Sen. Estes taking long view on failure of his Muny legislation

Sens. Craig Estes, left, and Royce West, author and co-author, respectively, of Senate Bill 822, converse on the Senate floor Feb. 22, 2017.
RALPH BARRERA/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

State Sen. Craig Estes knows that, in legislating, you win some and you lose some. But even when you lose, there is sometimes a small measure of success coupled with an opportunity to try again.

Estes, a Republican from Witchita Falls, can take some satisfaction in his proposal — now dead — to preserve Lions Municipal Golf Course in West Austin. His Senate Bill 822 would have transferred Muny, as the city-operated course is known, from University of Texas ownership to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Much to UT’s surprise, the measure passed the Senate with bipartisan support. It failed, however, to emerge from a House committee.

There is little doubt that the proposal spurred UT to step up negotiations with the city, which wants Muny preserved. UT President Gregory L. Fenves says various options are on the table, inluding a land swap, a higher lease payment by the city and increased development rights for UT on adjacent land and other parcels it owns.

“My hope is that we have shined enough light on this issue that people are aware of the rich history of this place that’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places,” Estes said Monday, referring to Muny’s distinction as perhaps the first municipal golf course in the former Confederate states to accommodate black golfers.

“I give the University of Texas and the city of Austin my best wishes for a successful negotiation,” the senator said. “If they’re able to come to a long-term solution, I’m very excited about (pro golfer) Ben Crenshaw and all of his friends raising the money privately to return that course to its historic grandeur. If negotiations should fall apart, I look forward to returning next session and working as hard as I can to save Muny.”

Beyond-the-grave argument advanced for Muny legislation

State Rep. Lyle Larson LAURA SKELDING / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

There’s been a fair amount of debate lately about George W. Brackenridge’s intent in donating land along the Colorado River in West Austin to the University of Texas in 1910. This week, a kind of back-from-the-dead argument emerged, tongue-in-cheek style.

The setting was Wednesday’s hearing on Senate Bill 822 before the House Land and Resource Management Committee. The measure would preserve Lions Municipal Golf Course, which occupies 141 acres of the 350-acre Brackenridge tract.

First, some background. In the deed transferring the tract to the university, Brackenridge, a banker and long-serving UT regent, wrote that his purpose was “advancing and promoting University education.” He said the donation was “to the State of Texas for the benefit of the University of Texas” and “with the request merely on my part that it be never disposed of but be held permanently for such educational purposes.”

Fast-forward 107 years. Does a golf course leased to the city at below-market rates meet Brackenridge’s intent? Would a mixed-used development generating lease revenue for the city? What about trading the city-operated Muny to Austin in exchange for some city-owned land and increased development rights on UT-owned properties? And what if Muny were transferred to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department for preservation as a golf course if UT failed to do so, as the proposed legislation contemplates?

Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, who is carrying SB 822 in the House, said he was confident the measure would meet with Brackenridge’s approval.

How does he know? “Two weeks ago,” Larson quipped, “I was in a seance and I talked to George Brackenridge.”

Longhorn Network to air commencement speech by former Dallas police chief

If you tune into the Longhorn Network on Saturday evening, don’t expect to watch sports. But you will see another spectacle: the spring commencement of the University of Texas, including an address by the main speaker, former Dallas Police Chief David O. Brown.

Brown was chief of the Dallas Police Department from 2010 to 2016 and rose to national prominence following the assassination of five of his officers in 2016.

His greater legacy is the transformation of the department into one focused on community policing, with an emphasis on shoring up public trust. His book, “Called to Rise,” will be published in June.