News Roundup: Protests and Presidents

Contentious issues and presidential contenders

Protesters at May Day for Freddie Gray
Protesters at May Day for Freddie Gray (Photo by John Anderson)

In this week's News Roundup, protests of everything from police brutality to toll roads; Council looks forward to a busy week; the presidential race heats up; and more.

Last week saw a variety of protests. On Wednesday, April 29, residents gathered at Metz pool to speak out against the city's announcement that the pool would be closed for the summer. On Friday, May 1, there was "May Day for Freddie Gray," a gathering of over 100 people to protest both the actions surrounding Gray's death in Baltimore, and those surrounding the fatal shooting of Larry Jackson Jr. by an APD detective two years ago in Austin. Jackson's death was in the news again last week after a judge ruled that his killer's trial would be held in federal court, a venue believed to be more favorable to the defense.

"Save It, Don't Pave It," hosted by Travis County Commissioner Brigid Shea, took place on Saturday, May 2. The event was in opposition to the CAMPO 2040 Plan (see below). Also on Saturday, about 500 people gathered in Dilley, Texas, to protest family detention. Organized by Grassroots Leadership, the group called for a stop to the practice of imprisoning immigrant families who are awaiting resolution of their applications for asylum. – Amy Kamp

Budget Buzzing: City Council has a heavy policy schedule this week, with a work session Tuesday (for Thursday’s agenda), the regular Thursday meeting, and also a Wednesday work session devoted to the city budget (i.e., the five-year financial forecast delivered April 22 by the budget staff). Also on Wednesday, there will be budget staff briefing on “General Homestead Exemption,” which presumably will take up, at least in part, Mayor Steve Adler’s proposal of a 20% homestead exemption on property taxes, what it would cost (in the next fiscal year or phased-in over several years), and how best to adjust the prospective budget to pay for it. – Michael King

A Bridge Too Far: Thursday’s agenda, at 46 Items, doesn’t appear particularly hefty, but there may be more than a few contentious subjects. Council board and commission appointees (of which there are hundreds) are not normally controversial, but District 6 Council Member Don Zimmerman has recently nominated some folks who generated backlash, and there are potentially a few more in this week’s mix. (The Austin Police Association has said they intend to lobby against Antonio Buehler's nomination to the Public Safety Commission.) If they get through those, there are a handful of of other high-profile Items:

• Item 26: A resolution to formally disapprove of the CAMPO 2040 Plan, specifically the proposal to build a double-decker, multilane MoPac flyover bridge over Zilker Park and Lady Bird Lake, and to direct staff to initiate a review of the whole megillah;

• Item 27: A resolution to create an equity working group to consider economic and health inequities (e.g., economic racial inequality) and to address same in the budget process;

• Items 38-39: two of several public hearings, on 1) limiting development rights on small (substandard) lots, and 2) regulations concerning secondary dwelling units;

• And quite a few more, including a normally uncontroversial fee reimbursement of the April 25 Children’s Climate March (Item 24) – since CM Zimmerman has made it clear he doesn’t acknowledge climate change, he may issue a rant on this one. – M.K.

Despite a vote by the Senate approving the closure of the Austin State Supported Living Center, guardians of the disabled continue to fight the prospect of eviction, as the Chronicle reported last week (see “Guardians Fight on to Save SSLC,” May 1). Families now turn their hope to the House, which is expected to consider SB 204 and its own version of the bill, HB 2699. And, according to a recently drafted letter from Rep. Paul Workman, R-Austin, it appears that they might see a better shot at salvaging the place where their loved ones reside.

Workman’s letter – addressed to fellow representatives – takes into account the SSLC’s past violations but makes note of its “significant progress,” and ability to offer more attention to residents than in previous years. “I have been to the facility and seen some of the patients there and it is clear in my mind that putting these people in a group home somewhere is simply the wrong thing to do,” writes Workman, not mincing words. “…Shipping ‘them’ off to some other SSLC,” he writes, “would be inappropriate.” The representative concludes, “It is my strongly held belief that the Austin State Supported Living Center is a necessary state facility and must not be closed.”

Workman then proposes constructing a new combined “state of the art” hospital and living facility on the SSLC property or the Austin State Hospital (on 4110 Guadalupe) property. (Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, drafted a similar idea before the Senate vote; however, it never hit the floor due to lack of support.) The local rep plans to offer an amendment to the House bill that would allow for a two-year feasibility study on his plan. “After 100 years, surely we can wait two more to study whether this idea has merit,” he writes. – Mary Tuma

Bernie is in: U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, officially announced his bid for presidency as a Democrat on Thursday, offering a refreshing alternative for progressives to Dem candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Sanders’ anti-Wall Street platform aims to strengthen the middle class, widen access to education and health care, and reform lax campaign finance rules that favor the wealthy. "People should not underestimate me," Sanders told the AP, in response to what mainstream media and entrenched politicos will write off as a long-shot campaign. To read more about the newly announced candidate, revisit the Chronicle interview with Sanders during his recent visit to Austin (see “Q&A With Sen. Bernie Sanders,” April 2). – M.T.

Good news for Hillary Clinton and bad news for Texas Republicans in the latest presidential polling out of Iowa. New numbers by Public Policy Polling have the former U.S. secretary of state and ex-first lady beating every Republican contender by between two and seven points. Explaining the results, PPP President Dean Debnam called the numbers "consistent with what we’re finding in most swing states – Clinton usually doesn’t have an overwhelming advantage but she is consistently doing better than the GOP hopefuls.”

Clinton is also the only name out of the announced and speculative field of Democratic presidential hopefuls (former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley, former Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee, former U.S. Senator for Virginia Jim Webb, and virtual Democrat Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, beating current GOP front-runner Gov. Scott Walker, R-Wisconsin.

The statistics are pretty bleak for the two Republican presidential hopefuls from Texas in this pivotal primary state. Sen. Ted Cruz and former Gov. Rick Perry are limping along with only 26% favorability ratings, while 46% of polled Iowans have an unfavorable opinion of either man. In a head-to-head with Clinton, they are again tied, both losing to the Democrat by seven points (Cruz 42-49%, Perry 41-48%). – Richard Whittaker

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