• City Council returns to the dais today (Thursday, Dec. 8) for what looks like final amendments and adoption of the Downtown Austin Plan – even though there's some disagreement over making developers pay for denser zoning (see "City Hall Hustle"). The final meeting of the year is Dec. 15.
• Brigid Shea, who told the Chronicle last week she was considering a run against Mayor Lee Leffingwell this spring, took another step in that direction, filing paperwork naming Danette Chimenti as her campaign treasurer. Chimenti is a current Planning Commission member and active in neighborhood association politics. Also filing for a City Council run is Laura Pressley, an entrepreneur affiliated with council agitators Texans for Accountable Government and Fluoride Free Austin.
• City Council's Audit and Finance Committee considered the quandary posed by "ex-officio" membership on the Planning Commission this week. The City Charter allows the chair of the Board of Adjustment to serve on the Planning Commission – one of few citizen boards that make sovereign decisions instead of recommendations to City Council. No one took the charter up on its offer until current board Chair Jeff Jack recently started sitting on the Planning Commission. No decision was made this week if Jack could vote, but staff seems to be leaning against giving ex-officios a vote.
• Austin's inaugural Grand Prix is on for 2012 after all, after an eleventh-hour deal was struck between Formula One and the Circuit of the Americas. After all parties resolved their financial difficulties, the FIA World Motor Sport Council announced Dec. 7 that the U.S. Grand Prix will take place Nov. 18, 2012 (see "Formula One Back in Play."
• Austin ISD Superintendent Meria Carstarphen has dropped the bombshell of her first annual facilities recommendations, prior to a Dec. 12 board vote. The response to most of her proposals – including turning Webb Middle School into a pre-K through eighth grade center – has been frosty, and trustees are split on her biggest request: turning over the Eastside Memorial Vertical Team to IDEA Public Schools as an in-district charter (see "Uncontrolled Experiments").
• The Sierra Club, Greenpeace, and other activist groups kicked off a "Beyond Coal" campaign this week with a series of events aimed at spotlighting the impact of mercury pollution in Texas – home to six of the 10 most polluting coal plants in the nation, according to new reports. TXU-Luminant's Big Brown plant near Mount Pleasant topped the list. The campaign also seeks to wean the city off of coal by 2020.
• A site plan for a luxury convention center hotel on Congress Avenue was expected to be filed with the city Wednesday, with $4.3 million in development fees already waived by City Council. A high-end JW Marriott will fill the spot once occupied by Las Manitas; White Lodging Services Corp. is set to break ground in early summer.