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Public Notice: Publicly Noted

Recycling the space, with an emphasis on engagement

By Nick Barbaro, Fri., Aug. 29, 2014

If you're a regular reader of the Chronicle, you know this as Amy Smith's space. It's where we've run her "Then There's This" column for the past few of her 18 years as a steady voice here. And now she's leaving, and you're stuck with me.

I'm not going to fill Amy's shoes – as noted elsewhere in these pages, there's no way to re-create her blend of political savvy, personal empathy, and historical perspective, plus I'm not nearly as nice a person as she is. Instead I'm trying a new incarnation of a column with its own long history in Chronicle lore. "Public Notice" was one of the paper's first columns: Originally conceived as a kind of a catch-all space in the front of the paper for items of note to the community, the column was compiled and written by Kathleen Maher, then S. Emerson Moffat, and then Kate X Messer. It morphed into various formats and styles at various times, but it was always kind of half event listing, half editorializing. So when (sadly) this space opened up on the same page as the political event listings, "Civics 101," and at the same time we're doing the issue redesign that you now hold in your hands, well, this seemed like a natural direction to try.

Sorry for the sort of truncated opening effort – the redesign has kind of kicked my butt – but as the weeks go on, I'll try to bring you that same mix: info on upcoming events, with a focus on community involvement, plus commentary on our never-dull local government, from a point of view perhaps best summed up in the old Daryl Herald: "Government is a little like a 2-year-old ... if you don't keep an eye on it, it'll wander off where it should not, hide things from you, and be generally uncooperative."

Everything Is Political

The two City Council District 9 opponents/incumbents, Kathie Tovo and Chris Riley, each unveiled a fairly major policy resolution on Tuesday, in each case supported by the two mayoral candidate council members, Sheryl Cole and Mike Martinez. The proposals are of different scale and import, but the juxtaposition was intriguing, if only because, given the dynamics, it's hard not to see every issue that comes up these days as a political calculation, as well as an issue of governance.

Tovo presented a proposal for consideration at this week's Council meeting that would direct staff to explore effectively creating a flat $5,000 homestead exemption for COA property taxes – the highest the city can go with a flat exemption under state law. The plan is expected to cost $3.1 million and provide a $25 savings for every owner-occupied home in the city. (This is in marked contrast to the 20% exemption touted by mayoral candidate Steve Adler, among others, which would cost $36 million, and provide savings ranging from about $80 for a $80,000 home, to over $1,000 for a million-dollar home.) Tovo admits it's not a big saving, but at least it's not regressive. It's "a step in the right direction," she told the States­man's Sarah Cop­pola, "and I would assume every little bit of tax relief helps." Tovo will bring this resolution to Council today, with the co-sponsors Cole and Laura Morrison, and Martinez reportedly in support. Both Cole and Mar­tin­ez have separately blasted Adler's plan as too expensive. Tovo District 9 opponent/CM Riley is still thinking it over, but it seems pretty much a no-brainer to at least have a proposal ready to consider in December.

On the same day, Riley formally announced the "Affordable Energy Resolution" in a ceremony at City Hall: "a new plan to expand solar power ... and to replace the aging and dirty Decker gas-fired power plant by 2017," which Council will also address today. Here, too, both Cole and Martinez stood with Riley, and will co-sponsor the resolution, but the debate is likely to be more contentious.

Within a half-hour of Riley's announcement, Austin Energy issued a scathing rebuttal in an emailed press release: "Notwithstanding any analyses we may conduct in the future, I can tell you that replacing Decker with solar power contracts would be an economic disaster for ratepayers," said AE General Manager Larry Weis. "Austin Energy is pro-renewable. We have become national leaders in producing renewable power in a very short period of time when we use good business practices to make decisions. ... Solar cannot replace natural-gas fired power plants today." Still, Decker has been on the enviro hit list for a very long time, and AE needs to get that message. Plus, everyone loves solar, so it'll be a hard plan to oppose. We shall see.

We're excited to be teaming with the Aus­tin Monitor, KUT News, KVUE-TV, and Univis­ion to put on "Ballot Boxing" – a comprehensive series of public forums covering all 11 of the City Council races. It kicks off with District 1 on Monday, Sept. 8, at Wesley United Meth­od­ist Church; see "Ballot Boxing," August 29.


Send info, gossip, dirt, innuendo, and other useful grist to nbarbaro@austinchronicle.com.

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