Council Notes: Funky Illuminations

On corporate influence, 24-hour hiking, and affordable housing

Item 51 from Chris Riley proposes a one-year pilot program allowing 24-hour hiking and biking on three greenbelts around town.
Item 51 from Chris Riley proposes a one-year pilot program allowing 24-hour hiking and biking on three greenbelts around town. (Photo by John Anderson)

City Council meets today (Thursday), and among the 99 items are several worth special notice. Austin Energy inaugurates performance-based solar energy incentives for nonprofits (Foundation Communities, Goodwill, Items 2-7), described last week by Amy Smith ("Then There's This," Jan. 10). If the sun keeps shining and the rain don't fall, there'll be plenty more where this came from – and all we'll have to do is figure out how to pay for it.

Also in an environmental vein is Council Member Chris Riley's proposal (Item 51) for a one-year pilot program waiving park curfews to allow 24-hour biking and hiking on certain trails (Butler, Shoal Creek, and Johnson Creek greenbelts). In previous discussions, there was some nervousness expressed concerning safety and consequent liability issues – the hope is a pilot will help determine whether such a program can fit into the in-progress Urban Trails Master Plan.

On a symbolic but potentially national level, CM Bill Spelman proposes (Item 53, seconded by Tovo and Morrison, and likely to pass by acclamation) formally supporting a constitutional amend­ment or other legislation aimed at overturning the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United that effectively allowed unlimited corporate (and other) campaign expenditures. The draft resolution would ensure that "money is not speech," and call on other jurisdictions to join the effort. Unlimited campaign money, argues the resolution, is "drowning out the voices of 'We the People'" and endangers democracy.

Somewhere between symbolic and eventually actionable are a couple of other proposals. Item 57 (Spelman) asks the city man­ag­er to figure out what the hell went wrong with traffic fatalities in 2012 (after declining for several years, fatal accidents jumped by 44% over 2011) and report back to Council in a few months on whether anything specific might be done. Item 61 (Sheryl Cole) would pursue whether to return to the voters for affordable housing bonds – the only bond initiative rejected in the November election. The proposal is co-sponsored by Spel­man and Riley, but other members have expressed skepticism over bringing back so quickly a rejected proposition. The draft resolution rests on the argument that the successful 2006 bonds leveraged much federal matching money, have been exhausted, and could be reissued without raising the property tax rate – but that may still be a hard sell so quickly after a public defeat.

On top of all that, there are plenty of zoning cases – likely led by the Downtown Donny­brook over the Austin Hotel (Item 79, see "Hotel Project Sparks Downtown Skir­mish," above). And at Tuesday's work session, Coun­cil appeared poised to kick the still pending East Riverside Corridor Regulat­ing Plan down the road a few more months.

There is balm in Gilead; if you can wait until 5:30, featured musicians Afrofreque will drive some funky light your way: "When the music flows, light saves your soul."

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City Council, Foundation Communities, Austin Energy, solar, Goodwill, Chris Riley, Shoal Creek, greenbelt, hike and bike, trails, Bill Spelman, Citizens United, corporations, constitution, Supreme Court, traffic fatalities, Sheryl Cole, affordable housing, bond election, Austin Hotel

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