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No Amazon HQ2 for Houston

Never really expected that we’d be a top contender, to be honest.

Amazon ruled out Houston as a candidate for its $5 billion second headquarters on Thursday, delivering a blow to local leaders who had hoped to lure the Seattle tech giant to a four-mile stretch between downtown and the Texas Medical Center.

The largest U.S. online retailer whittled down more than 200 proposals from North America cities to just 20, eliminating Houston but keeping the city’s longtime rivals Austin and Dallas on its short list.

Amazon’s decision marks a setback for local leaders including the Greater Houston Partnership, which led an effort last fall to pitch the city as an attractive market for the company to set down stakes.

“I believe this is a wake-up call for Houston,” GHP CEO Bob Harvey said in a statement. “While there has been growing momentum in the innovation space over the last couple of years, this is a clear indication that we have much more work to do as a region to grow our digital economy.”

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner called Amazon’s decision ” disappointing and heartbreaking.:

But, he added, “It serves as a wake-up call that we must move at a much quicker pace. The city is well positioned, but it’s also is an indication that there is a lot of work that still needs to be done.”

[…]

In his statement Thursday, Harvey said Houston should focus on developing the Innovation Corridor and its technology sector further. He also said Houston should move forward with the proposed Houston Data Science Institute, a data center recently announced by the University of Houston.

“While we are the number one market in the country for STEM talent, we need to bolster our pipeline of digital tech talent that is relevant to tomorrow’s digital economy,” Harvey said. “This means working with our higher education partners across the region to develop and invest in programs that will produce the talent we need to succeed.”

But economists warned that Houston would rank low on Amazon’s wish list in the nationwide bidding war for a campus that could bring 50,000 jobs, saying the city lacked a robust public transportation system. Only 2 percent of the local population takes public transportation to work, according to Census data.

See here and here for some background. On the one hand, it’s always a bummer to miss out. On the other hand, I wasn’t excited at the thought of giving zillions of dollars in incentives and tax breaks to a behemoth like Amazon as deal-sweeteners. There’s too much of that going on already. Doing things like developing the Innovation Corridor and building a Data Science Institute, that’s fine and worthwhile as investments. And let’s be sure not to overlook the feedback about our public transportation infrastructure. Imagine where we could have been if we’d had a Congressional delegation that was unanimous in its support of of more robust transit system. We’ll have an opportunity to support that at the ballot box this November. If we’re serious about wanting to be more competitive with the cities we lost out to, we need to put our money where our mouths are. The Trib, Texas Monthly (which is very skeptical of the chase to lure in Amazon), Swamplot, and the Dallas Observer have more.

Hyperloop versus high-speed rail

I’ve been pondering whether our state is big enough for two high speed land-based forms of transportation, and I think the answer is “yes, at least for now”.

The Hyperloop is nearly twice as fast as Texas Central’s High-Speed Rail project already in the works to connect Houston and Dallas. To boot, the lightning-quick travel time is not even direct. The journey is routed through Austin, which would act as a hub connecting the Texas cities.

Hyperloop One could also be operational before Texas Central’s line. In its announcement, Hyperloop One declared its intent to begin shipping freight by 2020 and passengers by 2021.

One major factor will be ticket pricing. Texas Central has not released specifics but expects pricing to be on par with airline prices. That will likely be far cheaper than the Hyperloop, which is expected to be around $330 one-way.

If Hyperloop One does move forward in Texas, it will likely face many of Texas Central’s same growing pains; the company has met plenty of resistance from Texas landowners. Unlike Texas Central, which is developing its project privately, Hyperloop One will work with government agencies on development in some capacity. Though the specific arrangement has not yet been detailed, Hyperloop One is already working closely with the Colorado Department of Transportation and has said it intends to continue government relationships wherever it ends up.

[…]

A spokesperson for Texas Central told Bisnow the two projects are not in competition. Hyperloop One is not building a direct line from Houston to Dallas. Texas Central sees the two different modes of transportation as complementary, similar to airlines.

See here for some background. I’m glad to hear that both Hyperloop One and Texas Central see their systems as complimentary and not competitive at this time. Things may change if they’re both successful, of course, but we’re at least a few years out from that. Unlike high speed rail, hyperloops are brand new and untested technology, so who knows what will happen with the development, but like high speed rail there is likely to be opposition from communities that this project will pass through. I have to think we’ll begin to hear more about this now that the chances of it happening here are greater. In the meantime, one of the lead planners with AECOMM on this project has been talking to the press about it – see this followup story in Bisnow and this DMN article for his thoughts. I remain excited by the possibilities, but still want to see this thing in action before I buy in all the way.

Texas remains in hyperloop competition

We’re still a long way from anything happening, but if it does it could happen here.

There’s still a chance Texans could be some of the first people in the world to whisk along in tubes at 700 mph.

Hyperloop Texas, a joint proposal of engineering firm AECOM and public agencies in the state, is one of 10 winners of the Hyperloop One Global Challenge, a competition to find the best routes for the system.

Hyperloop, the brainchild of Tesla founder Elon Musk, envisions vacuum tubes and travel pods making interstate travel at faster-than-flight speeds. In their proposal, AECOM estimated the trip from Houston to San Antonio could be made in 21 minutes. Getting to Austin would take another eight minutes. Houston-to-Dallas, not including the time for layovers, would take 48 minutes.

A freight component would use the Hyperloop system to ferry goods from Laredo to the Port of Houston.

[…]

Winning doesn’t mean anything will get built, but Hyperloop One said in a release it “will commit meaningful business and engineering resources and work closely with each of the winning teams/routes to determine their commercial viability.”

See here for the background. What I like about the proposed route is that it wouldn’t directly compete with the Houston to Dallas high speed rail line. You can get to Dallas from Houston via this route – indeed, you can get all the way to DFW Airport – but you have to go via San Antonio, so the total travel time is shown as 48 minutes, about what it would be for the Texas Central ride. Basically, this is the Texas T-Bone, with Laredo, DFW, and the Port of Houston as the endpoints. We can debate whether this technology is feasible or not, but if it is, then I hope subsequent routes include some of the spaces in between and elsewhere. Let’s add stations in New Braunfels and San Marcos and Waco, and do a similar T-Bone in the other direction, to bring in El Paso and Midland/Odessa and Lubbock and Amarillo. If it works, of course. I can dream, can’t I? KUT has more.

Enforcement of SB4 halted

Excellent!

U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia granted a preliminary injunction of Senate Bill 4, one of Gov. Greg Abbott’s key legislative priorities that seeks to outlaw “sanctuary” entities, the common term for governments that don’t enforce federal immigration laws.

The bill was scheduled to go into effect Sept. 1, but opponents of the legislation, including the cities of Houston, Austin, San Antonio and El Cenizo, as well as Maverick and El Paso counties and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, argued the bill violates several provisions of the Constitution. Garcia’s decision means the bill is on hold until that issue is decided; his court will now likely set another date to determine SB4’s constitutionality.

His decision is a temporary, but significant blow to Abbott and other Republican backers of the bill who said it would help keep Texans safe from undocumented immigrants that have been arrested on criminal charges but released from custody by sheriffs or other elected officials who refuse to hold the alleged criminals for possible deportation.

See here for the background. You know how I feel about this. The story broke late yesterday, so this was all that was available at the time. I’m sure there will be much more reporting soon.

UPDATE: From the Chron story:

“The best interest of the public will be served by preserving the status quo and enjoining, prior to Sept. 1, the implementation and enforcement of those portions of SB 4 that, on their face, are preempted by federal law and violate the United States Constitution,” Garcia wrote.

The decision, which can be appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, is a blow to one of the toughest immigration laws in the nation.

In order to obtain an injunction, the local governments and organizations challenging the law needed to prove they were harmed by it and likely to succeed in their claim that it is unconstitutional.

“We won over 90 percent of it,” said Luis Vera, a lawyer for the League of United Latin American Citizens, which represented the border city of El Cenizo in the lawsuit. “The state cannot mandate to the cities or police officers or sheriff’s offices how they run their police departments.”

[…]

The ruling found the plaintiffs made their case and were even helped during oral arguments by the state.

For instance, the judge noted the state “essentially concedes that the irreparable harm requirement is met.”

The judge quoted an argument made by one of the lawyers with the Texas Attorney General’s Office: “The state of Texas concedes, Your Honor, that if Senate Bill 4 is unconstitutional or a provision of it is severed by this court or this court finds it unconstitutional, if it is, and it would violate the constitutional rights of the public, then there is irreparable harm.”

The judge found that certain provisions of SB 4 conflict with, and are pre-empted by, federal law because enforcing SB 4 will interfere with the federal government’s authority to control immigration. The judge also found that enforcing SB 4 will result in First Amendment violations.

The judge also determined that vague prohibitions in SB 4 violate due process and “create a real danger of arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement.”

In addition, he found that enforcement of the mandatory detainer provisions “will inevitably lead to Fourth Amendment violations.”

I am sure this will be appealed, and who knows what happens next. But for now, this is a big win.

Confederate monuments in the Capitol

Get rid of them, too.

A state lawmaker wants all Confederate symbols removed from the Texas Capitol grounds, including a plaque that is 40 steps away from his office that rejects the idea that the South seceded from the Union over slavery.

Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, sent a letter to the State Preservation Board Wednesday asking that it immediately remove the plaque, which was mounted in 1959. It reads, in part, “We … pledge ourselves … to study and teach the truth of history (one of the most important of which is, that the war between the state was not a rebellion, nor was its underlying cause to sustain slavery).”

“The plaque is not historically accurate in the slightest,” Johnson said in his letter. He called on the board, which maintains the Capitol’s artifacts, to immediately remove the plaque and asked for meeting with House Speaker Joe Straus, Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick to discuss the removal of all Confederate symbols.

“Given the recent tragic events in Charlottesville, Virginia, I cannot think of a better time than the present to discuss the removal of all Confederate iconography from the Texas Capitol Complex,” Johnson said.

You can see the full letter Rep. Johnson sent to the State Preservation Board here. I doubt this will go anywhere, and he certainly won’t get any support from Greg Abbott, but I stand with Rep. Johnson.

Meantime, over the weekend there was a protest at Sam Houston Park about the “spirit of the Confederacy” statue there. Mayor Turner has requested a study of artwork at city parks after people asked for that statue to be removed at last week’s Council meeting. My expectations for action are a lot higher than they are at the Capitol. It would be nice to know what the timeline on this will be.

Paxton’s preemptive “sanctuary cities” lawsuit dismissed

Good.

Best mugshot ever

U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks on Wednesday dismissed the state of Texas’ lawsuit against Travis County and other defendants over the state’s new immigration enforcement law.

Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a pre-emptive lawsuit shortly after the bill was signed in May seeking a ruling that the controversial measure is constitutional. Among the defendants named in Paxton’s suit were the city of Austin; Travis County and its sheriff, Sally Hernandez; and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

[…]

But opponents of the measure, including the cities of Houston, Austin, San Antonio and El Cenizo, as well as Maverick and El Paso counties, have argued the law violates several provisions of the U.S. Constitution. Those entities filed a separate lawsuit against Abbott and Paxton in San Antonio, trying to prevent the law from taking effect. Oral arguments in that case were heard in June.

Sparks’ ruling means the case will stay in San Antonio.

In a statement, the attorney general said he was disappointed in Sparks’ ruling but that Wednesday’s decision has no effect on the San Antonio case.

“We were first to file a lawsuit concerning SB 4, filed this case in the only proper court, and moved quickly to consolidate other lawsuits against SB 4 in Austin,” he said. “The health, safety, and welfare of Texans is not negotiable. We’re disappointed with the court’s ruling and look forward to pressing our winning arguments in the San Antonio cases and beyond (if necessary) on this undoubtedly constitutional law.”

Though Sparks’ ruling Wednesday is a small victory for SB4’s opponents, they must now wait and see what U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia decides following a seven-hour hearing in Bexar County on June 26.

So that means that Judge Garcia will get to decide whether the law goes into effect on September 1 or if it is put on hold pending final judgment in the lawsuit. I don’t think this ruling changes the basic contours of the case, but as I recall if Paxton had prevailed in his lawsuit, that would have put the defendants he filed against on the hook for court costs. That’s no longer the case now. Now we await what Judge Garcia has to say.

Abbott versus the cities

The continuing story.

If Gov. Greg Abbott has disdain for how local Texas officials govern their cities, it didn’t show in a Wednesday sit-down with three mayors who were among 18 who jointly requested a meeting to discuss legislation that aims to limit or override several municipal powers.

“Whether we changed anybody’s mind or not, you never know,” said Galveston Mayor Jim Yarbrough. “But I will say it was a healthy conversation.”

What also remained to be seen Wednesday: whether Abbott plans to meet with mayors from the state’s five largest cities — who were also among those who requested to meet with the governor. So far, Abbott hasn’t responded to the requests from the mayors of Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio.

[…]

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said at a press conference Wednesday that when he was a member of the Texas House, Republican lawmakers repeatedly complained about government growing and overstepping its bounds.

“And now we find that the state government is really reaching down and telling local governments what they can or cannot do and pretty much trying to treat all cities as if we are all the same,” Turner said.

During invited testimony to the House Urban Affairs committee on Tuesday, several city officials and at least one lawmaker denounced what they said were overreaching and undemocratic attempts to subvert local governance.

“If people don’t like what you’re doing, then there are things called elections. I don’t see it as our job to overreach and try to govern your city,” said State Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston.

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg testified that it felt like the state was waging a war on Texas cities.

“The fundamental truth about the whole debate over local control is that taking authority away from cities — preventing us from carrying out the wishes of our constituents — is subverting the will of the voter,” Nirenberg said.

At Wednesday’s meeting with Abbott, Yarbrough said he and his counterparts from Corpus Christi and San Marcos told the governor that local officials have a better finger on the pulse of city residents’ expectations and demands.

“We wanted to make sure we preserved the ability for local municipalities to be able to adjust and react to the needs of their community,” he said.

See here for some background. It’s mighty nice of Abbott to take a few minutes out of his busy schedule of threatening legislators to meet with these concerned constituents, but they shouldn’t have had to take time out of their busy schedules to try to persuade the Governor to leave over a century of accepted governance in place and butt out of their business. And not for nothing, but the cities whose Mayors Abbott has been ignoring are the reason he can make elaborate claims about how awesome the Texas economy is.

Let’s begin with population. The five counties that contain the state’s five largest cities have a combined 12,309,787 residents, which is 44 percent of the state’s total. If you want to talk about elections, the registered voters in those counties make up 42 percent of Texas’ electorate.

Those counties out-perform the rest of the state economically. Texas’ five biggest urban counties constitute 53.5 percent of total Texas employment. If you broaden it out to the metropolitan statistical areas, which include the suburbs as well, the proportion becomes 75.8 percent — and growth in those regions has outpaced growth in the state overall since the recession.

Not convinced Texas’ cities drive the state? Let’s look at gross domestic product: The state’s five biggest MSAs contribute 71 percent of the state’s economic output, a proportion that has increased by two percentage points over the past decade. Focusing just on counties again, workers in the ones that contain Texas’ largest cities earn 60 percent of the state’s wages.

If you look at the embedded chart in that story, you’ll see that the metro area that is doing the best economically is the Austin-Round Rock MSA, and it’s not close. It’s even more impressive when you take into account how busy the city of Austin has been systematically destroying Texas with its regulations and liberalness and what have you.

As I said in my previous post on this subject, quite a few of the Mayors that are pleading with Abbott to back off are themselves Republicans, and represent Republican turf. It’s good that they are trying to talk some sense into him, but I’d advise them to temper their expectations. Abbott and Dan Patrick and a squadron of Republican legislators, especially in the Senate, don’t seem to have any interest in listening. The one thing that will get their attention is losing some elections. What action do these Mayors plan to take next year when they will have a chance to deliver that message?

Mayors to Abbott: Don’t mess with our cities

Good luck getting through.

Less than 24 hours after Gov. Greg Abbott blasted local government restrictions like tree ordinances as a threat to the “Texas brand,” city government leaders statewide are seeking a meeting with the Republican leader.

“We would like the opportunity to meet with you to discuss the role cities play in attracting jobs and investments to support the prosperity of the State of Texas,” a letter signed by 18 mayors, including Houston mayor Sylvester Turner to Abbott states.

[…]

The letter from the mayors makes clear that they fear the Texas Legislature is overreaching and doing too much harm to local governments.

“Harmful proposals such as revenue and spending caps, limiting annexation authority, and other measures preempting local development ordinances directly harm our ability to plan for future growth and continue to serve as the economic engines of Texas,” the letter states.

The mayors on the letter include those from Houston, Amarillo, Arlington, Austin, Corpus Christi, Dallas, Denton, El Paso, Fort Worth, Frisco, Galveston, Irving, Lubbock, McKinney, Plano, San Antonio, San Marcos, and Sugar Land.

You can see the letter here. You might note that some of the cities in question are Republican suburban kind of places. It’s not just us smug urbanites that would like to have our current level of autonomy left alone. I’m going to say the same thing to these Mayors that I’ve been saying to the business folk that have been working to defeat the bathroom bill, and that’s that they are going to have to follow up all these words with actions, because Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick don’t care what they have to say. If you’re not working to elect better leadership in 2018, which in this case means leadership that is not actively undermining and degrading Texas’ cities, then you’re part of the problem too, and your words have no meaning. The Current and the Press have more.

Hearing for that other SB4 lawsuit

The SB4 lawsuit that Ken Paxton filed, to get the law pre-emptively declared to be constitutional, had its hearing in Austin on Thursday.

A federal judge on Thursday criticized the politics surrounding Texas’ new immigration-enforcement law and hinted that he’d be unable to take the case over from his colleague in Bexar County.

U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks told attorneys for the state of Texas that he had a docket twice as busy as San Antonio-based Orlando Garcia after he was asked by the state to declare Austin the appropriate venue for what’s gearing up to be a lengthy court battle over Senate bill 4.

[…]

“San Antonio has a track record of evidence that Judge Garcia can take into consideration,” Sparks said, referring to a seven-hour hearing on Monday in San Antonio where attorneys for both sides argued over the legality of allowing state governments to enforce federal immigration laws. He added that he has a trial scheduled in August that could likely spill into September.

Thursday’s hearing was a dramatic shift from Monday’s display, where Garcia sat largely silent and appeared to take every motion, argument and counter-argument into consideration. Sparks instead often interrupted the attorneys and repeated what he said should be simple questions to answer when the attorneys strayed off topic. He also hinted that he believed parties that joined the lawsuit against the state did so for political purposes.

“The city of Austin just got in because it’s political and they get a lot of advertisement” [in the press], he said.

[…]

The judge also cast doubt on whether any court would be able to declare a law constitutional when it hasn’t gone into effect yet.

“I don’t have the authority to forecast the future and you have a statute that doesn’t come into effect until September,” he told David Hacker, a lawyer for the attorney general’s office.

Sparks didn’t give a time line on when he’d rule on the motion to move the case to Austin.

See here and here for the background. I’m sure there was a good helping of politics in the various cities’ and counties’ decisions to pile onto the anti_SB4 lawsuit, but then SB4 itself was all about politics. Based on the things Judge Sparks said during the hearing, I’d prefer he leave the San Antonio lawsuit be rather than combine it with the Paxton lawsuit. At least he doesn’t seem inclined to take any action before the law is scheduled to go into effect. The Statesman and the DMN have more.

City of El Paso joins in on SB4

Add one more to the list.

The city of El Paso voted on Tuesday to join the growing list of local governments that have filed a legal challenge in hopes of stopping Texas’ new immigration enforcement law from going into effect.

The city council’s vote to join El Paso County and the cities of Dallas, Austin, San Antonio and Houston to halt the legislation, Senate Bill 4, means Fort Worth is the only major Texas city that hasn’t registered its opposition to the bill. Maverick and Bexar counties and the border city of El Cenizo are original plaintiffs in the lawsuit, which was filed in a federal court in San Antonio in May, just one day after Gov. Greg Abbott signed the bill.

[…]

In a statement, the city council said even though El Paso is not considered a “sanctuary city,” they voted to join the effort because local leaders are “concerned with provisions in SB 4 that raise questions related to the compliance and integration of the proposed bill in current law enforcement operations.”

“The unfunded mandate is expected to put additional strain on the El Paso Police Department, as SB 4 will add an extra requirement on the workforce that is already seeing a shortage in staff,” the statement continues. “The City of El Paso has a long successful history of working alongside our federal law enforcement partners, to add additional mandates on local resources will only limit officers from performing their public safety responsibilities.”

As you know, the hearing for a temporary injunction was Monday, but there’s a long way to go to get to the arguments on the merits, so it is far from too late for any entity to join in. I had previously listed El Paso as a plaintiff in the litigation, but it was El Paso County; I had assumed the city was in there as well, which was my mistake. No big deal, they’re in there now. I hope they and the other plaintiffs have a lot more company by the time this gets to the main event.

Ellis seeks Harris County entry into SB4 litigation

From the inbox, an email from Commissioner Ellis:

Commissioner Rodney Ellis

Despite strong opposition from law enforcement officials, faith leaders, local governments, civil rights organizations, constituents, and advocacy groups, Senate Bill 4 (SB4), the “show-me-your-papers” legislation, has been signed into law. The new legislation unfairly targets immigrant families, allows state-sanctioned racial profiling, and violates rights to due process. SB4 also undermines local governments by forcing them to choose between enforcing a blatantly unconstitutional law or facing strict punishment and excessive fines from the state.

As the nation’s third-largest county with the fifth-largest foreign-born population, Harris County is at particular risk under SB4. Immigrants are a vital part of our community and strengthen the social fabric of Harris County. This new legislation threatens to tear families apart. Immigrants cannot and should not be driven back into the shadows or live in fear because of this unconstitutional law.

Already, local governments have filed suit against SB4, and a preliminary hearing is scheduled for Monday in San Antonio. Just this past week, the Houston City Council voted to join San Antonio, Austin, Dallas, Bexar County and other local governments in a consolidated lawsuit challenging the law.

As Commissioner, I will continue to stand with immigrant families and defend the right of local government and law enforcement to set their own priorities. In a June 9 letter, I asked Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan to seek authorization from Harris County Commissioners Court to join the lawsuit against SB4. I believe it is vitally important for Harris County to fight this unjust law and look forward to working with County Attorney Ryan on this important issue that we both care about. You can read the letter below:

SB4 is a reflection of the anti-immigrant sentiment permeating our society and stands in the way of comprehensive immigration reform. It upholds a flawed and outmoded form of immigration control that tears families apart, increases racial profiling, and violates due process. We need immigration solutions that attend to the complex issues surrounding reform with compassion, efficiency, and effectiveness in mind. And wherever there is discrimination, we must be prepared to speak out and take action.

I’ve got a copy of the letter, which was embedded as an image in the email that Commissioner Ellis sent, here. Houston-area Democratic legislators supported Ellis’ call with a letter of their own that calls on the Court to get involved. I can’t say I expect that to happen – unlike Houston City Council, Commissioners Court is 4-1 Republican – but given the unfunded costs on the county that SB4 will impose, as well as the decline in cooperation with law enforcement, you’d think there’d be a simple dollars-and-cents argument in favor of getting involved. Anything can happen, but I’m not holding my breath. Stace has more.

RideAustin tries to hang on

I wish them luck.

The return of Uber and Lyft to Austin has put the city’s only ride-hailing nonprofit in a fight for survival.

RideAustin, one of several small companies that started operations in Austin after the ride-hailing giants left the city in May 2016, is now seeing its ridership cut in half since the two returned to town. The company is slashing expenses and cutting staff, said CEO Andy Tryba.

“We always knew that at some point Uber and Lyft were going to come back. So we’ve always prepared for it,” Tryba said in an interview with The Texas Tribune, adding that RideAustin expected a big drop in rides — but didn’t think it would happen so fast.

[…]

RideAustin, which began operating in June 2016, was notable as the first ride-hailing company to run on a nonprofit model that promised better pay for drivers and allowed riders to donate to local charities through the app. It’s seen ridership steadily increase over the past year — which spiked to more than 110,000 weekly rides during the South by Southwest festival.

But RideAustin’s fortunes turned during the Legislature’s 85th regular session this year, when lawmakers passed a statewide regulatory framework for ride-hailing companies that supersedes local ordinances — including Austin’s. Gov. Greg Abbott signed it into law on May 29, and Uber and Lyft returned to Austin the same day.

The drop in ridership for RideAustin was swift and dramatic: last week, the company provided 22,000 rides — less than half of the 59,000 rides it operated in the week before Uber and Lyft returned. Tryba attributed part of the loss to UT-Austin students leaving town for the summer, but he also acknowledged that a large share of rides was recaptured by Uber and Lyft.

[…]

RideAustin is working to avoid the same fate as Fare, a Phoenix-based ride-hailing company that shut down operations in Austin just a week after Uber and Lyft’s return. In an email to customers, the company said it couldn’t “endure the recent loss of business.” Other ride-hailing services that had started operating in the initial vacuum have also gone out of business over the past year.

The city’s ride-hailing market changed significantly after Uber and Lyft left. Researchers from the University of Michigan, Texas A&M and other universities conducted a study about how Uber and Lyft’s departure changed riders’ behavior in Austin. They found that only 40 percent of respondents transitioned from Uber or Lyft to other ride-hailing companies, while 60 percent started making similar trips using other transportation, like biking, walking or driving a personal vehicle.

Chris Simek, a researcher at the Texas A&M University Transportation Institute that authored the study, said that among those who chose another service, “about half reported using RideAustin most often to make that type of trip. About a third reported using Fasten most often, and about one in 10 reported using Fare most often.”

Simek said the research team plans to do a follow-up study to analyze the market now that Uber and Lyft are back.

See here and here for some background. I had hope that the Uber-less Austin model of multiple firms actually competing to be better or at least different than each other would successfully fill the void, but either there wasn’t enough time for people to adjust or they just liked Uber and Lyft too much. That survey suggests there was something to the latter point. Be that as it may, I hope RideAustin can hold on and develop into something that could be replicated elsewhere. Anything that provides a better way for the drivers to earn a living is worth having.

SB4’s day in court

Sparks were flying.

Opponents of Texas’ state-based immigration law told a federal judge Monday that allowing the controversial measure to stand would pave the way for a nationwide police state where local officers could subvert the established immigration-enforcement powers of the federal government.

But the state’s attorneys argued in tandem with their colleagues from the U.S. Department of Justice that the issue was settled in 2012 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of a state-based immigration-enforcement provision passed in Arizona.

The day marked the first skirmish in what could be a lengthy battle over Texas’ law, Senate Bill 4, which has been billed as the toughest state-based immigration bill in the country. Known as the “sanctuary cities” law, SB4 allows local law enforcement officers to question the immigration status of people they detain or arrest and seeks to punish local government department heads and elected officials who don’t cooperate with federal immigration “detainers” — requests by agents to turn over immigrants subject to possible deportation. Punishment could come in the form of jail time and penalties that exceed $25,000.

Opponents of the measure, including the cities of Houston, Austin, San Antonio and El Cenizo, as well as Maverick and El Paso counties, have argued the law violates several provisions of the U.S. Constitution, including guarantees of equal protection and freedom of speech. They are seeking a temporary injunction of the rule, which is scheduled to go into effect Sept. 1.

Lee Gelernt, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union representing the city of El Cenizo, a small municipality in Webb County, argued that the law, as written is vague and provides such little guidance to officers that they will be forced to use a heavy hand when detaining or arresting someone. That, he said, will lead to a broad assumption that they need to ask nearly every minority their immigration status for fear of violating the provision of the law — the aftereffect of which would be an across-the-board erosion of Texans’ rights.

“The overriding point is that the penalties are so harsh that it’s simply unrealistic for any police officer to take a chance” of violating the law, Gelernt told U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia. “[The lawmakers] knew what they were doing when they crafted the legislation.”

There’s a lot more, so go read the rest. The state’s argument, among other things, was that SB4 was less strict than Arizona’s infamous SB1070, and that it adhered to the parts of SB1070 that were upheld by SCOTUS. The plaintiffs’ argument, also among other things, was that the law was so vague and broad it was hard to even say what it did and did not allow and require law enforcement agencies to do; they also noted that while the Arizona law punished agencies, SB4 targets individuals who fail to comply with it. The plaintiffs are seeking an injunction to prevent the law from taking effect while the matter is being litigated; you can read the ACLU’s application for an injunction here. Judge Garcia did not say when he might rule, but he did note that he’s also one of the judges in the redistricting litigation, so maybe don’t expect anything till after those hearings in July. The Observer, the Chron, and the Current and Current again have more.

Feds join the state in defense of SB4

I suppose this was to be expected.

About a month ago, the city of El Cenizo filed a lawsuit against the state, calling the bill unconstitutional. On Monday, the Trump administration got involved.

The defendants in the lawsuit are the state of Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.

The fight started May 8, the day after Abbott signed SB 4 into law. The city of El Cenizo filed a motion for preliminary injunction against the state, attempting to stop SB 4 from taking effect in September.

“This is a violation of civil rights and human rights. It’s a reckless, dangerous and discriminatory bill that should not only be halted but declared unconstitutional,” El Cenizo Mayor Raul Reyes said.

“This is a battleground,” said attorney Luis Vera, with the League of United Latin American Citizens, or LULAC.

Vera represents El Cenizo. On Monday, his job got a lot more difficult.

“I received an email from the Department of Justice. President Donald Trump has ordered the Department of Justice to enter the case against El Cenizo and to file a brief and a statement of interest in support of the state of Texas, asking the federal courts to deny our motion for preliminary injunction,” Vera said.

I’m sure we’ll be hearing the outraged cries about the evil federal government messing in our precious local affairs any minute now. Until then, the Statesman fills in a few details.

The U.S. Department of Justice contacted Austin’s legal department on Monday indicating its intent to file a “statement of interest” and asked to be involved in the court hearings next week on SB 4, according to a city spokesman.

City officials learned of the Trump administration’s interest just as they were preparing to file a motion Monday asking a court to temporarily block the law, which is set to take effect Sept. 1. The city’s filing contains more than a dozen statements, including those from three Austin City Council members, Mayor Steve Adler, interim Police Chief Brian Manley and South by Southwest co-founder Roland Swenson.

The statements are intended to be used as evidence that SB 4 would create hardship and economic harm for the state if the law is implemented.

“Ultimately, my sincere belief — that I have expressed in multiple public statements to my constituents — is that implementation of SB 4 will make Austin less safe,” Adler said in a sworn declaration to the San Antonio federal court that will hold its first hearing June 26 on a legal challenge to SB 4 filed by San Antonio and Austin.

[…]

Meanwhile, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced Monday that his office had joined nine other states in filing briefs in support of President Donald Trump’s executive order that would cut some Department of Justice grants to cities that prohibit local law enforcement from communicating with immigration agents. Austin and Travis County are in compliance with those laws.

Back in April, a federal judge in San Francisco blocked Trump’s Jan. 25 executive order from taking effect while a court fight over that measure plays out. Austin and Travis County are among dozens of cities and counties challenging that order in court.

Paxton’s brief is a separate matter from the SB 4 lawsuits but reflects the growing number of fronts in the fight over “sanctuary cities,” regarded as local jurisdictions that decline in some way to assist federal immigration enforcement.

I think it’s safe to say that all eyes will be on San Antonio on Monday. Hopefully, the city of Houston will have gotten involved by then.

Houston officially gets in the SB4 litigation business

Well done.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Houston City Council voted Wednesday to sue the state over its new “sanctuary cities” law, joining Texas’ three other largest cities in challenging the controversial measure.

Council voted 10-6 to join San Antonio, Austin, Dallas, El Paso County and several other local governments and nonprofits in a consolidated case challenging the state. Councilman Jack Christie abstained.

A preliminary hearing in the case is scheduled for Monday.

“This is not an issue of our choosing,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said. “But when it ends up on your plate, you have to address it.”

Turner, who had shied away from the sanctuary cities issue for months, decided two weeks ago to put a lawsuit to a vote.

He was joined by council members Jerry Davis, Ellen Cohen, Dwight Boykins, Karla Cisneros, Robert Gallegos, Mike Laster, Larry Green, David Robinson and Amanda Edwards in voting for litigation.

Council members Brenda Stardig, Dave Martin, Steve Le, Greg Travis, Mike Knox and Michael Kubosh voted against a lawsuit.

See here and here for the background. No surprises in the Council vote, not that I expected any. One can make the case that a Council vote wasn’t strictly necessary – the Mayor has the authority to direct the City Attorney to get involved – but on procedural and political grounds I think this was the right call. Give everyone the chance to do the right thing, and demonstrate that majority support for this action existed. It’s possible Houston could have gotten involved sooner without this formality, but in a world where we were trying to get a pension reform bill through the Legislature, I think Mayor Turner (or anyone in his place) was going to wait until that was in the bag first. For sure, he’s loosed his tongue now that he’s gotten what he needed from Austin and is now playing defense.

The bottom line is that Houston did the right thing, and did it in time for the Monday court hearing. Better to be right slow than wrong fast, as long as it’s not too slow. The Trib has more.

Getting ready for the first SB4 hearing

All eyes are going to be on this next week.

On Monday, June 26, U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia will hear the City of San Antonio’s request for a preliminary injunction to block Senate Bill 4, the “sanctuary cities” law, from taking effect on Sept. 1.

The Mexican American Legal Defense Fund (MALDEF) is representing the City in the lawsuit, along with the following nonprofit organizations: The Texas Association of Chicanos in Higher Education, the Workers Defense Project, and La Unión Del Pueblo Entero. The hearing, which is open to the public, will take place at 9:30 a.m. at the Federal Courthouse at 655 E. César E. Chavez Blvd.

“Judge Garcia consolidated three separate lawsuits into one,” MALDEF Vice President of Litigation Nina Perales told the Rivard Report Friday. “The City of Austin is now a part of our case, [along with] El Paso County, Texas Organizing Project, the City of El Cenizo in Webb County, and Maverick County,”

[…]

On Friday, the State of Texas dropped MALDEF from a pre-emptive lawsuit asking a federal court to declare the “sanctuary cities” law constitutional.

“We wrote them a letter and said that if they didn’t drop us we were going to ask the judge to fine Texas for bringing a frivolous lawsuit against MALDEF,” Perales said. “We’re the lawyers – you don’t sue somebody else’s lawyers. MALDEF has five cases against the State of Texas right now, so it’s not just about SB 4. They were draining our resources in other cases, including school finance and redistricting.”

The pre-emptive lawsuit was filed by Attorney General Ken Paxton on May 8 before any legal action was taken against Senate Bill 4. It still includes the following defendants: Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez, all of Austin’s City Council members, Austin Mayor Steve Adler, and Austin Interim City Manager Elaine Hart. El Paso County, El Cenizo, Texas Organizing Project, and LULAC have since been added to the list.

“Today, after MALDEF made very clear its intention to pursue all available remedies against the state of Texas for filing a completely frivolous lawsuit against a civil rights law firm, the state relented and filed a voluntary dismissal of all of its claims against MALDEF,” said Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF president and general counsel, in a statement. “This now permits MALDEF to devote its energies to the appropriate forum for resolving the many constitutional questions surrounding SB 4 – federal court in San Antonio.

“Today’s dismissal represents only a partial cure of Governor Abbott’s and Attorney General Paxton’s apparent problem with premature litigation. A more complete cure involves dismissing the entire preemptive lawsuit they filed in Austin, which is illegitimate against the remaining defendants, just as it was against MALDEF.”

See here, here, and here for some background. I’m sure there will be national coverage of this, which will remind everyone that we’re not just about bathroom bills here in Texas. Houston City Council may have voted to join the fight by this time, though I’d expect it to get tagged for a week. Mark this one on your calendar, next Monday is going to be a big deal. The Observer, which notes that there will be a hearing in Austin on the 29th for “all pending matters” pertaining to his pre-emptive lawsuit, has more.

Greg Abbott’s war on trees

This is just bizarre.

One of the 20 items Gov. Greg Abbott has asked lawmakers to consider during the upcoming special session, which will begin July 18, is outlawing local tree regulations. More than 50 cities and towns in Texas have ordinances aimed at protecting trees; many of the local rules require property owners to either pay a fee for removing trees or replant trees after they cut some down. Municipalities often design them to prevent the type of branch slashing Beatty said occurred on the property near her Dallas home.

But Abbott — joined by a number of Republican lawmakers and the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank — are calling for the end of those local protections. They argue that the tree ordinances are an unconstitutional violation of private property rights, and Abbott, who grappled with Austin tree regulations as a homeowner, calls the rules a “socialistic” infringement on a landowner’s freedom.

“I feel like those who own their trees have the right to do with their trees what they want,” said state Sen. Konni Burton, R-Colleyville.

[…]

Keith Mars, who enforces Austin’s tree regulations as the city arborist, said trees are an important reason why Austin is a growing destination known for its quality of life. He points to the environmental and economic benefits of trees.

“We know about the quality that this urban canopy provides for our citizens and why so many people are moving here from all over the country,” he said. “There will be a real economic impact to the vitality of Austin and other cities.”

To Robert Henneke, the general counsel at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, though, the tree regulations hamper economic growth in Texas cities.

“The compliance cost of these tree regulation ordinances is harmful because it drives up the cost of housing,” Henneke said. Henneke said the foundation worked with lawmakers who filed bills on the topic during the regular session.

Those efforts will run up against the Texas Municipal League, an organization that advocates for Texas cities and towns in the Legislature. Bennett Sandlin, the group’s executive director, said the organization plans to resist bills that nullify local tree regulations. He says municipalities have the constitutional power to protect trees.

“If you take that argument to the extreme — that you can do anything you want on your property in an urban area —then you wouldn’t have zoning,” Sandlin said. “You could have a strip club next to a home or you could have a liquor store next to a school.”

See here for the roots (sorry not sorry) of Abbott’s tree tirade. I find this just so petty and vindictive. I mean, maybe Austin’s tree removal ordinances and processes are byzantine and life-sucking – it happens, I have no idea. A normal person might view that as a city problem, since it was the city that put in these requirements, presumably for some justifiable reasons. One could complain to one’s Council member or the Mayor, one could form an organization devoted to reforming or repealing these rules, one could run for city office on a tree-regulation-reform platform – there are many options. To decide that all tree-related regulations in all cities are uniformly terrible and must be destroyed is some kind of special snowflaking right there. Also, some people refer to “driving up the cost of housing” as “enhancing property values”. Maybe talk to a realtor? I don’t know. I mean, I don’t know how Texas ever got to be such a wonderful place when so much of it is clearly a dystopian hellhole. Thank God we have Greg Abbott and his million-dollar donors to set us straight.

An SB4 threefer

We have our first SB4 casualty.

A 15,000-member association of attorneys and law professors said on Wednesday that it is relocating its 2018 convention out of Texas in response to the state legislature passing Senate bill 4, a sweeping and controversial immigration enforcement measure.

The American Immigration Lawyers Association was scheduled to hold its 3-day event in Grapevine next year, but said the bill’s “dangerous, destructive and counter productive proposals” go against the group’s mission. About 3,000 people were expected to attend the convention.

“One of the issues that drove the board’s decision was concern on behalf of quite a number of our members that they might not be willing to bring themselves or their families to Texas,” AILA president Bill Stock told reporters during a conference call. “Our members are US citizens and green card holders but many of them come from ethnic communities where they felt that they [would] being unfairly targeted.”

[…]

The AILA Grapevine conference was booked years ago. The organization could face financial penalties for relocating, Stock said, but the group chose to cancel the event anyway due to the new law.

I don’t think it should surprise anyone that an association of immigration attorneys would want to take its business elsewhere after SB4 passed. Will other groups do likewise? It’s hard to say, especially given the vastly greater attention given to SB6, which will be re-focused on the state during the special session. With all the lawsuits getting filed, and with SB4 not officially taking effect until September 1 barring an injunction, perhaps that will change.

In the meantime, SxSW has come under some pressure to think about relocating. For now, at least, they are standing firm.

[SXSW CEO Roland] Swenson’s position is reasonable—and it’s notable that he doesn’t make the argument that leaving Austin is unrealistic, which while true, would come off as a smidge hypocritical from an organization that’s floated such ideas themselves. As the 2017 regular session proved, and which Abbott’s comments at a reception in Belton about the smell of the air in “the People’s Republic of Austin” on Wednesday confirmed, bashing Austin is good for politics if you’re a Texas Republican. Leading SXSW to pull out of Austin might have a negative economic impact on the city to the tune of $320 million a year, but it’s a safe bet that any politician who voted for SB 4 would probably get cheers from their base for chasing it out of town.

All of which highlights the actual issue that SXSW—and any business whose values involve a fairly progressive worldview—face in operating in Texas in 2017. Austin leads the state in startups, venture capital, and patents. The sort of industries that are likely to form the basis of Texas’s modern economy are growing out of a city that the state’s leaders are quick to bash. At some point, Austin, SXSW, and all of the constituencies that those two entities represent are going to have to make some decisions about whether the animosity coming from the state to their interests is mutual—and if so, what to do about it.

See the Chron for more. It’s crazy to think that our Republican overlords, who like to tout every business relocation to Texas, would cheer for a $300 million economic loss, but this is the world we live in. Texas’ urban areas are big engines of growth, but their politics differ from those of the state leadership, which has been doing all it can to stick it to them.

All of that is bad for business, and business is wondering when it lost its influence.

Dennis Nixon is the CEO of the International Bank of Commerce, the ninth biggest bank in Texas, the kind of person the state’s Republicans used to listen to. These days, however, he’s feeling woefully neglected.

“I personally think it’s a disaster,” Nixon says, about the legislative session that just ended. “They basically disregarded the business community of Texas, just threw us under the bus.”

Nixon is particularly exasperated by the passage of Senate Bill 4, which directs local law enforcement agencies to cooperate with federal immigration officials in arresting and detaining undocumented immigrants. He says the immigrant workforce is essential to the state’s economic health, and that driving them out is self-sabotage.

He pointed to Arizona, where anti-immigration laws drove out workers, created labor shortages and hurt economic growth.

“This could have really serious consequences for Texas,” he says. “”My argument is, we have to have these people. They’re working already.”

It’s not just the immigration issue: Nixon is also fuming at the Texas legislature’s focus on social issues like abortion and transgender bathroom access, its failure to address high property taxes, and the Trump administration’s determination to build a wall on the border with Mexico. He says he’s brought these issues up with lawmakers, to no avail.

“I don’t get it,” Nixon says. “I’m just one guy in the night, screaming.”

[…]

“No amount of misinformation and fear-mongering about a law that keeps dangerous criminals off the street, and that a majority of Texans support, will stop business from thriving in Texas,” said Abbott spokesman John Wittman, of the sanctuary cities bill. He also expressed confidence that the bathroom bill wouldn’t hurt the state’s economy.

“The truth is that businesses look at what is best for their bottom line, and Texas is that place,” Wittman says.

Nixon disagrees, and worries that Texas’ open-for-business reputation isn’t indestructible.

“That’s a very slippery slope to get on, when the government disregards the business message, you’re really getting yourself into trouble,” Nixon says. “Especially if you’re a Republican state, you want to retain the business community as a political ally.”

Still, businesses are in a little bit of a box: Democrats aren’t exactly their cup of tea either, with their preference for higher taxes and tighter regulations.

“They’ve moved to the left, and gotten so crazy out of whack,” Nixon says. “And we’ve got the Republicans who’ve moved far to the right, they’ve gotten crazy out of whack. So we’ve got to get back to the middle here.”

Sorry, dude, but you’re going to have to make a choice. You could try to elect some less-fanatical Republicans via the primaries, but good luck with that. Alternately, you can accept that while Democrats can, will, and should oppose you on some important things, they at least won’t work to destroy the state’s economy and reputation through legislative means. Last we checked, businesses were doing pretty well in Democratic-run states like California, too. What do you have to lose here?

Dallas gets in the fight against SB4

Good for them.

Mike Rawlings

Dallas is joining some other Texas cities, including Austin and San Antonio, in taking on the state’s so-called “sanctuary city” law.

Mayor Mike Rawlings made the announcement Wednesday afternoon, calling SB4 “unconstitutional” and a law that “greatly infringes on the city’s ability to protect” the public. According to Rawlings, the city attorney has “serious constitutional concerns” with the new measure, which goes into effect Sept. 1.

Rawlings said after Wednesday’s council meeting that he had already spoken with Austin Mayor Steve Adler and San Antonio Mayor Ivy Taylor about potential litigation.

“I told them both this was a serious issue,” Rawlings said.

A San Antonio federal district court announced Wednesday it would consolidate the lawsuits filed by all of the cities against the bill and designate the city of El Cenizo as the lead plaintiff. A hearing in that case is set for June 26.

[…]

The Dallas city code allows the city attorney to initiate litigation without the council’s approval. Rawlings made his announcement moments after the City Council met with City Attorney Larry Casto behind closed doors.

Rawlings said he wanted to make sure the council was aligned before Dallas joined the fray. He said Wednesday that a majority of the council agreed with Casto’s recommendation to take on the state.

“We are not a sanctuary city,” he said. “We live by the national laws, and now the question is who’s boss in all this. And this is an unfunded mandate. They’re telling us how our police officers should spend their time and not giving us any money to do that.”

Add yet another city to the list. Dallas may have joined in without it being clear whether they’d be on their own or as part of an existing lawsuit, but that matter appears to have been cleared up for them.

U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia Wednesday ordered that lawsuits challenging Senate Bill 4, which limits local law enforcement policies on immigration, by San Antonio, the border town of El Cenizo and El Paso County be joined in one large case.

Garcia denied a request by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to move those suits to Austin and combine them with a preemptive suit the state filed to have the law declared constitutional.

That also addresses the motion filed by Ken Paxton to combine all the lawsuits with the one he filed. It’s not clear to me why the San Antonio court responded to that and not the Austin court, but I assume the judges have their reasons. In any event, whether one lawsuit or many, the more the merrier. And as far as Houston goes, there may be some action later this month. The Trib has more.

State files motion to combine all the “sanctuary cities” lawsuits

This isn’t a surprise, but there is a bit of a twist.

Best mugshot ever

In a filing late Thursday, Attorney General Ken Paxton asked a federal district court in Austin to absorb two other legal challenges that have been filed against the ban in San Antonio, which is seen as a friendlier venue toward opponents of the law.

In May, the city of El Cenizo became the first jurisdiction to file suit to block the ban. El Paso County followed a few weeks later.

But Texas had filed a pre-emptive lawsuit May 7 asking for the Austin district court to rule the ban constitutional. Because Texas had filed its suit first, Paxton argued in his motion, the cases should be tried in the court it had petitioned under a concept known as the “first-filed” rule.

“The El Paso case (in the San Antonio Division) and this case ask the courts to decide the same legal issues because they are essentially the same case,” Paxton wrote. “Since this case was first-filed, the interests of justice and judicial economy warrant consolidating these cases in the Austin Division.”

Because Texas had filed its suit first in the Austin Division, Paxton said, that court should determine whether other cases should be “dismissed, stayed, transferred or consolidated.”

Paxton also argued that the legal challenges in the San Antonio court should be stopped because the plaintiffs, which include El Paso and El Cenizo, had no connection to that jurisdiction.

“The proper venue for the El Paso case lies in Austin,” he wrote. “There is no substantial connection to San Antonio and plaintiffs sued the Governor and Attorney General in their official capacities. Suits against government officials in their official capacities should be brought in the division from where those officials primarily perform their duties.”

The motion could mean that jurisdictions and groups that had signed on to lawsuits as plaintiffs — like El Paso, El Cenizo and the League of United Latin American Citizens — will now become defendants in the state’s original suit.

[…]

Mimi Marziani, executive director of the Texas Civil Rights Project that is representing the Texas Organizing Project Education Fund, said the state is trying to intimidate civil rights groups to make them wary of joining suits against the ban.

“It’s clear that Texas is seeking to punish civil rights organizations that have bravely stood up against the State and prevent additional groups from coming forward,” she said in a written statement. “Indeed, their lawsuit does not include any specific allegations against groups like our client.”

See here, here, and here for the background. I presume that Paxton will eventually amend his motion to encompass the San Antonio/Austin lawsuit as well. I Am Not A Lawyer, so it is not clear to me what the advantage to Paxton is in doing this, other than his apparent belief that the court he filed in is more amenable to his argument than the San Antonio court. Plaintiffs usually have some burden of proof on them, so you’d think that being the defendant would be the less onerous task, but again, I don’t know what I’m talking about, so any actual attorneys out there are encouraged to weigh in. I do believe that this is intended to intimidate any other potential litigants, though I don’t think it will be successful on that front. In any event, I’ll be keeping an eye on this.

Mayors (still) against climate change

Someone’s gotta do it.

On Thursday, President Donald Trump officially announced that the United States would be withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement, citing the deal’s failure “to serve American interests.”

Hours later, governors, mayors, and environmental groups all had a different message: We’ll take it from here.

“Donald Trump has absolutely chosen the wrong course,” California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) said on a press call following Trump’s announcement. “California’s economy and America’s economy is boosted by following the Paris agreement.”

In the wake of the Trump administration’s sudden withdrawal from the international stage, local leaders — especially, though not limited to, those in progressive areas of the country — are recommitting to their work on climate policy. Brown, for instance, will reportedly discuss merging California’s existing carbon market — a cap and trade program started in 2012 — with China when he travels to Asia later this week. Canada has also reportedly been reaching out to U.S. governors to try and coordinate work on climate change.

Brown also joined with Govs. Jay Inslee (D-WA) and Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) to create the United States Climate Alliance, a coalition that will include states committed to meeting emission reduction targets previously submitted to the Paris climate agreement regardless of what action the federal government takes. Together, California, Washington, and New York represent one-fifth of the United States’ GDP — creating an economy larger than most countries that are party to the Paris agreement. The states also account for at least 10 percent of the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions.

“I am proud to stand with other governors as we make sure that the inaction in D.C. is met by an equal force of action from the states,” Inslee said in a press statement announcing the creation of the alliance on Thursday. “Today’s announcement by the president leaves the full responsibility of climate action on states and cities throughout our nation. While the president’s actions are a shameful rebuke to the work needed to protect our planet for our children and grandchildren, states have been and will continue to step up.”

U.S. mayors also voiced their criticism of Trump’s decision, vowing to recommit to local efforts to curb climate change. Cities are responsible for 75 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, meaning that even small changes in city-wide policies — retrofitting street lamps with LED bulbs, for instance, or deploying electric vehicles for city-owned cars — can make a big dent in the country’s overall emissions.

“Austin will not stop fighting climate change,” Steve Adler, mayor of Austin, Texas, said in a press statement following Trump’s announcement. “Worldwide, cities will lead in achieving climate treaty goals because so much of what’s required happens at the local level. Regardless of what happens around us, we’re still Austin, Texas.”

Houston is in on this as well; you can see his press statement here. This is nothing new for Houston – in fact, if you go to the Climate Mayors homepage, you’ll see that former Mayor Parker was one of the founders. (I noted it at the time.) It’s good to see, and it’s yet another reminder of the importance of local elections, as I have a much harder time imagining the runnerup in the 2015 Mayor’s race being out front on this.

San Antonio files “sanctuary cities” lawsuit

Here they go.

The cities of San Antonio and Austin announced on Thursday they have joined the fight to stop the state’s new immigration enforcement law, Senate Bill 4, in federal court.

[…]

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund filed the suit Thursday on behalf of San Antonio City Councilman Rey Saldaña and a trio of nonprofit groups: La Unión Del Pueblo Entero, the Worker’s Defense Project and the Texas Association of Chicanos in Higher Education.

The city of Austin’s city attorney will file a motion to intervene and join the plaintiffs Friday but will use its own attorneys and introduce certain Austin-specific claims, a spokesperson for Austin City Councilman Greg Casar said.

Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton are the named defendants in the litigation.

During a press call late Thursday afternoon, Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF’s president and general counsel, said the lawsuit contains “arguments against each and every provision in SB4.” Specifically, the lawsuit alleges the bill, if enacted, would violate the First, Fourth and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

“All of those multiple constitutional claims basically relate to the illegality of empowering each and every police officer, sheriff’s deputy, booking agent and other law enforcement figures in the state of Texas to decide on their own, without any guidance or restriction from their duly elected superiors and appointed police chiefs … whether and how to enforce federal immigration law.”

CM Saldaña had been pushing for this since SB4 was signed, and it was reported earlier in the week that the suit would be filed on Thursday/ Here’s more on Austin’s role in this.

Austin plans to file a motion to intervene, bringing “Austin-specific issues to the table,” City Council Member Greg Casar said on a conference call.

“Soon after Gov. Abbott signed this disgraceful law, community groups announced a summer of resistance against SB 4, calling on elected officials to file challenges against the law in court,” Casar said, refering to Senate Bill 4. “City leaders have responded swiftly. Upon filing suit against the State of Texas tomorrow morning, El Paso, El Cenizo, San Antonio and Austin all will have responded to the community’s call.”

The lawsuit alleges SB 4 violates the First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. It names the State of Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton as defendants.

As the story notes, Austin City Council had previously voted to pursue litigation, so this is the culmination of that vote. This lawsuit joins with the other lawsuits already in progress. MALDEF attorney Saenz is quoted in the Trib story saying that the Austin/San Antonio suits will likely be combined with the El Cenizo/Maverick County one at some point, but until then and before the September 1 implementation date there’s plenty of time for motions and discovery.

San Antonio’s decision to file suit was a bit contentious as Mayor Ivy Taylor did not want to get involved, at least at this time. That stance has become an issue in the Mayoral runoff.

Taylor’s move gives her an 11th-hour wedge issue in her mayoral runoff campaign. Her challenger, Councilman Ron Nirenberg, supports the lawsuit and Taylor is banking on the idea that North Side conservatives will remember that when they go to the polls.

Nirenberg said in a Thursday statement that he hopes the lawsuit “will bring a fast and final resolution on the constitutionality of the law so our local law enforcement can move forward with the job of protecting the people of San Antonio.”

Taylor was joined in her anti-lawsuit stance by North Side council members Joe Krier and Mike Gallagher. Like Taylor, Gallagher suggested that the city should work in coordination with the state’s other major cities before committing to litigation. Krier said the council should have voted in an open session, with full transparency and the chance for public discussion.

I agree with that point. That’s how Austin handled it, with a May 18 council vote to file suit over SB 4. By definition, City Council makes policy and deciding to participate in this lawsuit is a major policy move. In the words of former New York Jets head coach Herm Edwards, “Put your name on it.”

Saldaña agrees with the calls for transparency, but said San Antonio was running out of time because Austin and other cities are looking to S.A. to decide how they should proceed against SB 4, which goes into effect on September 1.

“The question that I posed to the mayor and the manager (Sheryl Sculley) and our city attorney was, ‘What is the best way to move quickly?’ And they said, ‘Let’s first discuss this in executive session and see what folks have an appetite for.’ But it kept getting stalled and several weeks passed from the time I originally proposed this,” Saldaña said.

“The people who are most in favor of getting it up for a (public) vote are just trying to delay the action that we’re taking. And Councilman Krier was one of them.”

Saldaña pointed out that Krier had no objections in 2014 when the council made an executive-session decision to file lawsuits against the police and fire unions over the city’s collective-bargaining agreements.

Here’s a list of statements by the Mayor and Council members following the vote to file suit. The runoff concludes June 10, so we ought to have some feedback on the political effect shortly. In the meantime, all eyes remain on Houston and Mayor Turner. ThinkProgress and the Current have more.

Uber and Lyft come rolling back

To Austin:

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday signed into law a measure creating a statewide regulatory framework for ride-hailing companies, overriding local measures that prompted businesses such as Uber and Lyft to leave Austin and other cities.

Uber and Lyft said they resumed operations in Austin on Monday. Lyft also said it would relaunch in Houston on Wednesday (Uber is already operating in Houston.)

“What today really is is a celebration of freedom and free enterprise,” Abbott said during a signing ceremony. “This is freedom for every Texan — especially those who live in the Austin area — to be able to choose the provider of their choice as it concerns transportation.”

House Bill 100 undoes local rules that the two companies have argued are overly burdensome for their business models. It requires ride-hailing companies to have a permit from the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation and pay an annual fee of $5,000 to operate throughout the state. It also calls for companies to perform local, state and national criminal background checks on drivers annually — but doesn’t require drivers to be fingerprinted.

“Today’s bill signing creates a ridesharing network in Texas that benefits consumers, expands transportation options, maximizes access to safe, affordable rides and creates expanded earning opportunities for Texans,” Lyft spokeswoman Chelsea Harrison said. “Riders and drivers are the real winners today.”

And (for Lyft) to Houston:

Ride-hailing company Lyft will officially return to the Houston market.

San Francsico-based Lyft will return to Houston on May 31 at 2 p.m., according to Chelsea Harrison, Lyft’s senior policy communications manager. The move comes shortly after Gov. Greg Abbott signed House Bill 100, a statewide comprehensive transportation bill, on May 29. Lyft has been ramping up its local marketing, recruiting drivers and offering discount codes to riders since the bill went to the governor’s desk for signing.

“Today’s bill signing creates a ridesharing network in Texas that benefits consumers, expands transportation options, maximizes access to safe, affordable rides and creates expanded earning opportunities for Texans. Riders and drivers are the real winners today,” Harrison said in an email.

[…]

HB 100’s rules are expected to go into effect in September.

Actually, that law went into effect immediately after Abbott’s signature, as it was passed with a two thirds majority in both chambers. The normal rule is that bills go into effect after 90 days, but with a supermajority they go into effect immediately.

You know how I feel about this. I think it was reasonable for the Lege to clear the way for TMCs to operate outside of cities, and I can see some value in a uniform approach to regulating them. I don’t care for the ongoing contempt for local control, and the gratuitous “definition of gender” amendment really sticks in my craw. In the end, I largely agree with this:

Following the passage of the bill in both chambers, however, Austin Mayor Steve Adler issued a statement saying he was “disappointed” the Legislature voted to nullify regulations the city had implemented.

“Our city should be proud of how we filled the gap created when Uber and Lyft left, and we now must hope that they return ready to compete in a way that reflects Austin’s values,” Adler wrote.”

There’s clearly a demand for what Uber and Lyft sell, but let’s not kid ourselves into believing that HB100 has just ushered in some free-market nirvana for ride-seekers. I mean, surely at some point in the future Uber will succeed in buying up Lyft, thus making it a functional monopoly in that market. How exciting will it be then to have the equivalent of a cable company for ridesharing? The brief period in Austin where a bunch of companies actually competed for drivers and riders is what a free market looks like. Too bad none of the rest of us will get to experience that.

More “sanctuary cities” plaintiffs gearing up

Local governments are not going down without a fight.

On Tuesday, which organizers said was the beginning of a “summer of resistance,” Austin City Council member Delia Garza said the city will move this week to take formal action to stop SB 4 in the courtroom.

“I am proud to announce today, with much gratitude for my colleagues, this Thursday we are poised to approve a resolution that directs our city legal team to take any legal action necessary to challenge this awful law,” she said at Tuesday’s rally, which was organized by the Austin City Council, Texas Organizing Project and United We Dream.

[…]

“I have to preserve the work of these brave leaders in Austin,” said Phillip Kingston, a member of the Dallas City Council. “We will be discussing intervening in the case, coming to the aid of Austin because we have a large city attorney’s office we have lots of legal resources.”

Later, El Paso County Commissioner David Stout said the Commissioner’s Court there voted 4-to-1 to move forward with a federal lawsuit in the Western District of Texas.

“We feel that it’s discriminatory and unconstitutional but also we have a settlement agreement … from back in 2006 that basically states we’re not able to have our law enforcement officers to enforce federal immigration law,” he said. “So [SB4]will in effect put us in non compliance.”

Stout was referring to a 2006 legal settlement that El Paso County agreed to after a local resident sued, accusing sheriffs’ deputies of conducting unlawful immigration checks at roadside checkpoints. The parties reached an agreement: The sheriff’s office had to “memorialize in writing its policies that prohibits Sheriff’s Department Deputies from enforcing civil immigration law.”

Paxton has since said that El Paso County would be in compliance but local leaders disagree. The El Paso Times reported that County Judge Veronica Escobar said the county would allocate about $150,000 for litigation costs.

There are multiple lawsuits already in the courts or in the works, plus the one filed by the state to try to head this off. The main question I have at this point is whether there will be a bunch of individual lawsuits filed by various entities – cities, counties, and school districts may all want in on the action – or one monster lawsuit with a gazillion plaintiffs. Either way, there will be no shortage of work for a lot of attorneys. One other point is that while several cities – Austin, Dallas, El Paso, San Antonio – are gearing up to fight, as yet I have seen no indication that Houston will join in. I have seen some griping about this on Facebook, but so far it’s limited to that. CM Robert Gallegos was at the event in this story, but if anyone has asked Mayor Turner what his intentions are or if a Council member has announced an intention to push the issue, I have not yet seen it. The Statesman, the Observer, the Current, and the Press have more.

Senate passes statewide rideshare bill

It’s a done deal.

After a debate among lawmakers over the best way to regulate services like Uber and Lyft, the Texas Senate on Wednesday backed a proposal that would override local regulations concerning ride-hailing companies.

House Bill 100 would establish a statewide framework to regulate ride-hailing companies and undo local rules that the two companies have argued are overly burdensome for their business models.

“Regulating them at the city level will always be challenging,” the bill’s Senate author, state Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, said. “Transportation, by nature, is a regional concern.”

His bill passed in the upper chamber in a 20-10 vote on its third and final reading. The measure now heads to the governor’s desk.

Though the vote on the bill was originally announced as 20-10, senate records later showed it actually passed 21-9, meaning more than two-thirds of the Senate supported the measure. That distinction matters because of a provision in the bill that allows it to go into effect immediately after the governor signs it instead of on Sept. 1 if it receives support of two-thirds of the members in both chambers. As the measure passed the House in a 100-35 vote, it means ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft could potentially return to cities like Austin as early as this summer.

You know the story on this one. The offensive “definition of sex” amendment is still in there, which I have to hope winds up not meaning much in the grand scheme of things. And I agree with mayor Turner that this is “another example of the legislature circumventing local control”, but all things considered it’s less of that than it could have been. I know I’m rationalizing, but such is how it is these days. Expect to see the pink Lyft mustache in town again, as they have been recruiting drivers in anticipation of this. Maybe some other services will come to town as well. Whatever you think of this soon-to-be-law, there will be one fewer obstacle to entry.

Paxton gets ahead of the “sanctuary cities” lawsuit rush

That’s one way to do it, I suppose.

Best mugshot ever

Attorney General Ken Paxton is looking to get ahead of an anticipated barrage of legal challenges to Texas’ ban on “sanctuary cities,” which takes effect Sept. 1.

Shortly after Gov. Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill 4 into law on Sunday, Paxton filed a lawsuit — known as a complaint for declaratory judgment — asking a federal court to declare the law constitutional. The lawsuit specifically wants the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas to rule the law does not violate the 14th or 15th amendments to the U.S. Constitution and is not preempted by federal law.

“SB 4 is constitutional, lawful and a vital step in securing our borders,” Paxton said in a statement.

The lawsuit was filed against the government and elected officials in Travis County, which has been a battleground in Texas Republicans’ push to crack down on criminal suspects living in the United States illegally. The county’s sheriff, Sally Hernandez, drew Abbott’s ire earlier this year when she announced that her department would reduce its cooperation with federal immigration authorities.

You can find a copy of the lawsuit here, which according to KVUE was filed “to avoid a multiplicity of suits in various forms” questioning the constitutionality of the law from the defendants, which include Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez, the City of Austin, Austin City Council Member Greg Casar, Austin Mayor Steve Adler and a host of other people affiliated with Travis County. I’ve never heard of this strategy before and I have no idea what its history is, but I’d bet a dollar that Paxton picked the court in which he filed this suit with some care. I’m quite certain it won’t stop anyone from suing, but beyond that I have no idea what might happen. This is going to be a bumpy ride.

UPDATE: Here’s the Chron story.

The SB4 protests

I admire the hell out of this.

At least two dozen protesters on the grounds of the Texas Capitol on Monday evening were charged with misdemeanor trespassing, the culmination of a day-long sit-in.

The demonstration began around 10 a.m. Monday morning when about 50 protesters took over the lobby of the State Insurance Building to protest Senate Bill 4, a measure that would outlaw “sanctuary” jurisdictions in Texas that passed out of the Texas House last week.

Attorney George Lobb, with the Austin Lawyers Guild, told The Texas Tribune that protesters inside were charged with trespassing. According to Lobb, Travis County Magistrate Nicholas Chu apparently issued citations to those inside the insurance building. Lobb said he and five other attorneys tried to get inside the building to speak with their clients but were barred from entry by state troopers.

Lobb said some of those charged must appear for a court date, although it’s not immediately clear how many protesters that applies to.

One of those handcuffed with a zip tie included Jim Rigby, a pastor at St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in Austin. He was part of the original group of protestors that descended on the state building Monday morning. Upon his release, Rigby told the crowd, who greeted him with thunderous applause, that they were all in this together now. “We are family,” he told the crowd.

Austin City Council member Greg Casar, a staunch opponent of state-based immigration proposals, was also released and told protesters the fight on SB 4 was only beginning.

“We know [Gov. Greg Abbott] has set his stake into passing this unconstitutional and anti-immigrant law,” Casar said. “This community, we are gonna rise up. The day he signs the bill is only the real beginning of the fight on SB 4.”

Just read the whole thing, and this Observer story, and look at the videos as well. Find inspiration from what these people did yesterday, and find something to do to support and stand with them.

Get ready for the “sanctuary cities” lawsuits

It’s just a matter of time.

Now that Senate Bill 4 is on its way to becoming law, opponents are looking to the courts for relief – and a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court case is giving them hope.
The high court struck down parts of a controversial 2010 immigration law in Arizona on the grounds that Congress, not the states, has the power to create immigration law. Experts say that argument could come into play with Texas’ SB 4, which requires local jails to comply with immigration detention requests that federal officials have said are voluntary.

“My opinion is the state is regulating in the immigration field,” said Barbara Hines, senior fellow at the immigration reform group the Emerson Collective. “What the state of Texas is doing is they are creating their own detainer program. That is pre-empted. Immigration is a federal area.”

Among other things, SB 4 would create civil and criminal penalties for officials who disregard requests by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to extend the detention of jail inmates suspected of being in the country illegally. Those detention requests, or detainers, help facilitate possible deportation proceedings.

State Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, predicted that the bill will follow the same course as Arizona’s SB 1070, better known as the “papers please” law because it required law enforcement officers in Arizona to demand the documentation of anyone they believed was in the country illegally.

Texas’ SB 4 doesn’t require officers to ask, but it prohibits sheriffs or police chiefs from keeping their officers from doing so.

“It allows local law enforcement to ask anybody on the street for their immigration status,” said Anchia, who chairs the Democrat-dominated Mexican American Legislative Caucus, which is fighting the state in court over redistricting maps it says are racially discriminatory.

[…]

Critics have argued the bill would separate families, deport well-meaning immigrants and create a fear in immigrant communities that might undermine their safety.

They picked up a legal argument this week after a group of mayors, including Austin Mayor Steve Adler, met with U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions for clarity on the ramifications for so-called “sanctuary cities.”

Sessions confirmed Tuesday to the mayors that compliance with the federal immigration detention requests sent to local jails — the central requirement of SB 4 — isn’t mandated under federal law. Rather, the jails can choose whether to hold inmates longer at the request of ICE, Sessions said.

That the comments came from such a high-ranking Trump administration official deflated the notion often associated with SB 4: that local officials like Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez are breaking federal law by choosing to ignore some ICE detention requests.

It also raised questions over whether the state could step in and create an immigration law making the detainers mandatory.

“It is inevitable that you will see cities and counties across the state suing the state. The overreach is unprecedented,” Austin City Council Member Greg Casar said. “I don’t know who died and made Greg Abbott (into) Putin, but our cities are going to fight back.”

See here for the background, and here for more on what Mayor Adler said about his meeting with Sessions. I hope opponents of this lousy bill flood the zone with lawsuits. It’s clear from the HB2 experience that setbacks in court will not stop the Lege from trying the same things again in the future, but it’s still necessary. Also, I say Greg Abbott has always had authoritarian inclinations, he’s just more comfortable expressing them in public now.

There will also be many headaches for law enforcement agencies, which strongly opposed SB4.

Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo spoke vehemently against Senate Bill 4 Thursday afternoon, calling it a dangerous move by the state Legislature because it would redirect limited HPD resources from crime fighting efforts to an initiative that does not improve public safety.

Acevedo did not share if HPD would alter its policies if SB 4 were to become law. However, he made it clear during the afternoon presser he would make public safety a priority over policies he believe are unrelated.

“I am carrying out my sworn duty and moral duty to speak out on matters of public safety. And I’m not here to keep a job to do it,” he said.

[…]

The legislation would force police to honor all federal requests to detain people suspected of being in the country illegally until federal authorities can investigate the person’s status. It also would prohibit local jurisdictions from passing or enforcing an ordinance that prohibits police officers from inquiring about a detained person’s immigration status, which would nullify the Houston Police Department’s 1990 policy on the matter.

“If that language does not get removed … we’re going to have some negative consequences,” Acevedo said.

Police departments across the state, including Houston, are understaffed, he said. And the bill would diminish those already limited resources, he added. Just this year Acevedo announced plans to target high-crime areas and violent documented gang members.

He also announced a joint effort with the Texas Department of Public Safety to decrease violent crime in the area by creating two squad assigned to the initiative.

However, he believes SB4 may affect those plans.

“We don’t have the resources, nor do we have the bandwidth nor the desire to be ICE agents. If I wanted to work for ICE, I would’ve applied for ICE,” he said.

Acevedo’s worry is that a police officer’s duty and the proposed policy will create a divide among departments throughout the state. While police officers are sworn to protect, he says the bill could open the door for harassment.

“I will lose my ability and authority to direct (my officers) workflow,” he said. “ … And all of sudden I’ll have a police officer that wants to go off and play ICE agent all day.”

He went on to add he hopes that isn’t the case, but that perception would be damaging for Houston – particularly on immigrant communities.

It’s not about what local officials want, it’s about what Greg Abbott wants. Sorry, Chief. The Chron, ThinkProgress, and the Press have more.

The post-Uber Austin rideshare experience

Texas Monthly notes the issues that some people faced during SxSW hailing a ride, and considers the rideshare landscape in Austin post-Uber and Lyft.

But the thesis that Austin is experiencing a crisis around ride-hailing apps is an old one, and it’s incomplete. RideAustin, which as a non-profit makes all of its numbers public, gave its millionth ride in February. Drivers are happy with the rates they make on RideAustin (which gives them the full amount of the ride) and Fasten (which takes a flat fee out of each ride, rather than a percentage like Lyft does). Most of the year, the companies’ servers can handle the load, and it’s likely that they’ll each be improving their servers based on what happened at SXSW.

Still, despite the fact that the city seems much happier with the current state of its ride app regulations than the tech fellas who come in for SXSW, things might end up getting a lot friendlier for Lyft and Uber anyway. That’s because the disruptive innovators in the tech world have an ally in the Texas Legislature, which seems increasingly likely to pass statewide regulations that would prevent cities like Austin (and Houston, which has a similar ordinance—and which keeps Lyft, but not Uber, from choosing to operate in the city) from determining what the rules that drivers and the companies through which they find passengers will have to follow will be in each city.

There are three different bills in the Lege, all of which would create a statewide rule that would supersede local regulations, and the Senate began debating them last month. (Similar legislation was proposed in 2015, though it ended up dying without a vote.) This time, though, momentum is on the side of the companies that hope to see the legislation passed—the Texas Tribune reports that “at least one of the bills is widely expected to eventually move on to the full Senate for a vote,” which, in an environment that’s increasingly hostile to the idea of local control, has a strong chance of passing.

All of which is to say that the question of whether or not Austin’s leadership “ruined” ridesharing is ultimately the wrong thing to focus on. It’s true both that Austin tends to get around pretty well without Uber and Lyft, and that the two companies are pushing hard for legislation that would change the dynamic there dramatically. Perhaps the real question, then, is what happens to Fasten, RideAustin, and the rest if Uber and Lyft come back?

That’s a tougher question to answer, but it’s the one on which the future of ride-hailing in Austin hinges. For now, RideAustin and Fasten are doing a job that satisfies customers and drivers. But if Uber and Lyft decide to cut costs to consumers for six months, eating the expense of the service, they could easily make RideAustin and Fasten seem like overpriced relics of a bizarre moment in the city’s history. It may not prove sustainable (currently, Uber’s passengers pay for only 41 percent of each ride, and the company was projected to lose $3 billion in 2016), but it doesn’t have to be sustainable: it only has to chase away the competition.

I have mostly resigned myself to the fact that the Lege is going to pass a statewide rideshare law that will forcibly overrule the ordinances passed in cities like Austin and Houston regarding these services. The bills that are being considered have some good points to them, and there is certainly an argument to be made that a uniform statewide approach makes more sense and will serve customers better. But I think that latter part will only be true if there is robust competition among multiple rideshare companies, ant not just an Uber/Lyft duopoly with a legacy cab service for a declining share of riders. As such, I have two hopes for what happens after Uber and Lyft make their mandated returns to Austin. One is that they will find a market that isn’t as into them as before thanks to the presence of many other viable services, which forces them to innovate and compete not just for riders but also for drivers. And two, if Uber and Lyft take the approach of trying to kill off their competition instead by leveraging their billions in market capitalization to subsidize their service until they’re the only players left standing, that the Legislature recognizes this anti-free market in a way that some people say taxi regulations are, and take action to correct it. Let’s just say I have more hope for the former than for the latter.

Houston hyperlooping

How soon can this be built?

A Texas plan using the Hyperloop concept envisioned by Tesla founder Elon Musk is one of 35 proposals from around the globe competing this week in Washington for bragging rights as the best initial project for the technology. Hyperloop One, the company currently testing the idea, sponsored the contest.

“From a planning perspective and from a regulatory perspective Texas is a good first step for Hyperloop,” said Steven Duong, the team leader, based in Dallas, for Hyperloop Texas. “Population is a big part of it, but not just population, but population growth. So is the climate in Texas for development.”

[…]

Though winning the contest guarantees nothing, there is benefit to putting Texas high on the map – if only for U.S. bragging rights. A good idea that generates investment, he said, might be the first one completed. In some ways Texas is ahead of proposals in places like the West Coast where interest is high, but so are the regulatory hurdles.

“There are states and areas with a progressive reputation out there … but from our standpoint, this is the place to do it,” Duong said.

The proposal, a feasibility study, is a very early look at possibilities and includes no cost projections or analysis of site-specific needs. While many Hyperloop projects focus on buried tubes and include tunneling into the ground, the Texas pitch envisions above-ground enclosed tubes, possibly with solar panels on top that would power the system, making it energy-efficient to the point of burning no fossil fuels.

See here for past hyperloop blogging. Elon Musk has been talking about building a “test track” for hyperloops in Texas for over two years now, so I hope this contest indicates that we are getting closer to something actually getting built. I’m not getting any younger, I want the future to get here already. Hyperloop One, the company sponsoring the contest, says it hopes to announce finalists by May. I can’t wait.

Deep thoughts:

If a Hyperloop happens in Texas, however, it could bring profound change. Already, the Houston region is stretched to the point where sense of place can be tough to define. Are Sugar Land residents Houstonians? What does it mean to live in a region of many cities?

A Hyperloop that makes drinks in Austin and dinner in Houston possible stretches that to even farther limits, Duong said.

“If you could travel between all these different cities, it kind of devalues what it means to put your roots down in a community,” he said. “That’s something we think about, talk about, a lot.”

I don’t know that I agree with that. I think where you actually live and where you do things like go to church and send your kids to school will still strongly determine what people think of as their community. I admit that a world in which you can easily be in Houston, Austin, and Dallas all in the same day will be different and may well cause some definitions of neighborhood and community to change and possibly expand. But I think that at some fundamental level we will still be rooted to the things we are rooted to now. Ask me again after this thing gets built. The Dallas Observer, the DMN, and Swamplot have more.

NCAA rewards North Carolina for its weaksauce HB2 repeal

So this happened.

Discrimination won the championship this year.

The NCAA announced Tuesday morning that it completely fell for the bait-and-switch concocted by Republican leadership in North Carolina’s legislature and Gov. Roy Cooper (D). Last week, they passed a compromise bill that repealed HB2, the state’s infamous anti-LGBT law, and replaced it with HB142, which consists of most of the same provisions that HB2 had.

In its statement, the NCAA acknowledged that “this new law is far from perfect” — but apparently, the organization’s standard is so low for standing by its LGBT students, staff, and fans that it’s still rewarding North Carolina by reopening the state for consideration in hosting championship events.

“We recognize the quality championships hosted by the people of North Carolina in years before HB2,” the NCAA wrote. “And this new law restores the state to that legal landscape: a landscape similar to other jurisdictions presently hosting NCAA championships.”

This is blatantly untrue. Only two other states, Arkansas and Tennessee, ban municipalities from passing LGBT nondiscrimination protections. No other state has North Carolina’s new prohibition on any subdivision of government creating policies assuring transgender people have access to restrooms.

“This new law has minimally achieved a situation where we believe NCAA championships may be conducted in a nondiscriminatory environment,” the organization wrote. “Outside of bathroom facilities, the new law allows our campuses to maintain their own policies against discrimination, including protecting LGBTQ rights, and allows cities’ existing nondiscrimination ordinances, including LBGTQ protections, to remain effective.”

In other words, it doesn’t matter if trans people can’t be guaranteed access to bathrooms — or that the state law imposing that burden continues to unfairly stigmatize transgender people as some kind of threat to safety — because everything else is apparently good enough for the NCAA to return.

Unlike the NCAA, many of the cities that punished North Carolina for its discriminatory legislation do not see the new law as a viable solution. The mayors and city councils of Los Angeles, Santa Fe, Cincinnati, and Salt Lake City have all reiterated that they still ban publicly-funded travel to the state.

See here for the background. It’s discouraging, but I suppose it’s par for the course for the NCAA. That said, my fear all along has been that just as North Carolina did the barest minimum to win back the NCAA, the SB6 zealots will tweak things enough around the edges to get the business lobby to back off. That may not happen with the full bill, but a scaled down version of it may happen with one of the zillions of budget amendments or other bills that may serve as a vehicle for some form of SB6.

And there are still concerns about Texas even as SB6 sits in the House.

San Antonio officials and other opponents of similar legislation in Texas have often cited the NCAA move as a cautionary tale. They worry the organization will move its 2018 Final Four championship games out of San Antonio if the proposal is signed into law, taking with it an estimated $135 million in local spending on restaurants, hotels and attractions.

Michael Sawaya, San Antonio’s director of Convention & Sports Facilities, said city officials continue to fight the bill, which “will create the perception that Texas is not an open and hospitable place to all residents, visitors and those who do business here.”

The NCAA did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday regarding whether it would move the Final Four from San Antonio if the Texas bill is adopted.

So far, the NCAA hasn’t said publicly whether it would pull the San Antonio championship — which is expected to draw about 70,000 ticket-holding attendees — if the Texas bill passes.

The local Final Four organizing committee is working “full steam ahead” to secure thousands of volunteers and staff coordinating committees that will make decisions regarding security, transportation and marketing among other areas surrounding the event within the next 12 months, said Jenny Carnes, San Antonio Sports associate executive director.

“There have been no signs or indications of the NCAA backing off of what would be our normal timeline,” Carnes said.

NCAA’s North Carolina decision is a “positive” development but not a guarantee the organization won’t pull the Final Four championship from the city, said Casandra Matej, president and CEO of Visit San Antonio, the former city Convention and Visitors Bureau.

But, Visit San Antonio is currently booking fewer conventions and meetings because groups are waiting to see whether Texas Senate Bill 6 passes before they finalize plans, Matej said.

Two organizations have told Visit San Antonio they will not consider the Alamo City to host future conventions because of the bill, according to the organization. Nine other organizations are waiting to see whether the bill will pass before deciding whether to return to San Antonio, she said.

San Antonio would lose an estimated $40 million in convention and tourism spending if all 11 organizations decide to move their events.

In total, tourism officials in the state’s four largest cities — San Antonio, Austin, Dallas and Houston — say they stand to lose a combined $407 million within the next few years just on the conventions and events that have already threatened to take their business elsewhere if Senate Bill 6 passes.

“Am I completely relieved and think we don’t still have to be communicating to our lawmakers?” Matej said. “No, I think we need to continue to explain and really impress upon our lawmakers it could have a negative economic impact for our community and around the state.”

It’s already had a big negative effect on our reputation. So far TAB hasn’t changed its tune on SB6, and I’m not aware of any other entity caving on HB2 as the NCAA has, so perhaps the benefit they got from tweaking HB2 will be limited to that. But this is a reminder that as nice as it is to have the business lobby on our side for this, the problem with SB6 is and always will be its capacity to hurt people. That will be the case no matter what the economics of it are. Deadspin and Slate have more.

Senate committee hears rideshare bills

One of these, in some form, is likely to become law.

Senate Bill 176, by state Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, and Senate Bill 361 by state Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, received a joint hearing after [Senate Business & Commerce Committee] chairman Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, noted their similarities. Both bills establish a statewide framework to regulate ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft and undo local rules that the two companies have argued are overly burdensome for their business models.

A majority of about 30 witnesses supported the bills at Tuesday’s hearing, including representatives with Uber and Lyft. Austin councilwoman Ellen Troxclair, who opposed the city’s ride-hailing rules last year, testified in favor of a state law that would override them. Troxclair said the departure of both ride-hailing companies hurt Austin businesses and led to a rise of a transportation black market.

“A Facebook group with over 40,000 members offers to connect people, anybody who wants a ride or anybody who’s willing to give one, regardless of an affiliation to a ride-sharing platform or a background check required,” she said.

Critics of the bills included the Texas Municipal League and Austin City Council member Ann Kitchen. Kitchen, the City Council member who introduced the rules establishing the Austin fingerprinting requirements that prompted Lyft and Uber to leave the city, defended the city’s fingerprinting requirement, and said that the city has fingerprinted 8,000 drivers. At the time the city adopted the rules, she said, the city’s police chief, Art Acevedo, told the council that fingerprinting increased security.

“Fingerprinting is the most effective means to make sure the person you are checking is the person who they say they are,” she said.

See here for some background. Both bills were left pending, but as noted I expect one of them to get a floor vote and to pass. There’s a very similar bill to these two in the House, authored by Rep. Chris Paddie. Any of them could wind up crossing the finish line, and I’ll be surprised if that doesn’t happen.

And on a somewhat tangential note:

Uber and Lyft ramped up their Texas lobby expenditures after Austin voters invited the ride-hailing giants to leave their hi-tech city in 2016 if they refused to comply with a local law requiring them to fingerprint their drivers.

With Texas lawmakers [Tuesday] considering several bills to block cities from regulating such ride companies,1 Uber has increased its state lobby spending 23 percent over last year. It now is spending up to $1.6 million on 26 lobbyists. Lyft meanwhile boosted its lobby spending 88 percent, to pay 14 lobbyists up to $760,000. Together, the two San Francisco-based
companies are spending up to $2.3 million to preempt the powers of local Texas governments.

The two ride giants handed out a total of $40,500 in corporate contributions in 2016 to Texas’ two dominant political parties and to several legislative caucuses.

[Tuesday] the Senate Business and Commerce Committee also is hearing proposals to prevent local governments from curtailing the use of plastic grocery bags or to regulate short-term property rentals.

You can think whatever you want about these bills, but you can’t argue that they don’t come cheap. The Austin Chronicle has more.

Restricting restrictions on AirBnB

I have issues with this.

A legislative proposal that would limit local government control of short-term home rentals in Texas has reawakened a fight over regulations that has already played out in cities across the state.

Senate Bill 451 by state Sen. Kelly Hancock, R- North Richland Hills, would prevent Texas cities from banning or restricting short-term rentals. Austin, San Antonio and Fort Worth are among the cities that have enacted such restrictions.

Critics of the bill said it would lower property values and allow Texans to rent houses to people who might host disruptive parties and increase traffic in their neighborhoods.

One of those critics, David King, president of the Austin Neighborhoods Council, said houses with no live-in residents are sometimes rented to rowdy visitors. Neighborhood disapproval of these houses led cities like Austin to enact local ordinances that limit their presence.

However, bill proponents say SB 451 would protect homeowners from strict local laws that infringe on property rights while still allowing local regulations that limit or prohibit short-term rentals. Under the bill, local governments could still prohibit short-term renters from housing sex offenders or selling alcohol or illegal drugs to guests.

Through an aide, Hancock declined to comment on his bill. State Sen. Dawn Buckingham, R-Lakeway, the bill’s co-author, said it shields Texas property owners from governmental overreach.

“Private property rights in Texas are sacred,” she said.

Here’s SB451. I can understand the logic behind wanting to have a statewide framework for short-term rentals, in the same way I can understand it for transportation network companies. There’s a legitimate interest in providing something like a uniform regulatory environment for them. That said, hotels and traditional bed and breakfast places are generally subject to local zoning laws, land use requirements, and deed restrictions. Allowing the AirBnBs of the world to skirt those rules sounds more like an unfair advantage than a level playing field to me. In some cities, the proliferation of AirBnB properties has led to concerns about housing shortages in some neighborhoods. Neighborhood issues and quality of life are the province of local government, and as with many things this session I have concerns about the state stepping in to override their authority.

One more point, which I suppose was outside the scope of this story: Lots of cities levy hotel taxes, for a variety of purposes. AirBnB puts the responsibility for following local codes and collecting such taxes on the hosts. Here’s their advice for Houston hosts – you’re gonna have to do some reading to know what you’re supposed to do. The long and short of it is that the growth of AirBnB means that cities and states have been missing out on potential tax revenue, which in some cases is a substantial amount. To their credit, AirBnB is beginning to work with cities on this. The text of SB451 doesn’t address this at all. If the state wants to mandate a uniform regulatory code for short-term rentals, then the least the state can do is provide a uniform mechanism for collecting hotel occupancy taxes as well.

Marching

In Austin.

Up to 50,000 activists swarmed the Capitol grounds on Saturday to fight for women’s rights on the heels of Trump’s inauguration. The high-spirited crowd joined more than a million protesters nationwide. The Austin march was so large that the front of the rally, which left from the Capitol and traveled down Congress Avenue, returned before thousands had even begun marching. Many long-time Austinites said it was the largest rally they’d ever seen in the capital city.

The protesters descended on downtown Austin, filling the air with chants and whistles that ricocheted among the highrises. They carried signs reading: “Nasty women unite”; “This pussy grabs back”; “Girls just wanna have fundamental rights”; “Keep your rosaries off my ovaries”; and “A woman’s place is in the revolution.”

“As you can see from the historic crowd, voters are paying attention,” said Sarah Wheat of Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas. “And we’re here to tell Trump, ‘Not on our watch.’”

[…]

Former state Senator and gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis, a Fort Worth Democrat, highlighted the slate of speakers, opening her 20-minute speech with a reference to her 13-hour filibuster of sweeping abortion regulations that ultimately passed in 2013.

“Today, and though I do not do it very often, I am wearing those same pink sneakers that I did three years ago,” she said to booming applause. “I am wearing them not to remind you of something I did. But to remind myself of something you did.”

Giving no hints of her own political plans, Davis called on the thousands of activists to “fight like hell” to stay involved beyond the march through local organizing, contacting representatives and running for office. She called for equal pay for women as a means to improve the economy.

“In some ways we have been complicit in giving up our own power,” she said. “Well, I don’t know about you, my fellow nasty women warriors, but I have had enough of that. … We will not yield our bodies to be objectified, assaulted and trafficked.”

In Houston.

More than 20,000 singing, sign-waving protesters packed Hermann Square to roar their opposition to newly inaugurated President Donald Trump and show their solidarity with marching women across the nation Saturday.

The speaker line-up included Mayor Sylvester Turner, State Rep. Gene Wu and U.S. Rep. Al Green, who addressed a sea of people one organizer described as “the biggest crowd ever.”

“There is no room for hate in our state,” Turner told the enthusiastic masses.

Organized at the last minute, the march drew a massive and diverse crowd – even in a city not known for large protest turnout.

Planning started just over a week before the event, and the Facebook event only garnered around 5,000 responses.

“So elected officials take note,” one organizer said. “This is what could happen in 10 days.”

And there were a lot more of these around the country. (Around the world, too.) My Facebook feed on Saturday was jammed full of reports and pictures and videos, including more than a few from people I hadn’t known to be political before now. It’s encouraging and heartening, and a lot of people were energized by the experience. I’m certainly impressed by what I saw. My main concern is that we’ve seen energetic and uplifting demonstration before, most recently in 2013 with the Wendy Davis filibuster. As great as they are, they don’t mean much if they don’t translate into subsequent electoral victory, which in the end is what really matters. Circumstances are different now, and I feel like these marches will be building blocks for future action rather than one off events. They have definitely already delivered a message of resistance and accountability to the Republicans in Washington. It’s up to us from here to make sure they keep getting that message. The Austin Chronicle and the Current have more.