City Hall Hustle: Last-Minute Shopping
Council agenda has stocking stuffers and gob-stoppers
Santa ain't the only one making a list: City Council is in a year-end hurry of its own.
Last week brought resolution to the Downtown Austin Plan, notably with Central Urban Redevelopment zoning evicted once and for all. An amendment by Council Member Bill Spelman allowing community benefit funding to be spent on more than affordable housing remained in place; ditto language from Council Member Chris Riley encouraging options other than a hard height limit to preserve historic character in the Warehouse District.
But looking at the items stuffed into council's stocking, lots of work remains: Here's what's coming to council this Thursday, Dec. 15, in its last meeting of the year:
Item 11: The latest volley in the fluoride fight, this resolution would approve recommendations from the Health and Human Services Department regarding fluoridation and call for their implementation. Unsurprisingly, the HHS recommends: "Continue to keep Austin water fluoridated because fluoridation of public drinking waters is good, population based public health practice according to the Centers for Disease Control and the City's Health and Human Services Department." However, in a nod to recent studies recommending unfluoridated water for infants, the resolution also calls for making info about fluoride and infants available online, at WIC sites, and in Austin Water mailers.
Item 19, a piece of unfinished business from last meeting: third and final reading on a city park smoking ban. Council declined to pass the item on all three reads last week thanks to the unresolved issue of permitting smoking on golf courses. Mayor Lee Leffingwell was opposed on financial grounds, saying public courses are "basically on life-support as it is," and a ban might drive away remaining players. But Laura Morrison and Kathie Tovo offered stats showing the attendance at courses has risen since the passage of Austin's burn ban – a de facto smoking ban – as evidence the two don't necessarily correlate. Spelman tried to split the difference in a conversation with PARD Director Sarah Hensley, trying to design a third way whereby smoking would be allowable in certain instances. Mike Martinez ran with the suggestion, proposing that smoking only be allowed during an actual round of golf. But that proposition, and Morrison's attempts to shrink a likely little-used loophole allowing smoking by actors being filmed in projects on parkland, created plenty of potentially questionable legal definitions. Better, as Tovo proposed, to pass the ban on first and second reading and iron out the kinks in the interim.
Item 47: Adoption of the Austin Resource Recovery (that is, the department formerly known as Solid Waste Services) Master Plan. Somewhat hilariously, much of the interest in the 300-page document delineating the city's zero-waste goals has centered on whether to switch on the Dispose-Alls; the related Item 57 would, among other initiatives, implement a "pilot program to assess the efficiency of food waste disposers in diverting the organics from landfills." Essentially, disposal maker InSinkErator has pitched the efficacy of its products in attaining the city's zero-waste goals (see "City Chews on Food Scraps," Nov. 4), but staff remains highly doubtful, calling sink disposal the opposite of resource-recovery.
Item 53, from Spelman and Tovo, wades into the status of "ex officio" members of city boards – and whether they can vote. The City Charter allows the chair of the Board of Adjustment to serve on the Planning Commission, but no one deigned to do so until current board chair and neighborhood activist Jeff Jack recently started sitting in on Planning Commission meetings. Item 53 states ex officios "may participate at board meetings, but may not vote or bring a motion." However ...
Item 54, from Spelman and Sheryl Cole, would "authorize the Board of Adjustment [i.e., Jack] and AISD chairs to participate as voting ex officio members of the Planning Commission and to authorize non-voting participation by all other ex officio members of city boards and commissions." Looks like the dais will be serving freshly made sausage.
Item 65: Martinez, Morrison, and Tovo hail a cab. Citing peak demand straining Austin's 675 taxis, this item would issue 50 new permits to Lone Star Cab and 25 to Austin Cab. More intriguingly, it asks the city manager and stakeholders "to develop a feasible proposal for implementing legacy permits" by February – a system akin to the "medallion" system in cities like New York, whereby individual drivers retain a portable permit they hold themselves instead of Austin's current system, under which drivers are in thrall to companies that retain the permits.
Item 92: And if council's plate wasn't full enough, this Law Department item was added to "discuss potential impact of recent developments in the state and congressional election calendar on the city's 2012 election schedule" – that is, the clusterbomb the Supreme Court dropped on Texas in staying redrawn congressional election maps. The item could potentially reignite the recent council vote to retain city elections in May instead of moving them to November.
That is, no Silent Night here ... at least not yet.
Ho ho ho: There's lots more agenda preview online at austinchronicle.com/newsdesk.