News Roundup: PDRD Splits; Bill Filing Ends

Council carries on

Marc Ott
Marc Ott (Photo by Jana Birchum)

In this week's News Roundup, the Planning and Development Review Department splits in two, Council gets through a relatively short meeting, the Lege gets in nearly 8,000 bills before filing closes, and more.

Ott Splits PDRD: On Friday, March 13, City Manager Marc Ott announced a reorganization of the city’s Planning and Development Review Department, which will separate its planning and zoning functions from development review. The Planning and Zoning Department will be headed by current PDRD director Greg Guernsey, and the Development Review Department will be headed by Rodney Gonzalez, currently the assistant director for economic development. According to Ott’s memorandum announcing the change, “The reorganization will more evenly distribute the workload and allow each unit to focus on process improvements. The Planning and Zoning Department will include zoning case management, annexation, historic preservation, CodeNEXT, comprehensive planning and urban design. The Development Review Department includes the permit center, plans review and inspections.”

PDRD has been under pressure to make improvements, recently highlighted by the city’s release of the working draft of the Zucker Report, a consultant’s review of departmental functions that heavily criticized PDRD practices and reported both low employee morale and poor survey results from both customers and city stakeholders. Ott said that the reorganization was not directly a response to the not-yet-finalized Zucker Report, but said in a release, “Providing consistency and clarity in the planning and development process has been a critical area of focus for me, and for the team, over the past few years. It’s clear to me that – in order to effectively oversee the kind of transformation we need – the two functions need individual and separate attention. This allows us to continue the work required on critical projects like CodeNEXT while separately focusing on the development review process.” – Michael King

Council Quickie: Council’s brief Thursday agenda, only 23 items, meant everybody went home by dinnertime. Much of the discussion had taken place at Tuesday’s work session, so there was less rhetorical underbrush from the dais. In a few highlights, Council:

Approved an interlocal agreement with Austin ISD and Travis County to share expenses on case management software to track and reduce chronic absenteeism; D6 Council Member Don Zimmerman objected that the city shouldn’t be subsidizing AISD when school taxes are already too high and other districts in the city might want similar treatment—his was the sole "no" vote.

Approved all five “items from Council” on consent (a rarity), all fairly minor, including a resolution “declaring support of the Ayotzinapa caravan as they visit the city to bring international awareness to the disappearance of 43 students which occurred in Iguala, Mexico on September 26, 2014.”

Approved a change order on a construction contract on the Lower Shoal Creek restoration project that had exceeded estimates because of flooding-related delays – a couple of CMs questioned the necessity and the policy, but approved the change order and sent the policy to committee for further review.

The next regularly scheduled Council meeting is March 26. – M.K.

Catch Your Ride: Also on Friday, the city announced: “Transportation Network Companies Lyft and Uber are permitted to provide on-demand transportation services at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport on a temporary basis. The ridesharing companies have reached an agreement with the City of Austin Department of Aviation to operate at the airport for a temporary period, not to exceed 45 days, until a long-term agreement can be reached between parties.” Lyft had previously reached an agreement with the city, but Uber had not come to terms, and had briefly been barred from ABIA grounds. – M.K.

The Texas Legislature's bill filing deadline finally passed at the end of last week, though not before close to 8,000 bills could be filed. Among the late entrants were HB 3183, filed by Rep. Elliot Naishtat, D-Austin, which would return the right to make end-of-life decisions to pregnant women; HB 3561, filed by Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, which was inspired by the Jumpolin demolition and would increase penalties for wrongful evictions; and HB 2918, filed by former fetus, Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, which would (possibly unconstitutionally) prohibit filming police officers at a distance closer than 25 feet. For more on those bills and others, check out our regular Bill of the Week picks, in print and online. – Amy Kamp

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