Beside the Point

Got Ourselves a Gun

In a town as culturally literate as Austin (i.e., populated by TV junkies and cinephile fanboys), this may amount to borderline heresy, but BTP's never cared too much for The Sopranos. While the production values, verisimilitude, and leisurely pacing afforded by premium cable impressed – not to mention the initial novelty of extreme profanity, unfettered sex, and stomach-churning violence flickering across the boob tube – the dark tale of Tony's family business always seemed too leaden under its own faux gravitas to approximate anything approaching entertainment. So I won't be one of the millions watching this Sunday when the lumbering tale comes to an end after eight years. That's a hell of a lot of loose ends that will need strangling with piano wire.

Today (Thursday), City Council's in a similarly unique position – with only one meeting to go until summer break, we'll have a mob scene closing several storylines – but unlike David Chase's creation, they'll launch a few new ones to keep council-watchers guessing over the hiatus. Most prominently featured is Item 8, making Las Manitas an offer it can't refuse (apologies for mixing mob metaphors): a $750,000 relocation loan, out of the recently created Business Retention and Enhancement Fund. Under siege from talk-radio ditto-heads and e-trolls, the loan's most controversial aspect – being forgivable after five years of payments – may be revisited on the dais. Lee Leffingwell tells BTP he wants more info on the terms of potential forgivability, including the possibility of lengthening the five-year amortization period to put more money in city coffers.

But that's not the general tax fund – with emotions running as high as misinformation about the loan, it's important to remember that the relocation bucks come from Downtown development and construction fees the city used to waive more often than not. If there's ever been a more concrete example of growth "paying for itself," we've yet to see it. But while relocating Las Manitas is well and good and "weird," let's hope council recommits to more pressing issues Downtown – maybe ensuring the Marriott taking Las Mas' spot is captured in the affordable-housing fund for Downtown neighborhoods?

While the debate over whether or not to include nonresidential towers in the Downtown housing fund will continue, council will adopt the Affordable Housing Incentives Task Force recommendations today in a twofer. Job one is codifying the changes suggested to the city's longstanding Safe, Mixed-income, Accessible, Reasonably-priced, Transit-oriented Housing program; arguably, the centerpiece change is boosting the percentage of one's income one can spend on a place – while still technically calling it "affordable" – from 30% to 35%. While justified as a response to the reality of increasing costs, it's worth questioning whether it's SMARTer to be reactive (i.e., raising participants' rents) rather than proactive (finding a way to keep costs low through incentives like affordability buy-downs from the city). Let's hope the extra 5% sliver isn't the first of a thousand cuts. Council also considers the rest of the task force's recommendations; for a group that prided "deeper affordability" as one of its "core values," it sure would be nice to see levels dip below the fiction of 80% median family income (just less than $40 grand for one earner) being sold as "low income."

Fiduciary concerns are indeed today's money shot, as council formally issues policy direction over the 2007-08 budget. Today council can poke, prod, and probe the "financial forecast" floated by City Manager Toby Futrell last month but mysteriously whacked back from the last meeting. With ballooning police salaries (rightly or wrongly) fingered as a bandit every budget season, the Public Safety Task Force, helmed by Mike Martinez, had hoped to issue a resolution relating to PS spending; with the police shooting in East Austin over the weekend, the topic was scuttled from the agenda. The PSTF plans on convening a special meeting to pass it out before council's last prebreak meeting June 21.

Bada boom, bada bing.

For continuous council coverage and other breaking news, consult Chronic, at austinchronicle.com/chronic. E-mail Wells Dunbar at wdunbar@austinchronicle.com. E-mail council members at www.ci.austin.tx.us/council.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

City Council, Lee Leffingwell, Las Manitas, SMART Housing, affordable housing, Public Safety Task Force, Mike Martinez

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