City Hall Hustle: Still a City to Run

Election hangover keeping you awake? Just read this agenda ... zzzz.

You can sum up the Hustle's pre-election mind-frame in one word: Aarrgghh!

The long and winding early-voting lines! The flipping touch-screen machines! Aside from making anxious lefties reach for the Maalox, pictures of the national referendum really make you appreciate the job our own Travis County Elections team does here, ballot-box sleepovers or not. But it's still no soothing balm in the anxious run-up to the election.

But as these words will be read Thursday – long after the ink's dried on reports of our historic occasion – there's the day job to get back to. But somehow, the municipal universe of fee waivers, consent agendas, and economic growth and redevelopment services doesn't quite hold the same allure. Seriously, who's champing at the bit for this week's 2pm briefing on "construction-phase erosion and sedimentation controls, inspection of water quality ponds, and enforcement of maintenance requirements"? Bill Bunch?

Fittingly, the council action generating the most talk isn't even on the agenda this week. As the driving force behind the Public Safety Task Force, Council Member Mike Martinez is carrying to council a task force resolution exploring a ban on cell-phone texting while driving.

Citing a study that finds "an estimated 20 percent of drivers are sending or receiving text messages while behind the wheel; and ... that percentage doubles to 40 percent for drivers 16-30 years of age," the resolution "recommends that the City Council consider banning the practice of texting while driving and convene a group of stakeholders, City staff and industry experts to examine the use of hand-held mobile devices while driving and provide recommendations." Expect a chorus of "LOLs," "OMGs," and "WTFs" once council convenes the crew, occurring at a future, unspecified meeting.

The big news actually on the agenda this week would have been selection of the architectural team that will build the new central library Downtown, on the Green Water Treatment Plant site (Item 14) – except that it's now been postponed to Nov. 20. Nevertheless, the original agenda may have tipped council's hand, as it notes that the team of Barnes Gromatzky Kosarek Architects and Taniguchi with Holzman Moss, a joint venture, landed the city staff's recommendation. (As we reported last week, they're the team behind the Palmer Events Center and the Texas School for the Deaf, among other projects.)

Still on the agenda, several items of note from council: After a protracted, heated, and often misleading public debate, the council's finally acting on energy efficiency measures for homes. Item 47 from Will Wynn provides for an energy audit of homes, requiring the owner to perform the audit before the sale. An accompanying resolution (Item 48) sets higher standards for energy efficiency for future sales. Still on the home front, Item 49 from Martinez and company directs the city to identify property it owns that's well suited for affordable housing and "notify non-profit and for profit residential developers of the availability of General Obligation Affordable Housing Bond proceeds" with which to build. (Remember the $55 million in bonds we passed in 2006?) Lastly, an item from Brewster McCracken (Item 50) extends the period during which city-approved site plans are valid to five years, a move necessitated by "difficulties securing credit under the current conditions in world financial markets, as well as the amount of City staff time required to process site plan extensions." To developers, which one's more of a headache?

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City Council, elections, texting, Public Safety, Mike Martinez, Will Wynn, Brewster McCracken

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