeper Brad Stuver.
This may be Austin FC's most popular lineup— even the crankiest fans are commending the strong starting XI on Twitter. Tonight's starters are the same as in their win against Salt Lake.
New standouts Moussa Djitte and Sebastian Driussi are in alongside double-scorer Cecilio Dominguez up front, while fan favorite Diego Fagundez, Captain Alex Ring and Designated Player Tomas Pochettino take the midfield.
With Matt Besler still out on concussion protocol, Zan Kolmanic, Jhohan Romana and Julio Cascante take the back along with Hector Jimenez, who is in for right back Nick Lima. As (almost) always, Brad Stuver holds it down in goal.
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An Austin-based program manager for Apple Maps and one of two leaders for the #AppleToo activist movement said she has been fired after a suspension.
According to the New York Times, Janneke Parrish said she was put on suspension for several days while the company investigated her activities before she was fired by a human resources employee via phone call on Thursday.
Parrish was under investigation for allegedly leaking a recording of an Apple staff meeting to the media, which she said she didn't do.
The report said the company told Parrish, who is 30, that she was being fired for having deleted files off her company-issued phone and computer before handing them in for examination. Parrish said the files she deleted contained her personal and financial information.
Among the files she deleted were the Robinhood app, which she said was to keep Apple from seeing "how much money I lost investing in GameStop," the Pokemon Go app and screenshots of programming bugs she was fixing.
Parrish said she believes Apple was retaliating against her efforts in organizing #AppleToo, a group of employees working to expose the company's "culture of secrecy" that has been "faced disproportionately by our Black, Indigenous, and other colleagues from minoritized racial, gender and historically marginalized groups of people."
Parrish had been publishing weekly accounts of workplace problems that had been shared anonymously with her from other employees, though she did not verify employment on all of them. The accounts she received were in the hundreds, so Parrish said she was hopeful her termination would lead to some justice within the company.
Employees at tech giants have been more outspoken than usual in recent months—with former Facebook data scientist Frances Haugen speaking out against her former employer—and Parrish said the company's desire to keep under wraps has eroded trust by discouraging employees to come forward with issues like harassment or wage disparity.
Apple spokesman Josh Rosenstock commented on the matter: "We are and have always been deeply committed to creating and maintaining a positive and inclusive workplace. We take all concerns seriously and we thoroughly investigate whenever a concern is raised and, out of respect for the privacy of any individuals involved, we do not discuss specific employee matters."
Additionally, the email detailing her termination, which was obtained by the New York Times, said Apple had determined that Parrish "engaged in conduct in violation of Apple policies including, but not limited to, interfering with an investigation by deleting files on your company provided equipment after being specifically instructed not to do so."
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