Public Notice: Housekeeping News

Plus trying to slow the Convention Center expansion, code changes

Most of this we've known about for years (Jan. 8, 2021 cover by Zeke Barbaro / Getty Images)

Wow, what a week. Hard as it is to tear my attention away from the shit show going on Downtown, under the largest pink granite circus tent in the world, there is plenty of other news going on, and I'll get to some of that shortly. But first, how about that Ken Paxton?

I spent four very satisfying hours on Saturday afternoon watching the House impeachment proceedings and, oh, did they not disappoint. See the full story here for details, but in brief, from the filings, our state's top legal official "directed employees of his office to act contrary to law by refusing to render a proper decision," "directed employees of his office to reverse their legal conclusion for the benefit of [financial benefactor Nate] Paul," "improperly obtained access to [an FBI file on Nate Paul] for the purpose of providing the information to ... Paul," disregarded the advice of several of his top lieutenants that this conduct was wrong and illegal, fired them, then "directed employees of his office to conduct a sham investigation into whistleblower complaints" they filed.

In short, Paxton "abused the judicial process to thwart justice," "made misrepresentations or false or misleading statements in official filings," "engaged in bribery," "misused public resources," "violated the duties of his office," "misused his official powers," "made false statements in official records," and "used, misused, or failed to use his official powers in a manner calculated to subvert the lawful operation of the government." All in a day's work for the state's top cop.

Now, most of this we've known about for years ("What Is Going on With Ken Paxton and Nate Paul?" News, Jan. 8, 2021). The icing on the cake is that it's only being officially acknowledged and dealt with now because, having lost the aforementioned whistle­blower lawsuit, Paxton turned to the state to pay for the $3.3 million settlement. And the state, in the unlikely person of the Texas House of Representatives, said, "No thanks, and by the way, all this illegal stuff you've been doing? Nuh-uh."

So they kicked his ass out of the A.G.'s seat. And with 18 criminal counts nicely outlined and documented, that ass may wind up in jail at some point. But first comes the impeachment trial in the Senate, where House prosecutors will be happy to explain it all again, in as much gory detail as anyone wants to hear, including juror/Sen. Mrs. Ken Paxton. I wish SenateCam did close-ups, but truly, this will be must-see TV!

On a Fast Track, but Hold On

I noted last week that the city put out a call for a developer to redevelop and expand the Austin Convention Center, with demolition of the existing center to begin in 2025. This week, predictably, the opposition spoke up. I should preface this by noting that I'm a director of South by Southwest, which is apparently the convention center's largest annual booking and is on record as supporting the expansion. So, just the facts:

The City Accountability Project PAC this week "reiterated a call for both an independent third-party review of the Convention Center expansion financing plan, and a public vote on the now $1.6 billion dollar project." They claim the current ACC has never hit revenue projections, loses huge amounts of money each year, and drains the hotel occupancy tax without contributing that much to it – "just 2.8% of total room nights," says their fact sheet.

"The city oversold and underdelivered on Project Connect, and now they're using the same misleading tactics for the convention center expansion" said CAP co-founder Laura Cantu-Templeton. "This boondoggle must be scaled back in size and cost; Austin is supposed to be weird, not bankrupt." See more at, and the plan itself at

City Council meets this Thursday, June 1, with a relatively light schedule, but one item that seems like a slam dunk has drawn some heated opposition: Item 48 would eliminate all city occupancy limits for residential units. It's a Zo Qadri proposal, with four co-sponsors, and it sounds logical on the face of it, right? Why would you put limits on how many people want to live together in this tight housing market?

Well, as is often the case when you ask a question like that, it turns out there are very specific reasons for that rule, as laid out in a letter to Council on Monday by Betsy Greenberg and Jolene Kiolbassa, respectively the current vice chair and former chair of the Zoning and Platting Com­mis­sion, and both of the Heritage Neigh­bor­hood Association, just north of UT. As they tell it, "In 2014 the City Council voted to reduce the maximum occupancy of unrelated adults from six to four on new construction," to address a trend of small, affordable homes being demolished and replaced by new expensive, high-occupancy "stealth dorms," which created problems with noise, parking, and trash, and here's the kicker: "Rents in newly constructed six-bedroom homes were significantly more expensive on a per bedroom basis than the smaller homes that were demolished." I feel like a broken record, but it's true: Density brings lots of benefits in urban life, but unless it's managed well, affordability is not one of those, and in fact, creating density in and of itself tends to raise housing costs – at least in the short term, meaning two or three decades (see "Public Notice: Density vs. Affordability," News, Feb. 19, 2016).

So fast-forward to today: Greenberg and Kiolbassa ask Council "to amend the resolution so that a working group of affected stakeholders is included in a process to study the ramifications of the proposed change ... as was done prior to the 2014 code change," when the stakeholders included Austin Board of REALTORS, the Austin Apartment Assoc­iation, Real Estate Council of Austin, Austin New Church, AIA, neighborhoods, and Code Compliance Department. But with the current Council seeming hell-bent on increasing density at all costs, and with an instinctive mistrust of planning of any kind, it may be a hard sell trying to get them interested in other issues, even affordability.

Finally, just a quick note regarding the Christopher Taylor trial that seems to be spinning out of control in Judge Dayna Blazey's courtroom: Remember back in March of 2020, when we endorsed Blazey's opponent, incumbent Judge David Wahlberg, "as an effective jurist and for a balanced courtroom mindset that reinforces confidence in local justice"? But no, you didn't listen to us, and aren't you sorry now?

And in the category of things everyone agrees on but the Lege refuses to do anything about: Cannabis reform died in the Senate, where leadership refused to advance two bills that would've decriminalized low-level possession of cannabis and opened the state's existing medical marijuana program to tens of thousands of residents as an alternative to opioids. Observers do not expect Gov. Greg Abbott to add these to the call for any of the upcoming special sessions.

Send gossip, dirt, innuendo, rumors, and other useful grist to nbarbaro at

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