The battle over paid sick leave continues

In Februrary, the Austin City Council approved an ordinance requiring all employers to provide eight days of paid sick leave to workers. The ordinance was set to go into effect in October for larger employers and October of 2019 for small businesses (fewer than 15 workers). Obviously, business interests aren’t happy.

A big coalition of business groups –– Texas Association of Business, Texas Restaurant Association, Texas Federation of Independent Businesses among others –– have sued, saying that the state’s own wage laws do not allow local governments to put in place mandatory paid sick leave. The state sets the minimum wage and municipalities cannot set higher minimum wages, so therefore cities cannot impose higher benefit thresholds, they argue.

Today, a three-judge state appeals court agreed with the plaintiffs. Matt Zdun reports for the Texas Tribune:

The Austin-based 3rd Court of Appeals declared Austin’s paid sick leave ordinance unconstitutional Friday morning, saying the ordinance is preempted by the state’s minimum wage law.

In a 24-page opinion, a three-judge panel ordered a district court judge who originally heard the case to issue a temporary injunction against the ordinance. The judges also remanded the case back to the district court “for further proceedings consistent with [the appeals court’s] opinion.”

Greg Casar, the lead champion on Council for the paid sick leave ordinance, indicates on Twitter that he’s not too worried.

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We’ll see. Regardless of court rulings, state Republicans will likely seek to pass a bill preempting the paid sick leave ordinance in the next legislative session. I have argued that this is a fight that Democrats should be eager to wage.

City can’t even build duplexes on its own land

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The other day I flagged this 4,250 square foot city-owned property that city staff wants to transfer to the Austin Housing Finance Corporation for the development of affordable housing. I thought it was weird that the plan was to develop a single-family home. That’s a very inefficient way to spend housing dollars.

It turns out, a couple other Council members didn’t like what they were seeing either. But there’s nothing they can do about it short of overhauling the land development code.

Not only is the parcel currently zoned for single-family, but there is no zoning category available under the city code that would allow the parcel to accommodate more than one unit, explained Planning and Zoning Director Greg Guernsey. The minimum lot size for a structure with multiple units is 5,750 square feet.

The issue drew the attention of Jimmy Flannigan and Greg Casar, both of whom said they were eager to target these kinds of limitations when Council takes another crack at land use reform next year.

Mayor Steve Adler, just a week removed from claiming a mandate to reform land use regs, mostly kept quiet, except to note that Council’s vote yesterday did not commit the parcel to a single-family use. If there are new rules in place by the time the development planning begins, maybe the city could build a duplex or a triplex on the property.

Of course, it’s worth pointing out that the most recent draft CodeNEXT wouldn’t have helped in this case either.

However, even the proposed reforms in CodeNEXT would not have allowed for multiple units on such a small lot. The last draft would have allowed two units on a 5,000-square-foot lot.

Adler said he had a mandate to push for reforms. But does he have the confidence to push big ones?

Natasha Harper-Madison’s residency challenged

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Credit: Natasha Harper-Madison campaign.

Matt Tynan, a former city attorney who is now in private practice, is challenging Natasha Harper-Madison’s eligibility to be a candidate in District 1.

In a complaint filed with the city clerk, Tynan contends that Harper-Madison is not a resident of the district. He cites the Williamson County address she listed on a number of campaign finance reports. She later submitted corrections, which he doesn’t buy. Here is his summary:

The public documents available to, and maintained by, the Office of the City Clerk clearly establish that the candidate subject to this challenge maintains a residence at 10606 Settlers Trail, Austin, Texas (District 6). The candidate launched the current campaign from this address, used this residence address numerous times on filed campaign documents, enjoys a homestead exemption at this address, and used this address for voting in the 2016 elections – including the election for the current City Council representative for District 6.

What remains for consideration is whether the City Charter permits the establishment of a second residence for the purpose of City Council candidacy, whether the candidate has objectively met the requirements to establish any permissible second residence, and whether residency at the secondary address offered was “continuous” so as to support eligibility under municipal standards. Summarily, and based upon the public documents in possession of the City Clerk’s Office, all three (3) questions must be answered in the negative.

Nothing in the City Charter, and certainly not in the intent of the voters supporting the 2012 Charter Amendment shifting the City into single member districts, permits or envisioned candidates being residency qualified from multiple districts. Nor could it be considered congruent with the Charter to allow a candidate to obtain a second temporary residence that would allow them to meet City requirements. Were such obtuse notions to be derived from the Charter language, the candidate has still failed to establish the 13th Street address as a second home sufficient to establish residency under the consistent understanding of this term. Available documentation does not create the nexus of activity and intent sufficient to consider this property a residence for the purpose of candidate eligibility. Further, and even if this East Austin address could be considered a second residence it would fail the continuous requirement of the City Charter. Use of the address has been inconsistent and occasional, broken by frequent returns to the use of the candidate’s primary address in 10606 Settlers Trail in District 6. The candidate’s primary address outside of District 1 was used as recently as October 5, 2018, only a month prior to the General Election.

I reached out to Lauren Hartnett, Harper-Madison’s campaign manager, who provided me this statement from the candidate:

My husband and I have chosen to coparent our children and want to maintain stability for them in their daily lives. My relationship with my husband and the school that my children attend should not be important to the Council race, and it has not been made an issue until recently.

I returned in 2016 to the district I was born in, the district I grew up in, the district I have served since before it was called District 1, and long before I ever thought about running for office.

I returned to East Austin to be close to the community and friends that have provided me support and comfort through everything in my life. That I might have the opportunity to give back to this community is the greatest honor I could imagine. My roots are in District 1, my home is in District 1, and I am running to represent and serve District 1.

Hartnett added that Harper-Madison’s D1 residence has been on her driver’s license as well as her voting address for over a year.
Tynan filed a complaint a few weeks ago challenging both Harper-Madison’s and Vincent Harding’s campaign finance reporting.  Tynan says in the email that the state election commission agreed that Harper-Madison’s campaign report included errors but that the mistakes did not amount to a “facial violation” of the law. The commission continues to investigate Harding, he says.
UPDATE: In his complaint, Tynan says that Harper-Madison should be replaced in the runoff with whoever came in third place in the general election. That would be Vincent Harding.

Where did Steve Adler win big? Everywhere…

Steve Adler obviously won reelection in a rout. But he must have had really killed it in some areas and done so-so in others, right? One of the most striking thing about the results is the lack of discernible pattern.

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The darker the green (or is blue?), the better Adler performed in that precinct. As you can see, there are dark green precincts all over the place. There are also light green precincts all over the place.

The only part of town that demonstrates a consistent pattern is the far northeast. Those are not precincts where Laura Morrison performed better than her citywide average, by the way. Rather, they are places where Gus Pena, the non-candidate candidate, did well.

That is in stark contrast to Adler’s race four years ago, where he swept West Austin and got crushed east of I-35 and in other majority-Latino neighborhoods by Mike Martinez. The map lays bare the city’s ethnic divisions. The green precincts were carried by Sheryl Cole. Screen Shot 2018-11-15 at 12.44.33 AM.png

 

The irony of the Menchaca/Menchaca lawsuit

Last month, City Council voted to change the name of Manchaca Rd. to Menchaca Rd. The name change was supposed to go into effect today. Those in support of the name change argued that the road has long been a misspelled homage to Texas Revolution hero José Antonio Menchaca.

But a bunch of business owners on the road are pissed off, saying that it will confuse customers. And Roger Borgelt, an attorney who is active in Republican politics, has taken up their cause. With some success, it appears. Jeff Stensland reports:

Attorney Roger Borgelt Wednesday evening confirmed that a judge has granted a temporary restraining order to his clients that will prevent or delay the renaming of Manchaca Road to Menchaca Road.

In the Monitor, Andrew Weber explains the plaintiffs’ case:

Roger Borgelt, the Austin attorney representing nine property owners and the group Leave Manchaca Alone, filed a lawsuit in Travis County District Court today, arguing that the city didn’t provide enough notice before the public hearing and subsequent vote.

“This was kind of a rushed deal, and if they’d been given an opportunity to present it at a public hearing, my clients would have presented some of this information,” he said. “Obviously, without any notice, they didn’t have any opportunity to do that.”

Then there’s this:

Borgelt and his clients also argue that the history behind the road isn’t ironclad. While Menchaca did frequent a spring outside the town of what is now called Manchaca during his time with the Texas Army, opponents of the name change say it’s unclear whether the town was named after him.

They argue that there’s more evidence suggesting the road’s name stretches back to a Choctaw word, manchac, which translates roughly to “rear entrance,” and they point out that a bayou in Louisiana has had the name since before the existence of the United States.

Those challenging the spelling change are clearly drawing on frustration with what is perceived as political correctness. That’s not unusual. What is unusual is that those pushing for the name change are doing so in order to more accurately honor the legacy of a hero of the Texas Revolution –– somebody who fought against Mexico! Isn’t this something that conservative Texans should get behind?

The Lege is still going to screw Austin, right?

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Many of the lege insiders I know on Twitter seem to think that Dennis Bonnen (R-45 minute drive from Houston) will be a swell speaker. Among other things, he has committed to maintaining the weird Texas tradition where members of the minority party chair some committees. Some Democrats have voiced support for him as speaker. (It’s not like they have the option of supporting a Democrat, but it’s still an interesting spectacle for those of us accustomed to national politics, where one never, ever voices support for a speaker from the opposing party)

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Rep. Dennis Bonnen

Dems picked up 12 seats in the State House, reducing the GOP’s majority from 95-55 to 83-67. Particularly heartening for Austin are the four seats Dems picked up in Central Texas. The Tribune summarizes:

John Bucy III defeated state Rep. Tony Dale, R-Cedar Park; Erin Zwiener edged Republican Ken Strange for a seat being vacated by state Rep. Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs; James Talarico beat Republican Cynthia Flores to succeed former state Rep. Larry Gonzales, R-Round Rock; and Democrat Vikki Goodwin unseated state Rep. Paul Workman, R-Austin.

Austin-area Republicans are most likely to fixate on overturning city of Austin ordinances, so these departures could help steer the lege away from gratuitous Austin-bashing.

But…

The greatest threat to the city of Austin are not bills that target its tree protections or even its paid sick leave ordinance. The biggest potential headache is the GOP’s plans to severely reduce the ability of cities, counties and school districts to collect property taxes.

Currently, local governments are allowed to collect 8% more in property tax revenue each year than they did the previous year. To be clear, that DOES NOT mean that cities are allowed to raise the tax rate by 8% each year. It means that they are allowed to increase their revenues by that amount, whether that increase is due to an increased tax rate or increased property values. This past year, for instance, the city reduced the actual rate but increased collections by nearly 5%.

Currently, 8% is the “rollback rate.” If a local government wants to collect even more revenue, residents are allowed to challenge the increase through a “rollback election,” assuming they gather enough signatures. If the rollback election succeeds, then the government is forced to reduce its revenue increase to the rollback rate.

For years, Republicans have been talking about reducing the rollback rate. Last year, the Senate passed a bill to reduce it to 4% and the House approved one taking it down to 6%. Negotiations between the two chambers failed and nothing ultimately passed. Phew.

Now, the governor says he wants to reduce the rollback rate to 2.5%. That’s insane. I’ll explain why in further detail in the future, but suffice it to say that such a dramatic change would force cities to impose draconian cuts to services. Yes, any city would be free to go as far above the rollback rate as it likes, but it would do so based on the very likely prospect of having the rate shot down in a low turnout election (which itself would be expensive) dominated by conservative homeowners.

But we’ve got a sensible, bipartisan-minded House speaker, right? He’s not going to go along with something crazy like that, right? Well, he stood behind Abbott at the press conference where the governor announced the plan. That’s not a good sign.

Good spot for affordable housing, but not enough units

Did you know that the city of Austin has a bunch of land lying around the city? A parcel here, a parcel there. For instance, this little plot of land in the Bryker Woods neighborhood, at the corner of W. 30th and Funston St., just east of MoPac.

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I guess one of the next-door neighbors has taken the liberty of building a jungle gym on the vacant lot.

Anyway, tomorrow Council is set to approve the transfer of that land to the Austin Housing Finance Corporation “for the development of affordable residential housing.” From the Council agenda backup:

Following Council approval, the surplus property located at 3000 Funston Street will be transferred to the AHFC for development of a single-family home that will be part of the AHFC Community Land Trust portfolio.

This is exactly the kind of place where we need more income-restricted housing if we want to facilitate economic integration, but a single-family home? Wouldn’t it be better to see if we could get a few more units on this property? We just approved $250 million for affordable housing, but that money will get spent pretty quickly and help very few people if we spend a lot of it on structures that only accommodate one family.