The Austin Chronicle

Beside the Point: We Love Us!

Just ask anybody – Austinites approve of Austin

By Michael King, November 18, 2011, News

As anyone who's attended a local film festival can tell you, Austinites cheer at any cinematic acknowledgment of our existence. Turns out we also tell telephone surveyors just how splendiferous it is to live here, in the vein of the annual revivals of Greater Tuna.

At least, that was the message delivered Nov. 10 to City Council in the form of 2011 community survey findings presented by Kansas-based consultants ETC Institute. Accord­ing to COO Chris Tatham, ETC's annual survey (which the company also performed the last two years) found that among 13 cities with populations larger than 500,000 (among them Dallas, Fort Worth, San Francisco, and New York) Austin ranks No. 1 in citizen satisfaction, with a bullet – the ratings are trending better over the past three years. Tatham was introduced by Budget Officer Ed Van Eenoo, who called attention to Austinites' praise for the city's quality of life and the delivery of city services. "So when we talk about things like Austin being the most livable city in the nation, or the best-managed city in the nation," Van Eenoo said, "those words are not just bravado."

The survey of 1,339 residents across the city (a "good representation by age, income, race/ethnicity") reflects that residents "generally have a positive perception" of the city; satisfaction is "generally the same throughout the city" and overall "higher than the national average." That response to city services has mostly improved over the last three years, during a period of budget cutbacks. In detail, the survey reflects the highest satisfaction with the airport (88% either satisfied or very satisfied) and public safety (80%), and the lowest with street and sidewalks (48%) and planning/permitting (40%). In all, Van Eenoo noted, the survey reflects a public "satisfied or very satisfied" (69%) with the "customer service" it gets from the city, "a whopping 26% above national norms" – as Tatham echoed in his headline finding: the "overall satisfaction rating" for Austin is 65%, vs. an average of 42% for those other 12 miserable urban wastelands.

Ain't we grand? (For the record, those positive findings were not reflected in the content of Thursday's Citizens Communication.)

While welcoming the survey's results, council members expressed skepticism about how thoroughly it reflects the overall conditions of life in Austin, with Mike Martin­ez noting that it doesn't address social justice issues like poverty or health care, to which staff replied that they use "other metrics" – such as the Community Action Net­work's "dashboard survey" of local conditions – for those broader standards. City Manager Marc Ott took the opportunity to congratulate city staff on its excellent "report card."

The other big briefing of the day was on the Austin Resource Recovery Master Plan, delivered by ARR Director Bob Ged­ert, who emphasized the department's drive toward "zero waste" by 2040 (currently 38% is diverted) through four "keystone initiatives": materials management, expanded recycling, organics collection and composting, and economic development (e.g., remarketing). One major factoid: The city services only 25% of the city's overall "resource" stream – meaning larger progress depends on influencing the commercial contractors who handle the other 75%. A minor controversy concerns whether the city should partner with InSinkErator for potential disposal projects involving apartment complexes; despite the department's official skepticism (see "City Chews on Food Scraps," Nov. 4), Gedert deferred to Bill Spelman's encouragement that the city "pilot" a project.

Meanwhile ...

Some of the most hotly contested issues arose almost offstage. This was the meeting designated for a contract between the city and Austin Pets Alive! for interim operation of the Town Lake Animal Shel­ter (as an adoption site) as the shelter moved to its new Levander Loop location on Saturday. That didn't quite happen; but at press time Wednesday, a deal was expected soon.

Also delayed was the much-anticipated second and third readings of the Downtown Austin Plan, with or without the controversial Central Urban Redevelopment zoning.

Although folks packed the house at 10am over the much-debated question of who should run the new boathouse on Lady Bird Lake – the nonprofit Austin Row­ing Club or the for-profit Texas Rowing Center – the matter was delayed until nearly 9pm. Council's decision was an anticlimax, since TRC had been disqualified for a violation of the no-lobby rule, but the ARC folks still laid out their case at length (with a brief rebuttal from TRC), and council (after a confounding suggestion by Kathie Tovo that the more subcontractors, the merrier) voted unanimously that staff negotiate the ARC contract. If nothing else, the rowers confirmed their redoubtable stamina.

Finally, approved on first reading – pending further adjustments – were the zoning amendments for the Grand Hotel at Wal­ler Creek (Red River & Cesar Chavez), the next expected addition to Downtown's accumulating Convention Center hotels.

Council is off until Dec. 8 (with a Dec. 6 work session), when the hotel and the Down­town Austin Plan are expected to return.

Barring an unanticipated honeymoon injury, City Hall Hustle will return to this space next week. Meanwhile, follow @PointAustin on Twitter.

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