Tovo Takes Up (White) Lodging

Place 3 action on convention center hotel, social service funding

Formula One wasn't the only issue facing Kathie Tovo at her first meeting: A development deal with hotel builders White Lodging came before council at its special called meeting this Wednesday, June 29, having already created fault lines on the council.

The item grants White Lodging $3.8 million in fee waivers and $500,000 in assistance with relocating a wastewater line in order to build a convention hotel on Congress Avenue where Las Manitas used to stand. Initially posted to council's June 23 agenda, it was postponed following semiheated discussion at council's work session on June 21. Council Member Mike Martinez, one of the item's co-sponsors (along with Lee Leffing­well and Bill Spelman), argued: "We're talking about a one-time fee waiver of a little more than $4 million, a one-time fee waiver for a lifetime of benefit. Hundreds of millions of dollars. Not just a one-time hit." However, Council Member Laura Morrison said she was "very concerned about the timing on this. I understand that intuitively it seems to make sense. But I feel like we have a responsibility to the public to get these numbers out there, to allow people to take a look at them." Saying she would feel more comfortable with additional time for herself and others to review the agreement, she said she would move to postpone the item to this week's special called meeting.

The item passed 5-2, with Laura Morrison and Tovo the only dissenters. Tovo described the fee waivers as "income we're forgoing, and that's a very important consideration right now," raising the specter of budget-trimming pool and park closures. Item co-sponsor Spelman said that was precisely why he supported the item – that increased tax and convention revenue could be funneled back to community benefits.

As Tovo begins making her mark in Place 3, predecessor Randi Shade made progress on an issue that defined her time on council: At her final meeting last week, council approved execution of new funding agreements for social service agencies, an overhaul of which hadn't been executed in more than a decade.

As chair of council's Public Health and Human Services Committee, Shade was deeply involved in overhauling city funding for nonprofit agencies – and also the city's controversial decision to continue funding for only 23 agencies out of the 51 currently funded, leaving high-profile providers like Capital IDEA wanting for city funding. (See "City Hall Hustle," May 13.)

Council's compromise, passed last week, was to create a 70% starting point for agency funding that could be increased or further decreased according to need. With additional money freed up, city staff was able to earmark 15 additional agencies for funding. The resolution also called for additional funding outside the existing set of contracts, including partnerships with agencies such as Austin Travis County Integral Care. The new contracts are set to go into effect in April. "It has been a very hard process, and one that I have been glad to be involved with, and [I'm] sorry I can't see it through," said Shade.

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White Lodging, Kathie Tovo, Randi Shade

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