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Friday, October 31, 2014 by Austin Monitor

Reporters Notebook: Rail bonds & fluoridated water

Discovering the flip side of Laura Pressley … Two separate local media outlets started digging deeper into District 4 City Council candidate Laura Pressley’s recent political past Thursday. The Chronicle struck first with a piece from Monitor political editor Jo Clifton that runs down a host of odd beliefs attributed to Pressley, including wide-ranging concerns about Austin Energy smart meters and fluoridated water. Much of that is known to frequent Council watchers, who have seen Pressley engage on a number of topics over the years. (And, indeed, we chronicled some of that in an Oct. 21 piece.) Still, Pressley appears to be running from her recent past. “I’m not sure what fluoride has to do with affordability, rail and gentrification,” she told the Chronicle via email, “but the Chronicle should be asking about the top issues for District 4, such as a 20% city homestead exemption, utility fee reductions, cutting subsidies to big corporations, traffic, and the wasteful rail bond that I’m against. These are the issues I intend to fight for on Council.” Then, Thursday afternoon, KUT’s Terrence Henry uncovered a tape attributed to Pressley in which she, says Henry, espouses 9/11-truther-type suggestions that the destruction of the Twin Towers was a demolition job. Henry reports that an attempt to get Pressley to confirm that the voice on the tape is hers resulted in a hang-up. Later, via email, Pressley echoed what she told the Chronicle. “You should be asking the hard questions about how candidates are going to fix our affordability, our traffic, our crime occurring in District 4 and how are we going to pay for those new initiatives,” Henry reports Pressley wrote.

So it’s attainable, not affordable … It is a truth universally acknowledged that all Austin development projects must talk about affordability these days. We saw a twist on developers offering affordable housing at the Planing Commission this week, where PSW Real Estate representatives didn’t go so far as to say that their (extremely controversial) South Austin development Lightsey 2 would be affordable. Instead, they explained that they would be building “attainable housing.” The cost of attainable housing, for those wondering, is between $300,000 and $400,000.

They do it for the glory … In what had to be a historically long commission meeting, Planning Commissioners stuck it out until past 2 o’clock in the morning at their Tuesday meeting. As an added bonus, the air conditioning at One Texas Center, or at least in the room in which the meeting was held, was shut off around 11:30 p.m. or so. For those keeping track at home, that means the volunteer commissioners worked almost eight hours, in addition to whatever their regular gigs are.

Parks Board tackles existential uncertainty … Parks and Recreation Board members revealed some uncertainty about the future at their Tuesday meeting, something more than a few board and commission members may be feeling about now. With the new 10-1 Council coming in next year, there will be major changes to the city’s numerous volunteer advisory boards. While the Parks board is set to expand along with the new Council, that change will be delayed. The current board will stay put until the end of June, while Council members and their staff get their bearings. Before the Parks board adopts its 2015 schedule, Chair Jane Rivera said there is no way of knowing what the board will look like after June, because that will be “totally dependent” on the new Council. “I would recommend that we attempt to maintain the routine as much as possible,” she said, adding that board members will be discussing ways to make the transition to the new board “as seamless as possible” at a retreat in November. The conversation took place after the board re-elected its current officers, Rivera as chair and Jeff Francell as vice chair.

Accounting for the digital divide … District 1 Council candidate Ora Houston spoke to the Historic Landmark Commission this week about what she called “a process issue and a concern.” She explained that she had gotten three notices about a nearby property that was seeking a demolition permit. Houston said that she had called several times to get more information about the item to determine whether she should attend the meeting. “I got nothing back, so I drove here tonight just to say that the process needs to be tweaked a little bit,” said Houston, who suggested that the notices could include a description of the property and the staff recommendation, so those receiving the notice could decide whether they supported things in advance and without coming to the meeting. “If I don’t have that information, if nobody returns my calls, then the only thing I can do is come down and sit through (what could be) a very long process,” said Houston. Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky said there was no way to include staff recommendation in the notices, because they go out “so much earlier than we prepare our staff reports.” He did point out that the agenda and staff reports were available on the city’s website at least 72 hours before the meeting. Houston responded that many of the people concerned about historic properties in East Austin “just don’t have computers.”

Reporter’s Notebook items were contributed by reporters Mike Kanin, Elizabeth Pagano and Tyler Whitson.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

City of Austin Planning Commission: This commission addresses issues of land use as assigned to it by Austin's City Code. These include the abilities "[t]o make and amend a master plan, recommend approval or disapproval of proposed zoning changes and control land subdivision within neighborhood planning areas and submit, annually, a list of recommended capital improvements." It has sovereign authority, or the right to make final decisions on certain cases.

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