Mayor Weighs in on Delayed Policy
Still believes in momentum for Agent in Change
By Kevin Curtin,
10:30AM, Thu. Jun. 15, 2017
Following appeals for postponement from music advocacy groups who complained that the latest Agent of Change and Outdoor Music Venue permit legislation contained substantial and unexpected rewrites to the City’s Sound Ordinance, the policy has been removed from the June 15 City Council agenda and put on hold indefinitely.
That decision, made last Thursday (June 8), marked a victory for a coalition of politically-involved venue owners and advocates by thwarting a policy draft that Austin Music People chairman Bobby Garza called “hastily prepared” and lacking proper stakeholder input.
A week later, it remains unclear exactly how and when future drafts of the policy will come together. Complicating the process is a continued vacancy of the Music Office’s top position, as well as rumblings that Economic Development Department Deputy Director Alex Lopez, who has been closely involved with the last two legislation offerings, is resigning.
On Monday evening, “Playback” asked Mayor Steve Adler, whose Omnibus plan spurred both potential policies, how he’d like to see the whole process move forward.
“Part of it is trying to decide how big a bite we’re taking all at once,” replied Adler. “My original thought was we’d do something relatively quickly on Agent of Change because I thought the stars were aligned and we had incredible movement forward on that. I still think that’s true and that we should get it done.”
Adler says he conveyed that to community stakeholders and the EDD at Thursday’s sit-down.
“That meeting ended with the decision to take some time to look at what it was the [EDD] staff had produced,” Adler recalled, referring to a 21-page draft he admitted may have been “too big” and could have used a narrowed focus. “My suggestion to that group is, ‘Don’t lose the momentum on Agent of Change.’ If they want to meet and have a longer time to talk about the bigger bite, that’s great. We need to work on the entertainment license matter and incentives [for licensed venues].
“But don’t try to solve the whole world here right away. My political sense tells me we shouldn’t be holding up Agent of Change for that.”
For Adler, that “we-were-here-first” philosophy, wherein new developments must insulate from nearby music venues and vice versa, remains an immediately attainable goal. He admits there are debated aspects of it needing to be hashed out before it heads to Council, particularly if they involve specific building standards for residential developments within 600 feet of music venues.
“There’s the question of whether we should prescribe what somebody needs to do when they’re next to a venue, or do we simply say, ‘Do whatever you need to do in order to not complain about a music venue next door that’s abiding by city ordinances,’” he explains. “My concern in prescribing what somebody needs to do is that they’ll do those things and then they won’t work. Who’s responsible then?
“Otherwise, if we say, ‘If you move in next to a music venue, here’s what you need to do,’ then there should be no defense to come in and say, ‘But I did everything you said I needed to do.’ That seems better to me from my experience as a lawyer. Sometimes the more belts and suspenders you put on yourself end up hurting you.”
In terms of how future drafts of venue-centric policy will be shaped, Adler stopped short of saying who specifically would be involved in revisions or if he’d be assembling an informal working group. Either way, he urged for the inclusion of a wide swath of stakeholders.
“My sense is to make sure that everyone is there. If you do these things without inviting everyone to the table, it will end up biting you on the butt later on,” he warned.
Council takes a summer break through July, followed by budget discussions when they resume in August. It would thus seem improbable that any music-related legislation will be considered by Council before the fall, but Adler believes there’s potential to get something on the dais in August.
“The rest of the world can’t stop while we’re doing budget, but in this context we need to keep the issues relatively simple and few,” he cautioned. “We’re not going to be able to be all-inclusive about music, industry, sound, vertical, and neighborhood things in August. That’s just not going to happen.
“But we might be able to do Agent of Change.”