City Hall Hustle: In the Shadow of Sanders ...
Council facing less dramatic agenda this week
Michael King tackles the Sanders settlement fallout the next page over, in words assuredly more eloquent and measured than the Hustle could manage (see "Point Austin"). Council's next budget work session is scheduled for Aug. 18, and the members' musings on the General Fund should bear out what they like (and dislike) in City Manager Marc Ott's financial proposals. The bond vote returns this week at the Thursday, Aug. 5, meeting, at which council should set ballot language for a November election. While the Hustle – if not the city – is having a hard time shaking off the settlement drama, this week's workmanlike agenda is free of five-alarm controversy.
That's not to say the Sanders pall won't hang over the meeting. A procession of items all pertain to the single element of the shooting that brought any punishment to shooter Leonardo Quintana – his failure to turn on his patrol camera. Items 6, 13, 14, 20, 21, and 22 – combined – mark "Phase 1" of the department's shift to, in agenda parlance, "a fully-integrated, solid state system for digital video and audio capture, storage, transfer, and video management and the archival of recorded files on high capacity secure digital memory cards or solid state hard drives." This first phase rollout is for 43 patrol cars, followed by a gradual encompassing of more cars and motorcycles. It isn't cheap: The main contract is $3.5 million, plus additional money in the form of new staff positions, data transfer and storage costs, and more; the total project cost of all the installations is estimated at $15 million. (Kinda puts that $750,000 settlement figure into perspective, doesn't it?)
There's another familiar headline grabber making its council return: an item inking a one-year contract with Texas Disposal Systems for short-term recycling services (read: before a local materials recovery facility is built), with two optional six-month extensions (Item 25). Hall watchers may remember TDS' displeasure at being shut out of the bidding for the MRF after it was ruled the company had violated anti-lobbying provisions in attacking current contractor Greenstar's MRF proposal; council subsequently rejected the bidders that applied for the MRF contract, directing the city manager to negotiate only with TDS and Balcones Resources.
While Item 25 doesn't have bearing on who will ultimately win the MRF contract, TDS' triumph over Greenstar for short-term services, starting Oct. 1, certainly won't hurt its chances. The contract requires a "living wage" of $11 an hour for employees and guarantees the city 80% of recyclables revenue, minus a per-ton "tipping" fee. However, the agenda backup material notes, "Although the contract is revenue generating for the City, because the revenue is market based there is the potential, although unlikely, that the City would incur costs," much like what happened with Greenstar.
The rest of the agenda is made up of the kind of neighborhood zoning and development issues that are the meat and potatoes of any council agenda. The most prominent may be a public hearing and possible council action on a city code amendment limiting the number of tax-abating historic property designations to three per month (Item 50). Several recommendations to the original proposal have emerged from myriad boards and commissions: For example, the Historic Landmark Commission doesn't want HLC-initiated cases to fall into the three-per-month limit, while the Planning Commission recommends that any unused slots in the monthly allotment roll over to the next month, until the end of the year. It should be interesting to see how council reacts to the proposals – endorsed by the Heritage Society, along with some of its own suggestions – and whether they defeat the abatement-capping intent of the measure.
The Planning Commission returns to the forefront in an item from Chris Riley and Laura Morrison calling for an expedited public input process in developing compatibility standards and density bonuses with respect to implementing the East Riverside Corridor Master Plan (Item 29). The boards and commissions process is slated to be similarly truncated, with input limited to the Planning Commission, which is a matter for concern considering that when they broached the subject earlier this year, the PC reaffirmed the importance of neighborhood-placating compatibility standards over density – the prime requirement along Riverside if it's ever to become a main arterial for urban rail. (See "City Hall Hustle," Feb. 26.)
In other urbanist happenings, Item 28, from Riley, Randi Shade, and Sheryl Cole, requires that vacation of Downtown alleys (to ensure room for construction activity) first be reviewed by the Design Commission and the Downtown Commission. Riley goes all Edwin Waller on us, stating that aside from adding connectivity, "many cities are reclaiming their alleys and utilizing them for housing, recreational opportunities, pedestrian and biking connections, enhanced water quality, greenways, and redevelopment opportunities that contribute to thriving pedestrian centers."
It remains to be seen if, after last week, council can reclaim its own conversation.
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