City Hall Hustle: Summer Not-so-Blockbusters

When the council's away, commissioners must play

"In a world where big city politicians vacation all summer ..."

The above should be read in that unmistakable, ominous movie announcer voice. Because before the Hustle goes any further, let me credit this column to the current Twitter hashtag #dullmovies, which tags posts of imaginary voiceovers or taglines for movies that should never be made. (Here's one from Tweeter colestratton: "Two guys. One girl. Lots of Highway. 'Commute: The Motion Picture.'")

Certainly, every flick can't be a megaplex blockbuster, but with the City Council on hiatus, it's fallen to the city's multivaried boards and commissions to mint the summer sleeper hits. Or to put it another way:

"Now it's up to a ragtag band of volunteers to steer the city. They're taking care of business – and taking out the trash."

Recycling, actually. The Solid Waste Advisory Commission has been a methane flame of activity in recent months (see our earlier reporting on the shunting-aside of Solid Waste Services Director Willie Rhodes, a continued push for a city-run materials recycling facility, a controversial contract that bills the city for recycling, and a department study slated to cost more than the city's comprehensive plan). Last week, commissioners returned with another big-ticket item: attempting to close the loophole that prevents smaller apartment complexes and offices from offering on-site recycling. Under the current rules, only apartments, businesses, or offices with 100 or more units or employees are required to offer it. "If we're gonna have any hope of getting anywhere close to zero waste in 30 years, we have to dramatically reduce the amount of waste from apartment buildings, condo buildings, office buildings," says Rick Cofer, SWAC vice chair.

At SWAC's last meeting, Cofer was named to lead the new Recycling Ordinance Reform Committee, which wants to close the loophole. "It's been in the back of everyone's minds for a while," says Cofer, pointing to a 2007 task force that studied the problem and recommended broader recycling guidelines; in 2008, then-director Rhodes canned the idea, opining it shouldn't happen until "all task force members and newly impacted stakeholders are in agreement." Now, Cofer said, "there's some folks who would like to delay this some more, until there's a [SWS] master plan and a new director," but, he continued, "we can start working on this ordinance because we all know what the problems are." The first steps are identifying the stakeholders – reluctant groups like the Building Owners and Management Association and other real estate interests but also, according to Cofer, "enviros, zero-wasters, Liveable City," and more. "It's got to come out of someone's pocket," he concedes about potential cost, but it's "really in the long-term environmental and economic interest of the city to recycle more and waste less." He's hoping for the first meeting in 30 to 60 days.

"But when someone pulls the plug ..."

That was the issue at the Board of Adjustment meeting this week, where Shady Grove was set to request a variance as part of its efforts to switch from restaurant to cocktail-lounge zoning, thereby allowing an 85-decibel limit for outdoor music instead of the current 70 decibels. But then the plug got pulled on that, too – by the Grove's representative, Paul Linehan, president of Land Strategies Inc. Linehan requested a postponement for additional time to pore over the details (likely parking-related – nightclubs require 50% more parking than restaurants) and to work with the Zilker Neighborhood Association. "We're trying to make a win-win out of it," he says.

The postponement delays the Grove's hearing until Aug. 10. If anyone's still doubting the trouble restaurants can have in rezoning – or the overwrought rhetoric against music on Barton Springs – then a trip to should disabuse you. There, you'll find a Zilker-area flier warning of "6th STREET BARS COMING TO YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD SOON," and "more parking in our neighborhoods, more traffic, and more drunks."

"... will it send everything down the drain?"

Obviously, with council gone, a lot is winding through boards and commissions. But failing a proactive council approach, the system could be heading for a Roland Emmerich-style apocalypse. A 2007 reorganization of the B&C system – which has been amended and revised 11 times – now states an appointee's tenure is tied to the appointing council member's; when it's up, so is yours. (Some boards, the terms of which are spelled out in law or the city charter, are exempt; for example, Planning Commission members serve two-year terms.) So between the new rules and the slate of newly inaugurated council members, out of the 412 B&C positions at the city, 244 have terms that are expiring or are unfilled "at this moment," according to B&C coordinator Candy Hinkle. Against that backdrop, council needs to spend the next few weeks at B&C central casting – or the whole production could shut down.

The Hustle's ready for his close-up:

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City Council, Boards and Commissions, Solid Waste, Shady Grove

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