Public weighs in as Del Valle ISD considers tax incentives for Tesla, a move which could stave off recapture

A photo of four Tesla vehicles
Electric carmaker Tesla is considering building a new factory in the Del Valle area of Southeast Travis County. (Courtesy Tesla)

Electric carmaker Tesla is considering building a new factory in the Del Valle area of Southeast Travis County. (Courtesy Tesla)

Officials from Del Valle ISD are weighing the benefits of a tax incentives deal that would encourage electric automaker Tesla to establish a presence in Southeast Travis County in exchange for academic and career training partnerships for the district.

Tesla has identified a 2,100-acre site along the Colorado River as a potential location for its next gigafactory, where the company’s new Cybertruck and other vehicle models would be produced. While Tesla simultaneously eyes the Tusla, Okla. area, Travis County and DVISD could propose incentive agreements that would soften the impact of Texas’ comparatively high property tax rates. Without such incentives, Tesla representatives have said a factory in Texas would not be economically feasible.

DVISD trustees, staff, Tesla representatives and community members all weighed in on the district’s proposed tax agreement at a June 25 public hearing.

The role of recapture

DVISD Superintendent Annette Tielle presented on the proposed Chapter 313 agreement, which would limit the property taxes Tesla paid toward the district’s maintenance and operations for a 10-year period by capping the taxable value of Tesla’s project at $80 million. That would be a substantive decrease from the estimated $600 million the project would be worth.


With the $80 million cap, DVISD would rake in around $776,000 annually from Tesla in maintenance and operations taxes in addition to a supplemental $1 million annual donation from Tesla to DVISD’s maintenance & operations fund. Currently, DVISD receives $48,500 per year from the same site under its current use as a sand and gravel mining operation.

According to Tielle, the Chapter 313 agreement would prevent the district from becoming subject to recapture, despite the increase in tax revenue. Also known as Texas’ Robin Hood Law, recapture redistributes revenue from wealthy districts where tax income exceeds state per-student funding averages. From that view, DVISD would not lose tax revenue from Tesla by entering a Chapter 313 agreement, although other low-income districts ultimately could.

Protecting would-be workers

Tesla has said it will bring a number of academic and job-training opportunities to DVISD, including an apprenticeship program that would act as a pipeline for high school students to gain employment at Tesla after graduation. Additionally, Tesla would collaborate with the district on automation curriculum in robotics, engineering and/or manufacturing that would give students skills for employment at the company.

“We want our students to have the best of the best,” Tielle said. “This is something we know would take our students to very high heights.”

DVISD Chief Academic Officer Kerry Gain also praised these opportunities, particularly the benefits the district’s new robotics program would see, and said many students are already in computer science and related classes that make them prime candidates for Tesla’s student programs.

“We have 2,100 students right now in Del Valle who are primed and ready for the support that Tesla would provide,” Gain said.

According to Gain, 115 graduates from a high school that partners with Tesla’s gigafactory in Sparks, Nev. have been employed by the company.

However, some community members who spoke during public comment at the June 25 meeting expressed concern that Tesla would not offer adequate protections for DVISD graduates entering the workforce, citing past Occupational Safety & Health Administration violations and efforts to quash union organization.

“Frankly, I think Tesla is promising the world, but they have yet to promise that they will treat their future workers, our students, right,” local resident Alex Murphy said.

Many speakers from the community called for the district to request contractual promises for the treatment of workers, something that district representatives said was not legally allowed.

“As a community, we deserve a partner that will put those promises in writing,” said Jeremy Hendricks, an Austin resident and representative for the Southwest Laborer’s District Council. “Please use your positions to ask the hard questions of Tesla.”

Meanwhile, Tesla representatives defended their record on worker safety and treatment at the hearing, responding to similar accusations leveled during public comment at a June 23 meeting of the Travis County Commissioners Court, which is also considering incentives for the company.

“We’re on track to participate in OSHA’s voluntary protection program in Nevada and California, and we would expect to do the same in any factory we locate in, whether it’s in Texas or elsewhere,” said Rohan Patel, Tesla senior global director of public policy and business development.

Privileging community voices

Throughout DVISD’s public hearing, both district representatives and community members said they were pleased to have the eyes of the larger Austin-Travis County area on Del Valle, an economically disadvantaged area that is often overlooked, according to multiple speakers.

“I’ve never seen so much attention given to the Del Valle area and the Del Valle community since [Tesla’s] announcement of possibly relocating here. To all of those who have ignored us for decades, welcome to Del Valle,” DVISD trustee Susanna Woody said.

Del Valle community members, including Daniel Segura-Kelly, a member of several local democratic organizations, also encouraged Tesla to take stock of the opinions of Del Valle area residents while fielding feedback from across Austin and Central Texas.

“As history tells us, East Austin will hear from many folks who don’t live in East Austin but have a lot of opinions about what East Austin needs,” Segura-Kelly said in a statement directed toward Tesla. “I hope that you’ll continue to speak for us, the folks who live here, who raise our families here and want to grow here.”
By Olivia Aldridge
Olivia is the reporter for Community Impact's Central Austin edition. A graduate of Presbyterian College in upstate South Carolina, Olivia was a reporter and producer at South Carolina Public Radio before joining Community Impact in Austin.


MOST RECENT

Photo of people receiving vaccines in a gym
Austin Public Health lengthens windows for vaccine appointment signups

Residents age 18 and up can now sign up for appointments with APH any time from Saturday to Tuesday morning.

Austin Anthem watch party
Crowds of fans converge on North Austin to watch inaugural Austin FC game

Breweries around Q2 Stadium in North Austin brought in large outdoor screens and new employees to host fans of Austin FC for the team's historic first match.

Austin Police Department
UPDATE: Loop 360 closed in both directions in Northwest Austin due to a shooting incident

Residents who live in the Arboretum area in Northwest Austin are advised to shelter in place.

The Texas Department of Transportation has scheduled a nightly lane closure for RM 620 southbound motorists beginning April 18 through April 22. (Courtesy Fotolia)
TxDOT lane closure scheduled for RM 620 beginning April 18

The right lane of RM 620 southbound will be closed due to utility work.

Early voting for the May 1 election opens April 19 at a 7 a.m. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
Early voting in Austin opens April 19: See what’s on the ballot, where to vote

City residents will be making decisions on eight propositions ranging from whether to adopt a strong mayor government system to whether to reinstate public camping bans.

REVL Social Club offers bar food and cocktails with games such as Jenga and Connect 4 for guests to use. (Megan Cardona/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austin's Park n' Pizza in Pflugerville launches social club for adults

Austin's Park n' Pizza in Pflugerville opened its new REVL Social Club April 16, offering bar foods, cocktails and games.

The RealReal in Domain Northside
Luxury resale shop The RealReal opens first Texas store in North Austin

The RealReal offers high-end brands at a discounted price through consignment and resale.

Pastries
Seattle's Piroshky Piroshky Bakery bringing pastries to Cedar Park April 21

The bakery will bring its famous Russian pastries to Cedar Park for a one-day event.

Redbud Elementary School is located in the Ryan's Crossing neighborhood near Old Settlers Park. (Courtesy Round Rock ISD)
Round Rock ISD's 35th elementary school gets new name

The school opens for the 2021-22 school year and is located near Old Settlers Park.

The Pushing for Justice Caravan for Javier Ambler was held in San Gabriel Park on Aug. 15. (Ali Linan/Community Impact Newspaper)
Javier Ambler’s Law awaits Texas Senate approval

The bill passed the House on April 15.

Bee Cave council candidates attended an election forum April 15 that was sponsored by the Bee Cave Chamber of Commerce and moderated by Phyllis Campos, general manager of the Lake Travis-Westlake edition of Community Impact Newspaper. (Greg Perliski/Community Impact Newspaper)
Affordable housing, transportation challenges emerge as recurring issues at Bee Cave forum

A Q&A session highlighted candidate views on the challenges around housing and transportation for service workers in Bee Cave.

Austin transportation officials said April 15 the range of corridor construction program projects initiated through the city's 2016 Mobility Bond remain on track for completion by late 2024. (Iain Oldman/Community Impact Newspaper)
Several Austin corridor mobility projects moving forward in 2021, program on track for 2024 completion

Transportation officials said some corridor program improvements previously planned along Guadalupe Street and East Riverside Drive are being reduced ahead of Project Connect expansions.