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Austin, TX

Texas AG Paxton asks judge to reject Austin’s plans to finance Project Connect improvements

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Texas AG Paxton asks judge to reject Austin’s plans to finance Project Connect improvements



The Republican attorney general is asking a Travis County judge to reject the city of Austin’s plans to issue bonds to fund Project Connect improvements, including the light-rail system.

A Travis County judge on Monday set a trial date to hear arguments in a pending bond validation lawsuit centered on the proposed financing plan for Project Connect, setting a stage where the future of the city of Austin’s $7.1 billion public transportation investment could be at stake.

A bond validation lawsuit seeks to confirm the validity of municipal bonds issued by a government entity. The trial will be the culmination of the lawsuit attorneys representing the Austin Transit Partnership, the city’s light-rail planning agency, filed in February.

The trial is set for May 28 through 30, according to a memo sent to Austin Transit Partnership board members Monday.

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In a 11-page petition filed Friday afternoon, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton weighed in on the pending lawsuit, claiming neither the city nor Austin Transit Partnership can issue bonds to build the planned improvements, including the centerpiece light-rail system. The Republican attorney general asked the judge to dismiss the city’s request to affirm the bonds.

Voters approved Project Connect in 2020 by a more than 15 percentage-point margin, raising the ad valorem property tax rate by 8.75 cents — an increase to the city’s property tax rate by more than 20%. The new tax would go toward transforming the city’s transit map with a new light-rail system, high-frequency bus routes and other improvements.

The investment’s most costly element is the light-rail system. A finance plan published last summer estimated the initial system would cost between $4.5 billion and $5.1 billion. Current plans rely on the new property tax and at least a 50% match in grant funding from the Federal Transit Administration.

The light-rail plans have undergone a number of changes since 2020. Last summer, the Austin City Council and transit officials approved a downsized version of the initial buildout: a 9.8-mile line stretching north, south and east of downtown Austin but stopping short of Austin-Bergstrom International Airport and Crestview Station, where it could intersect with Capital Metro’s commuter rail line between Leander and downtown Austin.

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In the memo to board members Monday, Casey Burack, an Austin Transit Partnership executive over business and legal affairs, said the light-rail planning agency was “confident in our position” and characterized the attorney general’s motion as an “attempt to deprive” the agency and the city of due process.

The city disagrees with the “AG’s assertions” and was “certain the court will allow the City and ATP time to file responses,” said Shelley Parks, a city spokesperson, in a statement.

Supporters of Project Connect say the legal challenges by critics are attempts to subvert the will of voters and undo efforts to expand public transportation. Opponents say the financing model is faulty and the current light-rail plan no longer reflects what voters were shown prior to casting a ballot in November 2020.

The bond validation lawsuit was consolidated with one filed by critics of Project Connect last fall. In a statement Friday, attorney Bill Aleshire, a former Travis County judge and tax assessor/collector who is representing the plaintiffs, marked the attorney general’s filing as “the beginning of the end of the biggest con job ever perpetrated on the taxpayers of Austin.”

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“If Austin ‘leaders’ want mass transit in Austin, they should immediately stop Project Connect, cancel the illegal tax increase, and go back to the voters with an affordable plan, with an honest price tag, and see if voters will authorize bonds, i.e., the legal way taxpayer debt is incurred,” Aleshire said in the statement.

Among the plaintiffs represented by Aleshire is Dirty Martin’s Place, a longtime burger restaurant near the University of Texas campus. More than two years ago, light-rail planners informed the owner that the property may need to be seized because the new light-rail line would run through it, according to records obtained by the Statesman.

However, last month, the Austin Transit Partnership announced it no longer intended to seize some private property along Guadalupe Street between 27th and 29th streets for the proposed line, including the property where Dirty Martin’s Place sits. Despite this change, the owner, Mark Nemir, said he planned to continue pursuing the lawsuit.

Project Connect has faced scrutiny from state officials before. Last summer, state lawmakers took aim at the city’s finance model with proposed legislation, but those bills died during the session. Speaking to the Statesman last fall, state Rep. Ellen Troxclair, R-Lakeway, said the city’s finance model is illegal and vowed to propose similar legislation next session.

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A Paxton-issued legal opinion at the time, which informed some of the proposed legislation, said the city made “mistakes” and “misstatements to the voters.” Parts of the attorney general’s Friday filing echo its previous opinion.

Bonds are a key part of Project Connect’s current financing plan. In seeking the matching federal grant funds, the Austin Transit Partnership concluded a series of required open house events last month as part of a federal environmental review for the 9.8-mile system. Construction of the line could stretch into the 2030s.



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Austin, TX

What is a pro-Palestine protest? Here’s why U.S. college students are protesting

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What is a pro-Palestine protest? Here’s why U.S. college students are protesting


Dozens of protesters at the University of Texas were arrested Wednesday during a peaceful, pro-Palestinian protest hosted on the campus by the Palestine Solidarity Committee.

“UT Austin does not tolerate disruptions of campus activities or operations like we have seen at other campuses,” the UT Division of Student Affairs said in a statement before the protest. 

After about 45 minutes of the crowd marching south on the mall from the Gregory Gym area, Texas Department of Public Safety troopers and campus police ordered the protesters to disperse or “be arrested as per the penal code.”

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Here’s why UT-Austin students are protesting:

What is a pro-Palestine protest?

Pro-Palestinian protests are demonstrations in support of Palestinian rights, typically calling for an end to Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.

Protests began in the wake of the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas, triggered by the Palestinian militant group’s assault on Israeli communities Oct. 7, killing almost 1,200 people.

Israel’s subsequent bombardment and invasion of Gaza has killed tens of thousands of Palestinians — militants and civilians; men, women and children — and has fueled a dire humanitarian crisis.

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Where is Palestine located?

Palestine is recognized as an independent state by the United Nations and more than 135 of its members, but it is not recognized by the U.S., according to History. The UN considers it a single occupied entity, but the official borders are undetermined, BBC News reported.

Though its borders have shifted over the years, Palestinian territories used to be what is now Israel, Gaza and the West Bank. 

When searching for “Palestine” on Google Maps, the map zooms in on the Israel-Palestine region, and both the Gaza Strip and West Bank territories are labeled and separated by dotted lines. But there is no label for Palestine.

In an email statement, Google said it doesn’t label the borders because there isn’t international consensus on where the Palestinian boundaries are located. 

Why are college students protesting?

The Palestine Solidarity Committee, a registered UT student group and a chapter of the national Students for Justice in Palestine, planned a protest Wednesday at the UT campus in solidarity with students across the U.S., including at Columbia University, Yale University and New York University, who are calling for an end to the Israel-Hamas war.

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Across the country, pro-Palestinian student protesters have occupied campuses in tent encampments this week in a campaign to urge their universities to divest, an action students over the decades have demanded from their schools’ administrators.

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At pro-Palestinian rally at UT-Austin, protesters arrested

Multiple protesters on UT-Austin’s campus were arrested during a pro-Palestinian rally held by students.

What is ‘divest’?

The word “divest” refers to diverting money from a university’s endowment — the pool of money a college has and tries to grow through investments. Some of the biggest university endowments in the country total nearly $50 billion and comprise thousands of funds.

The protesters opposed to Israel’s military attacks in Gaza say they want their schools to stop funneling endowment money to Israeli companies and other businesses, like weapons manufacturers, that profit from the war in Gaza.

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“The university would rather enforce and put money into policing our communities and policing their own students then they would to supporting them,” said Anachí Ponce, a UT student who attended the protest. “These are students who are protesting a genocide and the lack of action from UT administration for the way that they haven’t been super helpful against hate crimes against Muslim students on campus.”

“It’s like, why is our money being used to fund bombs overseas?,” said Layla Saliba, a student protester researching endowment investments with the group Columbia University Apartheid Divestment. “Let’s reinvest this money in our community instead,” she said.

In addition to divestment, protesters across the U.S. are calling for a cease-fire and student governments at some colleges have also passed resolutions in recent weeks calling for an end to academic partnerships with Israel.

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Are universities investing in Israel?

Protesters have called for a halt to investments in Israel, but experts say that might be too simplified a take on what colleges have done with their funds. To begin with, it’s difficult to define what an “investment” in Israel entails, said economist Sandy Baum, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute who studies college finances.

She said bigger investments are more obvious than smaller ones tucked away in mutual funds — an investment tool that pools money and spreads it out over many assets, and a type of financial tool on which many colleges rely.

Universities hire private companies to manage their endowments to preserve their funds over the long run, Baum said.

Debates about the investments of college endowments are complicated, Baum said, because some university stakeholders argue the money needs to produce the biggest return on investment possible to fund teaching and necessary programming and services.

“The purpose of the endowment is to have money that will allow the university to permanently provide educational opportunities so that they don’t have to go out and raise new money every year to continue operating,” she said.

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The bigger a university’s endowment, the more is at stake. That’s one reason why pro-Palestinian student protesters at wealthy universities are fighting so hard this week, she said. There’s a lot of money involved.

“There are always going to be differencesof opinion about what you don’t want to invest in,” Baum said.



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Austin, TX

Tesla found a way to get out of environmental regulations at its Texas gigafactory

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Tesla found a way to get out of environmental regulations at its Texas gigafactory


  • Tesla’s gigafactory outside Austin won’t have to follow the city’s environmental regulations. 
  • The EV company was granted an exemption thanks to a new state law.
  • Elon Musk has said the property will be an “ecological paradise,” but Tesla has a history of violating the environment. 

Tesla’s massive gigafactory outside Austin, Texas will no longer have to follow local environmental regulations, thanks to a recent state law.

Tesla’s 2,500-acre property, which includes its 10-million-square-foot electric vehicle gigafactory, is in unincorporated land on the outskirts of Austin.

Despite not being directly in the city, most of that land was still part of Austin’s “extraterritorial jurisdiction” (ETJ), which allowed the city to regulate developments outside its limits.

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In February, Tesla applied for an exemption from Austin’s ETJ, which the city’s Planning Department approved in March.

The exemption was first reported by the Austin Business Journal this week.

The exemption was possible thanks to a new state law that went into effect in September and allows landowners to request to be removed from jurisdictions so that they can develop land with fewer regulations.

Several cities in the state have already sued to block the law, including Grand Prairie, which argued in a filing that the law will hurt the city’s ability to protect the health, safety, and welfare of those who live in and around its borders.

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But under the law, cities don’t have much leeway to deny a landowner’s request, Austin’s director of planning previously said, according to the Austin Business Journal.

Tesla’s ETJ exemption will enable the electric vehicle company to further develop its land without having to follow the city’s environmental restrictions, which an Austin city spokesperson acknowledged could harm locals.

“Releasing properties from the ETJ impacts the City because development in the ETJ is subject to limited subdivision regulation as well as regulation of water quality and flooding issues,” Shelley Parks, an Austin city spokesperson, said in a statement to Business Insider. “All affect people in both the ETJ and the City itself.” 

Tesla did not respond to a request for comment from Business Insider.

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When the Texas gigafactory was still under construction before its 2022 opening, Elon Musk promised it would be an “ecological paradise” with walking trails for the public along the neighboring Colorado River.

Musk’s companies have had issues with environmental regulations in the past, however. In February, Tesla settled a lawsuit accusing them of mishandling hazardous waste in California. Meanwhile, the Boring Company has been accused of letting untreated wastewater drain into the Colorado River.



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Austin, TX

Why University of Texas at Austin Researchers Made Compostable Sequins and Recruited Designers

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Why University of Texas at Austin Researchers Made Compostable Sequins and Recruited Designers


Instead of having material researchers just holed up in labs tinkering with new theories and concepts, the University of Texas at Austin enlisted some of them to join forces with other faculty, students and alumni in the school’s division of textiles and apparel.

Together they combined research expertise and fashion design knowledge to demonstrate how newly developed sustainable sequins can be used in a variety of ways. Now visitors to the Texas Science & Natural History Museum on UT Austin’s campus can see their creations in “Particles of Color: Where Science Meets Fashion,” which runs through the summer of 2025.

“Particles of Color: Where Science Meets Fashion,” explores the use of compostable, plant-based and biodegradable materials in clothing, accessories, jewelry and art. The 50 glittering objects on display were made with polylactic acid, a compostable material, that has been combined with natural and nontoxic dyes to create colorful, stylish clothes, jewelry and art. Made from agricultural waste, polylactic acid is easy to work with since it does not dissolve in water, but it will break down if composted, said Jessica Ciarla, a faculty member in the Division of Textiles and Apparel who is behind the exhibition.

“Polylactic acid is a bioplastic that has been tested and developed for other fields and is part of a growing global market, so it is a real contender in the space,” Ciarla said. “It can also be melted down and reused so it makes it an ideal choice for zero-waste production.”

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For added eco-friendliness, the team used non-toxic colorants such as algae, natural dyes, spices and food waste to create an organic color spectrum. “Approaching this research from an interdisciplinary perspective by synthesizing science, design and engineering has allowed us to see what the future of the fashion industry can entail from a collaborative perspective,” she said.

Museum goers are more accustomed to checking out the prehistoric dinosaur fossils in the galleries, but this new direction is meant to lead them to a vision of a cleaner, brighter future for the fashion industry. Science and fashion is an enticing combination, as more companies, consumers and organizations are increasingly considering how their actions and purchases play into environmental waste and impact the planet.

The impetus for this is to show the public what is developed in the lab in order to engage with the community and the fashion industry about the synthesis of science and fashion, according to Ciarla.

“Sustainability is no longer about what we need to do in the future, it is about what we can do now. We need to move the industry from using petroleum-based plastics to better options,” she said. “There are valuable resources typically viewed as trash such as agriculture waste that can be used to create plant-based plastics that provide cleaner options.”

How each of the designers featured the sustainable sequins in their work that is on display in “Particles of Color” reflects its multiple potential applications.

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The sustainable sequins can be used in different elements of fashion design.

Image Courtesy University of Texas at Austin

Ciarla is also previewing a prototype of a non-woven textile she created using denim and paperboard made from cereal boxes to develop a fabric that could be used for handbags. Visitors can check out the first experimental prototype of this textile in a digitally printed fabric that Ciarla made into mini handbags with floral sequins attached. She explained, “Showing how other materials derived from waste can work together is a look towards our future research and how we intend to expand our material development to other segments of the textile and material supply industry.”

“Particles of Color” also provides a commentary for the fashion industry’s contribution to plastics pollution. Of the 100 billion items of clothing that are produced each year, 70 percent of them are made of plastic, according to the Plastic Pollution Coalition. Creating all those synthetic materials for polyester, nylon and acrylics annually involves using what amounts to the equivalent of 300 million bathtubs filled with petroleum. Ciarla said, “We wanted to show that there is a way to create something better with the materials we have right now.”

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Developing a commercial prototype is in the works, and the exhibit’s industry partners have highlighted a few of the diverse applications. Designers like Diana Broussard of New York City and Nikolaj Storm of Copenhagen incorporated the sustainable material into their respective garments and accessories that are on display. As is often the case, when it comes to materializing concepts into production, the next step is to generate funding so that Ciarla and her team can expand product offerings and work with manufacturing facilities, who can “help us scale up while integrating our core beliefs of building a sustainable business model,” she said.

The museum’s director Carolyn Connerat said that visitors “can explore how research happening right here on the UT Austin campus can make an impact on the natural world by creating compostable materials used in clothing we all can wear.”

Paricles of Color

The University of Texas at Austin is highlighting the work of researchers in fashion design.

Photo by Nolan Zunk/Courtesy the University of Texas at Austin

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UT’s research into sustainable sequins started five years ago, when a President’s Award for Global Learning was presented to Ciarla; Nathaniel Lynd, an associate professor in the McKetta department of chemical engineering, and Luisa Gil Fandino, an associate professor of textiles and apparel.

The show highlights how UT researchers adapted the material for use in fashion, and there are fashion examples created by designers from Austin and New York.

The installation is the first new exhibition at Texas Science & Natural History Museum since it reopened in September 2023 after an 18-month closure and extensive renovation. The fourth floor of the museum has been designated the Science Frontiers Gallery and is designed to house exhibits on advanced scientific research and demonstrate how scientific discovery can help address current issues and concerns.



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