Council: Task Lists and Wish Lists

On the agenda: Green Water Treatment Plant, Seaholm, urban rail and Austin Pets Alive!

This schematic shows the current proposal by the city's Transportation Department for an urban rail system, including where it would intersect with other transit modes – bus rapid transit, commuter rail, regional rail. The initial phase would run from the Mueller Neighborhood to the Convention Center.
This schematic shows the current proposal by the city's Transportation Department for an urban rail system, including where it would intersect with other transit modes – bus rapid transit, commuter rail, regional rail. The initial phase would run from the Mueller Neighborhood to the Convention Center.

City Council gets back to full-time public work with a vengeance today (Thursday), with a 145-item agenda that was still accumulating late last week. Much of that (some 75 items) is listed under the "Consent" category – it's likely that at least some of that list will engender debate on and off the dais, so the scheduled early evening adjournment looks, well, optimistic. Here are just a few of the items that may raise some miscellaneous sand:

Item 12: Would authorize City Manager Marc Ott to execute the Master Development Agreement with Trammell Crow's subsidiary to redevelop the site of the former Green Water Treatment Plant. That discussion was delayed until this meeting after the tentative agreement went sideways over the developer's resistance to certain affordable housing guarantees, and the Workers' Defense Project has scheduled an early evening rally in support of labor wage and safety guarantees. Don't expect this one to get resolved in the morning; Tuesday's work session pulled it to an early evening discussion.

Item 22 takes up the pending Austin Pets Alive! lease on the former Town Lake Ani­mal Center; there's been considerable buzz that APA has bitten off more wild fauna than it can swallow in Austin, San Antonio, and elsewhere, but thus far, the council seems unperturbed.

Item 25 would designate certain historic properties for the benefit of tax exemptions (city and schools); this one's always simmering.

Items 73 and 74 consider taxicab franchises, renewing both Yellow Cab and Lone Star Cab – but on first reading only, which generally means somebody (e.g., the drivers' union) thinks it's a bad idea.

Items 78 and 79 would enact via ordinance two more changes in city campaign finance reporting recommended by the Charter Revision Committee: the first regarding late contributions, the second, better reporting of independent expenditures (does that include illegal signs?).

Speaking of committees, Item 92 (sponsored by Mike Martinez, Laura Morri­son, Kathie Tovo), growing out of the recent campaign debates over Apple, would create one to consider uniform contract terms for economic development (incentive) programs, as was done after the 2005 Samsung incentives debate and the 2007 Domain incentives debate – good luck with that.

That all comes (in theory) before the 10:30am morning briefings: first something from the Leadership Committee on Per­ma­nent Supportive Housing Finance, and then Travis County presenting the proposed "tri-party agreement between the county, the city, and TXI (concerning TXI's gravel mining in Eastern Travis).

There are 14 zoning hearings scheduled for 2pm; if council survives that minefield, the 13 public hearings that follow include adoption of the Imagine Austin Compre­hensive Plan (135), the return of flag lots! (139), and potential revision of the ordinance governing short-term rentals (140). Something's gotta give – and has: at Tuesday's work session, the Comp Plan discussion was moved to the evening.

And if that's not a sufficiently tart agenda, under the No Comment Department, the 5:30pm live music moment features The Sour Notes.

And the Invoices ...

Amid all that detail, the regular meeting agenda is only part of the tale this week. Also looming are budget and bond discussions, the latter nearing the dais because the Citizens Bond Advisory Committee just came up with a possible $575 million package, to be followed shortly by a $400 million version. Council is likely to be more receptive to the lower number, not only because it won't necessitate a tax bite (just rolling over ongoing obligations), but because also under discussion is a potential urban rail bond proposal – if they can sell it to voters by fall (work sessions began Tuesday, May 22, with another on financing scheduled for May 29).

As described in a Transportation Depart­ment memo that went to council last week, the urban rail plan would run from the Mueller neighborhood on the near north to Bergstrom airport in the south­east, with circulators Downtown and at the Capitol complex and UT. Under the slogan, "Think regionally, invest locally," the system is conceived to link light rail with bus rapid transit, commuter rail, and regional rail (e.g., Round Rock to San Antonio). It makes for colorful diagrams reminiscent of real city mass transit systems (see illo); whether it can be financed and accomplished in the life span of most Austinites is another matter. The memo submitted by Transportation Director Robert Spillar contemplates a phased construction, beginning with a "core" from Mueller to Lady Bird Lake, with phase two running along Riverside to ABIA.

How to pay for it? Yet to be determined, but the mix could include bonds, transit fares, federal grants, etc. The initial rail bond piece may depend on how much we need to spend on other things this Novem­ber: the bond advisory committee is chopping the $400,000 version into these proportions: affordable housing, 19%; city facilities (e.g., public safety), 17%; parks and open space, 28%; transportation/mobility (multi-modal), 35%, with a pittance left over for "community-based projects" (that is, stuff that didn't make the initial $1.4 billion official wish list but that some folks still want to add). Look at it this way: It's more fun than balancing your own checkbook.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

City Council, Green Water Treatment Center, urban rail project, Seaholm Project

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