Bond Election Cliffs Notes

General Obligation Bonds

Propositions 1-5 authorize the city to sell GO bonds, which are paid back out of the city's property tax collections (just under half of which goes to debt service).

Prop. 1: Transportation

Price tag: $152 million plus interest

Projects: Most prominent are a number of roadwork projects. Streets currently mentioned by name include (going clockwise around the map) Rutherford Lane, Loyola Lane, E. Cesar Chavez, the industrial area around Burleson and St. Elmo, South Congress, Dittmar Ln., Manchaca Rd., Convict Hill Rd., Barton Springs Rd., Enfield Rd., 34th St., Woodhollow Dr., and Dorsett Rd. Prop. 1 would also provide matching funds for federal and state transportation grants; support street beautification (through the Great Streets program) and ped/bike facilities; upgrade intersections and traffic signals; and (maybe -- city sources differ) fund "neighborhood traffic management," i.e., speed bumps and the like.

What got left out:The Prop. 1 list is more conditional than the others -- projects "may include, but are not limited to" the above list -- but rebuilding Yager and Howard Lanes, and extending South First, used to be mentioned by name. At one point, the Great Streets stuff specifically referred to downtown streets and, notably, to converting them to two-way traffic.

Smart Growth? The state of our streets has been a Major Civic Issue since at least 1992, and most of the specific projects here are aimed at fixing already inadequate or decrepit roads (few in the urban core proper), not at developing the major arteries and corridors of tomorrow's Desired Development Zone. (One might argue that inadequate roads themselves hinder growth, but get real -- look at Yager Lane or Dessau Road.) Likewise, while Prop. 1 could provide substantial funding for non-auto travel, we'd need quite a bit more to fully implement the city's ambitious bicycle, sidewalk, and transit plans.

Prop. 2: Parks and Recreation

Price tag: $75.93 million plus interest

Projects: Bunches of 'em in various sizes. Neighborhood-scale projects include (again going clockwise) improvements at Scofield and Quail Creek Parks; a rec center on E. Rundberg Lane; a Walnut Creek hike-and-bike trail and a pocket park in Chestnut; an expanded A.B. Cantu/Pan American Rec Center; a soccer complex out by Dove Springs; repaired tennis courts at the South Austin Tennis Center; a finished-out Shoal Creek Trail connecting to Town Lake; a new restroom in Pease Park; and more fixed tennis courts at the Caswell Tennis Center. There's also funding for new playscapes throughout the city.

Big projects include major improvements to the long-in-the-making Colorado River Park north of Montopolis, the "Zilker of the East," and lots of land acquisitions. These include buying Seaholm Power Plant from Austin Energy; adding what's left of the Knights of Columbus tract next to Zilker Park; making purchases along creeks (the Greenways Initiative); and buying currently undeveloped tracts of East and Southeast Austin for the famous "destination parks." Finally, Prop. 2 provides funding for a joint-use project with AISD in St. Johns, wherein the new J.J. Pickle Elementary will be combined with a new city rec center, library, and health clinic.

What got left out: Projects at Mayfield Park, Dittmar and Parque Zaragoza Rec Centers, Davis Hill Park, Garrison Park, Havens Field, and Northwest Rec Center, along with a new South Austin PARD maintenance facility. A joint-use project in Montopolis, similar to the one in St. Johns although without the AISD involvement, also shrunk (see Prop. 4).

Smart Growth? Whether "destination parks" will actually attract growth into a Desired Development Zone is hotly debated by planners across the country, but if you're truly confident that growth in the DDZ will happen regardless, it's smart to pay for parkland now while it's still cheap. The small projects can improve the quality of established neighborhoods, which may promote infill or at least slow the exodus out of the urban core. And the St. Johns project is one of the few items on the ballot that is both practical and innovative.

Prop. 3: Public Safety

Price tag: $54.68 million plus interest

Projects: New EMS stations in Dove Springs and near Deep Eddy; new combined fire/EMS stations in Del Valle and at Harris Ridge in Northeast Austin; and a replacement for the East Austin police substation on Springdale Road. The latter will also include the new, expanded APD forensics lab. But the biggest line item in this proposition -- nearly $23 million -- is for replacing the 9-1-1 Communications Center with a new, integrated "emergency communications and transportation management center," potentially for use by Travis County, state agencies, and Capital Metro, as well as the relevant city departments.

What got left out: An "undesignated" fire station, along with one on Parmer Lane, land for a Northwest APD substation, addition of EMS to the fire station at RM 2222 and Loop 360, and renovations to APD headquarters and the Municipal Court. Another orphaned project that might have ended up here was the downtown homeless facility, now being positioned for funding through other means.

Smart Growth? Projects in the DDZ were kept, while ones in the Annexation Zone were dropped, and the new, centralized 9-1-1 and forensic facilities should leave us, if they proceed as described, with room for growth. (The current forensics lab is pretty darn overcrowded, though.)

Prop. 4: Libraries & Cultural Centers

Price tag: $46.39 million plus interest

Projects: Expanding the Carver, Spicewood Springs, and Terrazas branch libraries, and replacing the North Village and Twin Oaks branches, both currently in leased space. Another new branch, near the ACC Riverside Campus (and perhaps involving joint-use with the college), will both replace the Riverside Drive location and serve Montopolis. This will leave all of Austin Public's branches in city-owned buildings. And of course, Prop. 4 also funds an expanded Carver Museum and the long-discussed Mexican-American Cultural Center on Town Lake.

What got left out: The new Central Library/City Hall, the most expensive single project to be considered, was deep-sixed by the Library Commission itself; the latest bond inventory no longer includes funding for even planning a new main branch. Otherwise, Prop. 4 has actually grown, with the addition of projects formerly listed under Parks-- the Carver Museum and the MACC, and the Montopolis/Riverside library, which was earlier the hub of a larger multi-purpose facility.

Smart Growth? The MACC is a downtown amenity, and all such amenities seem to become Smart Growth projects. As for libraries, both sides -- Central Library and branch-library boosters -- feel their position is the Smarter. Replacing the overcrowded and understocked John Henry Faulk Library would draw more people downtown, while also enhancing APL's system-wide capacity and customer base, which replacing existing branches (as opposed to building new ones, which was never on the table) does not. On the other hand, better branches are amenities to their neighborhoods, and neighborhoods are the basic unit of Smart Growth. The battle rages on.

Prop. 5: Watershed Protection

Price tag: $10.75 million plus interest

Projects: There are three: storm-sewer and drainage improvements along E. 11th and 12th Sts. (i.e., the SCIP/ARA Zone); extensive flood-control work on Williamson Creek, including levees, channel widening, and acquisition of creekside land and a few homes; and buying out or relocating the most at-risk of the 840 homes along Onion Creek which are now, due to the revision of federal flood maps, within the 100-year floodplain.

What got left out: Bank stabilization in Highland Park Cemetery, and a new storm sewer in Westover Hills in Northwest Austin. The Williamson Creek project has also been downsized.

Smart Growth? The Williamson/Onion Creek problems (the watersheds are connected) are a major headache for the city right now, and they'll surely need fixing if we want future growth to smile Smartly on the Southeast quadrant. The E. 11th/12th St. project is more an Austin Tomorrow project, tying into redevelopment goals not just for Central East Austin but for Waller Creek, into which this stormwater will flow.

Revenue Bonds

Props. 6-10 authorize the sale of Water/Wastewater Utility revenue bonds, to be repaid through customer revenue -- i.e., your water bill. Props. 6-8 deal with water service; the much more expensive Props. 9 and 10 deal with sewerage.

Prop. 6: Existing Waterworks System

Price tag: $64.9 million plus interest

Projects: Replacing the Center Street Reservoir (which is leaking) with a higher reservoir to improve Central Austin's water pressure; upgrading the aging Davis Water Treatment Plant; installing a new electronic distribution control system (called a SCADA system); building a new service center at Braker and Burnet (to be shared with Public Works) to replace the current facility at Lamar and Koenig; and unspecified "improvements to numerous customers throughout the city who experience service below State standards."

What got left out: Nothing; indeed, the new service center was added.

Smart Growth? Nowhere on this ballot can we more easily see the downside of our past dumb growth. Development on the perimeter has stretched the water utility hither and yon, but big chunks of the Central Austin water infrastructure haven't been upgraded in 40 years. If you want people to build in the urban core, it would be good to offer them adequate water pressure.

Prop. 7: New Waterworks System

Price tag: $49.94 million plus interest

Projects: Expanding the Ullrich Water Treatment Plant; expanding and upgrading service from the Howard Lane Reservoir; and installing a new water main along US183 from Motorola to E. Cesar Chavez.

What got left out: Nothing.

Smart Growth? Were it not for Smart Growth, the Howard Lane and US183 projects would likely not be.

Prop. 8: Water Supply Protection

Price tag: $19.8 million plus interest

Projects: More land acquisitions in the Drinking Water Protection Zone -- like Prop. 2 on last May's ballot, though not specifically in the Barton Creek Watershed -- make up less than half the total. The larger portion is to build facilities to expand the city's reclaimed water system (recycling non-polluted wastewater for non-drinking uses), which in turn frees up drinking water. The current system operates in the North/Northeast, out of the Walnut Creek wastewater plant; these bonds will fund expansion there and to Central and South Austin, including the new airport, from the South Austin plant.

What got left out: Nothing; the conservation land was added shortly before the May 2 vote, after the bond package had gone past the Austin Planning Commission.

Smart Growth? If it's Green, it must be Smart, or so many seem to believe. Reclaimed-water service, if it's priced right, might itself be an incentive for certain kinds of commercial/industrial development in the DDZ, which is where the city's sewer plants are.

Prop. 9: Existing Wastewater Service

Price tag: $77 million plus interest

Projects: Replacing deteriorating electrical equipment, mostly at the Walnut Creek plant; upgrading the wastewater main along Parmer Lane; replacing aging facilities along Barton Creek, including downsizing the main running right under the creek; and upgrading the Hornsby Bend "biosolids management" facility.

What got left out: Zip.

Smart Growth? The Parmer Lane main is tabbed as a DDZ enhancement, though it just barely falls within SmartGrowthLand (it runs west of MoPac). Otherwise, the story here is the same as with Prop. 6: aging facilities (the ones at Barton Creek are more than 40 years old) long ignored while infrastructure to the hinterlands grew like a weed. Except the consequences of a wastewater system breakdown are more than just inconvenient -- the words "raw sewage spill" and "outbreak of disease" do not harmonize well with "Desired Development Zone."

Prop. 10: New Wastewater Service

Price tag: $121 million plus interest

Projects: Expansion of the South Austin Regional plant, which will in turn allow for the closure of the 60-year-old Govalle plant; a new main along Lower Williamson Creek, to replace the current one which is nearing capacity; and a Northeast Area Regional Service Plan for the far northeast -- all the way out to, and perhaps involving, Manor.

What got left out: Nada.

Smart Growth? The Northeast stuff is explicitly Smart, and the closure of the Govalle plant is good news for that neighborhood. An ironic side of Smart Growth, seen most clearly here, is that noxious neighbors once thought to exemplify enviro-racism, like Austin's chain of Eastside sewer plants, now further the Smart cause by allowing infrastructure to be built in the DDZ more cheaply -- though Prop. 10, the second-most-expensive of all the bonds, is hardly pocket change.

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