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Monday, November 21, 2016 by Austin Monitor

Reporter’s Notebook: Fuel for the fire

Austin Energy prepared for Trump's coal revival... During a presentation on Austin Energy’s financial health at the Electric Utility Commission meeting on Monday, Commissioner Stefan Wray asked AE Deputy General Manager Mark Dombroski a question about the elephant in the room: “What possible impact will the new federal government under President Trump have?” President-elect Donald Trump has on several occasions made statements that he wants to rebuild the coal industry and turn away from renewable energy alternatives. After the nervous laughter that followed, Wray continued, “Were these projections put together before the election or after the election?" Dombroski explained that the projections had indeed been calculated a year ago, and he reiterated AE’s commitment to moving away from coal and pursuing clean power. However, if the industry does undergo drastic change, he said, AE staff is ready for it. “We never envisioned President Trump, but we did envision a low-price market.”

District 10 runoff heats up... This Tuesday, Nov. 22, City Council will convene to set the District 10 runoff election, which will be held on Dec. 13. It will be the only Council runoff, and it will pit incumbent Sheri Gallo (who won 48.23 percent of the vote in the Nov. 8 election) against Alison Alter (who won 35.52 percent). And it looks like the campaigning will be in full force until then. On Friday, The Austin Chronicle dove into allegations that Gallo had used her city email to facilitate a real estate transaction near the mega-contentious Grove at Shoal Creek planned unit development. That email was brandished by the Arbor political action committee's GalloForSale website as proof that she lacks a clear boundary between her roles as a Council member and as a real estate agent. Gallo told the Chronicle that the email had been taken out of context and that she was connecting the homeowners to developers, not offering her own services. That claim was backed up by the entire email chain. But it's not clear that Gallo will be off the hook (with some people) for her perceived pro-development stance anytime soon. Although Gallo voted against the Champions rezoning at the last meeting of City Council, correspondence with one neighborhood opponent made it clear to the Monitor that the vote didn't carry the weight one might expect – and that weight wasn't distributed in a predictable way, either. Glenlakes resident Linda Bailey, who is part of a group that continues to protest that case, told the Monitor that she did not feel Gallo advocated for the neighborhood strongly enough. "We consider it an election runoff issue in District 10," she said. A District 10 runoff forum will be held at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 29, at City Hall.

Driverless... A few of the people who came to a discussion organized last week by the Austin Monitor about ride-hailing were disappointed that a Q&A session did not follow the on-stage interview of Trevor Theunissen, the regional director of public affairs for Uber. Scheleen Walker stood up and demanded that Theunissen answer for his company's pursuit of driverless cars. The concerns he stated that he had for Uber drivers throughout the interview, she said, were contradicted by the fact that his employer was trying to get rid of drivers by developing autonomous vehicles. "This whole idea that they're trying to be there for the drivers and the people and to create jobs is a myth," she later told the Monitor. Nevertheless, she said, she had no problem with driverless cars – only with what she saw as the company's disingenuous posture on its workers. "I would much rather my kid get into an autonomous vehicle that doesn't have a child predator in it," she said.

This week's Reporter's Notebook comes from the notebooks of Joseph Caterine, Jack Craver and Elizabeth Pagano.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Austin Energy: As a municipally-owned electric utility, Austin Energy is a rarity in the largely deregulated State of Texas. It's annual budget clocks in at over $1 billion. The utility's annual direct transfer of a Council-determined percentage of its revenues offers the city a notable revenue stream.

Sheri Gallo: Austin City Council member who represents District 10

Transportation Network Companies: Companies that provide transportation services through applications such as Uber or Lyft.

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