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Reporter’s Notebook: Cactus Rose, mobility plans and… Benghazi?

Monday, June 13, 2016 by Austin Monitor

Communicant bounced from “kangaroo court”…Something unusual happened at Travis County Commissioners Court last week. For the first time in months, the weekly segment of the agenda set aside for public communications was actually taken advantage of by residents with specific county-related concerns. The room was filled with palpable awe when, one after another, three separate individuals each gave three minutes of testimony that eschewed rants about chem trails or resolute promises of impeachment and arrest of county, state, or national figures. However, the nine minutes of functional interaction broke down with the morning’s fourth speaker, Carlos Leon, a regular on the local circuit of citizens communications. Leon began with his usual thanks to God for his opportunity to speak before launching into a blistering indictment of, well, things. Referencing free speech zones on college campuses and the Bowe Bergdahl affair, and accusing former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of allowing terrorists to murder Americans in Benghazi then lying about the truth,” Leon offered that an “antichrist virus has infected millions.” Perhaps motivated by the fact that Travis County has no constitutional jurisdiction over spiritual diseases, real or imagined, Judge Sarah Eckhardt cut Leon’s time short. When he refused to stop his stemwinder, a deputy moved in to escort him from the room. On his way out, a noticeably miffed Leon shouted, “My first amendment rights will not be violated by this kangaroo court!” (In short: Tuesday’s public communications at Travis County Commissioners Court started out strange, but soon reverted to the weekly routine.)

Adler rolls out mobility bond proposal while Casar, Pool prepare alterations…Mayor Steve Adler has offered up to City Council his draft resolution calling for a $720 million mobility bond to be decided upon by voters this November. The lengthy document would direct City Manager Marc Ott to write up a proposition that would include $100 million for regional highways, $500 million for corridor projects, and $120 million for “local mobility” projects. The latter would include $85 million for high priority sidewalks, $20 million for projects outlined in the 2014 Bicycle Master Plan, and $15 million for implementation of the city’s newly minted Vision Zero plan. Adler’s draft would also instruct Ott to work with state Sen. Kirk Watson and “other regional partners” to find other funding solutions for projects along Interstate 35. It also calls for steps to be taken to determine non-mobility priorities for another bond election in in 2017 or 2018. Adler’s draft is being co-sponsored by Council Members Pio Renteria, Leslie Pool, and Greg Casar. However, both Pool and Casar will hold a press conference on Tuesday to outline their recommendations to revise Adler’s draft. In a press release issued on Friday, Casar said, “We need to focus less on widening roads, and more on supporting public transportation and promoting safety for our kids and seniors who need basic infrastructure like sidewalks and crosswalks.” Also on Tuesday, the Council Mobility Committee will hold a public hearing and discuss Adler’s proposal and other bond recommendations.

Cactus Rose wants more time… Residents of the Cactus Rose Mobile Home Park and their supporters requested more time from Austin City Council to find affordable housing solutions for the more than 50 households that will be displaced if a new apartment complex is approved in the area. City council was scheduled to consider a proposal to rezone the area where the mobile home park currently sits at its meeting on June 16. If the rezoning is approved, it will clear the way for developer Oden Hughes to build the Lenox Oaks complex, which would include 356 new apartments. At a press conference on June 9, the Cactus Rose residents, who are largely low-income families of color, asked the developer and the city of Austin for assistance to find new places to live. The majority of the mobile homes at Cactus Rose are so old and dilapidated that they can’t be moved without falling apart, said Susana Almanza, president of the Montopolis Neighborhood Association. Residents would not only need land for a new mobile home park, but also assistance with buying new mobile homes. The developer has offered residents a maximum of $5,000 to offset moving fees, which would not be enough for even a used trailer, Almanza said. If the Cactus Rose residents can’t get further assistance from the developer, they’ve asked city council to delay considering the case until after council passes the Tenant Relocation Ordinance, which would provide Cactus Rose residents with relocation assistance from the city. “We need to ask, What are we doing for the poor and the working class in this city?” Almanza said.

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