The Daily Hustle: 6/11/10

I don't need no cure … sweet Council hangover

Keepin' it historic
Keepin' it historic (Photo by John Anderson)

The comedy of errors that has been the search for a Materials Recovery Facility gained another chapter yesterday, as City Council voted to toss out the proposals process that netted three frontrunners, and begin it anew. And then, to no one's surprise, the historic zoning debate teetered on histrionic.

Further complicating the already convoluted MRF process was the shimmy council had to perform around narrow agenda language that allowed for execution of a contract with only the staff-selected frontrunner, Allied Waste, which sent council off the dais for a special-called executive session so they could learn exactly what their legal options were.

Not that it made much of a difference: when they returned, Randi Shade made the same motion she had before the break, to scrap the proposal process, disregard a related item pertaining to the contract with Allied, and restart the bidding – as the Solid Waste Advisory Commission's proposed at their meeting the night before. Given that the city's current recycling contract with Greenstar North America expires in September, council had questions about how soon they could get new responses. Solid Waste Services director Bob Gedert said council could request proposals on a short term contract later this month, then select a winner by the end on July, but that rebidding the MRF was far more complex, and would take about six months in the shortest scenario. “Is there a reason … for believing that a different RFP process would bring a different proposal?,” asked Bill Spelman, to which Gedert replied, “I don’t perceive much of an outcome difference.”

Given how long the discussion's lasted, you'd think the city would be anxious to get the MRF initiated. But considering the long-term ramifications of the contract, council's anxious to get it right. They're also anxious, it appears, to get Texas Disposal Systems in the bidding. TDS was deemed ineligible due to violating lobbying rules, due to the vigorous outreach of TDS exec Bob Gregory, and their generous offer obviously caught the council's attention. As did the renewed protest against Allied Waste/BFI's North Austin landfill, despite being lead by Robin Schneider (Texas Campaign for the Environment), who's worked with Gregory recently. Allied General Manager Lee Kuhn noted the campaign to council, saying “We are not the bad actor that a few local folks, including a local competitor, assert that we are.”

Ultimately, council voted 5-2 to reject all MRF applicants, and reboot the process, with Spelman and Sheryl Cole voting no.

The historic landmark zoning discussion soonafter didn't engender harmony either. After several speakers, pro and con, addressed the dais (ChangeAustin's Brian Rodgers, the Heritage Society's Mandy Dealey, and historic re-developer Rick Hardin, a proponent of stiffening standards), Laura Morrison spoke. She was concerned about language in the resolution “that is opening up the whole process for discussion … If we’re going to engage in something like that, it needs to be focused and it needs to be founded,” she said, not “reactionary.”

To that end, she offered an amendment that scrubbed a re-examination of “the historic property identification and designation process,” and added a directive the city work with the Historic Landmark Commission and other stakeholders to encourage preservation in all historically significant areas of town (in a "focused" fashion, we'd imagine). The proposal wasn't well received, and Morrison began warning of the resources a revision might cost the city, pointedly inquiring what would be the cost of “staff time for a task force that could take a year and a half.” But what Morrison saw as a bug, others saw as a feature: Shade, contra Morrison's fears of reopening the process, said “after hearing what we've heard today, I'm comfortable [with that].”

Spelman then offered an amendment to Shade's substitute motion to pass the original resolution, which would examine the historic landmark process in peer US cities. Co-sponsor Mike Martinez chimed in, noting that while “we may not be achieving everything both sides want,” this process “is a start, not the end.”

With that, the original motion passed 5-2, Morrison and Cole dissenting.

What the hell else is happening?

On the city calendar: Live From the Plaza features James Polk today; that's noon at City Hall plaza, 301 W, Second.

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