This story was updated at 11:30 p.m. with the final election results.
Proposition A, which will permanently increase the city's property tax rate by 20% to help fund Project Connect, a 15-year, $7.1 billion overhaul of the local transit system, passed with over 58% of the 392,547 votes cast this election.
"This plan has resolved a 20-year conversation here in Austin," Capital Metro CEO Randy Clarke said at an 8:45. p.m. press conference. "It has been a long road, but we now have a data driven, community designed plan that voters are telling us they want us to build."
Gina Fiandaca, assistant city manager for mobility, elucidated on the next steps in a statement: "Our immediate next steps are to recruit and appoint the first (Austin Transportation Partnership) board, craft its first budget, and begin the environmental process for individual projects," she said.
Historic in scope, the transit plan includes two light rail lines—Austin's first ever—as well as an underground downtown tunnel and a $300 million fund for anti-displacement initiatives.
Proposition A projected to pass! (THREAD) I’m proud to live in a city that is looking to its future -- one not sati… https://t.co/8C3tHDlhQw— Mayor Adler | 😷wear a mask. (@Mayor Adler | 😷wear a mask.) 1604458909.0
Although supporters came from backgrounds as varied as real estate, business, environmental groups and racial justice activism, Proposition A has faced an uphill battle.
Two previous light rail initiatives have failed at the ballot box in the last two decades, and multiple groups, including the political action committee Our Mobility Our Future and the nonprofit Voices of Austin, vehemently oppose the effort.
Supporters, including all 11 members of Austin City Council, tout Project Connect's ability to address traffic congestion, population growth and systemic inequities.
Although the pandemic has led to more people working from home than ever, it has also created an economic recession and financial hardship for many Austinites. Building out Project Connect over the next 10 to 13 years would require workers, and so its proponents also painted it as a vehicle for job creation.
The high cost of Project Connect is merited by its high payoff, they say, emphasizing the value of public transit to essential workers, students and low-income families.
"Prop A is our chance to put our money where our mouth is," Austin Justice Coalition Executive Director Chas Moore said at a press conference last week. "It's a direct investment in the quality of the life of Black people, or brown people, for everyone who's been marching because of their skin color or their bank account or what part of town they live in."
Mobility for All, a PAC that supported Project Connect, outraised opponents, collecting more than $1 million in donations, according to campaign finance reports. Its top donors were transportation engineering firms HNTB and HDR, developers Brandywine Operating Partnership and Endeavor Real Estate Group, and Major League Soccer group Austin FC.
But Proposition A supporters worried about the role of "secret money" and misinformation leading up to Election Day.
As a PAC, Our Mobility Our Future is required to disclose its funders, who include car dealers, Republicans and long-time opponents of transit investment. They helped the group raise nearly $540,000, according to campaign finance reports.
But Voices of Austin, a nonprofit, is not beholden to the same standards. Executive Director Peck Young told Austonia that its funding comes from locals and that the group is unaffiliated with police unions or the Koch brothers. But there are no public records to verify his claims.
"I think when people are putting up dollars to influence an election, they ought to stand up and say who they are so that people can understand who it is who is sponsoring the message," Austin Mayor Steve Adler said last week.
Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza also raised concerns about "Republican tactics of disinformation."
Both Our Mobility Our Future and Voices of Austin claimed that Proposition A would raise property taxes by around 25%. In fact, it raises the city's property tax rate by about 20%. Because city property owners also pay taxes to Austin ISD, Austin Community College, Central Health and Travis County, however, the overall increase to property tax bills will only be around 4%.
Opponents of Project Connect say the city and Capital Metro did not do enough engineering studies to back up the plan, which could end up causing budget overruns—and an increased burden to taxpayers—in the future. They also criticize the plan's reliance on federal grants, which are not guaranteed and may be jeopardized by the economic recession occasioned by the pandemic.
"This is not a time for useless higher taxes, penalizing struggling businesses, homeowners, and renters," OMOF donor Jim Skaggs and analyst Roger Falk wrote in a recent opinion piece. "We need to reach a stable economic condition, with COVID-19 under control."
They also characterize light rail as old-fashioned and possibly made obsolete by COVID-19, which has seen many companies adopt long-term work-from-home policies. As an alternative to public transit, Our Mobility Our Future suggests new mobility technologies—from autonomous vehicles to electric scooters—will be widespread enough to serve Austin's growing population by the time Project Connect is built out.
Voters also approved another local mobility initiative, Proposition B, an active $460 active mobility bond that would increase the city's property tax rate by 2 cents over the next six years. Dollars will go toward sidewalks, urban trails, bikeways and Vision Zero, a campaign to eliminate traffic fatalities and serious injuries.
Of the 386,837 votes tallied, 67.39% were in support of the bond.
Austin City Council voted 9-1 to include Proposition B in this election, with District 6 Council Member Jimmy Flannigan opposing and District 10 Council Member Alison Alter abstaining.
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If you are a committed, grunge-wearing resident of the Pacific Northwest, it is easy–almost automatic–to look at Texas as an extraordinarily dry, hot and culturally oppressive place that is better to avoid, especially in the summer. Our two granddaughters live with their parents in Portland.
Recently we decided to take the older girl, who is 15, to Dallas. Setting aside the summer heat, a Portlander can adjust to the vibes of Austin without effort. So let’s take Texas with all of its excesses straight up. Dallas, here we come.
Our 15-year-old granddaughter and her sister, 12, have spent summer weeks with us, usually separately so that we could better get to know each individually. In visits focused on Austin and Port Aransas, the girls seemed to be developing an affection for Texas.
Houston and Dallas are two great American cities, the 4th and 9th largest, each loaded with cultural treasures, each standing in glittering and starchy contrast to Austin’s more louche, T-shirts and shorts ways.
Three hours up I-35, Dallas loomed before us as a set of gray skyscrapers in a filmy haze, accessed only through a concrete mixmaster of freeways, ramps and exits. I drove with false confidence. Be calm, I said to myself, it will all end in 10 minutes under the hotel entrance canopy. And it did.
The pool at the Crescent Court Hotel in Dallas. (Crescent Court Hotel)
We stayed three nights at the Crescent Court Hotel ($622 a night for two queens), a high-end hotel in Uptown, patronized by women in white blazers, business people in suits, and tall, lean professional athletes, their shiny Escalades and Corvettes darting in and out, and other celebrities like Bill Barr, the former attorney general who shoe-horned his ample self into a Toyota.
Each morning as I walked to Whole Foods for a cappuccino, a fellow identified by a bellman as Billy the Oilman arrived in his Rolls Royce Phantom. Where does he park? “Wherever he wants to. He likes the Starbucks here.”
We garaged our more modest set of wheels for the visit. We were chauffeured for tips by Matt Cooney and Alfonza “The Rev” Scott in the hotel’s black Audi sedan. They drove us to museums, restaurants and past the enclaves of the rich and famous. In Highland Park, The Rev pointed out the homes of the Dallas Cowboys' Jerry Jones and Troy Aikman along with the family compound of the Hunts, oil and gas tycoons.
The Dallas Museum of Art’s “Cartier and Islam” exhibit (until Sept. 18) attracted an older crowd; the nearby Perot Museum of Nature and Science was a powerful whirlpool of kids’ groups ricocheting from the Tyrannosaurus Rex to the oil fracking exhibit. Watch your shins.
A Geogia O'Keeffe oil painting called "Ranchos Church, New Mexico" at the Amon Carter Museum of Modern Art. (Rich Oppel)
For us, the best museum was the Amon Carter Museum of Modern Art in Fort Worth, a 50-minute, madcap drive away via a 75 mph toll lane along I-30. Don’t try it during rush hour. The Carter has an exquisite collection of Remington paintings and sculptures and an excellent array of 19th and 20th-century paintings as well. Pick one museum? The Amon Carter. Peaceful, beautiful, uncrowded, free admission and small enough to manage in two hours.
The Fort Worth Stockyards, a place of history (with a dab of schmaltz), fun and good shopping, filled one of our mornings. The 98 acres brand the city as Cowboy Town, with a rodeo and a twice-daily (11:30 a.m. and 4 p.m.) cattle drive. We shopped for boots, drank coffee and watched the “herd” of 18 longhorns. So languid was their progress that if this were a real market drive the beef would have been very tough and leathery before it hit the steakhouse dinner plate.
The cattle drive at the Fort Worth Stockyards. (Rich Oppel)
But we could identify: the temperature was 97. “I saw a dog chasing a cat today,” said the emcee, deploying a very old joke. “It was so hot that both were walking.”
With limited time, we chose three very different restaurants:
- Nobu, in the Crescent Court Hotel; Jia, a modern Chinese restaurant in Highland Park; and Joe T. Garcia’s in Fort Worth. Nobu’s exotic Japanese menu set us back $480, with tip, for four (we had a guest), but it was worth it.
- Jia was an ordinary suburban strip mall restaurant, but with good food and a reasonable tab of $110 for four.
- Joe T.’s is an 85-year-old Fort Worth institution (think Matt’s El Rancho but larger), a fine Mexican restaurant where a meal with two drinks was $115.
Sushi at high-end restaurant Nobu. (Crescent Hotel)
It was all a splurge for a grandchild’s visit. Now we will get back to our ordinary road trips of Hampton Inns, where a room rate is closer to the Crescent Court’s overnight parking rate of $52. And to corner cafes in small towns.
Did Dallas change our 15-year-old’s view of Texas? “Yes. I think it’s a lot cooler than I did. The fashion, the food.” So, not only Austin is cool. Take Texas as a whole. It’s a big, complex, diverse and wonderful state.
Giga Texas, the massive Tesla factory in southeast Travis County is getting even bigger.
The company filed with the city of Austin this week to expand its headquarters with a new 500,000-square-foot building. The permit application notes “GA 2 and 3 expansion,” which indicates the company will make two general assembly lines in the building.
More details about the plans for the building are unclear. The gigafactory has been focused on Model Y production since it opened in April, but the company is also aiming for Cybertruck production to kick off in mid-2023.
While there is room for expansion on the 3.3 square miles of land Tesla has, this move comes after CEO Elon Musk’s recent comments about the state of the economy and its impact on Tesla.
In a May interview with Tesla Owners Silicon Valley, Musk said the gigafactories in Berlin and Austin are “gigantic money furnaces” and said Giga Texas had manufactured only a small number of cars.
And in June, Musk sent a company wide email saying Tesla will be reducing salaried headcount by 10%, then later tweeted salaried headcount should be fairly flat.
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