Public Notice: More Drama in Hays County
Plus APD at City Council, and what’s one man’s trash ...
The decades-long fight over the expansion of SH 45 in Southwest Travis County took a bizarre turn last week, with Hays County Judge Ruben Becerra posting on Facebook that two of his colleagues, "Commissioners Mark Jones and Walt Smith lied, and misled the court in order to allocate funds for an I35 extension through Buda connecting SH45." The funding passed on Aug. 30 on a 4-1 vote after both men assured their colleagues that Travis County commissioners were "very positive" about the connection. In fact, both the Travis County commissioners and Austin City Council have emphatically opposed this connection, which would "effectively make Mopac an I-35 bypass," according to a letter the TravCo commissioners sent this week, which goes on to say that "this decision by Hays County would have a profound and detrimental effect almost entirely on Austin and Travis County."
As you might expect, there are backstories here, and they go back a ways. On the SH 45 side, road warriors have been trying to push through a western loop for almost 50 years now, and for the last 15 or so have concentrated on building out parts of it, while denying any intent to build a full-fledged loop, which would require a full-fledged environmental study on this sensitive land. So this proposal to start the building from the southern end raises big alarm bells.
Then there's Hays County itself. Becerra, Smith, and Jones are all running for reelection in November, Becerra as a Democratic reformer, Smith and Jones as the leaders of the GOP majority, most often opposing that reform. Smith, meanwhile, just yesterday pled guilty to a lesser charge in a 2021 DWI crash case on Lake Austin Boulevard, with detractors claiming he's fudged the truth there as well, claiming "no blood was drawn, no breathalyzer given, and officers at the scene expressed no suspicion of impairment," when in fact he refused blood alcohol testing, after reportedly failing to pass a field sobriety test. And one might connect the dots from that to last week's cover story about San Marcos cop Ryan Hartman, who evaded DWI charges and got his SMPD job back after killing Jennifer Miller in a reckless driving incident, with an open 24-ounce beer in his console. Or further, to two recent stories about conditions in the Hays County Jail in San Marcos, where Ranulfo Benitez-Morales could lose a leg because of what he describes as inadequate medical care, and inmates languish because Hays County "courts are described as some of the slowest in the state," according to Brant Bingamon's Sept. 9 feature. A group called Mano Amiga has been agitating for criminal justice reform in Hays County and surrounding areas for the last five years; look them up at manoamigasm.org.
At last week's Austin City Council meeting, Council voted unanimously to require that commercial properties pay a parkland dedication fee and to clarify some of the regulations regarding those fees; amendments proposed by Council Members Natasha Harper-Madison and Chito Vela that would've limited those fee requirements were voted down. In other actions, Council declined to adopt the Austin Police Oversight Act, instead placing it on the May 2023 ballot, and reinstated APD's automated license plate reader program.
Next week's Sept. 29 meeting has a relatively thin agenda, the main event being the return of the Statesman PUD, the massive development agreement at 305 S. Congress; no signs of compromise as yet, with affordable housing being (as usual) the primary sticking point. Also notable: Items 77-78 bring former Planning Commissioners Fayed Kazi and Conor Kenny back to Council chambers as owner and agent, respectively, of a proposal to build "60 residential units and support services for SAFE Alliance, [plus] a separate mixed use building with 23 multifamily units and professional offices," just north of the Mueller development on Lancaster Court. Plus, of course, citizens communications, when CarolAnneRose Kennedy will use her three minutes of fame to discuss FEDERAL SHENANIGANS. She's been a regular for at least 15 years now; perhaps she'll get a proclamation.
The Trash Makeover Challenge is back in person this year: Texas Campaign for the Environment's 12th annual fashion fundraiser features amateur and professional fashionistas who use at least 90% recycled materials for their creations. It's this Saturday, Sept. 24 from 5 to 9pm at the Texas Disposal Systems Pavilion & Wildlife Ranch in Southeast Travis County, and streamed from 7 to 8:30pm. Food and drinks, a performance by SaulPaul, and a live and online auction that's already live online. More info at trashmakeover.com or texasenvironment.org.
City Council candidate forums, co-sponsored by the city, the Ethics Review Commission, and the local League of Women Voters, resume tonight at the South Austin Senior Center, 3911 Menchaca Rd., with District 5 at 6pm and District 8 at 7:30pm. Watch in person, online, on TV or radio, or by phone; see more info at austintexas.gov/candidateforums.