City staff will now bring forward an official tax rate proposal for the council to vote on by Aug. 7. The proposal will include an 8.75-cent property tax increase.
The city and CapMetro also approved creating a shared governing board for the project, with officials from both entities overseeing the massive transit upgrade.
"This is an exciting day to be taking a step forward," Mayor Steve Adler said. "This is both a scary time filled with uncertainties, and a time of hope as we are on the verge of real transformative change … We need to move forward to be the Austin of our aspirations, and our dreams."
The influence of the pandemic
The reduced ask came as a sharp turnaround for Project Connect—the city gave the nod to the full $10 billion plan as recently as late June. The plan approved today will be just over $7 billion, with 45% coming from the federal government and most of the rest from the planned November vote.
However, the property tax increase approved by CapMetro and the council was actually slightly higher than the reduced proposal—an 8.5-cent property tax increase—brought forward last week. The 0.25-cent increase will allow Project Connect to triple the amount of funding to help with housing displacement to $300 million.
For and against
Of the 84 people who signed up to comment on Project Connect, 68 registered in favor of the plan, with five registering against it.
The speakers who opposed the proposal called parts of Project Connect, such as the construction of an underground rail tunnel through downtown, "sketchy," poorly planned and a "fairy tale" that could easily go over budget.
"We're in the middle of a pandemic, and we don't have funds to do this sort of thing," said Caroline Reynolds, who lives near downtown and said she is drawing on her experience as an engineer.
Other residents called on the council and CapMetro to delay putting the issue on the ballot to 2022 and impressed upon the officials the possibility of the it failing during a year with such major financial crises going on.
Many spoke in support of the project, advocating for the need to work on improving public transit in the city sooner rather than later.
"I urge you all to go big on this project and support it moving forward," said Bay Scoggin, the director at Texas Public Interest Research Group.
Danielle Skidmore, a civil engineer and former candidate for City Council District 9, in Central Austin, also spoke in support of Project Connect.
"We will look back at 2020, and recognize it is the right time to begin this investment," Skidmore said. "Project Connect will define Austin in the 21st century."
Two more votes are required before the proposal can be put on the November ballot, the second of which will happen during the Aug. 12-14 City Council budget meetings.
This article was updated after the vote.
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Republic Square Park has turned into a Ford-themed fiesta for its Built to Connect pop-up experience, complete with test drives, off-roading and an inside look at the Tesla-rivaling electric vehicles that the motor vehicle company is planning to integrate over the next decade.
The outdoor driving event is free, open to the public and will stay in the park from now until Oct. 24, offering rides on Bronco Mountain, a 0-40 mph zip in the 2022 all-electric Ford F-150 Lightning and a chance to win an original Ford Bronco.
The event kicked off with a panel of speakers, including Austin Director of Transportation Rob Spillar, Ford General Manager Darren Palmer and engineering specialists discussing Ford's goals to make it so that 50% of the vehicles on the road are electric by 2030.
As an eco-conscious city, Spillar said that around 4,000 vehicles, or 22% of the Texas electric vehicle market, as well as over 15,000 plugins lie in Austin, meaning driving electric just got accessible.
"Austin, as you know, is a fast-growing modern city that is committed to protecting the long term health and viability of our communities and strategies that reduce greenhouse gases, mitigate the effects of climate change and improve the drone quality of life here in Central Texas for all of our residents," Spillar said.
And Ford's electric vehicles are putting up some steep competition for newly-Austin-based company Tesla. The new electric Mustang Mach-E and F-150 Lighting offer amenities that used to be exclusive to Musk's brand, such as the BlueCruise self-driving network. The cars also boast a 300-mile range on a single charge, assisted reverse technology and access to the biggest charging network outside of the home.
Plus, Ford's got affordability on its side. The F-150 Lightning starts at $39,974 and the Mustang Mach-E starts at $42,895, while the cheapest Tesla model, the Model 3, starts at $41,990 and averages 262 miles on a single charge.
Speaking of price, the numbers on the electric vehicles may look like a little more than you'd like to pay for your transport, but Palmer promises it will pay off. In addition to a $7,500 tax credit you can earn for your sustainability, you'll never have to buy a pricey tank of gas again.
"Personally, I have not found one customer ever, who would go back to gas so that says something," Palmer said. "I realized, at $51,000, that car outruns every childhood hero car I ever had."
Texas buyers: take note. The Ford Lightning can power your house for three to 10 days, just in case the statewide power grid fails. You can take it glamping with you, so you don't have to leave the comfort of modern life behind, and in a pinch, Palmer said he's even seen a wedding party powered by the truck.
Ford is investing $30 billion into the U.S. market to meet demand by 2025 and the new electric truck already has over 150,000 reservations.
"I think they're going to take off much faster than you expect—they're going to be extremely, extremely popular next year," Palmer said. "With the incentives that are available today, this is starting to become more mainstream and viable for more and more families. We couldn't have done that before, we didn't have the technology, or the technology at that price."
The event is ongoing through next weekend from 12-9 p.m. Monday-Friday and 9 a.m.- 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
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The Austin Police Department is searching for a man who is believed to be behind a series of robberies that is "sexual in nature and is escalating."
Three robbery cases that took place in North Austin within a 30-day period are being investigated by police, who report the victims all had similar descriptions for suspects in the case. The suspect is described as a 20-25-year-old Spanish-speaking Hispanic man, approximately 5'3, thin build, recently shaved with black hair. Police say he is known to typically wear athletic clothing and used a knife on each of the victims.
Here's a breakdown of the cases:
1. At 7:56 a.m. on Sept. 22 at the 1600 block of Rutland Drive, a woman was walking alone and returning from her child's school when a suspect walking by inappropriately touched her. The suspect then grabbed her by the arm, threatened her with a knife and demanded "her property."
2. At 8:10 a.m. on Oct. 11 at 1700 block of Colony Creek Drive, a woman was walking to her child's school when a man approached her with a knife and then demanded her personal items. The suspect then said he would return the items in return for sex.
3. At 11:03 a.m. on Oct. 13 at the 9300 block of Northgate Boulevard, a woman was with her child in the laundry room of an apartment complex when a man walked in performing a sexual act. The suspect demanded personal items from the victim, threatening to hurt the victim and take her child.
Police cautioned the public to walk without earbuds, stay alert and report suspicious activity to the police.
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