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Reporter’s Notebook: Gooooooooooooals

Monday, June 25, 2018 by Austin Monitor

Different goals… Politics, as they say, is (are?) a full-contact sport. Unlike men’s soccer, which mostly has a bunch of grown men flopping around like children at the slightest breeze (women’s soccer, we’ll note, is far less lame). Nonetheless, Austin politics is now all about soccer thanks to Anthony Precourt and his aspirations to relocate his Major League Soccer team from Columbus, Ohio, to the Violet Crown. Now that the proposed location for a stadium at McKalla Place in North Austin has drawn counterproposals from other developers who are singing the sweet siren song of affordable housing, the discussion has spilled over into the mayoral race. On Thursday, candidate Laura Morrison sent out a fundraising email blasting Mayor Steve Adler for supporting the plan that would allow Precourt to set up shop without having to pay any property taxes on the city-owned land. “I think that’s outrageous,” Morrison declared. “Austin is in the middle of a housing crisis, so using public land like McKalla Place for the construction of affordable homes should be a reality, not just somebody’s political slogan.” Meanwhile, the McKalla Place proposal also threatens to create friction between the city and Travis County. Last Monday, Sean Foley of Austin Sports & Entertainment sent a letter to City Council urging it to consider the Travis County Expo Center as the home for Austin’s first professional sports team (on a major-league level, that is). Foley’s outfit has previously proposed a major stadium project at the site that would also be a new home for Rodeo Austin. Like Morrison’s fundraising email, Foley’s letter also evoked Adler. “This development would rapidly bring to life Mayor Adler’s 2015 Spirit of East Austin initiative by creating new jobs, new tax revenues, and new retail options to an area populated by generations of Austin residents,” he wrote. He added that the Expo Center – which, according to Google Maps is a one-hour, two-seat ride from downtown via the bus, a one-hour bike ride, a three-hour walk, or a 20-minute, $27 ride via Uber – “is already accessible for all Central Texans,” a statement that, true to so much of soccer posturing, is completely unconvincing.

Capital Metro prepares for Robo-Dillo… The Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority is poised to bring the first operational autonomous vehicles to Austin’s streets later this year. On Monday, agency staff will reveal to the board of directors details about a planned pilot program that will operate six of the rolling, 12-person boxes the agency demonstrated to the public last year. On Friday, the agency declined to divulge any dirt about the program, leaving us all to gather the scraps available on a presentation slide included in the meeting’s agenda packet. It states that the pilot will be a partnership between the agency, the city of Austin and RATP Dev USA, the parent company of Capital Metro contractor McDonald Transit Associates. The specific routing remains to be determined, but listed destinations include MetroRail’s Downtown Station, City Hall, Republic Square and the Central Library. Service is slated to begin in late fall of 2018, and the pilot will run for a full year. Not only will the program be the first case of robot vehicles operating in Austin outside of test runs, it will also introduce the first public transit circulator to downtown since Capital Metro nixed the oft-mourned ’Dillo lines back in 2009.

Change on the way?… For at least five years, a strict reading of the city’s panhandling ordinance by the legal department has stymied those in the music community looking to make busking – unamplified street performances for donations – a more viable way for musicians to earn money. For years artists who drop a hat in front of themselves while performing in a public right of way have technically been in violation of city code, though the Austin Police Department has historically taken a “Move it along” approach to enforcement rather than issuing citations. With the city in the early stages of possibly revising that ordinance to make it punitive for the chronically homeless, the possibility emerges that music stakeholders might finally have their opportunity to lobby for a rewording that would remove any legal question over the matter. While the Downtown Austin Alliance has taken a stance that the most recent draft revisions would legalize aggressive panhandling all over the city, its vice president of operations, Bill Brice, said the limitations on busking are an example of misinterpreting an ordinance’s intent, since music performances are exactly the kind of behavior most groups want to encourage in Austin. “It’s ridiculous to think that our panhandling ordinance could prohibit busking, especially in the city that called itself the Live Music Capital,” he said. “There’s nothing fearful, and we’ve got to figure out a way for activities like that enhance the culture and environment we like to happen more easily.” The best opportunity to weigh in on the busking matter will likely be the upcoming public input sessions for the revised ordinance, which are expected to be scheduled in the coming weeks.

This week’s Reporter’s Notebook comes from the notebooks of Caleb Pritchard and Chad Swiatecki. It has been changed since publication to correct a typo.

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