The Austin Chronicle

City Hall Hustle: The Hangover

Recycling, homeless housing, and spandex – cure for a migraine?

By Wells Dunbar, March 26, 2010, News

The Hustle forswore strong drink some five years ago, but even without the hooch, his 10-day slog through South by Southwest had him awaking successively more groggy-headed each morning. So much music, so many panels, so many pizzas consumed in the crowded darkness of the Alamo Drafthouse.

City Council members must be finding themselves in a similar predicament. Following a spring break during which they either flung themselves full force into the Fest (see celluloid fangirl Laura Morrison, who it's rumored moonlights as a SXSW Film screener) or went packing to other destinations (Mike Martinez, seen obsessively documenting his family vacation to D.C. on Facebook), they return to a council agenda this Thursday, March 25, as temple-throbbing as a freshman rush hangover.

First and foremost, a headache kilos of BC powder couldn't cure: the agonizingly protracted contract extension for Austin's single-stream recycler (Item 44). As should be familiar to followers of the blue-bin saga, the city is poised to extend its current contract with Greenstar North Amer­ica, which has handled the city's recycling stream since 2008. But as the city lacks a materials recovery facility (a center for sorting and expediting recyclables), Greenstar has trucked our stuff to San Antonio, a carbon-intensive practice members of the environmental community see as self-defeating. Indeed, the question of a MRF – who will operate it, when will one be online, and the like – has hung over the contract extension, with green-minded members of the Solid Waste Advisory Commission not wanting to see the city locked in to a long contract extension if options closer to home come down the pike.

While it initially made sense to let the Greenstar extension hang fire while the city got bids on a local MRF, the delay had the unintended effect of muddying both issues even further, as Greenstar and competitor Texas Disposal Systems were both accused of violating anti-lobbying conditions – namely, contacting the city – on their respective MRF bids. (TDS e-mailed the city urging council to reject Greenstar's extension, pending the MRF outcome, and Greenstar pointed the e-mail out as a potential violation.) While contact by Green­star has since been absolved, TDS' erratic behavior has continued: First, TDS bypassed the MRF application, instead submitting an omnibus amendment to its separate, existing disposal contract with the city, offering MRF services at what would be a substantial savings.

Then this Monday, March 22, TDS Chairman Bob Gregory e-mailed council, beginning, "Over the past two years, the City Manager has given us a glimpse of how far he and his staff are willing to go to gain control of and exploit everything related to solid waste, which the City does not now control," then going on to detail his financial objections to the contract extension. Gregory said he'll be on hand for the discussion today, which should add another bin-full of excitement – but on such a messy topic, we wouldn't be surprised if the real trash talk happens behind closed doors, in executive session.

Council should bring closure to another simmering issue, by providing direction on what to do with the roughly $13 million remaining from $55 million in affordable housing funds approved in the 2006 bond election (Item 53). A brawl was brewing over whether the funds should go to housing for the homeless or to first-time home ownership opportunities – the former won out, with the city manager "directed to give priority to funding for permanent supportive housing that targets the most vulnerable populations, those residents with annual incomes at or below 30 percent [of median family income]." It appears council was galvanized by a report from late February that Austin needs an additional 1,900 units of permanent supportive housing in the next decade, with at least 350 units required in the next four years, as the council resolution specifically refers to that need. (See "Affordable Housing by the Numbers," March 5). Now that he has council direction, the city manager will unveil spending plans for the cash by October.

And lastly, we have to contend with Chris Riley in span­dex. The most cycling council member dons the most unforgiving of fabrics for a 5:30pm proclamation touting April 9 as "Wear Spandex to Work Day." No, it's not some Lady Gaga-inspired piece of performance art but a way to solicit donations for the April 24 Hill Country Ride for AIDS. As a press release tells it, "Anyone brave enough to wear spandex to work April 9 gets carte blanche to ask co-workers, customers, friends, and even strangers to donate to one of the United States' largest AIDS rides."

Riley has intimated he might not be the only council member sporting the stretchy stuff. As if the singular pain weren't bad enough ....

The Hustle has caught his second wind at

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