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Council: Here Comes the Sun

Council recovers from last week's multiday meeting

By Michael King, Fri., Sept. 5, 2014

City Council is catching its breath this week (sort of), after an exhausting and quite unusual split meeting last week (Thursday/Friday). After Wednesday's final budget work session, and (usually ceremonial) budget adoption next week (likely to be accomplished Monday morning), the next formal meeting is Sept. 28.

But the dust hasn't yet settled on last week's sessions. Council recessed late Thursday and resumed for a few hours the next day – after a confused, rescinded vote to recess, and a last-minute decision to endorse Items 157 and 158, resolutions concerning future Austin Energy policies as recommended by the Generation Resource Planning Task Force and the Electric Utility Commission.

The resolutions – to adopt more ambitious renewable (solar energy) goals, including eventual phasing out of the Decker natural gas plant, and to bolster policies assisting low- and moderate-income customers – were likely to pass in any case, with only Mayor Lee Leffingwell and Council Member Bill Spelman expressing dissent. But after first agreeing to postpone until Friday's holdover session, and then Spelman and Leffingwell having left the dais, the majority backtracked and abruptly decided to take up both resolutions that night, passing them 5-0.

On Friday, Spelman persuaded Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole (one of the co-sponsors) to move to reconsider, but that motion failed, 3-3 (Spelman, Cole, Leffingwell in favor, Kathie Tovo absent). Whatever the merits of the policy (and AE staff doubts that the renewable goals, aimed at reducing global warming, can be met within Council's affordability strictures), the "optics" of the process, as they say, were not exactly inspirational. Since these are resolutions that will require Council confirmation going forward over several years, the public debate is likely to persist.

In other highlights, Council:

passed a ban on use of handheld "portable electric devices" while driving or bicycling, meaning after Jan. 1, your cell phone better be hands-free;

directed staff to move forward on development of a "comprehensive urban forest management plan" (but postponed action on an urban trails master plan and a coyote conflict management strategy);

directed staff to develop code amendments to enable and implement "gender-neutral" signage and policies for single-occupancy restrooms;

asked for a plan by December that would enable the equivalent of a $5,000 homestead property tax exemption;

finally approved the much-postponed Master Plan for the severally named Holly Shores/Edward Rendon Sr. Park at Festival Beach, Fiesta Gardens.

A few of those items would have raised more post-meeting headlines, if the AE Gener­ation Task Force recommendations hadn't stolen all the post-meeting thunder. Keep your ears open, and wear plenty of sunscreen­.

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