News Roundup: Petitions, Put-Downs, and Peeling Out

Council keeps its eyes on the road

Fingerprinting of transportation network company drivers at City Hall on January 28, 2016
Fingerprinting of transportation network company drivers at City Hall on January 28, 2016 (Photo By John Anderson)

In this week's news roundup: a mysterious group seeks signatures to withdraw Council Member Ann Kitchen for her proposed regulations on ride sharing apps; a council member on Twitter accidentally makes public her throwing shade on a neighboring representative; Austin joins a growing list of cities bent on cutting traffic fatalities to zero; and more...

Recall Backlash: Reportedly, the group calling itself Austin4All political action committee is continuing to collect voters' signatures in City Council District 5 in an attempt to force a recall election of D5 Council Member Ann Kitchen, in response to her Council work on transportation network company regulations. Under the City Charter, petitioners will need about 5,000 certified signatures from eligible D5 voters to require an election. In response, another group of residents ("District 5 Leaders") is organizing to support Kitchen, and has called a meeting for 9am Monday at Strange Brew Austin Coffee (5326 Manchaca Rd.) to show their support for Kitchen and "ask the people of South Austin to stand against the recall effort by a secretive new group that has not identified its members." In a press release distributed by Tom Nuckols (an Assistant Travis County Attorney and D5 resident), the group accuses Austin4All of attempting to mislead voters, and declares, "Who is really behind this effort will eventually come to light, but now it's time to stand up and say enough is enough." – Michael King

Tweet Me Not: The PUD discussion – over whether PUD proposals on unzoned lands would require supermajority approval by Council if rejected by the Planning Commission – found District 7 Council Member Leslie Pool opposing an amendment proposed by Mayor Steve Adler and supported by District 10 CM Sheri Gallo. The disagreement was effectively a proxy debate over the hotly-disputed proposed PUD at 45th and Bull Creek Road (aka The Grove). The currently unzoned state tract is located in Gallo's District 10 but on the 45th Street border of Pool's District 7; Gallo was supporting an amendment that would have required a supermajority only if a Planning Commission rejection was also a supermajority. An angry Pool tweeted (she thought privately) to a staffer, "So maybe this is the nail in Gallo's coffin." But the Tweet (quickly deleted but widely captured) was in fact public, leaving Pool to apologize to her colleague, and Gallo to report she was "extremely disappointed." Embarrassed by an impolitic remark about her dais-mate, Pool is now the subject of a secondary controversy that she may have "destroyed a public record." Since the damn thing will now live online forever, it's difficult to maintain the fiction that it no longer exists. But since the subject was coffins and nails, perhaps Pool might recall the classical wisdom: De mortuis nihil nisi bonum: "Speak no ill of the dead." For more on Council, follow the Daily News and this week's print edition. – M.K.

Safe the Streets: Austin is among 10 cities chosen this month to be a "National Vision Zero Focus City," a program to collaborate in the elimination of traffic fatalities and severe injuries among all road users. The goal is research and collaboration on best practices in reducing fatal accidents and other traffic risks. In a press release, Mayor Steve Adler said, "Let me be clear: We have way too many traffic fatalities in Austin, but the goal isn't fewer, it's zero. By sharing ideas and lessons with other cities committed to Vision Zero, we can move the needle on public safety across the nation." The other cities selected for the project include Washington, New York, Boston, Chicago, Fort Lauderdale, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. "This unprecedented collaboration among such diverse city stakeholders – including law enforcement, transportation planners, policymakers, public health officials, community members and more – will change the way we prioritize safe mobility for generations to come," said Leah Shahum, of the Vision Zero Network. Nevertheless, when Austin's draft Vision Zero Action Plan was presented to City Council as addressing a preventable public health problem, not everyone on the dais was enthusiastic. District 6 Council Member Don Zimmerman described the "zero" goal as unrealistic and the plan – a comprehensive approach including education, enforcement, land use, urban design, and transportation engineering – as a waste of money. For more information, visit – M.K.

Danced All Night: The no longer so new 10-1 City Council is learning it's easier to denounce late-night meetings on the campaign trail than it is to avoid them on the dais. Several polarizing issues hit the agenda last Thursday, generating sufficient heat not only for citizen testimony but for sharp exchanges among Council members – and for the proceedings to continue beyond 2am Friday before the group threw up its collective hands and adjourned. During the afternoon, despite a December public hearing, Council heard additional testimony on transportation network companies, eventually postponing final action on full regulations (and a pending referendum) but creating "incentive" programs designed to persuade TNC drivers to be fingerprinted – a proposal the big boys Uber and Lyft rejected in advance (smaller start-up GetMe is on board). In the evening, they took up revised parkland dedication fees for development (approved), clearer rules for neighborhood plan contact teams (overall rules approved, bylaws to return later), planned unit development approval standards (revised after amendment), and – following three hours of late night/early morning testimony – punted revision of short-term rental regulations until Feb. 23, on account of exhaustion. For full meeting details, including video, see here. – M.K.

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