Reporter’s Notebook: Hearsay and opinion
Monday, July 22, 2019 by Austin Monitor
Careful what you read on the internet, folks… Capital Metro’s current incarnation of Project Connect is no different from anything else the agency ever does: complicated, controversial and confusing. Time, however, is running out for the community and the agency to figure out what it wants to do and whether this project is going to pass a 2020 referendum. Perhaps the biggest question at this point is that of mode: What kinds of vehicles will be run on the two high-capacity lines (whether, even, the two lines will have the same kinds of vehicles). Despite continued accusations from concerned residents that the agency is only pretending to study all of the possible mode alternatives, from light rail to bus rapid transit and the slightly ambiguous “autonomous rapid transit,” CEO Randy Clarke insisted yet again at Wednesday’s Project Connect Orange Line community workshop that “nothing has been decided.” At this point, that claim may either be a relief or a serious concern, depending on who you ask. The agency is currently working with engineering firm AECOM to study the primary Orange Line corridor and come up with a recommendation on mode by late fall this year. Nonetheless, Clarke says the agency is thoroughly considering all viable options about every major question, no matter what the gossips say. “Some of you maybe spend too much time on social media,” he said. “I’ll tell you right now, 90 percent of what I’ve heard on social media relative to Project Connect is completely based on hearsay or opinion and not fact.” The city, he reminded us, still owns the right of way and voters still have the final say regardless of what the transit agency may or may not prefer. “Nothing’s been decided and anyone out there suggesting otherwise, I would either not engage with them or really question their motives on why they think things have been that way because it’s not factually driven.”
Homelessness, continued… Usually, Austin in July is a bit of a snooze in terms of local policy battles. This year, however, Austin City Council elected to remove several city ordinances that essentially criminalized homelessness and gave the green light to a new South Austin homeless shelter before leaving for their summer break. The timing has helped to keep the focus on the (real and imagined) impacts of the changes since they were approved, and this past week was no different. A group called “SAFE Project Austin” has launched two Change.org petitions. The first looks to retroactively halt the new homeless shelter. The second, written by Travis County Republican Party Chairman Matt Mackowiak, starts with the inaccurate claims that “A few months ago, the City of Austin passed an ordinance that allows homeless people to camp in public spaces (excluding private property, parks and City Hall)” and seeks to rescind the so-called “camping ordinance” (which does not exist). Both the SAFE Project and the Downtown Austin Alliance have forums scheduled to discuss homelessness – DAA meets Tuesday, July 23, and the SAFE meeting will be held on Aug. 6. Meanwhile, the Austin Justice Coalition, which championed the changes to city law, issued a press release condemning violent attacks on a homeless couple in the city. The press release blames the attacks on escalating anti-homeless rhetoric, and the affiliated Homes Not Handcuffs coalition is also raising money – to help Austinites experiencing homelessness who have been the victims of such violence. Meanwhile, an apparently non-vacationing Council Member Kathie Tovo posted to the City Council Message Board Friday. Her message stated that she plans to sponsor an item on August 8 “to create a local government corporation to support homelessness services and housing” with a promise to post that proposal to the board when it has been reviewed by city staff.
This week’s Reporter’s Notebook comes from the notebooks of Ryan Thornton and Elizabeth Pagano.
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