News Roundup: Planned Parenthood, Piñatas, & Pink Bikinis
City Council goes long
By the News Staff,
8:30AM, Mon. Oct. 19, 2015
In this week's News Roundup, Austin stands with Planned Parenthood, even though Texas doesn't; CM Don Zimmerman displays his usual courtesy and compassion; not everyone welcomes a cat cafe; and more.
• Take a Deep Breath: Last Thursday’s City Council session (Oct. 15) was a marathon, adjourning just before 2am Friday. It was also productive: Council members moved forward on more utility-scale solar power for Austin Energy, approved a $300 million expansion for Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, and endorsed federal and state lobbying efforts on behalf of Planned Parenthood and for “expanding funding of women's access to a full spectrum of health services.” They tentatively revised the regs governing “accessory dwelling units” (aka “granny flats”), and began the process of revising the development “density bonus program,” intending to require more “on-site” affordable housing in preference to “fee-in-lieu” bonus payments from developers seeking additional entitlements. Council proposed additional regulations on short-term rentals, including the possibility that “Type 2s” (non-owner-occupied STRs) would be phased out of residential areas altogether. Finally (not really), they initiated potential code amendments that would require defined fees from “transportation networking companies” (ride-for-hire firms like Uber and Lyft), and would also require background and fingerprint checks akin to those currently required of taxi drivers. (The proposed new rules on ADUs, density bonuses, STRs, and TNCs will all need to return for further review.) – Michael King
• Health Care Wins: There were a handful of lowlights at the Council meeting as well, including witnesses opposing the resolution supporting Planned Parenthood, who accused the Council of endorsing unethical or immoral practices, and insisted that the organization engages in the killing of “unborn children.” Others testified to the indispensability of Planned Parenthood’s reproductive health care services, including (on the dais) District 2 Council Member Delia Garza (who sponsored the resolution) and D3 CM Sabino Renteria, who said his daughter had been served by the organization when she had no other affordable recourse. The resolution was endorsed 9-2, with only D6 CM Don Zimmerman and D8 CM Ellen Troxclair opposing – Zimmerman said he resented that city health insurance does not cover his wife’s need for fertility treatments (if she wished, she could get fertility counseling at Planned Parenthood), and Troxclair insisted that there are sufficient other clinics in Texas to care for all patients – despite persistent legislative cuts to women’s health care over the last several sessions. – M.K.
• Aesthetic Cooties? Council’s noon Citizens Communications is known for both the earnest and the outlandish. Last week it also caused a bit of heartburn for D6 CM Don Zimmerman. Filmmaker Spencer Nutting, who is making a documentary about Austin’s late, lamented Leslie Cochran, turned up to promote his film and a proposed Downtown statue of Leslie, and to ask Council for a permit and fee waivers for an Oct. 30 fundraising event. Nutting brought a small maquette of the proposed bronze statue by sculptor Bob Coffee; it features Leslie in a classic pose, sitting on a bench in a pink bikini. Nutting handed it up to Council members to pass along the dais, but it didn’t get far – stopping dead at Zimmerman, who first accepted it from his neighboring colleague (D1 CM Ora Houston) and then recoiled in revulsion. “I’m not handling that,” Zimmerman said, as though the statuette carried some sort of contagion. Zimmerman quickly returned it to Nutting, who displayed it to the rest of the dais. For a man who likes to feature his own dapper style, complete with ever-present Panama hat, you’d think Zimmerman might recognize in Leslie a kindred soul – although one more permanently akin to the Weird Spirit of Austin. – M.K.
• Cats v. Piñatas: This Saturday, Oct. 17, marked the grand opening of the Blue Cat Cafe, a place where people can live out the dream (or nightmare, depending on your perspective) of eating vegan food while surrounded by adoptable cats. As the cafe opened for business, however, protesters were outside, decrying the fact that the cafe is using the former site of the Jumpolin piñata store as a parking lot. Jumpolin and its contents were demolished by the building's owner (who also owns the cat cafe's building) earlier this year, and has since become a symbol of the ill effects of gentrification. Although an injunction was supposed to prevent the land from being cleared until a suit filed by Jumpolin's owners against their former landlords is resolved, a judge ruled recently that the injunction could not be enforced against the site being used as a parking lot. For more see "No Contempt in Jumpolin Hearing," Oct. 16. – Amy Kamp
• Oops! A War Crime: Despite persistent but contradictory statements from official U.S. sources that the disastrous Oct. 3 U.S. bombing of a Doctors Without Borders (Medicins Sans Frontiers, or MSF) hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan was an accident or a “mistake,” leaders of the international medical charity say they do not believe the official story and continue to demand an independent investigation. In an Associated Press interview by Najim Rahim and Lynne O’Donnell that was published Sunday, Oct. 18, MSF General Director Christopher Stokes said the hospital was the target of “extensive, quite precise destruction” that suggests it was intentionally targeted. At least 22 patients and staff were killed in the bombing, for which President Barack Obama has apologized to the MSF and which U.S./NATO Commander John Campbell has described as a “mistake” by either Afghan or U.S. forces or both. MSF officials said the hospital was targeted by a U.S. AC-130 gunship, which within an hour made five separate strafing runs over the compound. Stokes again called for an independent investigation by the Swiss-based International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission, which would require cooperation from both the U.S. and Afghanistan, unlikely to be forthcoming. – M.K.