What Nobody Wants to Hear About HOME

I’ve spent the past couple of weeks collecting my thoughts on the HOME initiative, which recently passed Austin City Council in two phases. In the first phase, which passed in December, council basically made it easier to build duplexes and tiny homes across the city. They also changed the occupancy limits that made it challenging for people to legally live in co-op situations.

Then, in May, members approved the second phase, which lowers the minimum lot size needed to build houses and relaxes the compatibility standards that make it difficult to build near single-family homes. Additionally, the initiative added an electric vehicle charging use and created an Equitable Transit Oriented Development that is intended to promote growth around the generational transit investment the city is making with Project Connect. A lot of y’all have asked for my opinion on the changes.

Is it true what community groups in opposition are saying? Did City Council just intentionally sell out to developers and set the stage for the next great displacement of Black and Brown people from our city? Or is the opposite true? Does HOME mean that our problems with housing are all of a sudden fixed? Can we all start fighting about something else now?

Kirk Watson's City Hall Course Correct Betrayed The Austin Values He Vowed to Defend

Several months ago, as Republicans financed a primary challenge to Travis County District Attorney  José Garza, I called my homie Kathy Mitchell for a bit of insight. At one point in the conversation, I wondered aloud if that meant Jeremy Sylestine could be considered a “fake” Democrat. That’s when Kathy reminded me that Austin’s politics have historically been run by a subset of conservative Democrats that collaborate with the right wing when it suits them.

“I call them Vichy Democrats,” she said, explaining to me a bit of World War II history that I’d never heard before. To be honest, I didn’t fully grasp the concept while we were on the phone – because hearing even a word of the French language makes me tune out. But something about Kathy’s explanation piqued my interest, so after we got off the phone I googled the term to try and understand her analogy a bit better.

WTF Is TCAD And Why Are We Voting on This Sh!t?

It pains me to tell you this, but we’ve got another election coming up. That’s right: On May 4, Austin voters will go to the polls to choose three new at-large members of the Travis Central Appraisal Board. It seems like Republicans are trying to sabotage the property tax appraisal process, which could wreak further havoc on our already financially imperiled school finance system. WTF is going down? Let’s get into it.

Why Is the Austin Animal Center Always In Crisis?

The Austin Animal Center is nearly always operating at or over capacity. Off and on for years, the shelter has kept medium- and large-sized dogs in makeshift kennel space in offices or other parts of the facility not intended for housing animals. It’s routine to hear local news reports and see social media blasts urging the community to step up and provide emergency shelter to animals in need.

What is the problem at Austin’s animal shelter? Why isn’t it fixed already? And what is the city doing now to turn the problem around? Alright, homie, let’s break it down.

Transcript of Former APD Officer’s Interview with AJC, Pt. 3

A few weeks ago, I was able to attend Community Briefing: The Crisis of Austin Policing hosted by the Austin Justice Coalition. One of the highlights was catching this conversation between AJC’s Chris Harris and former Austin Police officer Samantha Liedtke. You might’ve seen the Austin American-Statesman’s writeup about her pending gender discrimination lawsuit against the city. If you’d like to hear more about her story in-depth, I’ve transcribed a (lightly edited for space and clarity) version for the homies. It still ended up being so long I needed to publish it in three pieces. You can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here. Part 3 starts with a question from audience member and long-time justice reform advocate Kathy Mitchell. — neenz

Transcript of Former APD Officer’s Interview with AJC, Pt. 2

A few weeks ago, I was able to attend Community Briefing: The Crisis of Austin Policing hosted by the Austin Justice Coalition. One of the highlights was catching this conversation between AJC’s Chris Harris and former Austin Police officer Samantha Liedtke. You might’ve seen the Austin American-Statesman’s writeup about her pending gender discrimination lawsuit against the city. If you’d like to hear more about her story in-depth, I’ve transcribed a (lightly edited for space and clarity) version for the homies. It still ended up being so long I needed to publish it in three pieces. You can read Part 1 here. — neenz

Transcript of Former APD Officer’s Interview with AJC, Pt. 1

A few weeks ago, I was able to attend Community Briefing: The Crisis of Austin Policing hosted by the Austin Justice Coalition. One of the highlights was catching this conversation between AJC’s Chris Harris and former Austin Police officer Samantha Liedtke. You might’ve seen the Austin American-Statesman’s writeup about her pending gender discrimination lawsuit against the city. If you’d like to hear more about her story in-depth, I’ve transcribed a (lightly edited for space and clarity) version for the homies. Here’s Part 1.

Why Krista Laine is Running for Austin City Council

Krista Laine moved to Austin in 2000 and lived in several areas of the city before settling in Northwest Austin with her family a decade ago. She is a former real estate appraiser and a stay-at-home mom to two children who attend Round Rock ISD schools. When we sat down for an interview last week, she said her challenge to incumbent council member Mackenzie Kelly started with RRISD schools.

“I had been organizing a lot of STEM enrichment stuff,” she said. “It’s something that a lot of people like around here. My kids were into it. I had become acquainted with a lot of parents who cared about that.”

When she started, STEM didn’t have the support from the district it has today. “So it required actual organizing. I didn’t realize that’s what we were doing. But that’s what it took,” she said.

Acevedo Episode Just Another Example of Watson’s (and Austin’s) Ongoing Incompetence

The Austin return of Art Acevedo turned out to be short-lived. Y’all are so fucking wild. Every time I’ve completely given up on this town getting anything right, y’all surprise me by giving a shit at the most random times. Granted, it did take half of the city screaming their heads off about it and Austin City Council members unexpectedly remembering their agency as public officials. I wish it didn’t take white women throwing a fit to get this sorted, but, I guess, in this case, too little didn’t turn out to be too late.

I don’t want to get into the play-by-play of Acevedo’s brutal career collapse in this rant. It’s been written about too much already. You can read the highlights in this Houston Watch newsletter, which one of my homies sent me two days before the announcement. Kudos to them for a truly stunning (and accurate) headline. You can also read more about the sexual harassment lawsuit from Acevedo’s California Highway Patrol days in this rant I wrote in the fall. And my homie Austin Sanders of The Austin Chronicle has the details of how his latest venture fell apart in a matter of days. The debacle is enough to make Scaramucci blush.

Pitiful Emergency Shelter Strategy Leaves Thousands Freezing

It is fitting that the Martin Luther King Day festivities were canceled this year due to inclement weather. More than half of this city doesn’t deserve to speak that man’s name, let alone march in his honor. Any other time, I would say this group of Austin City Council members should be in a library somewhere having a group session on his work.

But in this case, they should have been out in the community doing their f*cking jobs. It is wild to me that after three years, the best this council could do was put out a few press releases and head out for the long weekend. Is this why y’all got into public service? So that you could work bank hours while thousands of Austin residents sleep next to campfires made out of burning trash?

2023 Austin City Council Final Report Card

It’s that time. When I turned in the midterm report card in July, I told y’all that I would be returning at the end of the year with a round of final grades for Austin City Council. In an effort to provide context, this time around I’ve added a brief legend to explain each grade below.

I took a bit of heat last time around for issuing a couple of As. And, honestly, after reflecting on the macro dynamics of this council, I understand why. Truly, none of these members is doing work that could be considered A worthy. First of all, the metaphorical “teacher” in this case, former City Manager Spencer Cronk, got canned early in the year. The substitute they got to replace him is an even bigger nightmare. Of course, that impacted these guys’ ability to do work.

Why DA Garza Dismissed the 2020 Protest Charges Against 17 Austin Police Officers

Well, it’s only Thursday, and this has been the week from hell.

On Monday, Travis County District Attorney Jose Garza and Austin Mayor Kirk Watson announced in a joint statement that Gaza was dropping the charges against 17 Austin Police officers accused of assaulting protesters during the 2020 George Floyd and Mike Ramos protests. Additionally, Watson and Garza are calling for a U.S. Department of Justice "pattern-or-practice" investigation into the department's policies, practices, and procedures related to the use of force for "crowd control" purposes during those protests.

Garza told the Statesman that it’s because he believes systemic change is necessary to affect true change at APD. Other sources apparently questioned whether the DA’s office had a true shot at convicting these cases, particularly in light of the mistrial in the murder case of Austin Police officer Christopher Taylor, who fatally shot Ramos in April 2020.

It would probably feel good to lay into Garza here and assume the worst about his motives, but I actually agree on both of those points.

Public Grief & Private Policing

As I sat down to start this rant, the city was in the middle of the funeral procession of Austin Police Officer Jorge Pastore, who was shot and killed last weekend during a SWAT operation in South Austin.

One of the things I noticed from the coverage is that Pastore is just the fourth APD officer killed on duty since 1978 and the first in more than a decade. Because I cover officer-involved shootings, that stat made me wonder how many civilians had been killed by APD officers in that same time frame. Of course, that statistic isn’t as readily available.

Austin's Entitled Old Guard Attacks Project Connect

Man, my lower right eyelid felt like a fucking caterpillar when I heard the news that the usual group of fuddy duds hell bent on stopping any and all progress in Austin is at it again. Yeah, I’m talking about Bill Aleshire filing a lawsuit last week on behalf of Dirty Martin’s, Gonzalo Barrientos, Margaret Gomez, Ora Houston, and Susana Almanza against the city’s $7 billion transit overhaul known as Project Connect.

This GIF of Squidward about to lose his shit felt like the only appropriate symbol of my utter exasperation with this turn of events.

Grow the F*ck Up, Bill Bunch

It’s time to grow the fuck up, Bill Bunch.

Yesterday’s Austin City Council held a joint session with its Planning Commission to go over a bundle of zoning reforms that will make it a little bit – not a lot – easier to build housing in the city. You can agree (I do) or disagree with council’s actions, which was the point of the hours-long session in which citizens on both sides of issue offered comment.

But I take issue with how Bill acted yesterday. And honestly, it was just another in a long list of examples of Bill’s boorish and, frankly, childish behavior in public. By now, we all know that Bill not getting his way in policy terms means we can all brace for a temper tantrum of epic proportions.

I don’t know about y’all, but I don’t remember giving birth to Bill. So I’m at a loss as to why I have to keep witnessing this embarrassing behavior from a 50+ year old man.

The Cost of Being Underprivileged at

The Austin Chronicle

I’ve had some time to process the Louis Black allegations, and I’d like to take some time to check in with y’all about it. I just want to be upfront that I don’t have all of the details yet, and I haven’t completed my reporting work on the subject. As such, I can’t speak with the specificity that I would like with regard to the lawsuit. Y’all will be the first to know when that changes.

I’d also like to be transparent and acknowledge that ethically and personally this is a difficult subject for me to broach. I worked at The Austin Chronicle, which is named in the suit and which was co-founded by Black, off and on for around six years. I started my career there, and I know Black and his co-founder Nick Barbaro. I had a public break with the Chronicle in 2019, after which I was blackballed, and since then I’ve fiercely criticized not just its ongoing editorial decisions, but the structure of the organization and its management.

Why MLK Would’ve Hated Kirk Watson

On Monday, the Paramount Theatre is hosting a 60th anniversary screening of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech. Afterward, they'll show PUNCH9 about Harold Washington, the first Black mayor of Chicago.

Here’s the gag. Afterwards, they’re having a panel discussion. And Austin Mayor Kirk Watson, whose office sponsored the event, is slated to appear on the panel.

I would think it’d be obvious to anyone with half a brain why this is a tactless decision. But apparently Watson is not only racist but beyond shame as well.

A Disappointing End to The Zilker Vision Plan

Earlier today, I was sitting at my desk when I got a text from one of the homies. “Zo, Paige and R. Alter just issued a joint statement against the Zilker Park Vision Plan,” the text read.

A few minutes later the press release hit my inbox.

“We know that the Zilker Park Vision Plan proposes many improvements that have community consensus, such as additional green space, shade trees, erosion control, and bathrooms,” it reads. “Other elements, however, seem to be flash points of irreconcilable differences. We know the challenges Zilker Park is facing will not go away on their own, but we do not see a path forward for the Zilker Vision Plan and therefore cannot support it.”

The feeling in the pit of my stomach is familiar. I always get queasy when politicians show their craven asses this blatantly. No matter how many times I’ve seen it happen, it’s always a huge disappointment for me. Seeing an elected official selfishly turn away from the public interest will never not make me ill. I guess it’s just residual naïveté from when I identified as a liberal.

Austin Finally Ends Dangerous And Irresponsible DPS Partnership

The 2020 protests against police brutality nationally in the wake of the George Floyd murder were something I’d never seen. Across social spaces, white people were shutting the fuck up and listening when Black and Brown people said shit. But as soon as the grass started growing over Floyd’s grave, a lot of these motherfuckers climbed right back on the cop-loving bandwagon. In the name of “feeling safe.”

When Austin announced its policing partnership with the Texas Department of Public Safety earlier this year, Black and Brown people across the city warned the arrangement would result in us being harassed and over-policed in our own neighborhoods. But Mayor Kirk Watson, Interim City Manager Jesús Garza, and Austin Police Chief Joe Chacon forged ahead, prioritizing white comfort over the safety of marginalized communities.

A History of Austin's Alternative Media: The Legend of Tejas & El Gallo

I know my homie Jorge Renaud through his work in the justice reform movement. He’s an organizer, poet, author, and advocate for the formerly incarcerated, particularly the Latinx community. And he’s also a former journalist. Renaud was the first Latino copy editor at The Austin American-Statesman.

Until recently, I didn’t know about another stop in Renaud’s journey. And that’s his stint as an editor and columnist for the Tejas newspaper at the University of Texas in 1989-90.

Watson’s NIMBY Heel Turn On

Zilker Vision Plan Predictable Yet Infuriating

The last thing I needed yesterday – as I was up to my ears in deadlines – was more shit from Mayor Turd “I Mean Kirk” Watson. I swear to god that old man has an almost uncanny knack for pulling bullshit moves when I’m preoccupied with something else. He did it a few months ago when he announced the APD-DPS partnership out of nowhere.

And yesterday it was déjà vu all over again. I was sitting at my desk wrestling with another assignment when I got wind that the latest Watson Wire was about the Zilker Park Vision Plan. I wasn’t expecting it, because the last I’d heard Watson wasn’t very interested in the plan or the misinformation plan surrounding it. In the Watson Wire, however, Watson makes an abrupt about-face — spouting out Save Our Springs Alliance propaganda and announcing he’s unilaterally decided to put off City Council discussion on the plan until August 31.

2023 Austin City Council 6-Month Progress Report

We’re nearly to Austin City Council’s annual July recess. As such, I thought it would be appropriate to deliver to the homies a midterm report card for Mayor Kirk Watson, each City Council member, and Interim City Manager Jesús Garza. Keep in mind this is just a progress report. There’s plenty more time for grades to go lower or for those who are currently failing to pull those grades up before the end of the year. Although, based on the first half I won’t be getting my hopes up.

Tying Up Loose Ends From a Truly Unhinged Parks Board Meeting

I’ll be the first to admit that Tuesday’s rant got away from me a little bit. Let me take this minute to apologize … to ABSOLUTELY FUCKING NOBODY. Lmao. Are you kidding me? I meant every mfing word of that hoe. Save Our Springs and absolutely anyone who stands with them can suck a nut – and I don’t mean a pecan.

But I did have one regret about my last rant.

Austin’s Parks Board Inundated With Tsunami of White Grievance and Zilker Vision Plan Misinformation

So many times over the past week I’ve said I’ve had it with this Zilker Park shit. “These people are making me crazy,” I’ve said. “I need a break. My sponsors need to team up and finance me a trip to Disney World. I’m not writing another word until I get my Mickey ears, damnit.”

I’m not going to lie. There were points when I genuinely meant that shit. Like, I was really considering taking a break from this shit and going back to one of my other fun beats, like policing. That’s how stressful I find this parks shit. I would rather cover the unaccountable paramilitary organization patrolling our streets.

Why I'm So Emotional About the Zilker Vision Plan

I’ll admit I lost my composure. When I saw the new Zilker Park Vision Plan propaganda going around last night, it got my blood boiling. First, I went on a long-winded and angry rant about Bill Bunch and the Save Our Springs Alliance. “What’s an easy litmus test if you’re unsure about whether you should support something that’s going on in Austin?” I groused to my followers via my Instagram stories.

Why I’m So Worried About the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.

I don’t know if my ongoing coverage of matters related to the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport is on your radar. It’s not exactly my most intriguing beat as a reporter, but there is a monthly Airport Advisory Commission meeting. And, as you undoubtedly know, I’m always looking for regular city fodder to convert into freelance opportunities.

So that means I’ve been reporting on the airport semi-regularly for the past few months. That’s why I covered when, in February, the airport commission learned that a water and mud mixture used in construction sites had leaked into a wetland near where the airport is building a new jet-fuel storage facility. At the time, I noted how the commission's then-chair, Eugene Sepulveda, questioned why the commission was just hearing about when the leak had occurred in September.

APD, DPS Defend Racial Profiling Tactics In Dystopian City Council Work Session

It’s not been a secret that Austin’s recent partnership with the Texas Department of Public Safety to increase traffic enforcement seriously pissed me and a lot of other people off. From the moment it was announced, my mind was reeling with the possibilities of what it would look like for DPS officers to invade our communities.

Why Caleb De Casper Opened Their Own Piano Studio

In testimony to the Texas State Committee on State Affairs last month, Austin’s prevailing glam rocker Caleb De Casper denounced the “Drag Queen Bills” that seek to criminalize drag performances in public spaces.

“I’m a well-known and successful musician across Central Texas, and I wear male and female clothing on and off-stage,” said the singer-songwriter, piano teacher, and vocal coach. “I hope that me talking to you today will show you that drag encompasses more than you think.”

“As a small business owner, I have a concern that if this bill goes through, the fact that I wear high heels and makeup onstage – just like KISS or Motley Crue do – would severely limit my options for doing business in this state.”

“I wouldn’t be booked for festivals such as ACL or I could be arrested if children are in the audience at music festivals. SXSW happened a couple of weeks ago, and I was booked at storefronts and I was booked at corporate events. If there were children there, I could’ve been arrested for making art. Because I wear high heels and lipstick when I perform with my band.”

Kirk Watson’s Backroom Deal with Dan Patrick Is As Shameful As It Is Stupid

Yesterday, I was with the homies at the Texas State Capitol fighting Republican efforts to ban health care for trans kids. While I was there, I got a buzz in my pocket with a notification alerting me to an Austin City Hall press conference in which Mayor Kirk Watson, flanked by cops, announced an agreement with the Texas Department of Public Safety to have its deputies patrolling city streets alongside the Austin Police Department.

It was like being on the playground fighting a bully, and then another one comes up from behind and sucker punches you.

Everything Y’all Wanted to Know About Ketamine Therapy

But didn’t know who to ask.

How South by Southwest Exploits Musicians And Why Media Enables It

Well, it’s that time of year again. South by Southwest returns to Austin for its most crowded showing since the start of the pandemic three years ago. If you’re a local that’s not involved in the music or service industries, you might not notice much other than that pretty much the entire downtown area has become one big traffic jam.

But for the city’s intertwined service industry and creative communities, this is primetime. It’s wild for all the guff Austin gets for its growth – we’re still a big time seasonal town. A lot of people here – business owners, servers, bartenders, pedicab drivers, musicians, artists, and journalists like myself – make a ton of bread and connections that have to last a calendar year.

TxDOT's Nightmare I-35 Expansion Plan Gets Worse Every Day

With everything else going on in this city, you’re forgiven if you haven’t been keeping up with the Texas Department of Transportation’s nightmare plan to expand Interstate 35 through Austin. It’s a big project with a lot of moving pieces and a revolving cast of characters. And a lot of those characters would rather most of us, particularly those of us who live in Austin, not pay too much attention.

But if you do live here — or just like visiting occasionally — you might be interested to know just how badly this bitch is going to tear up our city for like the next decades. And how little effort has been put in to mitigate the very real impacts a project of this scale will have on our community. AND just how little material benefit we as a city, region, or state stand to gain from such a project.

Was Zilker Park
Intended to Preserve
Barton Springs?

Last night I caught up on the saga of the Parks and Recreation Board and the vision plan for the future of Zilker Park. You read my first rant explaining the plan, right? Unlike the goofy Save Our Springs Alliance-sponsored “rewilding” plan, this vision plan would accomplish much-needed ecological uplift, improve pedestrian access and transit, and restore the rapidly degraded slope of Barton Creek.

But honestly what would the plan really do, big picture? The plan would make Zilker Park an easier place to get to, where more people from around the city could visit and enjoy amenities, and where the next generation can interact with nature in a way that’s both convenient and not going to destroy it. In other words, it’ll be a true metropolitan park that finally belongs to the entire city. As it should.

A lot of speakers at this week’s parks board meeting don’t agree with me on that. Many of them say out loud they don’t want more people in the area. That’s why ideas like adding an appropriate amount of parking disturb them so much. How dare people who don’t live in 78704 or 78745 drive into my neighborhood to visit my park and my Barton Springs Pool?

Lawrence Wright’s New Yorker Article About Austin Is Everything Wrong With My Hometown

Last week, I was sitting in a therapy session when the subject of the recent New Yorker article came up. You know, the one bemoaning Austin’s “transformation” from hippie hollow to yuppie playpen. (Or something; I’m still not sure what the fucking article is about, tbh.)

If you're unfamiliar, Lawrence Wright is an extremely famous writer who lives in Austin's Tarrytown neighborhood. As such, the New Yorker piece is told through the lens of a rich person who only knows other rich people.

Why Austin’s Police Union Won’t Negotiate a 1-Year Contract Extension

A little over a week ago, now former-City Manager Spencer Cronk held a chummy press conference with Austin Police Chief Joseph Chacon, members of the city’s Labor Relations team, and the president of the Austin Police Association – which is the city’s cop union for my homies that aren’t up on the actors here.

Anyway, the president of the association, Thomas Villarreal – or New Box, as I like to call him – said a few words at the presser that I’d like to reference here. “The Austin Police Association is not afraid of oversight. We believe very strongly that the citizens of Austin, the city of Austin itself, the department, our members, are all better off under contract.”

A Little Bit of Venus, Daria, and Snow White in My Life

This week I was at the gym with my homie and I mentioned my ex’s cat. I have to be honest – and I’m sorry if any of you also have a cat that I know – this is my favorite cat of all time. In fact, last year I donated to a GoFundMe to save this fucking cat’s life because she needed an operation and I was like fuck, if this bitch dies and I didn’t donate I’ll never fucking forgive myself. That is how much I love that cat.

“What was she like?” my homie asked.

“The cat?” This is how much I love that cat.

Letters to Austin & L.A.

What Taméca Jones learned on her journey to the city of Angels and back home again. And what Austin should learn from it, too.

"he didn't have a chance":
raj moonesinghe shooting exposes the sickness inside the Austin Police Department

Late one night in November, 33-year-old Raj Moonesinghe thought there was a break in at his South Austin home. A security guard working at a nearby residence saw him circling the perimeter of his house carrying a rifle and flicking the lights on and off. The neighbor called 911 and asked for police and a possible mental health response. He told the dispatcher that the owner of the house across the street appeared in distress.

the truth about the zilker park vision plan

A few weeks ago, I was alarmed to see some of the homies sharing a post from the pseudo-environmental group Save Our Springs Alliance about the long-awaited vision plan for the future of Zilker Park.

Before I even read the caption, I knew I was about to read some hot fucking bullshit. I’ve learned in my time covering Austin politics and city hall comings and goings: If Save Our Springs is up in arms about something happening in Austin, it’s probably because whatever’s happening won’t exclusively benefit white people on the westside.

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