TDH: 8/16/11

Wind power, Downtown parking debate and other renewable resources

The answer, my friend …
The answer, my friend … (Photo courtesy Flickr user Chuck Coker [CC])

City Council's 105 item agenda for Thursday, Aug. 18, ain't the longest one ever, but it still holds tons of notable items: big time renewable energy purchases, action on paid parking hours Downtown, payday lending regulations and more items from council. And although it isn't listed, that WTP4 stoppage estimate is due too. Highlights below the fold.

Items 2, 3: Two large renewable energy contracts from Austin Energy. The first contracts with Palo Alto’s MAP Royalty for 91 megawatts of windpower, $13 million per year, for an estimated total of $325 million. The second contracts with Houston’s Duke Energy Generation Services in a 25 year deal for 200 megawatts of wind, $32.8 million annually, for an estimated total of $820 million.

Item 13: Converting 60 city vehicles to propane use, with the help of $240,000 in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds.

Items 14-17: Health and Human Services items include funds for The Salvation Army, Caritas, Foundation Communities, SafePlace, and more.

Item 19: A suite of ordinances vacating the city’s right-of-ways around the Governor’s Mansion. (Speaking of which, have you visited The Perry Trap lately?)

Item 22: The item purchasing 611 acres of open space over the Edwards Aquifer and Barton Springs recharge zone.

Items 28, 29: Accepting over $87,000 in grant funds for development of a “Web-based Historical Survey Web tool project,” a component of City Council’s recent tweaks to the city’s historic zoning program, and one long-floated as accompanying any change to historic zoning. The University of Texas will be developing the tool.

Items 35-68: The characteristically enormous purchasing office agenda.

Items 74, 76: Getting into the items from council, these two resolutions entail the separate re-revisions to the city’s expansion of paid parking hours Downtown. When we tuned into this morning’s council work session, we heard Laura Morrison tell Mike Martinez she would make a motion to withdraw her resolution delaying implementation of expanded parking hours into 2012. Martinez’s resolution expands evening hours only on Thursday, Friday and Saturday; apparently Morrison was pleased that the expansion only runs from Lady Bird Lake to Eighth street, arguing that “we certainly don’t have density and concentration [parking-wise] north of Eighth street.

However, the financial impact of the change was dwelt on extensively by Lee Leffingwell, despite his cosponsorship of Martinez’s resolution. Bill Spelman, with the assistance of Transportation Dept. head Rob Spillar, indulged in some on-the-fly estimates, tabulating “a starting point of about $8 million and small change” gross, before expenditures. “If we lose about $2.5 million from that” – a rough estimate of foregone revenue from shrinking the paid parking expenditure – ”we’re talking about $6 million or so. $If 3.5 million is the cost of enforcing the system, that leaves you with $2.5 million … $2.5 million is the difference between your original proposal and the one one the table, more or less.” But with ticket revenues channeled back into a separate fund pool, Spillar estimated closer to $1.5 million would be available for parking projects like wayfinding and Downtown improvements.

Morrison implied that the funds could be recouped via changes to the city’s valet parking rules. Martinez’s resolution calls for the City Manager to bring back recommendations “for modifications relating to valet service” (including fees valet companies pay the city to “bag” parking meters for their own use), in November.

“It does not appear that we would be underwater,” Morrison said, adding that “when folks hear for a $250 permit, someone can get a prime space reserved … that’s real concerning, it doesn’t seem fair.”

Leffingwell closed discussion thusly: “Not ended, probably more discussion on Thursday.”

Items 75, 79: Spelman’s two items regulating local payday lenders.

Item 78: Item from Chris Riley, Sheryl Cole and Morrison, directing the City Manager to draft code amendments allowing “Personal Services” (“periodically needed services of a personal nature,” including hairstyling, tailoring, laundry, etc.) in Limited Office zoning, as well as General Office zoning (where they’re currently allowed). The resolution notes “Personal Services includes uses which may be beneficial to some neighborhoods who do not wish to up-zone entirely to General Office.”

Item 80: Allocating $25,000 in Holly Good Neighbor program funds. (That‘s $5,000 to Ballet East Dance Company; $9,500 for the design of the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center’s Award of Excellence and Wall of Excellence; and $10,000 to La Fuente Learning Center.)

Item 81: A resolution voicing council support “of certain medical institutions and organizations in central Texas to form the Emergency Neurological Research Collaborative of Central Texas (ENROLL) and to join the Neurological Emergencies Treatment Trials (NETT) Network as a ‘hub’ to help achieve benefits to the Austin region.”

Item 90: The meeting’s 10:30am briefing is an update on the long-gestating Downtown Plan.

Items 96-105: The afternoon’s zoning agenda. Item 96, upzoning to bring an existing liquor store into conforming use, has already inspired blowback from some in the Montopolis neighborhood, as the store and an adjoining convenience store are within spitting distance of a few churches.

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