Council: Take the Steam Train
Can the city and Uber and Lyft come to an understanding?
City Council returns today (Sept. 25) to its home away from home, Travis County Commissioners Court, with a full agenda (143 Items), including three dozen zoning cases, several public hearings (including the Urban Trails Master Plan, as well as plenty of Council proposals, from fee waivers for the just-completed Pride parade to a renewal of the lease agreement with the Austin Steam Train Association.
The headline item, however, is likely to be Council's attempt to bring Transportation Network Companies inside the tent pissing out, instead of the reverse, with Item 77, sponsored with some previous fanfare by Council Member Chris Riley, co-sponsored by CM Mike Martinez and Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole. The ordinance, as drafted, would authorize city staff to enter into negotiations with TNCs (i.e., Uber and Lyft, which have been operating in open defiance of city regulation) to come up with some regulatory plan that works for all sides. The ordinance "findings" recount the history and the problems of addressing the issue, suggest that some progress has been made, and express hope that this proposal gets everybody on the same page. (Maybe there's an app for that.)
It's not likely to happen without plenty of discussion, but other matters loom as well: notably the CM Laura Morrison proposal (Item 90, supported by Martinez and Kathie Tovo) to tighten the rules governing "fee-in-lieu" options for affordable housing in planned unit developments – another attempt to spread affordable housing citywide. A few other proposals of note:
• Item 78: to find "strategies" to promote "family-friendly housing."
• Item 82: to add repealing anti-choice HB 2 to the legislative agenda (expect no dissent).
• Item 85: to move forward on "rainbow crosswalks" for Bettie Naylor Street (West Fourth; see "What's a Little Rainbow Crosswalk Between Friends?" Sept. 18).
• Item 86: to add yet another homestead property tax exemption variation to the city's legislative agenda.
• Item 87: to build a living wage index into the city's wage policy for nonsworn personnel.
• Item 80: to authorize street performers and buskers on public right-of-way; alas, Item 79, finally enabling a much-delayed "coyote conflict management strategy" has been withdrawn by sponsor Riley – apparently the coyotes are not cooperating.
The morning briefing, if it doesn't get postponed for time, will update Council on the Colony Park District Master Plan. And of the many zoning cases, some of the higher-profile ones include a hotel project at Seventh and Congress and the complicated South Austin Combined Neighborhood Plan.
The Commissioners Court venue is not amenable to live music, but there will a brace of proclamations, including Binational Health Week, Domestic Violence Awareness Month (headline-timely), and Austin Steam Train Day, to be accepted by none other than Austin's premier political cartoonist, our own Thomas Nast, Ben Sargent – when he's not visually excoriating reactionary politicians, Sargent likes to ride the picturesque rails.
Long may he huff and puff.