Beside the Point: Council's Best Friends

Austin is a dog's - not to mention city manager's - town.

For now, Jennifer Kim's proposal permitting pups on the patios of consenting Austin restaurants is in the doghouse – her plan will be vetted in a public hearing when council reconvenes a week from today. What looked like the feel-good/weird measure of the season was unceremoniously smacked in the snout with a rolled-up newspaper. Animal cruelty investigators revealed it was an Austin American-Statesman, wild-eyed with revenge after decades of kennel-liner duty. Last Thursday, an indecipherable editorial screed bemoaning the plight of the voiceless – you know, real-estate builders and developers – petered out with the parting shot that "some had better things to do, like … demand that dogs be allowed in certain restaurants." The carnage continued a column over in the letters section, where the most ordinance-supportive of four epistles to the editor was titled "Let's Be Like Europe." Ouch.

"I would just like to reassure everyone, including the daily paper, that we are not putting other items aside to deal with this relatively small problem," said co-sponsor Lee Leffingwell, chiming in after Kim defended her ordinance. Characterizing it as not a change but a clarification of food-safety code, Kim called on Health Department Director David Lurie to support her; he described the measure as "low risk," reminding council that dogs wouldn't be allowed in food preparation areas, nor on chairs or tables. Following a vaguely concerned line of questioning from Raul Alvarez and Danny Thomas, mainly about the costs and nature of enforcement, the item was set for a 6pm public hearing on March 2, the council's next meeting. We don't expect much anti-fuzzy backlash (Kim touted an 800-signature petition of support); then again, we didn't expect this steaming turd either. To shore up support, Kim should crib a move from the Dick Nixon playbook and make this her "Checkers" moment; just imagine the council member taking to the airwaves, her Pekingese Sammy in hand, declaring "the kids love the dog, and I just want to say this right now, that regardless of what they say about it, we're gonna keep it."

Even if just to spite Rich and Fred, the gnarled gears of the civic engine churned for more than Rover last week. Tobymania! and its concordant largesse swept the dais, as, following her performance review, council members shoveled nearly as much praise on the city manager as extra cash (in the form of a $32,000 raise) (see p.26).

Council also passed its controversial (see Statesman above) temporary McMansion moratorium on second and third readings. The ordinance, now broadened to include duplexes, as well as single-family homes and containing small revisions related to obtaining a waiver (b.y.o. drainage facility, dude), was again deconstructed by scores of speakers. Council also firmed up its stakeholder task force charged with drafting a permanent moratorium. Composed of both architects/developers and leaders of several neighborhood associations, it had its first weekly meeting last Friday; their eventual proposal is scheduled for council approval in early May.

While May might already be unduly crowded, with controversy anew over the committee's final recommendations, and new council members taking their seats, a bond election won't add to the logjam. A couple of weeks ago, council decided to delay bonds for a November ballot, but last week the gang went through the motions, with Chief Financial Officer John Stephens delivering a wonk-rich presentation on bond-debt management. Now that arguments over timing are moot, discussion turns from when to a more-heated how much. "We don't want to have … such a large amount of bonds on [the ballot] that we can't reasonably issue [them] and get the projects done within a normal period of time," said Stephens, "normal" being six or so years by his estimation. Betty Dunkerley opined that the $615 million recommendation from the Bond Election Advisory Committee would stretch that timeline to at least eight years, accumulating untenable debt in the process. "I certainly think we can be very comfortable going to $525, or $530 [million]," said the extremely cautious fiscal maven, but she was "a little bit uncomfortable" raising her sights any higher. Leffingwell questioned Stephens on the ingredients needed for the $600 million enchilada; with tax increases and one-cent property tax raises for the first two years of the bond package covering the $500 million, Leffingwell pointed out that "the difference between a $500 million and $600 million package is just [a] one-penny increase in the third year."

At least they could agree on a calendar for upcoming bond briefings: transportation and drainage needs are up first, March 23, with hearings on renovations, new facilities/central library, and open space/affordable housing in the three following meetings. Final hearings are penciled in for May 18 and 25.

Whether or not dogs will be permitted, still TBA.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Jennifer Kim, dogs, restaurant, patio, Austin American-Statesman, Lee Leffingwell, Toby Futrell, raise, McMansion, bond election, Bond Election Advisory Committee, Betty Dunkerley, John Stephens

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