News Roundup: Homeless Count, TNCs, and Council Races

ECHO's annual homeless count takes place January 23

ECHO chart on the homeless count, 2009-2015
ECHO chart on the homeless count, 2009-2015 (Source: ECHO)

In this week's news roundup: local nonprofit requests volunteers to help with the nationwide homeless count; Council ridesharing talks continue in January; Jimmy Flannigan sounds like a returning candidate, but will he run for D6 again?; FEMA issues updated flood insurance rate maps for portions of Austin; and more.

• How Many Homeless?: The nonprofit Ending Community Homelessness Coalition is once again seeking volunteers to take part in the annual, one-on-one “Point in Time Count” of homeless people in Austin/Travis County, taking place this year on Saturday, Jan. 23. The PIT Count – a nationwide project initiated by the U.S. Departments of Housing and Urban Development and Veterans Affairs – not only provides an annual snapshot of the actual numbers of homeless people (sheltered or unsheltered) in the city, it establishes an ongoing data point to reflect for ECHO and its coalition agencies where there is the most need. (Although a popular impression is that homelessness, caused primarily by a lack of affordable housing, only gets worse, in fact local efforts have reduced Austin/Travis County homelessness over the last several years from a 2009 high of 2,641 persons to a 2015 PIT Count of 1,877 persons.) The accuracy of these counts is dependent on volunteers – ECHO Executive Director Ann Howard says, “We still need 250 volunteers to join the other 350 already recruited to count the homeless population sleeping outside on the morning of January 23, 2016. Registration is open and we are training folks weekly.” Teams (generally three members) in three morning “shifts” (Downtown, suburban, and rural) will spend Saturday morning counting and interviewing homeless people around the county; volunteers can register at austinecho.org/2016-point-in-time-count-registration. – Michael King

• Flannigan Begins Again: In the likely to be contentious next contest for the District 6 City Council seat, incumbent D6 CM Don Zimmerman has not been shy about his intention to run for re-election. He’ll have to do so this fall, because he drew a short (two-year) straw (actually a marble) in the selection to establish staggered Council terms (the other two-year tenures belong to Delia Garza-D2, Greg Casar-D4, Leslie Pool-D7, and Sheri Gallo-D10). Indeed, Zimmerman is suing the city so that he can raise money and campaign indefinitely, not confined to the six-month window defined in the City Charter. Partly with that situation in mind, entrepreneur and activist Jimmy Flannigan, who lost a December 2014 D6 runoff to Zimmerman by 189 votes, has also begun sounding more like a returning candidate, with Facebook posts pointedly recalling the previous race. Asked if the impression is accurate, Flannigan responded that it’s no illusion, but that “officially nothing has changed,” and he’s “still operating under the six-month campaign premise.” Should Zimmerman’s lawsuit be successful, Flannigan said, “then that would change.” In the meantime, the nonpartisan Northwest Austin Coalition (organized by Flannigan) is hosting a primary candidate forum Jan. 25, at the Spicewood Springs Library, 6:30-8:30 p.m. The four Democratic candidates for Travis County sheriff will attend, as will Democratic and Republican candidates for Williamson County commissioner (Austin’s District 6 straddles the Travis/Williamson County line). More information is available at www.nwaustin.org. – M.K.

• Talking TNC’s: Speaking of controversy, the disputations over transportation network (aka “ridesharing”) companies are likely to persist throughout January, until the Council rolls out (Jan. 28) the “incentives/disincentives” for finger-printing described in the revised ordinance enacted Dec. 17. Discussion will continue through the next several weeks (as TNC’s Uber and Lyft and local groups continue their ordinance-killing petition campaign). Mobility Committee Chair Ann Kitchen (D5) has arranged with Mayor Steve Adler a schedule for Council work on the matter, posted on the message board (austincouncilforum.org: “TNC Ordinance Timeline for January”). Council members can post suggestions to the board all month, and suggested ordinance provisions will appear with the Jan. 28 Council agenda, to be posted Jan. 22 (www.austintexas.gov/department/city-council/council-meetings). The work session for the Jan. 28 meeting is Tuesday, Jan. 26, with a “discussion of sufficient duration to allow [Council members] the time to review, understand, discuss the language of proposals.” Since the public hearing has officially already taken place in December, Council will also need to determine how much additional testimony on new provisions will be heard at the Jan. 28 meeting. – M.K.

• Find Your Flood: As of Jan. 6, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has issued updated flood insurance rate maps for portions of the City of Austin. This is the final step in a multi-year floodplain study managed by the city’s Watershed Protection Department and underwritten jointly by FEMA ($1.1 million) and Watershed Protection ($2.0 million). The study focused on watersheds needing new or updated flood modeling: Boggy Creek; Bull and West Bull Creeks; Carson Creek; Cottonmouth Creek; Dry Creek East; Fort Branch; Shoal Creek; Tannehill Branch. Maps of the impacted watersheds along with the changes to the floodplains can be viewed on the City’s floodplain changes web site. During the ongoing City Council discussions of Onion and Williamson Creek flood buyouts, witnesses will sometimes object that residents “built in a floodplain” and therefore deserve no city assistance. In fact, as often as not, the floodplain arrived after the residents, or was only mapped after the residents moved in. According to this latest revision, “Approximately 2,200 properties [or portions of properties] are no longer considered to be in the FEMA floodplain.… Approximately 2,400 properties are now considered to be in the FEMA floodplain. Flood depths may have changed for the thousands of properties that remain in the floodplain. Changes in depth are not uniform along the length of the creeks.” For more information, see austintexas.gov/floodplainchanges. – M.K.

• Water vs. Lawn?: The Austin Water utility is proposing to make permanent the current current restrictions on lawn watering to one day per week, although the proposal will not take effect without public input and eventual public hearing before City Council. The utility believes that restricting watering is an important conservation measure – staff describes the restriction as “critical in keeping the Highland Lakes above emergency levels during the worst parts of the drought.” (It’s also a double-edged sword, as it reduces the amount of water sold, thereby creating upward pressure on water rates.) Several public meetings have been scheduled to gather input, and residents can also comment online at SpeakUpAustin.org. – M.K.

Schedule for upcoming meetings/open houses (all from 6-8 p.m.):

• Tuesday, January 12: Southeast Branch Library (5803 Nuckols Crossing Rd.)

• Thursday, January 21, 2016: Carver Branch Library (1161 Angelina St.)

• Tuesday, January 26, 2016: Spicewood Springs Branch (8637 Spicewood Springs Rd.)

• Wednesday, Feb. 3: Public Workshop/Wrap-Up Meeting (6:30 p.m.– 8:30 p.m.), Waller Creek Center, Room 104 (625 E. 10th St.)

For more information and updates visit austintexas.gov/onedayperweek.

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