Top 10 City Council Stories
Redistricting, affordable housing, and more
By Michael King, Fri., Jan. 3, 2014
1) 10-1 AT LAST It was a long time coming: After a couple of decades, seven city votes, and a Rube Goldberg mapping process – a grownup city now has grownup City Council districts.
2) ONLY CONNECT Another seemingly endless project – multi-modal mass transit – took another step with a Council decision to move forward on Project Connect, a still-disputed urban rail plan to place before the voters next November.
3) PREVAILING WAGES PREVAIL After a protracted dispute and an aroused labor movement, Council let stand a White Lodging/Marriott contract that requires prevailing wages on the new Congress convention hotel – a breakthrough for the city's economic incentive program.
4) BUDGET UNDER BUDGET In a financial rebuilding year, Council insisted on staying under the nominal (existing) tax rate, yet with rising property values found new money for starving parks – and a little bit more here and there.
5) WHO RULES AE? Despite considerable structural pressure to move to an appointed board, Council decided to stay in direct charge of Austin Energy and to create a more graduated payment structure, and won a rate case at the state Public Utility Commission – although long-term financial issues remain largely unresolved.
6) WE CAN AFFORD IT After some hesitation, and a summertime stop-gap to use an existing surplus to sustain ongoing programs, Council returned to the voters to request more affordable housing bond money – and won an important victory for the spirit of equity in Austin.
7) A BIKE IN THE DARK A pilot program allowing overnight biking on park trails was tried but eventually scuttled by a combination of Austin Police Department intransigence, budget willies, and an ingrained public prejudice that bikes aren't really "transportation" – but a minor compromise for certain intersections suggests that maybe the car-crazy ice is breaking.
8) DOWN ON THE FARMS A bitter controversy over the burgeoning urban farm movement saw folks lining up either in support of local, sustainable agriculture or in defense of Eastside neighborhoods threatened by gentrification; Council split the baby, and it will take time to know the overall consequences.
9) BARKING OVER AUDITORIUM SHORES A new park improvement plan pitted free-canine fundamentalists and new residents against music event sponsors against runners against folks just tired of Downtown growth – Council approved a tweaked plan, but the growling on all sides will continue.
10) IS THAT PUD ON YOUR TACO? A high-rise project proposed to replace a fast-taco joint at Riverside and Lamar evoked all the simmering controversies of Downtown development: densification vs. sprawl, height vs. lake views, traditional neighborhoods vs. condos, planned unit development vs. conventional zoning, and more – none of this is settled, but the Taco PUD will apparently rise.
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