City Hall Hustle: Choose Your Battleground

From zoning to parking to water, the new council's got its contentious hands full

City Council's back, and while I know you're all breathlessly waiting for the Hustle to chime in on this week's purchasing office contracts, given the breadth of this post-hiatus, post-Randi Shade 137-item agenda, let's focus on the big matters, shall we? For my money, that's numbers 104 through 112, the "Item(s) from Council" posted by specific members.

Here we go:

Item 104: Council appointments to boards and commissions. Usually a pro forma affair, this batch should prove more interesting as many posts are up for appointment, with terms tied to council members' elections. Kathie Tovo's action on the Public Safety Commission and her Planning Commission appointments have already inspired chatter, so there will certainly be some surprises in store.

Item 105: This resolution concerns changes to the city's tax abatement program for historically designated properties. As we wrote last week ("City Hall Hustle: Feeding the Meter," July 22), the measure would cap tax exemptions for owner-occupied historic homes at $2,500, while upping the ante on application criteria and enforcement. Related is Item 122, an executive session discussion between council and attorneys regarding the lawsuit brought against the city regarding the practice.

Item 106: A measure from Bill Spelman, Laura Morrison, and Chris Riley, would require that in third-party agreements, where city work is subbed-out to a subcontractor, companies provide a 10-hour Occupational Safety and Health Administration safety class for workers and a 30-hour OSHA safety class for supervisors.

Item 107: We delved into this doozy last week, the item from Morrison and Tovo that would postpone the extension of paid parking hours Downtown while the city "conduct[s] a public process to allow stakeholders the opportunity to provide input and express concerns regarding extended parking meter hours in this area." (Is that just concern or are expressions of support also allowed? Speaking of support, this item still only enjoys the sponsorship of Morrison and Tovo.)

Item 108: From Sheryl Cole, Riley, and Spelman, this item would seek to make it easier to open short-term, "pop-up" stores Downtown. Lamenting that Downtown "is currently facing an abundance of street level storefronts and a shortage of retailers interested in renting them," the item states that "special events such as South by Southwest ... have shown that there is a strong demand for temporary retail space in our central business district." The item calls for City Manager Marc Ott to initiate code amendments "to allow for temporary retail use and short-term certificates of occupancy in the central business district," with recommendations to come no later than Nov. 3.

Item 109: Drafted in response to the recent wildfire in Oak Hill, this item from Mike Martinez, Lee Leffingwell, and Morrison calls for an amendment to the Fire Code prohibiting open-flame cooking outside of designated areas in apartment complexes and multifamily units "when environmental conditions exist that represent a high risk of wildfires" – e.g., our current drought.

Item 110: The agenda's big (water) guns: An item from Spelman, Riley, and Morrison re-opening the floodgate of controversy that is Water Treatment Plant No. 4. With a preamble addressing Austin's drought and the importance of conservation, Item 110 calls for Marc Ott "to determine the approximate costs associated with postponing completion of Water Treatment Plant No. 4 for five years and for 10 years, relative to the costs of on-time completion." Moreover, it also directs Ott "to immediately halt issuance of Notices to Proceed on any construction aspect of Water Treatment Plant 4 until directed otherwise by the City Council." Ott's figure "shall be estimated to at least the nearest $5 million, and shall be provided to the City Council and the public by close of business, August 11, 2011."

Despite Tovo's lack of involvement with the resolution, it's impossible to separate the item from the politics surrounding the new-look council; her election tips plant opposition (on principle, at least) from 3-4 to 4-3. But it's also impossible to separate any WTP4 pyrotechnics from next year's mayoral election – and the Hustle's unsure whether those wading back into the issue would rather take WTP4 off the table or offline completely. This one's gonna be fun.

Item 111: The sort of innocuous item that's the domain of Items from Council in simpler times, this would waive fees and requirements for the Austin CommUNITY Fest Wellness Clinic and Kindness Give-away, scheduled Aug. 6 at Kealing Middle School. (What, they couldn't wedge puppies and kittens in there too?)

Item 112: Similarly, an item that would waive fees for the second annual Night of the Bat, Aug. 27, on the Congress Avenue Bridge. An initiative from the mayor's office, it's a fitting farewell to Leffingwell's departing, DC Comics-addled chief of staff Mark Nathan.

The Hustle's tweeting by the numbers @CityHallHustle.

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City Council, extended parking, Water Treatment Plant No. 4, Kathie Tovo, historical properties

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