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City Hall Hustle: Got an App for That?

From the lobby to the parks, council has an item for you

By Wells Dunbar, Fri., Oct. 21, 2011

While a good zoning dispute's great for fireworks and AM presentations can prove enlightening, items from council are the beating heart of any City Council agenda – where, week after week, in writing, you can see what your elected officials believe is important.

This week's meeting (Thursday, Oct. 20) is heavy on the substantive ones, but let's begin with a Purchasing Office item, albeit one the council's repeatedly discussed. Item 51 comprises revisions to the city's anti-lobbying ordinance, long sought by nonprofits and social service providers who feel the city's no-contact rules on contract bidding hampered citizens' ability to communicate with council members. The item nods to the current ordinance governing contacts but adds that "opportunities to compete for City social service funding, City cultural arts funding, City (including federal and state) block grant fund­ing, and the sale of rental property are not covered by the ordinance unless Coun­cil specifically directs otherwise."

Moving on to the items from council, Item 53, sponsored by Chris Riley, Mike Mar­tin­ez, and Kathie Tovo, finalizes guidelines for electric low-speed vehicles-for-hire, long idling in a regulatory purgatory. (See "City Hall Hustle," Oct. 14.) As we noted last week, the Transportation Department's 14-point list of equipment guidelines comically didn't reflect a single showroom floor vehicle model; this approval on second and third readings features reworked safety standards that will easily see the pilot ELSV program up and running by January.

iSnitch? Yes, but for a good cause. Item 54, from Riley, Martinez, and Lee Leffing­well, would increase enforcement of handicapped parking, likely with a smart-phone application through which citizens can report such infractions. Working in tandem with stakeholders from the Mayor's Committee for People With Disabilities, the Transportation Department, municipal court, and Travis County, the resolution calls for the city manager to report back to council with implementation ideas in 90 days.

Item 55 takes up a burning issue: a smoking ban in city parks. The resolution's language, proposed by Martinez, Tovo, and Laura Morrison, links cigarettes to litter, health hazards, and increased fire danger in calling for a ban. After its likely passage, the resolution will wind its way to the Parks and Recreation Board before returning to council for final approval Dec. 8.

The reliably controversial expenditure of Austin Energy's Holly Good Neighbor Program funds comprises Item 56. Set up by AE as reparations to neighbors for the noisy, ugly, and fire-prone Holly Power Plant, Item 56, from Martinez, Leffingwell, and Riley, sets annual funding for the program at $1 million, with just over half going to neighborhood home repairs and improvements. It also allocates $125,000 this year to community outreach programs, and $25,000 specifically for a long-running Día de los Muer­tos party on Oct. 22. The Hustle is certain longtime Good Neighbor critic and self-styled East­side power broker Gavino Fernandez will be on hand to sound off on the spending.

A shot in the arm to the city's permanent supportive housing program – which seeks to house the most vulnerable, "frequent flyer" homeless users of emergency services – Item 57, from Riley and Martinez, reiterates council support for the "100 Homes" campaign sponsored by local nonprofit Ending Community Home­lessness Coalition. An offshoot of national nonprofit Com­mon Ground's "10,000 Homes" campaign, this local drive to house the homeless begins with a registry program, Nov. 7-9, to "identify and survey Austin's most vulnerable homeless individuals and families" for PSH placement by November 2013. Aside from voicing council's support, the item also instructs the city manager to deploy resources to the registry project.

Reappearing after a recent postponement, Item 58 from Morrison and Tovo seeks more input on the draft Imagine Austin Com­pre­hensive Plan, specifically looking for any compatibility issues between the draft doc and other city plans, while giving the plan an overall scrubbing. One notable change in the revised document is the inclusion of the Planning Commission in the undertaking, along with the Comprehensive Plan Citi­zens Advisory Task Force; the initial proposal put the onus on the citizens' group (with staff support). Some have called the item an attempt to slow-walk the comp plan by neighborhood interests; Morrison has previously pledged the program wouldn't be an open-ended affair. The draft doc calls to "recommend a schedule for the completion of the comprehensive plan, including adequate time for review and discussion by the boards and commissions."

Lastly, Item 60 from Leffingwell, Morrison, and Tovo is set to act on recommendations from the Joint Subcommittee of the city, county, and AISD on increasing literacy rates  – one of the family and childhood issues that's increasingly defining Tovo's tenure on the dais. Recos include a marketing campaign, a push for reading outside of school, additional literacy services, including adult literacy programs, and more. The resolution ends by calling to accept the recommendations, with the understanding that spending and services would be agreed to by the three members of the joint committee.  

Tweets commissioned daily: @CityHallHustle.

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