Does the I-35 opposition stand a chance?

Does the I-35 opposition stand a chance?
Jaime Cano of Escuelita de Alma speaks against the I-35 expansion at a Rethink35 event at the Whip-In on Jan.

Alright folks! Today is the first day writing from the new platform, Ghost! Please feel free to bombard me with suggestions about how to improve the reading experience. If you are a subscriber, you can now read any newsletter on the website, as well as via email. Thanks so much for your continued support.

    Quick hits

Composting for apartments: The city is considering extending composting services to apartment complexes. A year-long pilot program that ran at a handful of complexes apparently proved popular.

The cost of fertility treatments for city workers: The city HR department estimates that adding a range of fertility and adoption services to the city employee health plan will cost the city $1 million a year. That's less than 0.1% of the city's general fund, but in an era of extremely tight budgets due to the state-imposed revenue constraints, it's not easy to find a million bucks in spare change. It would be interesting to ponder whether this could prove helpful in recruiting & retaining employees who might otherwise opt for higher-paying private sector jobs, most of which don't offer coverage for fertility treatments.

Criticism of the Austin Energy rate hike: The Statesman's new City Hall reporter, Luz Moreno-Lozano, talks to critics of the recent rate increase. I think the most compelling figure from the story is that, according to the city, only a third of those eligible for the Customer Assistance Program are enrolled and receiving discounts on their utility bills. I'm surprised because the program automatically enrolls anyone who is also enrolled in a number of other low-income programs (Medicaid, SNAP etc). Yes, the city should do more to get eligible people enrolled, but the more people who get discounts, the more pressure it puts on the utility to raise rates again. This is why Council may want to consider reducing the annual transfer from the utility to the general fund so that AE can direct more money to subsidizing low-income energy bills.

I-35 expansion opponents prepare for long, hard fight against TxDOT

On Friday I checked out Rethink35's holiday party at the Whip-In, the iconic Indian kitchen/bar that sits just west of the I-35 frontage road in South Austin.

The fact that I didn't recognize many of the roughly 100 people in attendance –– or even those speaking –– suggests the organization is attracting support from beyond Austin's usual urbanist suspects.

Two Council members –– Natasha Harper-Madison and Chito Vela –– showed up, while new CM Zo Qadri sent his regrets but was represented by a proxy: comms director Caleb Pritchard.

Although Rethink35 began with a specific vision of transforming the highway into a boulevard, it now serves as a big tent for anyone opposed to TxDOT's proposed expansion. What it's calling for now, founder Adam Greenfield tells me, is for TxDOT to seriously study other options, including Rethink and Reconnect.

"We are a pro-choice organization," he says. "We're not saying that only Rethink35 should be studied. We want other alternatives studied."