Some pre-Thanksgiving thoughts

Corrections: Yesterday I incorrectly wrote that Kyle Burke managed Vanessa Fuentes' 2020 Council campaign. In fact, he was the campaign's field director.

OK folks, been a pretty chaotic week on the home front without daycare etc, so here are some quick thoughts on a variety of subjects. I'll see y'all next Monday. Happy Thanksgiving. I am very thankful for your readership and support. A reminder to please feel free to send me thoughts on anything I write (or don't write) –– all you gotta do is respond directly to this email.

A year from the 2024 elections...

I wrote this two weeks ago, in response to the good night Dems had in elections around the country (Ohio, Virginia, Kentucky etc) but forgot about to include it in a newsletter.

This is a newsletter about local politics, but local government does not operate in a vacuum. It is greatly influenced by who is calling the shots at the state and federal levels. My takeaway from the Dem/lib victories two weeks ago is that the overturn of Roe continues to be major weight around the GOP's neck and that there is likely to still be some juice in the abortion issue for Dems to squeeze next year. It could very well be what allows an otherwise tremendously weak Democratic president to win a second term. But Biden, who is only president due to a margin of about 40,000 votes in three states, is indeed weak, both due to dissatisfaction from swing voters and young liberals.

However, I would caution against assigning too much significance to the results. These were odd-year, low turnout elections. There is good reason to believe that Democrats, because of their Trump era gains among the affluent and educated, now have the upper hand in low-turnout, non-presidential elections. That's a good structural advantage to have in the long-term, but it doesn't necessarily help Joe Biden win reelection. Indeed, Dem support has eroded among less educated and less affluent people, who are more likely to only vote in presidential years. We saw this in 2020, when the excitement among Dems about the unprecedented number of early votes cast came crashing into the depressing reality Election Night that many of the new voters had come out for Trump.

Another Burnet project to be excited about

Over at Towers, James Rambin highlights the redevelopment of a drive-thru bank and parking lot into a 306-unit apartment building. Good stuff. Just a five-minute walk from the Northcross station on the 803 MetroRapid line.

It's great to see parking lots turn into housing!

It's also a VMU project, so 10% of the units will be income restricted. Fortunately the developer wasn't counting on the VMU2 program, which is temporarily dead because some guy in North Carolina is bored.

A new homeless strategy office

It's hardly surprising to see Interim City Manager Jesus Garza drop the news of a major staff reorganization on the eve of a holiday. Garza says in a memo that he is pulling the Homeless Strategy Office out of Austin Public Health. It will now be a standalone department. Homeless Strategy Officer David Gray will continue to report to Assistant City Manager Stephanie Hayden-Howard.

Garza argues that it doesn't make sense for HSO to be in the health department because the resources needed to address homelessness "span multiple departments."

Maybe. It's possible that the HSO wasn't getting the attention it deserved from health department leaders. And it's also possible that Garza is making this move simply because he wants to exert greater control over the office. We'll see!

Progress on Safe Routes to School

The Austin Monitor highlights some of the many small infrastructure projects that the city has undertaken over the past seven years as part of the Safe Routes to School program. The projects aim to enhance the safety of walking or biking near schools.

Recently completed projects include a paved trail connecting Peggotty Place, Abbey Glen Lane and Shropshire Boulevard to District 1’s Copperfield Elementary School. The quarter-mile length of trail, which ranges between 12 feet and 15 feet in width, provides a safer and shorter route for students who would otherwise be forced to traverse highly trafficked corridors like Yager Lane.
Progress is also underway at District 2’s Palm Elementary School, where construction of new crossings and bus stops along Salt Springs Drive began in November. The project is paid for in part by Capital Metro’s Quarter Cent Fund program. A second phase adding bike lanes between William Cannon Drive and Thaxton Road will begin next year.

This is a convenient reminder that the safety of kids is one of the best arguments in favor of humanizing our streets. So many of our streets, especially our major corridors, are unpleasant, unsafe places to be outside of an automobile (or inside of an automobile).