Council: From Energy Management to Domain Rezoning
After this meeting, we'll all need a drink
The highest profile issue on today's (Thursday) City Council agenda is Item 55: "Conduct a public hearing and consider an ordinance establishing revised electric rates and charges for Austin Energy customers." This is of course the culmination of months of council and citizen debate, as well as roughly a dozen public work sessions, over the proposed AE rate changes. Council came up with a tentative resolution during last week's work session, cutting back on AE's original revenue request and establishing a new customer "tier" system to graduate the rates according to customer usage. It achieved consensus that day, but it's not clear if that will carry over to today's meeting. Some public opposition to the latest proposal has already surfaced and, although they're running out of time, members might want more adjustments before confirming a decision on the rates.
A separate AE item, No. 38, would direct the city manager to review governance structures at other municipally owned utilities, with an eye toward potentially establishing a distinct board of governance (i.e., not the council) and possibly some representation for out-of-city customers. Sponsored by Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole and Council Members Bill Spelman and Chris Riley, the search is for a form of governance that would satisfy claims that a separate board would be less "political" (and more focused) than council, and also respond to nonresident charges that they've got no say in how their money is spent. It might smooth some feathers, but it's unlikely to stop a rate challenge at the Public Utility Commission of Texas.
If that all gets done, the next major order of business is regulating (or not) "short-term rentals" – the burgeoning small industry of renting out residential properties for short periods – and who should or should not be allowed to do so. As Josh Rosenblatt reports this week (see "STRs: Trying To Draw the Line"), the Planning Commission recommended splitting the baby between "owner-occupied" and "commercial" rentals, but city staff has not made that leap, recommending instead only registration and (for frequently rented properties) health and safety inspections. Plenty of neighborhood advocates are up in arms about this one, hoping to slow or stop commercial rentals altogether, while the commercial operators are resisting any change – and council gets to adjudicate that collision today. Much will depend on the nature and extent of testimony in the public hearing – the guess here is that today's discussion won't settle the matter.
Also worth noting on the agenda:
• Proposed major revisions to a redevelopment plan for the old Seaholm Power Plant, which, if approved, could pave the way for office space at the historic plant (Items 7, 8, 9, 10, and 14);
• The delayed discussion of expanded taxi permits, punted from last week's meeting and still only posted for first reading (Items 33 and 34);
• An ordinance revision that would strengthen reporting requirements on independent expenditures in council elections (Item 37);
• Changes to zoning categories on some specific parcels of land at the Domain, including relocating an acre of required open space (Items 50 and 51; normally these would raise some sand, but with everything else going on at this meeting, they might pass under the radar);
• And finally, two Speedy Shop Food Stores (Cameron Road and Oltorf) are requesting zoning waivers in order to sell liquor within 300 feet of public schools (Items 56 and 57).
Won't anybody think about the children? They get thirsty too.