The biggest story this week was Community Impact Newspaper’s report that tech behemoth Samsung Semiconductor is eyeing Austin for its new chip manufacturing plant, which is estimated to cost $17 billion and bring nearly 2,000 high-paying jobs. Samsung already has a significant presence in Austin but in order to grow that presence, the company has asked the city for a 25-year, 100% city property tax reimbursement on its investment. Samsung has already turned down a 10-year, nearly $650 million economic incentive package offered by the city. Negotiations are ongoing. Samsung is also eyeing Phoenix, Arizona, Genesee County in upsate New York and South Korea for the project.
Eviction moratorium extended in Austin and Travis County through April 1
Austin Mayor Steve Adler and Travis County Judge Andy Brown announced Jan. 28 that the city and county’s prohibition on evictions for nonpayment of rent would extend through at least April 1. The eviction protections, which have been active in some form since March 2020, keep landlords from issuing notices to vacate to tenants who miss rent—a prerequisite to filing evictions with the courts. Although they maintain the necessity of the protections, local officials have expressed concern over the lengthy tenure of what was meant to be a short-term solution.
Austinites will vote whether to implement a strong mayor and ranked-choice voting system
The city clerk on Jan. 26 validated a petition submitted earlier in the month by Austinites for Progressive Reform, a PAC pushing massive reforms to Austin’s democratic system. The clerk said the petition submitted had more than the necessary 20,000 signatures needed to get petition questions on the ballot. The clerk’s validation means Austinites will vote whether to implement:
- A strong mayor form of government
- A ranked-choice voting system that would eliminate runoff election
- Align mayoral and presidential elections
- Create a program that would give more residents a chance to finance campaigns
When Austinites will vote remains in question. State law allows the election to be held between May 1, 2021 and Nov. 8, 2022.
City Council moves forward with ‘probably unprecedented’ mayor pro tem choice
City Council Jan. 27 resolved the drama around picking former Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza’s successor. District 1 City Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison will serve as the city’s mayor pro tem through 2021 and District 10 City Council Member Alison Alter will serve in the role through 2022. The split-term decision follows weeks of campaigning by a handful of City Council members for the role, which gave the traditionally non-controversial choice of mayor pro tem a heightened level of political intrigue.
City Council secures one hotel, postpones decision on another for homeless shelter conversion
City Council voted unanimously to purchase the Texas Bungalows Hotel & Suites, at 1311 Burnet Road, Austin, for $6.7 million as part of its strategy to convert hotels and motels into transitional housing for its growing homeless population. City Council postponed by one week purchasing a second hotel, the Candlewood Suites at 10811 Pecan Park Blvd in Northwest Austin. A majority of City Council supports the purchase but decided to give new City Council Member Mackenzie Kelly, whose district surrounds the hotel, more time to speak with her constituents. City Council will vote on the $9.2 million purchase on Feb. 4.
City-owned Red River tower project moves forward
City Council gave staff the go-ahead to begin negotiations with Austin-based developer Aspen Heights Partners on the development of the city-owned, 1.7-acre tract at 1215 Red River St. City Council reacquired development rights to the property in 2016 following HealthSouth’s departure. The location has long-represented a rare opportunity for the city to intentionally place affordable housing in the increasingly unaffordable downtown area. City Council told staff to prioritize affordable housing, affordable childcare and a live music venue in the negotiation with the developer.
—Christopher Neely, Austin City Hall reporter