City Counseling: Sprinting to a Compromise

Council and joggers 'give a little bit' on street closures

City Council is used to marathon sessions, but this is ridiculous: At the council's recent April 30 meeting, joggers crammed into chambers to witness final approval of new rules related to street closures. The results seemed a compromise between runners and the neighborhoods they use for marathons. Among the changes: Neighborhood associations and/or large groups of residents are granted veto power over events that could directly affect them. Neighbors could also challenge fee waivers for events, which the council has routinely granted to marathons (at least under jogger-in-chief Will Wynn's reign); these disputes would be addressed by the Urban Transportation Commission. Also, council okayed "stationary events" along Cesar Chavez, as long as other major east-west thoroughfares are open. Council Member Laura Morrison made a friendly amendment, delaying city-staff-drafted changes relating to health and public-safety requirements until council has the chance to sign off on them. "We are a fit city, and we certainly don't want to do anything to discourage or diminish that," said Lee Leffingwell, moving to pass the ordinance, "but at the same time, we had a very significant problem to not only access Downtown but adjacent neighborhoods. So what I think we have here is a solution that addresses all of those concerns. Everybody had to give a little bit."

Also at the last council meeting, the massive, 2,300-acre Carma development proposed in southeast Travis County hit a major roadblock, as council unanimously opposed state legislation that would've pushed it along. Pending bills would create five special development districts similar to a municipal utility district, a political subdivision which provides water, wastewater, and other utilities to unincorporated areas. As council has clashed with MUDs in the past, it opposed the bills largely on grounds they would usurp too much city control. (Voicing her doubts to In Fact Daily last week, Morrison called the proposal "a super MUD on steroids.") After sounding their opposition to the development districts, however, council members made clear they will revisit the issue at the next meeting by drafting an item spelling out a mutually agreeable way to move forward. "This council wants Carma to come to Austin, Texas," said Mike Martinez.

Free Association

Council also signed off on a $58.5 million contract with IBM to provide high tech smart-grid-compatible software and billing for Austin Energy; tech-firm Oracle will write the code. Responding to a citizen concern that the project isn't being done locally, purchasing officer Byron Johnson said $12 million will "go through local firms."... Additionally, council approved (on first reading only; two more to come) the staff-drafted waterfront overlay ordinance establishing a Waterfront Planning Advisory Board, and reinstating height limits along Lady Bird Lake (except for large-scale PUDs and PDA projects)... City Manager Marc Ott received sterling accolades from council after his performance review but, due to the city's financial crunch, will stay at the same salary, about $240,000 a year... Council's off this week, set to return May 14. As if anything could get done in the lead up to election day.

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City Council, road closures, Austin Energy, Carma

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