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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The Texas French Bread Bakery, located on 2900 Rio Grande Street, has been completely destroyed after a fire erupted on Monday night.
The Austin Fire Department responded to the fire just before 11 p.m., where they arrived to see flames coming from the roof of the bakery. Firefighters fought the fire for about an hour before the roof collapsed.
While no one was injured in the fire, firefighters say the historic building was completely totaled.
Texas French Bread just went up in flames pic.twitter.com/agXqKN3c00
— Jordan (@AimIessFriend) January 25, 2022
AFD determined that the fire was accidental and caused by mechanical failure. AFD said the damages amounted to $1.6 million total: $1.1 million in structural damage and $500,000 in damage to the contents of the bakery.
This year, Texas French Bread will celebrate 40 years of business. Before the bakery occupied the building, it was the Rome Inn, a music venue that hosted 1970s artists like Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Austin's first major league team is ready to extend its reach with a new collaborative sports complex The Pitch, an Austin FC destination packed with local food, beverages and Verde fervor is set to open in Northeast Austin in February.
The Pitch, a collaboration between Austin FC and Karlin Real Estate, among other entities, will be located in the 50-acre Parmer Pond District, which already hosts the club's practice facility St. David's Performance Center.
Dubbed a "true destination" for both soccer fans and the community, The Pitch will consist of multilevel shipping containers designed by Mark Odom Studio that will carve out into a 1,200-seat stadium complete with a soccer pitch made of turf, food and beverage options and a five-acre "Parmer Pond" featuring jogging trails.
Made from multilevel shipping containers, The Pitch will include food and a 1,200-seat soccer pitch made from artificial turf. (The Pitch)
“The launch of Karlin’s new food and entertainment experience will greatly enhance the Parmer development while perfectly complimenting St. David’s Performance Center,” Austin FC founder Anthony Precourt said. "The Pitch... will offer a strong variety of food options and gathering spaces for guests who will utilize St. David’s Performance Center and Parmer Field for a variety of events.”
The Pitch project lead Dave Greeley, who helped come up with the concept, is a former president of Austin FC parent company, Two Oak Ventures.
“The vision behind The Pitch at the Parmer Pond District is to be a first-of-its-kind sports, dining and entertainment destination,” said Dave Greeley, The Pitch project lead and Team Orbis president. “This will be an unmatched experience for Parmer Austin tenants, Austin FC and club supporters, and the community."
With its proximity to the practice center, the venture hopes to contribute to the growing "soccer city" of Austin during Austin FC matches and youth games with the Austin FC Academy hosted at the St. David's Performance Center.
The Pitch hopes to converge both community and club interests with Austin FC. (The Pitch)
In addition to the soccer pitch, stadium and pond, The Pitch will provide a foody experience made by the creative team behind Austin staples like Fareground and Easy Tiger. The complex will offer local bites including:
- Ranger Burger, which offers beers and burgers made from highly-coveted Wagyu beef direct from Ranger Cattle in East Austin
- Ga Roti, which merges flavors from Northern Vietnam with the culinary techniques of France to create a unique rotisserie chicken joint
- Taco Flats, a local taco chain serving Mexico City-style tacos, micheladas and more
- Sand Bar, which fulfills its namesake with beauty cocktails, local beers and a sand volleyball court
- Coffee Club, a coffee shop and bakery
- Corner Kick Bar, the soccer-focused main bar of The Pitch complete with "tunes, TVs and (a) beer garden"
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