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Reporter’s Notebook: glass (rental) houses

Monday, December 8, 2014 by Austin Monitor

Neither Pressley nor Casar longtime residents of District 4 … District 4 Council candidate Laura Pressley likes to paint a picture of herself as a longtime Austin resident and taxpayer and her opponent, Greg Casar, as a renter, one who does not pay property taxes. However, Pressley and her husband currently rent the house they live in, according to the personal financial statement filed with the Austin city clerk’s office in August. Pressley told the Monitor via email that she moved into her District 4 home on Sept. 11, 2013. Pressley’s financial statement and records with the Travis County Appraisal District show that she and her husband bought a house in District 7 on White Horse Trail in 1994 and sold the house on Oct. 31, 2013. Her campaign ad says: “As documented in Travis Central Appraisal District and Personal Financial Statements, Laura Pressley has owned property in Austin and Wyoming, and paid property taxes from 1994 — 2014. Greg Casar has no documented history owning property or paying property taxes.” When asked about it via email, Pressley said, “I’ve owned property in Austin from 1994 — 2013, and we currently own property in Wyoming per my financial statement.” Casar said he moved to Austin and took an apartment east of I-35 near the Fiesta Mart in 2011. After that, he and some friends got a house on Exeter Drive “in Windsor Park, two streets away from District 4. Our landlord told us that the house was going to be sold in the near future, so my friends and I planned accordingly and all found new places to live.” He moved to his current home in January, he said, just a few months after Pressley moved to her District 4 home. Pressley also labels her opponent as “unemployed.” Casar worked for the Workers Defense Project until June, when he quit to campaign full-time. Pressley is the owner of a company called Pure Rain. According to the company website, their products can be found at Central Market, People’s Pharmacy and Whole Foods. But when we checked the shelves at those stores there was no Pure Rain to be found, and when an inquiry was made about the product, each of the three said they had none. Both Central Market and Whole Foods carry Agana, rain water bottled in Buda and People’s carried another product.  When we inquired about why there was no Pure Rain at Whole Foods, Pressley told us, “With regard to our company, Pure Rain, and during the campaign cycle, we are focused on smaller, local customers.” Those who watch her Facebook page for Pure Rain note that it has not been updated since 2013.

Ott seeks to address golf course water concerns …  City Manager Marc Ott sent a memo to the Mayor and Council Friday outlining the benefits of two proposed golf courses adjacent to Walter E. Long Lake and seeking to allay fears about how such courses might impact future water needs. When Council members heard the item on Nov. 20, they voted to postpone consideration until this week. Their main concerns related to issues raised by Austin Water Utility Director Greg Meszaros. According to the memo, the city projects that its Parks and Recreation Department “would benefit in excess of $14 million over 20 years” and that a single PGA Tour event could generate $50 million citywide. But water remains the major question looming over everything related to the golf courses. Ott’s memo states that “the developer has agreed to develop this project with a ‘neutral water usage’ requirement that will result in a neutral impact to overall water use for City of Austin golf courses. They will provide technology and training to study player patterns and course usage with the goal to reduce irrigation at the city’s five municipal golf courses.”  It is not clear from the memo exactly how that would happen. The easier part to understand is a commitment by the developer not to interfere in any way with the use of the lake “for any purpose, including use and operation for a cooling reservoir or water supply for any purpose at any time.” The question of bad publicity for the city if it decides to go ahead with such a project is not addressed. In addition to the water questions, of course, there is the question of whether the city can proceed to consider Decker Golf as a bidder if its representatives violated the city’s no contact rules, as alleged by Brian Rodgers last week.

They’ll probably be getting their own limo soon …  Austin has its share of celebrities — Willie Nelson, Matthew McConaughey, Sandra Bullock, folks like that — but it appears no one in the Live Music Capital of the World gets the red carpet treatment quite like the Barton Springs Salamander (and his cousin, the Blind Austin Salamander).  The Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District is, by law, in charge of managing how much water gets pumped out of the aquifer so that it doesn’t run dry. However, the agency’s scientists have been busy for more than 10 years coming up with a document called the Habitat Conservation Plan, a significant portion of which is written to  inform the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service how the district plans to take care of the endangered salamanders that live in Barton Springs. These particular salamanders can only be found in certain parts of the springs pool, not unlike some college coeds and several octogenarians. With the salamanders being designated as an endangered species, the aquifer district is not allowed to “harass or harm” the small amphibians without a permit.  The district sent a copy of the fairly hefty document off the feds last week in hopes of getting something called an Incidental Take Permit, which protects the aquifer district in case someone or something does harass or harm a salamander under its care. So the next time you are at Barton Springs, be sure to give the salamanders the celebrity treatment they deserve. Just don’t harass them.

Music Commission to create venue/developer work group … At its last meeting, Austin’s Music Commission voting unanimously in favor of creating a new venue/developer working group. The working group will tackle the upcoming crunch on current creative businesses because of the higher rents that have accompanied the popularity of Austin. Music Commission Chair Brad Spies explained the group could talk about how to incentivize developers to include creative, local spaces in Mixed Use Developments; explore development models that encourage creative uses; and explore mechanisms to preserve existing cultural uses. Spies pointed out that in the city — and on the campaign trail — affordability has been a big issue. “There’s all these different people that are working on affordability … I think what is another side of affordability that goes along with that conversation is affordability in retail spaces,” said Spies, who went on to explain that affordable creative spaces was also important. “It’s ironic that the success of Austin and some of these creative businesses that have made all of these people and companies want to move here are threatened by all of these people and companies wanting to move here,” said Spies. He said that he had heard a lot of interest in the discussions from the development community, and pointed out that, “If you have a bunch of really cool, local, authentic Austin retail — in the long-term, it is going to make your property worth more.”

(Items for this weeks Reporter’s Notebook were contributed by Elizabeth Pagano, Jo Clifton and Mark Richardson.)

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