The Austin Chronicle

Beside the Point

Welcome Back ... to an All-Nighter

By Wells Dunbar, July 25, 2008, News

What have I learned goosing the gargantuan agenda for this week's City Council meeting, the first for the new council, coming on the heels of a month's hiatus? Lease renewals at Austin-Bergstrom mean big changes for your food court options. (Sayonara, Wok N Roll!) The commission overseeing the 23rd Street Renaissance Market on the Drag could conceivably be cashiered. And with Mayor Will "Fog of Profanity" Wynn's proclamation of a "Road Rage Awareness Month," irony is alive and well at City Hall.

But despite the massive agenda, brimming with all manner of long-simmering items – more on that in a minute – one pressing matter appears only in a cursory way yet looms over the new council: the 2008 city budget.

While all council does officially today is set future public hearings and final readings in September, that doesn't mean they're resting on their laurels: A Wednesday work session saw a presentation of the proposed budget in its sprawling entirety. The process has changed under City Manager Marc Ott to become more open – traditionally it's called "the city manager's budget," but Ott was quick to note, "We've all had a hand" this year. (Is that to spread credit or blame?) Nevertheless, some of the traditional prestidigitation persists, like the ritual, miraculous closure of the predicted $25.3 million "budget gap." To go with a $4.7 million increase in the revenue projection, budget officer Greg Canally broke down $20.2 million in administrative savings that the city had scraped together: $9.9 million in support and internal service (e.g., keeping the transportation fund flat), plus $3.5 million in "corporate savings" for staff (e.g., a 2.5% "pay for performance" raise for all city employees rather than 3.5%) and $6.8 million in savings across city departments – where citizens are most apt to feel them.

What are those departmental cuts? A freeze on 24 vacancies with Parks & Recreation, which may mean "minimal slippage," according to Canally, on mowing and park cleanup. An EMS cadet academy isn't planned, while the fire academy will shrink. And, surprising nobody, branch libraries could close possibly one day a week – Ott and Canally noted the proposal came from Austin Public Library Director Brenda Branch herself, as part of a funds reallocation for hiring more security and janitorial and maintenance teams to keep libraries cleaner and safer. "Employees on a day-to-day basis feel unsafe," said Ott.

Sounds like a plan

And with 150 or so other items on the agenda, it's good they covered the budget a day earlier. Running down the list:

• Item 40 could indeed spell the end of the Renaissance Market Commission; absent a full board and quorum most meetings, the group has been marked for dissolution. While the commission recently adopted standard bylaws, it's uncertain whether that's enough to keep it intact or instead pass market licensing duties to city staff.

• Item 45, a consent item, would approve second and third readings of an update to the Austin Tomorrow Compre­hen­sive Plan, a master plan for the city adopted in 1979 – and not revised since.

• As promised, Item 86 from Mike Martinez puts the kibosh on the Mobile Loaves & Fishes Eastside housing center for the homeless. Martinez and Sheryl Cole are putting the program on hold for 12 months, lest hyperventilating neighbors hurl another round of spittle-flicked invective in their faces.

• Also from Cole comes Item 87, evaluating city procedure related to enormous Downtown events (like South by Southwest, we assume) as they relate to "public safety and nuisance issues." Does that mean a moratorium on Stunna-shade-sporting Los Angeles hipsters in March? If that's not a nuisance ...

• Cole keeps rolling, next with Item 88, a controversial change to Eastside zoning along East 11th and 12th streets. Some on the city's Urban Renewal Agency had been pushing for what the resolution calls "increased height limits and greater flexibility in permitted uses," yet at its meeting this week, the URA decided not to recommend it; adjacent neighborhood associations, some merchants, and the Victory Grill (which is worried about being swallowed up on either side by tall buildings) are concerned by the zoning changes.

• The 10:30am morning presentation is a Downtown Austin Plan Rail Analysis, while a 2pm briefing covers Austin Energy's Future Energy Resources and CO2 Cap & Reduction Planning.

• The 40-item zoning agenda would be painful any way you slice it, but Item 136, regarding the proposed Community Partnership for the Homeless project on Manor Road (likely headed for postponement), should twist the knife especially hard.

Randi, Laura – now's not the time to switch to decaf.  

We'll look a little different next time you see us – but don't you go changin' on us. Remember, it's not you; it's [email protected].

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