Rumor has it that AISD staff are closing in on a sale of various "surplus" properties they own around town, likely including the Baker School building at 40th off Guadalupe, and the Allan Early Childhood Center on the Eastside, both of which developers have been salivating over for years. That's no surprise, but there are reasons for some skepticism.
During the board of trustees discussions last month about the upcoming bond package, various trustees showed a disturbingly cavalier disregard for some basic finance concepts, such as: selling a fixed asset does not create revenue – sort of like, taking money out of your savings account isn't the same as getting a paycheck.
While the district has solid reasons under the state's "Robin Hood" finance system for budgeting some bond money (capital funds) toward ongoing expenses, it gains no similar advantage in selling off capital assets for that same purpose; that just makes the district poorer overall. It may well be that these or other property deals are a good idea – hard to say thus far, since all discussions have been in executive session – but one hopes that the board has at least considered the path chosen recently by Travis County, who just announced a 99-year lease/development agreement for their similarly "surplus" tract at Fourth & Guadalupe, which gives them a revenue stream while retaining ownership of the property itself. Meanwhile, at least in the case of Allan, there are existing programs underway there (see "Allan Rising," Feb. 5, 2016), and there have been proposals for other uses that would let the district retain ownership. Or there were until AISD staff quietly pulled the Request for Proposals for the property a few weeks ago.
Take the British aristocracy as a counter-example. A primary reason they're ridiculously rich is that they own much of the real estate in London, and have retained ownership through the centuries. You can get a long lease on a house in Mayfair, but at the end of the day, and at the end of the 22nd century, it'll still belong to the Crown. Say what you want about the British monarchy, but no one has ever accused them – or the Vatican, for that matter – of not being wise trustees of their possessions.
A different type of surplus lies at the heart of The Austin Environmental Directory 2017-18, Paul Robbins' massive, sprawling labor of love, released last week in its ninth edition since 1995. Robbins has won multiple Chronicle "Best of Austin" Awards – both readers' and critics' – for his environmental and consumer activism over the years, and in this edition he lays out an extended, somewhat fragmented article "on how to create an electric grid based completely on clean energy."
Calling for "strategy, not stridency" in the long-term shift to a truly renewable energy grid, Robbins warns against quick-fix solutions and "impractical dreams," and centers much of his argument around the challenges posed by the intermittent nature of renewable energy (especially solar and wind), and hence the currently enormous cost of storing and transmitting that theoretically abundant energy. In the end, he sees some positive routes toward the goal, primarily in efficiencies among consumers and utilities, and in new technologies creating a smarter grid and more ways to store and dispatch energy.
There's also a deep analysis of Austin Energy's proposed new gas plant, plus of course, a ton of useful local directory info and tips on food, water, energy, green building, watershed protection, networking, and so much more. The Directory is available at Half Price Books, Central Market North, Wheatsville, and online at www.environmentaldirectory.info.
Library Fans! Whomever the city hires to be its new Director of Libraries will, among other things, oversee the opening of the new Central Library, still tentatively set to open in the fall. Meet the finalist candidates at a town hall meeting on Thu., July 27, from 6:30-8:30pm at the Carver Library, 1161 Angelina. They'll each give a short speech and take questions, followed by an informal meet and greet. See more info at library.austintexas.gov.
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