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Reporter’s Notebook: What blind spots?

Monday, January 29, 2018 by Austin Monitor

Colossus of roads… “There’s no question that I am probably the largest road proponent in the Milky Way.” Thus Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty began a stemwinder about his transportation prescription for Central Texas at a luncheon hosted by the Real Estate Council of Austin last Thursday. The Republican road warrior was one of four panelists at the downtown Four Seasons Hotel, along with Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority Executive Director Mike Heiligenstein, the city’s Corridor Program Director Mike Trimble, and Todd Hemingson of the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority. “We need to create an organization whose sole purpose is to get up every day and determine how we build the most comprehensive road system that can be built in this city,” Daugherty told the crowd of approximately 300 RECA members. And to fund such an entity, he suggested diverting the 1-cent sales tax that Capital Metro collects to fund its transit operations. His message, peppered with characteristic passion and framing of Capital Metro as a failed organization, drew a healthy round of applause from the gathered luncheoners, of whom only three or four had raised their hands earlier in response to Daugherty’s snap poll of people in the room who used public transit that day. After the clapping died down, moderator Bobak Tehrany offered Hemingson a chance to respond, which he took after some mild chortles from the audience. He started by pointing out that Capital Metro provides 100,000 trips each day before bringing up the Katy Freeway, the massive highway in Houston that is held up as the poster child of induced demand, or the concept that expanded road capacity creates more traffic rather than relieving it. He also sought to find common ground with Daugherty over their mutual endorsement of tolling. While he lacked some of the folksy fire of the Precinct 3 commissioner, Hemingson’s remarks did score its own round of applause, polite and restrained as it was.

Barton Hills choir delivers entertaining performance, despite challenges on campus… January is Texas’ School Board Appreciation month, and to celebrate, the Barton Hills Elementary Choir sang a medley of traditional songs at the Jan. 22 meeting of the Austin Independent School District Board of Trustees. Superintendent Paul Cruz had selected the group for the role after seeing a video on social media of the choir’s quirky and fun concerts. Trustees captured the performance on their smartphones, and the students received a standing ovation. Gavin Tabone, the music teacher who had conducted the choir, returned to face the board about an hour later during public comment, but for a less joyous purpose. Tabone said that he and his colleagues at Barton Hills had no control over the temperature of their classrooms because of a faulty air-conditioning and heating system. Multiple work orders have been submitted, but to no avail. “I have had kids almost faint during choir shows because the heat has been blowing so hard,” he said at the meeting. After public comment, trustees Ann Teich and Amber Elenz asked administration to look into the matter.

Oh, right, that… There were some uncomfortable laughs at Wednesday’s forum for Austin Democrats hosted by the pro-science advocacy group 314 Action concerning the matter of local progressives looking themselves in the mirror. Much of the event focused on the recent streak in GOP voters and politicians to dismiss scientific research that doesn’t confirm their political ideology, especially around issues such as climate change and women’s health. A question about whether Democrats have any such blind spots brought about talk of scares over genetically modified foods and water fluoridation, with former City Council Member Laura Morrison recalling a movement by citizens while she was in office to remove fluoride from the city’s water. It was state Rep. Donna Howard who drew the chuckles, though, with a bit about those opposed to vaccinations: “Studies show that those who are most opposed to vaccines are concentrated most around Whole Foods stores,” she said. It’s worth noting that the correlation between anti-vaxxers and proximity to one of Austin’s signature businesses has been noted by scholars, if not stringently studied. But as a moment of levity in a fairly wonky political confab, it lightened the mood.

This week’s Reporter’s Notebook comes from the notebooks of Caleb Pritchard, Chad Swiatecki and Joseph Caterine.

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